Sermon preached on 1 Timothy 6:17-19 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 6/25/2017 in Novato, CA.
1 Timothy 6:17-19
“Those Who Are Rich”
Today’s passage specifically addresses those who are rich, monetarily speaking. If you have wealth, then this passage is especially for you. But even if you do not consider yourself monetarily rich, relative to the rest of the world, almost all of us are far better off than others. And not only that, but regardless of your own personal assets, our church is in Marin County. The county of Marin is one of the most affluent counties in the whole country. It was actually 10 years ago to this month, that I preached a sermon on the letter to the Laodiciean church found in Revelation. At that time, I was candidating to be the pastor here, and I thought that was an important passage given the affluence of Marin county and the trusting in earthly success that is so commonplace here. This is a challenge and reminder for us who can afford to live here, that even if you are not rich per se yourself, this is the area you live in. There is a lot of wealth here, and too often people trust in it, instead of in the one true God who richly supplies. So then, I hope that whether you are financially rich or not, you can find much value and application in today’s message.
So then, to clarify. This passage does not say it is wrong to be rich. That’s not the problem for any of us or for any of those with wealth here in Marin County. I find this passage a wonderful complement after the strong words Paul had just said back in verses 6-10 that emphasized contentment in opposition to the love of money. This passage clarifies by addressing Christians who are rich showing that you can be a Christian and be rich. There is nothing wrong with a Christian being rich. Yet, there is a temptation for Christians to put their hope in the wrong place, to put it in the money or in material things. Let’s face it. Materialism is not a temptation unique to Marin County. It may be prevalent here among people with wealth, but it is certainly not unique. Materialism is so central to American life in general. We need to be on guard against this temptation. Our passage for today, then, speaks to how to think about riches and what to do with them if you have them.
So, our first point for today is to ask a question. If you are a Christian who is rich materially, where is your heart at? This is the question raised in verse 17. Let me read verse 17 again. It says, “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy.” And so, if you are a Christian with wealth, were is your heart? What is your attitude toward your money? Verse 17, first speaks against having a heart of haughtiness. In other words, your heart should not be proud or arrogant because of your money. Think about that. Someone who has a lot of earthly wealth might become haughty because they trust in that wealth and/or in themselves. They might think too highly of their own abilities. They might credit themselves, thinking they acquired their wealth because of their great abilities instead of recognizing God as the giver of those things. Or, they might think they are better than others b/c they were able to acquire such riches. Or, because they have those riches they might falsely think they are better than others or simple more powerful, more important, or more influential. But Paul says to Timothy that he must command such Christians to not be haughty and prideful because of their earthly wealth.
Verse 17 further gets to the heart of this when it goes on to talk about trust. He commands, “Don’t trust in uncertain riches.” Christians with wealth must guard their hearts from this kind of faulty trust. The reason is clear. He says that these kinds of riches are uncertain. Proverbs 23:5 insightfully says this, “Will you set your eyes on that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; They fly away like an eagle toward heaven.” Think about all the ways that riches are uncertain. Earthly riches can be stolen. They can be devalued or deflated or simply ruined; this is true for both currency or property. You can have unforeseen bills that use up all your money, whether it be a health crisis, or car accident, or earthquake damage or some other unexpected emergency. In prodigal living it could be used up quicker than you expected. There are so many ways that earthly riches are uncertain, these are just a few examples. The point is clear. Don’t put your trust in the wealth. See how being haughty and trusting in money go together here. If you have lots of money and you pridefully boast that you are set and secure, then you see how you have put your trust in your money. Interestingly, in America our money all has on it, “In God We Trust.” Yet, is that actually true? Is that where Americans put their trust as they hold onto their money that has that motto printed on it? Do we really say in our hearts, “In Money We Trust” or “In the American Dream We Trust?” That’s a challenge for all here in America. But today’s passage especially calls Christians with earthly wealth to be examine their hearts and if necessary to repent of any such false trusting.
In typical Pauline fashion, Paul then reminds us of where our trust should be. This is the put off, put on, idea. Put off trusting in earthly riches. Put on trusting in the living God who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Here God is contrasted with riches in terms of where to put your hope. In that contrast, Paul uses the adjectives to heighten the contrast. Where riches are uncertain, God is the living God. God is alive. Riches are not. In God’s living goodness, we have a benefactor we can trust in. As God’s people, that benefactor is for us and for our wellbeing. Inanimate riches have no care or concern for us. But our God loves us and will never forsake us who are his children in Christ.
