Invest in Eternity
Passage: 1 Timothy 6:17-21
Today we are going to finish our journey through 1 Timothy, which we began 10 months and 33 sermons ago. During this journey, we have dealt with a wide variety of topics such as foundational theological issues like the nature of God, the content of the gospel, and the relationship of law and grace. We’ve also dealt with a wide variety of church ministry topics including pastoral qualifications, widow care, church discipline, preaching, evangelism and prayer, and especially the church’s responsibility to defend the truth.
And we’ve also dealt with a number of issues related to personal godliness such as resting in God’s grace, enjoying his creation, practicing spiritual discipline, parenting, marriage, aging, my witness, contentment, and greed. When you consider how much meat is packed into this little book, we ought to give thanks for this treasure. And we ought to pray that we would not soon forget the lessons we have learned and that God would make us better Christians and a better church because of all that we have studied.
It’s very fitting that 1 Timothy concludes with the text we will study today. Like so much of the book it is filled with very important, practical wisdom. There’s not many topics more relevant for our day than the danger of materialism. And the book closes by reiterating it’s biggest theme, which is our need to stay faithful to and to defend God’s truth.
Paul binds this passage together by using financial language throughout; therefore, he closes the book by challenging us to consider what our treasure is—what we really value.
My outline today is built around the concept of investing. Let’s begin by talking about…
How to Invest (vv. 17–18)
Verse 17 opens by noting that the instructions in vv. 17–19 are specifically for those who are “rich in this present age.” Maybe you hear that and think, “Great, I’m not rich, so I’m off the hook today.” But not so fast. We live in such a wealthy society that our sense of poverty and wealth is seriously out of step with most places around the world. All of us are wealthy in comparison to many people around the world.
But even if you think you are poor, there is still a lot in this passage for you because it challenges us on several important fronts that apply to all people not just rich people.
First, v. 17 challenges us to…
Hope in God, not in money (v. 17).
This verse warns us about our tendency to put too much confidence in money and material possessions. As it says, wealth tends to make us “haughty” or proud. It does so in at least two ways.
First, it makes us think that we are better than other people and that we have the right to sort of push them around or belittle them. It might be true that you worked really hard to get where you are, but the NT is also clear everything we have is by the grace of God, so I can’t boast about any of it. And the NT is also clear that the gospel is intended to eradicate all such distinctions in the church. Our glory and boast must always be the cross of Christ, not what we have or what we have achieved.
Second, wealth also tends to make us haughty in the sense that we begin to think that we are totally self-sufficient and don’t have any needs, including for God. For nine years I ran a bus route into a poor neighborhood, and kids would come out of the woodwork to go to church because poor people usually understand they have problems, and they want help. But if you take that same bus into a wealthy neighborhood, you will get nowhere because money deceives people into thinking they don’t need help even from God.
That’s why Jesus said, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:24–25).
Folks, we all need to guard very carefully against this kind of pride because it tends to creep up anytime life is comfortable not just when we have money. When life is going well, we can lose our sense of dependence. We don’t pray hard, and we don’t hunger for the Word.
So often we think that hardship is the enemy of my happiness, but Paul warns that temporal security is actually a far greater threat to my godliness. We need to see God’s gracious hand in our trials, and we need to be very careful that we never allow his blessing to deceive us into thinking we don’t desperately need him.
Instead we need to remember that nothing in this world is certain or eternal. Paul makes this point when he mentions being “rich in this present age.” The fact that he adds “in this present age” tells us that there is more than one way to be rich. It also reminds us that this age is temporary. Nothing in this world lasts forever.
But it’s not just that death is coming. Even within our own lifetimes, possessions can quickly come and go. That’s why Paul tells Timothy to command the rich not “to trust in uncertain riches.”
In 1923, 9 of the world’s most successful businessmen met at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago. The group included the presidents of several huge companies, and a couple of major figures on Wall Street, among others. Their combined resources were worth more than the U. S. Treasury, and they met to celebrate their success and to discuss future exploits. But their meeting is not remembered today because of their future success but because of how all nine men fell. The president of the largest steel company, Charles Schwab, died bankrupt; the president of the largest utility company, Samuel Insull, died penniless; the president of the largest gas company, Howard Hobson, suffered a mental breakdown, ending up in an insane asylum; the president of the New York Stock Exchange, Richard Whitney and Albert Fall went to prison; the bank president, Leon Fraser, committed suicide; the wheat speculator, Arthur Cutten, died penniless; Ivar Krueger, also committed suicide. And Jesse Lauriston Livermore, who was a major figure on Wall Street also committed suicide after his fortune of over $100 million had diminished to $5 million. He left behind this note, “My dear Nina: Can’t help it. Things have been bad with me. I am tired of fighting. Can’t carry on any longer. This is the only way out. I am unworthy of your love. I am a failure. I am truly sorry, but this is the only way out for me. Love Laurie.”
So often we get totally enamored with the things of this world. We convince ourselves that they will satisfy our hearts. We need to remember that nothing in this world is certain or can truly satisfy our hearts.
