Being Prosperous

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Gordon Brown became Prime Minister last week promising us more and more prosperity. And according to The Economist magazine we’re living at a time when many people in this country and therefore probably many of us here this morning have never had it so good financially. Yet at the same time 1 billion people around the world are destitute. Some of the world’s wealthiest people are turning to philanthropy as they try and do something to alleviate extreme poverty and disease. The world’s richest man, Bill Gates, has set up his own charitable foundation to give away $33bn of his personal fortune to help fight diseases such as malaria and AIDS. The world’s second richest man Warren Buffett is joining forces with Bill and plans to give away 85% of his $44bn fortune, starting this month. That is all very commendable. However even by my poor mathematical reckoning that still leaves them with a few billion for themselves. In Mark 12 Jesus watched many rich people put large amounts into the temple treasury and then a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Who gave the most? Jesus said that the poor widow put more into the treasury than all the others. Why? Because they all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on. You see Jesus measures giving, not by what we give, but by what we keep for ourselves. And using that measure the poor widow's giving outdistanced all the others put together. The rich gave out of their abundance and therefore had much left over. Theirs was but a contribution, whereas the poor widow gave all she had to live on, which is all very challenging for us, living as we do in a society gripped by materialism and consumerism.

What is materialism? Well the dictionary defines 'materialism' as 'a tendency to prefer material possessions and physical comfort to spiritual values'. And consumerism is 'the promise of happiness offered through material goods and services which capitalizes on the pleasure of the personal customer choice.' Are you, am I in danger of succumbing to materialism and consumerism instead of living counter culturally for Jesus Christ and knowing true happiness?

Well this morning, as we start a new series on Christian teaching about various issues facing us today, we’re looking at being prosperous – at being relatively rich Christians in an age of materialism and hunger. How are we to live? What should be our attitude to material possessions? How should we use what God has given us? What are the dangers and duties of being rich?

Well those are some of the questions Paul answers in 1Timothy 6. It’s a chapter which tackles the place of material possessions in Christian discipleship whether we’re rich or poor. So do have 1 Timothy 6 open in front of you. You’ll find that on p1194 of the church Bibles. Now because we’re concentrating this morning on the challenges of being prosperous I’m going to concentrate on v17-19. However we need to begin with verses 6-10, which are foundational whatever our financial position. So my first point is


Godliness with contentment is great gain

Paul says that we are to pursue gain, but it has to be the right kind of gain. And that is godliness with contentment. We are to aim for godliness and be content with what we have materially. And how can we be content? Well listen to Paul speaking in Philippians 4: "I have learnt the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." And what is that secret? He goes on "I can do all things through him who gives me strength." In other words his contentment springs from his relationship with God. Whatever his material situation, he’s content because he knows that something is far more important than material possessions and wealth, and that is his relationship with God. If you are so growing like Christ and delighting in God that you are freed from that covetous greed that so many of us can be afflicted by, that you are content with what you have, then that is real gain, says Paul. And why should we have that attitude? Look at verse 7:

For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that."

Life, you see, is a brief journey between nakedness. What's the point of piling up wealth and riches when you can’t take it with you? A woman once asked a vicar after the funeral of a wealthy woman: "Vicar, how much did she leave?" "Everything madam," he replied. This life is a preparation for eternity. We must travel lightly. If you are so attached to the things of this world that you acquire and long for as much as you can get, then you are making a foolish mistake. It's not that he’s saying that food, clothing and shelter is all a Christian can have. Rather he's saying that that is all we need. And we should be content with that. Now if God gives us much more, then rejoice, but don't let that be the source of our joy and contentment. Rather, godliness with contentment is great gain.

Those who are not content (v9), those who want to get rich for selfish gain, in the end experience not great gain but rather great loss. They (v9) “fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction”. Why? Because they love money and as v10 reminds us, the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. And “some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs”. Judas Iscariot, the materialist disciple who had his hand in the money bag and who betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, was one of the first to do so. This is a clear warning to us today in such a materialistic world. So Paul continues (v11&12), “But you man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called…” You see true prosperity and success come from meditating on and obeying God’s Word, trusting Him and taking Him at His Word (Joshua 1:8-9). And giving is the antidote to materialism and covetousness. “Give and it will be given to you, a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over…”, says Jesus (Luke 6:38). Do you believe that? I believe we’re about to learn much more about that through continuing to give – not just money but people to Holy Trinity Gateshead. So don’t get distracted by selfish financial riches. Love God and your neighbour, not money. As Jesus said: “You can’t serve both God and money.” (Mt 6:24)

That’s not to say the Bible is necessarily against money and wealth creation. It’s against the love of money. And there is a need for some Christians to create wealth for the sake of the kingdom – for ministries such as Clayton Media. But they are to be content not covetous. The former construction company president Sir John Laing learned the secret of being content. He was throughout his life a careful and generous steward of the resources God gave to him. At the age of thirty his building business was in severe financial difficulty. But he made a commitment, which he later summed up in these words: "First, the centre of my life was to be God – God as seen in Jesus Christ. Secondly, I was going to enjoy life and help others to enjoy it." To this end he drew up a financial plan to determine his present and future giving: “If income is £2000 per year, give £200, live on £500, save £1300. If income is £4000 per year, give £1500, live on £500, save £2000.” He did not increase his standard of living but he did increase the amounts he shared and saved. When Sir John's will was published after his death, many people were amazed at the size of his estate: just £371. The man who had handled millions had given them all away.

