A Warning to Rich People Like Us
1 Timothy 6:17
"Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy" (1 Tim 6:17)
What comes to mind when you think of rich people? A finely dressed man? An enormous, extravagant house? Large staff of servants? Cars? Jewelry? This image may be the reason that Bible warnings to the rich so often go unheeded. The Christian in 21st century America is remarkably wealthy. Even if we have but a little by American standards, we have far more than most in our world-and would put the people of Bible times to shame. So it is to people like us that God warns: "Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God"(1 Tim 6:17). Let us consider this warning-one given to rich people like us.
Paul is instructing Timothy of what he should teach various members of the church in Ephesus, and he tells him to command the "rich in this present age not to be haughty" (v. 17). The word "haughty" here is also translated "highminded" (KJV) and "conceited" (ESV); God is warning us first against the natural tendency to let our wealth go to our heads. The implicit deceit of wealth is that those who have it are better people than those who are not. This is not new. When Jesus warned that "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Matt 19:24), the apostles were astonished, wondering who could be saved. James warned of Christians treating rich people better than poor, giving them attention and honor (James 2:1-5). Jesus' story about the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) is perhaps most groundbreaking because it shows a beggar as the hero-while the rich man is tormented! The biblical view of riches is that they are at best an obstacle to overcome in our quest for heaven-certainly not something to be haughty about! Of course God gives us all things that we have (James 1:17), so we must view our wealth as a stewardship given to us, to be used in the most effective way before returned to the master. The warning is not to be haughty-not to think we have earned what we have, that we are better than others because we have it, or that it will last very long.
Further, the rich should be taught not "to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God"(1 Tim 6:17). One pitfall of wealth is the fašade of security and happiness it brings. Our vocabulary is full of words like "safety net" and "nest egg" that belie a reliance on money to save us in difficult times. Yet Paul reminds us that riches are "uncertain" and are not worthy of our trust. Ask wise (and rich) Solomon. He will remind you of the emptiness of riches: "He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver" (Eccl 5:11). He will tell you about how fleeting they are: "Riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away like an eagle toward heaven" (Prov 23:5). But most of all, he will remind you of what we all know: "As he came from his mother's womb, naked shall he return, to go as he came"(Eccl 5:15). When the stock market collapses, or the dollar dives, or our nation is defeated in war, what will you do? Does that possibility terrify you? Trust "in the living God" and you will be fine through it all. Trust in riches and you will be miserable now and at the end. Woe to us if God should say, "Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided"(Luke 12:20).
But what should rich people do with their money? "Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life"(1 Tim 6:18-19). There is good to be done, and much of it can be done with the wealth God has given us. Please observe that this is not good financial planning, physically speaking. Spending our money on helping others and doing good is not on the world's priority list, but it must be on ours. Christians in the first century "sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need"(Acts 2:45). They worked, but not just so they could have more than enough for themselves: "Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need" (Eph 4:28). Listen further to John: "But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?"(1 John 3:17). Being rich in good works is not the same of thinking of good things to do but failing to do them. It is not achieved by simply caring for people. Its accomplishment does not rest on wishing there was something we could do to help. In the last day, Jesus will not be impressed by our bank statement, but by whether we used His things to help His people (Matt 25:31-46). Do you pass that test?
God has warned us strongly. Will we listen? Do not dismiss this passage as addressed to millionaire athletes or Fortune 500 CEOs. While it applies to them, it is a warning to rich people like us. Refuse to be haughty, remembering that all you have was given to you. Place firm trust in God, so that when the money fails, you will not falter. Be rich in good works, meeting the needs of others-and lay up your treasures in heaven.
By Jacob Hudgins
From Expository Files 15.4; April 2008