Paul chooses to command those who are rich in this present world to do certain things, versus condemn them for being rich (1 Timothy 6:17-19). There’s nothing wrong with being rich, but rich people do receive special instructions. Read or listen to this chapter from Your Finances God’s Way to see what God says to rich people.
Table of Contents
- THE RICH HAVE GREATER ACCOUNTABILITY
- First, Command Those Who Are Rich in this Present World to Be Humble (Versus Proud)
- Second, Command Those Who Are Rich in this Present World to Trust God (Versus Their Riches)
- Third, Command Those Who Are Rich in this Present World to Do Good Works (Versus Only Give)
- Fourth, Command Those Who Are Rich in this Present World to Give Generously (Versus Stingily)
- A BETTER APPROACH TO GIVING
People don’t become doctors the day they decide they want to pursue a medical career. The decision must be made years earlier, and they must make many sacrifices to endure through an internship and residency. Similarly, if people want to be lawyers, they don’t wake up one day and say, “I’m going to be a lawyer,” and then start trying cases. The decision to become a lawyer must be made well before, and it involves years of commitment before taking on clients.
You might already have an IRA because you are planning for the golden years. You don’t wake up when you’re older and say, “Let me start a retirement plan.” The decision is made years earlier so you are prepared when you reach retirement. Perhaps you are saving for your children’s education. You don’t attend their high school graduation and say, “I’d better put something aside to pay for their college.” The decision must be made long in advance.
The lesson is that knowledge of the future determines our behavior in the present. When we know what we desire in the future, we will make decisions to reach those goals in the present.
This has great application for us as stewards. If we want to hear “Well done, good and faithful servant,” we don’t wait until the end of our lives to start being faithful. We make the decision to be faithful starting now. Today! The verses we will examine next can help put us on the right path.
THE RICH HAVE GREATER ACCOUNTABILITY
First Timothy 6 addresses two groups. The first group, “who desire to be rich” and have a “love of money,” are in verses 9 and 10, and we talked about them in chapter 4. The second group is “those who are rich in this present age” in verses 17 through 19, whom we will discuss in this chapter.
For now, it is important to notice Paul doesn’t criticize the second group, who is rich, but as we know from chapter 4, he criticizes the first group, who desires to be rich. This seems backward! We would expect Paul to criticize the first group, who is rich, while pitying the second group, who is not rich. Why is it this way? Because, as we also discussed, money is amoral. The problem is not being rich. The problem is a love of money, or a strong desire to be rich.
But even though being rich isn’t bad, it does mean having a greater accountability before God. Stewardship is more difficult with more money because there is more to steward. So, Paul has special instructions for rich people:
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. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus 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 6:17-19).
If the parable of the rich fool tells rich people what not to do, these verses tell rich people what to do. Now, maybe you are thinking something like, Oh, I’m not rich, so these verses don’t apply to me. As I shared earlier, measured by the living standards of the rest of the world, and especially those throughout history, Americans are rich. We must be careful not to read verses about riches and think they apply to others but not us.
With that in mind, the above verses include four instructions to the rich. Let’s look carefully at each of them for our spiritual and financial benefit.
First, Command Those Who Are Rich in this Present World to Be Humble (Versus Proud)
Paul first commands the rich “not to be haughty” (verse 17), because pride is one of the most common temptations they face. Riches and pride (or haughtiness) often go together. The Greek word translated “haughty” means “to have an exalted opinion of oneself.” Those with large amounts of money can be tempted to feel superior and look down on those with less money; therefore, God says, “Don’t be high-minded. You are not better than those with less because you have more.”
Proverbs 18:23 says, “The poor man uses entreaties, but the rich answers roughly.” Wealthy people might ignore the pleading of the poor, but pride would cause the rich to respond harshly because they think they’re better than the poor. Proverbs 28:11 says, “The rich man is wise in his own eyes, but a poor man who has understanding searches him out.” Pride causes rich people to think highly of themselves, but poor people with discernment can see right through it because they know they’re equal.
If we’re rich, how do we avoid haughtiness and looking down on others? Part of the answer is in the words that follow: “God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” Keeping in mind that we have what we do only because God provided it leaves no room for haughtiness. Riches are not an indication of how great we are; instead, they are an indication of how gracious God has been to us. In 1 Corinthians 4:7, Paul asked three questions: “Who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” The answers are (1) God, (2) nothing, (3) we shouldn’t. Recognizing that God gave us all we have, including riches, prevents pride, keeps us humble, and leaves no reason for boasting.
