Morning Sermon: 1 Timothy 6:17-19, Set Your Hope On God

Old Testament Reading: Proverbs 30:7-9

“Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” (Proverbs 30:7–9, ESV)

Sermon Text: 1 Timothy 6:17-19

“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, ESV)

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Please excuse any typos and misspellings within this manuscript. It has been published online for the benefit of the saints of Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church but without the benefit of proofreading.

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Introduction

Whenever considering a particular passage of scripture one should ask the question, why did the author decide to make this point here in this place? In other words, what is the authors’ flow of thought, or rational? Recognizing the flow of thought will help us to better understand the particular passage we are considering. 

When reading through 1 Timothy 6 it seems as if Paul brings everything to a conclusion with that marvelous little doxology of verse 15-16, saying, “he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen” (1 Timothy 6:15–16, ESV). But as you can see, he was not finished. He has something to say concerning the rich here in verses 17-19. And he has one final exhortation for Timothy in verses 20-21, which we will consider next Sunday, Lord willing.

So the question is, why did Paul say what he says concerning the “rich in this present age” here? How does this teaching concerning the rich fit into his overall flow of thought? It almost seems out of place, doesn’t it? It feels a bit like an afterthought. But that might be due to the fact that we are moving so slowly through this letter. If we were reading the letter quickly and in one sitting we might recognize that what Paul says here in 6:17-19 regarding the rich does in fact round out the warning he gave back in 6:5-10. 

In 6:5-10 we learned that false teachers do sometimes imagine that “godliness is a means to [financial] gain”.  And there Timothy was reminded that “godliness with contentment is great gain”, that “those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction”, and that the “love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” 

These words are true. They are words to live by. But they do raise some questions, don’t they? If it is true that the “love of money is a root of all kinds of evils”, what are we to think of the rich, then? Is it possible for a Christian to be rich and to maintain their devotion to Christ? Or do these wise warnings about the danger of the love of money mean that those with lots of money are defiled? Stated differently, what does God think of the rich? What does he require of them? So, the passage that is before us today answers questions that were raised at the beginning of this last section of Paul’s letter to Timothy.  

What does God require of the Christian who is rich? That is the question.

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Those Who Are Rich In This Present Age Must Set Their Hope On God

The first thing we learn is that those who are rich in this present age must set their hope on God. This is taught in verse 17, which says, “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.” 

It should be recognized from the outset that Paul does not condemn the rich for being rich. Neither does he command them to cease being rich. Instead, he urges them to adopt a particular mindset. They are to be humble. Their hope is to be set, not on the uncertainty of riches, but on God. This initial observation helps us to see that it is not a sin to be rich. We are to remember that it is the love of money, not money itself, that is a root of all kinds of evils. And it is not only the rich, but also the poor, who are tempted to love money. And so we see what the biblical perspective is: there are righteous and unrighteous poor, and there are righteous and unrighteous rich. It is not the wealth or the lack thereof that makes the difference, but the heart and, as we will soon see, the behavior, which distinguishes the two. 

I think this is a very important initial observation. As you know, the world is so very divided. And it divides over so many things. The three that come immediately to mind are race, gender, and class. And as it pertains to the classes it is tempting for the one side to demonize the other without giving consideration to the character of the person. The rich may sometimes assume the worst of those who are poor only because they are poor. And the poor may sometimes think the worst of those who are rich only because they are rich. This is wrong, brothers and sisters. Yes, there are unrighteous rich and poor. But it is also possible to be poor and righteous, and rich and righteous. Men and women should be judged according to the content of their character, and not by superficial observations.  

The world is so very divided along these lines. But do not forget that Paul was writing to Timothy, and Timothy was a minister serving Christ’s church in Ephesus. In the church in Ephesus, there were rich and poor. These were united together in Christ. These worshipped side by side. The potential for division in the church along economic lines was (and is) very great. Think of it. In society, the rich naturally congregate and associate with one another, and so do the poor. In society, this is expected and even accepted. But in Christ’s church, there is to be no such division, for we are one in Christ. How important it is, therefore, for the rich to think rightly concerning themselves and rightly concerning their poor brothers and sisters. And conversely, how important it is for the poor to think rightly concerning themselves and rightly concerning their brothers and sisters who are rich. Are they unrighteous because they are rich? Are they obliged to give all of their wealth away now that they are in Christ so that all are equal, economically speaking? The answer to both questions is no. But Paul does have something to say about their attitudes and their actions.   

Let us now carefully consider verse 17. 

Our passage begins with the words, “As for the rich in this present age…” 

Who are the rich? It is hard to say for sure. Every society has its classes. Our society distinguishes between the lower, middle, and upper classes. Some in our society are considered to be wealthy and even ultra-wealthy. Which of these groups does Paul have in mind when he says, “As for the rich in this present age…”? 

