DOES 1 TIMOTHY 6:19 SUPPORT CALVINISM?
by Shawn Brasseaux
No! First Timothy 6:19 is quite a simple verse, but it is difficult for some because a theological system has indoctrinated them and skewed their view: “Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.” Is eternal life something we must strive to obtain? Do our works save us? Must we give money to enter Heaven?
A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO CALVINISM
Five points are central to Calvinism, the theological system that can be traced through Protestant Reformer John Calvin (1509–1564) all the way back to ancient church father Augustine (354–430). The acrostic “TULIP” is useful in remembering these tenets:
- Total depravity is the idea that man is not only inherently evil (sinful), but is also completely unable to believe the Gospel until God regenerates him and then faith to be saved from sins or justified.
- Unconditional election is the belief God chooses (“predestinates, elects”) who will be saved (go to Heaven) and who will be damned (go to Hell). Long ago, He determined this without any considerations as to who would freely choose Him or who would freely reject Him.
- Limited atonement is the notion that Jesus Christ did not die for every single person, but for the elect only (those God had predestinated or chosen to save before the foundation of the world).* (*So-called “Four-Point Calvinists” reject this tenet.)
- Irresistible grace is the idea that the elect (those God has predestinated or chosen to save) cannot ignore the Spirit of God’s “internal Gospel call” to be saved. If God has chosen them for salvation, they will be saved no matter what.
- Perseverance of the saints is the belief that the elect will endure to the end with holy living. If one fails to have victorious Christian living to the end of his or her earthly life, that person is manifested to have never been one of the elect. It is this fifth point—perseverance of the saints—where Calvinists can apply 1 Timothy 6:19.
THE CONTEXT OF 1 TIMOTHY 6:19
As always, when we struggle with one particular verse, it is best to look at the context. The context restricts the meaning of the verse and makes its interpretation less ambiguous:
“ If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness;  He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings,  Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.  But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.  And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.  But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.  For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows….
“ Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy;  That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate;  Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”
The issue, of course, is material wealth. As we progress through the chapter, the focus becomes wealthy Christians. While prosperity is not a sin, it can become a snare if it is “loved.” If fixation on material goods consumes the Christian, then that is idolatry, as more and more is desired. “The love of money is the root of all evil,” verse 10 says. Covetousness, the Bible says, is idolatry (Colossians 3:5). Affluent Christians are cautioned not to be arrogant (1 Timothy 6:17): social status and economic statuses are only temporary. Ultimately, all Christians are equal in Christ—regardless of gender, wealth, ethnicity, and so on. “Whether there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond or free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11). “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
In addition, wealthy believers in Christ are not to be lulled into a false sense of security (1 Timothy 6:18). Material goods are “uncertain” because we can lose them at any time. Illness, economic downturn, robbery, theft, natural disaster, and other dire circumstances can take our riches away. Ultimately, physical death will rob us of every material possession we own! “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.”
WHERE THE CONFUSION COMES IN
Some Calvinists, and others, will interpret the verse as follows…. Eternal life, getting to Heaven, is something elusive that we must try to grab. Eternal life must be sought here on Earth, holy living must be experienced here, but eternal life is not obtained until the very end of our earthly life. After all, a Calvinist has been taught to believe that he must “endure to the end to be saved.” In the Calvinist’s mind, eternal life comes after endurance, perseverance. Holy living must be pursued if eternal life is to be gained and Heaven is to be entered. This is how a Calvinist thinks about Christian living.
At this point, we need to pause and understand the three phases of salvation as taught in the Bible:
- Justification—God imputing His righteousness to the believer’s account upon the believer trusting in Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection as sufficient payment for his or her sins (Romans 3:24-31; Romans 4:1-5; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4). It is here that the Holy Spirit places us into the Church the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). Read the first five chapters of Romans. We are given God’s life at this point; we immediately enter into an everlasting, personal relationship with Him. Jesus Christ defined eternal life in John 17:3, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” Justification is salvation or deliverance from the penalty of sin (Hell and the Lake of Fire). Once the blood of Jesus Christ is applied to our account, God can never and will never take it away. We are on our way to Heaven no matter what we do because Jesus Christ paid the price of our sin debt in full. Justification is a one-time transaction never to be repeated or revoked. Our faithfulness is not the issue; Jesus Christ’s faithfulness is!
