walking along the sidewalk, going over some 3x5 cards getting ready for a test. [do you know what 3x5 cards
are?] I knew automatically to hang a right out in front of the book store, make a quick left, and head
north toward buswell hall for my class. So engrossed was I in those cards, that I walked right past the
two red cones placed on the sidewalk in front of me, and I suddenly found myself standing in wet
concrete! I have always felt that the warning signs were not adequate, but in fairness I must
acknowledge that the stakes were not all that high. After all, the only casualty was a pair of cheap
shoes. [now the people finishing the sidewalk repair may say other wise!] But the point is this, the
warning, the safety railing, ought to match the level of consequence! That’s why we have expensive
rail road crossing guard rails with lights, bells, florescent markings etc.
A number of years ago now, we spent a couple of weeks in Ecuador, a land that in our family is referred
to as ‘the land of edges.’ There is a precipice everywhere you look. There will be 4 story apartment
buildings with families hanging out laundry on the flat roofs way above the street. Children playing dogs
barking, all the features of family life……………… and no parapet wall, no guard rails! Walking on the
sidewalk in Ecuador you will come across a flimsy piece of caution tape or maybe an over turned
bucket……… beyond which is a chasm 30 ft deep where the sewer is being repaired. The point once
again is that warnings must reflect the level of consequences of the danger!
II. Consider the text: I Tim 6:2-10
I have been asked to present a kind of a pause to reflect on the question of the ‘deceitfulness of riches.’
So, let me read for us I Timothy 6:2-10. So, here’s a question: What is the warning? And a follow up,
‘what is at stake?
In regards to the deceitfulness of riches the warning is clear……… a ‘desire to be rich’, not riches
themselves [we are ever and always ready to immediately point out] are warned against here. And the
stakes are more than ominous: ruin and destruction, the cultivation of senseless and harmful desires,
this desire will take root and cause all manner of evil to blossom. It is a craving that will cause one to
wander from the true faith, and will pierce the soul, and mature into the fruit of great pain.
Okay, so are the stakes here a pair of muddy shoes, or are they more along the lne of a sudden drop to
certain death? [ask for response] Yes, of course, the stakes are high, in fact it would seem that they
are eternal. And the evidence abounds not only in our own experience but in scripture. Let me give you
just one example from I King 10: 14-25. [read portions of this] So, what’s the point? The point is that
it did not matter how many chariots, or apes, or gold goblets Solomon had…….. he always wanted
more!..... And when you follow the story, when his son became King, the kingdom was divided and
within about 5 years or so, the Egyptians invaded and took……. It……. All! He brought nothing away with
him when he died……… but you know, that is not where the true deceitfulness of riches lies! In fact, I
do not know anyone who actually thinks that somehow they can take it all with them. And further, I do
not know anyone who takes great comfort in knowing that a football stadium may be named after them.
The true deceitfulness lies in another direction and I think in a far more dangerous direction………. The
desire for riches causes us to discount the desire for any other world than the one in which we find
ourselves. [hence the senseless and harmful desires, a relentless craving after more, a wandering of
the soul to a place of, in the end, nothing but barrenness.
But, could it be that the avarice of the rich is not the only warning here! After all, are the poor
immune from the desire of riches? [response?] Of course not, if anything the desire is often more
consuming among those who have little. [Tell the story of Kim and the cake…..solution? cupcakes]
Or how about the main character in the musical Fiddler on the Roof, Tevia. The character here is
constantly in prayer seeking God’s ear regarding riches.
The point is that this warning is every bit as appropriate for the poor as it is for the rich……. And of
course the same is true for the workaday average person or family as well.
III. Partiality in the body of Christ: James 2:
I want to suggest that the consequences are maybe even greater than the list we see in the passage,
and to examine that a little bit, let’s go to James 2:1-7. The context here is the functional beauty of the
body of Christ! The stakes are not merely personal, they reach into the very heart of the church. We
might well ask, ‘why the connection between wealth and partiality?’ After all, we can also be partial on
the basis of eloquence, beauty, academic accomplishment, success of our children, athletic prowess,
knowledge, social skills, disability or limitations, personal pedigree…… why single out discrimination
based on wealth?
The reason I think is that discrimination based on wealth is so very convenient! It takes time to
discriminate on the basis of eloquence for example! It gets fuzzy, after all what if people are just quiet
and do not reveal themselves to us in their words? It is wealth that carries such congenial outward
signs. And it is also the case frankly that wealth often comes with other good gifts as well, and because
God loves his children and will not give them stones when they ask for bread……….. it is the wealthy
who are also kind, who are also gracious, and who also sometimes have a weather eye looking to see
where they might exercise generosity, and find opportunities to do good!
