As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.
They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.
Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the profane chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge; by professing it some have missed the mark as regards the faith.
Grace be with you.
Do you consider yourself rich? Like poverty, richness is a relative term. We may not find our names on the Forbes list of billionaires, but we are probably not struggling to exist either. The middle is a comfortable place to be, just like Goldilocks and her porridge, we’re just right. So this passage isn’t really relevant for us, right? Wrong!
I would suggest that richness might incorporate a major element of independence – having the skills and income to live life as we choose rather than in a way forced on us by someone else. We may not have everything on our wish list but at least we have choices as to what to do with what we have got. Many in our world have little, if any, choice of how to live their lives.
The danger for us is that because we have choices, we start to believe that those choices are our “human right” in spite of the fact that more than half the world are denied that right for one reason or another. And that is my understanding of the word haughtiness. It could be just pride or arrogance, but I think it’s more than that, a belief that it is my right as a person to have this choice regardless of the cost or the impact on others. So when that choice is threatened, or even taken away altogether, it triggers a strong reaction which can be hurtful or even violent.
For Timothy, as a young church leader, he was likely to be facing such issues on a regular basis since Ephesus was a large trading and commercial city with large sums of money and goods changing hands daily. So this was a very real issue for him as it is also for us in our busy western culture. Paul’s advice to Timothy, and to us, is to set our hopes on God’s provision rather than on our own provision of “stuff” – either the money available to acquire “stuff”, or the “stuff” acquired already. If we rely on God’s provision, (and sometimes that provision includes “stuff”) we know it’s because God loves us and wants us to enjoy it. So we can and should be generous with it, we can and should do good works with it and we can and should share it with others – all contributing to a good life in preparation for God’s coming kingdom.
But (and you knew there’d be a ‘but’, didn’t you?) once we get comfortable, we start to forget that God was the source of the provision; we start to think we were, and still are, in control and we forget God’s part in it all. In doing so we risk losing much more than “stuff”. Paul is making clear to Timothy, and also to us, that the church (and that of course is the people not the building) needs to make sure that not only do we believe that all our provision comes from God, but that we behave in a way which makes it clear to everyone else that that’s the case. This is especially important for those in leadership roles because an important part of those roles is the making of disciples and part of that is modelling the way of life ourselves. And of course we can’t do this on our own, we need help. So let’s pray:
Creator and sustainer God, We pause for a moment to reflect on all that we have, which for many of us exceeds what we need or deserve. And in that time of reflection, we offer to you our thanks and praise for all your blessings showered on us, past and present.
In bringing all these to mind, we realise that many times we have forgotten where these blessings came from, we have been so wrapped up in the busy-ness of life that we act as if we are in control, that our decisions were critical, that we deserved the benefits. Forgive us for all those times when we allowed ourselves to be carried along on waves of success or struggle instead of stopping to look for you in what is going on around us.
Help us to keep you at the front of our minds, help us to look at the world through your eyes, to actively seek your guidance through prayer and the scriptures, and to show to the world, not in a Uriah Heap “ever-so-‘umble” kind of way, but in a joyful and grateful kind of way, that everything we have comes from you and we don’t ever want to forget that. Amen.
The Rev’d Sheila Coop is the minister of Macedonia URC in Failsworth.