“Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.”
If we look at chapter 6 as a whole, there is a clear line of thought running through it. Paul condemns those teaching anything different than the clear teaching he had left in Ephesus and reiterated in this letter (vv. 3-5). He commends true godliness and points out how greed and the love of money completely undermines this holy pursuit (vv. 6-10). Then he personally calls Timothy to run as fast as he can away from this same greed as he continues to persevere and fight the good fight of faith. This fight will not conclude until the return of the King (vv. 11-16).
Some may read these verses near the end of Paul’s letter to Timothy and wonder about their place in the overarching argument. The grand and lofty doxology that Paul packs into vv. 14-16 seems like a fitting way to end the letter. But Paul does not use this doxology as a simple conclusion. The praise for his King is more than a punctuation marker, it is the obvious praise and joy one would expect when contemplating the final return and appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But there is a part of Paul’s argument that is missing. What about those who are believers and are currently rich? Are they in sin through the possession of their wealth? Should they abandon their riches? Are they going to be plunged into death and destruction as well? Before concluding the letter entirely, Paul must address this last issue. At the conclusion of v. 19, the discussion on riches and wealth will be thoroughly explained.
There’s a few observations that we should begin with. First, v. 17 begins with an imperative. Paul commands Timothy to instruct. The same root (παραγγέλλω – To instruct, command, direct, give orders) has been used throughout this letter. Paul has already used it in 4:11 (Prescribe), 5:7 (Prescribe), and 6:13 (I charge you). Timothy’s ministry in Ephesus was predominantly a teaching ministry.
The second thing we should notice is that Timothy is commanded to instruct not combat “those who are rich.” The implication is that this instruction is not going against the false teachers, but to the members of the body who fit this description. These last words are words for the believer.
Really what we have here is Paul instructing the Ephesians through Timothy on how to approach wealth. In short, wealth is to be approached humbly, generously, and eschatologically.
Approaching Wealth Humbly (v. 17)
“Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.”
Perhaps we should revisit vv. 6-10 for a minute in order to define what we mean by those who are rich. To be rich is to have more than what is needed to live. In our 21st century American culture, we have a twisted idea of what needs are. Paul makes it clear in v. 8 what people need: food and covering. To be rich is to decide what is for dinner. To be poor is to not know if you will have dinner. To be rich is to have money left over from taking care of those basic needs. If you are reading this on a device that you own, you’ve made at least one purchase that is clearly outside of the realm of needs. I’m going to assume that you, like myself, are rich.
The imperative to instruct drives this whole passage. All that follows provides the content of what Timothy is to instruct. This verse gives two things that those who are rich are instructed not to do. First on the list is that we (for you and I are certainly rich by these standards) are not to be conceited.
The term literally means to be high-minded. This does not need a whole lot of explanation. To be conceited or high-minded is to think that you are better than those around you. This boils down to pride, and pride is always a temptation where wealth is concerned. It’s quite common to assume some sort of superior attitude when you have things that others do not. It’s easy to mistake God’s gracious blessing of material wealth for some sort of strange anointing that you are actually more valuable to God than those who are in need. But even among the pagan this attitude is pervasive.
The more money we have the less we do for ourselves. We don’t cook our own food, clean our own homes, care for our own lawns, etc., etc., etc. We buy the services of others. In other words, we provide ourselves with servants. Pretty soon, everyone we meet is viewed in such terms. We speak harshly to our waitress because we honestly think that God placed her on this earth to serve us. We dismiss the pizza delivery boy without so much as a handshake because his services are no longer required. This is pride. This is conceit. And this is prohibited.
The second attitude Paul will not allow for is that of misplaced trust. He says or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches. To hope (ἐλπίζω) is to look forward to something with confident expectation. It is to trust in a person’s ability or the certainty of an event. The construction here is very interesting, because the object Paul stresses should not be hoped in is uncertainty. That seems rather obvious. Why would anyone place their hope, their trust, or their confident expectation in something that is not certain? But that is precisely Paul’s point. The word uncertainty is clarified by of riches.
There is an ongoing play on words throughout these verses. Paul uses various forms of the word riches, as a noun (riches), as an adjective (those who are rich; richly), and as a verb (to be rich). But he began this whole discussion by limiting the sphere of riches to this present world. This current world will not last, but is even now groaning to be remade (Romans 8:22). All that is attached to this world will only last as long as the world itself. By definition, earthly riches will not last and therefore are not certain.
