Lectionary Commentaries for September 25, 2022
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 16:19-31

Kendra A. Mohn

The opening verse of this pericope, 16:19, has the same phrase as 16:1, the opening of last week’s text; “There was a rich man …” The repetition of the phrase, in a Gospel full of references to wealth and its use, suggests engagement with this figure is important for faithful proclamation.

This text follows the parables in Chapter 15 of the lost sheep, coin, and son, which are addressed to the Pharisees and scribes in response to their grumbling about Jesus’ choice of company: tax collectors and sinners. Chapter 16 shifts Jesus’ audience to the disciples, his followers and potential coworkers, and he tells them the parable of the dishonest steward. This, too, elicits criticism from the Pharisees, who are identified in verse 14 as “lovers of money,” a label linking them to Jesus’ words in verse 14 about serving two masters. Jesus’ follow-up response to the Pharisees includes the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. 

It is common to equate wealth with virtue, whether today or in the ancient world. Good people who work hard and live righteously can expect to be rewarded with means; likewise, people with means are seen as good (smart, hardworking, righteous) because they were able to acquire wealth. In the ancient world, concepts like wealth, virtue, and masculinity worked together and reinforced one another to solidify elite status. 

The idea that the rich man is a good man is directly challenged by Jesus’ parable. The rich man, who is not named here, overlooks Lazarus who sits with his sores at the rich man’s gate. The fact that the poor man is named, and the rich man is not, is an interesting reversal. But the rich man and his actions are still the focal point of the story. Humanizing Lazarus with a name draws more attention to the inhumane way he is treated by the rich man. 

The text does not say if the rich man’s cruelty toward Lazarus is intentional or not; neither is particularly defensible. It was part of the role of the wealthy in the ancient world to provide alms for the poor in their community. Even if it was largely self-serving, patronage was an expected means for some of the poor to be fed while the wealthy reinforced their status with virtuous action. 

Often there was a bench outside homes where the poor could wait for assistance. A beggar who sat on this bench at the gate could expect some sort of attention, especially from a feasting host and guests. And, as verse 19 says, this particular rich man feasted every day, meaning Lazarus was denied many times as the rich man repeatedly ignored the unwritten codes of honor. Further, verse 21 makes clear that Lazarus is not asking for much. Scraps and leftovers from the sumptuous feasting would have made all the difference. Those waiting benches are still present in the excavated site of Pompeii outside the large homes of the wealthy, a reminder of the established practice and the rich man’s neglect.

The interrupted association of wealth and virtue gets particularly vivid in verse 23, as the parable states directly that the rich man has gone to Hades after his death. This is contrasted with Lazarus, who had gone to be with Abraham. The dynamics of power now come into focus. During Lazarus’ lifetime, the rich man’s power was absolute and unquestioned; he had authority. In exchange, he was supposed to play a role, which he did not fulfill. Now, his power is gone. 

Even in this situation, however, the rich man tries to assert some authority. In verse 24, asking for relief from his suffering, he addresses Abraham as Father (implying a close relationship with obligations). And then he asks that Abraham send Lazarus, whom the rich man repeatedly neglected, to help. 

Abraham’s response reinforces the reversal in the men’s situations as deserved, and establishes that, regardless of desire to help, any such power is ultimately limited by the great chasm fixed between them. Now the rich man and Lazarus are separated by much more than awareness, or the gate at the front door. The rich man makes another plea on behalf of his brothers, to spare them his torment. Abraham’s answer is important. Everything to be done has already been done. Their response is up to them. 

So where is the Good News here? The idea of “it’s all up to us” doesn’t sound like the Gospel. Theologically speaking, reassurance based on Jesus’ death and resurrection and God’s promises in baptism can surely be offered; it is Jesus who speaks here and that matters. 

But the text focuses elsewhere, on the authority and power that are given to each of us, if not in equal measure. The parable serves to refocus the hearer on what we do with what we have, how our vocations serve our neighbors. Virtue is not determined by wealth, type of employment, gender, immigration status, or body type. Virtue is borne out in deeds.

