The Lord's Day Morning
November 7, 2004
I Timothy 6:17-19
“God's Commands for Stewards”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Open your Bibles with me to First Timothy, chapter six, as we continue to work our way through this book. I was sorely tempted to preach on Psalm 24:1, the verse chosen by the Deacons’ Stewardship Committee, because it does so beautifully capture the emphasis of the theme of our Stewardship Season, which is “The Earth Belongs Unto the Lord.” Everything is God's, and that controls our approach to everything that we have; not just what we give to the church, but the way we view…our attitudes toward every use of everything that we have.
But, in God's providence, as we have been working our way through First Timothy, we have come to the passage where Paul is speaking about that exact issue. In First Timothy, chapter six, verses 17 to 19, Paul is giving us God's commands for stewards. He's not just talking about what we give to the church, he's talking about the way we view money in general. And one of the things that our Stewardship Committee has wanted to emphasize during this Stewardship Season is not simply that which we give to the church, or how much of our substance we give to the church, but our stewardship of all of life. And this is an excellent passage from which to address that issue.
The Stewardship Committee for a number of years now has seen a wider pastoral use for Stewardship Season. They don't want simply to approach Stewardship Season at First Presbyterian Church as sort of a spiritual telethon, a spiritual fund-raiser. They want Stewardship Season to be an opportunity for all of us to reflect on how we are using what God has given us in this life; not only what we give to the church, but how we use everything else–the ninety percent that we don't give to the church. And this passage is an excellent passage from which to address broader stewardship of life issues, issues that we need to face as Bible-believing Christians, especially Bible-believing Christians in a very affluent culture.
Now, this is not the only place where Paul addresses the issues of stewardship and money, and material possessions, and riches. He speaks of this often. We looked at a passage just a couple of weeks ago from I Timothy 6:9,10, where he spoke both about an inordinate desire to get rich, and the trial of the love of money. Paul, in II Timothy 3:2 speaks of the last days, in which men will be lovers of self and lovers of money. So Paul speaks about money quite frequently, and Paul is here instructing the rich.
I want to say very quickly that it's very tempting for us to say, “Well, Paul must be speaking to someone else other than me, because I'm not rich.” We may have in our minds some secret boundary which we have not crossed in terms of personal wealth which constitutes “rich.” But let me just remind you of one thing: the one in our midst who has the least has more than the wealthiest person who first heard this letter read in his own congregation. We live in the most affluent society, the most affluent culture, in the history of the world. And we are among the wealthiest Christians in the history of the world, and the least of us has more than those who had the most in this congregation when Paul first wrote to Timothy. So God's words are to all of us, no matter how little we relatively have in comparison to some others in our community, or even in this congregation. Paul's words are for all of us.
Now, before we read God's word and hear it proclaimed, let's look to Him in prayer and ask for His help. Let's pray.
Lord God, we thank You for Your word. We acknowledge the truth of Your word, and we ask that by Your word You would search our hearts out. We confess, O Lord, that we do not use our wealth as wisely as we ought. We confess, O Lord, that we can identify with the very temptations which the author of Proverbs told us about in the Scripture reading this morning; and so we need Your help. We need the help of Your Spirit. We want to think Christian-ly about money. We want to act Christian-ly about money. We want to have the right attitude, and we want to use what You have given us rightly. So give us eyes to see and ears to hear, and a heart to respond to the truth of Your word. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Hear God's word.
“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.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, inerrant and authoritative word. May He add His blessing to it.
Preachers don't typically like to talk about money. There are a lot of reasons for this. For one thing, ministers of the gospel (at least those who are worth their salt) don't want you to think that all we care about is what you can give to this local congregation. We desire far more. We desire to see spiritual growth and life in the members of our congregation. But Jesus and Paul speak often about money, and so it's important that a faithful minister of the gospel speak about money as well. And there are a number of reasons for this.
First of all, as I've already indicated, we are among the richest Christian churches who have ever existed. There is no question that this congregation is well into the 99th percentile. If we were not to deal with issues of stewardship and how we use what God has given to us, we would be missing the boat.
Secondly, we live in a day and age that oozes materialism. The world is not helping you approach money and handle your money in a way which is God-honoring; and even if you don't imbibe the current philosophy of materialism, nevertheless we are affected by it. All around us there are those who are encouraging us to view life as the sum total of what we amass to ourselves.
Thirdly, and importantly–and we’ll emphasize this later today–your approach to money is an important index of whether the gospel has taken control of your heart. Indeed, throughout the Scriptures, stewardship–not just what we give to the church, but the way we handle everything that God has given to us–stewardship is a lordship issue. It's an issue of whether we really love the Lord; whether we really worship the Lord; whether we really live to glorify and enjoy the Lord; whether we have truly accepted the Lord as Lord. Because we can say that we have accepted Him as Lord, and we can live another way. And the way that we utilize our money, all of it, not just the portion that's given to the church, the way that we utilize all of what God has given to us is an important index as to whether He really is our Lord.
