Occupy Wall Street is a series of demonstrations in New York City and elsewhere. The participants are protesting social and economic inequalities which they believe are the result of corporate greed. Their slogan is “We are the 99%.” It refers to the claim that the top 1% in America controls about 40% of the wealth. The rest of the wealth is distributed among the 99%. Protestors claim that while unemployment is at one of its highest levels since the Depression, corporate profits are also at one of their highest levels. Protestors believe that Corporate America, the 1%, is mishandling money and thus harming the 99%–the rest of America.
In 1 Tim. 6 Paul engages in his own kind of protest. Only this one isn’t Occupy Wall Street. This one is Occupy the Local Church. And Paul isn’t protesting corporate consumerism or management mishandling of money. Paul’s protesting Christian consumerism and congregational corruption regarding money. Paul is protesting the way that the church is handling its own wealth.
Today is our third Sunday listening to Paul’s teaching in 1 Tim. 6. This chapter is part of three letters—1st and 2nd Timothy and Titus. In these three letters Paul writes about “soundness.” As we’ve learned, the word “sound” literally means “healthy.” Paul writes so vigorously about Christian soundness and health in these three letters because he fears the churches being led by Timothy and Titus are becoming unsound and unhealthy. And one of the greatest threats to the health of these churches is their wealth. Repeatedly in these three letters Paul writes about money and wealth. Last Sunday we listened as Paul pointed out the painful consequences of a life spent craving cash. And we listened as Paul illustrated the gainful consequences that come from a life of contentment and the generosity which flows from contentment. Two Sundays ago we listened as Paul pointed us to a God who is invincible, immortal, inaccessible, and invisible. And Paul called us to use wealth in ways that bring honor to that God and spread the rule or dominion of that God. Paul is writing so powerfully about possessions because he finds that too many Christians and churches are behaving like the rest of the culture. 1 Tim. 6 is his protest against Christians who desire dollars, crave cash and are preoccupied with possessions.
I’ve mentioned that Paul’s teaching in 1 Tim. 6 comes in three sections. We’ve explored section 1 and section 2. This morning, we move to section 3. It begins in vs. 17. And as we listen to vs. 17, we can imagine Paul holding up two charts to illustrate why he’s opposing our preoccupation with possessions. The first chart Paul holds up measures our perceived self-worth and our actual net-worth. That is, Paul finds that we often measure self-worth by our net-worth. On the chart, as net-worth increases, so does our sense of self-worth. And Paul protests this tendency in vs. 17: As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty. Let’s not dismiss this verse because it is addressed to “the rich.” We may be tempted to think, “That doesn’t apply to me. I’m not ‘the rich’.” But, as we saw two Sundays ago, many of us are in the top 1% of the world. In global terms, most of us are “the rich.” This verse is directed toward us. And Paul knows what happens when we have wealth. We tend to feel better about ourselves. We tend to think more highly of ourselves. Paul’s word “haughty” is literally “high minded.” The more income we have, the more highly we think of ourselves. After all, what happens to your self-esteem when you get the chance to drive a very nice car, or wear a very fine coat, or get to purchase the latest gadget, or get to wear the most fashionable clothes? Don’t you feel good about yourself? Don’t you suddenly hold your head higher? We tend to measure our self-worth by our net-worth. In fact, we do this so much that we become haughty—we look down on those who do not have what we have. Paul protests this.
But Paul has one other gripe against us. He points to another chart. The second chart measures perceived security as a function of actual property. Paul finds that we often measure security by our property. The more property we own, the more secure we feel. The greater our cash assets, the greater our confidence in our security. Paul puts it this way in vs. 17: nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches. We rich people tend to do just that—we set our hopes on riches. To set your hope on something is to put your weight on it. It is to find your security in it. Those of us who have wealth tend to measure our security by it. That’s one reason why these current financial times are so stressful. As many people find their property and possessions decreasing, they also find their hope and security decreasing. Paul knows that we who have a certain level of resources tend to measure our security by our property. We set our hopes on riches. Paul protests this.
But Paul is here not simply to protest. Paul has a solution for the spiritual disease which is caused by prioritizing money. Here is the solution: 17As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (1 Tim. 6:17-19 ESV)
Notice what Paul does here. As he did in section 2, Paul gets our eyes off of our goods and onto our God. Listen again to what Paul writes about God: God…richly provides us with everything to enjoy. The key word is “richly.” This whole text is about riches and the rich. In vs. 17, Paul addresses “the rich.” He warns against the uncertainty of “riches.” He describes God as one who “richly provides.” In vs. 18 he calls us to be “rich” in good works. The whole text is a commentary on the upside and the downside of riches. And notice how Paul describes God. God, Paul writes, is rich. God could not “richly” provide if he were not first of all “rich.” And that’s why, as I’ve pointed out repeatedly in this series, Paul does not have a problem with riches. God is rich. The issue is what we do with our riches.
