Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds,and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
Paul’s First Letter to Timothy, chapter 6, verses 17-19
Paul encourages Timothy to teach “these things” (verses 17-18) to the wealthy among the church at Ephesus of which Timothy is the pastor. His purpose is that they may lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may “take hold of the life that is truly life.”
What an odd expression! What is this “life that is truly life”? How do I “take hold” of it? And what is the “treasure” of the coming age?
The coming age has no materialism as we know it. It has no envy or pride. I believe that from the Bible, and from my own experiences in India, that people in this life (especially wealthy people, which includes almost all Americans) are being taught here to value two things: 1) The Word of God, and 2) other people. As I was trained early in my Christian life when I went around with those Bible-toting, memory-verse-quoting Navigators, “There are only two things that we see in this life that are eternal: God’s Word and people. Invest in those things.”
“I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” Luke 16:9
In this strange comment from Jesus, he seems to be advocating buying one’s friends with money. My parents warned me about kids like that. Why would Jesus recommend such an unsavory thing?
I think the answer lies in the last bits. First, the phrase “when it is gone” implies two possibilities: one, that the disciple of Jesus is expected to spend his wealth not cautiously, but to the point of bankrupting himself.
The other possible interpretation (and the one I prefer) of “when it is gone” is that Jesus is referring to a future kingdom, a place where worldly wealth has no value at all. I believe he is pointing to something that he could see clearly, that we see only dimly, and only through his eyes: a future economy whose values are so different from those of our world that, if we truly believed in the surety of that world, we would radically transform our priorities in this one. This world is just a staging-area for the next one. Jesus is commanding his people to order their lives according to the eternal values. It’s as though he were singing:
People get ready, there’s a train a comin’
You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin’
Don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord
The very last part of Jesus’ statement (“you will be welcomed”) reveals something unique: Where we expect a treasure chest full of riches, a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow as a reward for our sacrifice, God gives us something even more valuable: He gives us people. People, standing at the gates, welcoming us in. A warm reception. Hugs all around. Jesus is saying “use money to win people,” so that when you arrive in heaven, those who came before you will greet you with thankfulness and joy. The money is evanescent; people are forever. Somehow, instead, we in the West are trained to “use people to get money,” and we find emptiness and sorrow on that road.
The welcome is not incidental to God’s purpose. According to the New Testament, the grand purpose of God is not merely to redeem and reward a bunch of individual sinners. The plan is much bigger than that:
His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
I believe Jesus, like Paul in his letter to Timothy, is showing us the “life that is truly life.”
At the end of the film “Into The Wild” (based on the Jon Krakauer book), the lonely adventurer, struggling to survive, scrawls an entry in his diary:
HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED.
This is a profound insight. Happiness is real – it takes on actual shape and meaning and value – when it is shared with others. The “life that is truly life” is a life filled with other people, enjoying one another, grateful for one another, stretching that happiness and friendship on into eternity.
Oh, to live such a life, and to reject the Western bourgeois values that cherish things and money. Oh, to use things and money to bless people, who are eternal. To live among people now, in this life, as vulnerable and real fellow-people. To bless others. To have that “stream of living water” (John 7:38), with a fully-open floodgate, an avenue of God’s blessing into the lives of others. To prepare for that warm welcome. That is what I want the rest of my life to look like.