6 But godliness with contentment is great gain, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, 14 to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.
What does a good rich person look like? Is such a thing even possible? Or is it impossible to become truly rich without compromising oneself? There are people asking those questions today. While some corners of our society have turned the successful entrepreneur into a heroic figure, others are wondering how they came by that wealth. Did they do so by exploiting other human beings? Nearly 1700 years ago, those questions also gripped the late Roman Empire. Wealth had been accumulating into the hands of a smaller and wealthier elite for some time. As families intermarried and economies and policies changed, a group of super-wealthy people began to emerge. These people commanded more resources than whole provinces of the empire. Does this sound familiar? Multi-billionaires are launching rockets and building the infrastructure projects which used to be the domain of governments. The late Roman Empire might look a little like today; although, we must be careful not to make too much of the similarities.
The question about the good rich person was being raised by members of the caste themselves. Ambrose was chief among them. Ambrose’s brother was a Roman senator and Ambrose had been governor of Milan until the people railroaded him into become bishop. It seems Ambrose may have already been questioning the validity of his own wealth and that of his peers. Soon, he was preaching that the rich person could not live for himself or herself, but that money was a tool which Christians used to serve others, or it was a burden dragging us toward hell. Paul today calls us to ask some of those questions about what makes for a worthy path for a wealthy person. By worldly standards, almost every one of the readers of this devotion should understand that they are wealthy. A majority of the world does not have a refrigerator, a car, or a house with central heat and more than one room. You are, by global standards, wealthy even if relatively speaking you don’t think of yourself as one of the rich in your town. In the 4th century, Ambrose’s preaching and the preaching of his contemporaries would eventually recast wealth in the minds and hearts of his hearers. Soon hospitals, orphanages, food distribution centers, and living communities for the poor were being built as Christians around the empire started to see that their money was to be used in Christ’s kingdom and not for themselves. Their witness led many of their unbelieving peers to embrace Christ and join them. How will you use your wealth today in the service of Christ?