I 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.”
There were a number of rich people in this Ephesian congregation which was being pastored by Timothy. Enough for the apostle to advise Timothy to tell wealthy believers how they should manage their affairs. It is possible to be a rich Christian. It is possible to be a poor Christian. Both have their temptations, and perhaps the temptations of riches are more dangerous. The Puritan Richard Rogers woke up one night just after midnight, and he was worried about something that he owned, and he couldn’t sleep thinking about the possibility of losing it. Then he became convicted that some of the gifts of God to him had actually become too sweet. A man’s library can become too sweet; anything new can become too sweet. When we tighten our belts we are more at ease, but the God who has made some people rich can give them grace to accept and use their riches.
It is significant that Paul does not say, “Command those who are rich in this present world to give away all they have to the poor people in the congregation.” There is not a hint of that. The Lord told one rich young ruler to sell all his possessions, and give the proceedings away, and then follow him. When Peter heard that he blurted out, “We have left everything to follow you!” Was it a moment of awareness for Peter, that that had happened to them? Was it a boast? But does Jesus expect each Christian to give up everything to become real disciples? The Lord challenged that rich young man to do it, but he did not demand it of Joseph of Aramethea, or Jairus, or Mary and Martha. And when wealthy Zacchaeus promised to give half of his possessions to the poor the Lord did not say, “and the other half too.” All of us are to renounce riches as our god and lord, and lay up treasures in heaven, but there is no vow of poverty demanded as a condition of becoming a Christian. We are not to admire Buddhist monks sitting by their begging bowls waiting for people to give them food for the day. We are not to dream that if only we were 100% religious people we too would be living like that. That is not so. A centurion was not told by Jesus to cease being an officer. The converted soldiers who came to John to ask him how they should live new lives were told such things as, “Be content with your wages.” So let us begin with this observation:-
1. It Is Possible To Be a Rich Christian.
I would base that on three assertions:-
i] The Christian is under a mandate to replenish and subdue and rule over the earth (Genesis 1:28).
This is not a sacred world, nor a mystic world, nor a magic world. It is an earth to be cultivated, and improved. Its resources are to be harnessed for our use. Its fossil fuels are to be extracted. Its mineral reserves are to be mined. Its wind and wave and water power is to be channelled for our comfort. Man has been made to have dominion in this world, and directing and managing the resources of the world is the vocation of every one of us. The first man was put in a garden and told to till it. He was not to sit on his porch and send his wife out to work the fields. Idleness is an alien root which has entered our hearts after the fall, and it is to be mortified. God’s original intention for mankind was not poverty but prosperity. There is nothing grubby in a Christian being involved in business, or of doing well at it.
Of course, this is God’s world and we are temporary trustees. We must give account to God for how we have used what he has given us. We must make sure that our spiritual energies are not impaired by what we do for a living. We are not to deface and pollute and destroy the natural world, but all of us are called to replenish and subdue the creation. That is the way to prosperity. It is no secret.
My mother’s father was very typical of his age. He was a Baptist, Marxist entrepreneur. He saved his money and gave loans to fellow railwaymen. He bought three little houses, and on a Wednesday afternoon once a month I would go as a six year-old boy with my mother to collect the 20 pence weekly rental from those old women who lived in the houses. One was called Mrs Banks, and she had chickens in her kitchen, and in those days as an only child I wished we too could have had hens in our home. Grandpa Francis was playing with Marxist ideas, as many did in Wales in the 1920s, but in his heart he was working away in God’s creation, and he had invested in three little houses which he renovated, one to be left to each of his three children. That was how he prospered. That leads me on to my second point.
ii] The Christian has been given the right to own property.
God alone has total and unconditional ownership of property, but man has the present and historical right to property. You remember in the land of Israel the Lord shared out the land amongst the families. The land was not communally owned; the vineyards and the olive groves and the barley fields were privately owned. The people were held responsible to God for what they did to their land. That responsibility freed man. I think we all function best when we are given as much responsibility as we can bear. A man without responsibility is a man to be pitied. A man with nothing at his disposal can’t act freely. He has to touch his forelock and doff his cap to everyone over him for permission to take a single step. And those commissars can prevent a man who has nothing from flourishing. Without property there is no free personal life. Without property there is little power to your actions. A person should be able to say “my room” and “my things” and “my clothes” or he may as well be in prison. What do you own in prison? Even your clothes are prison clothes.
