Paul's Advice to the Rich
- Thursday, September 01, 2005
Like so many others of the baby boom generation, I grew up in a middle class home. We weren't poor-my father had a successful business. But we certainly weren't rich -- my parents had all the normal financial pressures. So in the late 1970's when my own young business began to take off, I was faced with some real issues. Suddenly we were making more money than ever -- and I felt guilty!
It was a legitimate, honest business, and I treated people fairly. "So why," I wondered, "am I feeling so uncomfortable with this money?" I found myself wondering if maybe I should just give most of it away-keeping only enough to live on. Maybe I shouldn't aspire to owning a home, or being able to eat in good restaurants, or driving a nice car. I was conflicted. I was miserable.
It wasn't until one day when I was visiting with my friend, Dr. Rubel Shelly, that the dark clouds began to lift. He took me by the spiritual hand and shared God's advice for people who have money:
"Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life." (I Timothy 6:17-19, NIV)
Wow! What a clear, terse, concise teaching! It was as though the hand of God had lifted a huge load off my shoulders! With God's Holy Spirit as his inspiration, Paul had laid out an entire doctrine of wealth management. In just a few sentences he had brought common sense and balance to an internal struggle that had sapped me of peace and joy.
This passage makes clear that there were a number of wealthy Christians in the Ephesian church where Timothy ministered. In the first century this city was vibrant and prosperous. As a matter of fact, the tourist trade was so successful that the city fathers opened the first world bank in Ephesus. Obviously, some of these wealthy Ephesians had accepted Jesus. So, the question for these new Christians was, how does one balance the calling for character with an abundance of cash? Let's go through this gem of Scripture one point at a time:
1) First, Paul signals who he's writing to: Those who "are rich in this present world." It's almost as though Paul is trying to keep some good first century Christian folk from misunderstanding him. He is not talking about heavenly or spiritual wealth here. No, in this case, Paul is speaking to people who have a lot of zeros on their bank accounts
And, before I leave this point, let me suggest that the "rich" people to whom Paul is speaking would probably include most of us today. Although you may not think of yourself as wealthy -- compared to most of the world (especially in Paul's time) we are all filthy rich! If you have a bathtub you're better off than 70% of the rest of the world. Only 30% of the world's population can read, and less than five percent own a computer! If you have never faced the horror of war, the pain of imprisonment, or the pangs of starvation, you are ahead of 500 million people throughout the world. If you have clothes in the closet, food in the fridge, and a place to sleep, you are richer than 92% of the rest of the world!
2) Next, Paul gives two "not to" commands. He says that those with money are not to be "arrogant" or to "put their hope in wealth." Here he warns about some of the dangers that are inherent with money and material possessions. How many times have we all seen rich people who have arrogant, prideful, boastful spirits? This condescending attitude by the rich toward those of lower financial position is condemned over and over in Scripture. (Check out James 2:1-12)
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