As one continues to consider the talk of riches and the desire to obtain them, substituting the love of money for the love of neighbor, Paul can be heard to go on to say that if you must engage in competition, “Compete well for the faith and lay hold of that eternal life you were called for and made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:12). It is when these words are heard as part of a call to be a counter-cultural witness, that surely they are better understood.
Paul takes no issue with those that possess wealth, nor does he desire Timothy or other believers to look down upon them as part of the cosmic role reversal that takes place as the church rightly images out the tenets of its Lord. Rather, as should be expected from Paul, he desires that encouragement and edification be the order of the day, with self-sacrifice and preferential treatment coming to the fore as the practice of love.
That expectant tone can be heard when traveling a few lines further in the text and hearing “Command those who are rich in this world’s goods not to be haughty or to set their hope on riches, which are uncertain” (6:17a). Why? “For we have brought nothing into this world and so we cannot take a single thing out either.” Rather, they are to set their hope “on God who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment” (6:17b).
Yes, it is the Creator God that should be looked upon as the ultimate patron, provide all things (not Caesar). For this reason, and to their own benefit, “Tell them to do good, to be rich in good deeds” which are works of public benefaction, “to be generous givers, sharing with others. In this way they will save up a treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the future and so lay hold of what is truly life” (6:18-19). They will lay hold of what is truly life, rather than the fleeting and fickle notion of public honor which is normally the measure of a man, as he goes about providing a firm foundation for himself and his family, that his honor may go on and on. This pales in comparison to that which honors Jesus.
In beginning to round out this study, having explored the counter cultural elements in Paul’s letter to Timothy, and having heard Paul instruct Timothy (and by extension the household congregations in which Timothy has a hand) in an engagement that stands against the prevailing culture, and doing so for the purpose of transformation spurred by the witness of service and sacrifice, it is right to marvel at the subtle genius of the cosmos encompassing, restorative, and often paradoxical plans of the God of creation. One is reminded that while yes there is a commandment to come out and be separate, that separation is only a portion of the preparation for a full engagement with this creation that groans for the revelation of the sons of the covenant God and the ultimate re-creation that is heralded by that revelation.