On the First Epistle to Timothy

Chapter 6:17-19.

Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 354 - November 1885

 

Chapter 6:17-19

Besides, the apostle lays it on Timothy to enjoin the wealthy saints in solemn and searching tones, of which it was uncalled for to give the counterpart to the poor, who never fail to find uninspired abundance of exhortation. The rich are apt to pass easy muster, not because they have not special difficulties and dangers, but because both poor and rich and even those who should be above either are disposed to be less outspoken with them than is well for all, and to the Lord's praise. But not so did Paul walk or direct his fellow-servant.

Those rich in the present age charge not to be high-minded nor to set their hope on uncertainty of riches, but on a1 God that affordeth us all things richly for enjoyment; to do good, to be rich in good works, to be liberal in distributing, ready to communicate, laying up for themselves a good foundation for Ěthe future, that they may lay hold of the real2 life " (ver. 17-19).

As our Lord designated wealth "the mammon of unrighteousness," in the same spirit are the wealthy here characterised as "rich in the present age." It was certainly not to exalt in their eyes or in those of others what the flesh is sure to overvalue, while it hides the great responsibility of those who have it. Yet is there no fanatical credit given to the garb or habit of poverty, no sanctimonious eschewing of ordinary food or shelter among the abodes of men, still less is there a hint of the superior worth of the monastic life. These anilities were reserved for the deeper gulfs of superstition. But those who are rich in the present age ("this present evil age," as the same apostle stamps it in Gal. i. 4) have need especially to be on their guard, and to hear, not the voice of flattery so likely to be at hand, but the solemn admonition of the holy Spirit, that alley be not pour toward God in view of "the day of eternity" (2 Pet. iii). Certainly riches toward God consists neither in lavishing on oneself or one's own, any more than in laying up for either.

Charge them then, says he, "not to be high-minded." What so readily or so generally generates haughtiness as the possession of money? The Lord in the parable already referred to lays the axe to the root, when He calls on the disciples to make to themselves friends with, or out of, the mammon of unrighteousness, that when it fails they might be received into the eternal tabernacles. The grand principle, He insists, is faithfulness in that which is another's (God's) Who will commit to us in glory the true riches—our own and much too, if faithful here and now in a very little. Self-appropriation was the ruinous theory or practice (or both) for the rich man that lifted up his eyes in Hades, being in torment, and forgot that, in a sinful world which breaks the law and rejects the Messiah, wealth is the worst sign of God's favour. In effect He would have them sacrifice the present in view of the future, counting that not their own but His, and therefore with all freedom and cheerfulness as He loves in a giver, with their eye set on that which seems His only which He will give to be their own with Him for ever. Dues this seem folly to any who flatter themselves that they are wise and prudent? How will your wisdom and prudence seem in that day? Our true wisdom as Christians is moulded by the cross of Christ. The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. Following Christ is the surest cure of high-mindedness, as it ensures also the scorn of the world. "Men will praise thee when thou doest well to thyself:" what will they feel at the walk of one who can truly say, "To me to live is Christ?"

But there is a danger kindred to high-mindedness which is next. warned against: "nor set their hope on uncertainty of riches." On this too many a philosopher' of old moralised in vain: not that his words did not sound wise and grand, but that the effect was powerless, for he was either a selfish hypocrite who decried wealth in others to get it fur himself as much as possible, or he denounced wealth with a cynical haughtiness of mind more extreme than in any man of wealth. Well then does the apostle first, warn against high-mindedness, and next en building one's hopes on the stability of what so quickly takes wings and flies away, or from what the possessor is so often summoned in the midst of his greater plans. "Uncertainty of riches:" how true and expressive!

One is never quite right, however, without what is positive: and hence the apostle urges that those addressed should have their hope set, not on a foundation so sandy, "but on God that affordeth us all things richly for enjoyment." There cannot be conceived a sentence more completely condemning the spirit of asceticism, which is fairer in appearance than the love of ease and luxury. But they are only forms of selfishness, however opposed, neither savouring of God, who has slot left Himself without witness of His goodness toward men, even among the heathen allowed to go on their own ways. Surely it is not less among His own family of grace, though He may for higher ends give them the fellowship of Christ's sufferings, being conformed unto His death. But He is none the less the God of all grace, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort. And as to real superiority over all circumstances, where there was no wealth of the present age, who could testify better than the apostle a prisoner in Rοme, yet able to write thence, "I have learned in whatsoever state I am therein to be content. I know how to be abased, and know also how to abound: in everything and in all things I am initiated both to be filled and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer want. I can do all things in Him that strengtheneth me. . . . . . . And my God shall fulfil every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus." (Phil. iv.) The ungrudging and bountiful Giver of all loves a heart that responds to His grace, as far from legality as from license.

But He looks also for activity in good on the part of the godly rich, as He is unwearied in good Himself (Acts xiv. 17). Hence follows the call to do good, to be rich in good works." There is an important shade between the two, though it is not easy to express the difference in a paraphrase. By the first (ἀγαθοεργεῖν) is meant doing works of kindness or goodness to others, by being rich in good works ( πλ. ἐν ἔργοις καλοῖς) abounding in fair upright works, comely in themselves: relatively and absolutely good works. And very important it is to note how both are pressed in close connection here and elsewhere, for men in general laud the one which affects man, and forget or disparage what is of yet greater moment, what is good in itself before God. Flowing from faith and love, how acceptable are both!

Even this does not express all the generous out-going of heart the apostle would have the rich exhorted to. He adds, as if he could not remember the poor enough, "to be liberal in distributing, ready to communicate," which, I presume, goes beyond cases of need, where calls arise peculiarly suitable for men of ample means, as in the varied circumstances of the Lord's work and witness. How many opportunities of promoting His glory, which are not of a kind one would like to lay as a burden on the assembly as a whole! "Charge the rich in the present age." There is a divine way for all, and those whose privilege it is especially, can hear His voice, as the apostle takes care that they shall.

But there is also encouragement specially significant and cheering to those in view: "laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future, that they may hold on the real life " (ver. 19). Here again we may see the close correspondence with Luke xvi. where "the true" is re-echoed by the last remarkable expression of the apostle, "that which is really life." Anxiety for ourselves is one of the snares carefully shut out by our Lord from the disciples; were it even "for the morrow," it is unworthy of confidence in the Father's provident love. He knows that we have need of food and raiment and will surely provide. We have to seek first His kingdom and ills righteousness, with the assurance that all these things shall be added unto us. So the apostle bids us in nothing be anxious; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let our requests be made known unto God.

Here he enjoins on the rich saints to lay up in store for themselves a good foundation for the time to come by their generous giving to others. It may not be good common sense, but it is the surer way of grace in faith. To be consistent with Christ is to treasure up for ourselves, and all the better so that the left hand knows not what the right hand does. For that our Father sees in secret is a cardinal truth in Christian practice, as it is also to have reward with Him who is in heaven, and by-and-by. Let us then with patience wait for it, as here laying up for ourselves a good foundation for the future, that we may lay hold on the life that is life in earnest. What is now so misjudged even by saints not only slips away but disappoints, just because it is not habitually living Christ, which, if it have its brightness in glory, has here its reality of exercise and enjoyment too.

 

 

1) "Living" is bare added by inferior authorities and so Text. Rec., which favour ἐν also, rather than ἐπί,

2) The ordinary reading is "eternal' as in the lesser witnesses and Text. Rec.; the primary (Vv. as well as MSS.) give "that which is really life."