The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘How to Build Wealth’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 2/24/2019, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click
How to Build Wealth
Successful investing is simpler thank you think. What do I know about investing? Sure, I am a pastor now; but prior to taking a job at the church I was a Risk Arbitrage trader at a major bank on Wall Street. Prior to that, I graduated from Cornell University with a degree in Applied Economics and Management. I hate to pull a Paul in Philippians 3 (see vv 4-6), but I have the background to preach this message.
The key to successful investing is making your money work for you. Compound interest! They key is investing funds in a vehicle that is going to produce consistent and reliable returns. Note there is a difference between trading and investing. We are not here this morning to talk about buying and selling something to make money fast. We are here to talk about wisely investing money to build wealth slowly.
Warren Buffett – the founder of famed investment firm Berkshire Hathaway, and at this time the 3rd richest man in the world – has said the single most powerful factor behind his investing success is compound interest:
“My wealth has come from a combination of living in America, some lucky genes, and compound interest.” – Warren Buffett
In a 1964 letter to his investors, he bragged about the power of compound interest to his investors. His wife had recently taken an interest in investing in art, and Mr. Buffet was not a fan. Here were his comments:
“Francis I of France paid 4,000 ecus (European Currency Units) in 1540 for Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. On the off chance that a few of you have not kept track of the fluctuations of the ecu 4,000 converted out to about $20,000. If Francis had kept his feet on the ground and he (and his trustees) had been able to find a 6% after-tax investment, the estate now would be worth something over $1,000,000,000,000,000. That’s $1 quadrillion or over 3,000 times the present national debt, all from 6%. I trust this will end all discussion in our household about any purchase or paintings qualifying as an investment.” 
The current value of the Mona Lisa is around $820 million dollars. But wouldn’t you rather have one quadrillion dollars? Such is the power of compound interest.
Have you ever been to Manhattan? Several years later, Mr. Buffett reminded his investors that Peter Minuit purchased the island from the Manhattan Native American tribe for $24 in 1626. The current value of all real estate on the island is somewhere between $1.1 and $1.74 trillion dollars, depending on the estimate. Seems like a raw deal for the original owners, doesn’t it?
But if the Manhattan Native American tribe had invested that $24 at a 7% annualized interest rate over the next 393 years, they would currently have $8.4 trillion dollars: or seven times the value of all the real estate in Manhattan. Such is the power of compound interest! You might ask, where can I find an investment that will return 7%? To which I would reply, the average annualized return for the S&P 500 over the last 90 years was 9.8%.
Investing isn’t as hard as people make it out to be. It’s crafted as complicated because finance professionals need something to charge you for (trust me, I was one)! But real wealth is built with simple, Biblical principles like these:
Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it. – Prov 13:11
The earlier you start investing, the better. Stay away from schemes that promise overnight success. Instead, gravitate to time-tested principles.
Dave Ramsey is a leading expert on personal finances. Lucky for us, he’s also a Christian. More than one million families have taken his Financial Peace University course; and the average family that completes the course is completely out of debt in 18-24 months. The financial principles of the course are simple: pay off your debt, and start saving. Once you have an emergency fund built up, start investing. This is compound interest! Don’t pay interest to someone else (debt); earn interest from someone else (investment)!
As a practical example, imagine the following three cases. Michael, Jennifer, and Sam all save $1,000 a month for 10 years ($120,000 total). Michael starts saving at age 25, and stops on his 35th birthday. From that day forward, he allows his money to compound interest in an investment account at 7% annualized until he retires at age 65. Jennifer starts a little later than Michael, saving $120,000 over 10 years from age 35 to 45. Sam took a little longer to get bitten by the investment bug; so he saved $120,000 over ten years from age 45 to 55. All three saved the same amount. All three let their money accumulate at the same rate (7%) until the same age (65). Yet when they retired, they had vastly different sums:
- Michael: $1,444,969
- Jennifer: $734,549
- Sam: $373,407
Do you see the power of compound interest?
Now what would have happened if Michael, Jennifer and Sam hadn’t invested anything? It’s not a trick question. They wouldn’t have had anything left for retirement! The reality is, if you want to reap a harvest, you have to sow seed. If you want to have a return, you have to invest!
