Why Has God Given Us SO Much? (1 Tim 6:17-19)

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014
Sermon Series: 1 Timothy, Money

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Why Has God Given Us So Much?

1 Timothy 6:17 to 19

 

Chris is in Hawaii awaiting the birth of this first grandchild. He has been preaching through Mark, and just finished the story of the rich young ruler. As Chris preached that, I was captured by how wealthy we are. And I mean that personally, corporately, regionally and nationally.

A UN report released last year surveying the overall wealth of nations concluded that US economic output and capital assets were greater than the next four richest nations put together. If you threw Japan, China, Germany and the UK into a pot and compared all that they have to the US, we still have more.

The bottom 5% of Americans make less than $18 per day, which is extreme poverty in the US. Globally, about 80% of people today live on less than $10 per day. Globally, extreme poverty is defined as $1.25 per day, and more typical poverty is $2.50 per day. While the cost of living varies, our bottom 5% makes on average the same as India’s richest 5%.

We are wealthy–there’s no other word for it. I don’t say that to make you feel guilty. Our God has sovereignly given you whatever it is you have, and however much you make. Whether you are receiving unemployment, living paycheck to paycheck, receiving social security, making six figures, or living in your car–you are wealthy.

You probably don’t feel like it–people rarely do. You probably wouldn’t call yourself that. And in our culture, you may not be regarded as wealthy. But in the global scheme, you are the 1%. You are wealthy. You are rich. Maybe you just didn’t know it.

Economists argue that your income over all of life is mainly determined by where you live. God has appointed that you would live here. And He has given you all that you have and enjoy. He did not intend for you to feel guilty about what He has given to you. What parent gives gifts to their 8-year-old, while making them feel guilty for receiving them? God does not lavishly provide for you in order that you would feel guilty about it. And this begs the question . . .

Why Has God Given Us So Much? That is what I want us to consider this morning. That is what Scripture answers for us today. Why Has God Given Us So Much? First Timothy 6 tells us why–open your Bibles there. The apostle Paul has been writing to Timothy, who was given leadership of the church in Ephesus for a time, to train and establish elders and deacons there.

This is one of his first pastoral charges, and Paul is writing to give him advice. He has told Timothy how to deal with false teaching, what to prioritize in church services, how to select and care for leaders in the church. And now in the last chapter, he talks about money and materialism.

At the beginning of chapter 6, Paul describes the dangers of discontentment and loving money. And then at the end, he gives instructions to the rich. And he tells us Why God Has Given Us So Much. So, would you stand for the reading of God’s Word?

First Timothy 6:17 to 19, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. 18 Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.”

Paul gives Timothy a message for “those who are rich in this present age”–and this is for ALL of us. I know that most of us don’t feel that way–I don’t feel rich. It is tough to draw the line, because wealth and poverty are relative terms. Among the poor, there are some who are poorer. Among the rich, there are some who are truly rich. What would be wealth to someone in poverty, might feel like poverty to someone who grew up with money.

Most of us would count ourselves as middle-class. There are plenty of things we can’t afford, and far nicer places to live that we can’t afford. Yet we are able to provide a good education for our kids, and have enough food to eat. When unemployed, the government, community and our family helps us get by. When aging, we have access to life-sustaining medical care.

From a global perspective, this is not normal nor middle-class. We are wealthy. From a biblical perspective, the most important item of wealth was food. The more farmland or flocks you had, the more well-off you were. Food was a matter of life and death then. There were no McDonald’s, and no refrigeration. An abundance of food was one of the greatest indicators of wealth. This is why the Promised Land was described as a land flowing with milk and honey. If you were rich enough to have extra, you could trade for horses, embroidered clothing, and rare jewels–each a status symbol of wealth.

So biblically, if you have a car, can change your clothes a few times, and have some money in your wallet or bank account, then you are wealthy. You are the one Paul is speaking to when he says, “Instruct those who are rich in this present age”–he means you who have money right now. And before he tells you Why God Has Given you So Much, he gives a warning . . .