I will give you a text for the right to private property. It is the Eighth Commandment; “Thou shalt not steal.” White colonisers moving into another continent may not help themselves to the best land from the people of that nation. Caesar cannot send in his army and remove a man’s business from him. Ahab could not steal Naboth’s vineyard from him if he did not wish to sell it or exchange it. There are private property rights that God has guaranteed in the Eighth Commandment. We utterly reject the Marxist theory that men are created equal, and that private property is theft and that this injustice can only be removed by state ownership. You see the anarchy and riots on the streets of London a month ago from those who believe that. Property rights give to men, and to women especially, freedom, and it is unacceptable for Caesar to say, “You must go and live in this place, and do this job, and this will be the wage which you will get for it.”
Over a hundred years ago Charles Hodge wrote these words in his monumental Systematic Theology, “The foundation of the right to property is the will of God … This doctrine of the divine right of property is the only security for the individual or for society. If it be made to rest on any other foundation it is insecure and unstable. It is only by making property sacred, guarded by the fiery sword of divine justice that it can be safe from the dangers to which it is everywhere and always exposed.” So Christians can be rich because they have been given by God the right to private ownership.
iii] The most basic God-created unit in the world is the family.
Our children don’t belong to Caesar. Caesar has no children. They do not belong to themselves. They do not belong to the church. They do not belong to the family, as if parents had the right to expose an unwanted baby girl. Children belong to God and have been given in trust to parents. They answer to God for how they educate the children he has given them, which children are made in his image. What principles do they give their children, and how do they encourage them to thrift and responsibility and work? Do they raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? Are they taught that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom? Do they support them in valuing learning and toil? Parents have the task of looking after the family and the welfare of its members. It is such things as values, and industry, and common sense, and wisdom, and Biblical morality and, above all, the blessing of God that leads to true prosperity. We are told that when Potiphar put Joseph in charge of his household and of all that he owned, “the LORD blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the LORD was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field” (Gen. 39:5). My father-in-law would say to his daughters about the children God gave them – “money in the bank.” That is, in them you will find true and lasting wealth.
So those three truths are the foundation of rich Christians. Firstly, the Christian must go for it in replenishing and subduing the earth; secondly, he has the right to own land, a home and possessions; thirdly, it is he who has the stewardship of his family. Now those convictions are the basis of wealth creation. There are few Christians who hold to those principles who have not prospered under God. In fact I cannot think of any. There is no need to send money to fake evangelists in order to prosper.
You may have received an actual letter like the following. Let me read it to you. You may be familiar with this actual letter, or this kind of error: “There’s no better way to insure your own financial security than to plant some seed-money in God’s work. His law of sowing and reaping guarantees you a harvest of much more than you can sow … Have you limited God to your present income, business, house or car? There’s no limit to God’s plenty! … Write on the enclosed slip what you need from God – the salvation of a loved one, healing, a raise in pay, newer car or home, sale or purchase of property, guidance in business or investment …, whatever you need … Enclose your slip with your seed-money … Expect God’s material blessings to return.”
There is a name for men who send out letters like that, and the name is ‘crook.’ Our Father has promised to supply all needs of his children richly, not via any sinner, and not with them purloining 20%. If you responsibly replenish and subdue the earth to the Lord, and maintain your home and property as to the Lord, and are a good steward of your family you will be a prosperous person.
So Timothy had these rich folk in his congregation, and they are present in most churches. There is an economic and racial and psychological and age range of people in every true congregation of Jesus Christ. What was he to ‘command’ the wealthy? Notice that ‘command’ is a strong word, not ‘recommend’ or ‘suggest’ or even ‘teach’ rather the word is translated by Jay Adams, ‘Authoritatively instruct.’ You will see in our text that Paul gives Timothy two warnings about the dangers of riches, and then two duties wealthy Christians must fulfil. And lest any of you should think that you are not wealthy and that this sermon has no relevance to you I will say two more things, one day you will be more wealthy than you are today if God’s blessing rests upon you, and also this, that if I should take you to many places in Asia and Africa then you would discover how rich everyone here is.
