39. Guidance for the Rich

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.

2. Work Orientated

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 2 :  Work Orientated

Eccles 1:3,4 What does man gain from all his labour at which he toils under the sun?   Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.

In a perfect world, all work would be a pleasure and always utterly fulfilling. However we live in a Fallen World where, after the Fall, the Lord declared, Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food(Gen 3:17-19). In other words, because of our separation from God caused by Sin, work will always be an effort. Yes, some of us do have a great sense of fulfilment in our work, but for most of us, a large part of the time at least, we are just doing our job to receive pay at the end of it – and it is wearisome.

Solomon, because of his position as king and having accumulated so much wealth because of the wisdom God gave him, had had the opportunity to do a whole variety of ‘jobs’, as he goes on to list later on, but despite all his wealth and despite his success and despite the tremendous variety of things he had been able to do, at the end of it all he still felt jaded. Money, success and achievement through work had not brought the satisfaction he had expected.

Yes, there is the problem, we expect our career, if that is what it is, to be thoroughly fulfilling and yet, on a bad day when it’s not going well and we feel simply tired, it doesn’t feel like that. We looked to our work to give us a sense of fulfilment and we were disappointed.  We had had dreams of being able to impact the world, and we ended up pressing computer keys, stacking shelves, serving in a shop, pushing reams of paperwork, or whatever else you have found yourself doing, and at the tiring end of the day you wonder – why does it have to be like this? Or perhaps it is as you have to commute into work with thousands of other commuters, and as you stand on the bus or train or struggle through traffic jams to get into work, you wonder – does it have to be like this? What ways are there to help overcome these sorts of thoughts and feelings?

The first thing, if you are a Christian, is to know that you are where you are, doing what you do, because God has led you there. Now perhaps you’ve never had that thought and perhaps you feel you’ve drifted into your job with no divine direction. Well it’s never too late to ask the Lord about it, and ask Him to give you confirmation that you are in the right place doing the right thing. Don’t be in a rush; it may take time to hear and sense the Lord’s will. Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” (Prov 16:3). Give your future to the Lord and ask Him to lead you, to either confirm you are in the right place of work, or that He has a new area of work for you. The difficulty so often is that having been in one area of work it is difficult to imagine something different – but God can give you something different if He wants.

The second thing is to see the Lord in your work.And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Col 3:17) andWhatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men(Col 3:23). If you can see your work as God’s provision for you, then offer it back to him in the way you do it, as a thank-offering. In other words, as you go into work each day pray, “Lord, I give you my job and ask your blessing on me in it that I may do it well and bring glory to you through it” – let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16). Let the way you work be a channel for others to see the Lord in you and through you. In the way you work, stand out: Do everything without complaining or arguing (Phil 2:14). It doesn’t matter what it is, do it well.

The third thing is to see your work as an opportunity to bless others. Work almost invariably means contact with people. Yes, you may be wielding a paint brush, pressing a computer keyboard, sweeping up a floor or whatever else, but somewhere in the day you will have contact with people. Determine to be a blessing to them. At the beginning, middle and end of the day, ask the Lord to give you grace to be a blessing to whoever you have contact with. Some of us will have contact with hundreds of people a day, face to face or over a phone. Even more do we need to ask the Lord to give us His grace to bless them. If we can have confidence in who we are and what we do, we need to see that we may be the one chink of light in other people’s darkness. If you find work difficult sometimes, how much more will they who don’t have God’s grace. Bless them!

Finally see your whole area of work as an area for spiritual growth. Work is a good place to learn such things as patience, perseverance, the need for wisdom and so on. Work may be the primary place where God works on your life to make you more like Jesus (2 Cor 3:18). Allow Him to both bless you and change you in it.  Solomon was jaded because of his pointless work. We don’t need to be like that.

47. Accountability

Meditations in James: 47 : Accountability for the Rich

Jas 5:1-3 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.

There are commentators who maintain that these verses cannot apply to Christians because of the harshness of them, but elsewhere in this ‘letter’ the references have been to those in the church, and one has to ask the question, if this was to unbelievers, when could they possibly have it read to them?  For a third time in these recent meditations we will suggest that either James knows specific people or churches  where there are people like this, or that he is giving a general warning – in this case to the rich – because he knows the general tendency or the characteristics that so often go with the situation. We will assume the latter, although it is also interesting to view these first six verses as a cry against the rich, when very few Christians were rich. It thus becomes a cry against those who oppress the Christians. However, we will consider it as a cry to include Christians.

Remember two main things that we have picked up in this letter. First, that James is speaking to those of the church who have been dispersed or spread out across the world and who are no longer under the close comfort, direction and protection of the original church at Jerusalem. Second, his fear, and therefore his warnings, is directed against the tendency of Christians to become assimilated into the world.  Again, as we look at these verses, we must comment that although they obviously applied to Christians in the first century, they apply even more to us living in the West at the beginning of the twenty first century, which is a time of unparalleled affluence.

We also need to remember a general principle that comes out of the Bible. God is not against material prosperity, but is against reliance upon it that draws people away from Him. When we observe the wisdom that God gave Solomon, we see that much of that wisdom was used to make the country prosperous and him richer than anyone else in the world. In Solomon’s case it wasn’t the riches themselves that drew Solomon away, but the multitude of foreign wives he had. We also find many references in Scripture to God’s desire to prosper us, and it is clear that that includes materially as well as spiritually.

