How to be rich
1 Timothy 6:6-19, Luke 16:19-31
We’ve heard a lot in our Sunday readings recently about money, and the message from the passages that we have just heard is plain - money is dangerous; do not rely on it, do not grasp hold of it, do not keep it for yourself. Paul, in the first reading, writing to Timothy, sums it up pretty bluntly: ‘the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil’.
Jesus talks a lot about money because it plays such an important role in our lives. And the story he tells about Lazarus and the rich man lays it out clearly - it is because of the misuse of money that Lazarus spends his earthly life in such suffering, and it’s because of the misuse of money that the rich man spends eternity so far from God. We might think of money as a great enabler - but Jesus sees the flip side, he sees how it is the great divider.
And the proof that he is right to be so consistent in his warnings comes in the reading from 1 Timothy, a letter written by Paul to his friend and apprentice evangelist, Timothy. It’s clear from what Paul writes that already, just a few years after Jesus death, as the church is getting going and figuring out how to live out the gospel in everyday life, money is becoming a problem. It seems as if there are some people in Ephesus, where Timothy is living, who believe that being a Christian will make them rich. In verse 5, just before our reading starts, Paul writes that there are those who imagine that ‘godliness is a means of gain.’ Money was causing trouble back then, just as it does today.
Paul then goes on to say something interesting, which is where we pick up the reading in verse 6. He connects godliness, not with gain, but with contentment. And it’s a good word, contentment. Perhaps it’s what we all seek - a deep sense of being at peace with the world, with God and with ourselves; free from anxiety; happy with who we are and what we’ve got.
And perhaps the search for contentment is even more of an issue for us today than it was for Paul and Timothy, because we live in such a deeply discontented society. We all know the statistics that show that, despite being richer than any society ever to have existed, we are more anxious, more depressed and less content than ever before. Money, it turns out, does not buy contentment.
So what is Paul’s solution to the problem of money and the discontent that it can bring?
Well, if money is one theme in these readings, then the other is heaven, and both Jesus and Paul make a clear connection between the two. Money and heaven. Jesus’ story is played out between earth and heaven, and in verse 12 of his passage Paul says, ‘take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and for which you were made’. Take hold of the eternal life for which you were made. And I want to talk a bit about eternal life - about heaven - because it’s central to what both Jesus and Paul are saying. And I want to talk about it because what they’re both saying is - if you want to know how to live well with money, see it through heavenly eyes. See money from the perspective of eternal life.
So what does ‘eternal life’ mean? And what does heaven have to do with money? To answer that we have to go back to the time just before Jesus was born.
Back then the Jewish people were primed for something new. After years of oppressive rule by Babylonians, Persians and now Romans, they held tight to God’s promise of a time to come when everything would be put back in order - when everything would be restored to the way God wanted it to be. A world in which God’s justice and mercy ruled and oppression, suffering and poverty were ended. Their prophets had promised it, the Scriptures pointed to it, their songs yearned for it. They were ready for God to act, they were ready for God to restore his creation, they were ready for God to bring heaven to earth….but it hadn’t happened yet.
And some said, that’s because we aren’t keeping the laws properly - that was the Pharisees view. And others said it was because the Romans were in charge, and a revolution was needed to get rid of them before God could get to work. - that was what the Zealots preached. And other said that the world was too corrupt, and the only way to bring heaven to earth was to set up a new and pure community, separate from the mess of daily life - that was what the Essenes said.
And into this comes Jesus. And he says, in his words and in his actions - it is happening now. Right now, in me, heaven is here. The future has arrived in the present. The future you have been longing and waiting for has come.
And so, in Matthew, Mark and Luke, he tells story after story about ‘the kingdom of heaven’ or ‘the kingdom of God’ and what it’s like. All stories about what happens when heaven comes to earth. What it’s like when this present world is invaded by God’s future.
And in John’s gospel, the phrase that’s used is ‘eternal life’ - a phrase that Paul uses a lot as well. Eternal life. Eternity, in life. Heaven, on earth.
And in Greek there are three words for life - there’s bios, which is to do with the bodily life. The physical stuff.
And there’s a second word - psuche, which is often translated ‘soul’ - it means our emotional or psychological life.
And then there’s a third word - zoe And zoe is the word for God’s life - as in John 1:4 - the beginning of the gospel - ‘In him was life and the life was the light of all people’. It is the uncreated, eternal life of God. And in John’s gospel this life - this godly life is made available to us in Jesus. ‘Zoe’, eternal life, is us living in God, in the world.
So when Paul writes to Timothy that he should ‘take hold of the eternal life to which he was called’, and ‘take hold of the life that really is life’ - it’s that ‘zoe’ that he’s referring to. The ‘life that really is life’ is life in God, in the world; it’s a relationship with Jesus Christ, who lived, died and lives again, today. It’s a life in which God’s future - when all creation is at peace with the Creator again - is available right here, right now.
So what does that have to tell us about money?
Well, it says - when you’re thinking about money, don’t start by thinking about money, start with your relationship with God. Begin by investing in the life that really is life - prayer, the scriptures, worship, being with fellow Christians, communion - the things that help us grow in zoe, in our relationship with God. Start there. Invest in that.
And with that comes a sense of security, of contentment; the growing realisation that we have everything that we need - not materially, but in love, forgiveness, beauty and grace. We have all we need for a contented life. And then, from that place, from the perspective of eternal life, from the perspective of heaven, let’s think about money.
And Jesus’s story and Pauls’ letter, tell us two things in particular about money, from the perspective of heaven.
One, be very careful of money, because it can dehumanise you. It can mean you lose your sense of who you are and what matters. In the story of Lazarus, notice that the rich man has no name - he’s just ‘a rich man’. It’s like he has lost his identity. He is defined only by the sumptuous clothes he wears and the food he feasts on.
He has also had his vision of the world distorted. His wealth means he no longer ‘sees’ things. Lazarus, begging at his gate, is invisible to him. Moses and the prophets, who are so clear about how to live, are overlooked. Lesson one, be very careful about money, because it can dehumanise you and distort your vision.
Two, be generous. Be generous with your time and with your money. Give as much away as you can. ‘Do good, be rich in good works, be generous and ready to share’ says Paul. One of the risks with money is that it becomes the focus for our life. Paul points out that those who want to be rich are ‘trapped by many senseless and harmful desires’ . Money gets inside us and getting more of it can become our goal or aim in life. And you know how it goes - however much you’ve got, it’s never quite enough. Whether you’ve got £100 or £100,000 in the bank, there’s always more needed.
Money isn’t bad in itself - it’s there to be used for the kingdom. It’s there to put food on the table and clothes on our backs, to create beautiful things, to make life possible. But if you start to love it - to build your life on it, it will become trouble.
So be generous, because then it cannot rule you. Be generous, because then you cannot build your life on money. Be generous, because then you know what really matters.
And the church has traditionally taught that Christians should aim to give about 10% of their income away. That’s not a law or a rule, it’s a guideline - and it’s a good one. Because 10% is enough to take us out of our comfort zone, but not so much that we are left without enough to live on.
Be careful about money. Be generous with money.
And first of all, invest in what really matters. Invest in what really will bring contentment. Not stuff, not the bank balance - but the life that really is life. Eternal life. God’s life in you, today, now.
1. ‘Money is the great divider’. Is that true? If so, how?
2. What does the word ‘contentment’ mean for you? When have you been contented?
3. Paul says, ‘take hold of the life that really is life.’ What is that life like in your experience?
4. Money can dehumanise you. Look at the story of Lazarus and the rich man. How was the rich man dehumanised? How about Lazarus?
5. How do you make decisions about giving and generosity?