Second, Command Those Who Are Rich in this Present World to Trust God (Versus Their Riches)
Paul revealed another temptation the rich must resist: “[setting] their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, [instead of ] God.” One of the dangers with money is it can provide a false sense of security. Think back to the rich fool, who said, “I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry’” (Luke 12:19). He was confident about the future not because he trusted in God, but because he trusted in his wealth. We must avoid this by following the advice of the psalmist: “If riches increase, do not set your heart on them” (Psalm 62:10).
In our country, it’s an especially strong temptation to trust in riches because we are literally encouraged to do so. Our national retirement plan is called Social Security because it’s supposed to make us feel secure about our future. Our investments are called securities and trusts because they’re supposed to make us feel secure, and we’re supposed to put our trust in them.
Money can take the place of God when we
- view money the way we should view God
- put our faith in money like we should put our faith in God
- make money an idol by calling it “the almighty dollar,” as though it’s sovereign and able to give us whatever we want
- treat money like a god by living for it, worshipping it, sacrificing to it, and filling our minds with thoughts about it
- let our lives be controlled by having more of it
What’s ironic about all this is our money is imprinted with the motto “In God We Trust.” This phrase first appeared on coins in 1864 and was adopted as the official motto of the United States in 1956. One year later, in 1957, the words appeared on our paper currency. The words themselves are associated with a number of verses in the Bible:
- “[I] will trust in the Lord” (Psalm 40:3).
- “I have put my trust in the Lord God” (Psalm 73:28).
- “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man” (Psalm 118:8).
- “Whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe” (Proverbs 29:25).
If we put our trust in money, there are only two possible outcomes, and both are bad. First, it lets us down. In the parable of the unjust steward, Jesus said, “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9). As already discussed, unrighteous wealth is earthly money, and “it fails” us. Proverbs 11:28 says, “He who trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like foliage.” Many people will tell you that putting confidence in their bank accounts left them terribly disappointed. Proverbs 18:11 says, “The rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and like a high wall in his own esteem.” Wealthy people think their money makes them invincible, but it’s all in their mind.
The other possibility, which is even worse than money failing us, is it doesn’t seem to fail us. Riches allow us to get what we want, so we think we don’t need God. Proverbs 30:8-9 warns of the danger: “Give me [not] riches…lest I be full and deny You, and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’” Rich people can stop desiring anything, including God. One of the worst things to happen to rich people is they allow their riches to pull them away from the very God who gave them the riches in the first place. This is why money only seems to not fail them. In separating them from God, it fails them in an unimaginable way.
Third, Command Those Who Are Rich in this Present World to Do Good Works (Versus Only Give)
The rich shouldn’t only be rich in money. They “are to do good, to be rich in good works” (1 Timothy 6:18). Rich people have greater potential for acts of service—their wealth provides them with the ability to do things people with less money might not be able to do.
Why stress this to rich people? They might see giving as a substitute for doing. It might be easier for them to give money, instead of time, effort, or energy. It’s easier to pay for a mover than to help people move, pay for someone to clean the house than to help people clean their house, pay for groceries than to bring people a meal. For the rich husband, it’s easier to buy his wife something expensive than to spend time with her. For the rich mother, it’s easier to spend money on her kids than to do things with them. So, Paul says the rich must do good works too.
Fourth, Command Those Who Are Rich in this Present World to Give Generously (Versus Stingily)
The rich should also “be generous and ready to share” (1 Timothy 6:18). This probably doesn’t come as any surprise, as it is the main command we would expect God to give to rich people. We know from the parable of the talents that some are given more talents (wealth) than others, and God expects more from them. As we will see in future chapters, everyone should give, but rich people should be
- “generous,” which refers to the amount given.
- “ready to share,” which refers to the attitude toward giving—anxious to share their wealth to bless others and meet their needs.
If rich people give generously, they will be “thus 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). This means preparing for eternity, because “that which is truly life” refers to the next life—that’s the real or true life. Some translations, such as the KJV and NKJV, read “lay hold on eternal life.” Paul said something similar a few verses earlier: “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called” (1 Timothy 6:12).
The words “take hold” or “lay hold” of the next life don’t mean we can obtain salvation in our own effort. Only Christ can do that for us. Instead, we must “get a grip” on eternal matters by living with a heavenly, spiritual perspective. The rich should “[store] up treasure for themselves” (1 Timothy 6:19), similar to Jesus’s counsel: “Do not lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19-20).
Think back to the rich fool. He did the opposite of what Paul and Jesus said and laid up treasures on earth. The rich fool also disobeyed James 5:1-3, which mirrors Jesus’s words: “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you…You have heaped up treasure [for the day of judgment].” Like Jesus, James also said earthly wealth is destroyed by moth and rust. In contrast, we can have “a good foundation for the time to come” (Timothy 6:19) if we lay up treasure for ourselves in heaven, because that’s the only place it can’t be destroyed.