2. There are Two Dangers Rich Christians Should Avoid.
i] Pride. “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant” (v.17). I am sure we have met arrogant people who are poor in this present world. Pompous little men, strident about their ‘rights’, who haven’t got two pennies to rub together, but they are quick to put anyone down. They are the bane of young school-teachers at parents’ evenings. Surely pride is not the exclusive mark of a rich man.
Perhaps it is the mark of the nouveau riche that they have become arrogant men. The most perfect example of this is found today in the second largest building in the world (the largest is the Pentagon in Washington), which is found in Bucharest, the capital of Romania. It is the legacy of the arrogance of the late Nicolae Ceausescu, the country’s former dictator. He decided to build a marble palace of 3,200 rooms and today the impoverished people of Romania do not know what to do with it or how to pay for it. It would cost too much to demolish it, and so it is still being built though the dictator was shot on Christmas Day 1989. The Romanian government is imposing price rises and austerity programmes on the people while this monstrosity is being finished.
When the building was started 24,000 workers toiled in three shifts, 24 hours a day for five years. How many died in those labour gangs forced to work there we do not know. This one building has cost so far three billion dollars. He intended it to accommodate the country’s entire communist apparatus. Fifteen different districts were levelled to the ground to make room for it. Over 700 architects were employed, led by a 26-year-old female Ceausescu relative. More than 700 trainloads of marble were hauled there from Transylvania. Entire forests of oak, elm, and sweet cherry were stripped. There are millions of metres of carpet, and 2,800 chandeliers, one of which weighs four and a half tons crafted to look like a space rocket. The floors had to match the ceilings. The mosaics had to match the floor plans. The windows in many of the cavernous reception halls are 17 metres high with miles of curtains sewn with gold and silver threads. These room are so vast they could swallow up Wembley Stadium. There was also an Olympic-size stadium, vast underground car-parks, nuclear bunkers and one tunnel is a train link to the city airport. You can walk for miles in this one building without meeting anyone. There was a balcony erected from which Ceausescu was going to make speeches to his adoring people. But they shot him before that. The only person to have spoken from the balcony is the singer Michael Jackson, who raised his gloved hand and shouted, “I love you Budapest.” It is in Bucharest.
That building is a monument to the arrogance of the rich, to the folly of man. It is a white elephant and a nightmare. It is a symbol of those who have come to believe in their own fantasies. You meet such men in the book of Daniel and this 20th century has witnessed many of them, generally socialist dictators, in Africa, China and eastern Europe. They have ruthlessly taken power, are the recipients of vast wealth and become overwhelmingly arrogant.
Wealth and pride have a tendency to walk together, but in the church the wealthy are not to show a trace of arrogance. They are to sing, “My richest gain I count but loss and pour contempt on all my pride.” Our own experience of wealthy people may be very different. We may have met a millionaire and expressed our admiration of his character. He seemed ‘just like us.’ When he was with us there was no flamboyance at all. But how is he with his employees? In his business, or his office, or his factory? How is he with his rivals, or in his home? Where does he worship? Isn’t the disappointing feature of so many wealthy believers in show business, or sport, or in the media, or politics that they have ceased to go to church? They have found some excuse … that ‘they get approached by people’, but that intrusion can be dealt with by the congregation leadership. These wealthy men think they are exempt from the great exhortation, “Let us not give up meeting together” (Heb. 10:25). They claim to be Christians under the obligation of loving their fellow Christians, but they are not members in a local church. They, of all people, need to keep the Lord’s Day and meet, not with the shallow people from the world of show business and sport and politics, but the Lord’s own people, so very different from themselves – the people they will be spending eternity with. That is something one must say about President Clinton, that I see pictures of him going to church every Sunday, whereas Ronald Reagan, a more conservative man and a professing Christian, was one of those men who protested that it was impossible for him to worship God on the Lord’s Day. He might as well have governed in Moscow.