In her work on beggars in the ancient world, Zhenya-Gurina Rodriguez imagines what might happen if a man whose physical injury had turned him into a beggar happened upon a bench outside of a meeting of early Christians.1 How would this beggar be treated? How would he hear the stories of Jesus’ healing? Of his words of blessing to the poor? How, if at all, would his life change as a result of choosing that bench? 

The answers to these questions, both then and now, are likely messy. There are some needs that can be met, and others that cannot. There are things we can and things we cannot control. Regardless, alleviating the suffering of our neighbors is a clear calling for those who wish to follow Jesus. Our responsibilities to one another in this life are real. Fear may not be a good motivator. But compassion, vocation, stewardship, and gratitude can be. Everything to be done has already been done. We have been given all we need.


  1. Zhenya Gurina-Rodriguez. Begging for Their Daily Bread: Beggar-Centric Interpretations of Matthew 6. (Minneapolis, MN: Lexington Books/Fortress Academic, 2022), 63-4.

First Reading

Commentary on Amos 6:1a, 4-7

Karl Jacobson

When we think of the prophet Amos there is a tendency to emphasize the outsider nature of his prophetic calling.1

Amos is a shepherd and a horticulturalist (a “herdsman and dresser of sycamore trees,” Amos 7:14), not a member of the prophetic families or guilds of Israel. There is, then, a disconnect, a jarring power and potential in his message delivered to the elite of the Northern kingdom. Abraham Joshua Heschel summarizes this approach beautifully:

The rich had their summer and winter palaces adorned with costly ivory (3:15), gorgeous couches with damask pillows (3:12), on which they reclined at their sumptuous feasts. They planted vineyards, anointed themselves with previous oils (6:4-5; 5:11)…. At the same time there was no justice in the land (3:10), the poor were afflicted, exploited, even sold into slavery (2:6-8; 5:11), and the judges were corrupt (5:12). In the midst of this atmosphere arose Amos, a shepherd, to exclaim, “Woe to those that are at ease in Zion; and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria.”2

This is certainly a critical aspect of the prophecies of Amos, setting the context of his reported oracles of judgment; this is worth our attention as we preach on this text from Amos 6. And, perhaps, preachers themselves need to take this disconnect, this “outsider-in” tension more seriously than most, as we do tend to be (and often represent) the current insiders, the rich, the judges, the elite. But there is another aspect of the setting of this text, in the literary context of the Amos, that is equally, and perhaps even more telling.

Amos 5 ends with a warning that Israel will be taken “beyond Damascus” into exile (5:27), and this warning is declared by “the Lord, whose name is the God of hosts.” The partial reading for our lectionary of Amos 6 which follows (6:1a, 4-7) ends just before a similar oath is made by God. Amos 6:8 reads,

The Lord God has sworn by himself (says the Lord, the God of hosts):
I abhor the pride of Jacob
and hate his strongholds;
and I will deliver up the city and all that is in it.

This judgment is declared not just upon the unjust, unfair, intolerable religious and social deviances of the Northern Kingdom (centered on the mountain of Samaria, cf. 6:1a), but against Jerusalem itself, the center of the Southern Kingdom, and seat of the Temple. Notice that both before and after the reading from Amos 6, God swears by God’s own name; what is contained within the “bookends” of the divine name (5:27: “the Lord [Yahweh], whose name is the God [Elohim] of hosts” and 6:8: The Lord God (Adonay Yahweh) has sworn by himself [says the Lord (Yahweh), the God (Elohim) of hosts]) is the core of Amos’ critique of all the religious and social elite, not just the “backsliding” Northern Kingdom and its idolatry, but the Southern Kingdom as well, with its injustice.

