Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy;
That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate;
Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.
O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called:
Which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with thee. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:17-21)
Paul tells us to charge those that are rich in this world. Wealth has always been a cause of division and distinction, and always will be. It can be seen as capital, affluence, power, or reward. We measure so much in terms of wealth: labor, value, tithes, offerings, savings, profit, loss, success, and failure. Wealth is as necessary a gauge for those without it as it is for those with it. We are not, therefore, charged to warn the rich about riches, but about the pride and the false sense of security that riches can breed.
The false sense of security that often grows from the power that riches convey belies the fact that such riches are only "in this world." When we have no vision of our ultimate place in God's scheme, we presume that we are our own creatures and that our destiny is in our own hands. The real wealth we can touch is then equated with who we are. Without an understanding of our creaturehood and responsibility before God, it is all too easy to think that wealth itself defines us and our importance. Such thinking transfers providence from God to wealth, which we trust as our security. But trust in riches involves no creaturely gratitude. Instead we develop a high-minded pride — we are rich!
Instead Paul tells us to trust in God — not an impersonal idea or philosophical starting point, but "the living God." Once we understand that all good things come from God and that riches can represent a great susceptibility to his judgement, we will cease to measure ourselves in terms of our wealth and we will cure a major cause of pride. God gives us "richly all things to enjoy." Our security and pride must be in the knowledge of God's bountiful care.
In addition to trusting in the living God, Paul tells us to "be rich in good works." The reward for good works is "treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal" (Mt. 6:20). We must remember, no matter what our earthly estate, that God hath "chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him" (Jas. 2:5). Wealth is not an evil, but love of wealth is an evil. We must remember the heavenly treasure accumulated by Paul, who wrote of ministers of the gospel "as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things" (2 Cor. 6:10).
Good works include charity, yes. But they include all obediences to God and works in the kingdom of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing on earth, including wealth, is eternal; but the treasures we lay up in heaven are a "good foundation against the time to come."
Now Paul gets to the heart of things. He summarizes his advice to the young minister by saying, "O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust." He means to stand fast in the grace in which he was called to the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He is saying, "Look at the big picture, Timothy. Stay faithful to the message." He tells Timothy to preserve and protect what was given to him as a sacred trust.
In order to stay faithful to his trust, Timothy had to avoid two errors. The first was "profane and vain babblings"; the second was "oppositions of science falsely so-called." Pretentious talk for the sake of ostentation impedes real knowledge in any field. Some prefer to use words to change the gospel into an academic game of Scrabble. They evaluate the words of Scripture rather than expound them. They seek to ascribe importance to their own scholarship rather than the word of God, which, they seem to think, can only be properly understood by experts such as themselves. Vain babblings are the words of arrogant expositors.
When Paul warned against the second error of "science falsely so called," he referred to all false philosophies and concepts of truth. This phrase is often used to refer to evolution. That is certainly a modern example, but Paul's warning included any false source of knowledge. In his day, Greek philosophy would have been an obvious source of so-called knowledge. We must not hesitate to be scornful of all knowledge that offers a false view of the world or depreciates our accountability to our Creator. The danger of vain babblings and so-called knowledge is that they cause men to err concerning the faith (v. 21). If we stay faithful to that gospel committed to our trust, and "follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness" (v. 11), we will avoid the errors of false knowledge and be rich in good works.
Topics: Epistles, The