Be Rich in Good Works

 

Meditation on 1 Timothy 6:6-19

Sept. 29, 2019

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

 

      6 Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

      11 But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will bring about at the right time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. 16 It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

       17 As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, 19 thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

***

 

Jim and I went to the Coshocton County Fair on Friday night. Have you been to the fair, yet?

The most difficult thing, so far, about the fair was deciding which food I was going to eat; so many yummy choices. Do you like fair food? What are your favorites? Jim knew before we got there that he was going to eat an Italian sausage sandwich. I ended up with a small bowl of beef and noodles, but wished that I had just bought dessert. For I was too full to finish the last few bites of peach cobbler a la mode from Grandma Minnie’s Munchies!

What I remember from the evening was how much we laughed with Jennifer and Joe Austin, who invited us to meet them there, how it was so warm that we didn’t need sweaters or sweatshirts, how loud and smoky the truck and tractor pull was, how sweet the peach cobbler and ice cream tasted, and the happy surprise of a young man working at Grandma Minnie’s who gave me a sample of the peach cobbler, only to have me return, a few minutes later, to buy it. “You came back!” he said—and let me take his picture as he served me.

It was a night of simple joys and the ministry of presence—for that is what it means to serve in rural ministry, especially. To be an active member of the community, a builder of community, one who seeks to grow relationships and to model, with God’s help, a grace-filled, Spirit-led, joyful life.

 

***

 

This is Paul’s message to Timothy in this First Century letter that is one of the “pastoral epistles,” as scholars call 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. These letters are meant for all Christians seeking to be faithful, but especially for church leaders. “Take hold of the life that really is life,” he says.

Through Paul’s writing, we have a window into his relationship with the sensitive, young man named Timothy, perhaps discouraged and needing reassurance that God has given him gifts for ministry and will use him to build the Church. Timothy is the son of a Jewish mother who is also a follower of Christ, and a Greek, unbelieving father. Becoming a Christian after hearing Paul preach, Timothy joins Paul’s group at Lystra, in present day Turkey, at the beginning of Paul’s second missionary journey. After that, he is a constant companion and trusted friend, collaborating with him in several of his letters—1 and 2 Thessalonians, 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. When Paul begins his last journey to Jerusalem in Acts 20:4, Timothy is with him. He is at his side in his Roman imprisonment.

I hear Paul telling the younger man in 1 Timothy 5:1 that to have a fruitful ministry, he needs to examine his own heart and motives—and work on changing his own attitude and behaviors—for we cannot change others, can we? Only ourselves. “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness,” Paul says, and then he refers to the inner struggle that all Christians have, something he says more than once in this letter. “Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called.” He urges him to be confident in the person God has called him to be as he ministers, without Paul beside him, to the church in Ephesus.

At the beginning of today’s reading, I hear echoes of themes in Paul’s other letters. He urges Timothy that there is “great gain in godliness, combined with contentment.” The apostle describes contentment in his letter to the Philippians as something that doesn’t happen naturally and easily, but something that can be learned, with God’s help. Paul says in Philippians 4:11b-13, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Paul’s argument against materialism leads us to remember our frail humanity, and, unlike the bumper sticker that says, “The one who dies with the most toys wins,” we won’t need the things of this age when we live in the everlasting with the Lord. “For we brought nothing into the world,” the apostle says, “so that we can take nothing out of it.” Those who desire to be wealthy, and pursue it, will, instead, experience ruin and destruction. “For the love of money,” he says, “is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”

Paul stops short of saying that Christians can’t and shouldn’t have worldly wealth; rather, it is an issue of focus and attitude; it can be a problem of the heart. Are the wealthy members of the Ephesus church using their wealth to lord over others or are they living in submission to the Lord of lords? “Command them not to be haughty or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches,” Paul says, “but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”

Paul offers Christians an “alternative lifestyle” to the world of his time and the world of ours. Be rich, he urges, in good works. This is what I imagine Jesus means when he talks about our building “treasure in heaven” in Matthew 6:19-21. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,” he says, “where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store 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 your heart will be also.”

Jesus is talking about works of love and faith—the good works that the Lord will be faithful, if we seek Him, to lead us to do.

 

***

 

At home on Friday evening, as the truck and tractor pull roared late into the night, I posted a few pictures on Facebook from the fair. To my delight, Marialice Mauch confirmed what I knew, in my heart, to be true. “You’ve been to the fair!” she said. “You are true Coshoctonians now!”

tractor pull

Last Wednesday, my friends, was the anniversary of my ordination. On Sept. 25, 2011, I said yes to the call to ministry, anticipating that God was going to use me, somehow, some way. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. My husband was a pastor—and I saw what it was like, from behind the scenes. And when I was a journalist in York, PA, I had reported on churches going through hard things. I had watched denominations wrestle with conflicts and split, pastors quit, and churches close. I just had this crazy faith—that my gifts were needed to build the Church. I wanted to do my part. This calling has led my family and me to make our home in places we had never lived, and, in the case of Coshocton, a town that we didn’t know existed.

It’s a good feeling to be confident of my calling, of who I am, in the Lord, but always grateful when I receive letters of encouragement, like when Paul wrote Timothy and Titus. It’s a good feeling to know that God wants me to pursue the things of God here and be content—to bloom, as the old saying goes, where I am planted. I know that I am called to nurture and strengthen you as you fight the good fight of the faith. To tell you that God has plans for us. And invite you to join with me in pursuing righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness!

Take hold of the life that really is life. With God’s grace and faithfulness, we will do the good works God has ordained. We may not be as big as we used to be, years ago, or as financially well off. Yet, we are growing, more and more, “rich” in the Lord.

 

Let us pray. Holy One, we are grateful for your Word of encouragement today—that we are called to live differently than those who don’t know Christ—to pursue godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness and not pursue the wealth of this world. We need your help to resist the temptation to yearn for the things of yesterday, how we used to be, and to make idols of money and things, but instead to turn our focus to worshiping and serving you, the God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Thank you that you will be faithful to provide for all our needs and that you don’t want us to worry about anything. Give us joy for this journey and wisdom and strength to do your will. Use all the gifts you have given us and continue to lavish upon us to build your Church. Enable us to be rich in good works. Grant us courage to take hold of the life that really is life, to fight the good fight of the faith. In Christ we pray. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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