This morning in this short series of sermons entitled God's Rich Provision we are to look at Paul's first letter to Timothy, chapter 6 and particularly verses 17-19. And our subject is Being Generous. After some words of introduction, my two headings are first, The Dangers of Wealth, then, secondly, The Opportunities from Wealth.
In our passage Paul is talking about the rich so that Timothy can then talk to the rich (that verse 17 describes as "the rich in this present age"). So how we need to hear what Paul has to say about giving and generosity! For most of us are rich in comparative terms (or soon will be, if we are students) – that is, compared to the rest of the world. Did you know that 80% of the world lives on less than £10 a day (or £3,500 a year)? We need to hear what Paul has to say about money because money, like sex, attracts false teaching and false teachers. And that is the context for this 1 Timothy 6 – false teachers. Look at verse 5 where Paul refers to...
"people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain."
Perhaps they were like a clergyman I came across last week. He was appealing for funds for giving to the poor; but in his literature there were these words:
"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 sow."
He then went on to say…
"…write on the enclosed slip what you need from God - the salvation of a loved one, healing, a rise in pay, a better job, 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 in return."
As with most errors or heresies, there is some truth here. But you need the whole truth and nothing but the truth in regard to giving. That is why we have a Giving Review – to learn about or to remind ourselves of biblical truths and facts that are so easy to forget or distort. The Giving Review then acts like a spiritual health check over whether we are living God's way with regard to money or not. And if not, it is an opportunity to do something about it. So much by way of introduction and so to my first heading:
1. The Dangers of Wealth
Look at verse 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."
And there are three dangers here:
First, that of thinking this teaching on money is optional. Some people may think it is just for some inner circle. No! It is for all the rich; and it is a command or "charge" because it is so important. For how you handle money is fundamental to your Christian life. If you get it wrong, you will suffer spiritually. Paul knew that money could be poisonous. Look back to verses 9 and 10:
"But 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."
So money is a potential poison unless it is handled correctly; and what Paul says is not by way of 'take it or leave it' advice. It is a strong command.
The second danger is pride. The rich are "not to be haughty" or proud. So you are not to boast about your wealth. On the one hand, that is unpleasant. But, on the other, it can be the first downward step to living without God. Listen to Deuteronomy 8.13-14 from our Old Testament reading. There Moses is warning the people to be careful:
"…lest when … your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart is lifted up, and you forget the Lord our God."
And such pride leads on to the third danger, namely materialism. And materialism is, of course, a form of idolatry, as we heard in the last two verses of our Old Testament reading (Deut. 8.17-18):
"Beware that you say in your heart, 'My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.' You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth."
Remember God works or 'gets' things directly and indirectly. "He supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food", as Paul told the Corinthians when writing about giving (2 Cor. 9.10) - seed through nature and bread through human skill. Therefore, such materialism is idolatrous. It is putting yourself in the place of God, thinking that you are the ultimate wealth creator, when all along he gives you that skill. Also such confidence in your wealth is utterly foolish. It is "setting … hopes on the uncertainty of riches" – on riches that are unreliable. As Jesus said (Matt. 6.19):
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal."
And the folly of such hopes was the subject of Jesus' Parable of the Rich Fool, with which many will be familiar. So, the dangers of wealth - Paul warns it can act like a poison; it can lead to pride; and that leads to idolatrous materialism, through ignoring God. Then secondly:
2. The Opportunities from Wealth
What are the positive opportunities that money brings? There are three mentioned.
First, when you trust and obey God you discover that there is the opportunity for enjoyment. You discover that our God, verse 17, is one…
"…who richly provides us with everything to enjoy."
On the one hand, there is the spiritual joy from sins forgiven and new life flowing from God's great provision that Paul elsewhere speaks of as God's "inexpressible gift" (2 Cor. 9.15) – Jesus Christ himself. For through his horrific death our sins are forgiven and through his miraculous Resurrection and his giving the Holy Spirit new spiritual life is enjoyed.
But God also provides material blessings as well as spiritual blessings. However, as verse 17 makes clear, this provision is as you set your hopes on God, the provider, and not on the provision, namely uncertain riches – on a person, not on things. That is the mistake of the Prosperity Gospel - to offer hope of things (uncertain riches) as the end, but with the person (God) as the means. But our God wants you to enjoy material things in the right way.
Secondly, money, of course, provides an opportunity and an obligation for you, verse 18…
"…to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share."
With regard to doing good and being generous, consider George Müller the 19th century philanthropist and preacher. Early in his ministry he was convicted by Jesus' words in Luke 6.38:
"Give and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you."
So he believed he should trust God for his daily needs. He, therefore, gave away everything he received except what was needed for basic living. And God honoured that trust. Over his lifetime Müller was able to set up 5 orphanages for 10,000 children; 7 day schools educating 81,500 children; and 12 Sunday schools teaching 33,000 children. Also he distributed 2 million Bibles and 3 million tracts. So over the 60 years of his ministry, Müller gave away £1.5 million at a time when a house could be bought for a few pounds! In whatever way individually we are called to give, Müller is certainly a challenge to…
"… do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share."
The Bible is clear that all we have is God's. King David said when he had collected all the gifts from God's people for building the temple:
"Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for everything in heaven and earth is yours" (1 Chron. 29.11).
So we are stewards of God's wealth. Not giving back God his due is, then, robbing God as Malachi 3.8 says. Do you consider that, when you are thinking about your own giving? It would seem a lot of Christians don't. There was a church in Essex that did a calculation. It reckoned that if all its members were made redundant and started to give 10% of their social security money, the church's income would rise by 65%. 10% is a biblical percentage. But how do you spend the other 90%? That has to be considered responsibly. The Bible says, in various places, you are to give or spend not only for local Church work and workers and other church costs; but wider Mission and Christian aid work; people in need; your family; your parents; widows; the poor and anyone who asks.
Yes, we have a Welfare State and a tax system through which some of that is given. And, yes, how we praise God for the giving at this church and how last year income met expenditure – there was no deficit. But some facts are unassailable and that is that generally Christian work is underfunded in this country. Also around the world there is an underfunding of needs. I speak as the Chairman of AID, Anglican International Development (which started in our Church Hall). However, as an encouragement to giving…
The third opportunity is of storing up eternal treasure in heaven. This is the promise Jesus speaks about – that dispersing earthly riches in the present, results in an increase of heavenly wealth in the future. So Paul says people's giving and generosity now is (verse 19)…
"…storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life."
This is true treasure or true prosperity. It's like a child practicing the piano each night not for the chocolate incentive, but because he or she wants to be a great musician. However, the child enjoys the chocolate. So giving is to be for God's kingdom that one day, when Christ returns, will be utterly amazing. But as a matter of fact, God, good parent that he is, gives you material blessings as he wills, en route. When he gives them, you should receive them, be thankful and enjoy them.
I must conclude. 2017 is the year of the 500th anniversary of Luther's nailing his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg. This year in our 2017 Giving Review we ought, therefore, to remember his statement that we all need two conversions – one of our hearts and the other of our wallets. This Giving Review, therefore, prompts two questions. One, are you converted to Christ as Lord and Saviour? And, if so, is your wallet also converted?