“Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share” (1 Timothy 6:18)
The words quoted above are part of Paul’s closing instruction to Timothy and are directed to those who are “rich in this present world” (6:17). We may think that these words don’t apply to us, but that is because we most often compare ourselves with the ‘Super Rich’ (which we aren’t), rather than comparing ourselves with those who are truly poor. Certainly, in the South African context it would be fair to admit that compared to the vast majority of the population we are in fact rich. Either way, Paul’s words are a challenge to us when it comes to our attitude toward material possessions.
Paul begins by warning against two common dangers that accompany wealth – the danger of becoming arrogant and thus looking down on others (6:17) and the danger of trusting in our wealth rather than in God (6:17). Both these dangers can be resisted if we in fact remember a simple but important truth, namely, that everything we have is a gift from God! Paul’s words are striking for he reminds us that God is Himself generous. He richly provides us with all that we need not only for our survival, but for our enjoyment. God is generous, and part of His own generosity lies in His desire to see us enjoy what He gives us. He wants us to be thankful and humble, but He certainly is not against us enjoying what He has given.
The problem however comes when our enjoyment of God’s good gifts is not accompanied by generosity with God’s good gifts. For the surprising and liberating truth about all of God’s gifts is that they are most enjoyed when they are shared. Thus, Paul commands the rich not merely to be humble and to keep their trust in the right place, but also “to do good and to be rich in good deeds and to be generous and willing to share” (6:18). At first this sounds like the same point, but what the repetition does is to tell the rich how to do good, namely by being rich in good deeds, and that such good deeds should be done joyfully and willingly rather than begrudgingly, generously rather than in a miserly way. We are thus called to be imitators of the Lord Himself who “richly provides us with everything”.
The fact that everything we have is a gift from the Lord and the calling to imitate the Lord in His generosity should be motivation enough for us to heed Paul’s command to be generous. But Paul adds another motivation, perhaps because he understands how easy it is for us to become self-centred with our possessions. And so, he appeals to our self-interest by reminding us that our generosity is part of the way in which we store up treasure in Heaven. Both the language Paul uses and the point that he makes is drawn from Jesus’ own teaching. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:19-24), Jesus commanded His disciples not to store up treasures on earth where they are prone to decay or vulnerable to theft, but rather to store up treasure in Heaven. He reminded them and us that the way we handle our earthly wealth is a reflection of what or who we serve and thus a reflection of our hearts. A choice had to be made because we cannot serve both God and money. But Jesus did not go on to teach us how to store up treasure in Heaven. Paul elaborates on Jesus’ teaching about money and teaches us how to store up heavenly treasure. We store up treasure in Heaven by trusting daily in the Lord, not in our earthly treasures, and by doing good with our treasure on earth, by being generous and willing to share.
All of this of course requires wisdom as well as clear Gospel thinking. We are not called to give to all in need, indiscriminately, nor are we expected to support every appeal that comes to our attention. What we have is God’s gift to us and along with that gift comes the very real responsibility to be good stewards. As Christians we are expected to support Gospel work both in our local church and across the world. And as Christians we are expected to be generous and caring to those in need. Who, how much, how and where is a matter between us and the Lord. We should ask God for His wisdom and then act in the light of the conviction that the Spirit of God places in our hearts. But we should note that what Paul writes and what Jesus taught was not a suggestion. It was and is a command that we should obey, both for God’s glory and for our good.
Written by Mervyn Eloff. Original article can be found here.