1 Timothy 6:17

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. 1 Timothy 6:17

Who is Paul speaking to in this verse? Timothy. And who is Paul speaking about in this verse? Believers in the church. Paul is wholly unconcerned with the status of those outside the church. And how does Paul describe those he is speaking about in this verse? Rich in this present age.

Paul has spoken about slaves at the beginning of the chapter. In verse 6, he spoke of what true riches are in saying, “Now godliness with contentment is great gain.” He then explained that we came in with nothing and will depart with nothing. He then spoke of those who desired to be rich. After that, he spoke of Christ, the Possessor of all of heaven’s riches – King of kings and Lord of lords – and yet it is He who made the good confession before Pontius Pilate, stripped of all worldly wealth, and about to be crucified.

Now Paul returns to the rich. He is not speaking to those “who desire to be rich” of verse 6, but of “those who are rich in this present age.” These are believers who possessed wealth. How they obtained it is not stated. Maybe it was through inheritance. Maybe it was through conquest while in the military. Maybe they invented something useful to the empire and were rewarded for it. It doesn’t matter how they obtained it. Instead, Paul simply acknowledges that they possess worldly wealth. To those, he commands them “not to be haughty.” The word Paul chooses is found only here. It is a compound word signifying “high” and “inner perspective regulating behavior.” In other words, someone high-minded, or someone who elevates himself above others. It would be someone who has unwarranted pride because of his wealth.

The connection to the bondservant of the earlier verses shouldn’t be missed. Paul first and foremost classifies people as believers and unbelievers, not on position (master/slave) or possession (rich/poor). Nor does he find any other distinction by which one should be elevated above another, with the exception of faithfulness in ministry (double honor of verse 5:17). For a rich person to elevate himself above another is actually a denial of the truth that it is from God that the blessing of wealth actually came. In 1 Corinthians 4, Paul said this to the church –

“…that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other. For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” 1 Timothy 4:6, 7

As they had received what they possess, they are not to be haughty about their possession. He then adds, “nor to trust in uncertain riches.” Again, a word found only here in Scripture is used. It signifies two things. First, the wealth is indefinite. Secondly, that such wealth will not be recognized in heaven. It thus lacks any true value in God’s bar of judgment. And so, not only are they to not be haughty about their wealth, but they are not to trust in their wealth as well. All earthly wealth can and will end. The lesson of the book of Job shows us this, as does the great wealth of Solomon’s empire, which was quickly frittered away. Such things are uncertain, and can be gone in a breath.

And so, instead of trusting in personal riches, they are commanded to trust “in the living God.” He is the Source of all things, and therefore when we trust in Him, we are trusting in that which can never be taken away. All true wealth is derived from Him, and it is He “who gives us richly all things to enjoy.” This is a different way of saying exactly what he said to the Corinthians. What we have came from Him; it was given to us to enjoy in this life, and as we received it, we are not to boast as if we did not.

The word translated as “enjoy” is found only here and in Hebrews 11:25. It speaks of the benefit received from what is possessed or experienced. Paul is making a contrast between being haughty about wealth, and rightly enjoying it as a blessing bestowed from God. In the next verse, he will describe how that enjoyment is truly realized.

Life application: At the beginning of the commentary, questions were asked about those Paul is speaking of. They are rich, and they are believers. Neither Paul, nor any other writer in the Bible, says that it is wrong to be rich. It is how a person treats their wealth which is either right or wrong. It is never even implied that a person should divest himself of wealth, but to be a proper steward of what he possesses. Don’t let the envious tread on what you possess, but don’t let the downtrodden be tread upon by you because of your possessions.

Lord God, You have granted some of Your people to be wealthy. For those who are, help them to understand that their wealth ultimately came from You, and that they are not to be haughty in their riches. At the same time, help those who are poor to not be envious of others who have more. May those who have little not tread upon the wealthy because of their possessions, but may the wealthy not tread upon the downtrodden because of their wealth. May we use what we have, be it little or be it much, to Your glory. Amen.

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