Amos 6:4-7 has its sights set on the disconnect not between the shepherd/sycamore-dresser and the religious insiders, so much as between any and all who claim the Lord and yet live lives that are inconsistent with such a claim. These so-called believers are accused of singing idle songs, of drinking wine from bowls, and of anointing themselves with the finest oils (6:6-7). In and of themselves these things (singing, anointing, even drinking) are not the problem. In fact, in other places the term used here for improvisation on musical instruments is entirely positive, the reflection of a God-given ability (indeed Deuteronomy 31:1-11 highlights the gifts given, the “skill to all the skillful” that God imparts for the good of worship and the people).

The problem is not skillful song-singing, or celebration, or honoring those who may very well deserve to be honored; rather, it is that these practices are carried on even while the Titanic is sinking (see Amos 6:6b), and the people simply don’t care.

In a sense, Amos 6 is critiquing the social equivalent of the religious inconsistencies that he has criticized earlier (see Amos 5:21-24). The questions he might well be asking are questions such as, “How can we feast when there are those who have nothing to eat?” Or, “How can we anoint ourselves when the least among us have no honor?” Or, “How can we celebrate as the worlds of so many others are falling apart around them?” The answer should be obvious, Amos argues, but the peoples’ actions belie this. As Amos goes on to ask (rhetorically), “Do horses run on rocks? Does one plow the sea with oxen?” (6:12a). Such behavior, God declares through the prophet, is senseless, and this is exactly what the people are doing: “turning justice into poison, and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood” (6:12b).

In our own time we are, it seems to me, rich in targets for our sighting of Amos 6. We might point our homiletical fingers at the rich (the 1 percent), or at political figures or activist groups who betray themselves, or even at denominational institutions that sometimes fall prey to their humanness and fail to live up to our expectations and their own statements. But perhaps, in our own contexts as we seek to live out the calling to which God has called us, we ought first to invite those who hear us preach and teach this week to apply this text first to ourselves. Where do we live too much at ease, where do we miss the opportunity to meet the needs of a ruined or ruining “Joseph,” how might we live into right relationship with our neighbor and our world in the name of the God who has sworn to us by a Son?

  1. Commentary first published on this site on Sept. 29, 2013.
  2. Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Prophets (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2010), 27-28.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

Steed Davidson

From time to time, the book of Jeremiah reminds readers of the national crisis that shapes it. The real and imagined power of the Babylonian Empire significantly impacted critical aspects of Judean life for decades. Chapter 32 calls readers to a moment in the siege of Jerusalem sometime before the Babylonians destroyed important public buildings, decapitated the national leadership, and impoverished the city. Sieges formed an important feature of warfare in the ancient world. An attacking army surrounded a city, which would normally have a wall, to block any entrance or exit into the city. Since most of the vital resources that supported life in a city such as food and water lay outside the city, nearing starvation, soldiers come out fighting in order to save their honor rather than die an ignoble death. A siege amounted to a form of imprisonment. 

As a form of collective incarceration, the lockdown of the city by an external force deprives people of access to important life-giving connections. The resources outside of the city wall that make city life possible consist in more than just food and water. Quite often, those involved human resources and access to the rhythms of traditional life would sustain city life. This chapter layers the experiences of incarceration. Both the city and Jeremiah face incarceration (32:2). The passage largely focuses on Jeremiah; that makes it easy to miss the collective experience of incarceration. The text, though, connects Jeremiah’s experience to the larger national experience in a rather clunky way.

The setting of a doubled incarceration seems like an editorial contrivance. Different pieces of the chapter do not hold together in a logically coherent way. A critical eye can reveal the editorial shaping that presents a single take away message in 32:15. Exactly how Jeremiah’s cousin Hanamel makes his way through the siege is not clear (32:8). Asking why Jeremiah’s confinement would be necessary during the siege also begs the question of the luxury of devoting resources to confine him at such a critical time. Noting that the historical setting that the passage provides (32:1-3a), the property transaction (32:6-14), and the concluding meaning (32:15) do not form a seamless whole, helps one to understand how the passage functions in the context of the book. Therefore, the passage should not be read as an entry in Jeremiah’s journal, but instead the product of a later editor who shapes material for an audience that lives long after the immediate crisis of the siege. Restoration, renewal, and returning to normal life feature constantly in the minds of those who live on the other side of a crisis even if that time is a time that still bears the marks of the crisis.