Some are obviously wealthy. They are rich and they know it. But I would propose that many living in this country are more wealthy than they realize. They might place themselves in the “middle class”, or “upper middle class”. And perhaps they are right to place themselves there. But we should not forget how blessed the middle class is in this country. The middle class is very, very large when compared to other times and places. And the middle class does also live very well. What we consider to be average, or slightly above average, might be considered wealthy in other parts of the world today, and around the world in times past. And so my point is this, when Paul says, “As for the rich in this present age…”, he may be speaking of you directly, even if you are not accustomed to viewing yourself as rich. And even if he is not, there is something for you to learn here. For in this passage we learn something about a godly perspective on wealth. 

The phrase, “in this present age” is very important, for in this passage Paul will contrast life “in this present age” with life in the age to come. There is “this present age”, and there is the age to come. There are no other ages besides these. “This age” will continue until Christ returns to raise the just and the unjust, judge the world, and make all things new, bringing his redeemed safely home. And then there will be the age to come — that is to say, life in glory; eternal life lived in the presence of God Almighty. We are to live for age to come, brothers and sisters. So, when Paul speaks of the rich “in this present age”, he refers to those who have an abundance of the world’s resources. They have plenty for themselves, and enough to share with others.  

And then Paul commands Timothy to “charge them…” This means that Timothy, as a minister of the gospel in the church in Ephesus, was to command or order the rich in this present age to think and to act in a certain way. Paul had charged Timothy to devote himself to certain things, and now Timothy is commanded to charge those who are rich in the church to devote themselves to certain things.  

Three things are mentioned in verse 17. The first two are stated negatively, the third is stated positively. 

First Paul says, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty…” To be haughty is to have an arrogant attitude. And I am sure you can understand why the wealthy might be tempted to think of themselves as better than the rest as if their wealth came as a result of their superior intellect, talent, or worth. 

The remedy for a haughty attitude is found at the end of verse 17 where Paul reminds Timothy that it is God “who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” Consider that for a moment. The wealthy have their wealth because God has given it to them. And even if their wealth did come to them as a result of their abilities, it was God who gave them their abilities. Paul speaks to this elsewhere, saying, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7, ESV). Friends, every good thing that we enjoy in this life comes from God’s hand. And this includes our intellectual and physical abilities. It is all from him. Apart from him we do not exist! Where is there room for boasting, therefore? The Christian, no matter if they are rich or poor, must never be haughty, for they know that their very life is a gift from God.  

And add to this what the scriptures teach concerning the nature of man. All who are human — men and women, young and old, black and white, rich and poor — have God as their Maker. They are made in his image. They are of equal worth, therefore, and are to be treated with dignity. This is why the Proverb says, “The rich and the poor meet together; the LORD is the Maker of them all” (Proverbs 22:2, ESV). There is no room for boasting, therefore. A haughty spirit, wherein one man looks down upon another because of economic status, is unacceptable. The rich in this present age ought to be humble and grateful to God for his abundant provision.  

Secondly, Timothy was to charge the rich to not “set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches… ” If you are rich, be sure that you do not set your hope on riches, for they are uncertain. And I suppose the very same thing could be said to those who are poor. For even the poor may be tempted to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches. The rich may be tempted to say because I am rich I am secure and immovable! And the poor may be tempted to say, if only I were rich I would be secure and immovable!

The trouble with this way of thinking is that riches are themselves uncertain. Riches may come and go in this life. And certainly, we will not take the riches of this world with us into the life to come. Even if a man manages to hold on to his wealth all the days of his life, he goes into the grave with nothing at all. Death is the great equalizer, isn’t it? Rich and poor go into the grave as equals. Both leave this world with nothing at all. So you see that wealth is fleeting. It is unstable. It is unsuitable, therefore, to serve as a foundation for one’s life.

That little phrase, “set their hope on”, is interesting. I think it should prompt us to stop and ask, what is my hope set on? To hope in something is to look forward to it with confidence and a sense of expectation. Hope is vital to life. Without hope, we do languish and wither away. But hope may be set on different things. Some set their hope in their children, on their spouse, their family, and friends. Others hope in their nation. And others hope in their health and wealth. Most often our hope is distributed across a combination of these things. But here is what we must come to terms with. All of these things are unstable and uncertain. They are temporary and transient things. They are prone to death and decay. And if your heart sinks when you hear these words, your hope is probably misplaced. 

Hope is essential to life. And hope must be set on something. But the things of this world are not able to bear up under the weight of hope, for they are ever-changing, temporary, and prone to decay. They cannot deliver, brothers and sisters. They certainly will not deliver in the end. And this is why the apostle warns the rich, saying,  rich as you may be, do not set your “set [your] hopes on the uncertainty of riches…” They will fail you in the end, my friends.   