1.    Your wealth is a dangerous comfort  Verse 17

There is a danger to having money. In a similar way to how a teenage boy’s sex drive is God-given, but quite dangerous when misdirected–the money which you earn is God-given, but possibly even more dangerous. Look at verse 17, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.” God supplies us with all things to enjoy, but there are some dangers to us–Paul describes two:

a.  We often associate wealth with worth

We can judge someone’s worth by their wealth. If you don’t believe me, just look at the magazines in the checkout aisles of grocery stores. Chris and Elsa had twins. Chelsea tells me how to cure hangovers. Kate’s decorating her country house. And Alexis has complications from her surgery. But I don’t know any of them! Magazines tell us they are worth knowing about due to their wealth and popularity.

When Paul says that the rich are “not to be conceited”, he is describing how the rich can think too highly of themselves. We can think of ourselves as being of greater worth or value than others. We can wrongly think that we matter more because of what we have. It is incredibly difficult to be wealthy and to be humble–the two are almost like oil and water, at odds with one another.

As you are used to hiring mechanics, tutors, coaches, repairmen, and even your food service, the temptation grows to view others as mere servants to you. Yet this is plainly contrary to Scripture. “My brothers, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of partiality” (James 2:1).

James follows this command with the illustration of the church that gives its best seating to the rich. He warns us to be careful to the hidden ways we might show partiality based on income. Maybe because what we have is from God, we can think that our prosperity is a sign of our own worth and value to God.

In 2 Kings 20, Hezekiah is miraculously healed of a terminal disease, and then visited by a sympathy party from Babylon. Hezekiah believed that his wealth and healing were a sign of God’s value of him, and so he shows off his nation’s treasures. The text says there was nothing in his house or in all his dominion that he did not show the men from Babylon. He falsely believed that his prosperity was due to his value to God.

Maybe you have felt this way. You might not say it outright, but you compare yourself to others, and believe that you deserve what you have. Maybe because of your hard work, or because they do not follow God the way you do. Thoughts like these create social divisions that are contrary to the Gospel. Feelings like this create barriers within the Church, and misrepresent God to the world. Wealth is a dangerous comfort, as it will often lead you to think too highly of yourself. Paul also warns us that . . .

b.  We often depend on our bank accounts

Even though everything we have is from God, we can come to rely on the gifts rather than the Giver. In the same way that the astrophysicist might look into the way the universe works, and sees beautiful structure and force amidst the creation, but miss the Creator of it all. The temptation of the wealthy is to rely on their storehouses and bank accounts, rather than on the God who both gives and takes away.

Ever since the fall, we’ve allowed God’s good gifts to become opportunities for sin. This is the second dangerous comfort. Look at verse 17, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.” Have you fixed your hope on the uncertainty of riches?

Do you find that your joy in life goes up or down according to your bank account? Are you consistently depressed whenever unexpected expenses arrive? Have you ceased to pray for your needs, because you feel that you’ve got them covered? Do you feel like everything in life would just be easier if you had another $1 to 2 thousand per month? Could it be that you have fixed your hope on the uncertainty of riches?

Wealth is as dangerous as a mirage in a desert. In the same way that the sun can produce the deadly illusion of water in the midst of a desert, so wealth can appear to be ready to satisfy all our needs, independent of God. This is why Agur says in Proverbs 30:8 to 9, “Keep deception and lies far from me, give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is my portion, 9 that I not be full and deny You and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or that I not be in want and steal, and profane the name of my God.”

Wealth is a deadly mirage that leads us towards a dependence on our bank accounts,
rather than on our God. “Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, cease from your consideration of it. 5 When you set your eyes on it, it is gone. For wealth certainly makes itself wings like an eagle that flies toward the heavens” (Proverbs 23:4 to 5).