Preachers wishing to honor the passage in its current form should feature the central experience of incarceration. Doing so avoids the oversimplification that Jeremiah knew that a better day was ahead and through this act laid the groundwork for all that was to come. As appealing an idea as this might be, preachers should recall the early days of the pandemic where lockdowns and the health indicators blocked any sense that a normal life would be possible in the near term. To be clear, while for most people recent lockdowns came close to incarceration, this moment of collective inconvenience in no way resembles actual incarceration that the passage references or that experienced by the millions that sit in prisons in the United States. Rushing easily for the hopeful exit misses how crises of various sorts close the door on possibilities. To the extent hope exists in the midst of crises, hope looks quite differently than the way it appears in this passage or as presented in the earnest attempts to “give people hope.” Since this passage does not reference a real-time experience but one that comes a later time, preachers should be cautious with trying to peddle hope that more often than not turns into wishful thinking.

This passage presents preachers with the chance to move their hearers’ experience from the recent inconveniences of the pandemic to the pressing problems of mass incarceration in the United States. Unlike most incarcerated persons who lack any financial resources, Jeremiah is able to respond to the dire request of his family members (32:9). In fact, Jeremiah is not a typical incarcerated person; he problem solves for his family on the outside. The presenting problem in this passage, though, allows for preachers to spend time looking at the loss of financial and other benefits that incarcerated people experience that make the thought that a hopeful future lies on the other side a fantasy. The passage never makes clear what precipitates Shallum’s pending loss of property. Yet preachers can pay attention to how incarceration of breadwinners and other income-bearing members of a family puts their livelihoods as well as property at risk. Without Jeremiah’s intervention the property would be easily lost to the family. Fortunately, Jeremiah had access to financial and other capital to save the day. Imagine the incarcerated person, subject to asset forfeiture, that places a family’s wealth at risk.

The passage gives readers the chance to imagine a different future for incarcerated persons. Jeremiah’s experience as an incarcerated person who provides a pathway for the community in the midst of crisis suggests that a way forward lies in transcending regimes of deprivation. Despite his confinement, Jeremiah remains connected to his family. In fact, this passage is the single one in the book that features his blood relatives. Jeremiah sits in the midst of the family drama with easy contact with family members to provide meaningful solutions to their problems. He not only has access to his financial wealth but he can also participate meaningfully in legal processes (32:10-12). The relationship with those working in the court of the guard seem supportive rather than adversarial (32:12). 

In every way, Jeremiah avoids the mechanisms of deprivation that all too often characterizes incarceration today. For some, greater deprivation is the point, since incarceration should not be a pleasant experience. Yet, despite all the evidence to the contrary, the belief still persists that mass and harsh incarceration ensures more secure communities. Jeremiah’s experience in this passage presents a vision of a different form of incarceration that provides access to family, resources, legal services, and other assets to ensure the stability of families and their wealth. Should preachers point to hope, the vision of an imprisoned man with the connections, resources, and support that Jeremiah possesses serves as a good example.

This passage places the burden upon the experience of the imprisoned Jeremiah to provide hope for the nation. A close reading of the conclusion of the passage shows that this is not possible. The connection between the preservation of deeds (32:14) and the restart of property transactions (32:15) is at best forced. The preservation of the deeds provides a record of the family’s property that would last for generations beyond the group present in the court of the guard. One family’s experience hardly makes for a national trend. In fact, generalizations that use exceptional examples tend to build up unattainable expectations. The pathway from imperial domination would not be achieved upon the back of a single man. Similarly, heroic incarcerated people should not be expected to serve as the models to maintain systems that create a false sense of national security. Ultimately, activities like property transactions returned to Jerusalem because of the collapse of the Babylonian Empire. The path to a life free of domination simply lies in the rejection of domination. Preachers, therefore, must reach outside of this passage for the signals that support the divine word to the prophet here of a future that looks like normalcy.


