Setting Hopes on God? or Riches?

Read: 1 Timothy 6:17-21

In the fall of 2012, Hurricane Sandy struck the shores of the East Coast of North America, wreaking havoc on much of the mainland Carolinas, New Jersey, and New York. At the time, Grant and I were living in Princeton, New Jersey (about an hour from the shore), and I was working at a church in a beach community, just minutes from the shore. Sandy changed the landscape of New Jersey forever in many places, but it also changed lives.

We saw, first hand, the discrepancy between care for the rich and the poor, lines often drawn on racial bounds. While I, living down the street from the Governor in Princeton, got power back in about three days; much of Trenton, particularly black and Latino neighbourhoods, were out power for almost a month. At the end of autumn, nearing the snowy season, this impacted people in devastating ways. And yet, the people I met who were the most “shaken” by the storm were not the poor, or middle classes, but the wealthy—those who had set their hopes on riches.

I distinctly remember serving dinner with friends at a makeshift storm shelter with the Red Cross just days after the Hurricane. We were dishing up spaghetti for those who had fled their homes and were living in a high school gym on cots. Women with perfectly manicured nails, Juicy Couture tops, and Coach purses came through the food line with their husbands in work attire, and wealthy kids. It was a different brand of greed than I had ever seen, people demanding larger portions, or extra bread. Entitlement in its purest form. I saw a grown man cut in front of a kid to get his food first. It was the ugliness of humankind with a heart set on the wrong things.

Meanwhile, we spent a weekend at a poor, Latino church community. The church had sat in twelve feet of standing water for about a week after the hurricane. Rot and mold ate through much of the structure, but they continued to worship in it anyway. At one point, the ceiling beams had been so badly damaged that Grant fell through the ceiling. As we worked alongside believers at that church who had lost so much, including homes, livelihoods, and their church; they happily worked, and worshipped, and shared stories about God’s faithfulness in the midst of it all. Their hearts were set on God, not wealth.

This is a sharp dichotomy between rich and poor, class systems, and racial divides. And I want to make clear that we also saw everything in between. We witnessed the rich opening their homes to the poor, the poor sharing food with the rich, and every combination therein. The point is not that riches are bad. But those who had their hearts set on riches were utterly devastated by the storm. They didn’t readily bounce back. Many couldn’t bounce back at all. Those who had their hearts set on God (whether they had a lot or had a little) bounced back quite easily.

Paul talks about the “uncertainty of riches,” which we witnessed first-hand. He also talks about a “God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” These are some of the best memories I have from New Jersey, seeing the goodness of God work in people’s lives who had lost almost everything feel the provision of Christ’s love amidst it all.

Questions:

  1. Is wealth bad? Why or why not?
  2. What does it look like to live richly?
  3. What do you need to guard yourself from being drawn away from the faith?

Be Content With Who You Are

Read: 1 Timothy 6:1-10

In Desiderata of Love, Max Ehrmann writes, “Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.” In this poem, he speaks of quiet contentment. This is not to say never change jobs or explore career options. But it is to say that God can use you and is using you (if you let him) in whatever position in life you are in. Being content with who you are and your position goes beyond career into all aspects of life. But it starts with understanding whose you are not what you do as your identity.

When your identity is rooted in Christ and you live that out in whatever arena you work in, it matters very little then what you do. One person I heard speak counselled young people not to become pastors in churches, because we have enough pastors in churches. He said we need more pastors in corporations, and hospitals, and schools, and in government positions. This might not be a mainstream opinion, but the point is congruent with what Paul is saying here, that you shouldn’t change positions because you become a believer, you should use your identity as rooted in Christ regardless of your position.

What Paul talks about in 1 Timothy 6:1-10 is a group of people in Timothy’s church who were trying to use the Gospel to gain themselves higher positions and riches. Not only does this not work out for most people, but it is counter to the Gospel which they were trying to purport. Jesus says, “Pick up your cross and follow me.” He doesn’t say, “You will get rich quick if you follow me.” He was no pyramid schemer!

So if you are a believer, let your identity be rooted first and foremost in Christ, regardless of what you do. And practice contentment in your place in life, not trying to gain wealth. Try amassing spiritual growth! How different would the Western world look if that were our goal?!

Question:

  1. What does contentment look like in your present position in life? Do you practice contentment now?
  2. How do riches and wealth lure/tempt you?
  3. What are some ways to avoid falling into these traps?
  4. How can we persevere in our faith amidst our present culture?