Peter J. Leithart
August 9, 2010
Category: Bible - NT - Timothy
Paul ends 1 Timothy with some quite striking warnings about the dangers of wealth. Godliness involves contentment, contentment with food and clothing; Paul reminds Timothy that wealth neither came with us nor goes with us when we die (6:6-8). Ungodliness is discontent with God’s provision.
And Paul immediately fills out the character of discontent with a warning about the danger of wealth. More specifically, he warns about the dangers of wanting (boulomai) wealth (v. 9). Paul knows that there are rich believers (vv. 17-19), and he urges them to be generous so as to store up more lasting future riches. But those who are poor and want to be rich, or those who are rich and desire to protect their riches are in great danger. Paul’s language is sharp: “those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction” (v. 9). This is the context of his warning that the love of money is the root of many sorts of evils, including the evil of apostasy: In pursuing wealth, some have “wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang” (v. 10).
The exhortations that follow in verses 11-16 are often taken out of this context and turned into general exhortations to faithful living. These verses do have a general application, but they are surrounded by instruction about wealth (vv. 6-10, 17-19) and therefore are focused on that issue. ”Flee from these things,” Paul says to Timothy. What things? In context, Timothy is to flee from wanting to be rich, from desires that are awakened by the desire for wealth, by the love of money. Instead, Timothy is to pursue “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, gentleness” (v. 11). These qualities are, in context, set directly in contrast to the pursuit of material wealth. Being godly and righteous requires us to renounce the love of riches and the desire for wealth. ”Fight the good fight” to “take hold of the eternal life” – again, these exhortations are contextually set in contrast to the struggle for wealth, the desire to “take ahold” of riches.
These verses are painful for modern Americans. If there’s one thing that Americans want, it is to be rich. It’s who we are; it’s what we’re best at; it’s so instinctive to us that we think it’s the most natural thing in the world. Perhaps; but if so Paul tells us to suppress nature. We reach for qualifications and hedges. We point to verses 17-19, where Paul indicates that there are rich Christians in Timothy’s own church. Of course, those verses are contextually important; it is not a sin to be rich. But Paul makes it clear that it is a sin to want to be rich, and that desire for wealth generates other, destructive desires, habits, and actions.
What should we want? We should want food and covering (v. 8), and we should want the means to assist others. We should want to be rich “in good works” (v. 18), rich in heavenly treasures, which come through righteous use of material treasures. That’s what we should want, and how much the Lord entrusts to us for those good works is up to Him.
Article printed from Peter J. Leithart: http://www.leithart.com
URL to article: http://www.leithart.com/2010/08/09/pursuing-riches/
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