Sept. 13 – EKG: Ministry Flows from the Heart

As we begin the journey toward extravagant generosity together, let’s start with a check-up. Find your heartbeat (demonstrate how to find your pulse). Did everyone find a pulse? If we checked our spiritual pulse, what would we find? Over the next few weeks, we will find some ways to check our spiritual health. Some of you have already begun that process by completing the card  sent to you this week, identifying what you love about our church. Today we will consider how Paul begins to address the subject of spiritual health.

The Bible text today is from 1 Timothy

The apostle Paul has been writing to Timothy, who was given leadership of the church in Ephesus for a time, to train and establish elders and deacons there.

This is one of his first pastoral charges, and Paul is writing to give him advice. He has told Timothy how to deal with false teaching, what to prioritize in church services, how to select and care for leaders in the church. And now in the last chapter, he talks about money and materialism.

At the beginning of chapter 6, Paul describes the dangers of discontentment and loving money. And then at the end, he gives instructions to the rich.

Biblical Text: (Modern English Version)

1 Timothy 6:17-19. Command those who are rich in this present world 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. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In 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 word of God for the people of God. Praise be to God.

Paul gives Timothy a message for “those who are rich in this present age”–and this is for ALL of us. I know that most of us don’t feel that way–I don’t often feel rich. It is tough to draw the line, because wealth and poverty are relative terms. Among the poor, there are some who are poorer. Among the rich, there are some who are truly rich. What would be wealth to someone in poverty, might feel like poverty to someone who grew up with money.

Most of us would count ourselves as middle-class. There are plenty of things we can’t afford, and far nicer places to live that we can’t afford. Yet we were able to provide a good education for our kids, and have enough food to eat. When unemployed, the government, community and our family helps us get by. When aging, we have access to life-sustaining medical care.

From a global perspective, this is not normal nor middle-class. We are wealthy. From a biblical perspective, the most important item of wealth was food. The more farmland or flocks you had, the more well-off you were. Food was a matter of life and death then. An abundance of food was one of the greatest indicators of wealth. This is why the Promised Land was described as a land flowing with milk and honey. If you were rich enough to have extra, you could trade for horses, embroidered clothing, and rare jewels–each a status symbol of wealth.

So biblically, if you have a car, can change your clothes a few times, and have some money in your wallet or bank account, then you are wealthy. You are the one Paul is speaking to when he says, “Command those who are rich in this present age”–he means you who have money right now.

not to be arrogant

When Paul says that the rich are “not to be arrogant”, he is describing how the rich can think too highly of themselves.  We tend to look down on people who are lower on the economic ladder than we are. We can think of ourselves as being of greater worth or value than others. We look at a homeless person on the street and wonder why they didn’t make better choices. We can wrongly think that we matter more because of what we have. It is incredibly difficult to be wealthy and to be humble–the two are almost like oil and water, at odds with one another.

As you get used to hiring a mechanic to work on your car, a repairmen to fix your appliances, and even order food at a restaurant, the temptation grows to view others as mere servants to you. Maybe you have felt this way. Or maybe you have been a servant and felt others look down at you. You might not say it outright, but you compare yourself to others, and believe that you deserve what you have. Maybe because of your hard work, or because they do not follow God the way you do. Thoughts like these create social divisions that are contrary to the Gospel. Wealth is a dangerous comfort, as it will often lead you to think too highly of yourself. And just because you have wealth, it doesn’t mean that God has favored you because of your goodness.

In Psalm 73 verse 12, the psalmist lays it out as simply as it could be laid out, “Behold, these are the ungodly who prosper in the world, they increase in riches.” The Psalm of Asaph says, “Don’t look at prosperity as if it’s the mark of righteousness.” As there are many godly people who have very little

Paul also warns the rich, (us)…

nor to put their hope in wealth,

Even though everything we have is from God, we can come to rely on the gifts rather than the Giver. The temptation of the wealthy is to rely on their storehouses and bank accounts, rather than on the God who both gives and takes away. Many people have gone to bed rich and woken up poor. Some of you know this firsthand. You’ve had the expensive house and all the toys, and then it all went away. Some of you have just wanted it. You’ve coveted the home and the cars and the luxury. No matter how much or how little you make, you can fix your hope on stuff. Like much of the world, you can come to trust in the gifts rather than the Giver. So the tendency is when you have a lot, you trust in a lot. When you have a little, you trust in God. One of the benefits of just having enough to live on is that you’re totally dependent on God to make a provision, and when He provides it you rejoice in thankfulness.

