Setting Your Hopes

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : 1 Timothy 6:17-19

As for the rich in this world, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on uncertain riches but on God who richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous, thus laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed.

1 Timothy 6:17-19 rsv

A friend of mine is a retired investment broker. He was reflecting the other day on some of the clients he had worked with during his long career. He remembered one especially whose sole interest in life had seemed to be in amassing a fortune. He was outrageously profane and blusteringly confident that money could meet his every need. My friend told me that he had recently heard from this investor. Now retired, living in a million-dollar condominium in the sun belt, he has been a cancer sufferer for three years and his letters reveal a changed outlook. Toward the end of a long life, he has begun to realize that the really important things in life can’t be bought.

That conversation brought me back to a passage of Scripture I’ve been dwelling with this week. It’s from 1 Timothy, chapter 6, beginning at verse 17. Listen to these words of the apostle Paul:

As for the rich in this world, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on uncertain riches but on God who richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous, thus laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed.

This is the question: how we expect happiness, where we look for security, on what we set our hopes.

UNCERTAIN RICHES

It’s possible, apparently, to do what this rich investor did, to set our hopes on financial resources. It’s not for nothing that various investment instruments are called securities and that a well-known insurance company entitles itself “The Rock.” Stocks, bonds, CDs, and bank accounts can seem for us a bulwark against all ills. “If we have all this working for us,” the thought comes, “what can possibly go wrong?”

Strangely, the apostle calls all these “uncertain riches.” In that he reflects an outlook expressed all through the Bible. Riches are like the unpredictable bird that may at any moment take wing and fly away. Jesus calls them “deceitful” because they promise blessings they cannot deliver. We can lose them, have them stolen or see their value suddenly evaporate. I know a man whose mother has held for years thousands of shares in the stock of a certain company. Within a few months, the share price of that stock has dropped from 34 to 2-1/2. Its worth today is a tiny fraction of what once it was. How can trust be safely placed in anything so undependable?

“But,” someone argues, “I don’t depend on the fluctuations of the market. I put my money in long-term securities or precious metals. They’ll always have their value.” Will they now? What about that fixed income in days of raging inflation? And what about that gold and silver when other investments begin to seem more profitable again? People sometimes buy real estate with the assurance that it will always hold its value, only to encounter the same bewildering uncertainties.

That’s not to say that all investments are of identical risk or that nothing retains any of its value. But it is to say that there’s no such thing as a rock-solid “sure thing” in the financial world. Wealth is notoriously elusive.

Jesus calls it “deceitful” because these riches often promise what they cannot provide. They are more exciting in the quest than in the attainment, leaving those who have amassed them often strangely empty. We know that, all of us, and yet the truth so easily slips from our awareness, doesn’t it? We know our possessions can’t provide joy, secure health, or prolong life. We know that all the money in the world can’t bring us love. But we quickly forget these things. It can seem to us, through long stretches of our lives, as though wealth holds the key to our future well being. And believing that false claim, we come to set our hopes on an illusion.

Paul implies also that riches tend to make us “high-minded.” We can think of them as signs of our superiority, as though they marked us out as being especially important or virtuous. We become accustomed to the services and amenities wealth can purchase and provide. We can begin to assume that we are somehow due these things. We cultivate as friends others in our income bracket and are tempted to be patronizing toward those who have less.

Now let’s not imagine that these things, these temptations, apply only to the billionaires listed in The Fortune 500. By the standards of much of the world, all of us are marvelously wealthy. If we have a change of clothing, durable shoes to wear, food on hand for tomorrow as well as for today, and anything at all to share, we are rich. Many who complain constantly because of their economic woes are wealthier by far than billions of their fellow human beings. We don’t need to be industrial magnates or lottery winners to trust in what we have or let it make us vain.

SECURITY IN THE LORD

Here’s the blessed alternative. We are called to set our hopes on God who richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy. Have you ever thought of God like that? He gives lavishly, we learn, for our enjoyment. I sometimes reflect on how the world might have been differently arranged. We could perhaps subsist, all of us, on some tasteless gray mush that would provide the nutrients needed for our bodies. But the God who made the world filled it with things delicious to our taste. Was that by design? Every day witnesses a sunrise and a sunset. Often they are breathtakingly lovely. Is that a solar accident, a phenomenon to be explained only in terms of motion and gravitation? Again, is the joy of sexual union only an evolutionary drive to keep our race from vanishing, or is there behind it a divine purpose to make our lives full?