Keeping in mind that everything we possess breaks down, rusts, decays, and can be stolen makes generosity easier. As we remember these things, earthly wealth loses value in our eyes and becomes easier to part with. Let me provide three other encouragements that also make generosity easier.
Give Generously Because You Can’t Take It with You
I was not raised in a Christian home. I became a Christian in my early twenties, shared the gospel with my parents, prayed for their salvation for a few years, and—by God’s grace—they became believers. I was able to baptize them. They moved to be with us in Washington, living only two houses down from us. Dad served as a deacon in the church I pastor.
A recent Sunday night, my mom called me terrified, begging me to rush to their house. My dad had Alzheimer’s, so I thought he was angry or had wandered off, but the situation was much worse. He was unconscious on the floor, and he was not breathing. My good friend and associate pastor, Nathan, followed me to my parents’ house and we both took turns administering CPR. The paramedics arrived and worked on my dad for more than an hour, but they were unable to revive him.
I don’t know at what point my father passed away. The paramedics might say it was when he stopped breathing, his heart stopped beating, or his brain stopped functioning. But the Bible tells us it occurred when his spirit left his body:
- “The body without the spirit is dead” (James 2:26).
- “They stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit’” (Acts 7:59).
- “Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit” (Matthew 27:50).
The spirit is immaterial (nonphysical), and the body is material (physical). When the spirit leaves the body, it takes nothing material (physical) with it. We come into the world with nothing and leave the same way. I was thinking about this when the paramedics took my father’s body away because they handed me his possessions, including his watch and hearing aids. He didn’t need them any longer, and wouldn’t be taking them with him to heaven:
- Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return” (Job 1:21).
- Korah said, “Wise men die; likewise the fool and the senseless person perish, and leave their wealth to others…When he dies he shall carry nothing away; his glory shall not descend after him” (Psalm 49:10, 17).
- Solomon said, “As he came from his mother’s womb, naked shall he return, to go as he came; and he shall take nothing from his labor which he may carry away in his hand” (Ecclesiastes 5:15).
- Paul said, “We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out” (1 Timothy 6:7).
God asked the rich fool, “The things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Luke 12:20). The answer? Not his! Whatever we accumulated during our life is left to others: friends, family, neighbors, the church, or the government. We don’t know exactly where our wealth will go; we just know it won’t go with us. This is the greedy person’s worst nightmare: “I hated all my labor in which I had toiled under the sun, because I must leave it to the man who will come after me” (Ecclesiastes 2:18).
Proverbs 23:5 says, “Will you set your eyes on that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away like an eagle toward heaven.” Riches tend to fly away when we least expect it, and if there’s one time they really fly away, it’s when we die. John Piper said:
At the greatest crisis of your life [when you die], when you need contentment, and hope, and security more than any other time, your money and all your possessions take wings and fly away. They let you down. They are fair-weather friends at best. And you enter eternity with nothing but the measure of contentment that you had in God.
God repeatedly reminds us that we take nothing with us—not because He wants to discourage us, but because He wants to encourage us to live in light of this reality. Randy Alcorn said:
When Jesus warns us not to store up treasures on earth, it is not just because wealth might be lost; it is because wealth will always be lost. We leave it when we die. Realizing its value is temporary should radically affect our investment strategy.Randy Alcorn, The Treasure Principle (Multnomah, OR: Multnomah Books, 2003), 13.
When a rich man dies, people ask, “How much did he leave behind?” The answer is “All of it!” You never see U-Hauls behind hearses because we aren’t taking anything with us. Keeping this in mind makes giving generously much easier.
Jim Elliot was a Christian missionary killed along with four other men while attempting to evangelize the Huaorani people of Ecuador. He famously said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” This quote applies perfectly to earthly wealth: We should be generous with money in this life because we can’t take it with us when we enter the next life. But when we give money away in this life, we lay up treasures in heaven.
Give Generously to Send Wealth Ahead
We have two choices about what to do with our money. The first choice is to keep it for ourselves. This leaves us like the rich fool, who was prepared for this life but unprepared for the next. When we chose to enjoy our wealth now, we don’t get to enjoy it in heaven, which leaves us eternally destitute:
A rich man died and went to heaven. Abraham greeted him and said, “Welcome to heaven. Let me show you where you’ll be staying.”
As they walked, the rich man saw beautiful mansions stretching out in every direction. They were constructed of gold and silver and precious gems. As they passed one mansion, the rich man said, “Who gets to stay here?”
Abraham replied, “That’s for your groundskeeper. He was a godly man who loved Jesus and served Him all his life. This is his reward.”
They continued past other mansions, until they reached an extremely large one. The rich man asked Abraham, “Is this one mine?”
Abraham said, “No, this one belongs to your maid. On the little bit of money you paid her, she raised six children and gave to her church.”