And notice what God does with his riches: God richly provides us with everything to enjoy. Here’s another way of saying this: God decreases his possessions in order to increase our pleasure. When it comes to his riches, God does not think solely of himself. He thinks of us. And what he most wants is for us to have joy, to enjoy, to have pleasure. God richly provides us with everything to enjoy. Consider that. God richly provides us with everything to enjoy. Too many people think that what God wants is for us to be miserable. God wants us to be unhappy. God wants us to be guilt-ridden. But that’s wrong. God wants us to enjoy, to have joy, to have pleasure. And how does God bring that about? He gives his riches away. It’s that simple. God gives his riches away. He richly provides us with everything so that we can have joy and pleasure. God decreases his possessions in order to increase our pleasure. God takes things that belong to him and gives them away to us so that we might have joy and pleasure in life.
Consider how God has done this very thing for you. Think about all the ways God has richly provided for you and how that rich provision brings you joy and pleasure. Some of you might think of the rich provision of your children. Some of you might think of the rich provision of your job. Some of you might think of the rich provision of your close friends. Some of you might think of the rich provision of this congregation. Some of you might think of the rich provision of the talents and abilities God has given you. The more you think about it, the more you realize just how much God has richly provided and thus how pleasurable your life really is.
In fact, let’s do some quick brainstorming. How would you finish this sentence? “God has richly provided me _______________.” Shout your answer out loud…
We could keep this going for several minutes. The more you think about it, the more God comes across as very generous, doesn’t he? God’s been more than abundant with his possessions. He’s gone out of his way to decrease his possessions in order to increase our pleasure.
What Paul’s doing here is inspiring us with the example of someone who, like many of us, possesses a great deal of resources, but who, like few of us, is outrageously generous with them. Paul’s trying to stir within us a deep conviction by pointing us to someone who lives a fundamentally different kind of life when it comes to riches. Because the more we see outrageous generosity, the more inspired we are to imitate it. And no one more generous with his riches than God.
Timothy Keller writes, “Some years ago I was doing a seven-part series of talks on the Seven Deadly Sins at a men’s breakfast. My wife, Kathy, told me, “I’ll bet that the week you deal with greed will be the lowest attendance.” She was right. People packed it out for “Lust” and “Wrath” and even for “Pride.” But nobody thinks they are greedy. As a pastor I’ve had people come to me and confess that they struggle with almost every kind of sin. Almost. I cannot recall anyone ever coming to me and saying, “I spend too much money on myself. I think my greedy lust for money is harming my family, my soul, and people around me.” Greed hides itself from the victim...” That’s why Paul points to God. It’s only in the light of God’s outrageous generosity that we can see the darkness of our lack of generosity. It’s only then that we can own up to the fact that we do measure our self-worth by our net-worth and we do tie our security to our property. It’s only then that we can truly consider a different way of living and giving—God’s way.
Because, as Paul continues, what God does with his riches, we are to do with ours. God calls us to decrease our possessions in order to increase others’ pleasure. Listen again to Paul’s words: 17As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (1 Tim. 6:17-19 ESV) Paul says one thing in different ways: Do Good; Be Rich in Good Works; Be Generous; Be Ready to Share. Paul’s pointed us to a God who richly provides, a God who decreases his possessions to increase our pleasure. And now God’s calling us to do the same: do good, be rich in good works, be generous, and be ready to share. God calls us to decrease our possessions in order to increase others’ pleasure.
And once we truly realize how generous God has been with his riches, we will want to be generous with ours. Even if all we have is a little. In the book God So Loved, He Gave, Justin Borger shares a story about a homeless woman named Tammy. Tammy lived under a bridge in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee. After providing Tammy some basic hygiene supplies, Justin didn’t hear from her for a few weeks—until she called and said that she had been raped. After Justin brought her to the hospital, Tammy started attending the church where he preached. The church started providing vouchers so Tammy could buy food and other items. But Justin said that Tammy kept giving the vouchers to other people. He told her, “Tammy, you need to keep this for yourself. Otherwise you’ll run out of food.” But living under the bridge meant living with other needy people, and she couldn’t fathom keeping these gifts to herself. So she asked Justin, “Why can’t I give some too?” He writes: I found myself taken aback. Why shouldn’t Tammy be allowed to give some of what she’d received? Wasn’t that exactly what I was doing?.. When we are touched by generosity, we naturally want to imitate it. And the more we understand how we’ve been touched by God’s generosity, the more we want to imitate it. Just like God, we’ll want to decrease our own possessions—even if they are very limited—so that we can bring pleasure to others.
And there’s never been an easier way to do this very thing than there is today. Today we support 19 ministries through our Special Contribution for World and Urban Missions. Each of these ministries brings great joy and pleasure to others. Young professionals in Kiev meet Jesus through the UEC. Children in Bacolod, Philippines gain an education for life at the Shiloh Christian School led by the Luthers. Orphan after orphan is nurtured and loved by the ministries of the four children’s homes we support. Agape, FIT, and the Powerlines network brings help and hope to the poor in Memphis. HopeWorks transforms the lives of the unemployed. The joy just goes on and on and on. And in order for us to bring pleasure to others through those ministries, we’ve got to decrease our possessions. We’ve got to give $174,000 today. This is just part of the over $300,000 we’ve pledged to these ministries this year. We’ll need to dig deep. We’ll need to richly provide. But in the end, we’re only doing for others what our Father has already done for us.
We’re going to pass the contribution plates just one time right now. As God has richly provided, so use this opportunity to richly provide for others.
 Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods (Dutton, 2009), 5.
 Kelly M. Kapic, God So Loved, He Gave (Zondervan, 2010), 147-148.