The last five verses of this letter from the apostle Paul to Timothy and the church at Ephesus are a postscript to the main body of the letter. The main body of the letter ended with Paul’s benediction in verses 15 – 16 of chapter 6. But it appears that as Paul reviewed his letter to Timothy and the church that he needed to make one last postscript statement regarding wealthy Christians.
Notice that the word for wealth shows up four times in this passage. It shows up as an adjective (as for the rich in this present age), a noun (charge them… not to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches), an adverb (charge them to set their hope on God who richly provides) and a verb (be rich in good works). So in these verses we have a description of a kind of person. We have the subject of something that is untrustworthy. We have the description of God’s actions towards us. And a description of how we are called to behave towards others.
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. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasures for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. 20 O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge”, 21 for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. Grace be with you.
In summary here, the apostle Paul is utilizing some awesome word play in regards to wealthy people, to wealth itself, to the character of God and to how we are called to live in light of all that. And he uses all of this word play to get his point across. So what is Paul’s point?
#1: Check Your Attitude Towards Wealth (17)
Paul says 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. What Paul is saying here is meant to be a warning that helps us to check our attitudes regarding wealth. He instructs Timothy to warn the wealthy not to have an attitude that is either prideful or dependent on physical wealth. Instead, we are to be humble and dependent on our Father in Heaven who generously provides for his family so that we can enjoy not just the gift, but also the giver of the gift himself. So check your attitude towards wealth.
The American way of life at its core is capitalistic and materialistic. The consumption of material wealth for the advancement of the good life is one of the most destructive core values of our nation. Money has a way of causing us to feel important and secure. The outcome of living with getting our desire for importance and security fulfilled by money is that we begin to live with an attitude of “in money we trust” rather than an attitude of “in God we trust”.
When something as limited as money becomes the almighty that we bow down to, true hope-filled joy get’s stamped out by the pursuit of momentary happiness. The reason for this is because we are trading down not up. In other words we are trading eternal joy in the Giver of all good gifts for the momentary high of happiness in the gift itself. We in effect trade down from joy in the Giver to happiness in the gift. To this point, one author said: “Enjoyment does not mean self-indulgent living. It means God-indulgent living.”
You see the gift of riches and wealth is an expression of God’s gracious generosity. The gift of riches and wealth is not an invitation to self-indulge or to self-enjoy. The gift of riches is an invitation to find true, lasting joy in God who is the giver of all good gifts. Your attitude towards wealth says a lot about your attitude towards your Father in Heaven. So what is your attitude towards wealth?
#2: Check Your Attitude Towards Generosity (18)
Paul says that wealthy people are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share. The first thing God wants from wealthy people is not their money. He values a servant’s heart more than he values money. Active service should clothe every dollar we give away. The problem in the church is not that there aren’t enough Christians but that there aren’t enough Christians who are Christ-like in their giving.
We serve a God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He literally owns all the cattle and all the real estate and yet he gave his one and only Son to die on a cross for our sin so that we could receive the richest life for all of eternity. Your best life now is not about getting earthly health, earthly wealth and earthly prosperity. Your best life now is about where you’ll spend eternity.
This is why Paul says that he wants us to be rich in good works, to be generous and be ready to share. This is what it means to use our material gain for godliness instead of using godliness for material gain. The Christian’s life should be marked by good works, generosity and sharing with others in need. I believe this kind of generosity begins with the ten percent we give to the church every time we get paid and then extends to the money we give to support Christian missionaries and then extends beyond that to the money we give to people around us who are in need.
So I believe that the ten percent tithe is training wheels on the bicycle of generosity. Missionary support is riding without the training wheels. Sharing with the poor is selling that bicycle to feed and clothe the hungry. Our giving of our wealth should be regular, proportionate, generous and sacrificial because we serve a Savior who held nothing back to pay the price for our freedom. So what is your attitude towards generosity?
#3: Check Your Attitude Regarding Eternity (19)
Paul says that wealthy Christians who live generously are actually storing up treasures for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. The radical truth here is that long-term financial security that is focused on this life is worthless because death is the ultimate blow to earthly security.
You can’t take your wealth with you but you can definitely make a deposit in the next life that is completely secure. Paul’s use of the phrase “the rich in this present age” in verse 17 reminds us that there is a coming age and a kind of wealth in that age that is totally secure. What is your attitude regarding eternity? Have you slipped into the trap of living only for earthly gain and material consumption?
The Christian who has a clear vision of eternity will live generously here on earth because that person is truly enjoying eternal life now. What a freeing thing it is to be set free from the worship of the almighty dollar. Money makes a really bad god because the promise of money doesn’t last. It makes a really bad master because it never produces the lasting security, comfort or acceptance it promises to produce. Soon as the money runs out there goes your security. Soon as the bank account is dry there goes your comfort. Dried up budgets don’t attract a lot of friends.
The truly good life has absolutely nothing to do with health, wealth and prosperity. Driving a new truck will not fill the hole in your heart that was caused by sin. A full bank account will not heal the sickness of greed. A larger home will not fix your broken family. A larger home will only give you more corners to hide from your broken family in. This is the problem of living with a distorted view of eternity.