Many people have gone to bed rich and woken up poor. Some of you know this firsthand. You’ve had the expensive house and all the toys, and then it all went away. Some of you have just wanted it. You’ve coveted the home and the cars and the luxury. No matter how much or how little you make, you can fix your hope on stuff. You can seek wealth for the prominence or the security or the comfort. You want a Rolex, not a Timex. You own an iPhone, not a Nokia–you drive a German car, not a Japanese one. And any of those things are fine, unless they become your identity.

Like much of the world, you can come to trust in the gifts rather than the Giver. Wealth can spoil life’s two most important relationships–it can cause you to despise your neighbor, and it can cause us to forget our God. Wealth is a dangerous comfort, which is why Paul concludes verse 17 by saying that . . .

c.  We can only be confident in God

This is the positive command of verse 17, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.” Rather than be satisfied with the gifts, Paul directs us towards the Giver. He asks us to fix our hope on God–the one who is the true owner of everything on Earth. He says that God will richly supply you with all things to enjoy. And he reminds us that God is not just dependable, but lavish.

Now I am prone to thinking of all that I enjoy, and to say that it comes from God–to think that His rich supply includes pizza and dark chocolate and air conditioning and bug-free houses. And I believe that those things are God’s kindness to me. But I don’t think that’s really what’s meant here, because the “us” in the passage includes the rich and the poor. And the “us” in the passage was 2,000 years ago.

It seems like the actual meaning here is even more significant. Paul is saying that you should hope in God because He provides you with everything you have. In other words, you don’t need to elevate work to an idol or make money your God. If you pursue God and hope in Him, you will find everything He provides to be sweet and joyful.

This is similar to what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. “For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:32 to 33).

Our Creator is a generous and thoughtful Giver to men and women. God will provide you with everything you need in order to do what He wants. He is not lacking for funds or ability. He will prove to be dependable and lavish in His care for you, as you fix your hope on Him. So why does He do this? Whether you have a great deal or only a little–Why Has God Given Us All SO Much? Paul tells us in the next verse . . .

2.     Your prosperity is to profit others  Verse 18

In the original language, Paul says two things twice. He states the general idea, then enlarges on it. And he does it twice in a row. Look at verse 18, “Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.”

Because we are always more reluctant to give to the poor than we should be, Paul hits this truth over and over to make the point. Your prosperity is to profit and benefit others. Broadly, Paul is saying that your opportunity to do good to others increases with your wealth. God supplies you with everything you have so that you would use it for others. And by doing that, as Christians, we are imitating our Heavenly Father.

a.    We should mirror God’s care for us

That first thing that Paul says here is that the rich are “to do good.” And he uses a word that is only found in one other place, back in Acts 14, describing God’s generous gifts to men through common grace. The word describes God doing what is intrinsically, qualitatively good–not just something that looks superficially good but has mixed motives.

Beth’s been buying these amazing Fuji apples from Costco–sweet and crisp, just delicious. So I picked up a pack two weeks ago. Mine looked just like hers, but when I bit into one, the inside was mealy. It wasn’t crisp and flavorful like the others.

God’s care of us is good through and through. His love is pure. His supply is rich. And Paul links His care of us to our care of others. Doing good and being rich in good works is the outflow of fixing our hope on God. We (the wealthy) are called to use our lives and money to do good things for others, in a sweet and pure imitation of the one who does this for us.

The second phrase, “to be rich in good works,” lasers in on our goal. The key word, “rich”, is to be abounding, overflowing in generosity. So often we are stingy. We are miserly with others. Yet Paul is connecting God richly supplying us with all things, to us being rich in good works. Our generous care for others should look foreign to the world. It should seem strange and otherworldly to people watching.

Keep your thumb in 1 Timothy, and turn back to Luke 6. Jesus is in the midst of talking about what it means to love your enemies. He is calling them to a supernatural love that mirrors the Father’s love for us. Luke 6:32 to 35, “’If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.’”