Verse 17 further explains why we should put our trust in God and not riches. God is the one who richly supplies for us. If we have money it’s because God gave it. It’s not ultimately based on our abilities and certainly not on our worthiness. Yes, God might use the means of our work or other abilities to supply for our earthly wealth. In fact, that is the normal way we get money. But in all cases of acquiring money, we should recognize God as the ultimate provider. And what I love about verse 17 it says that God supplies us with “all things to enjoy.” This is in contrast with verse 8 which talked about the bare material necessities we need to survive. Here it talks instead about money that we can use for enjoyment purposes. And so, it is not inherently wrong to use some of our money for purposes of enjoyment. Sometimes we can get the faulty impression that God only wants us to use our money for our basic needs and after that we need to give the rest to charity or something. But that’s not biblical. Verse 17 is proof of that. Yet, we would be good to read this reference to enjoyment in light of everything else that is said here in terms of our heart, use, and acquisition of earthly wealth.
So then, Paul has spoken here about the heart or attitude we should have toward earthly riches. We should not be prideful if we have such wealth. Nor should we put our hope and trust in such wealth which might be here today but gone tomorrow. No, rather in all circumstances, we should put our hope and trust in our God who is also our provider. With that first point being made, let us look next at what fruit we should look to come if our heart is in the right place. In other words, if we respond to verse 17 by putting our trust in God and not money, what kind of fruit should be coming up in our lives? Verse 18 is addressing this, specifically in terms of wealthy Christians. If a Christian with money has their hope and trust in God and not money, what fruit should come? Verse 18 has the answer. “Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share.”
So, verse 18 mentions first doing good. That’s about as general of a statement as possible. But the next part explains. It says that they are to be rich in good works. Notice the intentional point about the riches. If a Christian has earthly riches, they should not be content with such riches. They should look for other riches too. The riches of good works. If you have been blessed with much material riches, surely you should be looking to be rich in good works too. One of the commentators on this passage, I think it was Phillip Ryken, asked the question
“Are you rich in money but poor or lower middle class in terms of good deeds?” That’s something to reflect on and examine. It will surely tell you something about your heart and what is of greatest value to you. Paul challenges our thinking to see instead a different kind of riches, the riches of good deeds. He wants wealthy Christians to be reminded that there are other kinds of riches out there to pursue. (As a side note, we could make the point that just as God richly supplies for our earthly riches, it is also God who richly supplies for us who are rich in good deeds – it’s God’s sanctifying work in us that provides for our growth in doing good).
So, Paul then describes some ways that a Christian with earthly wealth can do good deeds. They are to be ready to give and willing to share. The way this is written in verse 18 is explicative. These are the good deeds Paul especially has in mind for the rich Christian. Clearly this is a matter of stewardship. Christians who are financially poor won’t be able to be giving and sharing the same way a financially rich Christian could. So, Paul explains how when God gives a Christian earthly wealth, their good deeds should see that as a stewardship opportunity. How will he steward such earthly riches and use it for the glory of God? Paul says that this includes being ready to give and willing to share.
The first phrase there, “ready to give” is basically the idea of being generous. That’s how I would translate it. A rich person should not be stingy but generous with their wealth. Of course, you don’t have to be rich to be stingy. And if you are poor you can still be generous. But the financially rich person who is generous also has the ability to give greatly out of that generosity. Proverbs reminds us of the value in this. Proverbs 11:25, “The generous soul will be made rich, and he who waters will also be watered himself.” Proverbs 22:9, “He who has a generous eye will be blessed, for he gives of his bread to the poor.” And so, the rich Christian who has put his hope and trust in God and not money should seek the fruit of generosity.
Similarly, this second phrase “willing to share” is similar. The word in the Greek comes from the Greek word koinonia. That’s a word that often refers to Christian fellowship, but the literal idea of such fellowship is that we Christians share with one another. We share our Christian hope together; we share our worship together; we share our prayers together; we share our joys and sorrows together. And as we see here, we should share our material goods with each other. As we see in the book of Acts, the early church practiced this, even selling lands and houses to provide for the needs of their fellowship saints (e.g. Acts 4:34). And so, the financially rich Christian who puts their trust and hope in God and not money should seek the fruit of sharing especially with other Christians in need.
