A survey of the Bible’s teaching on wealth would take considerably more time than we have this morning. So, let me hit the tops of the waves for you.
In the beginning, God gave Adam and Eve dominion over the entire earth. They were the king and queen of the planet, acting as God’s vice regents. (Genesis 1, 2)
When God delivered Israel out of Egypt, he gave them Canaan and promised to bless the nations of the earth through them so long as they maintained covenant faithfulness which included radical generosity to the poor. (Exodus-Deuteronomy)
Because the leaders of Israel abused and oppressed the poor and did not keep the laws of God, the nation was stripped of their Deuteronomic blessings and exiled in Babylon. (Prophets)
The New Testament is bristling with commentary on money: “don’t lay-up treasures on earth” (Matthew 6:19); “give and it will be given back to you” (Luke 6:38); “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed” (Romans 13:7)
And, in the consummation of all things, the true Israel of God, the church, receives not Canaan as a possession. We inherit the new heavens and earth. Through Christ, all things become ours. (Revelation 21) The end of history is not an overpopulated and underfed earth, but a marriage supper in the New Jerusalem.
So, how should we summarize the Biblical teaching on wealth? What does God think about money? A good starting point is Proverbs 30:8-9
give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me,lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.
“God, you know how much is too much or too little for our vainglorious and doubting hearts. So, make us humble enough to increase our earning without increasing our pride.”
And so, we must situate Paul’s message to us in today’s passage within this broader context:
Our text for today is 1 Timothy 6:17-19. These are God’s Words.
17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
Turning from the poor who desire to be rich, Paul now instructs the rich of the present age who need to think more about the age to come. (v. 17-19) They aren’t to be haughty, or high minded. Their wealth doesn’t legitimize despising their neighbor or throwing their weight around like they own the place. Nor are they to trust in their wealth. Christ warned that possessions could be wiped out by moths, rust, and burglars in Matthew 6. To that list we could add the instability of global supply lines, the volatility of markets, and the greedy hand of government. Instead, the way to truly enjoy wealth is to see it for what it is: a gift from a loving God. (v. 17)
They are to obey God’s revealed moral will with their money. That is what Paul meant by, “They are to do good.” Their portfolio ought to be filled with investments of good works. They jump at the occasion to share their money, their time, their lives with those who have needs. No one has to twist their arm to get them to share. (v. 18)
The payoff of honoring God with wealth is not less security, but more; not less life and joy, but deeper joys and richer lives regardless of one’s net worth. The true security, only hinted at in worldly wealth, is found as you lay a foundation for the age to come. True life, of which worldly wealth only shadows, comes by stewarding both your wealth and your heart by faith in Christ and imitating his generosity. (v. 19)
NEITHER MATERIALISM NOR ACETICISM
Ephesus, where Timothy has been left to pastor, was one of the wealthiest cities in the Roman empire, and because ours is a nation abundant in material wealth, evangelical Christians are constantly warned, like these Ephesians, of the dangers of materialism. 99% of the sermons you’ve heard on money basically sound like this: we all have too money much and should give more away. Alongside these sermons, we now live in a culture confused in matters of justice, and this has led many Christians to the false conclusion that simply being born in a nation like ours is a great sin. God, however, will not hold you responsible for the nation/parents/century you were born into. He will hold you responsible for what you do with what he has given you.
And there are two opposite, yet equally abhorrent ways to treat God’s material blessings: the first is to take them all in hand and refuse to give thanks. But it is equally offensive, when God in his grace, births you or brings you to a nation of opportunity, and you throw those blessings on the ground and refuse to receive them at all.
Materialism is sinful because it hoards excess wealth to the neglect of the poor. But asceticism, the refusal of the wealth God is giving, is worse because it creates more poverty. This is why Paul called it demonic (1 Tim. 4:1-4).
The warning: God, in his grace, has given you the wealth you will be tempted put in his place. And the only obedient response to this is to accept the gracious gifts of God while keeping them in their proper creaturely place. You do this by remembering two things:
First, God could have just as easily given these blessings to anyone else instead of you. He was under no obligation to put you here, and now, with this family, in this nation, in this economy. Regardless of how hard you have worked, every cent you own came to you by grace.
Second, you must daily remind yourself how uncertain and tenuous your money is. “Don’t love the world,” says the Apostle John (1 John 2:15-17) Why? Because it’s passing away. It’s transient, vaporous, and fleeting. Jeremiah said the same to Israel (Jeremiah 2:13).
Buy a five-gallon bucket, scribble the word “joy” on the side, drill holes in the bottom, and try to keep it full of water. This is what it’s like to put your hope in your wealth. No matter how full the bucket is right now, you know it’s leaking. You can’t rest for a single moment.
ENJOY GOD & HIS MONEY
The corrective is to enjoy God and his money. We are to set our hope on God who “richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” (v. 17) Before we’re ever told to be generous, we’re told to hope and enjoy.
Christ, who was rich became poor. He left splendor for squalor. He left the praise of angels for the mockery of men. The one who owned the cattle on a thousand hills and calls the ancient stars by name gave them all up and was nailed to a cross of wood. Why? So that he could redeem you from your sin and make you his treasured possession. Not so you could buy the house of your dreams or retire in ease— but so that you could, with him, inherit the earth! So, the message isn’t, “Your desires are too big, but far too small. You are far too easily pleased.”
Those who know the inheritance of the life to come are freed to be radically generous today. But what does radical generosity look like? We could withdraw all the cash from our bank accounts, ride down highway 49 and throw bills out the window, but would God consider that generous, or boneheaded?
We’re told to be generous in such a way that we store up for the future. Obviously, Paul has in mind the age to come, but I believe he’s giving a principle we can apply to our lives today: be generous today in ways that will allow you to be generous tomorrow, next month, in a decade, three generations from now, and even into the coming kingdom. In other words, a faithful Christian spends, saves, and gives with foresight. God wants you to steward your money in such a way that you can help neighbor who can’t make rent today and leave a legacy to the great-great-grandchildren you’ll never meet. “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.” (Proverbs 13:22)