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Doing Good (7)

Taking hold of true life


Scripture Readings

  • Hebrews 13:7-16
  • 1Timothy 6:3-19

Introduction

Daniel Petrie was once a vice president of Microsoft.  When his only sister died in a car crash he took stock of his life.   He commented:

And it made me think about well, what would we put on my tombstone if I dropped off the twig? And what it occurred to me is that pretty much it would say ah, you know, “Vice President of Microsoft, hopefully soon to be Senior Vice President of Microsoft!” And that was pretty much it. And I thought at that moment that wasn’t enough, that I wanted to say that I was a really good father, I was a good partner, I was a good and contributing member of the community. 

He came to Australia and became chairman of a big Internet company. With others like Greg Poche, he is known today as a philanthropist who says, “That it’s your responsibility to give to the community within which you’ve earned your money, not your choice.

Not “richer”

Paul in 1 Timothy 6:17, the paragraph we read today, says:

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to 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. (1 Timothy 6:17, NIV)

There is just a possibility that we may understand this verse wrongly.  We might understand it as if it means that we have the right to do two things:

  • We can shrug our responsibility to do good with what has entrusted us with, because most of us do not fall within the category of the super rich like Daniel Petrie of Greg Poche.
  • The second thing we may do is to judge the super rich if they do not give away their money for the good of their communities.

But this is not what the Bible has in mind.  The Bible does refer to those who are richer than us; it plainly just refer to being rich.  We cannot sit in church and think of richer people than ourselves, even members of our own community of believers and say, “Well, this message has no bearing on me.  In fact, the Bible is going to hit the rich today.”

There is nothing in the Bible that indicates that being rich is wrong, and being poor is somewhat of a virtue.  There is nothing in the Bible which sets a standard of what is rich and what is poor.  Surely we read of rich people like Abraham, Solomon, Job and Joseph of Arimathea.  Compare them to the average person, surely they were richer; but it does not imply that all others were poor.

Being rich is somewhat relative.  Kings of 100 years ago were rich, probably richer than most of their subjects, but they not all had cars, telephones and electricity.   Not long ago having a car, a home and a academic qualification was to be rich.  Today we think those without flat screen TV’s, cars with air-conditioning, mobile phones and computers, and the ability to enjoy at least one take-away meal per week are poor.

We are all rich

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to 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. (1 Timothy 6:17, NIV)

Let’s look at this last line:  God provides richly for us everything for our enjoyment.

We have nothing which is not from God.  Paul says:

And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything. Rather, He Himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. (Acts 17:25, NIV)

God provides even beyond our actual needs! His hand is lavish. When He withholds He does it and for his purposes.

The eyes of all look to You, and You give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. (Psalm 145:15–16, NIV)

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:26, NIV)

Did not our Lord teach us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread?” What we need, God will provide for us.

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? (Luke 11:9–12, NIV)

The phrase “for our enjoyment” in our text is significant. God does not bestow wealth merely in order that we may hang on to it, but that as Christians we must use and enjoy it with all gratitude. Refusal to enjoy it is as much a sin as misuse, waste, or overindulgence.

Indeed, we are all rich, but not all of us are equally rich.

Where is your hope anchored?

Not all of us are rich in a monetary sense.  But why do we compare ourselves with others?  Is this what this Paul wants to bring across to his readers?

So, comparison between who is rich and who is richer is not in the mind of Paul when he wrote this letter.  What was his benchmark? One commentator makes this remark:  “Paul considers only two classes: those (whether they are actually poor or rich) whose intention it is to be rich (v. 9); those who are actually rich.” 

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to 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. (1 Timothy 6:17, NIV)

There is a fine line between greediness and ambition; between never satisfied with what one has on the one hand, and working hard with the gifts and opportunities God is providing on the other hand.  The Bible has nothing against hard work and healthy ambition, but everything against greed and always being dissatisfied.

The Christian must always be on his guard, because even the most honourable and legitimate wealth could harbour the danger of falling into temptation and traps – for the love of money, not money in itself, is the root of all kinds of evil.

Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:10, NIV)

On the other hand, being wealthy also accounts for blessings; it is a means for all kinds of good works, a means that is not in the hands of the poor.

The wealthy person who does not acknowledge the hand of God in his success easily becomes “high-minded,” and then thinks of himself as being better to poorer people.  The world of the Greeks, and in our growingly atheistic, materialistic society, despised the humble, lowly mind, admired the self-assertive mind which imposed its will on other men. The Christian should live as Christ wants him to live as lowly-minded servant in true humility before God, loving helpfulness to men, knowing the life from the spirit of Christ.

Earthly riches may disappear overnight or may dwindle and melt away like snow in the sun. Sure hope must have a sure and certain basis, and wealth is not such a basis.  Hope that is placed on God will never be disappointed.

The rich investments of doing good

What is the “good” in good works.  I referred to philanthropists who do good things for other people, but even they can have a wrong principle to work with.  Any good work that does not have its root in the goodness of God does not qualify for the biblical definition of good works.  Our good works as saved sinners, expressed the essential goodness of God, which consists in His goodness or kindness shown to us by being merciful to us and making us his children based on pure grace and love in Jesus Christ.

The good the Christian does is nothing else but the outworking of Ephesians 2, which we already looked at some Sundays ago:

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10, NIV)

Paul writes to the Colossians:

We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, (Colossians 1:9–10, NIV)

Our good works flow from our salvation and is only good because of the work of the Holy Spirit.  We do good works because we, in the Spirit, are rich in noble works, which God bestowed on us in Jesus Christ. We are given good works, and now in Christian love we give good works away.

When we then do good works many of these works benefit us more than they benefit others. Earthly riches are means to be used to accomplish true riches. Good works through the gifts which we received from our good Saviour and Father becomes wealth that remains.

To invest our blessings in people is not throwing a coin to a beggar; it is more than just handing out alms. It is giving so that others may have “together” with us.  That is the essence of sharing:  I don’t share when I mindlessly give; I share when I draw the other person into my life to enjoy the good things God his giving me.  This enriches both the poor and the rich.  This sharing then becomes fellowshipping.  The Christian rich man is to be in fellowship with all his Christian brethren, down to the poorest and the humblest, is to be wholly one with them just as if he had no wealth.

Eternal investment in true life

This form of good works, this sharing of God’s riches with others in fellowship with one another and Jesus Christ, is an enormous investment.  Paul says it is eternal investment capital, the beginning of great things to come.  Indeed, the good things we do now, the capital investments in the Spirit, we make in other people not as richly endowed as us, lays the foundations for what awaits us in eternity.  In fact, this is the true life.

Paul does not teach a salvation by works, in the same way as Jesus does does Jesus in Matt. 25:34:

“I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited Me in, I needed clothes and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you came to visit Me.’ …’Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for Me.’ (Matthew 25:34–40, NIV)

Good works are the evidence of faith and justification which assures us of the true life; but good works will also count as evidence of how we lived as Christians in the verdict that will be handed down at the time of the Lord’s appearance.

Let’s do good, be rich in good deeds, and be generous and willing to share.  May God bless us with obedience.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 27 April 2014

 

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