Wealth can corrupt. The American Puritan, Richard Mather, in his farewell sermon to his congregation, made this observation, “Experience shows that it is an easy thing in the midst of worldly business to lose the life and power of religion, that nothing of it should be left but only the external form, as it were the carcass or shell, worldliness having eaten out the kernel, and having consumed the very soul and life of godliness.” Cotton Mather, his grandson, seeing the decline in religion since his grandfather’s time, said “Religion begat prosperity, and the daughter devoured the mother.” How many preachers have been devoured by wealth?
What is arrogance? It is glorying in man instead of in God. You even meet it in the Christian church in our country, in the preacher’s extravagant house, the expensive clothes, the big car, the telling gestures – pulling down their white shirt-cuffs, the velvet collared coat, the silver-handled walking stick. You see it in the lionised preacher who gets his secretary to finally reply with a one line note of refusal to an old acquaintance who has written him a long encouraging letter which includes a request asking would he give a word at a certain function. You see it when a man is not interested in listening, but only in talking, when he has lost the gift of encouraging his struggling brothers. You see it when a preacher refuses to enter ‘his meeting’ to speak until everyone is seated, and then insists that everyone must be seated until he leaves. We speak of what we do know. “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant.” “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” Think of all he was and all he had. The archangel worshipped him. God said, “This is my beloved Son.” Yet he humbled himself even to the death of the cross.
ii] Materialism. “Command those who are rich in this present world not to … put their hope in wealth” (v.17). There was once a farmer, the Lord Jesus said, whose enterprises were so successful that his barns couldn’t hold all his harvest. “I’ll tear down these old buildings and build more barns, and bigger buildings,” he said. Expansion! That was the keyword for the future. So he lay back in bed and thought to himself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19). But that very night as he slept God spoke to him and said, “You fool.” Why did God say that? Wasn’t he a great farmer? Yes. Wasn’t he hard-working? True. Wasn’t he forward-planning? No. He only thought of the next few years. His horizons were so limited. And who knows what the next few years are going to bring? Who would have dreamed that the Princess of Wales was suddenly going to die as she did? No almanac announced it. No horoscope said that this was what lay ahead.
The rich farmer was a fool because death was never part of his plans. He lived for what was perishing. He lived for the very dust that would be taken from him at death. You see what Paul says in our text? “Command those who are rich in the present world not to … put their trust in wealth which is so uncertain.” The Lord reminds us that moth and rust and thieves can all take from us what we had hoped in. And God said to this farmer, “This very night your life will be demanded from you.” All he had grumbled about were tax demands, and time demands, and the demands of beggars, and the demands of his workmen for higher pay, but he never thought of a demand you can’t brush aside, when God speaks and says, “Away to judgement.” That farmer was like a figure I recently saw on a book-jacket, climbing up a ladder towards the future: every step he took, the rung broke behind him. There was no way down.
There is a great verse in Ecclesiastes 5:10 with such a simple axiom, “Whoever loves money never has money enough.” Isn’t it true that the more men acquire the more men desire? Isn’t that materialism? I was speaking to the Indian Christian who is working with Keith Underhill in Kenya teaching the Bible. He was raised in a wealthy home. His father is a millionaire, but this son knew no contentment and peace as God began to work in his life. It was when he discovered a Bible and read the letter of Paul to the Romans that those opening chapters convicted him of his own sin and need. They pointed him to the finished work of Christ. And there he found a resting place. His father has cut him out of his will for becoming a Christian, but he has given up merely what he could never keep, and he has gained what he will never lose. But he still feels the seductive power of materialism. He only has to work for a day at one of his relatives’ businesses to feel the old excitement and fascination with money stirring up and gripping him.
Money is an acid test of a person’s character. How a Christian uses his money is a barometer of his sanctification. How a man gets his money, and how a man spends his money, and how a man shares his money tells you all the important things about that man. It is good to have money, and the things that money can buy, but it is vital that we check our lives by Christ, and make sure that we have not lost the things that money cannot buy. It can buy vacations, and servants, and any kind of luxury, so we never minimise its power, but it cannot buy salvation, and we are unsaved men, nor a good conscience, and we are guilty men before God. So Paul tells Timothy to “command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth.”
