The nineties have been known as the boom years. Many young entrepreneurs have become millionaires by starting dot.com and other tech companies. Wealth was a hot topic in the nineties. Though the year 2000 has brought a rather severe correction to Wall Street, large numbers of people are still striving to climb the wealth ladder and stake their claim.
The prosperity of western culture generates several reactions and emotions. Greed is always a temptation, but so is the other side of the coin: fear of what might happen if prosperity ceases. For those who build their hope on material things, security is tied to wealth. Paul’s instruction in 1Timothy 6:6ff is relevant for Christians and non-Christians alike. He makes it very clear that the overarching purpose of the Christian life is neither financial gain nor wealth. Rather it is godliness with contentment. The root meaning of the word “godliness” is piety toward God and respect. William Hendriksen translates contentment as “soul-sufficiency.”
For those who are in the acquiring stage of life, there is ample warning from Paul. He first states a fact -“we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we are not able to take anything out of it.” You do not see any U-Hauls in a funeral procession. The Lord’s provisions of food and clothing should lead to contentment, but such thinking is very hard to practice in our materialistic society. Those who are eager to get rich face many dangers. They crave the material pleasures and possessions that the world has to offer. As an angel of light, Satan tempts Christians even as he tempted the Lord when he took him to a high mountain and offered him the kingdoms of this world. The hymn “All For Jesus” describes such danger, “Worldlings prize their gems of beauty, cling to gilded toys of dust, boast of wealth and fame and pleasure…” There is no godliness in that lifestyle.
Paul says very forthrightly, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” It is especially sobering to note that this warning is directed toward church members. They have wandered from the faith and have experienced many pains. This love of the material is often accompanied with dissatisfaction, anxiety, envy, and selfishness. Such a love propels the person into thinking of himself as the center of his universe. Do you need to take heed to Paul’s warning about money?
In 1 Timothy 6:17-19 Paul instructs Timothy on how to teach and lead people who are already rich. Because of what wealth often does to people, they need to be dealt with forthrightly. Paul tells Timothy to “command” or “charge” them how to view and handle their wealth.
First, they are to remember that riches are transitory; therefore, they should not be arrogant or snobbish toward others. Humility and thankfulness are the more appropriate reactions to wealth. The temptation for the rich is to put their hope and trust in their wealth, yet Paul says they must be reminded to put their hope and trust in God. God in his sovereign mercy provides “everything for our enjoyment.” Neither wealth nor money is inherently evil, but when they become idols, which one loves and trusts then they become evil. Jesus said that a man cannot have two masters (God and mammon); he will love the one and hate the other. The parables of the rich landowner (Luke 12:13-21), and the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) teach the pitfall of putting one’s hope in earthly riches.
Second, what are the wealthy to do with their riches? Timothy as a pastor/teacher was to command them to do good and be rich in good deeds, to be generous and share with those in need. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently ran an article entitled “Philanthropy Basics 101.” The article reported that in this time of unprecedented prosperity, parents are searching for ways to instill the value of giving in their children. It quoted the author of a new book which said, “Parents have become more affluent, and they worry that because they have a big house and fancy car that their kids only know that level of living. They worry that their children don’t have a sense of what others are going through and don’t know how to share their wealth.”
This concern is growing across the nation. One private school is even offering a high school course in philanthropy. Studies show that children are more open to giving and volunteering, which is a good sign. The church should be on the forefront of teaching parents and children the importance of giving to those in need. The subject of money has been taboo in families for generations; now the barriers are coming down. One eighteen-year- old said, “The course showed me how blessed I am, and being so blessed, how important it is to help others.” How is your congregation taught about the subject of money? Do they understand that giving in this world is the way to lay up treasure in the age to come? Do they really understand that giving to others is the way to truly strike it rich?