Firm Foundations

Original Date: 
Sunday, January 26, 2014

1 Timothy 6:13-16, 19 How To Be Rich: Firm Foundation

Rich Person Problems
A few weeks ago my family went out to eat at a nice restaurant. When we got there, there were several people milling around in the entry area, so we knew there might be a wait. So, we went to the hostess stand and we were told the wait would be about 15 to twenty minutes. We gave them our name and went to find a place to sit.

Now, if you’ve ever taken the kids out to eat, you know that waiting for a table isn’t the most fun thing to do. Ellie is almost 7, and she’s gotten to the point where she can manage the wait between ordering and the actual arrival of our food pretty well—but waiting in a crowded entry way is still tough. So, the older kids were trying to entertain her and Beth and I made small talk with some of the other people waiting and we all got a little excited every time a name got called because we figured we were that much closer to getting in.

But, after a while, we started noticing people who came in after us were having their names called. At first, we thought maybe it was because they were groups of 2 and 4 and larger tables weren’t opening up as fast. But after 40 minutes, we finally thought maybe we should go ask. So we went to the hostess stand and, sure enough, they had accidentally skipped right over us.

They were very apologetic and they got us the next table available (which took another 5 minutes) and they took a discount off our meal—but at that point Ellie was done and I was pretty grumpy and I’m not sure any of us enjoyed the experience all that much.

Now, I tell you that story because that’s an example of something Andy Stanley would call a “rich person problem.” If you’ve ever grumbled about poor service at a restaurant where you get to sit down and select from a wide range of menu options and then they bring you that food in portions that are usually far greater than your daily requirement of calories—then you are complaining about an experience which the vast majority of the people in the world today cannot afford. That is a “rich person problem.”

I’ll give you some more examples. If you’ve every complained about poor cell phone coverage, slow internet speeds, or spotty wi-fi access—those are rich person problems. You are complaining things that are only dreams in much of the world.

If you’ve ever complained because you child’s teacher didn’t call you back in a prompt manner, you have a rich person problem. It is estimated that there are between 70 and 80 million primary school aged children in the world who do not get to go to school at all.

If you’ve ever complained because you had a long wait in the security line at the airport or because your flight was delayed, that’s a rich person problem. I mean, think about it: you’re about to get in a jet and fly hundreds if not thousands of miles away. Imagine what a sheer impossibility that is for most of the people in our world.

If you’ve ever complained because the cable guy said he’d be there between noon and midnight, you know what that is? That’s a rich person problem. Lots of places in the world don’t even have access to consistent electricity, let alone specialized utilities for television broadcasting.

Or, think about this one: if you’ve ever complained about the high cost of an ambulance ride, or an ER visit, or a diagnostic test like an x-Ray or an MRI—any one of which may have contributed to saving your life—that is most definitely a rich person problem. In many parts of the world access to even the most basic healthcare is extremely limited—like, walk for 5 hours to get to a clinic that is only available on certain days—and the more advanced medical techniques are totally out of reach for all but the most super elite.

Now, I say all of that to make this point: we are all much richer than we think. All of us, just by virtue of living in America, are much better off than the majority of the world’s citizens.

We’ve been saying the last few weeks that “rich” is not often a category we apply to ourselves. There’s always somebody richer. A big news story this last week is that it is now estimated that 85 individuals control nearly half of the world’s wealth. That’s almost unfathomable. And I think it’s safe to say that none of us are among those 85. So there’s always somebody richer.

But, at the same time, we need to realize that we are all much richer than we think. For example, most of us work 5 days a week and we make enough to eat 7 days a week. Do you realize what a luxury that is? The five day work week is still unheard of for much of the developing world. If they can manage a six day work week they consider themselves fortunate and for many survival continues to be a day-to-day proposition. And yet, many of our families have one primary breadwinner who works five days a week and several people in our households are provided for 7 days a week without earning a pay check at all. That makes us rich.

In fact, Andy Stanley uses a statistic that tells us if we make $37,000 per year or more we are in the top 4% of wage earners in the world! (How to Be Rich, p. 29) $37,000 a year makes you wealthier than 96% of the world’s population.

I share this all with you not to make you feel guilty, but hopefully to help you feel blessed. We have a lot of advantages that are not available to many other people alive in the world today. We should feel blessed, and we should feel grateful.

And we should be aware of the responsibility our relative wealth bestows upon us. I also share this with you so that when we turn to the text that has served as the heart of this series, we’ll know that it applies to us. The key verses are 1 Timothy 6:17-19:

17Command those who are rich in this present world [who’s he talking about? Well, if you’re in the top 4% of wage earners worldwide, he’s probably talking about you…] not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

The point, as we’ve been seeing throughout this series, is that Paul wants us to avoid a “migration of hope.” Instead of putting our hope in our wealth, “which is so uncertain” and which is only good for “this present world”, Paul wants us to put our hope in God, “who so richly provides” and in this way lay up for ourselves “treasure” and “a firm foundation for the coming age.” Paul wants us to take a long view of things. See things through the lens of eternity. And when we do, our grip on our money will loosen and money will loosen its grip on us.