Thirdly, Timothy was to positively exhort the rich to set their hope “on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.”

Hope is essential to life. And our hope must be set on something. And who is the one who is able to bear up under the burden of our hope? Who is worthy to be the object of our hope? Only God is. We are to set our hope on him. This is a decision we must make. Take your hope, dear brethren, and set it on God. He will not fail you. 

God is worthy to bear our hope for he is not a creature that is prone to death or decay. No, he is the Creator of all things, the source, and sustainer of all life. 

God is infinite. He is without boundaries or limitations of any kind. He had no beginning, and he will have no end. He is everywhere present. His power is boundless. And so too his knowledge and wisdom.

God is unchanging. He does not improve, for he is perfect in every way. And neither does he deteriorate. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17, ESV).

God is therefore faithful. He is dependable. He is the only one worthy of our hope and trust.  

Hope in God, Paul says. Rich and poor must not “set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.”

I would like to say just a little bit more about this phrase, “who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” Perhaps you have detected the play on words. The “rich in this present age” are not to hope in “the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides…” (1 Timothy 6:17, ESV). It is God who provides for us. And even those who are poor may say that God “richly provides”. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above”, And God is faithful to provide for the needs of his people. But the rich must remember that it is God who has richly, or abundantly, provided for them. And you would do well to notice that the provision is to be enjoyed.   

I wonder if Christians do not sometimes forget this. The scriptures do warn against worldliness. Paul in this same letter has warned against the “love of money”. It is a root of all kinds of evil. And the scriptures do also urge us to live for the world to come. We are to store up treasures there, and not here. But scriptures also teach that the good things of this life are to be enjoyed. Attitude is everything. Do not “set [your] hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy”, the apostle says. 

As I was reflecting upon this the thought occurred to me that it is the Christain who is in the best position to enjoy the good things of this life. The Christian is able to enjoy food and drink, family and friends, home and country, to the fullest because they know the truth about these things. The Christian is able to approach and appreciate these blessings in just the right way. These blessings of life have their proper place. They are good and they are pleasant, provided that we receive them as from God’s hand and use them as God has intended. We are to receive them with thanksgiving. They are to be enjoyed to the glory of God. But they must not be worshipped. Our hope must not be set upon them, for they are not able to bear up under the weight of it. Stated negatively, if we set our hope on the good things of this earth — things like food and drink, family and friends, home and country — we ruin them. They collapse under the weight and cannot be enjoyed. 

Think of the man who loves money. Though he may have an abundance of it, he never has enough. And he lives with a constant and nagging fear of losing what he has. The money is not the problem. The condition of his heart is the problem. His love and hope have been misplaced. If his love and hope were placed upon God, then he would enjoy his wealth to the glory of God. But by placing his love and hope on the money, he finds it impossible to enjoy the blessing that God has provided. 

And think of the mother who loves her children supremely and has set her hope upon them. Strangely, by loving her children with the kind of love that only God deserves, and by setting her hope upon their health, wealth, and prosperity, she loses the ability to enjoy them, and for them to enjoy her, for she is constantly anxious about harm befalling them. Children are to be loved. And children are to be enjoyed. But there is a kind of love that is fitting for children. And there is a kind of love that is fitting for God. We must be sure to get this right. We must worship and serve the Creator — never the creature. Our hope must be set squarely on God, and on God alone. The things of this world cannot deliver. And when we set our hope on them, we ruin the blessing that God intended for us to enjoy. 

Are you rich? Then do “not… be haughty, nor… set [your] hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.”

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Those Who Are Rich In This Present Age Must Be Generous

Secondly, Paul exhorts those who are rich in this present age to be generous. Look at verse 18. “They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share…” (1 Timothy 6:18, ESV)

Here the focus shifts from the heart to the hand. What are the rich to do in the heart? Hope in God. What are they to do with their hands? Be generous and ready to share. And do not think that these two things — the heart and hand — are unrelated. Those who love money, whose hope is set on riches, will have hands tightly closed. But those who love God and man, whose hope is set on God, will have hands that are open to the poor and needy around them. The rich are to demonstrate that their hope is in God by their generosity. 

Three things are again stated. 

One, those who are rich are to do good. They are to use their time, treasures, and talents for good. This is true for all believers. Both rich and poor are to do good, but a special obligation rests upon those who are wealthy, and it is not difficult to understand why.

Two, Paul continues his wordplay and urges the rich to be “rich in good works”. There are many who are poor in this world who are rich in good works. And there are many who are rich in this world who are poor in good works. But Paul urges the Christian rich to be rich in good works also. 

