My family lives in the poorest section of one of Canada’s wealthiest towns. Work brought us here sixteen years ago, and we bought the only house we could afford—a forty-year-old thousand-square-foot townhouse surrounded by much newer homes that are five, six, and seven times more expensive than ours. With a brief, five-minute drive we cruise past gated neighborhoods where every home costs in the tens of millions. In a town like this we have many opportunities to see great wealth and all the ostentation that can come with it. In a town like this we often hear people brag of their riches, of all that they have, all that they spend.
In our town we are poor. As my daughter said after visiting a friend: “We rode bikes in their basement. Their basement is bigger than our whole house!” But measured wider, we are rich. By somebody’s measure we are all rich. In comparison to someone else, even you and I have extravagant wealth. After all, poverty and wealth are relative terms and by the very fact that you are reading these words on an electronic device you have more wealth than someone else. And for that reason you and I need to learn to live the lifestyle of the rich and godly.
Listen to what Philip Ryken says as he examines some verses in the book of 1 Timothy:
In the providence of God, some Christians live in comfortable circumstances. They own their own homes. They wear nice clothes. They have more than enough food to eat. And Christians who are blessed with such material prosperity do not need to feel guilty about it; nor do they need to divest themselves of their wealth. They are even allowed to enjoy themselves. For everything we own comes from God himself, “who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). God is no miser. He provides for the rich and the poor alike, and whatever he provides is for our enjoyment. … The Bible celebrates the good things of life.
Yes, the Bible celebrates the good things of life, but it also warns us they can be deceptive, that they can keep us from celebrating life’s better things. We are far too easily pleased. As wealthy Christians, you and I need to learn to live well with our wealth. 1 Timothy 6 outlines a number of ways to do that and I was recently struck by a few of them.
First, the rich and godly acknowledge the temptation that we will set our hope on our wealth. Riches engage our sinful hearts with the promise of provision, the promise that our daily bread comes not from God’s hand, but from a pension, a bank account, a retirement plan. We need to constantly remind ourselves that these riches are uncertain, that a lifetime’s wealth can disappear in the blink of an eye, the screech of car tires on wet pavement, the collapse of a market. Wealth is good but unreliable. We need a better place in which to set our hope.
Second, the rich and godly are known not for their abundance of finances but their abundance of good works. Paul says “[We] are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share…” The consistent testimony of the Bible is that we are all to do good to one another, constantly seeking opportunities to glorify God by caring for others. This is equally true for the rich and the poor. No matter who we are or what we have, we are to commit ourselves day by day to good works—works done for the good of others and the glory of God. Rich people may consider themselves too good, too blessed to get their hands dirty in caring for others. But no, rich and poor alike are to seek out opportunities to be hands-on ministers of mercy to others.
Third, the rich and godly put their wealth to work in this great task of doing good to others. Those who have been blessed with financial means have the added privilege and responsibility of doing good to others through their wealth. Ryken says “Some deeds of mercy also require money. Thus another way that wealthy Christians can glorify God is through the wise use of their money. God calls all his children ‘to be generous and ready to share’ (1 Tim. 6:18), to embrace a lifestyle of giving. Instead of considering godliness as a means to gain, he wants them to use their gain as a means of godliness. The stewardship of personal wealth is an important aspect of a rich Christian’s calling.” We are not to be known for our extravagant wealth but our extravagant deeds—deeds done for the good of others and the glory of God.
The simple fact is that by some measure you and I are rich. We need to admit it, embrace it, and seek God’s guidance in living like it.
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