To Be Rich and Responsible
1 Timothy 6:6-19
September 30, 2007
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To be rich and responsible, I’ve learned is no easy thing. Managing your
money is no easy thing. The Bible knows this. People of faith who have been
wealthy know this. When the subject of riches come up, I remember a saying from
a preacher years ago who was the pastor of very wealthy church in New York. He
said that when it comes to the subject of riches, the Bible says two things:
It’s either dangerous or damnable.
Of course, I know some of us may not consider ourselves rich. Some days I
don’t feel too rich. This summer when the AC unit went out and we paid a few
thousand dollars for a new unit-I wasn’t feeling too rich. When the tuition bill
came due for Carolina- about the same time my quarterly taxes are due… I wasn’t
feeling too rich. If I hear the statistics and stories right, many people
consider themselves mortgage poor. Others have credit card debt in the thousands
of dollars. They don’t feel too rich. Perhaps this passage about riches from
Timothy doesn’t apply to us.
Over time I’ve learned that being rich is in the eyes of the beholder.
Growing up in a 1700 square foot home on Grand Avenue, I never considered us
to be the rich people of Ortega. The rich people lived on the River and had
yachts. They belonged to the Timiquana Country Club. My friend Charlie was rich
because his dad was a banker and they had a swimming pool. Our swimming pool was
the wheelbarrow from my Dad’s landscaping business. And my Dad would often say
as a landscape architect, "I don’t mind people being rich as long as they spread
Rich is a matter of perspective don’t you think. Some people outside of Cary
think every one of us who live inside Cary are all living the lavish and
luxurious life. Some people in my neighborhood don’t consider themselves rich
because the rich people live at McGregor Downs or in Prestonwood. Who me, rich?
It’s kind of a matter of perspective who is rich and who is not.
I’m sure that the people who live in the lower income apartments near our
church would look at my house and yard and think I live in a mansion. It’s a
matter of perspective don’t you think?
But may I be so bold to suggest that every one of us in this room is rich. At
least by global standards.
Almost every time I turn on the tap water and receive clean water I realize
how rich I am. I think of my friends in Mwandi, Zambia who every single day have
to hike with water containers on their heads for miles to get dirty and diseased
drinking water from the Zambizi river. And you think tap water is bad for you.
Annually consumers in the world spend $1billion on bottled water. I wonder how
many wells that could drill in the third world.
I think of my friends in Reynosa, Mexico whose homes are made of scrap metal
and old signs. Families live in 70-100 square foot homes. Their dream home built
by volunteers is made of cement blocks and is about the size of a 1 car garage.
Their water? From a community tap.
Yes, I am rich. I am blessed. And I get worried when it comes to being rich
and responsible. Do you?
The Bible has a lot to say about money and riches. And it can be sort of
confusing. So many of the stories I recall from the Bible are hard on rich
There is the story of the rich young ruler who wants to follow Jesus and he
tells him to sell all he has and give to the poor. He tells his followers that
it is hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. Easier for a camel to go
through the eye of a needle. There is that fearful story about the rich man and
Lazarus. Lazarus begging at the rich man’s table for the scraps that fall from
the table. The rich man ignoring him. They both die and the text says, the rich
man went to hell and Lazarus went to heaven. Does that make you a little
There is the story of the rich farmer and business person who is very
successful. He wants to build his riches to prepare for retirement… so he builds
bigger and bigger barns so he can retire early. Of course, the punch line is
that he works for all those things and then dies suddenly one day… and God tells
him… "You fool, this very night you will be asked for YOUR SOUL! That is what
happens to the person who hoards things for himself and is not rich in the eyes
Those stories make me nervous.
Of course, there are also stories of rich people in the Bible who apparently
were not asked to give up all of their riches. In the Old Testament it is clear
that Abraham was wealthy. Joseph, becomes very wealthy and powerful. We see
David and Solomon prosper. The story of Job is the story of a wealthy man who
loses it all… but all is restored and then some at the end of the story. Wealth,
by itself, does not appear to be disqualifier from entering the kingdom of
Even the New Testament has examples of wealthy people. There is Barnabus who
sold some property and gave the proceeds to that young church with an uncertain
future. Talk about your risky investment! We read about Philemon last week-he
was wealthy enough to own slaves… and he was generous enough to let Christians
use his home as a house church. There was Lydia, the successful textile merchant
who is led to open her home and her wallet to Paul and the others.
The letter we read today to Timothy is apparently written to church
containing many wealthy Christians. It could have been the church in Cary, in
Apex, in Raleigh-almost anywhere in America. Many think it was the people who
lived in the prosperous city of Ephesus.