Jesus explained the principle of sowing and reaping to His disciples as follows:
And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” – Mk 4:26-29
Money – just like seed – has inherent growth properties. You don’t have to work for money; money will work for you. But if you want to benefit from the inherent growth properties of money, you have to invest it! What farmer would expect a harvest without first putting seed in the ground?! Yet how often do you and I expect to have a solid financial future without making the investment required? Instead of responsibly investing, we come to God with a lottery mindset – expecting Him to drop money into our laps out of the sky – instead of following the simple principles He outlined for us in His word!
The Apostle Paul explained principle of sowing and reaping to the Church at Corinth:
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. – 2 Cor 9:6-8
If you sow a lot of seed, you are going to reap a big harvest! But if you refuse to sow a lot of seed…well, you know…
Too often, we take the seed God has given us and we do something else besides sowing. Some of us keep our seed in our pocket. We convince ourselves we aren’t smart enough to invest our money, so we keep our cash under the mattress. But the seed won’t grow out of the soil! Some of us eat what God wants us to sow. We live lives of frequent spending on things like going out to eat, instead of keeping the money God has given us. Still others of us scatter our seed somewhere it won’t take root: we spend our funds on depreciating assets like fancy cars and then have nothing left to invest (but at least we impress our friends)!
If you don’t sow – or sow in the wrong place – the results will be predictably disastrous; but if you sow it in the right place, the results will be incredible!
Investing for Eternity
Now here’s what I really want to talk about. You’re probably reading this article because of the title. You want to know how to get rich. Maybe you’ve read some books on investing and devoted some time to figuring out how to exercise healthy, Biblical financial principles.
Now here is my thought for you: if were willing to spend so much time & energy learning how to invest for your time-limited future on earth, how much more time & energy should you spend learning to invest in your eternal future in Heaven?!
Jesus reminds us, His disciples, that we should spend our lives building wealth in the right ways:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Matt 6:19-21
It is a waste to spend our lives accumulating things we can’t take with us when we die. But wait a second, Pastor Mike. Didn’t you just talk about building earthly wealth for three pages? And now your conclusion is, Build up heavenly wealth instead? Yup!
You see, I believe God wants you to build wealth in multiple ways: 1) financial wealth here on earth, and 2) spiritual wealth in Heaven. The reason He is willing to help you build financial wealth is because He wants you to bless other people with it!
The currency for the things of Heaven is faith. Every single thing you’ve ever gotten from God has come by faith. But the currency of Earth is…you guessed it…money. If you want to be a blessing to other people during your time on earth – to relieve poverty, feed the hungry, and house the homeless – you need earthly wealth! And if you want to be blessed during your time in Heaven, you need spiritual wealth!
Will investing for eternity be a sacrifice? Will it mean you might have to pass up some things in the short term, to invest wisely for the long term? Absolutely. But here is Jesus’ promise when we give up anything for Him:
Then Peter answered and said to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?” So Jesus said to them, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.” – Matt 19:27-29
Investing for eternity might seem like giving up something now; but Jesus’ promise is, in return, you will gain so much more. You shall receive “a hundredfold” in this life, and inherit eternal life after that (v 29)!
You saw the impact compound interest can have on your financial future over 30 years in our example earlier. How much more impact can your investment in the Kingdom of God earn over the same period of time? Over the next 300 years? Over the next 3,000 years?!
Giving to the Church
I believe the best way to invest in the Kingdom of God is to give to the local church. But don’t just take my word for it. Look at God’s promise to those who sow into His “storehouse:”
Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, so that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground, nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field,” says the Lord of hosts; “And all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a delightful land,” says the Lord of hosts. – Mal 3:10-12
When you tithe into the local church, God will open the windows of heaven for you. He will pour out a blessing that is so immense that you won’t even have room to receive it! He will protect you by rebuking the devourer for your sake. Aren’t you glad God will not only build wealth in your life, but also protect what He’s given you?
But it all starts when you make the choice to sow seed. It doesn’t matter to me if you tithe to our church, or to another church; but every Christian’s responsibility is to sow into something. Pick a church, and give! And watch God give it back to you with interest.
© Michael D. White, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.