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. (1 Timothy 6:18-19 NIV)
What does Paul mean by the term, “life that is truly life”? What other life would we seek to “take hold of”? The implication is that any other form of life that is not founded on generosity and a desire to be rich in good deeds is a counterfeit life.
This is a powerful and important teaching. It is particularly timely for Christians in China as their country moves into an era of increasing prosperity. Are we willing to take it seriously? If so, we may be surprised by the message of hope that lies within it. Let’s look at four comparisons between this “life that is truly life” and the counterfeit life.
True life: God is my provider of all I need.
“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19) Do we believe these words from Paul? Do we trust God to be the provider of all we need? Trusting God does not mean we sit by and do nothing, expecting him to bless our idleness; rather, it requires that we work hard using the skills he gave us. It expects that we will manage our money carefully, save wisely and be accountable for our financial situation.
However, we must be able to see the bigger picture where God is the provider of all good things. Our jobs, our skills, the opportunities before us are all gifts provided through his grace and love for us. This is an opportunity for real freedom in life. When we understand God is our ultimate provider we can live and work with freedom and joy knowing that the one who loves us is also the one who promises to care for our every need. By keeping our focus on God as our provider we will work with excellence and give him the glory for all that he provides. It will also work in us an attitude of generosity toward others. If God meets our needs, we are free to look for opportunities to meet the needs of others. This is the true life that God created us to live.
Counterfeit life: I must rely on myself or others to provide what I need.
There is a saying that goes: "If it's to be it's up to me." This is the attitude of one who believes that they alone are the provider for their own needs. This is an easy attitude to fall into because it is the way of the world around us. Asked who or what they believe in, many in China today would say simply that they believe only in themselves. It is up to them to figure out how to get ahead in China’s competitive, materialistic society.
But it is not God's way. This view of life places us in bondage to a stressful, frantic approach to the way we work. God expects us to be productive, but he does not take pleasure in our stress or anxiety over our work. That is a sign that we are living a counterfeit life and placing too much reliance on the work of our hands, not trusting that God will ultimately provide for our needs. When we constantly worry about providing for ourselves, it is very difficult to have a generous heart that looks for opportunities to meet the needs of others. We must guard against such attitudes in our lives and pray that God would generate in us a heart of trust that will allow us to work with peace and be generous with what we have.
True life: God is the owner and I am the steward.
From the creation story in Genesis through the end of the Bible, God is depicted as the owner of everything. “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the sea and established it on the waters.” (Psalm 24:1-2) This is great news for the Christian. If God is the owner, then our place in God's creation is to be faithful stewards—caretakers of all that belongs to God. A key question, given China’s remarkable economic growth, is whether China’s affluence will be accompanied by an increase in generosity, or whether greater wealth without generosity will negatively affect China’s future social and environmental development.
The truth of God’s ownership sets us free in all of our relationships: our relationship with God, our relationship with ourselves; our relationship with our neighbor; and our relationship to creation. God calls us to faithfully steward each one of these as a gift from his hand. As we do so, our hearts will be open to opportunities for generosity as we use God's resources to do God's work. This is the true life he created us to live.
Counterfeit life: I am the owner.
In Genesis chapter three, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they demonstrated our sinful desire to have power and control over our lives and those around us. As a result of this sin, we moved from being joyful stewards to anxious owners. God may grant us the right of temporary ownership of things in this world, but we must acknowledge that we are never the ultimate owner of anything; we are stewards. When we believe we are the ultimate owner we live a counterfeit life and experience the stress, fear, anxiety, and despair that such a life brings. It is very difficult to be generous as an owner. Instead, we will hold tightly to what we have, work anxiously to have more of it, live in fear that we may lose it, and envy others who have more of it. This is the life of bondage of the owner. We must reject this view of life and embrace our role as a steward so that God can set us free to live the life he created us to live.
True life: Happiness comes from giving.
“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:35)
These words of Jesus, as relayed to us by the apostle Paul, seem to be just the opposite of how we often view life. How different might our life look if we really believed these words? If we believed that the greatest blessings that God has for us in this life come as a result of a generous heart that gives freely and joyfully, would we not dedicate our lives to such a task? Building on our points above, if we trust God to be our provider, and see ourselves as stewards of what belongs to God, why would we not invest our lives in acts of generosity? This is the question we must confront as followers of Jesus. We must pray that he would cultivate in us the heart of a generous giver, for only then can we live the life he created us to live.
Counterfeit life: Happiness comes from accumulating.
Our culture tells us that the more we have the happier we will be. More money, a bigger house, a nicer car, these all promise happiness and peace. Even for Christians, the lure of a more attractive ministry position or a more comfortable church facility can become an idol. As China’s newly emerging urban professional church comes into its own, its leaders will need to learn to face such temptations.
The Bible teaches something very different. It states that true happiness for a Christian is knowing God and doing what pleases him. In fact, it warns that those who strive after becoming rich and use it to accumulate things will find just the opposite; disappointment, sorrow, and danger. “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs,” (1 Timothy 6:9) and also, “…but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.” (Mark 4:19) For the Christian who wants to know true happiness, it comes not from what we receive, but from what we give. Cultivate a generous heart, refuse to believe that possessions bring you happiness, and you will be set free to live the life God created you to live.
True life: Security comes from God.
One of the greatest marks of being a follower of Jesus is our complete trust in him for everything in life. China’s Christians learned this lesson in a profound way as they experienced God’s gracious provision during dark days of persecution. As personal freedoms have increased, along with the ability to accumulate wealth for oneself and one’s family, will a new generation of believers be drawn away from this simple trust in God?
Earlier we said we need to trust God to be our provider. As we do, we will be able to place the security of our life and future fully in his hands. Scripture is overflowing with promises of God's love for us and his invitation to trust him in all things. This is one of the great keys to living a generous life. The more secure we are in the hands of God, the more freely we will give ourselves to others. We have no need to hold on, protect and horde. We are free to give generously and lavishly because our security for our future comes from a God of absolute abundance. He will always provide, always meet our needs, always deliver us in the day of trouble. With such security in our hearts, how can we live but as joyful and generous givers? This is the life God created you live.
Counterfeit life: Security comes from what I have saved.
And Jesus told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ (Luke 12:16 – 19)
This teaching from Jesus perfectly illustrates the counterfeit life of placing your security in anything but God alone. It does not mean we don't invest wisely, save well, and prepare for our future, but this is a matter of the heart. In whom or what do we ultimately place our trust? If it is in anything but God, we will live a counterfeit life, and in such a life it is impossible to be generous. Put your trust in God, let your security be fully in him, and be set free to live the life he created you to live.
My prayer our for brothers and sisters in China is that they would pursue the true life God created us to live. May we together seek to set aside all desire to rely on ourselves instead of God, to play the owner instead of the steward, to seek happiness in wealth instead of in Christ, and to find our security in earthly things rather than in heavenly treasure. I believe that how Christians today choose to respond to this message will have far-reaching implications for the future of China’s church.
Moving from our old, counterfeit lives to the true life God has for us is a journey that will last a lifetime. We do not get there all at once, but day by day, step by step, we walk in faith and trust that the God who loves us, the Son who died for us, and the Holy Spirit who fills us each day will walk with us on that journey and help us live the “life that is truly life”—the generous life of a free and joyful steward.
Image credit: 福到 by Quan Shen via Flickr.
Scott Rodin has a passion for helping Christian ministry leaders take a biblical approach to leadership development, strategic planning, board development and raising kingdom resources. Over the past thirty years he has worked with hundreds of organizations in the U.S., Canada, Middle East, Great Britain, China, India, the Philippines and …View Full Bio