Finally, again, Paul instructs Timothy here, and all faithful preachers through him, to teach on this issue. So if I as a minister, or the rest of our ministerial staff, fail to help you in this area, we not only fail to do what Paul has commanded us to do, but we fail to help you in an area of vital importance. Paul talks about wealth and money and materialism regularly because Jesus taught about wealth and money and materialism regularly. And Paul here instructs Timothy to instruct the rich–and he gives him then positive and negative instructions to pass along, and so I'd like to go through those instructions with you today.
Really, I have two things that I'd like to do with this passage today. Let me cover them very quickly, and if you blink, you’re going to miss them, because we can't dwell but for a few seconds on each one. But in these three little verses Paul says nine very important things to us about the way we approach money. Not just, again, what we give to the church, but the way we approach money in all of life. And then, I just want to pull back and look at the over-arching issue of stewardship as a spiritual issue.
First, in this first passage Paul makes it clear that those who have been given much in this present age are not to become prideful because of it. That's his first principle in this passage. Christians who are blessed with means must be on guard for the negative consequences of those means, and one of the negative consequences of those means is spiritual pride. Look at verse 17: “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited….” In other words, Paul is saying that Christians must not become prideful because of their worldly wealth. He's pointing out that there is a liability to having much in the way of material possession, and one of the liabilities is that we become proud.
If you were to turn with me to Proverbs 30:7-9, a passage that we’ll be reading in a few weeks, that passage is a passage in which the author of Proverbs prays that God would neither give him too little or too much. It's a very interesting prayer. But in that prayer he says Lord, don't give me too much, so that I become full and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ In other words, this person, because he has much, is liable to think that he doesn't need the Lord. He becomes prideful. And it's interesting that Paul is saying that very same thing here. Having much may tempt us to think that we do not need the Lord. There is such a thing as a wealth-induced pride, and Paul says here ‘instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be prideful.’
And he supplies the corrective in this very passage, doesn't he, with that phrase “…those who are rich in this present world….” He's reminding us that all of us must live in light of this world now, and the world which is to come. And he says that if we live to be rich in this world, then we must remember we may be paupers in the next. And so we are not to be prideful because of worldly wealth. That's the first thing that Paul says.
But secondly, he gives another negative warning. You’ll see this again in verse 17. Instruct those who are rich in this present world “…not to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches….” He's telling Christians not to fix their hope on the uncertainty of worldly wealth. He's bringing up the problem of a wealth-induced misplaced hope. Sometimes we put our hope in the wrong thing; we put it in the wrong place. And one of the things that worldly wealth can tempt us to do is to find our security in that worldly wealth.
You remember Jesus’ story of the rich fool? He was a wealthy man, and he was satisfied and he took security in the amount of things that he amassed, and he built extra barns to store the grain that he had brought in. But that night his soul was required of him.
His place of hope was the wrong place. He had misplaced hope. Why? Because of his worldly wealth. His worldly wealth had tempted him to find his security in the here and now, in uncertain riches. And Paul knows that temptation. He knows that temptation to find our security in temporal things. And again, notice he supplies the remedy. He speaks of the uncertainty of this world's riches. “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches….”
Those of you who have watched the market over the last five or six years know something of the uncertainty of riches, but that's a principle that's always been…not just in the last few years. Worldly wealth is uncertain, and so Paul says don't place your hope and confidence there.
But Paul isn't satisfied simply to give negative commands about the way we view our money. He wants to give positive commands.
And so I want you to see a third particular directive that Paul gives in this passage. Look at verse 17 again. “Instruct those who are rich in this present world to fix their hope…on God.” As an antidote to finding our security in temporal things, Paul says, ‘Christian, make sure your trust is in God: the God who gave the wealth, not the wealth God gave.’
Isn't this the test of Job? Job was a man of fabulous wealth. By the way, that's one proof that being wealthy and being godly are not mutually exclusive. Here was the wealthiest man of his age, and he loved God. But what did Satan say to the Lord? Satan said to the Lord, ‘If You take away what You've given him, Lord, he’ll curse you to the face!’
Now, Job didn't. Why? Because Job's hope was in the God who gave him wealth, not the wealth that God gave him. But that is an exceedingly difficult thing for those who have much to see the difference between, because when we have much, our focus is often on the much that we have, and not the One who gave us the much. And so Paul says, ‘Christian, if God has given you much, be sure that your hope is in the One who gave, is in the Giver and not in the gift–what the Giver has given.’
