If you ask Christians you are likely to get a variety of responses, and each will be related to whether or not the person responding is rich, or wants to be! Many rich Christians justify their wealth, and many not-so-rich Christians judge them. What is the Bible’s position on being rich? First Timothy 6 gives us a two-part answer – for Christians who want to be rich, and for those who already are. It’s as if the answer was on two sides of a coin. On one side the message for the want-to-be wealthy Christian is, “Don’t lust after me!” On the other side the message for the already-rich Christian is “Don’t hoard me!”
First Timothy 6:6-10 deals with Christians who want to be rich. In spite of all evidence to the contrary, most people still think that riches will bring happiness. These people are not necessarily poor, but they’re not satisfied with what God has provided for them. The problem is that they want more. We might all say, “I’m not in that would-be rich category!” But let’s ask ourselves a few questions. How much time do we spend thinking about how we can improve the value of our homes? Do we often think about ways to make more money? Is it hard to give money away? Are we satisfied with what the Lord has provided, or do we wish for more?
Christians who want to get rich are generally not aware of the dangers of their desire. They think they can handle more money, and they even justify their desire for more by saying they will “use it for the Lord!” They somehow feel that they are the exception to our Lord’s emphatic statement, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Money!” (Mt. 6:24 NIV). Notice that the Lord left no middle ground. His point is hard to miss. Would-be rich people will definitely give the Lord and His Kingdom a lower priority, and money a higher priority. They may not admit it, may try to hide it, and may even be deceived about it – but it’s true!
Would-be rich Christians might agree, and therefore say they will not “serve” money, but will keep their desire for it a very low priority. This sounds godly, but there’s a problem. As long as someone wants to be rich, the love of money will work its way up the priority list. It always happens! You can’t please God if you want to be rich. First Timothy 6:6-10 does not allow for exceptions. This emphatic passage indicates that we are to be content with what we have! And the Bible never asks us to do something that the Lord will not empower us to do. So verse 8 says that as long as our basic needs for food and clothing are met, we can and should be content! And as we consider what’s required to meet our basic needs, let’s remember that this Scripture was written in the context of 1st century economics, not 21st century materialism. Contentment comes by adjusting to circumstances, not by accumulating wealth!
First Timothy 6:10, one of the most misquoted verses in the Bible, does not say that “money” is the root of all evil, but that “the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil.” Some of the evils that befall those who want to be rich are listed in verse 9: “temptation … a trap … foolish and harmful desires … ruin and destruction.” Not an attractive list! And notice that there are no “ifs” or “maybes” about this list. Christians who want to be rich will be ensnared, will be plunged into foolish and harmful desires beyond their control. “Ruin and destruction” describe irretrievable loss. So if you are a would-be rich Christian, make no mistake about it, you will lose out. You’ll make it into heaven, but will lose much joy and blessing in this life, and irretrievably lose a reward in the life to come (1 Cor. 3:13-15). You may even end up “wandering away from the faith” and “overwhelmed with grief” (1 Cor. 3:10). Don’t think this could never happen to you. Maybe it already has!
The only deliverance for would-be rich Christians is for them to eliminate from their lives the love of money and the desire to be rich. This may be easier said than done, but the biblical how-to guidelines are given in 1 Timothy 6:11: “Flee from all this, and pursue righteousness.” We all need to heed this command, because the desire for money creeps so easily into our thoughts and lifestyle choices. Running away from the desire for riches and running towards righteousness doesn’t just happen. God expects us to take action to eliminate the love of money.
