What Do You Trust?

1 Timothy 6:17—19

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

These verses, 17—21, contain some concluding admonitions to the young pastor Timothy, both admonitions for himself and admonitions that he is to pass on to others.  With verse 17, it feels like Paul is switching gears from the sublime to the practical.  Verses 11—16 contain some powerful spiritual thoughts:

  • Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness;
  • Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called;
  • God gives life to everything;
  • Christ will return;
  • God is the only ruler; the King of kings and Lord of lords; He alone is immortal; He lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see.

These are some very lofty, theological ideas!  And they are followed by down to earth, common sense advice.  In truth, this whole letter, part of what we call “the Pastoral Epistles,” is very much a common sense letter.  In verses 11—16, Paul sort of digresses and writes about some magnificent ideas, but with verse 17, he comes back down to earth, to where we all live.

1.  The danger of wealth, verse 17

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.

Previously, Paul dealt with people who were aspiring to become rich—

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.  (verse 9)

But here, he is dealing with those who were wealthy already.  When we consider the phrase “those who are rich in this present world,” Paul is pointing out the transitory nature of worldly wealth; it comes and it goes, depending on such unpredictable things like the weather.  Imagine, trusting your future to the weather.  Yet people do it all the time investing in things or industries whose success depends on good weather!  Paul says that worldly wealth is passing wealth; hopefully it will last until you pass, but the odds are good most of your wealth will pass before you do.

We have an interesting glimpse into the economic conditions of the early church at Ephesus.  Apparently, not all of its members were slaves or people of very humble means.  There were men of considerable wealth in the church at Ephesus, and to these men, Paul tells Timothy to tell two things:

  • They must not “be arrogant.”  The Greek word is unusual and occurs only here in the Bible.  It is hypselophronein, and really means “to be high-minded, proud, or haughty.”  The wealthy people were not be be like that.  Nor were these wealthy people to “put their hope in wealth.”  Wealth, says Timothy, is terribly “uncertain,” which comes from the word adeloteti.   Accumulated wealth, though desirable, can be the most dangerous possession a believer can have because it may promote in its possessor a false sense of security.  The believer’s trust should be in God, not in wealth.

Not only is God rich, but He shares His riches with His children.

For every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.

I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine.

If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it.  (Psalm 50:10—12)

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  (James 1:17)

Worldly riches  slip through your fingers, but perfect things come from God, who never changes or takes back what He gives.

The last word in verse 17 is important because it is rare.  The word is apolausin, and is translated “enjoyment.”  Do you see the power of what Paul is writing?  Our very enjoyment comes from God, not from anything else, especially not from wealth!   Physical pleasure in and of itself is not sinful, but divinely provided for when we seek it out within the bounds of God’s will.  When believers, not just wealthy ones, put their trust in God, God makes sure our every, single need is met.

2.  The stewardship of wealth, verses 18—19

Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

Nowhere does Paul say wealth is a bad thing.  Indeed, Paul gives advice on how to correctly handle wealth and what our attitude toward wealth should be.  It is not wealth that is bad, it is how we view it.  Attitudes are infinitely more important any material thing can be.  Paul has dealt with the believer’s attitude to God (verse 17b) now he deals with the believer’s attitude toward other people (verse 18), particularly other believers.  Both attitudes should not be determined by the amount of wealth possessed, but our attitude will determine how we use our wealth.

The wealthy church member is told to do three things:  (1)  do good; (2) be rich in good deeds, and (3) be generous and share with others.  John Wesley once preached a sermon called “The Use of Money,” and here is his advice:

Gain all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.

While money can’t buy your way into heaven, it can most definitely help you accomplish more for God and enable you to live a life that is a blessing to others.  Opportunities for service and boundless for people with means, but there is no virtue in poverty.  The wealthy are told to “be generous” and to be willing “to share.”  That phrase is one word in Greek, the adjective koinoniks, which comes from a word that means “fellowship.”  This means that people with means should not only be generous their wealth, but with their hearts, as well.  In other words, don’t just write a check, go and do something for someone.  It made Paul joyful when he wrote about the wealthy and generous Macedonians because they first gave of themselves (2 Corinthians 8:1—5).  It is easier to give money than to give of ourselves, but genuine love and service to God requires both.

There is a reward to following Paul’s advice and it is stated clearly in verse 19—

In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

J.B. Phillips translates verse 19 this way—

Their security should be invested in the life to come, so that they may be sure of holding a share in the life which is permanent.

Gifts are investments, and by giving materially, you are actually enriching yourself spiritually, and this guarantees a future reward.  This is exactly what Jesus said in Mark 10:21—

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

What is real “treasure in heaven?”  Kistemaker and Hendriksen give three examples:

  • A good conscience (see 1 Timothy 1:5);
  • An enthusiastic reception by those who have been benefited (Luke 16:9);
  • In general, the entrance into all the joys and glories of heaven.

What we do on earth is rewarded in heaven.  Our good deeds form the foundation of the confidence we will have when we stand before Christ.  If we do what Paul is telling Timothy, then we will never have to defend ourselves before Christ and we will never have to give account of what we did or didn’t do for Him.  In fact, the opposite will happen; Christ will know what we did for Him and He will reward us for them.

Salvation is a work entirely of grace through faith, but the promised rewards for believers is according to works.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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