This foolish object of hope is quickly followed by something that is eternal, righteous, and good; namely God. Why trust in riches, which are here today and gone tomorrow (read up on “Black” Tuesday October, 29th 1929), when you can trust in God who richly gives everything to us to enjoy. The main idea of this verse is humility. Wealth does not come upon us because we deserve it, nor is it just payment for what we are owed. Everything that we have comes directly from God. It all belongs to Him and He has supplied us richly.
The last few words are interesting to me. One might piously guard against such pride and false hope by living a miserly life and hoarding their wealth or by taking a vow of poverty and dumbing their wealth. Both actions completely miss the point. Neither approach actually demonstrates humility. God created a very good creation. Part of that creation was that man might enjoy God’s bounty and blessing. The Garden of Eden produced food that was good for food and pleasing to the sight (and taste buds, I’d imagine). But one can only truly enjoy God’s gifts when they are recognized as gifts. That requires humility.
Approaching Wealth Generously (v. 18)
“Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share”
The NASB repeats the imperative here as well. What follows continues to fill in what Timothy is to instruct those who are rich. This verse answers the question: what should we do with our riches? There is a progression from the general to the specific. First, those who are rich must do good. It doesn’t get much more general than that, folks.
So broad is this term and so depraved are our own minds that we could convince ourselves that nearly anything we do with our money is good. If it makes us happy, is this not a good thing? There’s really just one simple question that would help us determine if we are doing good things with our money. Does it glorify God? It really is that simple.
Does it glorify God to obey him in our duty to care for, feed, and clothe our families? Of course it does! Does it glorify God to self indulge, pamper our children with useless trinkets, spend our money on frivolous activities and pursuits? Unquestionably it does not. Whom do we seek to bring glory to? Whom are we serving? Answering that question colors in a lot of gray areas.
Moving from this general command, Paul gets more specific. To be rich in good works carries the same idea further up field. To be rich is to have more than enough. To be rich in good works is to abound in them. We must constantly be seeking out ways to bring glory to God with our riches.
The third part of this command brings two ideas for the price of one. The command is to be, but two nouns fill in what those who are rich are to be; namely, they are to be generous and ready to share.
The term generous means exactly what you think it does. It means to give over the top. At least one of those good works that we are to be rich in is to give to others. This is more than flipping a coin to a beggar. This is to give abundantly to those who need it. If you’re not sure to whom you can be generous to, then you don’t know your church very well. I’ve never been in a church where there was no one who was not in need. That’s the way the body of Christ works.
The second term includes the idea of generosity, but extends well past it. The NASB translates the Greek κοινωνικός ready to share. But this term is tied to the idea of fellowship. It means more than giving/sharing of material things. It means to give yourself. To fellowship with other believers is to give time, attention, help, and aid in any and all ways that are required.
Sometimes our brothers and sisters don’t need a check so much as they need a brother or sister. Money can do a lot of good, but it can’t watch the kids, mend a fence, split a load of wood, or just sit over a cup of coffee. We live in a world that is full of people who are not working 40 hours a week. Retirement is a blessing and gift from God. But how should we spend it?
Approaching Wealth Eschatologically (v. 19)
“Storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.”
Paul ties his opening statement regarding riches in this present age in v. 17 to a future treasure. Eschatology is the study of the end of this age. To be a Christian is to be profoundly interested in eschatology, because it is in the end when our King will return and reign. All that we do in this present age is with an eye on the age to come.
Paul’s thought here is very simple: to be humble and generous now is to store up a foundation, a stockpile, of treasure in the age to come. This humble and generous life now reveals that we have indeed been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. These good works do not earn our salvation, but prove our salvation. They are not the cause, but the result.
We who are rich in this present age must view our riches with humility, because they are gracious gifts from God. We must give from these gifts generously, because they are not even truly ours to begin with. And our view of our riches must be informed eschatologically so that when we stand before the throne we will hear, “Well done, My good and faithful servant.” To be rich in the life to come is to give in this present life.
There is nothing wrong with being rich in this present life. Many who are rich did not set out to do so, but through prudent business practices and good old-fashioned hard work, we have an abundance that more than meets our needs. The question is then, what do we do with what is left over? Do we turn our homes into mansions and museums? Do we pick out a different outfit for every day of the week? Do we feed our appetites rather than our hunger? Or do we glorify God with what is His?