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Two Sides of the Same Coin

1 Timothy 6:6-10 - Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

1 Timothy 6:17-19 - Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant or 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. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up for themselves a firm foundation for the coming age, gaining the life that is truly life.

Is it OK for a Christian to be rich? If you ask your fellow believers this question you are likely to get a variety of responses, and usually each response is directly related to whether or not the person responding is rich—or wants to be rich! Many (but not all) rich Christians tend to justify their wealth, and many (but not all) not-so-wealthy Christians tend to judge the rich. Well, what is the Bible’s position on rich and would-be rich Christians? 1 Timothy 6 gives us the answer. It’s a two-part answer: one part is for Christians who want to be rich, and the other part for those who are already rich. It’s as if the answer was on two sides of the same coin. On one side of the coin the message for the would-be wealthy Christian is “Don’t lust after me!” On the other side of the coin the message for the already-rich Christian is “Don’t hoard me!”

Don’t Lust!

1 Timothy 6:6-10 deals with the first side of the coin. These verses are written for Christians who want to be rich. In spite of all evidence to the contrary, most people (even Christians) still think that riches—money and possessions—will bring them happiness and satisfaction. 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, and a person who believes that riches can bring happiness always wants just a little bit more. We might all say, “Well, I’m not in that would-be rich category!” If so, let’s ask ourselves a few questions. How much time do I spend thinking about how I can improve the value of my home or how I can increase my investments? Do I often think about ways I could make more money or acquire more possessions? Is it hard for me to give money away? Am I satisfied with what the Lord has provided, or am I always wishing for something bigger and better?

Christians who want to get rich are generally not aware of the dangers of their desire for money. They think they can handle more money, and they even justify their desire for more with the idea that they will “use it for the Lord”! They somehow feel that they are the exceptions to the emphatic statement of our Lord in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will love the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Money!” Notice that the Lord left no room for middle ground about this matter. To be sure, there may be degrees in our attitude toward the second master—all the way from despising to hate! But the Lord’s point here is hard to miss. Would be rich people will definitely give the Lord and the Kingdom of God a lower priority, and money a higher priority. They may not admit it, and they may try to hide it, and they may even be deceived about it, but it’s true.

Would-be rich Christians might say, at this point, that they agree and therefore they will not “serve” money at all, but will keep their desire for money as a very low priority. That sounds godly, but there’s a problem here. As long as someone wants to be rich, the love of money will work its way up the priority list. It alwayshappens! You can’t please God if you want to be rich. 1 Timothy 6:6-10 does not allow for any exceptions. This emphatic passage of Scripture 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 covering (clothing and shelter) are met, we can be and should be content! And as we consider what’s required to meet ourbasic needs, let’s remember that this Scripture was written in the context of 1st century economics, and not in the context of 21st century materialistic America. Contentment comes through adjustment to circumstances, not through accumulation!

1 Timothy 6:10 is one of the most frequently misquoted verses in the Bible. It 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 love money and 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 biblical list. Christians who want to be rich will —not may —succumb to these pitfalls! You will be ensnared. You will be plunged into foolish and harmful (to yourself and others) desires that are beyond your control. (The Greek word used here is also used in Luke 5:7 to describe an overloaded, sinking boat.) “Ruin” and “destruction” describe irretrievable loss. So if you’re a would-be rich Christian, make no mistake about it, you will lose out eternally. Yes, you’ll make it into heaven, but youwill lose out forever as to joy and blessing in this life, and irretrievably lose out on reward in the life to come (1 Corinthians 3:13-15). You may even end up “wandering away from the faith” and “overwhelmed with grief” (v10). Don’t think this could never happen to you. Maybe it already has!

The only deliverance for would-be rich Christians is to eliminate the love of money and the desire to be rich from their lives. Easier said than done? Perhaps, but the biblical how-to guidelines are given in verse 11: Run for your life from the love of money, and run towardrighteousness! We all need to heed this command, because the desire for money and possessions creeps so easily into our thought patterns and lifestyle choices. “Running for your life” and “running towards” doesn’t happen automatically, and it doesn’t happen to passive Christians. God expects us to take action to eliminate the love of money.

