"Richly Provided, Richly Sharing"
1Tim 6:6-19 Oct.11, 2009 Thanksgiving
'GREAT GAIN' NOT GOLD
Here's a short exercise that may help us know better what to be truly thankful for at thanksgiving. [PIECES OF PAPER] How rich are you - really - in the long-term sense? Take a small piece of blank paper. If you're really bold, you can write this down, otherwise do some mental arithmetic and just visualize the answer. Tally up your bank accounts, RRSPs, investments, etc. Add the value of your house - as if you had to liquidate everything you owned. Don't forget your car or truck, any vacation property, the whole works. Might as well add any life insurance benefits because that's no use to you when you're gone. Subtract any loans or mortgages you're owing. If your answer comes out as zero or negative, don't worry - perhaps you can visualize instead what your net worth might be when things improve. Anyway, visualize writing on the paper your 'net worth' in an earthly dollars-sense. Some of you will have more digits to this imaginary sum than others - don't get too excited!
[LARGE PLASTIC STORAGE BIN WITH LID] Now, up front here we have an improvised funeral 'casket'. Pretend this is your final resting place. At this point, I'd invite you to come forward, tear up your 'net worth' slip, and discard the bits in our fancy coffin...
[AS PEOPLE CONTINUE] So, what have we done? We've symbolically represented what happens to us at death, from an accountant's perspective: all this earthly 'stuff' we call 'wealth' - money, property, vehicles - will be of absolutely no use to us when we die. It's out of our grasp, beyond our control. We've depicted what Job said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart." (Job 1:21) Or as Paul wrote to Timothy in 6:7, "For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it."
Now, I ask you again: "How rich are you - really - in the long-term sense?" If all those figures you've been hoarding so carefully are going to one day just vaporize - what's left? What do you TRULY have to be thankful for at Thanksgiving?
The apostle goes to some length to highlight that money isn't actually as important in the light of eternity as this order makes it out to be. V17, "Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain..." Anyone who's had savings invested in stocks or equity mutual funds knows exactly what I'm talking about - the bottom line was hit dramatically last fall, then again this March; only now are we starting to maybe inch out of the worst economic downturn the world has seen since the 1930s. The North American auto industry, and consequently the Ontario manufacturing sector, has taken a major hit. People are realizing today as perhaps never before that money "is so unreliable" (NLT).
In vv9-10, Paul describes the danger of trusting in wealth, of making money your goal in life. There's a trio of phrases: "people who want to get rich"; "the love of money"; "some people, eager for money..." Now look carefully at the outcome of this attitude: v9, they fall into temptation, a trap (literally a snare as one might use for a bird); wealth-seekers fall into 'many foolish and harmful desires' that plunge or sink men into ruin and destruction. Ponzi scheme victims and families who lose their houses due to gambling debts come to mind.
DL Moody observed, "Getting riches brings care; keeping them brings trouble; abusing them brings guilt; and losing them brings sorrow. It is a great mistake to make so much of riches as we do."
Look further in v10: those who love money find it to be 'a root of all kinds of evil'. Organized crime bosses and drug cartels don't run the drug trade because they like free access to drugs - they do it for the money! It's a business proposition - that drags down and destroys countless lives. All for bucks for those at the top.
Love of money is a root of varieties of evil such as failing to disclose income when preparing your income tax; trying to work too many hours at the expense of time with your family; closing your heart to a worthy charitable cause where there's genuine need. Others suffer when we love money.
What does v10 say happens to some who are eager for money? They stray from the faith, worshipping the 'almighty dollar'; they pierce themselves with many sorrows. Greed has a tendency to take over one's life, shoving spouse and family far down the priority list - to the point marriages break up often over financial strains.
Pursuing earthly riches can be the death of us - literally. Clovis Chappell writes that when Pompeii was being excavated, there was found a body that had been embalmed by the ashes of Vesuvius. It was that of a woman. Her feet were turned toward the city gate, but her face was turned backward toward something that lay just beyond her outstretched hands. The prize for which those frozen fingers were reaching was a bag of pearls. Maybe she herself had dropped them as she was fleeing for her life. Maybe she had found them where they had been dropped by another. But, be that as it may, though death was hard at her heels, and life was beckoning to her beyond the city gates, she could not shake off their spell. She had turned to pick them up, with death as her reward - frozen in an attitude of greed.