2. There Are Two Duties Rich Men Should Address.
i] Put Your Hope in God. (v.17).
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. This God is a personal God. He loves. He is not silent. He has spoken in past times through his prophets, but he has come especially close to us through his Son Jesus Christ. He has shown us quite comprehensively what he himself is like. He has put his finger on the source of our trouble. It is our sin, and our love of sinning. He has outstretched his hand against the wood of a cross to be crucified as a sacrifice for our sin. He died in our place. On the third day he rose from the dead and he lives today to be our Saviour. He tells us we must come to him and entrust ourselves, every bit of us, into his loving care, and he will receive us and give to us rest. He will become our Pastor, and our Friend, and our Saviour, and most of all our God.
Hope in him! Never cease hoping in him. In other words, tell the rich not to hope in their money. Put your hope in God. Don’t hope in man. A hundred years ago it was the dawn of the 20th century and there were great hopes of what man was about to achieve. A hundred years ago from this pulpit and from every pulpit in this town the appallingly pessimistic doctrine of the depravity of man taught in this Bible was rarely mentioned. There was hope in education, and hope in politics, and hope in trade, and hope in science, and hope in man. And then in the year 1914 Britain drifted into a Great War and every day, for four long years, 400 British soldiers were killed. For four endless years, on every single day of those years, 400 young boys from Britain were killed, and you see the war memorials in every village and the lists of Sunday School scholars killed in almost every church. And hope in man turned into cynicism and despair.
Hope in God, because the Son of God has come, and the blind see, and the lame walk, and the leper is cleansed, and the dead live, and the poor hear the Sermon on the Mount. Hope in the God who became incarnate in Jesus Christ. Hope in the God whose Son was raised from the grave on the third day. You have some money in a Building Society, and you hope they are going to pay you interest? You have set aside each week money for a pension and you hope they are going to pay you. You are going abroad for a year and you are letting your home to people whom you hope will look after your house while you are away. You tell something very sensitive to a good friend and you hope that they are going to keep that confidential. We live by such hopes, because they are grounded in our knowledge of people, and companies, and banks. We have references and testimonials. We have a reason to hope in them. Without such knowledge there is no hope.
Don’t say that you hope things are going to work out when you die. Do you know the Son of God who came ruined sinners to reclaim? Do you know that he said, “Him that cometh to me I will in wise cast out”? Have you come to him? Then hope in him, that he will never cast you out, that he will be your Sovereign Protector for ever, that walls of salvation will surround you, that when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death you will not be alone. Hope in him who will work all things together for your good, from whose love nothing will ever separate you, who will supply all your need so richly.
This is the God we are to hope in, “who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (v.17). What a wonderful phrase! It describes for us a God who gives his children joy, who provides the most satisfying pleasures for us, not to be analysed, not to be evaluated, but the purpose of these gifts is that they might be enjoyed. “Why do you do such a thing?” a Christian may be asked. “Because I enjoy it,” comes the answer. What do you most enjoy in this world? “My mother and father,” someone says. God provided them for you. “My husband, or my wife,” you say. God provided them for you. “Our children,” you say. Children are a heritage from the Lord. “The world we live in.” God designed and made it. “My health.” Your breath is in his hands: you live and move and have your being in him. Every talent, and every achievement, and every wonderful experience are richly provided by God. The insulin that keeps you alive is God’s gift. The telephone and e-mail that keep you in touch with your distant family are God’s gifts. “He provides us with everything for our enjoyment,” the apostle writes. Aren’t you a debtor to God?
Someone says, “My faith.” That’s a gift of God. And your repentance too. “That my sins are forgiven, and that I am a son of God, and that I am going to a place he has prepared for me.” Those are God’s gifts. All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above. Hope in this God. Two men are walking into town. It is a wet Saturday night in Aberystwyth. The first has no coat, but his jacket collar is turned up. He doesn’t seem to care that he is being soaked through. It matters little where he goes. He will find a shop doorway, or a railway carriage. He could go here or he could go there. It is of no importance. He is drifting because he is homeless. That is the way most people are going through life, without any ground for hope. What about you? Have you got hope? Nietzsche wrote a poem with the line in it, “Woe to the man who has no home.”
