Being Rich in Good Deeds 


Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19) 


Though Americans love prosperity and love to live in the wealthiest nation in the world, St Paul certainly has some misgivings about the ethical value of wealth and what it does to those who possess it.  While many think wealth is surely a sign of God’s favor, the Scriptures are clear that not only does God not always choose the wealthiest to do His will, God is known to favor the poor in His love for humankind (for example see Luke 1:51-53). Christians in America might better focus on America being the richest nation in terms of charity and good works rather than just the financially wealthiest nation on earth.   


St Paul advocates not for being rich but for being rich in generosity, mercy, compassion and charity.  His words, and really the message of the Gospels had a profound impact on the Roman Empire. As the Empire became more Christian, the Gospel message about wealth began to penetrate all social levels of the Empire including the Royal family.  The Byzantines in their embrace of the Christian message looked to the empress to model a proper attitude toward wealth.  Clement of Alexandria said: 

‘If one is faithful and surveys the magnificence of God’s love of mankind,’ surely she will ‘use wealth rightly, so it ministers to righteousness; for if you use it wrongly, it is found to be a minister of wrong.’ 


The theologian Origen (ca 185-ca 254), who also taught in  Alexandria, provided encouragement for the philanthropic dimension in religious life by describing Jesus as the Logos Philanthropos and teaching that the loving influence of Christ inspires profound transformation in the human character, so that each in turn themselves become humanitarians and philanthropists. Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria (ca 296-373) wrote that love for mankind is a principle motive of God for the incarnation, for ‘our transgression called forth the loving-kindness of the Word that the Lord should both make haste to help us and appear among men.’ He taught that the loving attitude of God demands that we generously emulate it in our relationships with one another. The commandment of the Lord exhorts the faithful, especially those of substantial means, to humanitarian concern and philanthropy for the poor and needy, and for widows, strangers and orphans. 


The wisdom of the Cappadocian Fathers may have been influential to succeeding generations of the Byzantine imperial family as well, particularly the women closest to the throne. Basil the Great (ca 330-ca 379) taught that by philanthropic generosity, ‘God will welcome thee, angels will laud thee, mankind from the very beginning will call thee blessed. For thy stewardship of these corruptible things thy reward shall be glory everlasting, a crown of righteousness, the heavenly kingdom;’ since, after all, ‘the grace of good works returns to the giver. Thou hast given to the poor, and the gift becomes thine own, and comes back with increase.’  (V.K. McCarty, FROM THEIR LIPS,  pp 160-161)