A Christian View of Riches
HAVE you read the apostle Paul’s first letter to Timothy recently, especially chapter 1Ti 6:6-19? It strikes a balance in the role riches should play in the lives of Christians. The letter finds Timothy living in the fabulously wealthy city of Ephesus. Christians living in that large commercial center had to fight the tendency to view worldly riches as the big thing. In brief, those verses counsel: Be content with what you have, and do not seek to be rich; those already rich, do not rest your hope on material things. Instead, all are to be rich in fine works and all are to manifest generosity.
A lopsided view of riches tilts people to greed. Greed becomes the wedge that can slowly but surely pry away a Christian’s grip on the sound teachings of Christ. Separated from the clear thinking of the truth, he now plunges into one stormy conflict after another with those inside and those outside the congregation. This path can lead “to nothing but jealousy, quarrelling, insults and malicious innuendoes—continual wrangling, in fact, among men of warped minds who have lost their real hold on the truth but hope to make some profit out of the Christian religion.”—1 Timothy 6:3-5, Phillips.
So it goes with those who exploit their Christian contacts for personal financial “profit.” They miss the real riches that only godly devotion can bring, the “promise of the life now and that which is to come.” Therefore, Paul’s advice to all is to “be content” with “sustenance and covering.”—1 Timothy 4:8; 6:8.
Do You Desire to Be Rich?
When the rich put themselves on a pedestal, others may often feel inferior, which may spark in them, first, envy and then a strong, grasping desire for wealth or at least the things wealth can buy. Or their jealousy may cause them to conclude wrongly that they are justified in taking advantage of the rich and their wealth by badgering them for money but dodging repayment. Thankfully, 1 Timothy 6:6-16 gives sound advice as to how and why Christians should avoid the destructive desire to be rich.
□ 6:6-8—Seldom does contentment follow riches, but it always goes together with godly devotion. Why crave things others have? They are only temporary, for we carried nothing into the world, and we will take nothing out.
□ 6:9—It is not necessarily the wealthy but those “who are determined to be rich” that, like a witless animal, clutch at the tempting bait, get entangled in a snare, and become captive to “hurtful desires” that “plunge” people into ruin (literally, dragging them to the bottom).
□ 6:10—All sorts of things that are bad spring from “the love of money.” For money, people have perverted justice, stolen, prostituted themselves, committed murder, betrayed others and falsified the truth. Nothing good ever grows out of this type of love. Why? Because it is rooted in evil. Since most roots are hidden, unwary Christians underestimate the enormous power for bad centered in “love of money.” It is just “by reaching out for this love”—not the possessing of money—that “some have been led astray from the faith.” The result is a person ‘stabbed with emotional, physical and spiritual pains’ because of trying to get and hold on to riches. Riches alone never bring happiness.
□ 6:11-16—Instead of pursuing riches, wise Christians flee from greed. The distance for safety cannot be too great. They spend their energy procuring the virtues of “righteousness, godly devotion, faith, love, endurance, mildness of temper” so that they can “get a firm hold on the everlasting life,” and be “spotless and irreprehensible” in the sight of Jehovah, Christ and fellow believers.
Are You Wealthy?
Some of the first-century Christians were wealthy. They either inherited their fortune or acquired it in some irreproachable way by means of business. For example, Lydia of Philippi was in the business of selling either dye or colored fabrics. Since purple dye and garments dyed purple were costly, it is likely that Lydia had some degree of wealth. How did she use her riches? Lydia was no show-off. She humbly used her possessions to display genuine Christian generosity and to advance the spreading of the good news. Happily today, too, there are those who have that same fine spirit.—Acts 16:14, 15, 40.
First Timothy 6:17-19 has good advice for those who would like to imitate Lydia’s example.
□ 6:17—Instead of strutting wealth, the rich are admonished to exhibit humility—not to think themselves superior to poorer people. Their way of life should prove to all observers that their real trust is, not in riches, but, rather, solidly anchored to God. In this way they put no legitimate cause for stumbling in front of those not rich; they are not stirring up greed through envy. Also, they are not to forget that material possessions and wealth are unstable and therefore can melt away faster than snow under the hot sun.
□ 6:18, 19—Use and enjoy your riches to help yourself and others to serve Jehovah, is Paul’s advice. The rich are to reach out in all directions to work what is spiritually good, willingly to give material aid to those in real physical need, and to enjoy fellowship with all in the congregation, including the poorest and the humblest.
Does this mean that those not wealthy can demand handouts from their rich fellow believers? No. As pointed out in 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12 and 1 Timothy 5: 8, each capable Christian has the obligation to work to provide for his own household. So if a person refuses to work, giving him money will not really help. The same is true with those who foolishly squander their money. More money will not really help. But what a blessing it is to the congregation when faithful believers with a true need are kindly given physical or spiritual aid. In this way, all hearts are fixed on laying up in heaven treasures that will yield rich dividends in the form of spiritual rewards from Jehovah.
Therefore, all of us now should be thinking about our standing before God and Christ. Proverbs 11:4 reminds us: “Valuable things will be of no benefit on the day of fury, but righteousness itself will deliver from death.” So why make full use of this changing, dying world? (1 Corinthians 7:29-31) Flee from greed and its deadly effects! We do not have endless time to build up a record of fine works. May we be found as people with an abundant treasure in heaven.—Matthew 6:20.
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Lydia used her means to display generosity and to spread the good news