What are the consequences of partiality in the church? Well for starters, we choke off giftedness. The
giftedness of prayer, of empathy, of the work a day help that we can be to one another. We also
choke off any culture of thankfulness, for one another, for our salvation, for the emptiness that we
can bring to the table, and so rejoice in so great a salvation. The consequences are huge! Partiality
takes many forms among us, and a simple one is this. I hesitate to bring it up, because we do it without
thinking…… We do it when we design our activities so that it takes a certain financial level to fully
participate. The come back of course is to suggest that we always stand ready to provide scholarships,
or to waive fees, and the inescapable consequence is to reinforce the feeling of poverty and a certain
sense that ‘we will never really, truly belong.!’ This is a hard thing to hear, and it is a very hard thing to
say, and the solutions are not ready to hand. But the stakes are too high for the health of the body of
Christ. And on a positive note, life in the body of Christ may be one of the few places where partiality
may be put to rest and a more excellent way pursued.
IV. Some practical and not so practical action steps: Now that I have offended the poor and the rich
among us, let me see if I can reclaim some scorched earth here. The warning is dire, the stakes are
enormous and the impact on our contentment is tragic. But Paul does not leave us there. He picks up
this thread in vs 17-19 with a word to the rich, an admonition against haughtiness and the certain
uncertainty of riches! It is also an encouragement to enjoy the Lord’s provision of all things, to do good,
to be rich in good works, to be generous and always ready to share, to thereby store up treasures as a
foundation for the future…………..so that they might [my paraphrase] truly begin to live!
At first glance my thought here was that this is some kind of unwritten quid pro quo between the owner
of the cattle on a thousand hills and the people he has graced with wealth. Does that sound like the
God we worship? No, of course not. Rather, it seems to me that this admonition to the rich is an
incredible blessing. To cultivate a generous heart is perhaps a hedge against the hard heart of the
aquisitive miser that we all but for the grace of God would surely become. Paul has spelled out one of
the keys to contentment for the rich. In a phrase he has used earlier, he has laid out a life pattern that
conforms to godliness, and will blossom into a contentment for which in Christ we long for!
Okay for the rich, but what about the poor? Where is the word for them? If the poor are equally
susceptible to the deceitfulness of riches, what can they do?........... It struck me that strange as it may
seem the answer is exactly the same! And it is ironic I think that the solution given by Paul operates
with any sense of partiality. Let me read II Cor 8:1-5. [and if you remember nothing of this little talk,
think about the incredible thing Paul has described here!] This is incredible is it not, that they pleaded
with Paul to be allowed to give out of their poverty, having first submitted to their new found Lord
Jesus! God, might that be so of us!
If you would describe yourself as ‘poor’ here tonight, consider this, that you need to be a giver, not as
some kind of discipline or as some sort of good faith gesture so that God may bless you materially, but
because it is a pure, simple, unadorned, gospel truth that it is truly, really better to give than to receive!
Is that a biblical phrase? Where? [Acts 20:35] Pauls speech to the ephesian elders. Don’t have enough
to give?..... then save up little by little and in so doing, cultivate the unlooked for blessing of a giving
I would add another exhortation for us that might help us, and it is not intuitive. Using
Ephesians 5:19 and following, may we intentionally greet one another with psalms, hymns and
spiritual songs making melody in our hearts to the Lord, giving thanks always and for everything to God
the Father, in the name of our lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for
And finally, just as a kind of bonus, all of us, rich and poor might do well to live below our means. It
will confuse everyone and make life very interesting, and it will be like a secret between you and your
all knowing savior!
Because I can, I want to conclude with a story that I came across that is short and has an unlooked for ending. My hope is that it will capture in a small way, what it means to be rich and what it means to be poor, and with this story we will conclude:
Eddie Ogan is a grandmother from Colville, Washington. She wrote in a denominational newsletter about an experience when she was 14 years old as she and two sisters were living with their widowed mom in 1946: A month before Easter, the pastor of our church announced that a special Easter offering would be taken to help a poor family. He asked everyone to save and give sacrificially. When we got home, we talked about what we could do. We decided to buy 50 pounds of potatoes and live on them for a month. This would allow us to save $20 of our grocery money for the offering. Then we thought that if we kept our electric lights turned out as much as possible and didn't listen to the radio, we'd save money on that month's electric bill. [My sister] Darlene got as many house and yard cleaning jobs as possible, and both of us babysat for everyone we could. That month was one of the best of our lives. Every day we counted the money to see how much we had saved…Every Sunday the pastor had reminded everyone to save for the sacrificial offering. The day before Easter, [my sister] Ocy and I walked to the grocery store and got the manager to give us three crisp $20 bills and one $10 bill for all our change. …We could hardly wait to get to church! On Sunday morning… I heard some teenagers talking about the Smith girls having on their old dresses. I looked at them in their new clothes, and I felt so rich. When the sacrificial offering was taken, we were sitting on the second row from the front. Mom put in the $10 bill, and each of us girls put in a $20. As we walked home after church, we sang all the way. At lunch Mom had a surprise for us. She had bought a dozen eggs, and we had boiled Easter eggs with our fried potatoes! Late that afternoon the minister drove up in his car. Mom went to the door, talked with him for a moment, and then came back with an envelope in her hand. We asked what it was, but she didn't say a word. She opened the envelope and out fell a bunch of money. There were three crisp $20 bills, one $10 bill and seventeen $1 bills. Mom put the money back in the envelope. We didn't talk, just sat and stared at the floor. We had gone from feeling like millionaires to feeling [poor].