Commentary on Psalm 146

Amy Erickson

The audacious and sometimes artful fantasy series Game of Thrones ended in May 2019 and provoked the outrage of many of its devoted fans.2

Whether it failed to deliver on George R. R. Martin’s vision or betrayed one of its best-loved characters, the show stayed true to a theme encapsulated in Psalm 146:3: “Do not put your trust in princes.” More specifically, do not trust would-be messiahs who promise to use their royal might to bring justice to the oppressed.

Psalm 146 is commonly dated to the Persian period. This matters because the Persian Empire developed a rhetoric that promoted its universal, imperial rule as a force of cosmic order that the many peoples of the Empire should joyfully accept. Recent scholarship on Book 5 of the Psalter (Psalms 107-150) has appreciated that embedded in this material is a critique of this kind of Persian propaganda (see, for example, W. Dennis Tucker Jr.’s Constructing and Deconstructing Power in Psalms 107-150). Amid the praise of YHWH, “there is a secondary claim meant to discredit the power associated with other nations and peoples.”2

Significantly for Christians who, historically, have been seduced by imperial and national expressions of power, Psalm 146—and the fifth book of the Psalter—provides a critical lens through which to view the princes and mortals who make grand promises of “help.”

The psalm begins with four iterations of praise. First, the psalmist calls the people to praise YHWH; that outward call is then directed to the psalmist’s own being (traditionally translated “soul,” verse 1). This is followed by a two-fold promise to praise, in which the psalmist promises to praise and sing praises to YHWH, literally, with their life (beh?ayyay) and all their life long (verse 2). Through the psalmist’s invitation and testimony, the Israelites assembled in the temple are roused to join in a lifelong and life-consuming act of praise.

Verses 3-4 warns against trusting in human rulers, for in them, there is no “salvation” or “deliverance” (tesu‘ah). This human ruler will return to the earth just as all humans will (Genesis 2:19; Psalm 104:29; Ecclesiastes 3:19) and “on that day, all his plans will perish.” But the leader’s ambitious plans to save the Empire are fleeting not only in the sense that they will not last. “His plans” also reflect human finitude in that they arise out of a desire to accumulate power and control, to extend the dominion of the Empire. The psalm is making a shrewd political statement; it is an implicit but scathing critique of powerful leaders who assure their subjects that their “plans” have been designed to save them (but not, of course, to advance their own interests!).

The psalmist is not content only to critique, however; in verse 5 she offers a clear and compelling alternative. Those who whose help and hope is in YHWH are “happy.” The language of “happy are those” will, of course, play a key role in the Beatitudes in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-12; see also Luke 6:2-22). But the language of “happy are those” is also well attested in the Psalter. Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked (Psalm 1:1); who take refuge in YHWH (Psalm 34:8); who do not turn to the proud (Psalm 40:4); who consider the poor (Psalm 41:1); who observe justice (Psalm 106:3); who fear YHWH, who greatly delight in his commandments (Psalm 112:1); who keep his [YHWH’s] decrees who him with their whole heart (Psalm 119:2).

Here, the “happy” are those whose look to YHWH for help rather than to princes. In contrast to human rulers, YHWH is not only powerful (he made heaven and earth and the sea and all the things in them), his plans are not ephemeral (he keeps faith forever, verse 6), and he is actually and truly committed to bringing justice to the oppressed and to feeding the hungry (verse 7).

What follows is a litany of things YHWH always or habitually does (the verbs in verses 7-9 are all participles). YHWH is praised here as an intensely active god, tirelessly working on the ground, “executing justice,” “giving food,” “setting free” (verse 7), “opening (blind) eyes,” “lifting up,” “loving” (verse 8), “watching over,” and “upholding” (verse 9). Further, the objects of YHWH’s affections and attention are “the oppressed,” “the hungry,” “the prisoners” (verse 7), “the blind,” “those who are bowed down,” “the righteous” (verse 8), “the stranger,” and “the orphan and the widow” (verse 9).