So, we phrased the big idea of this series like this—we called it the “game changing declaration”:

I will not place my hope in riches, but in Him who richly provides.

And so far, we’ve had three messages. We said, looking at 1 Timothy 6, that if we want to be good at being rich then: 1) we need to learn to be content. “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” If we aren’t happy now, more stuff isn’t likely to be the answer. 2) We need to learn to love money less. “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” A lot of pains and temptations come with an outsized devotion to money. And 3) we need to learn to give money away. “Be rich in good deeds and…be generous and willing to share.” Learn the 3 P’s of giving: priority, percentage and progressive.

Now, at the end of our series, we are going to see:

If you want to be good at being rich, increase your trust in God.

If we’re going to avoid the migration of hope that causes us to trust more in our riches than in God; then we need to get a clear picture of this God who is calling us to put our hope in Him. Do you see what I’m saying? I mean, it’s one thing to say: “Don’t put your hope in money, because it is temporary;” but it is something else entirely to say: “Put your hope in God, because He won’t let you down.” The obvious question is: “How do I know He won’t let me down? How do I know that the Bank of God is any more secure than the Bank of wealth? What does this passage say that will help increase my trust in Him?”

Treasure in Heaven
Let’s go back to 1 Timothy 6:19. The last of our three key verses, and the one I haven’t said much about yet:

19In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

Here’s the reason rich people in this world should be generous. Here’s why we should be willing to share what we have. Because when we do, we are laying up treasure for ourselves in the coming age. We are building a firm foundation for the life that is to come. And that life, as we mentioned last week, is “the life that is truly life.”

In other words, this passage is saying that we should imagine that there is a bank in heaven. And every good deed we do in this life, every sacrifice we make, every dollar we give away to God’s work, is like making a deposit under our name in that heavenly bank. There is an eternal reward for us waiting to be experienced for everything we give here on earth.

And this idea is not original to Paul. Jesus talked like this repeatedly. For example, Matthew 19:21, talking to the rich young ruler:

21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

“Give to the poor...and you will have treasure in heaven.” Sacrifice now, and you are making a deposit in your heavenly bank account. Or, again. Matthew 10:42. Jesus tells us that He is keeping track of even the smallest acts of kindness:

42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

Some people might be uncomfortable with this language. You might say: “I don’t give my money away for recognition. I’m not doing it for what I get out of it.” I get that. And I’m not saying that you always need to get your picture in the paper or your name on the side of a building. But this is the language Jesus uses. He’s telling you: there’s a reward. You’ll get treasure in heaven. Consider Philippians 4:17:

17 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account.

Imagine a scribe in heaven, keeping track of each of your good deeds on a ledger. The bike you gave to the neighbor kid, the books to the prisoners, the monthly checks to the church, to missionaries, to the pregnancy center—it’s all being credited to your account. One more example, Luke 14:13-14:

13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.

Our instinct would be to give to those who can give something in return. Remember liberalitas? That’s how that culture worked. It was good business. Do favors to those who could someday do favors for you. But that’s not what Jesus says. He says: do good to those who can’t repay you today, and your heavenly Father will see to it that you are repaid at the end.

The Bible’s point, again and again, is that when we are generous with our money we are building up treasure in heaven. Our sacrifice today will reap us great reward tomorrow.

To Him be honor and might forever. Amen.
But, the question remains: can you trust God? How do we really know that treasure stored up with Him is safe? In other words: how can we be certain that He will, indeed, richly provide?

For an answer, we can go back just a few verses in 1 Timothy 6:

13In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the king of kings and Lord of lords, 16who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.

As we’ve been seeing throughout this series, 1 Timothy has two sections that talk about money. We’ve been looking at verses 17-19 as our key verses, but we’ve been seeing that it parallels the teaching of verses 6-12. The verses in between though—verses 13-16—look sort of off-topic though. They don’t say anything about money. It sort of looks like a side-track that Paul goes off on to talk about God. It’s often called a doxology, an ascription of praise.

But these verses do appear in the middle of this discussion about money, and I don’t think they are out of place. In fact, I think they are very important to the discussion. Because here is a description of the God who is guarding our treasure in heaven. I see here 5 reasons you can trust God.

So, you can trust God because He is the Creator. The first half of Verse 13:

13In the sight of God, who gives life to everything…

God…gives life to everything. It all comes from His hand. It all sprang into being at His command. So look around, everything you see owes its existence to Him. And it all speaks of His glory.

The blue of the sky reflects his royal garment. The clouds are reminders of his presence (Ex. 19:9), they are his chariot as he oversees his creation (Ps. 104:3). The winds are his messengers (Ps. 104:4). They come from the storehouses of God (Ps. 135:7). The sun comes forth like a bridegroom…(Ps. 19:5). The heavens truly praise his wonders (Ps. 89:5), they declare his glory (Ps. 19:1).

