How to Be Rich and Still Be Happy

A sermon on 1 Timothy 6:13-19 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 6/22/03

How many of you here this morning are rich? Any rich people out there?

No, we are not beginning a fundraising drive. Instead, I would like you to consider: What does “rich” mean?

Actually, very few people consider themselves to be rich. Many would define “rich” as “those who have a good bit more money than myself.”

But let me give you a survey. If you can answer “yes” to all these questions, you are very rich compared to most humans who have ever lived – and you are almost certainly among the richest 20% of people in the world today:

If you can answer “yes” to all those questions, then unquestionably you are rich. Not richer than most in the US, but richer than most of the people in most of the world today, and incredibly richer than the vast majority of people who have ever lived. Someone living at the time of Jesus and Paul, seeing your lifestyle, would call you one of the richest people he had ever seen.

Why is this important? Today we are considering Paul’s instructions to Timothy concerning what he should teach the rich. And many of us today, upon reading this, are tempted to say, “Oh, I’m not rich. This passage doesn’t apply to me. I sure am glad Paul is telling those rich people to be generous!” But you ARE rich. Seeing your house or apartment, your car, your clothes, the food you eat – Paul would unquestionably include you among the very rich.

So let us read today’s passage in context: and remember, when Paul mentions those who are rich, he includes you:

3 If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness,  4 he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions,  5 and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.  6 Now godliness with contentment is a great means of gain!  7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.  8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.  9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into 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 evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 

11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.  12 Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.  13 I charge you 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,  14 to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,  15 which he will display at the proper time- he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords,  16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.  17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.  18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,  19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (ESV)

In last week’s sermon, “The Tragedy of Weak Desires: Money”, we saw that in verses 7-10 Paul combats the myth that money leads to happiness through three arguments. He tells us:

  1. You are eternal and money is not
  2. Money is not necessary for happiness today
  3. The desire for riches destroys us

Paul then tells Timothy in verses 11 and 12 to flee from the desire for money and to follow three commands:

  1. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness and gentleness;
  2. Fight the fight of faith: the fight to believe that true happiness lies in God, the fight to believe that we can defeat temptation by His power;
  3. Take hold of eternal life NOW; live today in light of the 2nd coming.

So we see from last week that riches do not lead to happiness. Indeed, this passage and many others in the Bible argue that the rich are in great danger. Jesus says, “It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mat 19:23) James seems to go even farther when he says,

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. 2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.

So do rich people need to give away all they have and become poor? Should all of us here today – we rich people – leave today and obey Jesus’ commands to the rich young ruler: “Go, sell all we have, give to the poor.” (Mark 10:21) Is it possible to be rich and follow Jesus? Is it possible to be rich and still be happy?

Some of you may have felt amused when you saw today’s sermon title: “How to Be Rich and Still Be Happy.” In our culture, we find many books with something like the opposite title: “20 Easy Steps to Wealth and Happiness” But given the strong biblical warnings about the danger of riches, “How to be rich and still be happy” is the right title, and “Can I, a rich person, have true happiness?” is an important question.

So what is the answer? How can we be rich and happy?

In verses 17 to 19 Paul tells us how. We’ll break his commands down into three headings, and we will see under each heading that Paul alludes back to verses 13-16. Paul tells us to:

  1. Live in light of Who God is
  2. Become like God
  3. Enter into His Joy

As Paul instructs the rich, in passing he explodes a second myth about money, and gives us two reasons why God allows money to exist. We’ll see those along the way.

So let us turn to the first instruction to the rich – to us:

Live in Light of Who God Is

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.  (1 Timothy 6:17)

Here Paul gives two negative commands:

First, he instructs the rich not to be haughty – that is, not to think highly of themselves. Why are we rich people tempted to think highly of ourselves? Two reasons:

First, we are tempted to believe that we deserve whatever we have and to think that people who have less than us are not as smart, not as hardworking, or not as talented as we are.

Second, riches give us an illusion of power. Others, seeking money or favors from the rich, are quite willing to say nice things about them, telling them all they are capable of accomplishing. Furthermore, the rich seem to be able to control the world around them – they can diversity investments to guard against failures in one market, they can pay for excellent medical care. In contrast, those who are truly poor are in danger of death if the price of what they produce and sell falls, and if they get seriously ill, there are few options for medical care. The poor know they are at the mercy of factors outside their control; the rich can pretend that they are not.

Let’s look at these two issues: First: Do we deserve what we have?

Let’s look at this initially from a secular point of view: Are those people who are rich the same people who have worked the hardest, who are the smartest, who have made the wisest investments?

It is true that the person who is a diligent worker, who is wise in making investments, who is saving regularly is likely on average to have more than the person who is the opposite in all those ways. However, there are many, many accidents (from a secular point of view) that lead one person to have more than another: birth place, birth parents, native language, primary school teachers, people you happen to get to know.