Instead, we must, as v. 17 states, “trust…in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy.” This is a fascinating statement because we would probably expect Paul to turn our attention away from temporal things to eternal rewards. But instead, Paul says to trust God who gives abundant blessings in this world to enjoy.
Doesn’t this undermine what he just said about the uncertainty of earthly blessings? How can Paul say that we shouldn’t trust in earthly riches but instead find joy in the things God gives in this world? What’s the difference?
The difference is that when someone is walking by faith and they enjoy an earthly comfort, they look at it very differently from someone who trusts in riches because their hope is not in that thing but in God. They are enjoying something much more significant than a great meal, a beautiful home, or a powerful car. They are enjoying God because they see his gracious hand in the blessing.
Folks, this perspective changes everything because no longer am I grasping for happiness; instead, I am resting in God. I see every blessing as a gift of grace, not as something I must have. I know that everything he does is good and that I will enjoy his goodness for all eternity.
What is your hope? What possession or worldly ambition are you clinging to with the foolish hope that it will bring you joy or give you significance. Be reminded that everything in this world is temporary and uncertain, and then trust in God. Look at life from the perspective of his grace, and be satisfied in his kindness. Verse 18 follows by challenging us to…
Invest in service, not in things (v. 18).
When we think of being rich, we typically think of having money and material possessions, but v. 18 reminds us that there is more than one way to be rich and that we can invest our lives in something far bigger than material gain. We can be rich in good deeds.
Paul makes this point through four challenges, all of which are intended to describe generous service. The first two are left pretty broad, and they include any service to God or to our fellow man. The third and fourth challenge narrow in on our service to people.
I want to emphasize that Paul paints a picture of generosity. To be “ready to give” means to be generous toward those who are without. And the fourth phrase describes someone who doesn’t see material blessing as something to be held close for my security and my pleasure. Instead, this person views his wealth as a way to help others and be a blessing to them. If we were to think of wealth as a boat, this person does not see his boat as an extravagant yacht to be used for self but as a lifeboat that can protect and care for others.
My how we need this challenge in our day. We are overwhelmed with advertisements all of the time that tell us about all of the stuff that we need to be happy. You need this car. You need this vacation. You need to eat at this restaurant. You need to watch this movie because in every case having this thing will bring some level of happiness that you are lacking.
And we have to remind ourselves all of the time, as v. 17 said, that these things are temporary and uncertain. And as v. 18 says, there is far more value in investing in eternity and in people who will live for eternity.
I was really challenged about this a couple of weeks ago during my father-in-law’s visitation and funeral. We stood in a receiving line for several hours as people came by to speak with us about Matt. You know what is interesting. No one said anything to me about how much money Matt had in the bank. No one wanted to talk about his car.” No one talked about how much time he invested in himself through hobbies and relaxation.
This is because when you are confronted with eternity at a funeral none of those things matter. No, what people remembered was Matt’s investment in people. I heard story after story of how Matt knew people’s burdens, he asked about them, and he prayed for them year after year. I heard about how he helped people who had financial needs and personal needs. And I heard story after story of how he loved on people and pointed them to Christ. Matt was rich in good deeds and in generosity, and all of that loving service left behind a much richer legacy than money could ever buy.
All of those stories challenged me to think about my life and my priorities, and I want to urge you to do the same. What are you investing your life in? Is the focus of your life on getting ahead financially, on achieving some level of temporary comfort, or on earning the praise of people? Do you realize that you could achieve all of those things, and no one will be impressed at your funeral because those things mean nothing in light of eternity?
And God is even less impressed. When you stand before God someday, he won’t be excited to talk about your hobbies or the selfish lusts you chased. But he will be excited to talk about how you served his children and about how you invested in eternity.
Maybe you need to take a serious look at your finances today. Maybe you aren’t giving anything or very little to God’s work in the church. Or maybe you never have anything to give to others. But it’s not really that you don’t have money; rather you’ve convinced yourself that you need things that will burn with this planet. You need to go home today and take a look at what your budget says about your priorities. You need to make real changes.
Probably all of us to some extent need to repent before God today of how we are lusting after temporary things, and we need to say to God, “Lord, help me to invest my life in your eternal purpose. Help me to glorify you in everything I do and say. And help me to love people and serve people more than I love and serve myself.
And so vv. 17–18 tell us how to invest our lives. They tell us to put our hope in God, not in things and to invest in service, not in things. Verse 19 follows by telling us why this is so important.
Why to Invest (v. 19)
When you first read this verse, it may sound as if Paul is saying that our good works can earn us eternal life. You may recall from last Sunday that Paul made almost the exact same statement in v. 12 as he makes in v. 19. I said last Sunday that the Scriptures are very clear that we can never buy eternal life with money or good works. Salvation is only by grace. So if that’s the case, then what is Paul saying in this verse?
