Paul's teaching to the rich in 1 Timothy 6:19 continues and applies these teachings of Jesus from the Gospels. He says rich people should use their money in a way that "lays up for themselves a good foundation for the future and takes hold on life which is life indeed." In other words, there is a way to use your money that forfeits eternal life.3
We know Paul has eternal life in view because seven verses earlier he uses the same kind of expression in reference to eternal life: "Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses" (1 Timothy 6:12).
The reason the use of your money provides a good foundation for eternal life is not that generosity earns eternal life, but that it shows where your heart is. Generosity confirms that our hope is in God and not in ourselves or our money. We don't earn eternal life. It is a gift of grace (2 Timothy 1:9). We receive it by resting in God's promise. Then how we use our money confirms or denies the reality of that rest.
Pride of Possessions
Paul gives three directions to the rich about how to use their money to confirm their eternal future.
First, don't let your money produce pride. "As for the rich in this world, charge them not to be haughty" ( 1 Timothy 6:17). How deceptive our hearts are when it comes to money! Every one of us has felt the smug sense of superiority that creeps in after a clever investment or new purchase or a big deposit. Money's chief attractions is the power it gives and the pride it feeds. Paul says, don't let this happen.
Why It Is Hard for the Rich to Inherit Life
Second, he adds in verse 17, "Don't set your hope on uncertain riches, but on God who richly furnishes you all things to enjoy." This is not easy for the rich to do. That's why Jesus said it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:23) . It is hard to look at all the earthly hope that riches offer and then turn away from that to God, and rest all your hope on him. It is hard not to love the gift instead of the Giver. But this is the only hope for the rich. If they can't do it, they are lost.
They must remember the warning Moses gave the people of Israel as they entered the promised land:
Beware lest you say in your heart, "My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth." You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth; that he may confirm his covenant which he swore to your fathers, as at this day. (Deuteronomy 8:17-18)
The great danger of riches is that our affections will be carried away from God to his gifts.
Is This a Health-Wealth-and-Prosperity Teaching?
Before moving on to Paul's third exhortation for the rich, we must consider a common abuse of verse 17. The verse says that "God richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy." This means, first, that God is usually generous in the provision he makes to meet our needs. He furnishes things "richly." Second, it means we need not feel guilty for enjoying the things he gives us. They are given "for enjoyment." Fasting, celibacy, and other forms of self-denial are right and good in the service of God, but they must not be elevated as the spiritual norm. The provisions of nature are given for our good and, by our Godward joy, can become occasions of thanksgiving and worship ( 1 Timothy 4:2-5).
But a wealth-and-prosperity doctrine is afoot today, shaped by the half-truth that says, "We glorify God with our money by enjoying thankfully all the things he enables us to buy. Why should a son of the King live like a pauper?" And so on. The true half of this is that we should give thanks for every good thing God enables us to have. That does glorify him. The false half is the subtle implication that God can be glorified in this way by all kinds of luxurious purchases.
If this were true, Jesus would not have said, "Sell your possessions and give alms" (Luke 12 :33). He would not have said, "Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink" (Luke 12:29). John the Baptist would not have said, "He who has two coats, let him share with who has none" (Luke 3:11). The Son of Man would not have walked around with no place to lay his head (Luke 9:58). And Zacchaeus would not have given half his goods to the poor (Luke 19:8).
God is not glorified when we keep for ourselves (no matter how thankfully) what we ought to be using to alleviate the misery of unevangelized, uneducated, unmedicated, and unfed millions. The evidence that many professing Christians have been deceived by this doctrine is how little they give and how much they own. God has prospered them. And by an almost irresistible law of consumer culture (baptized by a doctrine of health, wealth, and prosperity) they have bought bigger (and more) houses, newer (and more) cars, fancier (and more) clothes, better (and more) meat, and all manner of trinkets and gadgets and containers and devices and equipment to make life more fun.
Why God Prospers Many Saints
They will object: Does not the Old Testament promise that God will prosper his people? Indeed! God increases our yield so that by giving we can prove our yield is not our god. God does not prosper a man's business so he can move from a Ford to a Cadillac. God prospers a business so that 17,000 unreached peoples can be reached with the gospel. He prospers a business so that twelve percent of the world's population can move a step back from the precipice of starvation.
I am a pastor, not an economist. Therefore I see my role today the way James Stewart saw it in Scotland thirty years ago. It is the function of economists, not the pulpit, to work out plans of reconstruction. But it is emphatically the function of the pulpit to stab men broad awake to the terrible pity of Jesus, to expose their hearts to the constraint of that divine compassion which halos the oppressed and the suffering, and flames in judgment against every social wrong.... There is no room for a preaching devoid of ethical directness and social passion, in a day when heaven's trumpets sound and the Son of God goes forth to war.