It should be obvious, but it probably does need to be said — it is God who defines what is good. God is good. And in this world, there is good and evil. Good works are not for us to define. It is God who defines what is good. Our confession actually speaks to this in chapter 16 paragraph 1, saying, “Good works are only such as God hath commanded in his Holy Word, and not such as without the warrant thereof are devised by men out of blind zeal, or upon any pretence of good intentions.” This must be said because men do have this terrible habit of deciding for themselves what is good and evil independent of God. And though they may truly believe they do good, in fact, they do what is evil. Think of all of the ultra-wealthy who have contributed great sums of money to causes that are wicked. The world calls them philanthropists. But God may have a different opinion. Do you wish to be “rich in good works”? Then be sure to first ask, what is good according to the scriptures? You do not do good when you give money to an unworthy or unholy cause. At best, you squander God’s resources. At worst, you help to advance the kingdom of darkness.

The rich are to be “rich in good works”. And three, they are “to be generous and ready to share…” We are to imagine this generosity as taking place primarily within the local church. In some instances, the wealthy in one local church may share with those who are in need in another congregation. But the point is this: the wealthy in the church should be generous towards their brothers and sisters in need. 

We know this was the practice of the church from its earliest days. In Acts 4:32 we read, “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” (Acts 4:32–35, ESV)

Let me make just a few observations about this text. 

One, it should be recognized that this text is not promoting communism, as some erroneously say. The government did not mandate this sharing, and neither did the leaders within the church. Those who gave, gave willingly. That is significant. And this becomes very clear in the passage that follows. Do you remember the story regarding Ananias and Sapphira? They sold a field and made a contribution. And Peter spoke to them saying, among other things, “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?” (Acts 5:4, ESV). And so, as we consider the sharing that took place in the early church we must confess that the church still believed in and respected personal property.

Two, the gifts that were given did not do away with the distinction between rich and poor so that all had the same amount. Rather, the wealthy were concerned to meet the needs of the poor. They saw to it that no brother or sister went without their daily provision. 

Three, the rich in the church did not contribute directly to the poor, but gave the funds to the apostles who saw to it that the funds were distributed carefully and fairly. I do not think this forbids personal and direct contributions, but there is wisdom in this method. Benevolence funds should be managed carefully and fairly by the leadership of the church. 

All of this agrees with what is said in 1 Timothy. The wealthy in the church are “to be generous and ready to share”, Paul says. 

And so I ask you, if you have an abundance of the world’s goods, are you willing to share them? All should give as an act of worship before the Lord. No one should come empty-handed to worship. Even the poor should bring something to give, even if it is very little. And the rich should give as an act of worship to God. This should be done regularly, willingly, and cheerfully. But if you have an abundance, may I exhort you to give above and beyond your normal offerings to meet the needs of those who are experiencing economic hardships in Christ’s church. 

You know, some time ago the elders did approve beginning the custom of taking a benevolence fund offering by passing the plate after we partake of the Lord’s Supper and as we sing our final song each and every Lord’s Day. The instability of the past year has hindered us from implementing this, but I do believe the time is drawing near. Please prepare for this, brothers and sisters. We will continue to collect the regular offering through the offering boxes to the rear of the sanctuary and also online. But we would like to bring some aspect of the offering into the liturgy of the church. Not all will be able to give above and beyond their normal offering to the benevolence fund, and that is alright. But it is fitting to remember those who are suffering in our midst after we come to the Lord’s table, and to give (if we are able) in order to relieve their suffering in some way through the ministry of the deacons. I’m not saying that we will begin right away. But soon, Lord willing. Consider bringing a little extra to contribute to the benevolence fund if you have been blessed with an abundance.

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By Doing So They Will Store Up For Themselves Treasures In The Age To Come

The rich are to be “generous and ready to share”, and notice the result will be that they will store “up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” 

Here we have even more wordplay. The rich were warned to not set their hope in the uncertainty of riches. Worldly riches do not make for a good foundation given how unstable they are. But by doing good works and being generous the rich will lay a good foundation for the future, and this foundation will be treasures in heaven — treasures in the life to come. 

This sounds a lot like the teaching of Jesus, doesn’t it? “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19–21, ESV)

Men and women foolishly labor to accumulate wealth in this life. And when they die they go naked into the grave. None of God’s with them. What a poor investment. All of it is lost in the end. But the apostle reminds the rich — and all of us along with them — that there is a way to invest in the life to come, and that is through good deeds. Our hope must be set on God alone, and our hands must be open and generous to the needy about us. And if we would devote ourselves to good works through faith in Christ then we will be investing in life eternal. That is the only kind of investment that will endure the trial of death and last for all eternity. 

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Prayer

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