No, the big concern is what effect riches have upon us.  Jesus taught, No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Mt 6:24). If you make money your master, if it is the thing you focus your life upon, then you will find it impossible to maintain a healthy relationship with the Lord. When James now speaks like and Old Testament prophet, it is simply to create a picture that warns any Christian who might fall into the trap, living out in the world, of being seduced by money and possessions. Remember Jesus’ teaching that followed that reference above: seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:33)  The ‘all these things” are material provisions. Possessions are not to rule us; we are to rule over them. Our focus is not to be possessions, but on doing God’s will. When we do that, then God provides the possessions.

With all that in mind, we are then ready to consider what James actually says here. Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Now this may be a general warning or it may be a prophetic insight that for them, at that time, there was coming a time of upheaval when riches would mean nothing. Especially for those who rely upon riches, such a time is a time of misery. When we push ourselves financially, and then go into times of recession, these are especially difficult times. The wise Christian never puts their life into a position where recession wipes away their assets or puts them in jeopardy.

See what more he says: Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. James envisages the effect of simply storing up material possessions and not using them. The builder of bigger barns in Jesus’ parable (Lk 12:16-21) couldn’t use his barns and his wealth because he died unexpectedly. The warning here is that if you just leave wealth to store up you won’t be able to use it because of the danger of it deteriorating. How many have stored away expensive pictures or furniture only to find them attacked by woodworm or mildew.  Possessions, of whatever sort, are not for hoarding, but for using. What is even worse about this, is that there is a world in need that we could be helping with our surplus. It is right to make provision for family and the future but if it goes beyond reasonable provision, we have to be careful that we are not putting ourselves beyond God’s protection when it comes to all that affluence.

Finally he says, Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.” When all our plans to stock up, fail because the stock market fails or our possessions are stolen or they literally rot, our human plans of self-sufficiency are shown to be folly, and they testify against us. Moreover we feel really upset about what has happened. The phrase, they eat your flesh like fire is a graphic prophetic form of picture that shows the anguish we feel when this sort of thing happens. If you spilt petrol on you and it caught fire, the encroaching flames would eat at your flesh causing immense pain. When all your stored riches come to nothing, the anguish is the same if you have placed all your reliance upon them.

This is the warning James is bringing us, in his desire to draw us back from the ways of the world. Go down the same path they go down, is what he is implying, and you risk suffering the same anguish that they will suffer. The warning is against relying upon riches, against relying upon money and possessions. The warning is for drawing us back into a closer relationship with the Lord, where we make Him and His will our central focus, and money and possessions are merely icing on the cake. A salutary warning for many in the day in which we live!

26. Be Strengthened

Ephesians Meditations No.26

Eph  3:16-17 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

Right, we now move on to Paul’s prayer. There are a variety of interpretations as to how this prayer is split up. We’ll simply take it in what seem to be obvious parts to consider. Put most simply, here Paul is praying that God may strengthen you. That is the very basis of the prayer but then we may consider the source of God’s strengthening, the means of His strengthening and then the outcome of His strengthening. Each part is highly significant and worthy of our consideration.

Right, let’s consider first the source of strengthening that Paul desires for us: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you.” At first that is very simple and straight forward but the trouble is that Paul never explains this expression – his glorious riches. This is the fifth time he has used it. Previously he spoke about, the riches of God’s grace.” (1:7), “the riches of his glorious inheritance.” (1:18), “the incomparable riches of his grace.” (2:7), and “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” (3:8) but nowhere does he really explain it. Even the writers of the various paraphrase versions of the Bible have struggled here: his glorious, unlimited resources” (Living), “the glorious richness of his resources(JBP) and the Message version completely skirts around it. Simple language versions (e.g. Good News version) say things like,the wealth of his glory, none of which take us much further. Ultimately we have to say that all we have comes from God Himself and there is no limit to Him. Paul is thus saying, may God strengthen you out of His incredible, wonderful, unlimited resources, which are, in fact, Himself!

Having said that let’s consider the means of strengthening that Paul desires for us: I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” Power – Spirit – inside us. That is the way we are strengthened. It is God’s power, released by His Holy Spirit, who dwells within us. Jesus taught, Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit.” (Jn 7:38,39). Here is the truth, that within us we have God’s own Holy Spirit and He will strengthen us by His very own powerful presence. Within us we have a well whereby we may draw on the resources of the Spirit of God who dwells within us. How do we draw on Him? When we pray and when we worship. When we pray and when we worship, the Spirit within us rises up to agree and confirm our praise and our worship and as He does so we are strengthened. Feeling weak and lacking energy? Check out how often you pray and worship, and if it is only on a Sunday morning, it is no wonder you lack strength!

Finally let’s consider the outcome of this strengthening that Paul desires for us. Now there will be a lot more in the verses that follow on but for the moment we’ll simply focus on the immediate end of this part: so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” Now that sounds strange because surely the Spirit, as we’ve already said above, lives within us? In fact isn’t that what Paul taught elsewhere: You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Rom 8:9-11) There it is; you can’t be a Christian if the Holy Spirit is not living within you, and He it is who brings ongoing life to us.

So what is Paul saying in our verse today? Surely the key is in the word ‘dwell‘ which means to be established and at home and to grow in usage. Yes, the Holy Spirit already lives in us, but as we open ourselves to Him we will find He strengthens us and we find a closer intimacy with Christ whose presence we come to realise and experience more and more. Yes it is a gradual growth process just as Paul spoke about the Spirit to the Corinthians: “we …all reflect he Lord’s glory….being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18) Yes, there is a gradual change process going on within us, which is brought about by the Spirit living within us so that we experience Christ more and more AND become more and more like him. There is a lot more to come but we’ll see that in the next meditation.