They continued to walk until they came to a different section of homes that weren’t as nice. As they walked up a small hill, they stopped in front of a shack made of tar paper and used sheet metal. The front door was cut out of an old refrigerator box. It was held together with bailing wire, twine, and duct tape. After pausing for a moment, the rich man asked, “Who lives here?”
Abraham responded, “Why, this is yours!”
The rich man couldn’t believe it. He said, “There must be some mistake!”
Abraham said, “No, there’s been no mistake. We did the best we could with what you gave us!”
How tragic that some people work so hard to prepare for the final years of this life but neglect the eternity that follows!
The second choice for how we handle our wealth is to send it ahead! What we give away on this side of heaven is kept for eternity. The best stewards in this life have much waiting for them in the next. Give
Generously Because You Enjoy Riches for Only a Short Time
Imagine there’s a house you’ve wanted for as long as you can remember. One day the owner of the house hands you the keys and says, “You can have it!” You’re excited, but then he adds, “The only catch is it’s going to burn down in a short period of time.” How excited are you now?
But this is also the case with everything the world offers, including our money. Think back to Jesus’s and James’s words about earthly treasures being destroyed by moth, rust, and rot. When viewed in light of eternity, everything we have will be burned down in a short period of time.
The Christian life must be lived by keeping the shortness of it in view. When Jonathan Edwards was only 19, he wrote 70 resolutions that he committed to practicing for God’s glory. Number nine was, “To think much, on all occasions, of my dying.” This might sound a little morbid, but he wanted to always remember how temporary this life is.
Jonathan Edwards isn’t the only one who thinks we should focus on the shortness of this life. God wants us to do the same. We know that because He repeats this point throughout Scripture:
- “What is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14).
- “My life is a breath!” (Job 7:7).
- “My days are consumed like smoke” (Psalm 102:3).
- “Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow” (Psalm 144:4).
Generosity is also made easier when we focus on the temporary nature of this life because we recognize our wealth is enjoyed for only a short period of time. Adam Clarke said, “It requires but little of this world’s goods to satisfy a man who feels himself to be a citizen of another country, and knows that this is not his [home].”1
The short enjoyment of riches is illustrated well in Daniel’s life. Here’s the background: Belshazzar was the king of Babylon, which was the superpower of the day. He threw a party, invited 1,000 lords, and drank from the vessels the Babylonians took from the temple when they conquered the Jews (Daniel 5:1-3). While they drank and praised their false gods, a hand appeared and wrote on the wall of the palace, terrifying Belshazzar (Daniel 5:5-6). Wanting to know what the writing meant, he said to Daniel:
“If you can read the writing and make known to me its interpretation, you shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around your neck and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.”
Then Daniel answered, and said before the king, “Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another; yet I will read the writing to the king, and make known to him the interpretation… And this is the inscription that was written: Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin. This is the interpretation of each word: Mene: God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it; Tekel: You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting; Peres: Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.” Then Belshazzar gave the command, and they clothed Daniel with purple and put a chain of gold around his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.
That very night Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, was slain. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old (Daniel 5:16-17, 25-31).
Daniel was offered the most common worldly desires: riches, fame, and position. He declined because he knew it was all temporary—Babylon would be conquered that night. Belshazzar gave Daniel the rewards anyway, but he possessed them for only a few hours.
It’s tempting to say, “Sure it was easy for Daniel to decline Belshazzar’s offer because he would enjoy everything for only a little while. What about the things I can possess for years or decades?” In light of eternity, whether it’s a few hours, years, decades—or even if we could enjoy earthly possessions for centuries or millenniums—it is still only a short period of time. Wisdom dictates we should give generously to store up in heaven what we can enjoy for eternity.
A BETTER APPROACH TO GIVING
The rich should “be generous and ready to share” (1 Timothy 6:18), but are they the only ones expected to give? No. Everyone is expected to give. Poor people can be as guilty of stinginess, bad stewardship, and financial foolishness as the rich fool.
The obvious question, then—for the rich and poor alike—is, “How much should we give?” We’ll answer this question in the following chapters. But first, let me provide some encouragement for what is to come. I know giving can be challenging, and in the Christian life we are frequently tempted to think the answer is simply trying harder. If we roll up our sleeves and give it our best shot, surely we’ll become generous people, right? Wrong. Giving is a heart attitude (more about this in chapter 7!). Many people have experienced ongoing frustration when trying to be better at giving but finding little change—it is still difficult for them!
A better approach is to remember that if we are Christians, the power of the gospel is at work in our lives. While you read, keep in mind that it’s not about you white-knuckling it. Instead, God’s grace empowers you to obey: “It is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). With God’s help—with the Spirit’s enablement—we can manage our finances well, and even enjoy giving!