Every animal you see drinking or feeding on the grass is being sustained by the Most High God (Ps. 104). The farmer did not cause the crops to grow. The crops come from the ground as a gift from God. Rain is an expression of his care, lightning of his power. (Edward T. Welch, When People are Big and God is small, p. 104)

So you can trust God because He is the maker of everything. Which leads to point number two:

You can trust God because He is Sovereign. Skip over the second half of verse 13 and verse 14 for a moment (we’ll come back to them) and look at verse 15:

God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords,

God is the blessed and only Ruler. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. In other words, everybody has to bow to Him. Not only did He make it all, but He owns it all as well. As author Ed Welch says, wherever we go “we are walking on privately owned land.” (ibid, p. 105)

There are a lot of scriptures I could site, but I’ll limit myself to two. Job 41:11 says:

11Who has a claim against me that I must pay?
Everything under heaven belongs to me.

It’s all His. Everything you see. Psalm 24:1:

1The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.

He owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10), He owns the silver and the gold (Haggai 2:8), He owns the ocean depths and the mountain peaks (Psalm 95:4); He even owns you (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

The implication of this, of course, is that we never really give anything to God. At least, not in the sense that we are transferring anything from our ownership to His. Rather, since He already owns it all anyway, anytime we give to God’s kingdom work we are merely returning things to their rightful ruler. King David got this when he led the way in giving for the construction of the temple. 1 Chronicles 29:14:

14 “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.

So, can we trust God with what we give Him? We certainly can. He made it all. He owns it all.

And third, we can trust God because He is Utterly Unique. Back to 1 Timothy 6, verse 16:

16who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.

The hymn Immortal, Invisible is based on this verse:

Immortal, invisible, God only wise
In light inaccessible, hid from our eyes
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days
Almighty, victorious—Thy great name we praise.

The point is that God alone is immortal. The Greek word used here is a word that literally means “no death.” Only God is not subject to death. Only God has no beginning and no end. And He is so glorious that it is as though He is hidden in a sunburst of impenetrable light.

God isn’t like you or me. There’s no category for God. He’s sui generis, One of a Kind. So where people will let you down and fail you. Where people are bound to disappoint you. Where money entrusted to a human bank, or the stock market, or stuffed in a mattress is always at risk of failure or crash or out of control inflation—money entrusted to God is completely safe.

Or, fourth reason to trust God: because He gave Jesus. Go back up to the second half of verse 13:

13In the sight… of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession.

Now this seems a little weird: why throw Pontius Pilate into the discussion? In part, it’s a play on words. Paul is challenging Timothy, and us, to continue confessing the faith. So he looks back to Jesus on trial before Pilate, and notes how He held fast to His confession of faith even in life-threatening circumstances.

But I think it’s instructive for another reason: because the trial before Pilate reminds us of the death of Jesus, and the death of Jesus was the whole point in Jesus’ coming to earth at all. It was at the cross that Jesus paid the penalty of death that our sins deserved. It is Jesus’ mission to substitute for Himself that defines the giving heart of God.

Here’s how Paul says it elsewhere, in 2 Corinthians 8:9:

9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

Randy Alcorn says: “Our giving is a reflexive response to the grace of God in our lives. It doesn’t come out of our altruism or philanthropy—it comes out of the transforming work of Christ in us. This grace is the action; our giving is the reaction. We give because He first gave to us.” (The Treasure Principle, p. 31)

How do we know we can trust God? Because He’s already given so much to us. We’ll never outgive God. It’s not possible. Because He’s already sacrificed the most valuable thing in the entire universe for us: His own Son.

And then, finally, we can trust God because He is coming back. Verses 14 and 15:

14to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15which God will bring about in his own time

Jesus Christ will return, and it will be at that point that all accounts will be paid. It will be then that we discover just how much treasure we have stored up for ourselves. And the judgment of Christ at that moment will be the one judgment that really matters. As C.S. Lewis says: “We shall not only believe, we shall know, know beyond doubt in every fibre of our appalled or delighted being, that as the Judge has said, so we are: neither more nor less nor other.”

And so, Lewis says, we should be living now with an eye cast toward that inevitable day. He goes on:

We can, perhaps, train ourselves to ask more and more often how the thing which we are saying or doing (or failing to do) at each moment will look when the irresistible light streams in upon it; that light which is so different from the light of this world—and yet, even now, we know just enough of it to take it into account. Women sometimes have the problem of trying to judge by artificial light how a dress will look by daylight. That is very like the problem of all of us; to dress our souls not for the electric lights of the present world but for the daylight of the next. The good dress is the one that will face that light. For that light will last longer. (quoted by Alcorn in Money, Possessions, and Eternity, p. 150)

So we must look at our money in the light of eternity. Because when we do, we will loosen our grip on our money; and our money will loosen its grip on us.

You’ll Never Regret It
And so, we can increase our trust in God. The heavenly bank is a bank that will never fail. He’s the creator. He is sovereign. He is utterly unique. He gave us Jesus. And He’s coming back. Money deposited with Him is establishing a firm foundation for the coming age.

As we finish this series, let me just say: you’ll never miss money that you give to God’s kingdom purposes. You’ll never miss money you give to the church, to missions, to bless the poor, or for some other kingdom honoring purpose.

You will miss money that you waste, say money that you gamble. You’ll miss money that you spend. You’ll miss money that you invest poorly. And you’ll miss money you loan to your brother-in-law.

But money you give you’ll never miss.