Holding on to Real Life

God entrusts some of his children with riches. What should they do with everything that they don’t need?

Anson Kroeker on February 2, 2020
Holding on to Real Life
February 2, 2020

Holding on to Real Life

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Passage: 1 Timothy 6:17-21
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Are you rich? Many of you, most of you, maybe all of you, would probably respond by saying “no.” When you hear the word “rich” you think about all of the people who have more than you do. Compared to them, you are not rich.

But what if you looked the other direction? What if you considered all of the people on the other side of you who have a lot less than you?

In Canada, a single person is considered to be living below the poverty line if they make about $19,000 a year or less.1https://milescorak.com/2018/08/21/canadas-official-poverty-line-what-is-it-how-could-it-be-better/ And yet, making $19,000 a year puts you among the wealthiest 12.3% of people on planet earth.2http://www.worldwealthcalculator.org In other words, if you’re living on the poverty line in Canada, you’re still richer than 87.7% of the world.

If you make just over $44,000 a year, you are in the top 5% wealthiest people on earth. If you make $54,000 a year, you are in the top 2%.

Think about it this way: have you ever thrown food in the garbage because you bought more than you were able to eat? Have you ever purchased something not because you needed it to survive or do your work, but just because you wanted it? By definition, you’re wealthy. You have more money than you actually need.

There may be many people more wealthy than you. But most of us in this room today are very, very rich compared to most other people in the world.

And so our passage today has something to say to us. Because in this passage, Paul gives Timothy instruction on what he is to charge or command those who are rich in his church.

Now let’s just remember where we’ve been recently. For the past two weeks, moving through 1 Timothy 6, we’ve been hearing just how dangerous the love of money is. “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. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things...” (1 Timothy 6:9–11b).

I hope you’ve got the message: that the desire for money is really dangerous. You can’t be content to merely avoid it. You need to run from it, proactively and intentionally distancing yourself from it, or else you may find yourself sucked away from eternal life altogether.

If Timothy was in danger, then none of us are safe from this or immune to it.

And yet, what are we supposed to do with this? How can we run from all this when we live in Saskatchewan, where simply earning minimum wage makes you one of the top 10% richest people in the world?

Should we take everything we’ve heard in the past two weeks and decide to give up our jobs, sell our possessions, and withdraw from the culture entirely?

I have a friend who holds that position. I’ve heard him say that Christian discipleship is almost impossible when you’re living on a fixed income. He encourages all Christians to quit their jobs, sell their homes, and expect God to give us what we need.

Jesus asked some people to do that (Matthew 19:21). And if he asked us all, we’d say yes without arguing or talking back, because He is our king. But our passage today tells us that He doesn’t ask this of everyone. It shows us that God has chosen to bless some of His people with material wealth and possessions, even though it’s not something they have sinfully desired. So now that they have it, what are they supposed to do with it?

Our passage gives us the answer. And it does it in the form of a list. Depending on how you break it down, there are seven items on this list: seven charges or commands Timothy was to deliver to the rich in his church. Two of them are negative—things they were not to do. And five are positive: things they were to do or to be.

No Haughtiness

So let’s jump right in and see what God is saying to us through Paul this morning. We find this first negative command right there in verse 17: “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty…” Isn’t it true that those who are rich always face the temptation to feel proud or haughty against those who are not as well-off as them?

And you might be thinking about times you’ve seen this is other people here, but let’s make this uncomfortably personal. I think many of us know what this haughtiness feels like, ourselves. We feel it when we’re in the grocery store and someone who is obviously less well-off than us walks up to grab some milk out of the cooler beside us. You know that feeling I’m talking about: the sense of being superior or better or smug.

That’s haughtiness. Pride. And it’s dead wrong.

“What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). Would you be any different from them if you have been born into their family, had their same parents, the same kind of childhood, the same kind of opportunities or lack thereof? Are you where you are in life because you’re just a better person than they are, who needs God’s grace any less?

There is no room for pride in the Christian life, especially not any that is connected to our wealth. The rich in this present age must not be haughty.

No False Hopes

Second, the rich must not “set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17).

Isn’t this another ever-present temptation? To look to money to give us the security and confidence towards the future that only God can give us? To feel secure when our money seems secure, and to feel very insecure when our money feels insecure?

A 2017 survey revealed that almost half of all Canadians experience “extreme emotional stress” as a result of money, and 40% of Canadians loose sleep over money worries. And it’s not just the poor who struggle with this. One in three of those who worry like this have an income of $100,000 or more.3https://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/personal-finance/household-finances/one-in-two-canadians-is-a-bundle-of-nerves-about-money/article37000024/

That’s what happens when you set your hopes on riches. They disappoint you over and over again. They are unable to bear the weight of our trust, because they are inherently uncertain, like our passage says.

That’s why Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19). Your stuff is just waiting to be wrecked or stolen. Your money is just waiting for the next stock market crash. None of it is going to last.

