“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” (1 Tim. 6:17-18).
One might read this passage and see it merely as a postscript to St. Paul’s letter to Timothy. “Oh, and by the way, Timothy, when you preach, remember to command the rich to get off their high horse and be generous with what they have earned.” And this would seem the desirable way to look at this passage, for it certainly then would not apply to us. Either we would not find ourselves on a high horse, or we would see ourselves as not being rich, or neither. With a clear conscience, we could move on, letting these verses apply to others. But this is not the case with this passage as inspired by the Holy Spirit and written by St. Paul.
Here in this pastoral letter, these verses stand as a powerful application of the doctrinal exposition preceding it. Timothy was to proclaim the doctrine of Law and Gospel, correcting those who threatened to corrupt this doctrine. He was to proclaim the true function and intent of the Law in the light of the Gospel message. The Law exposes sin and condemns the sinner. Timothy was to proclaim the Gospel which offers salvation in Jesus Christ, giving freedom from the condemnation of the Law. Thus, we find that these verses apply to each of us.
We make ourselves “rich” in this fleeting life when we foolishly place our hope in our wealth, in our money or in our investments. When we do this, we are prone to arrogance, for the true servant nature in Christ is lost. When we do this, we are prone to selfishness, for we have removed God from being first in our lives. And this is quite easy to do, for our sinful nature would have us to do this. As Martin Luther wrote, “ . . . our sinful nature must by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts. . . .”
Now, we hear the Gospel and hope in God who “provides us with everything for our enjoyment” so that we may glorify Him and serve those around us. How do we serve? In Christ, we obey the command “to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” And we do this not because of any condemnation, but because of our freedom in Christ and His love now residing in us.
Martin Luther wrote, “ . . . and, again, a new man daily [will] come forth and [will] arise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” By the power of the Gospel, we live in this righteousness and purity now, and because of this, we are more and more Christ-like, generous in all things.