See, there is a second man, and the darkness is equally around him, and he is just as wet, but there is a lift to his step and a light in his eye and a sense of purpose about his bearing. He whistles as he walks. Why? He has hope. He can see the lights of home ahead, and he knows the one he loves will be waiting there for him. He will find warmth and love, and the darkness of the way will be laughed at. That is the way, men and women, people who hope in Jesus Christ survive the darkness of their journey home. They have hope in this kind and loving heavenly Father who gives us all things richly to enjoy. Hope in him!
Somebody protests, “That is all too comfy and too heavenly minded.” But Paul has something else to tell us:-
ii] Do Good to Man (v.18).
“Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share” (v.18). “Be good,” your parents smilingly said to you as you waved good-bye. But the New Testament says, “Do good.” What does that mean? Three things:
a) “be rich in good deeds.” I remember Professor John Murray preaching on the verse in Ephesians 2:10 which describes the Christian as God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works. We are saved unto good works, he said, not by good works. What’s the difference between two little prepositions, “unto good works” and “by good works”? It is all the difference between heaven and hell. We are saved by the good works of Jesus Christ. That’s grace. We are saved for a life of good works. That’s gratitude.
Whenever you examine a person greatly used of God you will find there not merely an orator and an organiser or that they were a people of prayer but that they were rich in good works. Think of Amy Carmichael, converted at 16 in a CSSM Mission in Yorkshire 1883 in but soon back in her home land of Ireland. She began working with the Belfast City Mission on Saturday nights helping the mill girls. It was not long before she was in India working with children and caring for hundreds of them. She died in January 1951 rich in good deeds.
Or think of that volume of letters which are a sample of Spurgeon’s good deeds. His son said, “Dad often said, ‘I am only a poor clerk, driving the pen hour after hour; here is another whole morning gone and nothing done but letter! letters! letters!” He never handed the work of writing letters to a secretary. He wrote them all by hand in his favourite violet ink. He wrote to his family and to children in his Sunday School and in his orphanage and to people all over the world. He never parades how busy he is. His letters have a restful spirit as though suggesting he certainly has time for this correspondent whether they might have been the Prime Minister or his 5 year-old sister, Caroline Louisa Spurgeon. Hear the opening sentences of one written to her:
Miss Caroline Louisa Spurgeon, Your name is so long that it will almost reach across the paper. We have one gentleman in our school whose name is Edward Ralph William Baxter Tweed; the boys tease him about his long name; but he is a very good boy, and that makes his name a good one. Everybody’s name is pretty, if they are good people.
The Duke of Tuscany has just had a little son; the little fellow was taken to the Catholic Cathedral, had some water put on his face, and then they named him – you must get Eliza to read it – ‘Giovanni Nepomerceno Maria Annunziati Giuseppe Giovannbattista Ferdinando Baldassere Luigi eonzaga Pietro Alessandro Zanobi Antonino.’ A pretty name to go to bed and get up with; it will be a long time before he will be able to say it all the way through… and so on. A simply delightful letter, never to be discarded. It tells us that Spurgeon was rich in good deeds.
Some of you will have heard of Fred Wright who was killed by a tribe of Indians in Brazil in 1935. He was one of eleven children and he excelled them all at sport. He loved rugby, but he’d hurry home after a game, clean up, eat and then there were some older women and he would scrub their floors every week. His brother Joe, who also become a missionary, said about him, “He wasn’t a pious puke.” He was rich in good deeds.
Or think of Dr Helen Roseveare who at 28 went to the Belgian Congo with WEC in 1953. Soon there was the Simba uprising where she was attacked and raped and held prisoner for five months. But then went back to the Congo where she worked for twenty years. She was asked how she viewed her years in the Congo. Those are great questions. Stop for a moment. Someone says to you, “And how do you view your years as a Christian, considering all the sufferings you have gone through?” How Helen Roseveare responded was, I know, how most of you would respond, “I suddenly knew with every fibre of my being that these twenty years had been worthwhile, very worthwhile, utterly worthwhile, with no room for regrets or recriminations.” She was rich in good deeds.