Some of hardest working people I know who also have made the wisest investments available to them are East African farmers. And their hard work and wise investments have indeed improved their lot, but because of poor government and their initial poverty, these people are still among the very poor, having to raise a large family while earning only $3 to $4 per day.

So even from secular point of view, we deserve very little of what we have.

What about the biblical point of view? From a biblical point of view, do we deserve what we have? No, not at all.

1 Chronicles 29 records David's prayer when he is commissioning Solomon as his successor. Referring to the vast amount of money he has donated for the building of the temple, David says, "Wealth and honor come from you, Lord; wealth and honor come from you."

Deuteronomy 8:17-18 takes this a step further back:

You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me." 18 But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth. (Emphasis added)

So from a secular point of view, we in this room are rich to a large extent because of “accidents.” But even if what we have is the result of our hard work, that hard work itself is a gift of God. Our ability to do hard work, to make wise investments is a gift from God. So we deserve NOTHING of what we have. It is all a gift from God.

C.J. Mahany (the founder of Sovereign Grace Ministries) is fond of replying to the question, “How are you doing?” by saying, “Better than I deserve.” Just so for all of us. We are all doing much better than we deserve.

So we don’t deserve what we have. Thus our wealth provides no reason for us to think highly of ourselves.

What about power and control? Do we rich people actually have control over our lives?

Look at verse 16:

[JESUS] is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords

What does it mean for Jesus Christ to be the only sovereign? If Jesus is sovereign, is anyone else in control? If He is the King of kings, who are you? What real power do you have?

Can you live one second longer by paying for the best doctors and buying the most expensive medicine if He decides your time has come?

That’s why I said earlier that rich people can pretend that they are not at the mercy of forces beyond their control. We are all at the mercy of God’s power. In the end, He is in control, not us – regardless of our wealth.

So do not think highly of yourself simply because you are rich. You don’t deserve it. And ultimately you have no power or control. There is only ONE sovereign ruler: Jesus Christ. We must acknowledge that, and live in the light of that truth. God is:

We are nothing in comparison. So living in the light of Who God is means we acknowledge His greatness, His generosity, and our feebleness – no matter how much money we may have.

Paul’s second negative command is that the rich are “not to set their hope on the uncertainty of riches.

Recall that last week I referred to two myths about money that Paul responds to in this chapter. The first – that money leads to happiness – we dealt with last week. The second is that money leads to security – or, as Paul puts it here, that money is an appropriate object of our hope.

So does money lead to security? Paul ridicules this idea.

Unfortunately, his ridicule is not so obvious in the NIV, which translates this injunction by saying that the rich are “not to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain.” But the Greek clearly says: “not to set their hope on the uncertainty of riches.” While this is awkward English (it is also awkward Greek), it is exactly what we rich people do! We are tempted to set our hope on what is really fleeting. And it is absolutely foolish to do so.

Even in this life, it is foolish to do so. As Proverbs 23:5 says:

Cast but a glance at riches and they are gone. For they will certainly sprout wings and fly off like an eagle.

But in view of eternity, setting our hope in riches is even more foolish. For as we noted last week, all riches disappear, all riches take wing and fly off the moment we die.

Money does NOT provide security.

So instead of trusting in uncertainty, Paul tells us rich people to put our hope in God Himself:

“Set their hopes . . . on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy”

We are to live in light of Who He is: not only the One who is the source of all our possessions and the Ruler of all we see, but also the One Who works all things together for the good of His people.

God Himself is our security, our rock, our fortress. As we read earlier in the service,

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. 6 He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. (Psalm 62:5)

God is the perfect object of our hope:

Knowing that God is good, knowing that He is perfect, knowing that He is sovereign, we can trust Him. For He “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see” (verse 16). He thus is perfect, pure brightness, with no tinge of sin or darkness. As we sang,

In Christ alone my hope is found

He is my light my strength my song

This Cornerstone, this solid Ground

Firm through the fiercest drought and storm

What heights of love, what depths of peace

When fears are stilled when strivings cease!

My Comforter my All in All

Here in the love of Christ I stand

And before we move on, note one of the reasons God gives us money and financial resources: “God richly provides us with everything TO ENJOY.” We are to enjoy His gifts. We are NOT to value them more highly than we value the giver! But we are to see all God’s gifts as presents from one who loves us. And thus they are valuable to us, and we need feel no guilt when we enjoy them. . . . As long as we are obeying the rest of the passage!

So How can we be both happy and rich? Paul’s first answer: Live in the light of Who He is! Know that you deserve nothing, you can do nothing apart from Him, that He is your hope. And fix your hope on Him!

