A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy 6:17-19. 4). A charge to the Christian rich.
It is obvious that this paragraph focuses on riches. Paul uses the adjective ‘rich’ (*plousios*, 17a), the noun ‘riches’ or ‘wealth’ (*ploutos*, 17b), the adverb ‘richly’ (plousios, 17c) and the verb ‘to be rich’)(plouteo*, 18a). Thus after his digression (11-16), his charge to a man of God to flee from the evils of covetousness, Paul reverts to the topic of money. It is essential to note that 1 Timothy 6 contains two complementary paragraphs (6-10 and 17-19), which both handle the same theme of money, but are addressed to different groups in the church. In verses 6-10 Paul addresses the Christian poor, and in particular those among them ‘who want to get rich’ (8). In verses 17-19, however, Paul addresses the Christian rich, ‘those who are rich in this present world’ (17). Of course wealth and poverty are relative terms. Neither can be neatly defined. Among the poor some are poorer than others, and among the wealthy some are wealthier than others. Nevertheless, in every culture there is a recognised difference between them.
The first thing to notice about this paragraph (17-19) is that Paul does not direct the rich to divest themselves of their riches. Instead, he gives negative and positive instruction, first warning the rich of the dangers of wealth, and then laying down their obligations.
a). Negative instruction: the dangers of being rich (6:17)
The first danger to which the wealthy are exposed is pride. *Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant* (17a). The Old Testament clearly warned people of this (E.g. Dt.8:14; Ezk. 28:5). Wealth often gives birth to vanity. It tends to make people feel self-important, and so ‘contemptuous of others’ (JBP). Wealthy people frequently boast of their house, furniture, car, yacht or other possessions.
The second danger to which the rich are exposed is a false security. *Command those who are rich in this present world not…to put their hope in wealth* (17a). To do so is foolishly short-sighted. For one thing, wealth *is so uncertain*. Jesus warned us of the ravages of moth, rust and burglars (Mt.6:19; cf. Pr.23:5), and we would want to add fire and inflation as further hazards. Many people have gone to bed rich and woken up poor. For another thing, the proper object of our human trust is not a thing but a Person; not wealth but God, *who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment* (17b; Cf. Ps.52:7; Je.9:23). This is an important addition. We are not to exchange materialism for asceticism. On the contrary, God is a generous Creator, who wants us to appreciate the good gifts of creation. If we consider it right to adopt an economic lifestyle lower than we could command, it will be out of solidarity with the poor, and not because we judge the possession of material things to be wrong in itself.
The two dangers, then, to which the rich are exposed are a false pride (looking down on people less fortunate than themselves) and a false security (trusting in the gift instead of in the Giver). In this way wealth can spoil life’s two paramount relationships, causing us to forget God and despise our neighbour.
Tomorrow: 1 Timothy 6:18-19. b). Positive instruction: the duties of being rich.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.