You were that kind of person—ungrateful, evil. And God was kind to you. When you hated Him, He loved you. He supplied you with more than you ever realized. He provided for your every need. And in His love, He loved you to the point of death. Jesus calls us to mirror God’s care for us. And Paul says the same thing. Those who know the love and the provision of God are to do good, and be rich in good works.

And realize, he’s not just talking about giving money away–that is pretty easy. What he’s describing is, use your wealth to perform good works for the benefit of others. It’s not responding to needs that you are told about. Just think about this–God did not do good to you when you came asking Him for help, right? God does not only provide for you when you cry out to Him in need, right? God is watching and anticipating our needs.  He is looking ahead and giving us the resources, the skills and the support to fulfill the good works that He has planned for us to do.

Too often we think about wealthy people responding to needs by giving money. Now we should do that. But that is not the limit of our responsibility. We are to look for, to pursue opportunities, to do good. And Paul then describes another way your prosperity should profit others.

b.     We should mirror God’s generosity to us

Back in verse 17, Paul said that God richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. And there’s a danger that we will seize on that and say, “What we have is given for our pleasure.” So in verse 18, he clarifies that the wealthy should “be generous and ready to share.”

What God has so lavishly given to you is not just for your enjoyment, but also for you to share with others. The words he uses here are speaking to the heart attitude. They are related to koinonia–the warm fellowship believers are to enjoy in the Church. Paul is speaking to the heart attitude. What we give to others should not be a cold, logical, detached decision, but one that arises from your personal care and concern for other believers. You share and you’re generous with others because you love them.

We have felt that love uniquely this spring. The elders granted me a sabbatical this summer. Having been here since we started the church, they gave me some extended time off to step back from ministry, to read and write and be refreshed. And as I began to look around–to try and figure out how to spend that time, I’ve had five different offers from Christians, both near and far, offering us a place to stay or a house to live in during my sabbatical.

I’ve been amazed and blessed by the generosity of others. In fact, it was through the generosity of a family that I had free housing for the whole of my time in seminary–allowing me to study more and work less.

I’ve been both the recipient and the giver of such loving generosity, and it can be a demonstrable part of the Christian witness. I know that some of you have experienced that sort of kindness as well. Generous sharing with others is to be a hallmark of our salvation.

One of the best examples of this to me is Ephesians 4:28—the instructions to a thief. The thief is one who takes to supply his wants and needs. Whether due to desperation or due to desire, he takes for himself. And here we see how radically different life as a Christian really is. To the one who steals, we would expect to read that he must stop stealing, and work to provide for himself. But look at what Paul says, “He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need” (Ephesians 4:28).

The thief should work in order to share with others in need. Rather than be content with satisfying himself as he once was, the thief should work in order to share. Though you may not be a thief, I wonder if you have been working for yourself or for others? Do you view your income as a stewardship from which to bless others? Do you spend your take-home pay on anything other than yourself?

You might be thinking that you don’t have much to share. You might feel like all you have is being spent on bills and monthly expenses. I understand that–I didn’t say that it would be easy. What God calls us to is not a life that’s easy. He doesn’t always give you an easy, clear path that can be both comfortable and sacrificial. But He is clear about what He desires from us.

Do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Hebrews 13:16). And He promises to supply what you need in order to accomplish that. Just this last week, my wife was marveling at how God has been providing for us in unexpected ways. Somebody in our church dropped off some extra milk. Somebody at school passed on multiple bags of baby food–so we used some, and we were able to give some away. We don’t do it perfectly all the time, but we’re trying to learn to trust God’s promises.

Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; 11 you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God” (2 Corinthians 9:10 to 11).

God doesn’t promise you a Rolls-Royce, but He does promise to supply what you need so that you can generously share with others in need. Why Has God Given Us All So Much? God wants you to use your prosperity–your wealth, however much or little you have, to benefit others somehow. Not randomly or accidentally, but strategically–you should be mirroring the rich care that God lavishes on us. And the last verse gives us motivation and encouragement. Paul concludes by saying that . . .

