A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy 6:18-19. b). Positive instruction: the duties of being rich.
Timothy is not only to warn the rich of the perils they face, but also to alert them to the duties they have.
First, Timothy must seek to develop in the rich a sense of responsibility. The skeleton of verses 17 and 18 make this clear: *Command those who are rich…to be rich…* More fully, command the *rich in this present world…to be rich in good deeds.* Let them add one kind of wealth to another. This is a necessary admonition. Wealth can make people lazy. Since they already have everything they want, they have no need to exert themselves or work for their living. It is not for nothing that some people refer to ‘the idle rich’. So Timothy is to *command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share* (18), using their wealth to relieve want and to promote good causes. In doing so, they will be imitating God. For he is rich, yet out of his riches he *richly provides us* with everything we need (Cf. Eph.1:7; Phil.4:19).
Since God is such a generous giver, his people should be generous too, not only in imitation of his generosity, but also because of the colossal needs of the world around us. Many Christian enterprises are hampered for lack of funds. And all the time our conscience nags us as we remember the one fifth of the world’s population who are destitute. If wealthy people are really and sacrificially generous, it goes without saying that they will no longer be as wealthy as they were. They may not become poor, but neither will they remain rich.
Secondly, Timothy must seek to develop in the rich a sense of proportion: *In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life* (19). This *treasure for themselves* which the wealthy lay up by their generosity is clearly not material treasure, for Jesus specifically told us not to do this (Mt.6:19-20). It is rather spiritual treasure, which is (literally) ‘a good foundation for the future’, enabling the generous rich to lay hold of the authentic life which begins now and ends in heaven (Cf.Mk.10:21; Lk.12:33-34). Perhaps the best commentary on this teaching is Jesus’ parable of the unjust steward (Lk.16:1ff.) or the shrewd manager (NIV). He used his influence in the present to secure his future, and Jesus commended him for his prudence, though not for his dishonesty. It is a question of perspective and of proportion. Which is the more valuable? Is it to be rich in this age (17) or in the age to come (19)? Is it to accumulate treasure on earth or in heaven? Is it to make a lot of money now, or to ‘take hold of the life that is truly life?
Bringing together Paul’s negative and positive instructions to the wealthy, they are not to be proud and despise the poor, but to do good and be generous; they are not to fix their hopes on uncertain riches but on God the giver and on that most valuable of all his gifts, the treasure of eternal life.
Looking over both the paragraphs about money, the apostle’s balanced wisdom becomes apparent. Against materialism (an obsession with material possessions) he sets simplicity of lifestyle. Against asceticism (the repudiation of the material order) he sets gratitude for God’s creation. Against covetousness (the lust for more possessions) he sets contentment with what we have. Against selfishness (the accumulation of goods for ourselves) he sets generosity in imitation of God. Simplicity, gratitude, contentment and generosity constitute a healthy quadrilateral of Christian living.
Tomorrow: 1 Timothy 6:20-21. A charge to Timothy himself.
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.