John Wesley was used by God to lead a revival movement in seventeenth century Britain and America. Near the end of his life, he worried about the Methodists. He reflected on the cycle that all revivals went through—holiness is revived, people live frugally, then they become wealthy, and subsequently they become arrogant and lose their zeal. The Methodists were becoming wealthier and Wesley prayed over how they could be taught not to lose their original fervour.
Many churches have their fair share of “those who are rich in this present world” (v.17). Through hard work or favourable personal circumstances, they have more than they need. Herein lies a spiritual danger, because the more we have, the less we tend to feel the need for God. The danger of becoming arrogant (v.17) is always there when we think that what we have is due to our own smartness or effort (Deuteronomy 8:11–14,17–18).
Paul instructs Timothy to command two things of the rich. Firstly, they must put their hope in God and not in their wealth (v.17). Someone once referred to the phrase “In God we trust” printed on American dollar bills, and wondered which god it really refers to. Money can easily become the god that people trust, but it is unreliable and “uncertain” (v.17). Instead, rich Christians must put their hope in the right place. They are rich because God is rich, and it is He “who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (v.17). We must never forget the hand that feeds us (Psalm 104:28, 145:16; Matthew 6:26).
Secondly, rich Christians must be “generous and willing to share” (v.18). Many rich people are poor givers. Wesley came up with a solution to this predicament. He taught the Methodists to “earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can”. Hard work and frugality must be matched with generosity. The early church demonstrated this, and “there were no needy persons among them” (Acts 4:34).
There are always people poorer than us. How about sharing what we have with them? Our wealth is not measured by what we keep for ourselves, but by what we give away to those in need. In this way Christians will “lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age” (v.19, cf. Matthew 6:19–21).
Why does the church still have needy people? How can there be a better and more caring redistribution of wealth in the church and society?
Paul urges Timothy to “take hold of the life that is truly life” (v.19). What do you think he had in mind? Reflect on the words of Jesus in John 10:10.