And those two things are very important to keep distinct, because, my friends, there is no trial like affluence. There is no trial like prosperity. When you have much, it is so tempting to find your security in that much, and to do so much of what you do to make sure that you don't lose that earthly security. But Paul says here [to] positively cultivate your hope in God. If you have much, be at pains to make sure that you are trusting in God. In fact, those who have much will very likely have to work harder than most in order to fix their hope on God.
You remember what Jesus said to the disciples? He said it's “harder for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven than it is for a camel to go through the eye of the needle.” Now, that wasn't hyperbole. That was understatement. You remember Jesus went on to say, when the disciples, aghast, said, “Well, then, who can be right with God?” His response was, “it's impossible.” It's very, very easy for wealth and prosperity to blind us to God, and so Paul is telling us, cultivate your hope in God deliberately. If God has given you much, cultivate your hope in Him, not in what He has given you.
Fourthly, look again at verse 17 where he says that we're to hope in “… God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.” Now, in this passage he's reminding us to remind ourselves that all the good that we have comes from God. Every good gift comes from above, from the Father of lights; and therefore, when we enjoy what we have Paul is telling us we must be at pains to remember that God has given it. In other words, Paul is telling us to cultivate an appreciative…a grateful…attitude to the wealth that we have. By the way, this is another indication that Paul is not a Marxist. Paul doesn't say that the solution to greed is redistribution: he says the solution to greed is gratitude, gratitude to God, a recognition that the reason that I may have more is not because I'm better or smarter or faster, it's because God has been good. And that in and of itself is going to cultivate in me a generosity about which Paul is going to speak a little bit later. So he tells us that we must remember that all good comes from God, and we must coordinately cultivate an appreciative attitude for this wealth.
Notice again, another principle in verse 18: wealthy Christians are to use their resources to do good. “Instruct them,” he says, “to do good.” This is the fifth instruction or directive from Paul in this passage. Because of God's temporal blessings to us, we have a special responsibility to do good with the means that God has given us. Paul is contrasting squandering wealth with using it for good.
You remember Jesus’ story about the faithful and unfaithful stewards? Two of them took the money that had been given to them by their master and they cultivated it. One of them squandered that trust. He buried it. And Jesus’ point was that we are not to squander the resources and the means and the gifts that God has given to us, but instead, we're to use them for the Kingdom. And Paul is echoing this as well. We are to use our resources to do good. Jesus also said, “To whom much has been given, much will be required.” And Paul is echoing that truth in this passage.
Sixthly, if you look again at verse 18, notice what he says. Not only “instruct them to do good,” but to be “rich in good works….” Christians are to strive to be rich in the only kind of wealth that counts. Christians are to strive to be rich in good works, the kind of wealth that heaven sees. We are to aim to be counted wealthy in the realm of righteous deeds, if we want really to be rich. Remember when Paul is speaking to the Corinthians, and he says to them, ‘You think yourself…you think of yourselves as rich, but in fact you’re poor.’ And in this passage Paul is raising the possibility that we can have much material wealth, and we can be thought of as wealthy by the world around us, but in fact, we can be paupers. We can be impoverished, because we are not using what God has given to us for good, and we are not rich in good works, rich in righteousness, rich in good deeds. So that's the sixth thing that Paul says here. We are to be rich not in our bottom line of the bank account, but rich in good works.
Seventh, Paul says…again in verse 18…that we are “…to be generous and ready to share.” That is, he says, ‘Christian, God's given you much, so cultivate generosity.’ What is our natural inclination when God gives us much? To be selfish. To use it for ourselves. To use it for our own ends, for our own advancement and comfort. But God says here through the Apostle Paul, ‘Cultivate generosity.’ Be ready to share. Those of us who have much have a privilege and a greater responsibility to share with others and to care for those less fortunate, especially believers.
Eighth, notice verse 19, where Paul tells us that we are to “… [store] up for ourselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future.” In other words, God has given us much. We must deliberately lay up our treasures, put our hope in, not the things of this world; but we must lay up treasures in heaven.
When you have much, your tendency is to be preoccupied with earthly savings and earthly inheritance, and earthly well-being. And Paul is saying when you are in that condition where you have much, you must consciously lay up treasure for the future, the treasure of a good foundation for the future.
And ninth and finally, he says in verse 19 “…so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.” In other words, wealthy Christians must take hold of real life, not just that which merely appears to be the life.
You've heard the joke about the man who was buried in his Cadillac, and as he was being lowered down into the grave by a crane, seated in the driver's seat of his Cadillac, someone said at the graveside service, “Man, that's really living!”
Well, Paul's saying something like that. He's saying it's possible to look at worldly wealth and say, “That's the life!” to imbibe the philosophy that says “he who dies with the most toys wins.” And Paul says that's not wealth, it's poverty. Cultivate riches of the kind that endure forever. Take hold of real life, not just that which appears to be the life. It's in the kingdom that the only true life is found: it's in seeking first the kingdom, and the things and the righteousness of the kingdom, that all things are added to us. But when we seek after the “all things” we lose the kingdom.