Become Like God

The second answer to the question “How can we be both happy and rich?” is to become like God. Paul says in verse 18 that the rich are to:

to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,

There are four instructions here, but they come in two pairs: the first two are parallel, as are the last two. So there are just two ideas here:

a) “They are to do good – that is, those who are rich in money should be rich in good deeds, so to speak.”

b) “They should be generous: by which I mean they should consider all that they have as a grant from God intended to be shared with many for His glory.”

Both ideas refer to our doing good; I think the difference is that the first refers mainly to TIME, and the second to MONEY.

The very poor – like my friends in Africa – have very little to spare. Budgets are so tight that a $10 doctor’s bill can leave a family without food. But the riches with which God has blessed us, the rich, provide us with exceptional opportunities to be like God:

So Paul here gives us a second reason that God provides us with money. The first, which we saw above, is for our enjoyment. The second is to give away for God’s glory.

In the early 1990s I received a US government grant of over $200,000 to conduct a research project in East Africa. I had to be able to account for each dollar spent. It was not my money, to be spent in whatever way I saw fit; the grant was given to me for a purpose, and had to be spent to fulfill that purpose.

Just so with us. ALL that we have is from God, granted to us FOR A PURPOSE: To glorify Him.

And when we act this way, we become like God. As we sang,

Lord, you were rich beyond all splendor

Yet, for love’s sake, became so poor.

Leaving your throne in glad surrender

Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.

God is a giver. And He chooses us and saves us and gives us hearts of flesh so that we might be His agents, His ambassadors of love, to this world. As the Apostle John says,

God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  17 By this, love is perfected with us,  . . . because as He is, so also are we in this world. (1 John 4:16-17) 

God’s love is perfected with us! As God is, so are WE in this world. We have a tremendous privilege of giving. So let us, the rich, be imitators of God. Let us give lovingly of ourselves and of our resources, to our joy and His glory.

How are you doing with the grant God has given you?

Enter Into His Joy

The final answer to the question, “How can I be rich and still be happy?” is to enter into God’s joy. As Paul writes,

thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:19)

As you set your hope on God, as you give away, you are storing up treasure for yourself! You actually are losing nothing, but instead gaining more!

Does that mean you’re being selfish? That giving is not altruistic?

In these verses, God is appealing to our desires. As we discussed last time, God sees our desires as not too strong but too weak. We seek after pseudo-pleasures that do not really satisfy now and never last, and we ignore the source of the greatest joy imaginable – God Himself.

Friends, what God promises us if we give time and money for His glory is far greater than $100 or $1000. He promises that we will “take hold of the life that is truly life”

He is the life giver to all (v13); He alone has immortality (v16) and thus is the only one who can give life eternal. And the life he promises us we have – starting right now.

John Piper’s seminary mentor Dan Fuller once said: “As I make decisions, I frequently ask myself: Am I going to regret this 800 years from now?”

That’s the attitude we should have: Living in light of eternity.

Indeed, this is the central thrust of this passage. The only treasure worth having, worth seeking, worth striving for is eternal treasure. And eternal treasure comes from God alone.


So all you rich people: How will you respond to these biblical truths?

Paul does not tell all of us to sell everything, to give away all that we have. But he might tell some of us to do that.

Jesus says,

Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. (Luke 12:15) 

Like the rich young ruler, some of us may have our self-image so wrapped up with our possessions that we need to get rid of them all in order to follow Jesus truly. If we are to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness (v11), we may have to dispose of those distractions.

And if he asks you to do that: Realize that, for you, that is no sacrifice: in order for you to be happy, you have to get rid of your riches.

But for most of us rich people, Paul says we can still be happy, provided we:

Look once again at verses 13-16: this constitutes one of Paul’s most solemn statements in all his letters. Our attitude toward money is not a minor matter. The way we deal with money reflects who we are inside.

How will you respond?

Jesus offers you the greatest joy: follow Him, delight in Him, become what you were intended to be. Seek that joy! Use your riches for His glory, and not your ephemeral pleasures. Find true life – and delight in Him for all eternity.

This sermon was preached at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC on 6/12/03. The song “In Christ Alone” is by Stuart Townend, copyright 2001 Kingsway/Thank You Music. The song “Lord You Were Rich” was entitled  “Thou Who Wast Rich” in its original version by F. M. Houghton. See for the story of this hymn. The version quoted here is revised by Jubilate Hymns in Hymns for Today’s Church, Hodder and Stoughton, 1986.  

Copyright © 2003, Thomas C. Pinckney. This data file is the sole property of Thomas C. Pinckney. Please feel free to copy it in written form, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice.

This data file may not be copied in part, edited, revised, posted on the internet, copied for resale or incorporated in any products offered for sale, without the written permission of Thomas C. Pinckney,, c/o Community Bible Church, 45 Harrison Ave, Williamstown, MA 01267.

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