Perhaps they too have struggled with how to be rich and responsible as
Christians. Perhaps Timothy has asked Paul for some advice on how to manage
money and faith. Perhaps Timothy is concerned how their wealth is affecting
their faith and souls. Perhaps Timothy has looked to Paul, the wise apostle for
Here is what Paul said:
"Of course there is great gain in godliness
combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that you
can take nothing out of it… (you can’t take it with you… you can’t attach a U
Haul to the hearse)…
But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and
are trapped by many senseless and useless desires that plunge people into ruin
and destruction (and this was before credit cards and the mortgage crisis!) For
the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be
rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many
pains. But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness,
godliness, faith, love endurance, gentleness… As for those who in the present
age are rich, command them not to be haughty or to set their hopes on the
uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything
for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and
ready to share, thus storing up (note the language) for themselves the treasure
of a good foundation for the future (this is your retirement plan), so that they
may take hold of the life that really is life."
If I hear Paul right, I hear Paul saying three things.
First, It’s not riches but the pursuit of riches as one’s main purpose in
life that does harm to a person’s soul. Be careful of betting your life on the
pursuit of riches. The problem with the farmer Jesus told us about was not that
he was rich, but that his only goal in life was to become rich in things….
rather than in God.
I think of a parody of the "I have a dream" speech someone described as the
I have a dream. I have a dream of a new car in every garage, a Pentium duo
core computer in every bedroom, broadband internet connection in every house and
home ownership for every family. I have a dream of a n IRA for every wage earner
and a college investment fund for every child. I have a dream… of a microwave in
every kitchen, A DVD and big screen TV in every family room, a hot tub on every
patio, and a pool in every yard…I have a dream… of 7 credit cards in every
wallet. I have a dream of a condo on the ocean and a cottage in the mountains. I
have a dream of Summer in Europe, Christmas in Jamaica or Vail, or Spring in
I have a dream of unlimited prosperity… I have a dream.
I know that dream…don’t you. I have those dreams do you? I have pursued those
dreams, have you?
The dream, the author of that said, is to serve the god of more. But the god
of more, she said, is a lousy god. He is demanding and controlling. He never
ever is satisfied. He keeps us awake at night. He keeps us from ever being
satisfied or happy. He deprives us of finding deep and lasting pleasure in his
gifts. He out shouts and out advertises the one only true God. It is very hard
to hear what God is saying when the god of more is around.
I think Paul knew about this god of more and knew that it is a god that ends
up owning our souls when we devote our life to serving this god. Have you ever
heard someone say that they don’t own their stuff, their stuff owns them? For
Paul it’s not money that is the problem… it is the love of money.
Second, Paul is echoing Jesus, isn’t he when he says, if you want to be rich
in something be rich towards God… be rich spiritually. Divest yourself of envy,
ego, arrogance, suspicions, slander, stirring up controversy, and invest
yourself in developing the life of your Spirit which leads to a life of
goodness, grace and love. Again, the story of the Rich man and Lazarus it was
not the riches that was the problem, it was his attitude that evolved from his
riches. He could care less about the plight of the poor. He had his, let them
get theirs. If only he had spent time and energy in becoming rich in his
Third, if you want to be rich and responsible… be rich in good works,
generosity, ready to share… I think Paul would say rich people have been blessed
for a purpose… and that is to be a blessing.
One of the blessings of being a pastor is to occasionally meet people of
wealth who want to share. Usually the conversations are confidential for many
reasons but usually the conversation goes something like this: "Jody, I have
been so blessed and I want to share what I’ve been given. I’d like to give to …
(and the causes vary as much as the passion God puts in our hearts)…. "
I remember before I left my former congregation, a member of the church came
to me. He said that he had not planned to come to me so soon, but that since I
announced my leaving Newton, he wanted to talk about a gift he wanted to make.
Again, he talked about being very blessed in his life. And then he said, "You
know, we have built this beautiful building and I have been blessed… and I’d
like to make an $800,000 gift to help reduce the debt. I want to give it in such
a way that encourages others to give." I didn’t show it, but I was stunned. I
knew him to be wealthy but not that wealthy. His home was modest and he never
flaunted his wealth in the community. He was just someone who loved God, loved
his church and wanted to share. Think of all he could have done with $800,000.
What he could have bought for himself. But he wanted to share. And while I’m not
as rich as he is, he humbled me. He was teaching me how to be rich and
One more story from the book we read this summer – Mountains beyond Mountains
which tells the story of Dr. Paul Farmer-who has done amazing things in Haiti
and around the third world in the area of health. He did groundbreaking work in
fighting many diseases. It’s an amazing story.
But the unsung hero behind the story of Paul is the story of Tom White-a rich
businessman from Boston who has helped finance and support much of Paul’s work.
Tom made his money in the construction business. Tom White went to Haiti and was
concerned by what he saw there. He gave money to help Paul in his work. When
Paul would come home to Boston, Tom would bring sandwiches to him at lunch and
they’d eat in his car. One day, Tom told Paul that sometimes he’d like to give
up his business and wealth and work as a missionary to Haiti. To that, Paul
replied, "In your particular case that would be a sin."
Even Paul Farmer, whose passion to the poor is unquestioned, knew what Paul
the apostle knew… that being rich when being responsible and faithful can be a
It’s still true of course that riches can be dangerous or damnable… but in
the hands of people of faith… they can be blessings beyond measure that further
the work of the kingdom of God.