St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

A Word About Wealth

Sermon on 1 Timothy 6:17-21

Text: 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. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 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.
20 Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, 21 which some have professed and in so doing have departed from the faith. Grace be with you.

Do you know who the wealthiest person in the world is? As of May 30, 2020, it is Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, who is worth 116.9 billion dollars. In second place, we find Bill Gates, who is worth is 99.9 billion dollars. You can find lists of the wealthiest people for many years. We keep track of the wealthiest people, but we have no idea who the poorest person in the world is. Why is that? Think of how we view wealth. Wealth symbolizes power. Wealth means a life of ease. People will work hard to accumulate wealth. It is not surprising that the Bible also teaches us about wealth. As a matter of fact, money is one of the two subjects that Jesus spoke the most about. So, as we study these words from Paul to his co-worker Timothy, we are going to study some of what God teaches about wealth. A WORD ABOUT WEALTH. 1. Don’t Misplace Your Priorities. 2. Use What You Have Been Given To God’s Glory.

As Paul concludes his first letter to Timothy, he gave him some instructions that he was to pass along. He said, “Command those who are rich in this present world.” (Verse 17) When we hear those words, we might catch ourselves thinking that the rich people in this world really need to pay attention. It’s about time that they got the score. Those rich people had better listen up. However, aren’t we among the wealthy? Before you answer “no,” think about all of the things that we have and take for granted, especially when you compare our lifestyle to the rest of the world. We have more than enough to eat. We have clothes that are taking up space in our closet that we haven’t worn in years. We consider it an absolute necessity to have a cell phone and internet. The list goes on and on of how much we really have. If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we have been blessed. We are among the wealthy that Timothy is to address.

What are we commanded? “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant.” (Verse 17) In our world, the size of the bank account determines people’s status and how they feel about themselves. Think of how this can affect us. We look down on the people who have less than we do. If we see a poor person on the street, we avoid them, wondering what they did to get themselves into such a state. Often, we assume the worst. We like to brag about what we have that’s better than what someone else has. We pat ourselves on the back for all of the hard work that we put in to accumulate all that we have. When we do these things, we find that we think of ourselves more highly than others. Let the Christian guard against this spirit of the world. We, also, as a church want to take care not to foster pride by showing favoritism to someone over another, because they have been more blessed. Earlier in this letter, Paul told Timothy, “Do nothing out of favoritism.” (1 Timothy 5:21) In Christ there is neither rich nor poor. All are equally wealthy in Christ.

The instructions continue: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to . . . put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain” (Verse 17) The world considers wealth to be a major basis for security. ‘If I have enough money in the bank, I can weather anything.’ The fact of the matter is that wealth is “so uncertain.” A major catastrophe, a stock market crash, an accident, or a costly illness can quickly wipe out riches. The rich fool in Jesus’ story found out how uncertain wealth is. He had a bumper crop and was proud of what he had. He said to himself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” (Luke 12:19) However, that evening, God said, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (Luke 12:21) The rich fool put his hope in his accumulated wealth, but found how little security it gave him.

Instead of putting our hope in the uncertain wealth of this world, we are told instead, “Command those who are rich in this present world . . . to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” (Verse 17) We should remember that it is God who provides everything for us. James wrote in his letter, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.” (James 1:17) God is the origin of all that we have. It is a blessing that comes from his hand. Also, it’s not wrong to enjoy the things that we have been given. God could have made the world a bland, dull, tasteless place. However, he gives us so many blessings so that we might enjoy them.

It’s clear to see why we need these instructions. The fact is, rather than putting out hope in God, we have relied on the things of this world. We also got caught up in the mindset that if we have enough accumulated, we can weather anything. We have been arrogant over what we have accumulated. We chase after wealth and are willing to bend the rules a little to get it. Yet, whenever we place our trust in anything more than God, whenever that becomes the most important thing to us, this is sinning against God. He is to have the number one position in our lives. This is what we learn from the First Commandment. We must admit that there have been times when we have failed to keep God in his rightful place. For this, as well as all of our other sins, we should be rightly condemned.

It is here that God’s greatest blessing to us comes into clear focus. God gave us the gift of his Son to be our Savior. He did everything necessary for our salvation. He put money and the things of this world in their proper place. When he was tempted by Satan with all of the wealth of the world, he refused, saying, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” (Luke 4:8) Then, he willingly went the way of the cross to pay for all of our sins, including our sins of misplaced priorities. His blood has washed us clean. By his life, death, and glorious resurrection, we have been reunited with God, who promises to give us not only blessings during our lifetime, but also the blessings that we will enjoy forever in heaven.

Since God has richly blessed us with wealth, how can we use them to give glory to him? We read in verse 18, “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” We learn the joy of generosity and the pleasure of sharing. God gives us our blessings so that we can help other people. We are reminded in Acts 20:35, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” The joy of sharing extends beyond this life to eternity. “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.” (Verse 19) At first glance, it might appear that we can somehow or another buy our way into heaven. If we use the wealth that God has given us in the proper way, God will repay us when we get to heaven. Nothing could be further from the truth! We are saved by God’s grace alone. He has done everything for our salvation. Rather, this is speaking about the fact that how we use our wealth is an indication of the faith that he has created in our hearts. We want to be “rich in good deeds.” This is what Jesus was speaking about in Matthew 25, as he speaks to the believers on his right hand on Judgment Day. “‘I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

What we did with our money, the good that we did with it for others, the gifts to the poor, the concern for the helpless, and the support of gospel messengers will be recognized by our Lord when we enter heaven. We want to be “rich in good deeds,” not to earn heaven, but because that is the way that faith is. It loves, it shares, it gives generously. It shows what God has made us, heirs of heaven. May God help us to use all that he has given us to his glory.

When people have earthly wealth, they do what they can to protect it. They put their money in a bank. If they have valuables, they may put them in a safe. We have been given a great treasure, which is faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior. As Paul reminded Timothy, “Guard what has been entrusted to your care.” (Verse 20) We want to keep a hold of that faith with both hands. This is not something that we can do naturally. It is so easy to get distracted and loosen our grip, if ever so slightly. We are strengthened in our guarding as we are in contact with God through his Word and the sacraments. This faith is the most valuable thing that we have. Even if we had nothing else, because we have faith, we are wealthy beyond imagination. We thank our God for this. We also thank God for all of the physical blessings that he has given us. We pray that God would give us the proper perspective on them, so that we do not become full of ourselves when we think about them nor put our trust in them. We remember that God is the one who gives us all of these things for our enjoyment. We also pray that God would open our eyes to see the many opportunities that he places in front of us to use these blessings to his glory. We pray that God would help us to keep our wealth in its proper place and to treasure our relationship with him above all things. Amen.