"But those who have a desire for wealth are falling into danger, and are taken as in a net by a number of foolish and damaging desires, through which men are overtaken by death and destruction." (1Ti 6:9 BBE)
GET A GRIP ON GODLINESS - AND GENEROSITY
While lasting satisfaction seems ever beyond the grasp of those who want to get rich - with disastrous consequences - Scripture maintains there actually is 'great gain' that can be ours, for which we can really give thanks. What is Paul's definition of 'great gain'? V6, "But godliness with contentment is great gain." That's what Paul defines as most to be sought after in this life. This 'godliness' is also mentioned in vv3, 5, and 11 in this passage; the word comes from a root meaning 'good-worship' or 'right-reverence' / devotion / piety. Godliness means a person values God and is seeking God to shape their life in Kingdom fashion, keenly pursuing God's will.
It's a quality of life that Paul says is great gain. What's most valuable to lay hold of, if not money? V12 "Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called..." Literally, 'get a grip on' eternal life. This is repeated in v19, "so that they may take hold of [or, get a grip on] the life that is truly life." Not this passing consumer life where one's god is one's stomach - the destiny of such people is destruction (Php 3:19). Eternal life is a godly life, it goes beyond the coffin, yet it starts right now when we trust Jesus as Saviour and commit ourselves to His lordship. Jesus said, "He who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me HAS eternal life, and does not come into judgment but has crossed over from death to life." (Jn 5:24) What's most precious is for us to welcome Jesus' life into our own, so He's our step-by-step Manager and companion through the Holy Spirit. Elsewhere Paul wrote, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Ga 2:20) God wants people to be saved and come to know Him intimately, having His life in you - if that sounds weird or impossible to you, ask us about it!
What are we to pursue if not chasing money, real estate, and whatever else is on the market? Can we unpack this 'eternal life' a bit more? V11, "Flee from all this," Paul urges, "and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness." Replace 'endurance' with its synonym 'patience' and you have at least 4 of the 9 'fruit of the Spirit' from Galatians 5(22f) - in other words, pursue the full effect of the Holy Spirit's nurturing of Jesus' characteristics in your personal life. All those qualities together - loving, faithfulness, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and so on - that describes what a godly person is like.
Back up a moment - Paul defined 'great gain' in v6 as 'godliness with contentment'. He mentions contentment again in v8, "But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that." Do you see much contentment when you look around in society today? Christian contentment means I find my satisfaction and fulfilment in God, in knowing Jesus Christ personally. That's the main thing - all else is window dressing! It's enough to have food and clothes - all that other 'stuff' doesn't add one bit to my significance or status in the light of eternity. As we saw earlier, it all gets taken away when we die, anyway.
As a believer, my security no longer depends on me, my looks, my performance, my scratching and scraping to make it to the top of the heap - as if it ever did...Instead, my security and significance depend on God, who loves me so much as to give what's most precious - His Son - so I might be made ready to spend eternity with Him. V17, we're not to put our hope in wealth which is so uncertain, but to put our hope in God - "who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment." Did you get that? Not just 'provides' but 'richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment." Or as Romans 8:32 puts it, "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-- how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" As the loving Heavenly Father He is, it gives God delight to richly provide all our needs.
So, what's Thanksgiving really about? Not the richness of earthly stuff - not just turkey and pumpkin pie and plentiful harvests and grain in the bin, good as those are. The chief thing to give thanks for at Thanksgiving is that we have come to a saving knowledge - a relationship - and security in God through Jesus' gift of Himself, and God's gift of faith through the Holy Spirit. Godliness - eternal life - that's the greatest gain a person could possibly achieve.
Now, as we said, God RICHLY provides - not meagerly or miserly. Likewise, as His godly ones when we confess our sins and are cleansed by Christ's blood, we are empowered to share richly in turn. V18, "Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share." Richly provided, we can dare to be rich in deeds and donating, sharing God's plenty He's entrusted us to steward with others who are in need.
So doing, Paul goes on to say, we "will lay up treasure for [ourselves] as a firm foundation for the coming age..." (19) Careful now - if you just do good deeds to 'send it on ahead' for yourself, you've missed the point: such an attitude is still being basically selfish. Paul doesn't stop there, but continues, "so that [a purpose clause] - so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life." The goal isn't treasure, on earth or in heaven: the goal is life with God, the relationship.
"I DID IT FOR LOVE"
Richard Bellinger was a young boy in South Carolina, the son of a Baptist minister. One Saturday night Richard decided to shine his father's shoes. The following night his father put a silver dollar on the bureau of his son's room with a note commending Richard for what he had done, and telling him that the dollar was his reward.
The next morning, when the father put on his shoes, he felt some thing hard and metallic in one of them. When he took the shoe off and reached inside, he found the silver dollar he had given to his son the night before. Along with the dollar was a note that simply read, "1 did it for love!"
To be a Christian is to love Jesus so much that you want to be like Him - to be pursuing godliness. To be a Christian is to try to do what Jesus would do, not for reward, but out of loving gratitude for all that Christ has done for you; out of sheer contentment with the 'great gain' of being His. Let's pray.