But that doesn’t mean we’re doomed to worry. Like verse 17 goes on to share, we must set our hope on God. He must be our security and confidence. He is able to bear the weight of our hopes. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). Therefore we will not fear though the stock market gives way, though our bank accounts crumble and our RRSPs be moved into the heart of the sea.

And God, “richly provides us with everything to enjoy,” as verse 17 finishes up by saying. God has promised to feed us and clothe us (Matthew 6:25-34). And He so often gives us so much more than this.

He is not a skimpy giver. He richly provides us with everything to enjoy.

So the rich are not to be haughty nor are they to set their hopes on their riches. But is that it? After that, should they just enjoy what they’ve got?

Not quite. Beginning in verse 18, God through Paul gives the rich a list of five positive commands. Here is what the rich should be doing with what God has blessed them with.

Do Good

First in this list of five, verse 18 says that “They are to do good.” And in the context here, this word speaks of using their money to do good. So in other words, if you have more money than we need, you should understand that God has entrusted you with it for this purpose. He wants you to use it to do good.

You don’t have to look too far to see ways that you can use your money to do good. A basket comes right past you every week here at church. Like we saw a few weeks ago in chapter 5, if you are spiritually benefitting from your church, it is right for you to contribute to its needs (1 Timothy 5:17-18). So that’s a great place to start.

But if your church’s giving is way above budget and we start saying “please stop giving money to us,” then there are organizations a plenty where you can use your money to accomplish good in this world, physical good and eternal good. Because this is what riches are for.

Think about the ways you can use your possessions for good. If God has blessed you with a home, that’s not so you can have a castle. That’s worldly thinking. If you have a home it’s so that you can use it for good by showing hospitality.

And the list goes on. Wealth is to be used to do good. That’s what it’s for.

Be Rich in Good Works

Secondly, verse 18 says that the rich are “to be rich in good works.” Note that it doesn’t say they are to do good works. Rather, they’re to be rich in them. They are to abound in them.

You might ask what the difference is between doing good and being rich in good works. Maybe there’s not a big difference, but it’s quite possible that being “rich in good works” points to the fact that the rich have more time available to them.

Just think about it this way: free time is a sign of wealth. If you have free time, it means that you make enough money when you are working so that you don’t need to work 16 hours a day, like many people in the world needs to do just to survive.

And so if you don’t need to work 16 hours a day just to survive, then you have time that you can invest in serving others through a lifestyle of good works. We’re going to hear a lot more about good works when we get to Titus in the next weeks. But for now, we should know that the rich are to be rich in them.

Generous and Ready to Share

Third, rich are to be generous, and fourth, ready to share. These two really go together, don’t they? They point to a person who is not holding on to their riches. Because they don’t desire to be rich, they’re not thinking of ways to hold on to what they have.

They are looking at their money and possessions as tools to be used to bless and serve others. They are valuing people more than their money and possessions. And so they give lots away: they are generous. And they don’t have to be coaxed into this. They are ready at the tip of a hat to share what they have with others.

Store Up Treasure Where It Really Counts

And do you know why all of this matters? Why these four commands are more than just good ideas? Because of this fifth command given to the rich in verse 19. As they do all of these other things, what will they really be doing? They will be “storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:19).

Once again we see God through Paul helping to make sense of our reality here and now by giving us an eternal perspective.

Verse 19 echoes the words of Jesus, who after telling us not to store up treasures on earth, said, “but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20).

We often hear that and think, “What does it actually look like to store up treasures in heaven?” It looks like 1 Timothy 6:18. Using your money to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.

This stores up treasure in heaven because this is the kind of activity that God is going to reward in heaven.

And just think about how incredible this is. When you get to heaven, if you’ve used your money well here on earth, you will find that you already have treasure, resources, stored up there, waiting for you to put them to use in the New Creation.

Just think: pretend you’re holding a $100 bill in your hand, and you think, “I could spend this now, or I could put this in a bank here on earth, but I’m really going to want to use this in the New Creation.” And imagine if you could just go poof! and send that money on ahead of you, into heaven where nobody can touch it or tax it, and it’s going to be waiting for you to use in eternity.

Does that sound too far-fetched? It shouldn’t. Because that’s what we do get to do. And we do it by taking that $100 and using it for the kingdom of Jesus. Using it to do good. Using it to be generous. And as you do that, you’re storing up treasure for yourself as a good foundation for the future in the form of eternal reward from God Himself.

So don’t waste your money on this life. Don’t grab on to the Monopoly money of this world. Grab on to what is real. Do you see those words there as verse 19 concludes? “So that they may take hold of that which is truly life.”

This world is not real life. This is just the shadow, just the sample, just the preview. Eternity in the New Heavens and New Earth is the real thing that we were made for. And we need to see things that way.

That’s why verse 17 said, “As for the rich in this present age,” because this is just the present age. And our riches here are not going to last. What really matters is being rich in the age to come. And God, in His grace, has made it possible for us to use our riches in this age to invest in the age to come. How foolish we would be if we turned him down and said “no, thank you.”

