As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.
1 Timothy 6:17-19
The topic of wealth was often on Jesus’ lips. But the Lord was concerned with its use and how it is viewed rather than the mere possession of it. In the kingdom, it is not a crime to be wealthy. Wealth can be a blessing from God (Deut. 28:1-8), but it does come with both responsibilities and warnings. Wealth is deceitful (Mt. 13:22). Therefore we are not to “trust” in it for security (Lk. 12:19), but to use it in God-honoring and neighbor-loving ways.
In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he warned those who were poor “but desire to be rich” about the dangers of the “love of money.” The lowly Christian is to be content with having his basic needs met (1 Tim. 6:6-10) and “boast in his exaltation” in Christ (Jas. 1:9) finding his sufficiency in him (Phil. 4:10-13).
But lest those Christians in Ephesus who were “already rich in this present age” feel condemned simply for being wealthy, Paul instructs and comforts them (1 Tim. 6:17-19). In this section, he puts wealth into perspective and teaches us several simple lessons about how we are to view and use our wealth as Christians.
Live for the future — In Jesus, the rich and the poor alike have “tasted… the powers of the age to come” (Heb. 6:5). We have learned that earthly wealth belongs to “this present age” and is, therefore, uncertain and temporary (1 Tim. 6:17; 1 Jn. 2:17; Prov. 23:4-5). For those living for the future, material gain is irrelevant and therefore greed is irrational (1 Tim. 6:7; cf. Job 1:21; Ecc. 5:15). The rich young man’s downfall was his attachment to the wealth of this age (Lk. 18:18-23). In that same context, Jesus promised that those willing to forsake all to follow him would receive eternal life “in the age to come” (Lk. 18:29-30). It is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom but what is impossible for us is possible with God (Lk. 18:27).
Hope in the Lord — We live for the future by setting our hope on God, “who richly provides us with everything” (1 Tim. 6:17). We are not to be “haughty” nor place our hope in money. The rich fool believes his surplus will provide him with rest and security (Lk. 12:13-21). The wealthy wise finds his rest and security in God (Jer. 9:23-24) and lays up “treasure in heaven” (Mt. 6:19-21). But how?
Give with generosity — Paul says to be “rich in good works” and “ready to share, thus storing up treasure.” True wealth is found in giving, not having or getting (Acts 20:35). However, “storing up treasure” is not buying shares in heaven or paying God off. Rather, generosity with earthly wealth is evidence that one is hoping in God, living for the future, and laying “hold of that which is truly life.”
Enjoy with thanksgiving — Wealth is also meant to be “enjoyed” as a gift and an expression of God’s generosity: “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim. 4:1-5; Ecc. 5:8-20; Col. 2:20-23). Enjoyment is not self-indulgence (Mt. 23:25; 1 Tim. 5:6; Jas. 5:5) when it is connected with sincere gratitude and generosity. Enjoyment of “everything” as God’s generous gift leads away from pride and false security to the freedom of being generous ourselves.
The poor and the rich are united in Christ (Gal. 3:28). Poorer Christians should never resent their wealthier brothers and sisters. Likewise, wealthy Christians should never be haughty (Jas. 1:9-10), but should put their trust in God, use their wealth for good, and enjoy what God has richly provided them with.
One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.
The book of Acts shows us, among many other things, the wide response to the gospel in the first century. Luke’s record describes how people came to believe and follow Jesus Christ, giving us an invaluable pattern today. Though each situation is unique there are several elements which are always present when a person is converted: someone is preaching the good news while someone is listening to it with God at work in the process.
Take the conversion of Lydia. Paul preached, Lydia listened, and “the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” (Acts 16:14) The preacher, the message, the listener and God all worked together resulting in Lydia’s salvation.
Hearts are opened by God — God is the initiator and author of salvation. He is at work opening hearts and minds (cf. Lk. 24:45), drawing sinners to himself for salvation (Jn. 3:5; 6:44; 12:32). The Lord promised that when the Holy Spirit would come, he would “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” (Jn. 16:8) How does God affect hearts like that today?
God opens hearts through the gospel — Salvation comes through the message of the gospel (Rom. 1:16; 2 Thess. 2:14). People believe the gospel when it comes to them “not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” (1 Thess. 1:5) As Paul preached to Lydia, God’s Spirit was working on her heart through the gospel to convict and convert her.