And so each of these nine instructions Paul gives to Christians because he knows it's a standing pastoral challenge, how we deal with what God has given us. Again, not just what we give to the church, but how we use everything that the Lord has given us. It is a test. It is a challenge. It is a trial.
But what's the over-arching issue behind this? The over-arching issue is simply this: our use of wealth, our stewardship of what God has given us, is a function of lordship; and it's a measure of whether we understand God's lordship. In other words, it's a spiritual issue. How we use what God has given us is a very important spiritual issue. Our attitude towards money, our use of money, is an index of our sense of mission in this life, and it's also an index of what the ultimate object of worship is.
Our Christian giving, our use of wealth shows us whether Christ is really Lord. You know, it's easy to say ‘Jesus is my Lord and Savior.’ But the way we use money will either evidence that that is true, or that it's not. The way we use our money will show us who our God is. That's what Paul is saying. That's why the use of wealth and our attitude toward wealth is so important in this life, because it is an index of whether God is really our Lord.
Our Christian giving, just like our singing, is designed to unite our profession of the truth with the devotion of our hearts and our lives. It's easy to say “I believe that God will take care of me in the hardest places of life.” And when those hard places come, sometimes it's hard to believe that God will really take care of us. And so, when we sing God's truth back to Him, what are we trying to do? We’re not only trying to praise the Lord, but one of the things we want to see is that expression that we believe God's providence to be true united in the very core of our hearts, so that when we lift it up to God as a praise, we come not only to declare the truth but to delight and to believe in that truth.
Let me give you two examples of this. Turn with me in your hymnal to No. 498. Have you ever, like me, come to the third stanza of Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners, and you’re singing the line “…even when my heart is breaking, He, my comfort, helps my soul.” Do you ever come to that third stanza, and in the middle of that stanza suddenly you realize, ‘Lord God, this is true! I was just reading through the words, and suddenly those words took hold of me: it is true! When my heart has been broken, splayed and spread across the floor, I have known Your comforting love, Jesus! Jesus, You friend of sinners, You have comforted me when my heart was breaking.’ What's happened? The truth has been joined with the affections of your heart! And you have believed it like you have never believed it before, and you lift it up to God. And what's happened? God has joined the truth with your delighting in Him.
Giving is designed to work the same way, so that when we give, we're not just saying, “Yes, Lord, I believe You’re the Lord.” We’re showing Him that we believe He's Lord. Just how you spend your money tells you who you’re worshipping, and so not only in the way that we spend all that we have, but in the way we give to the Lord we join our profession of belief with the affections of our hearts, and we say, ‘Lord, we believe…I believe that You are Lord. Let me prove it. Here is that which You have first given me. It's all Yours, and You've asked me to give back to You, and so I am joining the profession of my lips with an action flowing from the heart to show You that I mean it when I say that You are Lord.’
Turn with me again back to No. 53. Have you ever, when you were reading, singing Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, gotten to the fourth stanza, down to the bottom of the page…the first page of the hymn. Have you ever gotten down to the fourth stanza of Praise to the Lord, the Almighty–the glorious organ is playing in your ears, and the singing of the saints all around you is coming into your ears and into your heart, and you get to the line “…How oft in grief hath not He brought thee relief; spreading His wings to o’er shade thee?” and suddenly you realize that's true! I was grieving, I was almost without hope, I was at the point of despair and it was as if You and spread Your wings over me, and You had comforted me. You knew the truth that God comforts; you believed that truth, but suddenly in the midst of singing that song, that truth was united to the affections of your heart, and you lifted it up to the Lord in a praise as you had never praised Him before.
And giving is supposed to work the same way, so that what we say we believe we demonstrate in a concrete act of sacrifice and trust as we give to the Lord. And so our stewardship not only of that which we give to the church, but our use of everything God has given to us, is to be an index of whether we believe God is Lord.
You know, to give to the Lord you really have to believe that He's Lord. You have to believe that He’ll provide for you, because sometimes giving really, really hurts. There are some months when giving to the Lord really, really pinches. And to give to the Lord, you really have to believe He's Lord, because you’ll spend money on what you care most about. How does what you spend your money on say…what does it say about who you love, about who you worship, about what you ultimately care about?
In all these ways Paul is simply reminding us that a Christian's use of wealth is a spiritual issue. It's a matter of lordship. It's a measure of lordship. It's the evidence of lordship. So as we come to give today, and as we come to pledge to give today, let's remember that this is a spiritual matter. It's an index of who we love, and who is our Lord.
Our Lord God, grant that our use of wealth and our giving to Your kingdom would be a reflection of hearts which know and have experienced the grace of Christ; for those who have received much love much, and those who love much show that love by the way that they use everything that has been given to them as a gift of love. We ask this prayer in Jesus' name. Amen.