Through His strength this difficult task can be done if we make definite and continual efforts. First, “run for your life” from placing too much value on possessions that will all be left behind (v7). Remember, “You can’t take it with you”! Those material possessions like houses, furniture, clothes, cars, electronic equipment—those things that seem so important now will be valueless when we leave this earth. Second, “run for your life” from materialism (v8). Be content when basic needs are met! This is very difficult in our consumption oriented society, where we are constantly bombarded with enticing and sophisticated advertising. We all need to distinguish more carefully between “what we want” and “what we really need.”

Every one of us probably needs to practice “running for our lives” from the temptation of purchasing a larger car or home than our family really needs. Every one of us needs to practice “running for our lives” from unnecessary purchases at malls, specialty shops, and the endless array of catalogs or internet sites. Thirdly, “run for your life” from spending a lot of time thinking up methods and schemes for making more money (v9). It’s easy to put a supposed “need” for more money ahead of time spent with family and church, and sometimes even ahead of Christian ethics. Finally, “run toward righteousness” by meeting with godly Christians and getting involved in loving and caring for people rather than things (v11). We all need to actively consider how we can cut down on unnecessary expenditures so more of our time and resources can be channeled into serving the Lord and others. If at all possible, get involved in worthwhile Christian activities where you can make a difference. So, fellow believer, if you want to please God, run for your life from the desire to become rich! One more time! Don’t try to get rich!

Don’t Hoard!

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 a critical matter. In fact, the Lord said that a believer’s faithfulness in the area of handling money is a test of his or her ability to handle the truly valuable affairs of the Kingdom. “If you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” (Luke 16:11). We’ve all been tested in this matter of money. Have you passed the test? The amount doesn’t matter. Your character can be determined by a single dollar!

The message on the coin to 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 you rich, it is a sin to hoard the money, using it only for yourself and not for the glory of God, according to 1 Timothy 6:17 19. This Scripture is not saying 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 us remember the rich Christians Paul had in mind when he wrote 1 Timothy. They didn’t have the portfolios that many Christians have today—even in a relative way. By first century standards, most of us today would fall into the rich Christian category, so let’s obey the commands of the Lord! Yes, there are the college education costs for the kids and the proverbial “rainy day” needs, but let’s look around us—it’s already raining 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 as to why wealthy Christians should heed the “Don’t hoard me” message on the coin. First of all, when you have a lot of money and upscale possessions, it’s easy to become arrogant. It’s also more than likely that you will tend to trust in your bank account for your security, rather than trusting in God (v17). Secondly, riches are uncertain (v17). “Money has wings” is not just folklore—it comes straight from the Bible in Proverbs 23:5! Thirdly, we tend to forget that the things that really bring joy in life are given by God—they’re not bought with money (v17). How many of us have still not learned that lesson? When will we ever learn?

The good news of the “money talk” in 1 Timothy 6 is that you “cantake it with you”! Not literally, of course, as verse 7 makes clear. We will leave this earth with the exact amount of possessions with which we arrived—none! However, we can take it to heaven if we exchange our money for heavenly treasure by sharing it here on earth. When rich Christians stop hoarding their money and become generous, using it for good and godly purposes (v18), they can take it with them. And they will not just be investing for the future, but they will experience the abundant life now (v19). That’s what it means to “lay hold of life that is life indeed”!

“To be generous and ready to share” doesn’t mean that rich Christians should give to every person or ministry that is looking for a handout. No! 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 wisdom and discernment, and check out what the real needs are and where God would have them give.

If you are a rich Christian, remember that giving a significantamount of your money away is not an option for you—it’s acommand. 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 that the Lord Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and 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 will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

How wonderful 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 for us! Money itself is neutral, but remember that 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 as we view and handle money.
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