Through the Lord’s strength this difficult task can be accomplished. First, “flee” from placing too much value on possessions that you can’t take with you (1 Tim. 6:7). Material possessions that seem so important now – like houses, furniture, clothes, cars, computers, cell phones and electronic equipment – will be valueless when we leave this earth. Second, “flee” from materialism (1 Tim. 6:8). Be content when your basic needs are met! This is very difficult in a consumption-oriented society, where we are constantly bombarded with enticing advertising. We all need to distinguish more carefully between what we “want” and what we “need.” We need to practice running for our lives from the temptation of purchasing a larger car or home than our family really needs. We need to practice running from unnecessary purchases at malls, specialty shops, catalogs and internet sites. Third, we need to run from spending a lot of time thinking up ways to make more money (1 Tim. 6:9). It’s easy to put a supposed need for more money ahead of time spent with family and church. Finally, “pursue righteousness” by meeting with Christians and getting involved in loving and caring for people rather than things (1 Tim. 6:11). We all need to cut down on unnecessary expenditures so more of our time and resources can be channeled into serving the Lord and others. If we want to please God, we must run for our lives from the desire to become rich! Let’s say it one more time: Don’t try to get rich!
As we turn the coin over and look at the message for rich Christians in 1 Timothy 6:17-19, we need to realize that a Christian’s ability to handle money wisely is critical. In fact, the Lord said that our faithfulness in the area of handling money is a test of our ability to handle the truly valuable affairs of His kingdom. “If you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” (Lk. 16:11). We’ve all been tested in this matter of money. Have we passed the test? The amount doesn’t matter. Our character can be determined by how we handle a single dollar (Lk. 21:2).
On the other side of the coin, the message for rich Christians is, “Don’t hoard me!” While it is a sin to want to get rich, it is not a sin to be rich. God may make a Christian rich in any number of ways. However, if God chooses to make us rich, it is a sin to hoard the money, using it only for ourselves, and not for God (1 Tim. 6:17-19). These verses do not say that it is wrong to have a bank account or investments, but it is wrong for believers to keep all their money for themselves. When the question is raised as to where the line is drawn between saving and hoarding, let’s remember the rich Christians Paul had in mind when he wrote his first letter to Timothy. They didn’t have the portfolios that many Christians have today – even in a relative way. By 1st century standards, most of us today would fall into the rich category, so let’s obey the Lord’s commands! Yes, there is such a thing as saving for “rainy day” needs. But let’s look around us – it’s raining every day for many of our fellow believers and Christian ministries, both overseas and here at home.
In 1 Timothy 6:17-19 a number of reasons are given why wealthy Christians should heed the “don’t hoard me” message. First, when we have a lot of money and things, it’s easy to become arrogant. It’s also more likely that you will trust your bank account for your security, rather than God (1 Tim. 6:17). Second, riches are uncertain. “Money has wings” is not just a cute saying – it comes straight from Proverbs 23:5. Third, we forget that the things that really bring us joy are given by God, not bought with money (1 Tim. 6:17). When will we ever learn this lesson?
The good news of Paul’s “money talk” in 1 Timothy 6 is that we can take it with us! Not literally of course, as verse seven makes clear. We will leave this earth with the exact amount of possessions we brought – none! However, we can take our wealth to heaven if we exchange it for heavenly treasure by sharing it here on earth. When rich Christians stop hoarding and become generous, using their riches for godly purposes, they can take it with them. They will not just be investing for the future, but will experience the abundant life now . That’s what it means to “take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Tim. 6:19).
“To be generous and willing to share” doesn’t mean that rich Christians should give to every person or ministry that is looking for help. Indiscriminate giving can actually make matters worse, creating an unhealthy dependency in needy people and leading to selfish money-making schemes in ministries. Rich Christians need to use discernment, check out what the real needs are, and determine when and where God wants them to give.
If you are rich, remember that giving away a significant amount of your money is not an option, but a command. It’s just a matter of where the Lord wants you to give, and how much you want to take with you to heaven! Remember, the Lord Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt. 6:19-21).
Be A Blessing!
What a blessing that God makes it possible for us to use our money wisely for His glory! Just as some of the gold that came out of Egypt with the Israelites was freely given for the building of the Tabernacle, so we can take the “gold” that passes through our hands and invest it willingly for that which brings glory to God. Unfortunately, some of the gold that came out of Egypt became a calf idol which ensnared God’s people. What a lesson! Money itself is neutral, but there are two sides to every coin which passes through our hands. Let’s not selfishly look for more money, or hoard the money we have. If we want to please God, we’ll obey the commands of 1 Timothy 6:6-11,17-19 as we view and handle money.
By David R. Reid
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org