The downside of wealth, of riches, is that it can cause you to despise your neighbor, and it can cause us to forget our God. Wealth is a dangerous comfort, which is why Paul concludes verse 17 by telling the rich. . .

to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.

Rather than be satisfied with the gifts, with riches, Paul directs us towards the Giver. He asks us to fix our hope on God–the one who is the true owner of everything on Earth. He says that God will richly supply you with all things to enjoy. And he reminds us that God is not just dependable, but lavish.

Our Creator is a generous and thoughtful Giver to men and women. God will provide you with everything you need in order to do what He wants. He is not lacking for funds or ability. He will prove to be dependable and lavish in His care for you, as you fix your hope on Him. So why does He do this? Whether you have a great deal or only a little–Why Has God Given Us All SO Much? Paul tells us in the next verse . . .

In the original language, Paul says two things twice. He states the general idea, then enlarges on it. And he does it twice in a row. Look at verse 18,  “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.”

Because we are always more reluctant to give to the poor than we should be, Paul hits this truth over and over to make the point. Your prosperity is to profit and benefit others. Broadly, Paul is saying that your opportunity to do good to others increases with your wealth. God supplies you with everything you have so that you will use it for others. And by doing that, as Christians, we are imitating our Heavenly Father.

That first thing that Paul says here is that the rich are “to do good.” And he uses a word that is only found in one other place, back in Acts 14, describing God’s generous gifts to men through common grace. The word describes God doing what is intrinsically, qualitatively good–not just something that looks superficially good but has mixed motives.

God’s care of us is good through and through. His love is pure. His supply is rich. And Paul links His care of us to our care of others. Doing good and being rich in good works is the outflow of fixing our hope on God. We (the wealthy) are called to use our lives and money to do good things for others, in a sweet and pure imitation of the One who does this for us.

The second phrase, “to be rich in good deeds,” lasers in on our goal. The key word, “rich”, is to be abounding, overflowing in generosity. So often we are stingy. We are miserly with others. Yet Paul is connecting God richly supplying us with all things, to us being rich in good works. Our generous care for others should look foreign to the world. It should seem strange and otherworldly to people watching.

Now we’ll look at Luke 6. Jesus is in the midst of talking about what it means to love your enemies. He is calling them to a supernatural love that mirrors the Father’s love for us. Luke 6:32 to 35, “’If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount.35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.’”

You were that kind of person—ungrateful, evil. And God was kind to you. When you hated Him, He loved you. He supplied you with more than you ever realized. He provided for your every need. And in His love, He loved you to the point of death. Jesus calls us to mirror God’s care for us. And Paul says the same thing. Those who know the love and the provision of God are to do good, and be rich in good works.

And realize, he’s not just talking about giving money away–that is pretty easy. What he’s describing is, use your wealth to perform good deeds for the benefit of others. It’s not responding to needs that you are told about. Just think about this– God does not only provide for you when you cry out to Him in need, right? God is watching and anticipating our needs.  He is looking ahead and giving us the resources, the skills and the support to fulfill the good deeds that He has planned for us to do.

Too often we think about wealthy people responding to needs by giving money. Now we should do that. But that is not the limit of our responsibility. We are to look for, to pursue opportunities, to do good. And Paul then describes another way your prosperity should profit others.

Back in verse 17, Paul said that God richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. And there’s a danger that we will seize on that and say, “What we have is given for our pleasure.” So in verse 18, he clarifies that the wealthy should “be generous and ready to share.”

What God has so lavishly given to you is not just for your enjoyment, but also for you to share with others. The words he uses here are speaking to the heart attitude. They are related to koinonia–the warm fellowship believers are to enjoy in the Church. Paul is speaking to the heart attitude. What we give to others should not be a cold, logical, detached decision, but one that arises from your personal care and concern for other believers. You share and you’re generous with others because you love them.

Do you view your income as a stewardship from which to bless others? Do you spend your take-home pay on anything other than yourself?

