Digging in Deeper: 1 Timothy 6:17

“Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

Are you rich? That’s an uncomfortable question to try to answer. The reason is that the answer has as much to do with feelings as it does actual economic reality. And, of course, no one wants to appear prideful in their wealth. There are some places with a sufficiently high amount of wealth per capita that someone who is economically impoverished in relative terms could go to a different place and live like royalty. The question, then, really isn’t so much one of whether or not you are rich (if you are reading this, you probably are), but of how to be rich well. Starting with some wisdom from Paul here, and with the direction of Pastor Andy Stanley, we are going to spend the next few weeks, Lord willing, talking about how we can be better at being rich. If being rich is something that is at all on your radar, you are not going to want to miss this.

I’ve preached whole sermons on this passage, so I don’t want to completely rehash those here. Instead, I just want to make a handful of key observations here to get us going on this new journey. We’ll explore the big idea more in the weeks to come. Let’s start here: Paul seems to think that Timothy needs to give specific instructions to rich people. He doesn’t tell him similarly to give specific instructions to poor people. While there are certainly challenges that come with poverty, there is a unique and especially challenging set of challenges that come with being rich. Another way to put this is that people aren’t naturally good at being rich. We need help with it.

Why is that?

Well, being rich typically means you have a lot of stuff. Or at the very least you have access to a lot of stuff. The thing about having stuff is that the more of it you have, the more it makes a play on your heart. This was something Jesus warned us about rather specifically. One of our great weaknesses is our tendency to put our trust in what we can see. We can’t see God. We only see His impact in the world around us. We can, however, see our stuff. We can see the number of dollars in our bank account. We can see how the stock market is doing. We can see a big house or a new car. We can see a pantry filled with food. We can see a health insurance card, and we can read the paperwork that tells us how much help that card will provide us in hard medical situations. We can see all of those things and it is incredibly easy to trust in them.

There’s another challenge here. When we have a lot of stuff, we can account for how hard we worked to get it. We did the work that earned the paycheck that put all of that stuff within our control. And when we buy into that line of thinking, we begin to believe that we deserve the stuff we have. We deserve it and folks who have not worked as hard as us don’t. Even for folks who haven’t specifically earned the stuff they have but have been given it through inheritance or something like winning the lottery, they can still easily convince themselves that they somehow deserve what they have. Otherwise they wouldn’t have it.

These two lines of thinking are something that anyone can fall into, of course, but the more stuff we have – the richer we are – the easier it is for us to slide into these patterns. The trouble here is that thinking in these terms leads us away from a reliance on the God who actually provided all of these things for us. It leads us away from leaning on the God who is truly reliable. It leads us away from trusting in the God who can actually save us. All the things we are tempted to look to our stuff to provide, God actually can. The stuff can’t.

Because of all of this, if you have stuff, you need this instruction. You won’t mean to slip down this path. No one intends to. But the transition from trusting in the God who provided the stuff to trusting in the stuff itself happens slowly and subtly. If we are not vigilant in our intentions, like we talked about yesterday, we will go with the flow. That’s simply how life works. The flow is moving in one direction with a typically quiet, gentle insistence…at least as long as we are moving with it. Unless we put our feet down, we will move with it.

So, we need this instruction. We need instruction on how to be good at being rich. How do we do that? Well, that’s what this journey is going to be about. But as a way of setting the tone for what’s ahead, Paul gives us one pointer in the right direction here that is worth considering.

Instead of putting our hope on our stuff which cannot provide anything like the certainty it promises us, we are to set our hope “on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy.” That may seem like a pretty innocuous statement. It’s the kind of statement to which we briefly nod our heads before moving on to the good stuff that comes after it. But let’s linger here for today for just a second to see four really important truths about God that can help us get better at being rich.

First, God is ultimately the one who provides for us. God is the Creator. If there is a thing in this world, God made that thing. Now, no, of course He didn’t make all of it directly. Much of it was made by us, but the knowledge and ability to make whatever it was came from Him. Yes, sometimes you have to go back up the ladder a little ways to get back to Him, but He is ultimately the source of everything there is. If you have something…even a lot of somethings…those things came from God. Simply keeping that fact in mind can be a great antidote to the false thinking that leads to our being bad at being rich. Knowing that what you have came from someone else can lead to guilt, but it can also lead to gratitude. Lean into that gratitude. You’ll always be better for it.

God doesn’t simply provide us with things though. He provides us with everything. This is the second truth to catch here. God provides us with everything. It is tempting to compartmentalize our thinking about our stuff. We’ll recognize that some of it came from Him, sure, but we also worked hard for some of it. We’ll thank Him for what obviously came from Him, but we can still tend toward arrogance and overreliance on the things we nonetheless have convinced ourselves that we provided. Yet this is all a ruse. God provides us with everything. Nothing you have is not a gift from Him. Not a single bit of it.

There’s more. The third truth here is that God’s provision is rich. God is not some miser who gives us only what we need to barely cover our bases and not a stitch more. He is a generous God who loves giving His people more than they need. He delights in surprising us from out of His abundance. But what about people who don’t have enough? Doesn’t the very existence of poverty undercut this idea? Although there are occasionally exceptions to this general rule, God’s provision is rarely so direct as we would like it to be. He gives us the opportunity to work for what He gives so that we don’t become entitled. He also involves us in His provision by giving more to some so that they can share with others. Yet because He honors the ability He has given us to make meaningful and consequential choices, if we don’t follow His plan when it comes to His stuff, He doesn’t put an immediate stop to that. He allows the consequences of our selfishness to play themselves out naturally which can be really uncomfortable for us to think about and experience. He does this knowing that He will right all such wrongs when the time for judgment comes. For those who are willing to truly trust in Him, though, His provision will always be abundant.

One last thing. Why does God provide so abundantly for us? This is vital to not miss. Let’s say you have a great job working for a great company. You are paid well and are doing work you know is making a positive impact on the world. But let’s say that in spite of all of this, your direct boss is a jerk who makes sure you know that you didn’t really earn that paycheck. He’s giving it to you because he has to and that you had better keep up your standards or he will cut you off in an instant. Are you going to enjoy your wages? Probably not. They are not being given to you to enjoy, but as a mere obligation. It’s not like that with God. God provides all of this for us not out of obligation, but out of love. He wants for us to enjoy what He has provided. He wants for us to enjoy the richness of His abundant provision to the fullest extent possible. He wants for us to have fun, to laugh, to delight in generosity. The more pleasure we take from what He has given, the more He enjoys giving it to us. Of course, we will only ever find this great and glorious pleasure if we use it along the lines He has designed for it to be used, but that is another conversation for another time.

We’ll keep exploring all of this is in the days ahead, but for now know these two things as we get started on this journey of becoming better at being rich: People who are good at being rich don’t trust in their stuff; they trust in God. And, God’s provision is abundant and intended for your enjoyment. There is much else to know, but those will get you started off down the right path.

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