2015 Sermon Series
- April 24, 2016
Prosperity must never devour mission.
Quick wealth often destroys. We don't have to look hard or far in our culture to find examples of this reality. At the end of his letter, Paul gives Timothy instructions for Christians "who are rich in this present world" (1 Timothy 6:17-19). This passage is widely preached out of context. The main point of these two verses is this: Prosperity should never devour mission. Prosperity should underpin mission.
Historically, the popularity of Christianity in the United States has made our country prosperous. Worship goes hand-in-hand with a strong work ethic. Large numbers of people were born again in the Great Awakenings, prayer revivals in New York and Philadelphia, and the ministry of men like Billy Sunday, D.L. Moody, and Bob Jones. As their individual lives were transformed, they influenced their homes, their work environments, and their neighborhoods. New birth influences a nation as people repent from sin and follow biblical principles. This lends stability to a culture and invites God's blessing. Multiple historians agree that our nation's prosperity can be traced to the work ethic born out of Christianity.
Yet we can easily become distracted from God's purposes in the midst of prosperity. The church in Corinth gives one ecclesiastical example of this. This church was very affluent, but at one point had lost their moral bearings. Paul asks them to follow through with their intention to financially underpin the ministry of the Gospel, as other less wealthy churches were doing.
The Ephesian context was similar. This city was one of the top five most affluent Roman cities, and the church contained people from all socio-economic levels. In most cultures, wealth is determined by how many material things a person has, not how much money is in the bank. By this standard, every middle-class person in America is wealthy.
What is the responsibility of "those who are rich in this present world"? Remember the context of the book: Each section emphasizes the communication of the Gospel and the believer's testimony to unbelievers. False teachers are such a problem because they distract God's people from the mission. On top of that, they try to make more money off other Christians by peddling falsehood.
What is the disposition of a Christian whom God has materially blessed? We are not to be conceited. This takes regular and consistent reminding. When Paul says "in this age," he is giving instructions for all Christians in the church age. These words apply to us too!
The word "conceited" is a compound word made up of two parts: "arrogant" or "haughty" and "thoughts." We should not be high-minded over how much stuff we have. We can wrongfully elevate ourselves over the church's mission that we should rightly support. God has blessed us with the things we own; He bought our souls with His own blood. All we have and own should be used for His purposes.
Our disposition must be one of trusting God. Things are temporal and uncertain. They cannot hold the weight of our hope. Only God has the character and ability to fulfill our hope. Paul has just reviewed a list of God's attributes that settle our hearts (1 Timothy 6:15-16), and he references another: God's immutability. Because He does not change, He can be trusted. He provides for the righteous (Psalm 37:25).
Paul is not telling wealthy Christians to change their material state in order to be more righteous. We enjoy what God has given (see the end of verse 17), doing so in a way that imitates God's unchanging character and underpins His divine mission.
- If wealth is determined by how much stuff you have, are you wealthy? We all have a lot of stuff. When you read "those who are rich in this present world," do not assume it is not directed to you.
- Have a conversation with your family about how you use your wealth. What has the Lord given you? Why? How can you glorify Him with all your stuff? Take everything God has given you and use it to underpin God's mission.
- This passage is not saying that you can only be involved in "spiritual" things. Enjoy what God has blessed you with! Consider why you are invested in certain activities. Why do you do what you do? Is your aim to enjoy the American dream or is your mind on eternal things? Why has God given you the talents you have? Let them thrive, and do so for a higher purpose.
- Don't try to out-think the mission God has given to the church. You cannot mastermind a better purpose for yourself or the body of Christ than what God has already given.
- God is unfailingly faithful to provide abundantly. As you rehearse and enjoy His blessings, are you determined to honor God with everything He has given you?
Tools for Further Study
Cross References to Explore
- 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, 2 Corinthians 8:1-15, 9:1-5 – Paul encouraged the Corinthians to give out of their wealth.
- Matthew 28:18-20 – God's mission for the church and every Christian.
- 1 Timothy 6:9-10 – The detrimental effects of false teachers on the church's mission.
- 1 Corinthians 10:31, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 – Glorify God who owns you.
- Hebrews 1:2-3 – Christ is the radiance of God's glory.
- Ephesians 1:3-23 – We are rich in Jesus Christ.
- Malachi 3:6, Philippians 4:19, Matthew 6:25-33, James 1:17 – God is faithful to provide for His children.
A Hymn to Encourage: "Wonderful, Merciful Savior"
Wonderful, merciful Savior,
Precious Redeemer and Friend
Who would have thought that a Lamb
Could rescue the souls of men
Oh, You rescue the souls of men
Counselor, Comforter, Keeper
Spirit we long to embrace
You offer hope when our hearts have
Hopelessly lost our way
Oh, we've hopelessly lost the way
You are the One that we praise
You are the One we adore
You give the healing and grace
Our hearts always hunger for
Oh, our hearts always hunger for
Almighty, infinite Father
Faithfully loving Your own
Here in our weakness You find us
Falling before Your throne
Oh, we're falling before Your throne