You might be thinking that you don’t have much to share. You might feel like all you have is being spent on bills and monthly expenses. I understand that. What God calls us to is not a life that’s easy. He doesn’t always give you an easy, clear path that can be both comfortable and sacrificial. But He is clear about what He desires from us. “Be generous and ready to share.”

Example of generosity

In one of his books, Stan Toler writes: “I was a church planter at one time and felt impressed by the Lord to send $50 to some missionaries. When I shared with my wife what had been laid on my heart, we took a look at our checkbook and found $54 in our balance. Not much room for error there. She said, ‘Honey, I wasn’t raised quite like you, but I trust you and have faith in your stewardship commitments. Let’s do it.’ So I wrote the check and sent it to the Carters in Arizona, who were ministering to Native Americans in a small reservation village. Even though I knew it had been the right thing to do, I did begin to wonder how we were going to manage. The next day I went to the post office, and I picked up a letter from a student at Asbury Theological Seminary who had been one of my roommates at college. The letter read, ‘I just had you and Linda on my heart and felt impressed to write you. I’m enclosing a check for you, knowing you will probably put it in the offering plate next Sunday, but it is not for your church. It is for you.’ Fifty bucks! When the check we sent arrived in Arizona, Doug Carter called immediately. ‘Stan, your check just arrived. What timing! We had an appointment with the doctor for our daughter, Angie, but we had no money to pay the bill. I was just about to make the dreaded phone call to tell the doctor, but I paused to look at the mail first, and there it was. The Lord was right on schedule, wasn’t he?’ How could God touch a poor church planter on the shoulder and say, ‘Send $50 to missionaries in Arizona,’ even though he knew the church planter needed it, and at the same time touch a student at Asbury Theological Seminary on the shoulder and say to him, ‘Send $50 to the Tolers’? A cynical person might ask, ‘Why didn’t God just impress the Asbury student to send his $50 directly to the missionaries in Arizona?’ To the first question I say, that’s how God works. To the second I suggest that God wanted to pour out his blessings on three families instead of two.”

Paul concludes by saying that . . .

In 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.”(1 Timothy 6:19).

What you do with your money now is an investment. You can buy the Dodge pickup, save for the future, or go out to eat once a week—it’s your choice. The simple reality is that every day you are making choices about what to invest in.

You are either investing into something temporal, or you are investing into eternity. Think about it this way–God has given you a certain amount of money for you to manage. You can blow it all on horses, clothes or tools for your shop,  you can pour it into retirement and live below your means, or you can use it to benefit others. How you use your wealth is an investment somewhere. You are storing up treasure somewhere–either enjoying it now or investing it for later. We are not called to judge others, but to evaluate ourselves. Two different people can make the same decision for radically different reasons.

Paul wants you to know that the pleasures and charms that this world offers are temporary and pale. We call this life–but it is a dark shadow of what is “truly life.”

So beware that wealth is a dangerous comfort that can lead you to despise your neighbor and forget your God. God has given you wealth SO THAT others would benefit from your radical generosity. God encourages you to invest by offering such a rich return on investment that you would be foolish to turn it down.

This is why Jesus concludes that parable we read in Luke 12 with these words. “Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:33 to 34).

What you do with your money will not buy your way into Heaven. Christ is the only one who can do that. But how you use your money is a great indicator of what you value most. God has put you in America, and given you money SO THAT you would generously care for others, and build up treasure for yourself in Heaven. That is the very reason God Has Given You So Much.

In conclusion

Paul’s remedy for the rich is to put our faith in God. He suggests that we do good things, that we should be rich in good deeds, and that we be generous and willing to share. Today we have heard what we love about our church and where we see Jesus in our church. illustrations of the ways that we do good as a church and of how very rich we are in good deeds.

There is much to love about our church, and we don’t celebrate those things enough. I invite you to join this time of celebration in the next few weeks. One thing you can do is use the devotional guide Practicing Extravagant Generosity. This week you will receive a letter from Pastor Cherie asking you to bring another card next week identifying a person in the church who has made a contribution to your spiritual growth. Come next week prepared to share and to celebrate.

Adapted from Sermon by John Pleasnick, prepared by Lisa Dawson,