We are to study some words from Paul's first letter to Timothy. So will you please open your Bibles at 1 Timothy 6.17-19. But how do you understand these verses today in a godless, materialistic world? As I have to be a shorter than normal because of the presentation, I have just two headings in answer to that question: first, God Wants Us to Face Reality and secondly, God Wants Us to Enjoy Life.
By way of introduction, I just need to say that Paul is ending up his letter to Timothy, the church leader of the church at Ephesus, with the subject of money. In the early part of the chapter, he spends time on those who want to have more money. In this last part of the chapter, he spends time on those who already have more money – the rich.
Considering so many of the world are really poor, many of us in the West are "rich" by comparison. If so, and if we can control our money, these verses are so relevant today. And if we are students with little money, it's good to learn about money before temptations come. So much by way of introduction.
1. God Wants Us to Face Reality
There are three realities we must face.
The first reality is that godly stewardship of our money is a command for the Christian believer. In verse 17 Paul writes to Timothy, this young church leader:
"As for the rich in this present age, charge them [or 'command them']"
And there follow certain commands. Of course, from Eden onwards we are free to disobey. But how foolish, for God's commands are for our wellbeing and welfare. That's why 15% of Jesus' teaching (it's been estimated) was about money – that's more than his teaching on heaven and hell combined. His teaching on money, therefore, must be important. So godly stewardship of our money is a command, but we are free to ignore it – to our peril.
The second reality is that "this present world" is not all there is – there is a glorious future beyond history and our stewardship of money relates to that future as we shall see.
The Christian world view can be summed up in four nouns: "Creation", "Fall", "Redemption" and "Consummation". And the consummation includes not only a wonderful new age but also Jesus coming again at the end of history. As we say in the Creed, he is coming "to judge the living and the dead."
Paul had this worldview as second nature. So in verse 17 when he speaks of "the rich in this present age", that is by contrast to "the future" in verse 19. In verse 19 he refers to
"storing up treasure … as a good foundation for the future."
That is when there will be Christ's judgment and that wonderful new age. Yes, with regard to that judgment Christian believers can be assured. Jesus says of the believer (John 5.24):
"he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life."
Paul says (Romans 8.39) nothing …
"will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
However, Paul also says in 2 Corinthians 5.10 …
"We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil."
We must keep that balance and all that in mind as we consider, in a moment, verse 19 and "a good foundation for the future." So the second reality is that this present age is not all there is - there is a final judgment and a glorious future.
The third reality is that money has special temptations. Earlier in our chapter Paul has told Timothy (verses 9-10):
"those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs."
That's general. Now verse 17 is more specific.
"As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty."
Rich people can boast of their cars, houses, and all sorts of other possessions. They arrogantly look down on poorer people with contempt. That's one temptation.
A second (also in verse 17 and very serious) is the temptation for people …
"to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches … [rather than] on God."
This is, of course, is idolatry - putting "wealth, which is so uncertain" in place of God. And it is utterly foolish to put anything, but especially money, in place of God. For Jesus warned that wealth is so uncertain. It can easily be lost, as a result of pests (like the plagues of locusts in sub-Saharan Africa at the moment), corrosion (like rust and dry rot) or theft (like last week the daughter of former F1 boss, Bernie Ecclestone, was robbed of jewellery worth millions). And every funeral illustrates its uncertainty, verse 7 of chapter 6:
"we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world."
How foolish to live for money and not for God!
So to sum up God wants us to face three realities. One, there is a divine command to think Christianly about money – that's why we need a giving review – to help our thinking. Two, our money relates not just to time (now) but to eternity. And, three, there are temptations from having wealth, not least arrogance regarding those less wealthy; and, most damning of all, putting money before God.
2. God Wants Us to Enjoy Life
And there are three ways Paul says we are to enjoy life.
First, we ourselves are now to enjoy what we have. Sometimes it is right for someone to get rid of everything and follow Christ. The Rich Young ruler recorded in the Gospels should have done that in obedience to Christ. But in these verses Paul is not saying, "get rid of everything." Rather he saying, "steward what you have well; and enjoy what God has given you." In the last part of verse 17, he says:
"God … richly provides us with everything to enjoy."
Paul, of course, is writing in the context of some very wrong teaching. False teachers were saying that the material world, including the human body (the flesh), is all bad. Only the spiritual is good. Paul had already written about these false teachers in chapter 4 of 1 Timothy (verses 3-4), where he says,
"[they ] forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving."
So here in chapter 6 verse 17 he says, God …
"richly provides us with everything to enjoy."
Therefore what money provides (that is honestly acquired and God-honouring) should be enjoyed. So we are to enjoy now what we have.
But, secondly, we are also to help others enjoy life. In verse 18 Paul writes:
"[those with money] are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share."
Doing Good or Good works are so important for Christians. On the one hand, they prove their faith is genuine. And, on the other hand, "doing good" or "good works" are to be their goal in life. Paul had already written to believers as a whole in the church in Ephesus the following (Ephesians 2.8-10):
"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."
But he didn't stop there as some wrongly do. He went on in verse 10:
"For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."
So Paul now wants the Ephesians to be "rich in good works". He would have been wanting people who could, and were called to, to make money honestly and as much as they could. But this should not be for selfish purposes but so they could do much good with it.
I think of John Laing, the head of the building firm, who lived near me when I was a child. He developed his firm, building houses, motorways, power stations, airfields, and one Cathedral, and made millions. But he gave millions to Christian causes, and on his housing estates, he built chapels at cost price.
Few can copy John Laing. But most of us, even very modestly, are able "to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share." So, secondly, God wants us to help others also enjoy themselves and experience God's goodness.
And, thirdly, and finally we are to work for our own personal enjoyment in heaven. The reality is that someone's good works now, and their generosity now, is like an investment for that final judgment day and beyond. For Paul writes in verse 19 that they are …
"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."
And notice that word "themselves" – "treasure for themselves". But someone may ask, "isn't that like the prosperity gospelers Paul has warned against in verse 5 of chapter 6 – those 'imagining that godliness is a means of gain.'"
No! Those false teachers were like the young person who does their piano practice because they get extra pocket money for doing so. Contrast that with the young person who practices because they want to be a good piano player and love music. Their goal is what the piano is there for – music, not a means of making money.
Similarly Christian believers obey God and are generous not for money now - although often God does bless them financially as we heard in Malachi on tithing this morning. Rather, if they are generous they are "storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future" And that leads to "that which is truly life" in that glorious new age which all share in.
They know that God's will is for generosity. They then give money to the church and other good causes. And in the process, others trust God and are generous and they too "store up treasure in heaven". So all are winners!
I must conclude.
I do so simply by reading again our passage:
"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. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 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."