Having corrected a wrong attitude to luxury, the Lord now turns specifically to His disciples to ensure that they have a right attitude to necessities. Of course it is scriptural for believers to provide for necessities. Not to do so is to be "worse than an infidel" (1 Tim 5.8). Here, however, the warning is against obsessive, anxious care. Having food and clothing we should therewith be content. Food sustains our life, but what we do with our life is vastly more important than the food which sustains it, for "the life is more than meat" (Lk 12.23). So it is with the body. How we serve the Lord with our body is much more important than the clothes we put on it. It is sad indeed if believers are more concerned about food and clothing than the work of God.
We are given an object lesson in creation to teach us these things. The ravens do not have a care about their food they do not store it up for the simple reason that they do not fear a shortage. Are not believers better than ravens? Have they not God as their Father, whereas ravens only have Him as their creator and sustainer? Then they should act more intelligently than the birds of the air. If He cares for His creation, will He not care for His children? The lilies of the field are regally clad, being dressed with garments more fine than even Solomons. Yet can we imagine casting Solomons royal robes on the fire? But this is what happens to the lilies when grass is collected for fuel, for the lilies are collected with it, and both are burned. If God is so rich that He can clothe fire-fuel with splendour, can He not clothe His people whom He has delivered from the everlasting burnings?
The unbeliever is marked by a restless search for food and raiment, but the believer should be marked by a search for the kingdom of God, actively seeking ways of promoting Gods interests. Those who do this will be relieved of anxious care, for they will be too busy to be over-occupied with the ordinary and the mundane.
Two kinds of rich men
The apostle Paul reinforces these lessons as he writes to Timothy. He has in mind two types of person. Those who will be (are determined to be) rich, and those who are rich already (1 Tim 6.9,17). The first group will find that their riches will drown them, their zeal for God squeezed out of them by the things with which they have surrounded themselves. The second group is warned against high-mindedness, as if their riches have elevated them morally and spiritually. Riches in themselves are no indication of godliness; it is what is done with them that matters before God. Those riches should not be relied on, for there is only one thing certain about riches, and that is that they are uncertain. As the Scripture says: "For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven" (Prov 23.5). God is the Living God, energetic in His care for His own - feeding the ravens, clothing the lilies, doing the same, and much more besides, for His redeemed people. We should trust Him therefore, and not rely on material things.
Zeal for good works
We should remember that those who are on an average wage in the western world, are in the top 10% of the worlds wage earners. Remember, too, that riches are anything in excess of what is required to provide necessities. It is clear, therefore, that there is plenty of scope for the wise distribution of resources. How then shall we do this? The apostle tells us. Relieved from anxious care about necessities, we should actively consider how to put the excess to good use. Use, that is, not for ourselves, but for others.
We rightly emphasise to the unsaved that good works will not save them, and it is vital that we do this. Let us not forget, however, that Christ has purified to Himself a people that are to be marked by their zeal for good works (Tit 2.14). These good works are part of Gods eternal purpose for us (Eph 2.10), so we should be concerned about performing them to His glory. We profess to follow the steps of the Lord Jesus, but we should remember that He went about doing good. While it is true that we are not able to work miracles today, we do have the opportunity to express the love of God by our good deeds.
It is one of the paradoxes of the Christian life that we are only as rich as we have become poor. Only those who are "rich in good works" (1 Tim 6.18), concerned about the needs of others, can be described as rich. The reverse is true also. It is said that the first epistle to Timothy was written at Laodicea. Whether this is correct or not cannot be determined with certainty, but one thing is clear: the Laodiceans were rich and increased with goods in a material sense, yet in fact they were poor in Gods sight (Rev 3.17).
Rich in good works
Returning to 1 Timothy 6.18 we learn that we should be ready to distribute, where the word "ready" has the idea of being liberal. A scant and miserly response to Gods rich giving to us is hardly appropriate. We should be like those of Macedonia, who, although poor, gave out of their deep poverty, so that Paul could commend them for the riches of their liberality (2 Cor 8.2). They had clearly appreciated the way in which the Lord Jesus, although rich, had become poor for them. The Corinthians, on the other hand, although full of promises and good intentions, had failed to contribute as they should and could have done. Would it not be a good exercise to ask ourselves whether we are Macedonian or Corinthian in our giving? There are third-world evangelists in desperate need of bicycles to take them to preach in outlying villages do we really need that expensive holiday? There are destitute children on the streets of many a city who could be enjoying the care of a Christian orphanage is our extravagant lifestyle justified?
Righteous deeds that remain for ever
Not only should we be ready or liberal in our distribution, but willing also. This involves being alert to the needs of others, and prompt in our response to those needs. Is there anything we meant to support but never did? Is it not too late to make amends in some way? The end result of obeying these injunctions is that we shall lay up in store for ourselves. We have already noted this paradox those who become poor become rich, those who empty their barns fill them. And moreover, the emptying only lasts for time, the filling lasts for eternity. In 2 Corinthians 9.9 the apostle quotes from Psalm 112.9 in connection with the giving of a righteous man: "He hath dispersed abroad; he hath given to the poor: his righteousness remaineth for ever". Righteous actions performed now will remain in the memory of God, and be to the praise of God, for all eternity.
Let us remember the exhortation given to the apostle Paul: "Remember the poor". Let us remember, and imitate, his response: "The same which I also was forward to do" (Gal 2.10).