Wealth is good, and wealth is dangerous. So says the Bible. But how do we use our wealth to glorify God? First Timothy 6:17–19 is one of the clearest and best passages that addresses our use of wealth:
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.
Paul’s exhortation is to “the rich in this present age.” If you’re an American reading this, you’re likely included in this category. Houses, iPhones, blue jeans, minivans, central air-conditioning, central plumbing, access to medical care, Chinese food, comfortable tennis shoes. Even amid a pandemic, we’re still unfathomably wealthy compared to 99 percent of people in history, which means that Paul is speaking directly to us here.
And what does he say? He begins with three “charges.”
Three Charges to the Wealthy
First, “don’t be haughty.” It’s easy for the rich to think they’re somebody; to think, My right arm has gotten me this wealth (Deut. 8:17). It’s easy to live as though life consists in an abundance of possessions; that if we have the big house or the big car or the big vacation, then others will admire us and respect us and do what we say. Wealth and haughtiness often go hand in hand. There’s a smug satisfaction that creeps in and lords our riches over others. And so, Paul’s first word to the rich is, “Don’t boast! Don’t puff yourself up in your riches.”
Unlike riches . . . you can take God with you out of this world.
Second, don’t set your hope on the uncertainty of riches. It’s easy for wealthy people to think their strength comes from their wealth and not from Christ. We so easily modify Paul’s famous words in Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through wealth which strengthens me.” Paul has addressed this earlier in the chapter (1 Tim. 6:6–10). Our riches are uncertain because we can’t take them with us (1 Tim. 6:7). All the wealth in the world won’t keep us from dying. It’s not wrong to be rich, but, Paul says, to desire to be rich, to crave wealth is a deep temptation, a snare, and all kinds of evil flow from it (1 Tim. 6:9–10).
Third, instead of setting your hope on riches, set it on God. There’s a clear contrast here. Unlike riches, God isn’t uncertain or unstable. Moth and rust don’t destroy him; thieves can’t steal him from you. You can take God with you out of this world. Indeed, he will never leave you nor forsake you, in this life or the next.
The love of God is the root of all sorts of goodness, and to crave him brings the deepest and most lasting joy (Ps. 16:11).
Four Purposes for Wealth
Having given three charges to the wealthy, Paul then explains why God has given us wealth (1 Tim. 6:17–19).
The first purpose might surprise us. Paul tells the rich that God “richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (v. 17). Personally, that’s not what I would’ve expected Paul to say to the rich (“Enjoy what God gives you!”). Nonetheless, he says it. So the question becomes, how do you enjoy what God richly provides without setting your hope on the uncertainty of riches?
How do you enjoy what God richly provides without setting your hope on the uncertainty of riches?
The other three purposes of wealth help clarify how we can enjoy what God has provided without setting our hope on it. The next three purposes are: (2) “to do good,” (3) “to be rich in good works,” and (4) “to be generous and ready to share” (1 Tim. 6:18).
The accent of this passage is on the generosity that overflows from our enjoyment. How do we test whether we’re enjoying God’s gifts rightly? Answer: by our generosity. If wealth comes to us and we’re enjoying it, but it’s not spilling the banks and flooding the lives of others, then something has gone wrong in our souls.
This is the same movement we see in Genesis 1–2. In these foundational chapters, God gives Adam all manner of gifts for his enjoyment—tasty food, a loving wife, and fruitful labor. But he also gives him these gifts for the sake of God’s mission to fill the earth with his glory. Gifts are given for our enjoyment, and gifts are given for God’s mission.
The movement is something like this: God lavishly gives us a gift. We receive it. We enjoy it with thanksgiving, acknowledging God as the Giver. This thanksgiving spills over into worship, since we know that as good as the gift is, it’s just a taste of his goodness. And then satisfied with God and enjoying his provision, our lives becomes a tidal wave of generosity—eager to do good, on the lookout for needs and ready with openhanded and bighearted generosity.
Gifts are given for our enjoyment, and gifts are given for God’s mission.
Our goal is this—we want to be as generous with others as God has been with us. We want to freely receive (because he richly provides us with everything to enjoy) and therefore freely give (because he richly provides us with everything to share).
Promise of Eternal Wealth
Paul concludes with a promise. When those of us who are rich set our hope on God, enjoy his provision, and then use our wealth to meet needs through generosity, Paul tells us we’re storing up heavenly treasure and taking hold of life (1 Tim. 6:19).
Our life doesn’t consist in the abundance of our possessions; our life is in Christ. Our hope is in God. And therefore, we’re able to truly enjoy what he richly provides, and to use it all to do good to others.