So then, that’s a little bit of the fruit a rich Christian should seek if they’ve put their trust and hope in God and not money. Surely, there are applications there for all Christians, whether or not you have earthly wealth in this life. The overall application comes simply in this. That whatever things God’s given you to steward, whether it be money or something else, maybe even a spiritual gift, we should look to be a good steward of what God has given and use it for his glory and the good of his people and for the advancement of his kingdom. Let’s then turn to our last point and to look at the last verse, verse 19. That verse directs us to lay up a foundation unto eternity. Verse 19 says, “storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”
Here we see an important contrast. Verse 19 speaks of the “time to come”. This is in contrast to verse 17 which spoke of being rich in the present age. So far, I’ve been using the language of being materially or financially rich, though that’s my term here not Paul’s. Paul speaks of it in terms of being rich in the present age. And in contrast then he speaks of riches in the age to come. This is common language of Paul. He likes to speak of this age versus the age to come (c.f. The Pauline Eschatology by Geerhadus Vos); life in this world and life in the world to come in glory after Christ returns. This present age is fleeting and full of troubles. Of course, riches in this present are uncertain in this fallen and cursed world full of various miseries. But the age to come in glory will not be fallen. In the new heavens and new earth, righteousness will reign. It will be a place of blessing and fullness. There will be no more curse. And there will be no more lack. And yet as we compare for a moment this present evil age versus the age of glory to come, we remember that not everyone will be able to be a part of that age of glory to come. Not everyone will enter into this blessed eternal life. Some at the final day of judgment will be condemned in their wickedness and cast into the eternal lake of fire where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. So, in this last point, Paul reminds us to be focused on preparing for glory, for eternal life.
Let me clarify here right away. I’m not saying that a rich Christian will get to heaven because they are generous and share their riches with others. Clearly, that can’t be the case because the Bible tells us in so many places that we are not saved by our works. We are only saved by grace through faith, because of the work of Jesus Christ. It’s Christ’s work that saves us, not ours. In faith, we trust and believe on him and are saved. At that point, we know that the age to come will be for us a time of blessing and glory.
So then, what is Paul is talking about here? Well, remember that Jesus used similar language about seeking after heavenly treasure instead of earthly treasure. Surely, we can think of the degrees of reward in glory that come in grace-wrought good deeds done in this life, but I don’t think that’s the most immediate point here. Rather, notice that verse 19 uses the word “foundation.” What will your foundation be for eternity? What will your life in the age to come be built upon? If your hope is in the uncertain riches of this present age, then your foundation for the age to come is one of sand. That foundation will not stand. But if your hope is in the living God and you have built your life upon the salvation of Jesus Christ and his work on the cross, then your foundation is solid. You are built during this present age on the rock of Jesus Christ which looks beyond this time to the age to come. Such a foundation is one that will endure into eternity. Such a foundation is what eternal life must be built upon. Receive the life that is truly life by placing all your hope and trust in God in Christ and not your money. And so that is the climax of Paul’s point here. He’s been talking about our attitude toward earthly money. People tend to think of building up earthly wealth as laying a foundation of financial stability in this life. But Paul reminds us of the fleeting nature of this age and says we need to be storing up for the future. We need to have a solid foundation built for the future. Therefore, whether you are rich or poor in this life, your time here and now must be focused on putting your hope in God and the good fruit that comes from that.
Let me tie this all together for you by quoting a hymn. I refer you to the hymn titled “Rich Beyond All Splendor”. Speaking of Christ, it says, “Thou who was rich beyond all splendor all for love’s sake becamest poor; throne for a manger did surrender, sapphire courts for stable floor.” It goes on to explain the reason in the next verse. “stooping so low, but sinners raising, heavenward by thine eternal plan.” Of course, this hymn is merely reflecting on 2 Corinthians 8:9 which says this, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” Christ had the right perspective between this age and the age to come. He says that whatever is of value in this life is meager compared to the age to come. So, even if you needed to give it all away in order to acquire heaven, it would be worth it. Think of the parable of the pearl of greatest price. Think of the parable of the field with hidden treasure. But that’s the gospel; that Jesus paid it all. Jesus sacrificed it all. He took even of the treasure of the age to come and for a time sacrificed it all, became poor, to save us. To make us rich! To give to us the riches beyond all splendor. What wonder of wonders! If God gives even now for our enjoyment, how much more will we enjoy the spiritual riches of eternity. Ephesians 2:7 tells us of the salvation we have come to know from God in Jesus. It says there “that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” The age to come will bring new meaning to the phrase to “enjoy Him forever”.
Saints of God, let us in light of the sacrifice of earthly riches that Jesus has already done for us; let us change our perspective on wealth. Let us be willing to use and share even of our earthly wealth in light of what Christ has already done for us. Let us be generous and sharing especially in light of how generous God will be toward us in eternity. Oh, how wonderful to be reminded today of how much God has in store not only for his glory, but even for our enjoyment. Of course, those things go together so well. Let us enjoy the glory and goodness of God; now and into eternity. Amen.
Copyright © 2017 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.