The word of the day is “rich.” If you are rich, “be rich in good works” (vs. 18). That is Paul’s instruction in today’s reading from 1 Timothy 6:17-21. In this passage, St. Paul closes his epistle with directives for the God-pleasing use of wealth. He says, “Let them [the rich] do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share (vs. 18).
Two Kinds of Riches
There are all sorts of riches. There are riches in this present age (vs. 17). These are the riches that many desire (9), the riches of money (vs. 10), the riches of the haughty (vs. 17), and the riches that many store up for themselves on earth (Luke 12:21).
In contrast, there are riches of the age to come (vs. 19). These are the riches of “godliness with contentment” (vs. 5:6), riches toward God (Luke 12:22), riches that lay a foundation for eternal life” (vs. 12), and riches of good works (vs. 18)
Certain or Uncertain Wealth
The riches of this present age are uncertain (vs. 17). As the Lord Jesus said, they are subject to corruption and theft (Matthew 6:19-20). The Book of Proverbs teaches, “For riches are not forever…” (Proverbs 27:24). Paul writes that the desire for this momentary and perishable wealth incites temptations and lusts that lead to ruin (vs. 5:9). Thus, the Deuterocanonical Book of Sirach observes, “Gold has destroyed many and perverted the minds of kings” (Sirach 8:2.)
However, the riches of the age to come endure forever (Luke 1:33). There is nothing that can corrode or tarnish them. Nothing that can steal or destroy them (Matthew 6:20. The most important of all these riches is the Kingdom, the Reign of Christ. It contains and sums up all the wealth of God’s promises. The Lord compares the Kingdom to a “treasure hidden in a field” and a “pearl of great price” For such a prize, the seeker will sell everything he has to possess it (Matthew 14:44-45).
The Lord also enumerates the riches of the blessings of His Kingdom: to the poor in spirit, the Kingdom of Heaven; to those who mourn, comfort; to the meek, the inheritance of the earth; to those hungry for righteousness, their fill of righteousness; to the merciful, mercy; to the pure in heart, the vision of God; to the peacemakers, the adoption as sons of God; to those persecuted, the Kingdom of Heaven; to those oppressed and reviled for Christ’s sake, a great reward (Matthew 5:3-12).
Storing Up Riches
What do those who possess the riches of this present age and those who enjoy the riches of the ages do with them? One option is to “store them up.” For example, the Lord cut short the life of the farmer who stored up his overflowing harvest (Luke 12:20). The night that he feasted to congratulate himself, his soul was “required” of him . The Greek word means to “demand back,” that is, to “exact” (Strong’s #523, 32). The sense of the “return of what was given” implies that the farmer must give an account of the use of the abundance of God’s mercy. The Lord comments, “So is he who lays up for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21). The root of the Greek word “lay up” refers to the accumulation of valuables. Accordingly, we can say that the farmer “heaped up” his crop (Strong’s #2343, 116). He “stored up” these riches of the present age.
In our reading, the wealthy are also to “store up” their wealth. Paul uses the same word that Matthew uses to narrate the rich parable of the rich farmer (Strong’s #597, 35). But the rich are not to “lay up stores” for themselves in the manner of the present age. Rather, Paul advises that they should use their wealth to build a “foundation” for the life to come. The word “foundation” comes from the thought of laying a base that one can build on. (Strong’s #2310, 114). Paul teaches that the wealthy should use their riches to “do good” (v. 18) in order to build this foundation. Thus, they would become “rich in the good works” of sharing what they have.
Our reading teaches that the good works of the wealthy store up a reward in the life to come. We might read this with the Lord’s parable of the “Sheep and the Goats” in mind. In this story, the Son of Man commends those on His right hand for ministering to the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, and imprisoned. He invites them to enter the blessedness of the Kingdom prepared for them (Matthew 2:34). In the same vein, the Apostle writes in Hebrews, “For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His Name in that you have ministered to the saints and do minister” (Hebrews 6:10).
In summary, Paul’s teaching of the responsibility of the wealthy put what we have learned about the riches of this present time together with the riches of the age to come. The point is that the wealthy should gain the riches of the life to come by the wise stewardship of the riches of this present age.
Paul says that by “storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life” (vs. 19. The original Greek word for “lay hold” has the root of “to take” or “to receive” (Strong’s #1949, 97). In this sense, Paul states that the rich should seize the life given them in the age to come. The Orthodox Study Bible translates, “lay hold on eternal life” (vs. 19). But the oldest Greek texts omit the word “eternal” and state only “that which is truly life.” The sense is not that by their charity, the rich merit eternal life. But Paul teaches that the sharing of love grasps the true life that Christ will bring when He establishes His Kingdom in the age to come.
So concerning the uses of our wealth for good works and all the other spiritual disciples of this Nativity Fast, let us follow the example of St. Paul. He uses the word “lay hold,” that is, “to take eagerly” or “to seize” to describe his efforts. He says, “I press on that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has laid hold of me (Philippians 3:12).