So you see Paul is not for poverty against wealth but rather for contentment against covetousness. Covetousness (v9&10) is a self destructive evil, whereas simplicity and contentment (v6-8) are beautiful and Christ like virtues.

But what does Paul go on to specifically say to those of us who are prosperous, to those who are 'rich in this present world' and to those who might be in the future? What are we commanded not to be and to do in v.17 and what are we commanded to do and to be in v.18-19? Well that’s my next point:


Look at those verses and note that these are commands not options:

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.

Notice that Timothy is not to tell 'those who are rich in this present world' to become poor. But he does first warn the wealthy of the spiritual dangers of being rich and then tells them the duties of being rich, and commands them to carry out those obligations - namely to be generous with their wealth – to be truly sharing and so truly saving for eternity – 'storing up for yourselves treasure in heaven', as Jesus put it in Matthew 6. Now in no way can we earn a place in heaven, the only way is through faith in Jesus Christ, 'but where your treasure is, there your heart will be also' said Jesus (Mt 6:21). So first:

a) THE DANGERS OF BEING RICH v 17The first danger Paul warns against is pride or arrogance. V17:

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant…

Wealth can easily make us feel self-important, look down on others and boast as if it is our achievement. Deuteronomy 8 also warns us against forgetting the Lord, which leads to pride and problems. V18&19 say this:

But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth…If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed.

The second danger of being rich is false security. V17:

Command those who are rich in this present world…not 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.

Putting our hope in wealth is so short sighted. Wealth is so uncertain. Many people have gone to bed rich and woken up poor. In the dot com company frenzy a few years ago one New York businessman, Michael Donahue, saw his stake rise to $448m. He then bought a $9.6m second home in Florida, sponsored a polo team and a stake in a private jet. "It was a lifestyle thing," he said. Today Mr Donahue is a member of another club – the 90% club – a club of executives whose companies stock price has crashed by 90% or more and he owes far more than he owns. "Going up was easy," he said, "but when it starts going down, no-one wants to talk to you." Jesus warned:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal [and we could add fire, inflation, corruption, terrorism]. But store up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal." (Mt 6:19-20)

We are to invest in God's work with our money and our time, an investment that is future proof. And we are not to put off making that investment so to speak.

The rich fool in Luke's Gospel went to bed rich but didn't wake up. He was looking forward to taking life easy for many years, using his riches purely for his own pleasure. But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you what you have prepared for yourself?' Jesus concluded: 'This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich towards God.' (Lk 12:16-21)

The Apostle Paul says: 'Don't put your hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but put your hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.' Is our hope in our wealth or in God? You see the proper object of our trust is not a thing but a Person, not wealth but God 'who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment'. Having wealth and possessions is not wrong in itself unless they have been appropriated illegally and immorally. 'God richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.' We are not to exchange materialism for asceticism. God is a generous God who wants us to appreciate the good gifts of creation. It is our attitude to and how we steward the resources God gives us that is key. The dangers are that we look down on those less well off and trust in the gift instead of in the giver. Secondly Paul lays down the duties of being rich, which is my next point:

b) THE DUTIES OF BEING RICH v18-19 look first at v18:

Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.

Wealth can make people lazy. Some wealthy people are known as the idle rich. Today some of the top footballers are the new idle rich. Training in the morning and then time on their hands with money to spend, lots of money to spend, with many of the top players now earning at least £70,000 a week. That’s the sum Newcastle’s new signing Joey Barton will start on after also getting £300,000 for leaving Manchester City. One better example is Alan Shearer. His generosity from the money raised at his testimonial has created The Alan Shearer Centre in West Denton for people with disabilities and their carers. One Christian basketball player in the States, David Robinson, helps to feed the homeless through his Feed My Sheep programme and he also helps needy families get supplies for their children. He says, 'These gifts aren't really sacrifices for me. For if I'm clutching on to my money with both hands, how can I be free to hug my wife and kids?'

But many of the idle rich can simply write out a cheque without thinking about it, without therefore being generous and sacrificial with either their money or their time. And so can we. So Timothy is to command the rich to do good, to actually get involved, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. Rich Christians today are commanded to do the same. We are actively to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and give generously and willingly, willing to share what we have been given.

John Wesley said: "Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can. Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever…you can."

Now again doing good deeds won't save us. We are saved by grace through faith in Christ, not by works so that no-one can boast. But good deeds and generous giving are evidence of faith. In Ephesians 5:1 Christians are to 'be imitators of God'. God is rich yet out of his riches he richly provides us with everything we need. And since God is such a generous giver, his people are to be generous too, not only in imitation of him but also because of the huge spiritual and physical needs of people in the world around us. And if Christians do not give generously to gospel work here and overseas no-one else will.

By giving and sharing generously Christians, says Paul, will gain for themselves treasure in heaven, which will far exceed any earthly treasure. V19 of 1 Timothy 6:

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.

The word foundation means something that is solid and lasting. The spiritual riches that we lay up for ourselves in heaven are not exposed to decay, theft or fire but remain permanently safe from all danger. Nothing on this earth has such a solid foundation for everything changes here.

So, to conclude, which is the more valuable? To be rich in this age or in the age to come? To accumulate treasure on earth or in heaven? To make more money now for ourselves and be lured into shallow pleasures, or to take hold of the life that is truly life?

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