Meditations in 1 Timothy: 39: Guidance for the Rich
1 Tim 6:17 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.
Perhaps we would do well to check the flow of Paul’s thoughts through this chapter. Earlier he had warned against false teachers again (v.3-5) and had concluded in response to their constant agitation that “godliness with contentment is great gain.” (v.6) This had led him to then warn against the love of money (v.7-10) and had then charged Timothy to flee that materialistic, wealth grabbing life and go all out to fulfil the calling on his life (v.11-16) With all these thoughts in the back of his mind about materialism and going for money, it is natural therefore for Paul now to give instructions to Timothy about those who are wealthy. Christian teaching does not deny wealth and say it is wrong, but is more positive and instructs on how to use it wisely.
So Paul starts with a warning to challenge those who are rich to maintain a right attitude: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth.” (v.17a) We have commented before that in the world there is this tendency for one class to look down on another. Those who are rich have the greatest temptation to allow pride to reign so they think much of themselves (having achieved much or being born into a rich family) and thus think less of others. Money has that capability of distorting one’s view of oneself. Even the rich are prone to illness, even the rich will die, even the rich will have to face God and give an account for how they lived. So Timothy, instruct such people not to be like that. Even more warn them against trusting in their wealth for they will not take it with them when they die and their wealth will not bring them salvation. Yes says Paul, wealth “is so uncertain.” It can go so easily, as Job found out and as so many investors and bankers have found out.
Warn them not to trust in their riches “but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” (v.17b) Yes, their hope should be in God. It is not as if God wants to keep on taking away our money or possession; quite to the contrary He is a God who provides for us and all He provides is for our enjoyment. This is a wonderful verse to counter those kill-joys who take on ancient Greek thinking that says the material is bad and only the spiritual is good. Oh no, consider the incredible wonder of all that we have in the material world, incredible numbers of different sorts of food or drink, and so many ways that with our five senses we can enjoy. In fact the more you think about it the more you realise that God has made us material beings who are designed to enjoy all the senses in so many ways. It is actually incredible when you think on it.
But these rich people have so much potential to do good so, “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” (v.18) These are people who have the potential to really bless the world. Bill Gates is an example of a man who found himself with incredible wealth and realised there were only so many things he could spend it on, so has created a foundation to spend much of it on blessing the human race. There have been other philanthropists who have done similarly. When you have so much that you just can’t spend it on yourself meaningfully, the only thing left is to give it away. But there are thousands upon thousands of rich people in the world who don’t have unlimited wealth like the few, and so their tendency is to be self-focused but in so doing they fail to become what they could become and will be answerable to God for their selfishness.
No, says Paul, warn these people to do good and so, “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.” (v.19) There is an echo here of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Mt 6:19-21).
Each one of us has to decide what our values will be. Will we make our life focus achieving what I can for me, achieving in a career and obtain status through position and wealth, or will I put God first and submit everything to Him and let Him lead and guide me into ‘good works’ where I look to the welfare of others rather than myself? If I choose the former I will get to the end of my life possibly rich with money but bankrupt spiritually and as I pass through death the money will remain in the world I leave and I will find myself in total poverty in eternity. If I choose the latter I may well end up quite affluent when I leave this world but as I enter the next world I will find myself truly rich. Real life is following the latter path.