Rather abruptly, the litany concludes with a “but” (verse 9). The penultimate poetic line assures the people that YHWH is not only a compassionate healer and savior but also a judge: “He will bring the way of the wicked to ruin.” Who were the wicked? The ruling classes of the Persian Empire? The Israelite elite who collaborated with the Persians?

Though the historical context helps us narrow the field of our speculations, we can’t really know. One thing that makes the Psalms so enduring is their open-ended language, which can be specified and localized to suit any given situation. This is a potentially risky moment for the preacher. For an Israelite living under the thumb of the Persian Empire, the imperial oppressor could be identified as “the wicked.” But who does that language implicate in the context of your congregation?

In my admittedly limited experience, mainline Protestants tend to get very uncomfortable with the language of the wicked (“so judgmental,” they say), while Protestants who have a more conservative social agenda feel a little too comfortable with it (“we know who the wicked are!” they say). But if the psalmist is talking about Empire here, then socio-economically and racially privileged churches of all stripes either have good reason to be nervous—or should be more nervous—because the question “Who are the wicked?” demands self-reflection. Mainline American churches are likely colluding with Empire in ways they might not want to think about. Thus, the courageous preacher might ask: With whom are we more aligned? With YHWH and the poor? Or with “the wicked” forces of Empire?

The psalm concludes with what was surely a subversive claim during the era of Persian rule. Despite the fact that the Persian emperor controlled the vastest empire yet known, the psalmist claims that it is YHWH who reigns and will reign forever (verse 10).

The Persian rulers talk of their “plans” and congratulate themselves for having brought cosmic order to the empire. But, the psalmist insists, YHWH is perpetually creating order on the ground, saving, healing, and redeeming those who suffer. While Empire is busy generating propaganda designed to convince its subjects that they are happy, YHWH is busy attending to the oppressed.

In our political age, when reading the news is a genuinely stressful activity, and when that stress leads us to place our hope in charismatic leaders who promise to save us (even though we know better), Psalm 146 offers a grounded orientation: don’t trust in the plans of politicians and world leaders. Instead, live your life in joyful accordance with what YHWH is doing right now.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on Sept. 29, 2019.
  2. W. Dennis Tucker Jr., Constructing and Deconstructing Power in Psalms 107-150 (SBL Press, 2014), 188.

Second Reading

Commentary on 1 Timothy 6:6-19

Sunggu Yang

One of the ways through which we can understand a passage better and more deeply is by getting into the inner psychology or heart of the passage’s author, especially, for epistle passages written by a mentor figure to a mentee figure like 1 and 2 Timothy. This is certainly not a petty practice of eisegesis or a privatized form of reader response criticism. It is simply a healthy practice of interpretive imagination and fine homiletical reading of the author’s hidden motives and feelings under the textual surface. After all, weren’t Epistle passages produced for matters that involve serious human thoughts, deep emotions, and everyday actions? In the highly cerebral interpretive process, we often tend to ignore potential emotional involvement or feelings of the author or the text itself. Thus, occasionally we need to correct that process for holistic interpretation of the text.  

This week’s passage could be one of those good occasions as (like most parts of 1 and 2 Timothy) it involves Paul’s parental or mentor-like relationship with Timothy. Hence, as a critical all-around interpretive process, this is what we can do with the given passage. We can think of a deeply emotional-relational story—from real life or fictional, which we can use as an analogous-interpretive illumination on the passage and read it from that novel perspective. Then, we can end by briefly discussing some details of the text. Ready? Let’s dive in.

