Rich, Riches, Richly

May 3, 2013

Paul uses the root word “rich” three times in 1 Timothy 6:17 — rich, riches, and richly. Examining these three occurrences will help us think through Paul’s teaching about material things (1 Timothy 6:6-10, 6:17-19).

God richly provides us with everything to enjoy. God is the creator of wealth. He has provided an abundant, fruitful world rather than one of mere subsistence. These blessings are for our enjoyment. This rich provision makes riches a possibility, but Paul provides us with some legitimate cautions. The desire for riches and the love of money can lead to temptations and spiritual ruin. People may through hard work, good stewardship, ingenuity, and inheritance find themselves with abundance. But the proper response should be thanksgiving to God.

The uncertainty of riches is a reality. The financial news may report the stock market is down, and billions of dollars of value is wiped out. Hurricane Sandy hits the east coast and property loss is estimated at $75 billion. Proverbs warns of this: “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” (Proverbs 23:5, NIV). Therefore, our hope should be on God and not on riches.

Paul is warning us of the danger of worshipping the creation rather than the creator. That is why greed can be classified as idolatry (Colossians 3:5). Jesus had also warned, “You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24, ESV).

Paul gives a charge for the rich in this present age. The phrase invites a contrast with the age to come. If rich now, what will be the status then? Jesus, after all, told a story of the rich man and Lazarus in which there was a great reversal. The rich man of this present age ignored the beggar Lazarus. He became the beggar whose pleas were by necessity ignored, while Lazarus enjoyed the riches of being at Abraham’s side (Luke 16:19-31).

So how does Paul want the rich of this present age to prepare for the age to come? We must worship and put our hope in God. We must learn contentment when our basic needs are met (1 Timothy 6:6-8). In other words, more things will not necessarily make us happier. We must be humble (not haughty) towards others. We must not think that material possessions make us better than others. All are created in the image of God; all are precious in his sight. We must learn to be rich in good works and be generous. The only treasure we take out of this world is the treasure we lay up in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). We must take hold of that which is truly life, which is the life lived as a follower of Jesus Christ. We must all deal with material things. Paul’s instructions help us to live properly in this age and to have hope for the age to come.

Pleasure’s Sting

March 21, 2009

This is the way of Pleasure:
She stings them that despoil her;
And, like the winged toiler
Who’s lost her honeyed treasure,
She flies, but leaves her smart
Deep-rankling in the heart.

Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, Book III , Song VII.

The Law of Diminishing Return

March 5, 2009

C.S. Lewis states the principle this way, “An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure….”* The law of diminishing return is observable in sinful behavior. 

We’ve all felt the euphoria of physical exercise or work. It is a wonderful feeling – a God given pleasure. When we chase, however, an artificial euphoria through drugs and alcohol, painful consequences occur. Intoxication or a drug induced high can cause people to engage in risky behavior that harms the user or some innocent bystander.

When these behaviors become addictive, relationships are harmed. Work is harmed. Even the basics of taking care of ourselves are harmed. The euphoria may actually become harder to get, and the pursuit of the false euphoria does physical damage. Ever taken a look at the before and after pictures of a meth user?

The same thing can be said for sexual desire. Sexual desire, after all, is God’s idea. He made us male and female. Within marriage it is part of a wonderful bond that allows two people to grow in a lasting relationship. But pervert this desire into lust, and it works against relationship and a lasting bond. The complaint that it objectifies women (or men, for that matter) is a legitimate complaint.

Allow lust to lead to pornography, and it can degenerate even further. I rely on those who have written about this world. It is too dangerous a world to allow idle curiosity to visit, because it can enslave the visitor. Like most men in our culture, I have been on the edges of this world enough to realize it has an allure. The sirens’ song must be ignored, because the possibility of shipwreck is real. I’ve talked with enough men and women who have struggled with it in their relationship to know pornography has harmful effects.

The softer porn is closer to the natural sexual desire. But like a drug that can only satisfy with ever increasing doses, it can lead people to even more twisted views of sexuality: sexuality with violence, bestiality, and worst of all – child pornography. Even when people don’t make the descent into ever increasing levels of perversity; it still robs people of God’s intention for sexuality. In some cases, it may rob its victim of the possibility of real sexuality. Pornography promises what it cannot deliver – the human longing for intimacy. It is relationship destroying, not relationship building.

Isn’t it interesting that the law of diminishing return is observable? It seems to suggest that we live in a moral universe after all.

*C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, p. 42.

Is God a Killjoy? Part 2

March 4, 2009

C.S. Lewis was right (see the previous post); God has created our senses and the wondrous world in which we live. God has created pleasure, and he is no slacker in doing so. Our world is filled with wonderful experiences.

Sin simply takes a God given pleasure and distorts it “at times, or in ways, or in degrees He has forbidden.” Proverbs even notes this allure of temptation.

“Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol. Proverbs 9:17-18, ESV

The problem is sinful pleasure has harmful consequences. Sin separates us from God that’s one consequence, but sin often brings other consequences into life, and these consequences can be painful. Unrestrained license can cause your life to read like a soap opera or even an obituary.

The temptation to sinful pleasure is a bit of a con. It promises the pleasure, but hides the painful consequence. Lewis even notes a law of diminishing return, when he has Screwtape say, “An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure….”* We see this con at work in many addictive and harmful behaviors.

Yes, pleasure has proper place in our lives. Ecclesiastes notes this.

I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil-this is God’s gift to man. Ecclesiastes 3:12-13, ESV

Paul gives a similar assessment:

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. 1 Timothy 4:4-5, ESV\

Pleasure is a good thing unless we make it the chief thing. Even morally good things could harm us spiritually if we make that pleasure the most important thing in life. We are not to be lovers of pleasure (Isaiah 47:8, 2 Timothy 3:4). Pleasure is to be enjoyed, but our love should be directed toward our Creator. To mistake this would be akin to my saying to my wife, “I love your apple pie more than I do you.” It would not endear me to my wife, nor would it be a particularly good strategy for getting more apple pies. It would be harmful to the more important relationship. How much worse is this to say to our Creator who made everything which we enjoy!

It is as if this world is God’s house. He has said, “You may enjoy all that I’ve created, but there are certain restrictions that are for your own good” (Deuteronomy 6:24-25). If we can live in a relationship with him and respect his boundaries, he has something even more wondrous to share with us.

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11 ESV

God is not a killjoy. Pleasures are a part of Christian living, but they are a part of the things added to you when we first seek the kingdom (Matthew 6:33). If we listen to God, we are on a path to even greater joy – pleasures for evermore.

 *C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, p. 42.

Is God a Killjoy? Part 1

March 3, 2009

C.S. Lewis makes some profound observations on pleasure through his character, Screwtape, in The Screwtape Letters. This piece of fiction imagines a correspondence from a senior tempter, Screwtape, to his nephew and junior devil, Wormwood. Don’t misunderstand. Lewis isn’t saying that the spiritual realm is exactly like this. The book’s value is in observations about human nature and temptation.

Screwtape was upset with Wormwood in a previous letter for allowing his “patient” to enjoy some simple pleasures like a walk by an old mill. The problem with those kinds of pleasures is they may actually turn our thoughts toward God. Later, Screwtape gives more instruction to Wormwood on pleasure. Lewis has Screwtape write:

I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula. It is more certain; and it’s better style. *

Is Lewis correct? Next we will look at what the Bible says about pleasure.

 *C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, pp. 41-42