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)
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 counterfeit life. That is a powerful and disturbing teaching. Are we willing to take it seriously? If so, we may be surprised by the message of hope that lies within it.
To unlock the surprise, let’s look briefly at the theological thread that links Genesis 1-3 with John 8 (and scores of other verses). The creation story is all about lordship. The first couple was provided for in every way. God created a world perfectly suited for them and asked simply that they trust His good will and love for them. He wanted only their undivided love in return. He created them to be “one-kingdom” people who worshiped only one Lord.
The temptation in Genesis 3 is a subtle yet powerful attack on that lordship. The enemy first plants a seed of doubt into Eve’s mind regarding the absolute goodness of God. Why would a God who loved you plant a forbidden tree in the garden? What is He hiding from you?
The enemy then presents an alternative understanding of creation. Perhaps there are many things God has kept from you. Your eyes have not yet been opened. Don’t you want to know what God is withholding from you? As Eve contemplates the possibilities, he takes her to the final step of rebellion.
You will be like God.
There it is, the progenitor of all the evil and sin that was about to invade the sphere of creation. From this one alien desire – what Karl Barth called the “impossible possibility” – humanity’s rebellion was unleashed to ravage the world up to our day. It was the desire to be our own God and practice our own form of lordship over our own kingdom that ushered evil into the sphere of God’s perfect creation.
Since that moment, all of us who have been born of the flesh have been natural “second-kingdom” builders. We love to play the owner, define things as “ours” and exercise control over as much of life as we can. We build our kingdoms out of the stuff we refuse to surrender to God; our reputations, our time, our future, our relationships, our possessions and so on. If we are honest with ourselves, we must confess that we are all second-kingdom builders.
There is a definite reward for us as we build and protect our little kingdoms. Playing the lord and seeking to control these unsurrendered parts of our life will reward us with absolute bondage. Here is what it looks like in my life. I can trace every feeling of stress, anxiety, fear, dread, doubt and discouragement directly back to something I am trying to control as part of my second kingdom. Put another way, I have never experienced any of these feelings as a result of something that has been fully surrendered to Jesus Christ as a citizen of the kingdom of God. What we seek to control ultimately ends up controlling us.
That is the enemy’s dirty little secret. Everything the world tells us will bring us happiness ends up putting us in bondage. The life we are so frantically pursuing is counterfeit. It is not the life for which we were redeemed in Christ and it will ultimately rob us of the freedom and joy for which we were created.
So what is the answer to this dilemma? How or where do we find that life that seems so impossible to experience in this fallen and falling culture?
For that we can look to John, Chapter 8. Jesus is proclaiming His Sonship to the Jewish leaders, a message that all but sealed his crucifixion. In doing so he has the audacity to say to them that he represents a new kind of freedom never known before. It is liberation not from Roman rule but from self-rule. It results not in political or socio-economic sovereignty but in a total surrender as a citizen of the kingdom Christ came to inaugurate.
His message is clear, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The truth is the coming of this kingdom in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The truth is the freedom to set aside all of our second-kingdom building ways and follow this one Lord. The truth is that in this new kingdom we trust God to be our sole provider, experience more joy in giving than receiving and understand that true riches are found in the good deeds we do in loving our neighbor as our self.
Is this freedom possible? Jesus goes on to promise, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Do we believe it? My friend Bill High does. As a successful lawyer in the midst of a soul-killing quest for worldly success, Bill writes of the day he set it all aside.
And so with very little fanfare, I let go of my desire to own something. I set aside my life-long drive to be an owner. The succeeding months were a great adventure. I began to concentrate on what was sure in my life: the certainty of heaven and the place that Jesus had provided for me. I found myself going to work with this crazy smile on my face. People came up to me and asked me, “What’s wrong with you?” When I let go of my desire to become an owner, I experienced this marvelous freedom. I wasn’t worried. I was freed up to do what God had called me to do. I saw my place in the firm differently. I saw that God had put me there to minister. I was a steward of relationships. I saw that God had put a whole group of people around me who needed me to be their Jesus. I was their shepherd, and they were my flock. Gradually, slowly the Lord unlocked the grip of ownership from me and allowed me to move to a place where I just became His minister, His steward, and His manager right where I was. *
Do you want to know that same freedom that Bill experienced and Jesus promises? If so, then Paul’s words to Timothy make perfect sense.
The life we were given back on Calvary is marked by the surprising truth that freedom from the desire to be our own lord over our own kingdom is the doorway to the life God wants for us; the life of joyful obedience, the life of sacrificial service, the life of abundant generosity … the life that is truly life.
* Rodin, Scott; Delahoyde, Melinda; High, Bill; McCown, Pat, Three Dimensional Discipleship (Spokane: Kingdom Life Publishing, 2013), pp. 82-83.