The invitation of this passage is to check our view of eternity in light of our attitude towards wealth and our attitude towards generosity. A proper view of eternity will inform the way I think about, feel about and behave with my wealth. An eternal view will always remind me that I cannot out give the God who owns everything. Regardless of how little or how much I have, I cannot out give him and He has promised that I will have all that I need. I may not have all that I want but I will have all that I need. So what is your attitude regarding eternity?
#4: Protect What’s Most Important (20-21)
Paul says O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge”, for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. Grace be with you. Paul is telling Timothy to protect what’s most important. Timothy is literally a safety deposit box who’s been entrusted with the gospel. A trustee is literally obligated to preserve a deposit unharmed and unchanged. A Christian’s obligation is not to innovate or reinvent or re-envision or reinterpret the gospel. Instead, a Christian’s obligation is to cherish and to guard and to defend the historic, biblical gospel. Charles Spurgeon said that where there are no historic doctrines of grace being preached there is no historic, biblical gospel being preached.
How are you doing with protecting what’s most important? How easy is it for you to get caught up in sideline arguments (irreverent babble) that fail to protect what’s most important? It’s too common today for Christians to spout off over social media with all of the head knowledge that they have while deep down inside their private lives are full of spiritual corruption.
There were people like this in Ephesus. They were captured by their pursuit of what is falsely called knowledge and the problem is that there were elements of truth to what these men were saying but it was laced with enough cyanide to kill them. Therefore Paul instructs Timothy to avoid these people because they were swerving off the beaten path of gospel proclamation.
The historic gospel that Paul wants Timothy to preserve and that Spurgeon preached and that other faithful Christians have preached throughout the centuries would remind us that God created us to be with him and that our sin separates us from God and that sin cannot be paid for through good works and that paying the price for sin Jesus died and rose again and that everyone who trusts in Christ has eternal life and that life eternal begins now and lasts forever. Everything else is merely coffee shop talk and social media banter. How are you doing at protecting what’s most important?
We’ve learned that we need to check our attitudes towards wealth; generosity, eternity and we need to protect what’s most important. I fail in all of these categories often. I worry about money. I get stingy with money. I forget that there’s more to my life than the things of this earth. I get caught up in puny little social media fights. Why do I do this? Why do I sin like this? I think the answer goes back to the Garden of Eden and the story of Israel.
Somewhere deep down inside I still struggle with doubting who God is and who God says I am. Somehow I still believe that the juicy fruit of worry will satisfy me as if my worrying will add dollars to my budget. I don’t fully trust that God will provide and so I try to find security in being stingy instead of generous with the money I have. I behave like Israel and I place my hope in what I think I can control rather than surrendering and placing my hope in the goodness and loving kindness of my Father in Heaven. Like Israel I see what other families have (especially unbelievers) and I get jealous or I begin to desire the same earthly benefits. When I do this I fail to protect what’s most important which is the message of the gospel and I begin to think that my earthly existence is wrapped up in all of the external battles I can fight in this world.
This confession of sin causes grief and fear inside of me because I know that sin brings dishonor to my Father and it spreads like a disease to the deepest parts of my soul. At the same time from deep within me I am reminded by the Spirit of God that this is the reason that Jesus came to this earth. His attitude towards wealth and generosity were founded on his view of eternity, which was illuminated by his relationship with his Father in Heaven.
When Satan tempted him with power, comfort, security, fortune and fame, he was enabled to resist the promise of those lies because he knew who and whose he was. He was perfect. His identity was rooted in the truth. Deception didn’t cause him to swerve off the road. Sin was no match for him. Satan couldn’t conquer him. His purpose to live the perfect life in my place and then to die a sinner’s death on my behalf was never in question for him. He never wavered and he never let up in his pursuit of offering his life as a ransom to pay the price for my sin.
He looked at me and he looked at you if you belong to him or he looked at you if you sense him calling you to himself and from before the foundations of the earth were created by him he declared that you and I belong to him and that there is no place that we could run to, no place we could hide from him, no thing that we could ever do that could ever change his undying love for us. For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross for you and I so that our adoption papers (declaring our rescue from the orphanage of Satan, sin and death) could be signed in his inerasable shed blood.
Every one of us is hopelessly orphaned by our wrong attitudes towards wealth, generosity, eternity and the gospel. But the awesome news of the gospel is simply that Jesus’ attitude towards all of those things enabled his generous sacrifice at the cross of Calvary. And his victory over death in the empty tomb gives him the credibility to promise that this life is not all there is to our existence.
In this we have the promise and the hope of a future in eternity that blows the doors off of any earthly pursuit of wealth that would trap us in it’s false promises. The wealth of eternity and the immeasurable generosity of my Father in Heaven makes all of the things of this earth look like a shabby, beat up, rusted out station wagon in comparison with the Cadillac of the gospel. Check your attitude towards wealth. Check your attitude towards generosity. Check your attitude towards eternity. And fight to protect what’s most important, namely, the gospel.