A sermon by Rod Benson
Nineteen weeks ago, I stood here for the first time, almost freezing, with snow falling outside, not really knowing any of you, and preached from 1 Timothy 1:1-7 on the purpose of Christian preaching. I reminded you that:
In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul reminds the young leader Timothy of the nature and purpose of Scripture. He says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
The Bible has an intrinsic authority as God’s word written. It is powerful, and reliable and trustworthy. At the same time, it is challenging, subversive and dangerous. It is useful, constructive and transformative.
When we let the Bible loose to do its work, explained and applied where necessary by godly preachers and teachers, we are equipped to be what God made us for: agents of God, sharing the word of life, doing good work, bringing positive change to persons and communities, contributing to the common good.
Now we are at the other end of Paul’s first letter to Timothy. For those who have travelled with me through the book, week by week, with a five-week break in the Psalms, thank you for your perseverance!
In the intervening chapters, Paul has used many words. He has had a lot to say, some of it eminently conceptual, much of it intensely practical and easy to apply to daily life. Today’s passage is no different.
It’s almost as though Paul has prematurely signed off at verse 16, with a beautiful theological statement and doxology, and is about to pen a closing benediction, and then says to himself, “Hmmm. Wait a moment, is there anything else I need to say to Timothy?”
And he puts pen to paper again, and writes verses 17-21: two commands about what people should do with their money, and some final brief instructions to Timothy, to guard what was entrusted to him, and to avoid the pitfalls and distractions of principles and practices that don’t come from God and distract us from true faith.
In verses 6-10, Paul had a message for Christians who were poor (“those who want to get rich”); in verses 17-19, he addresses those who are already rich.
With wealth come many dangers, chief among them being pride in my own achievement, and a false sense of security. The wise words of Proverbs 23:5 echo down the centuries:
Do not weary yourself out to get rich;
do not trust your own cleverness.
Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone,
for they will surely sprout wings
and fly off to the sky like an eagle.
Money is a deceptive master, and an uncertain investment. It won’t buy you happiness (v. 8). You can never be sure you’ll keep it while you’re here (v. 17), and you can’t take it with you when you go (v. 7). Money isn’t god, isn’t your friend, and won’t solve your problems. And we all know that the best things in life are free.
And yet we all need money, and saving it is called good stewardship. With one exception, Scripture nowhere commands people to give away all their money. In Mark 10:17-22, Jesus perceived that wealth had become an idol, enslaving the mind and heart of a rich, promising young ruler, and Jesus put his finger on the man’s problem.
Most of us are not consumed by money and what it can buy. But, by the same token, most of us do have access to more money than our basic needs require, and verses 17-19 are for us.
Find ways to do good, to bless others, including future generations, with your money! If you sow generously, you will reap generously. The Bible says that God loves a cheerful giver.
2 Corinthians 9:8 (cf Mt 6:19-21) contains an amazing promise: “God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”
Be rich in good deeds! Be generous and willing to share! Be love! Change someone’s world for the better! Be an answer to a stranger’s desperate prayer for help! See old things slip away, and new things come into being! Imitate the amazing grace of God, who is such a generous giver!
John Stott has a good summary of the teaching on money in 1 Timothy 6:
Against materialism (an obsession with material possessions) he sets simplicity of lifestyle. Against asceticism (the repudiation of the material order) he sets gratitude for God’s creation. Against covetousness (the lust for more possessions) he sets contentment with what we have. Against selfishness (the accumulation of goods for ourselves) he sets generosity in imitation of God. Simplicity, gratitude, contentment and generosity constitute a healthy quadrilateral of Christian living.
Verse 19 is a powerful promise: not an endorsement of salvation by works, or the insidious “prosperity gospel” that seeps into good Christian churches and unwitting Christian minds, but an echo of the teaching of the New Testament from start to finish that “the eventual goal of our pilgrimage will be in accordance with the life we have lived.”
So let us be known by our selfless generosity, our willingness to share with those in need.
* * *
On 26 September 1999, I was ordained to the ministry of the Word, by Rev Dr John Reid, in the presence of the good people of Blakehurst Baptist Church, accompanied by a powerful sermon by Rev Dr Gordon Moyes, whose preaching back in 1992 led me to train for the ministry.
One of the gifts I was given on that day was a big black Bible, with a note inside the front cover, recording the words said by Church Secretary Jim Castle as he presented the Bible to me:
Rod, receive this Bible as a gift from your people at Blakehurst Baptist Church, and as a sign of the authority given you to teach and preach the Word of God. Read and meditate on it often; keep the sacred trust committed to you as a minister of our Lord Jesus Christ; and seek diligently to defend and proclaim the Trinitarian faith of the one holy catholic and apostolic church.
What Paul said in 1 Timothy 6:20 was essentially the same charge in fewer words.
Then Paul introduces a new topic: “Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in doing so have departed from the faith” (vv. 20b-21a).
Whatever it was (possibly the beginnings of Gnosticism or Marcionism), Paul does not elaborate here, but simply steers Timothy and everyone else away from such intriguing, confusing nonsense.
When we pay attention to bad ideas, and false knowledge, we grow sick in our spirit, and risk being overcome with zeal that draws us away from God and God’s people, and we let go of “the faith,” and little by little, we grow cold and powerless, failing to do the good we would have done if we had remained close to God, and faithful to God’s truth, and vitally connected to God’s people.
The answer to such temptations is to remember the grace of God, and remind ourselves of its richness, and uniqueness, and power.
And so Paul ends his letter by saying, “Grace be with you all” (cf 1 Tim 1:2, where he mentions “grace, mercy and peace”): the generosity of a good and just and holy God, the God of mercy and peace, whose love abounds wherever grace is in short supply.
It’s a blessing to Timothy, but also beyond Timothy to the whole Ephesian church, and beyond them to all the Christian congregations spread across the Mediterranean world, and beyond them through time, across the centuries, encompassing Christians and churches yet to come into being, including you, and Lithgow Baptist Church.
Paul’s blessing to Timothy is ours too: “grace be with you all.” Amen.
Sermon 645 copyright © 2015 Rod Benson. Preached at Lithgow Baptist Church, Australia, on Sunday 22 November 2015. Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011).
 John Stott, The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus (Leicester: IVP, 1996), pp. 162-163.
 Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Pastoral Letters (London: SPCK, 2003), p. 79.