Some years ago, a couple I am acquainted with had their first baby girl. Since the mother was having minor gestational diabetes, they needed to get the baby out of the mother’s womb a little earlier. So, with the doctor’s recommendation, they decided to perform an induction. Everything went well; the mother got the medicine and they were simply waiting for her cervix to open enough so that they could get the baby out into the world. However, the cervix opening was delayed for more than ten or fifteen hours and the mother was in great pain for hours due to the prolonged labor as the baby was stuck somewhere in the middle. Thankfully, the baby was doing fine despite being stuck. 

Long story short, eventually, with the doctor’s guidance, the couple decided to have a C-section. Finally, the baby, healthy and sound, came from the mother into this world with the father also in the surgery room. The nurse, wrapping the baby with pink linen and soothing her, finally, placed the baby into the father’s hands. And just like any other parent would do, the father needed to make his promises to the baby and probably to himself too, “Beloved, I promise I will take good care of you. I will always be there whenever you need me. When you find yourself in trouble, surely, I will be your guardian angel! I will be there for you. And I will teach you well that you can survive and thrive in this troubled world. I want to be your good dad and good teacher. Trust me. You’re my child; you’re my child.” 

When reading this week’s passage, we may be easily able to imagine Paul, the beloved mentor and father figure for Timothy, holding Timothy’s hands in his aged hands or embracing him into his bosom with an open heart (recall how the father embraces his son into his bosom in Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son, even though the general theme is radically different?) and gently whispering his encouragement and promises into Timothy’s ears, his spiritual son:

“Tim, my beloved, I want to take good care of you. I will be your father figure, and whenever you need me, I will always be there for you. And when you find yourself in trouble, remember that I will always rush to your rescue. I promise to teach you well that you can survive and thrive in this hostile world. Trust me, Tim, my beloved child. I will share all the wisdom I’ve got from years of experience so that you can do well in your ministry. Tim, my child, I will always be there for you. I will always be rooting for you!” 

Once we agree that if these might be the underlying emotions and feelings of Paul around the given passage, we’d better not read the passage imagining Paul like a fearless commander making charge orders to his soldiers on a battlefield. The commander’s bold charge would definitely be needed in the battlefield when necessary. Thus, we ought to have no objection to the commander doing so. However, once we begin to imagine Paul like a spiritual commander making moral or ethical orders when reading this passage (even threatening Timothy and other readers, like “If you don’t do well as I command, you will face deadly consequences here on earth and after!”), we could be totally lost in the interpretation process. Instead, we’d do better to keep Paul as a passionate and compassionate spiritual guide and mentor or a caring parent sharing precious life lessons with his children. 

Then, we should be ready to do deep and thorough reading of the given passage containing several moral, ethical, and spiritual “dos” and “don’ts” that the author wants his readers to practice: 

“if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these” (verse 8)

“the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (verse 10)

“pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness” (verse 11)

“keep the commandment without spot or blame” (verse 14)

“command [the rich] not to be haughty or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches but rather … to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share” (verses 17-18).

Again, with this passage, it would be a short-sighted move to produce a sermon replete with neatly packed moral or ethical encouragements. At the core of all those messages is relationship, mentorship, and parent-like apprenticeship geared toward one’s multifaceted growth in faith. 

Then, somewhere in the middle of or at the end of the sermon, how about doing a fictional yet very probable paraphrased monologue of Paul gently but firmly rearing Timothy?

“Tim, NEVER get intimidated by the superficial richness of the world or simply by the rich and the powerful of this world. Your God, the heavenly host, is far richer than anyone else in the world. As a matter of fact, God is richer than the whole world; remember God is the creator of this world. So, stay firmly focused on God alone, which, of course, is not easy in this hyper neo-capitalistic and the survival-of-the-fittest kind of world. But still, stay focused on God, then you will see real changes in this seemingly rich yet deeply groaning world through the teachings of Christ and your exemplary life. Trust God, trust yourself, and become a dynamic instrument of the Holy Ghost. Yes, the Holy Ghost is upon you! Even in the midst of persecutions and threats, you will still be well. You will be triumphant. Tim! Tim! My child.”

This relational message would work well for many hearers seeking similar encouragement in their own situations akin to Timothy’s.