God opens hearts through preaching — For Lydia to have heard the saving message in the first place necessitated a messenger (Rom. 10:13-17). While God was at work in the process, this in no way lessened Paul’s responsibility to preach and persuade Lydia to receive the gospel (2 Cor. 5:20; 6:1; cf. Ezek. 3:16-27).
God opens hearts through love not coercion — God’s activity in no way removed Lydia’s responsibility to “repent and believe the gospel.” (Mk. 1:15) We mustn’t mistakenly pit God’s activity over against human responsibility in regard to salvation. Scripture teaches that the two work in concert. In God’s wisdom, he has devised a way to save us while not overriding our will in the process. The door of Lydia’s heart was not pried open. Jesus does not barge in uninvited; he lovingly knocks on the door of our heart (Rev. 3:20).
In the gospel, God both proves his love and calls us to love (1 Pet. 1:22-25). This life of love we are called to is a gift we may accept or reject (Rom. 6:23). Since love cannot be coerced, God gives us the dignity of choice (Josh. 24:15; Deut. 30:19). Making this gift available to all ensures that those who ask, receive, those who seek, find, and those who knock, it will be opened to them (Mt. 7:7-8).
The human choice of obedience works in cooperation with God resulting in salvation (Acts 16:14), while the human choice of rebellion colludes with Satan resulting in condemnation (2 Cor. 4:4).
Paul wrote of those who do not believe the gospel, “in their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel.” (2 Cor. 4:4) This blindness is both self-inflicted and imposed upon them making them both culprits and victims. The gospel, therefore, is the ultimate litmus test; our response to the priceless gift of God’s Son reveals the condition of our heart (Mt. 13:1-23). This system of salvation by grace through faith ensures that no one who earnestly desires eternal life will ever miss it. And best of all, because salvation is a gift, when anyone is saved, God gets all the credit!
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue…
2 Peter 1:3-5a
Spiritual growth takes two things: God’s activity and our cooperation, in that order. Peter presents God’s plan for our spiritual growth at the beginning of his second epistle. In Christ, God provides the raw ingredients (1:3) and the motivation to grow (1:4). Peter then calls upon us to respond by putting these gifts to use.
We are to “make every effort” (1:8) and “be all the more diligent” (1:10) to “grow” (3:18) in the eight ways he outlines in 1:5-7. As we grow in these areas, we resemble our Lord more and more and partake more deeply of his “divine nature” (1:4). The combination of human exertion and divine grace is the key by which we gain entrance into God’s “eternal kingdom” (1:11).
One of the areas we must grow in is “virtue.” Virtue is excellence, a general term describing a quality which is outstanding, surpassing ordinary standards. We can easily tell the difference between something that is ordinary and something that is excellent. Certain cars, restaurants, athletes or musicians simply excel beyond the average. In the context of the letter, Peter describes moral excellence, a quality of character that is extraordinary. Our character is who we are when no one is looking. How can we grow in moral excellence? Paul’s words to the Romans are helpful:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom. 12:2)
First, we must renovate our mind. Our ethics begin with our thinking. Our minds need renewed before we can become more virtuous people because they have been wired according to this “world.” Our culture can no longer dictate our thinking. We must abandon the world’s ethical system and adopt God’s. Therefore, before our “works” (actions) can become more virtuous, our “mind” must be “renewed” (rewired) according to “the will of God.”
Second, we must elevate our standards. Discerning God’s will and discovering “what is good and acceptable and perfect” raises the bar of our moral expectations. Before, when we were still “following the course of this world” (Eph. 2:1-3), we set the bar much too low. Our sense of right and wrong was not fixed (Jdg. 21:25). We measured ourselves by one another (2 Cor. 10:12) making us our own moral authority (Gen. 3:5). But in adopting God’s kingdom-standards, the bar is raised. Jesus calls us to a deeper righteousness, the highest ethical standard (Mt. 5:20, 48).
Third, we must activate our response. Educating our minds is not enough. For our knowledge to be “fruitful” (Col. 1:10), it must be put to the test. That is why Paul says it is only “by testing,” that is, putting God’s will into practice in the real world, that we can experience “what is good and acceptable and perfect” ourselves. Putting God’s will into practice is part of “discerning” it. The word “discern” (dokimazo) can also mean “prove.” It often has the sense of finding out the worth of something by putting it to use in a practical way (Lk. 14:19; 1 Cor. 3:13; 2 Cor. 8:22; 1 Tim. 3:10).
By living out God’s will, as Jesus did, we come to learn that his high standard of morality is the way human beings were meant to live all along. Let us then raise the bar and strive to live more like Jesus.