3.     Your lifestyle is an investment  Verse 19

As you use your wealth for the benefit of others, Paul says that you are, “storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed” (1 Timothy 6:19). What you do with your money now is an investment. You can buy the Hummer or fill up the 401k—it’s your choice. The simple reality is that every day you are making choices about what to invest in.

a.     You are storing up treasure somewhere

You are either investing into something that will burn, or you are investing into eternity. Think about it this way–God has given you a certain amount of money for you to manage. You can blow it all on movie theatres and Luke Bryan albums, or you can pour it into retirement and live below your means.

And you need to know that the decision is personal to you. It might be that the annual family vacation to Phoenix is an investment worth making, that will have eternal payoff. And it might be that your 25th anniversary trip to Fiji is good for your soul and your marriage. And you might need the fancy car for work because of the clientele you’re serving. Or you might just want all of that stuff for your own pleasure.

How you use your wealth is an investment somewhere. You are storing up treasure somewhere–either enjoying it now or investing it for later. We are not called to judge others, but to evaluate ourselves. Two different people can make the same decision for radically different reasons.

Turn in your Bibles to Luke 12.  You see what should scare us–what should give us pause is that we will answer to God. After a man asks Jesus to arbitrate an inheritance dispute, Jesus tells this story. “And He told them a parable, saying, ‘The land of a rich man was very productive. 17 And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ”What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?” 18 Then he said, “This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.’” 20 But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?” 21 So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God’” (Luke 12:16 to 21).

This is what you should fear. This is what you do not want to hear. God is richly supplying you–be careful not to spend it all on yourself. Instead, invest it. Build up “the treasure of a good foundation for the future.” Giving away wealth now creates wealth in the future.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; 21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19 to 21). And here’s the encouragement . . .

b.     Your ROI will be unbelievable! (Return on Investment)

Back long ago, when I was a college student, I worked for a city during the summer. They offered matching funds on retirement, up to 5% of my salary. Now I wasn’t exactly high on the payroll, but I could do math. This was a summer job, and I would leave it when I went back to school. I worked for three months, and by paying 5% of my salary into retirement, I received my 5% and the city’s 5% back when I quit and cashed out my retirement. It was a great return on a short-term investment.

Right now—today, God offers you a far better return than any 401k can offer. He is saying that every sacrifice you make will be paid back with dividends. The way that Paul ends this verse highlights the contrast. “Storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed” (1 Timothy 6:19).

In contrast to the life that this world offers, Paul says that wealth, wisely used, will lead you towards a life that is richer, sweet, more peaceful and luxurious than anything you can imagine. Rather than wear pearls, you will walk through a gate made of one pearl. Rather than gold jewelry, you will see streets of gold. The diamond of your wedding ring will be like the gravel in the street.

And if you told me about a place like that, which we could visit, and then I proceeded to blow all my money every week on McDonalds, rather than save up to go there, you would call me a fool (and an unhealthy one!) How foolish is the child who spends all his money the day after he receives it. Paul wants you to know that the pleasures and charms that this world offers are temporary and pale. We call this life–but it is a dark shadow of what is “truly life.”

So beware that wealth is a dangerous comfort that can lead you to despise your neighbor and forget your God. God has given you wealth SO THAT others would benefit from your radical generosity. God encourages you to invest by offering such a rich return on investment that you would be foolish to turn it down.

This is why Jesus concludes that parable we read in Luke 12 with these words. “Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:33 to 34).

What you do with your money will not buy your way into Heaven. Christ is the only one who can do that. But how you use your money is a great indicator of what you value most. God has put you in America, and given you money SO THAT you would generously care for others, and build up treasure for yourself in Heaven. That is the very reason God Has Given You So Much.

He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed” (2 Corinthians 9:6 to 8).

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John serves as a pastor and elder at Faith Bible Church

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