I know how difficult this can be. I know how all of the advertising and plain old stuff that surround us can push eternity to the margins and make it feel like this world is all that matters. But God can work in us.

He’s done this for me in increasing ways in the past several years, as I’ve read and studied these parts of God’s word and asked him to work these truths into the fabric of my soul. I experienced it as we were making a significant financial decision before moving up to Nipawin, and I realized—almost surprisingly—that the promise of eternal reward was factoring in to my financial planning right alongside of these other earthly considerations.

And I realized that God had begun to shape my heart, to actually believe what His word says and to act accordingly. So ask God to do that for you, and to do it more and more and more.

But please don’t wait for your heart to get in line before you start obeying. Jesus didn’t say, “Get your heart in gear, and then your money will follow.” He said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

So start by putting your treasure where your heart should be. Start being generous. Start doing 1 Timothy 6:17-19. And just watch what happens to your heart.

O Timothy

Now that would be a good place to conclude here this morning, but we’re going to press on for a little bit longer, because we’re actually almost done 1 Timothy.

When we look at verse 20 and 21, we might think this is a subject change. But it’s not. This whole discussion of riches has happened in the context of Timothy setting his church straight and fleeing from the love of money himself so that he doesn’t shipwreck his own faith.

And that’s the theme that Paul returns to here. But even as he does that, he used the language of riches to instruct Timothy. This phrase “guard the deposit” was a common phrase in the ancient world for when someone entrusted you with their treasured possession. And it was your job to keep it safe and return it in the same condition without damage.

So just think about what this is saying. The rich were not supposed to guard their deposits. They were to be generous, ready to share. Liberal, we could say.

But when it came to the truth of the gospel and the Apostle’s teaching, Timothy was to be conservative. He had been entrusted with the truth of the gospel, and he was to guard it with his life.

This doesn’t mean he wasn’t supposed to share it with others—that’s the whole point! But he was to take great care to make sure that the gospel message was not corrupted or damaged or watered down before he could pass it on to the next generation.

Did Paul already understand the pattern that so often happens as the truth of the gospel gets passed down from one generation to the next? That one generation articulates the gospel, and the next generation merely assumes the gospel, and then the third generation finally abandons the gospel?

Sometimes it doesn’t take generations. I’ve seen people go through all three of these phases in a few short years. Paul surely had as well. And so he needed Timothy to understand the gospel and the Apostles’ teaching was a treasure to be guarded and protected from damage so that it could be passed on in purity to all those who would follow.

A big part of that is running from the love of money, and that’s where all of this teaching on riches comes from in the first place. And now as he wraps up in verse 20, he gives one final reminder for Timothy not to let himself get sucked in to the false teacher’s blabbering. “Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’” (1 Timothy 6:20b).

Do you feel like you’ve heard this before? Maybe you think, “I get it Paul. That stuff is not good. Why keep repeating yourself?”

But then verse 21 comes in just to remind us of how high the stakes are. “For by professing it some have swerved from the faith.”

That’s where all of this false teaching ultimately leads. To swerving away from the faith entirely. And Paul really doesn’t want that to happen. He wants Timothy to make it. He wants the Ephesian church to make it. And so once again he reminds him of the eternal danger that’s lurking in these innocent-looking false teachings.

Have you noticed how many times in 1 Timothy we’ve heard this kind of warning?

  • “…By rejecting this (faith and a good conscience), some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Timothy 1:19–20).
  • “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1).
  • “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:16). In other words, if you don’t persist, you won’t save yourself or your hearers.
  • “For some have already strayed after Satan” (1 Timothy 5:15).
  • “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.” (1 Timothy 6:10).

Paul has seen a lot of spiritual shipwreck in his life, and in many ways, this whole letter to Timothy is about preventing further shipwreck in the Ephesian church, and for Timothy himself.

And so this is a sobering place to end this discussion on riches, and a sobering place to end this letter. This is a warning to anyone who still thinks they don’t need to take this so seriously. If Timothy was vulnerable, what does that say about you?

Those who do not swerve from the faith are those who know that they could swerve from the faith if left to their own devices. And so they press in to the Lord and heed these warnings and refuse to let their guard down.

And if you’re in that spot, taking this seriously, letting these warnings rest on your heart, then the final words in this letter are so precious to us: “Grace be with you.”

Isn’t that what we all need: God’s grace? Which of us can do this all on our own? Who can resist the temptation of money on our own?

Who is up for the challenge before us? None of us. We need God so much. We need the grace that Jesus purchased for us at the cross, when He died for us. He is the only one who can keep us from stumbling and present us blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy (Jude 24).

So applying this passage today is very straightforward. Take these commands and obey them. Go home and think about what it would actually look like for you to do that. Ask God to show you the places you’re not obeying Him, and make changes.

And as we do all of this, we press in to God. We rely on His grace, and use the means of grace that He’s given you, like His word and prayer and our fellowship together. We ask Him to help us look to the cross, and find our worth, our meaning, our everything in Him.

And so, let’s stand and sing, and then go out and obey, asking God that His grace would be with us every moment of every day.

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