In the 21st century, we are sailing into a brandnew world, startlingly unlike anything we have ever encountered. We need to learn new navigational skills. If we are to chart our course, we also need to re-engineer our lives so that we can survive rapidly changing conditions.
The development of the Plimsoll line in the 1870s greatly enhanced the safety of cargo and crew by indicating the maximum depth to which a ship could be legally loaded. Sailors also recognized the need to stabilize their ships, to counteract the tendency to pitch and roll, especially in heavy seas. The technology to do that came into existence with the gyroscope, an instrument familiar in its most simple form in a child’s toy, the top.
In 1852, a French scientist named Leon Foucault discovered the principle and invented the first gyroscope. It remained a scientific toy until 1911, when an American scientist named Elmer Sperry patented the gyrocompass, an instrument that has proved to be of great importance in a variety of great navigational applications, not the least of which are automatic pilots and guidance systems in ships, aircraft, missiles, and spacecraft. His company also developed massive gyrostabilizers that were used in ships to counteract the rolling motion of the ship in the ocean. In more recent technology, smaller gyroscopes have been used in connection with stabilizer fins to reduce roll and therefore increase safety and comfort.
If we are going to navigate the changing, tumultuous ocean of modern life successfully, we need a stabilizer, and I want to suggest to you that generosity is intended by God to serve as a personal gyroscope in the pitch and roll of modern materialism. In the verses that follow those we have been looking at in 1 Timothy 6, which warn against the danger of the love of money, Paul addressed those with money and gave them some direct instructions that provide relevant navigational safeguards for us as well.
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 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 Tim. 6:17-19).
Several years ago, the infamous shock-jock radio host, Howard Stern, announced that he was considering running for governor of New York State. However, as the deadline drew near for formalizing his candidacy, he withdrew, announcing that the financial disclosure statements he would have to file were “too personal.” This from a man who made his reputation by probing and disclosing the most intimate, and often sordid, details of his and his guests’ sex lives!
It may be that the last taboo of the 21st century is personal finances. We become protective, even as Christians, about our money, even as we practice conspicuous consumption. It is bad taste to ask anyone too directly about his or her finances. If a pastor speaks about money matters, he will arouse more negative feeling than by addressing almost any other subject.
I am not suggesting that this reticence is always wrong. I don’t feel any need to satisfy the curiosity of nosy people about my financial status. And churches can be absorbed with money and distort biblical truth for lessthan- holy purposes. At the same time, I am troubled by the often major disconnect between faith and money. Money matters. My checkbook, my credit-card statements, and my savings account reveal my deepest beliefs, values, and priorities. That is why God’s Word addresses the issue so often and why Paul returned to the subject at the end of his first letter to Timothy.
In 1 Timothy 6:3-16, his concerns have been captured by the words covetousness (“flee it”), contentment (“cultivate it”), and character (“major on it”). Now in verses 17-19, he speaks directly to the issue of generosity.