I find the marketing ingenuity of off-brand products humorous. Instead of Cheerios, there are Crispy Oats. Instead of Superman, there is Specialman. Instead of Dr. Pepper, there is Dr. Perky. Instead of Rice Crispy Treats, there are Crispy Rice Treats. They get as close to the genuine article as possible without infringing on the trademark, perhaps to dupe undiscerning shoppers.
We have a tendency to do the same thing with Scripture. There are phrases which sound quasi-Christian, which seem to have a similar flavor as the real thing but are, in actuality, knock-offs. As Christians, we must be careful not to trade God’s genuine promises for generic sentiments. Removing a verse from its context removes part of what that verse means. Or worse, we may change the wording of a verse altogether so that what we end up with is a generic, spiritual-sounding sentiment which lacks the power and applicability of God’s word. Are you rooting your faith in God’s genuine promises or are you settling for generic religious-sounding sentiments? Here is an example of such a sentiment.
“Everything happens for a reason.” We use this phrase to bring comfort to people who have gone through some bad experience. Their experience will turn out alright in the end because, we say, “everything happens for a reason.” The bad will lead to good because God is in control of the situation. Between the lines of such a sentiment is the belief that everything that happens happens according to God’s plan. But this is not necessarily true and the Bible will not allow us to hold such a view.
There are many things which happen that are opposed to God’s will and are not according to his plan. Slavery, child-trafficking, prostitution, wars, murders, pandemics, etc. all lie outside of God’s expressed will. To be fair, God permits these things to happen and will, in the fulness of time, bring them to a final end in the Judgment. But not everything that happens is because God would have it so. There is a difference between God’s desired will (what he wants [1 Tim. 2:4]) and his permissive will (what he allows [Acts 14:16]). But God does have a fixed will, an eternal and unchanging purpose.
The phrase “everything happens for a reason” is really a generic parody of Paul’s teaching in Romans 8:28, which says “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” This says something quite different than “everything happens for a reason.”
In the book of Romans, Paul outlines God’s eternal plan to justify Jews and Gentiles by faith in Christ and unite them into one multi-ethnic, new covenant family. Paul spends time in his letter to the Romans explaining that the law of Moses was an important part of God’s “purpose” but it wasn’t the key because it depended on our “flesh,” which is weak. Rather, it was always God’s plan to keep his promises through Jesus, who would fulfill the law, justify those who have faith in him and give them life by his Spirit.
That’s why “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Although God doesn’t cause everything to happen, nothing that does happen takes him by surprise or catches him unprepared or is able to thwart his eternal “purpose.” God is able to hijack “all things,” even evil, terrible, and sad things, and work them “together for good.” But for whose good? “For those who love God… who are called according to his purpose.” (see Gen. 50:20)
God’s plan is to “conform” us “to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29-30ff). So, while everything that happens is not good, God will bring good from everything that happens “to those who love him.” He can use every situation to make us more like Jesus which is God’s purpose for us. Let’s not settle for generic, religious-sounding phrases but rest our hope fully in the genuine word of God!
“The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips.
Gracious words are like are a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”
Gracious speech is both palatable and pragmatic, easy to swallow and good to follow. Pleasant speech has the power to persuade others and cause real change. Persuasion is a skill that can be developed through the practice of gracious speech: "The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness" (Prov. 16:21). Because of the source of our speech (originating in ourheart, Mt. 15:18), our choice of words has an eternal impact as Jesus made abundantly clear:
“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Mt. 12:33-37)
James, combining the wisdom of Proverbs and the teaching of Jesus, also spoke about the power of the tongue (Jas. 3:1-12). He called the tongue a "restless evil," a "world of iniquity," the one thing human beings have never been able to tame. But instead of excusing bad language, James teaches us that what we cannot tame God can. By giving us wisdom and cleansing the source of our speech God can purify our language and teach us gracious speech.
The tone and tact of our speech is just as important as the words themselves. Paul wrote, "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person" (Col. 4:6). Timing could make all the difference. After all, the only difference between a fresh salad and a pile of slimy garbage is time. Therefore, “a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Prov. 25:11) and "to make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!" (Prov. 15:23)
"Be quick to hear, slow to speak" (Jas. 1:19). We would do better by listening more and speaking less. Speak only when words are necessary and make your words count. With the help of our gracious Lord, we can choose to speak pleasant words, easy to swallow and good to follow.