I believe Paul’s point in this verse is built on two clear biblical principles. First…
Our actions reveal our hearts. Jesus taught this principle in Matthew 6:19–21, 24. Verse 24 draws a clear line in the sand. Mammon is another term for material possessions; therefore, Jesus says you cannot live for material things and God. You have to choose one or the other. As a result, vv. 19–20 command us to “lay up…treasures in heaven because as v. 21 states, your heart and your treasure go hand in hand.
And in our text when Paul talks about “storing up a good foundation” for eternity, he is talking about proving through our actions that we have a heart for God and for his eternal purpose. In other words, when we live out v. 18 and we are rich in good deeds and generous with others, we demonstrate that when it comes to that line between living for God or materialism, we have chosen God. We prove that God has my heart and that he has radically changed me.
I think it’s important that we park for a moment on that line Jesus drew because we really like to try to keep a foot on both sides of that line. We don’t want to abandon God, but we don’t want to abandon materialism either. And so we try to justify holding onto this world as much as possible. And we need to remember that this is a miserable way to live because it is terribly unnatural and ultimately impossible. Don’t try to live in both worlds. Just pursue God, and be satisfied in him.
And this is especially important because not only do our actions reveal our hearts, but…
Our hearts reveal our eternal destiny.
This is the idea in v. 19b just as it was in v. 12. There is a very real sense in which how I live my life demonstrates where I will spend eternity. If I live for this world and I use my resources just to serve myself, in the words of Matthew 6, I am not a servant of God, and I will not take hold of eternal life. But if I am rich in good deeds and generous toward others, it demonstrates that I am a servant of God, and it is part of taking hold of eternal life.
Now again, it doesn’t earn me eternal life; rather it reveals what is already in my heart. It reveals that God’s Spirit has made me a new creature. But we can’t use this Godward perspective to dismiss the significance of my responsibility. Paul is clear that a Christian must not be a materialist. In fact, he can’t be; otherwise, he isn’t a Christian. In a similar vein, 1 John 2:15 says, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
Maybe as you consider your heart today, you would have to admit God is not on the throne of your life. You love the world, and your life is pursuing the treasures this world offers. It might be that you are a Christian and God is simply graciously calling you back in line. But it may also be true that you have never truly been converted. I hope you will see today that you have to make a choice. You cannot serve God and materialism, and materialism is not worth the cost of your soul. In light of eternity, Jesus said in Matthew 16:26, “What profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his soul?” There is nothing in this world more valuable than your soul. And so repent before God today. Trust in what Jesus did on the cross, and give your life to him. Don’t leave today the same person you were when you came.
And if you are a Christian, you still need to feel the urgency of this passage, and we all probably need to repent of some lust that dominates our lives. And say to God, “Lord, by your grace I want to serve you and you alone.”
And I hope that we will also be encouraged by the fact that he is worth it. Verse 17 was clear that the joy materialism promises is nothing but an empty lie. But there is real joy when my hope is in God. And v. 19 gently reminds us that God’s promises are eternal and absolutely certain. And so let’s be reminded today of where true value lies. And lets be challenged not to invest in this world but to invest in eternity by living for God’s purpose and by generously serving one another.
Finally, let’s see from vv. 20–21…
How to Protect Your Investment (vv. 20–21)
There is a sense in which these verses move in a very different direction from vv. 17–19. They move from talking about materialism to talking about standing against false doctrine. However, the two sections are also bound together by the command to “guard…” This command uses terminology that was commonly used for protecting someone’s commodities or investment.
And so the focus of these two verses is on core truths of the Christian faith, which Paul pictures as a precious treasure that we must protect at all cost both in our own hearts and for the sake of others. And so let’s be challenged one more time from 1 Timothy to…
Remain faithful to the truth.
Again, Paul commands us to “guard what was committed to your trust.” Folks, we can’t be reminded too often that the gospel and the core truths that support the gospel are a precious, precious commodity. The gospel gives life to the spiritually dead, and it is the difference between eternity in heaven and eternity in hell.
But so often our sinful hearts do not value the gospel like they should. People think that the gospel demands too much, or they are offended by its exclusivity or the significance of our sin. Maybe they fear the rejection of others.
Maybe they get caught up in some of the worthless debates that v. 20 mentions and that we’ve talked about a lot throughout this study. And pride takes hold of their heart.
If anything ought to be clear from our study of 1 Timothy, it is that Satan and our sinful hearts are very cunning in pulling us away from the truth. And we absolutely cannot give in to their cunning ways. This book is God’s truth. It is the most important truth in the world, and we must stand by it and defend it no matter the cost.
And so watch your heart very carefully. Don’t give Satan any foothold. And as a church, let’s be committed to the fact that we will guard this sacred deposit no matter what because no amount of influence, no amount of prestige is worth the cost of the gospel.
And so praise the Lord today for the hope of the gospel. Praise the Lord that God has given us his Word that reveals to us who he is and how we can have a relationships with him. And praise the Lord that through the gospel we can have a hope that far exceeds any treasure this world can offer. And let’s commit ourselves today to guard this truth carefully and to let it dominate our every priority. Let’s live for God’s purpose and for the good of God’s people.