These are true riches which are to characterise every Christian, because we serve one who went about doing good.
b) “Be generous.” (v.18). We are to be generous with our time, with our talents, with our home, with our possessions. And we are to be generous with our money. Timothy, tell rich Christians to be generous. What a sweet refreshing grace generosity is. You’ll never find a preacher down-playing generosity because every preacher is the beneficiary of so much generosity.
Here is the true story of a one pound coin. In the pocket of the one who earned it that coin was just another piece of money. In the offering box, in the missionary envelope, it became a consecrated coin. Invested in a translation of booklet of Sukesh Pabari into Swahili that pound coin became a message of love and hope. To the soul of that Luo man it brought salvation. In the hands, and through the life and preaching of this Christian in western Kenya that pound coin brought grace and peace to his own people in many villages. So through generous giving in one congregation a man printed the gospel in Swahili, a Luo preached the message of grace to many villages and brought eternal life to people the man in Aberystwyth never actually met. In fact he never left Wales. Through prayerful generosity his money became sacred and spiritual.
A letter arrived from Baruch Maoz in Israel this week telling us of the building of their new church – desperately needed because of the hundreds of people attending his services. He informs us that this year he has received an anonymous gift of $800,000 from one man. What generosity from a rich man! I would long for us to become a congregation of generous Christians, not just known as being orthodox and evangelical, but so generous to the Lord’s servants. Couldn’t many of us be much more generous than we are? Haven’t we been saved by the extraordinary generosity of God? For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son. Let me give you a verse about generosity. Proverbs 11:25, “A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”
c) Be willing to share (v.18) That is the third positive commandment Timothy is to give to the rich people of the Ephesian congregation. A friend taught his children about money with a five-in-one-money-box. The first box was his earnings and gifts box where his pocket money and birthday money was kept. Then he had four other compartments. The second was called “God’s box” and there he was encouraged to put his tithe for God. The third box was his savings. You remember how God chose Joseph to advise the kind of Egypt to make sure the country saved in seven years of plenty. Prepare for the future, for the proverbial ‘rainy day’. The book of Proverbs tells us about that even the little ant prepares for a time when no food is available. The fourth box is the spending box and that’s where we put money for the new computer or the new kitchen. And the fifth box is the ‘others box’ and that is the generosity box and that is where we learn from the beginning that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
“Be willing to share,” Timothy told the congregation in Ephesus. There are those great words of the Lord Jesus, “Freely you have received; freely give.” God said, “I will share my heaven with sinner. They shall sit in the throne with me. I will never be separated from them.”
3. The Consequences for the Rich are Great.
“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 are rich people who set up great foundations named after them – the Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie foundation. They have used their treasures to set up foundations. These foundations exist and do much good after the life of the millionaire is over. Every Christian can do the same. You do good, like Amy Carmichael, you are rich in good deeds like Helen Roseveare, you are generous like the man who has sent anonymously $800,000 to a congregation in Israel, you are willing to share with others and in doing that you have set up a great foundation. When you stand before the Lord he will say you did all this to the least of these my brethren and so you did them to me. “Welcome to the coming age.” You have a foundation to stand on. It is a foundation of gold and silver and precious stones. All you have done with what you had. Your hope in God and loving care for your fellow men enables you to get a grip of real living.
Here is a mother who denies herself for the sake of her sons. She serves them from one week to the next, working and caring for them, but they just drink and smoke and gambol away all they’ve got. The question is, “Who’s got a grip on life that is really life?” Life that is truly life is service. Look at those three boys at their mother’s funeral. They are inconsolable. “She gave us everything. She loved us with an unqualified love, and now she is gone, and we have this load of guilt to carry round with us for the rest of our lives.” They have lost out on life itself – “life that is truly life” – it is more than physical and biological life. It is life from heaven, the life of God that fills men and women rich and poor. If you’ve got it then it will show itself in doing good to others, being generous, willing to share. That life lays up treasure in heaven and we have a grip on it now – “life that is truly life.”
4 June 2000 GEOFF THOMAS