I Timothy 6:6-19, the Second Reading for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost in the Year of Luke, continues our readings from the Pastoral Letters. On this Sunday it matches well with the other readings where in Amos "those who are at ease in Zion" are addressed, and in Luke a story is told about "a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day." In this first letter to Timothy the rich are also addressed. It will be the preacher's task to address not only those of wealth, but all who desire to be rich (which is everyone).
(The following questions are not meant to be exhaustive but serve only to raise up the function of the Word in the text, a central concern of Law and Gospel preachers. For more on this method and on Law and Gospel preaching in general, see my brief guide, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from wipfandstock.com or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? This is one of the rare texts where we see the Word functioning in every way it can. The first 4 verses warn us against loving and placing our hope in money. This is the Word functioning as Law. In verses 11-14 we are exhorted to "fight the good fight of faith" and to "keep the commandment without spot or blame." This is the Word functioning as a Call to Obedience in response to the grace we have received. Verses 15b and 16 are a doxology, proclaiming the sovereignty of Christ, a Gospel function. Finally in verses 17-19 the rich are addressed in a Call to Obedience, exhorting them to "take hold of the life that really is life."
2. With whom are you identifying in the text? We can all identify with the call to fight the good fight of faith and keep the commandment. We also would be advised to identify with those who wish to be rich, since this is a common affliction. As to the exhortation to the wealthy, that will apply to only some.
3. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Several couplets are suggested by the vocabulary used here: ruin and destruction/health and life; uncertain riches/eternal hope.
4. Exegetical work: Augustine reminds us that all people, even the poor, suffer from the sin of greed: "Listen, you poor, to the same apostle, 'There is great gain,' he says, 'in godliness with contentment.' You have the world in common with the rich. You don't have a house in common with the rich, but you do have the sky, you do have the light in common with them. Just look for sufficiency, look for what is enough, not for more than that. Anything more is a weighing down, not a lifting up of the spirit; a burden, not a reward." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol. IX, p. 212). He continues: "He did not say: Those who are rich. He said: Those who seek to become rich... The name of riches is, as it were, sweet-sounding to the ear. But, 'many vain and harmful desires' - does that sound sweet? To be 'involved in many troubles' - does that sound sweet? Do not be so misled by one false good that you will thereby cling to many evils." (Ibid., p. 214). Finally, Augustine reminds us of this: "So love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. I mean, I can see that you love yourself, because you love God. Charity is the root of all good works. Just as greed, after all, is the root of all evil, so charity is the root of all good things." (Ibid., 216). A couple of centuries later, Gregory the Great echoed Augustine's words, comparing avarice to a hidden disease: "For, as impetigo invades the body without pain, spreading with no annoyance to him whom it invades, disfigures the comeliness of the members, so avarice, too, exulcerates, while it pleases, the mind of one who is captive to it." (Interpretation series, First and Second Timothy and Titus, p.104).
6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Marcus Felde expertly analyzes the Law and Gospel in this text using the sound-alike verbs, "suckered" and "succored." He also points out how our hearts are "pierced with many pangs" in our pursuit of wealth, while Christ himself is pierced for us. To see this fine analysis, go to crossings.org/text-study where you will find it archived under its reference.
Blessings on your proclamation!