Sometimes we have great difficulty associating pleasure and enjoyment with God. Fun seems to us more like something we steal for ourselves in a world that is otherwise all duty and demand. The idea of a Deity, a God, who delights in our well being, who gives unceasingly for our enjoyment, is hard for us to take in.

How did Paul know that about God’s character? We can’t tell it conclusively from the natural order. Along with the delights to our senses, we meet also pain and deprivation in life. Our world knows fires and floods, earthquakes and tornadoes. How can we be sure that God wants the best for us, that His steady aim is always our happiness rather than our misery? For Paul and for Christians in every place, in every age, Jesus Christ is the clue. God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son. That’s how we can be sure that all the other arrangements of what sometimes seems a baffling and brutal existence are ultimately meant for our good, for our joy.

It’s God who gives us these things richly to enjoy. And He wants us to see them not as treasures in themselves but as gifts to be used, as blessings to be enjoyed. The moment we begin to trust in them, to look to them for security and happiness, they become idols: petty, substitute gods. And all the while He’s calling to us to make Him our trust, to find in Him our rock, our refuge, to set our hopes on Him alone.

SIGNS OF TRUST

Well, how would we know if we are doing that? We may be people whom everyone calls rich or we may be simply richer than we think. What would be the signs for us that we are trusting not in these uncertain riches but in the living God? Paul speaks first about “doing good.” How wonderful it is when people of means have that vision! I’ve been privileged to know some like that. They see the wealth with which God has prospered them as a power for providing help, for enriching the lives of others, for doing good. They seem to be holding their possessions always in trust for others. When they think about wealth, it’s not about how they can get more, but how they can spread the greatest amount of blessing with what they have.

Paul calls such people “rich in good works.” That reminds me of our Lord’s phrase, “rich toward God.” I wonder who would be on the list of the world’s most wealthy by that standard? Maybe some of the poorest by ordinary standards are like billionaires in God’s reckoning. They are people like my wife, Helen, whom I often describe as “a veritable fountain of good works,” always busy about something kind and helpful for other people.

Those who set their hopes on the living God have learned also to be liberal and generous. They are good contributors. They are habitual sharers. That’s one of the surest marks of lives touched by grace. The gospel is all about God’s overflowing kindness, how in Jesus Christ He gives Himself utterly to and for us. People who have known grace realize that all they have has come to them as sheer gift. Having been freely accepted, richly favored in Jesus Christ, they have a heart to share, a mind to give. They have received freely. They give freely too. You know people like that, how they bless the world. Ministries like this one, Words of HOPE, depend for their existence, for the fulfillment of their mission on people like that, who are moved by the Lord’s great love to share extravagantly what they have.

The apostle says that such people are laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future. That’s a familiar theme in the Bible too. Jesus puts it this way: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:19-21). Those are two alternate styles of life. You can lay up treasures on earth for yourselves, concentrating on all you can gather and keep. Or you can have the focus of your life on God’s kingdom, on His loving interests in other people. And when you do the latter, you are in some way accumulating a treasure that will endure. No thieves can ever get at it. No acids can eat it away. Nothing can ever lessen its value.

Paul calls this “laying up for one’s self a good foundation for the future.” Earthly wealth is uncertain, but this is solid. Talk about building an estate – this is building an eternity!

Here’s the last word: “so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed.” Everyone is on the search for life. We call it today “quality of life” – something more than bare existence, something richer than survival. Some of us have a sense of what that is. When some scene of marvelous enjoyment is pictured before us, we often say, “Wow, they’re really living,” or “That’s the life.” Earthly riches seem to promise that to us. When my ship comes in, we fondly dream, when my business takes off or when I hit the lottery jackpot, then I’ll really be living. But somehow, it never turns out that way. Mark it down. No one ever finds a fuller life just because they have more money. Even the lottery winners, the big ones, will tell you that. But when you set your hopes on God, the One who gives us all things richly to enjoy, the One who has not withheld from us even His own Son, and when you learn from His grace to be a truly giving person yourself, then you are drinking at the fountain of life. You are laying hold of the life that, as Paul says, is life indeed.

And, friends, you can do that, whatever your income or lack of it, whether you’re struggling to make ends meet or fabulously wealthy, you can know in this world the inbreaking of eternal life, when the Lord Himself becomes your trust and your treasure. May Jesus be all of that for you today!

Prayer: Father, it’s so easy for us to trust in things that aren’t dependable, that aren’t lasting, that let us down. Free us from all those false reliances. Teach us to depend upon Your Word, upon Your grace, upon Jesus Christ Your Son and find in You, the One who gives us all things richly to enjoy, our true security. In Christ’s name. Amen.