- Sanctification—Since we have been set apart, moved from Adam to Christ, transferred from the power of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son, we need to apply this new identity to our daily life. What we have positionally (#1) should be brought down into our lives practically. In this phase, we are saved from the power of sin. This is an ongoing process, as we are to be constantly renewing our mind every day while studying the Bible. We should behave as though we are dead to sin and alive unto God. This is grace teaching, outlined most clearly in Romans chapters 6–8 and 12–16. Sin should be overcome every day. This is the experience and enjoyment of the eternal life we already have. Yes, all members of the Church the Body of Christ have eternal life, but precious few ever enjoy it on Earth. They have been misled to believe that eternal life is only possible after dying and going to Heaven. Going to Heaven is actually the third and final phase of our salvation.
- Glorification—We await this final phase of salvation, deliverance from the presence of sin. Unlike here on Earth, there is no sin in Heaven. Consequently, at the resurrection (Rapture), we will leave behind these old sinful bodies and receive new glorified bodies (1 Corinthians 15:35-58; 2 Corinthians 4:16–5:8; Philippians 3:20-21): our physical connection to Adam will be dissolved forever. We enter Heaven here, where there is no option to sin. God’s life will be experienced to the maximum. The glorified body will be fully equipped to glorify Jesus Christ in the heavenly places (Romans 8:18-25; Colossians 3:1-4).
If we look closely at the context of 1 Timothy 6:19, we will see where the Calvinist goes wrong. As we noted earlier, eternal life is defined as knowing the one true God and His Son Jesus Christ on an intimate level. Unsaved people—lost people, those in Adam, those outside of the Church the Body of Christ—do not have that close relationship with God because of sin. When they trust Christ, however, the barrier of sin is removed, and they enjoy unlimited access to God through the merits of Christ achieved at Calvary. Romans 5:1-2, Ephesians 2:18, 1 Timothy 2:5-7, and other passages make that clear.
Reading 1 Timothy 6:19 in context: “ Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy;  That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate;  Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”
Timothy was to order wealthy Christians not to become prideful/arrogant or idolatrous. Although it is not a sin to be wealthy, and they should enjoy the fruit of their labor, they could lose their fortune at anytime. Rather than being materialistic, they were to trust in the living God, the God of the Bible. He would never leave them or fail them. They were to be engaged in doing good. God wanted them to be rich in good works, and work in them so they would be eager to help and share with those less fortunate. Doing this would cause them to build up wealth in Heaven, a reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ. In engaging in good works, they would lay hold on eternal life. Again, this is not people trying to become Christians, making themselves Christians. This is people who are already Christians. Now, they need to behave like the Christians that they are.
Here is where we guard against the errors of Calvinism, and other types of works-religion. Eternal life is already ours, positionally speaking. We already have God’s life. But are we enjoying it now? Have we taken advantage of it? Is there a practical application of it? Are we living selfishly? If we are, we are not living the eternal life we have been given in Christ. Are we living with only the “here and now” in view? If so, we are not living the eternal life we have been given in Christ. God thinks that there is something more important than earthly possessions, something more important than being consumed by greed for material gain. Do we agree? Are we willing to meet the needs of those who could use our help? Will we idolize our material goods instead of worshipping the Lord Jesus Christ? Again, this is practical, daily Christian living. We make conscious decisions about it. If our life is contrary to these verses, then we need to be responsible and fix the problem. We must take our stand by faith in these simple truths. Otherwise, the eternal life we have in Christ has no impact right now.
Notice 1 Timothy 6:12: “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.” Not only was Timothy to instruct rich people, he himself was instructed to “lay hold on eternal life.” Again, this has nothing to do with entering Heaven and nothing to do with trying to work toward Heaven; it has everything to do with a Christian enjoying his spiritual blessings right now on Earth! Are we studying the Bible rightly divided to learn about the provisions Father God has given us in Christ? Or, are we—like most—ignorant of those spiritual blessings (through lack of study, or denominational indoctrination, et cetera)? Are we begging God to give us what He has already given us in Christ? Are we living as God intended Christians to live, or are we living like the lost people we used to be? Then, we have not yet grasped, fathomed and implemented, the “eternal life” we have been given!
SUPPLEMENTAL: “LAY HOLD”
According to Strong’s Greek Dictionary, the words “lay hold” in Greek are:
“ἐπιλαμβάνομαι epilambánomai, ep-ee-lam-ban’-om-ahee; middle voice from G1909 and G2983; to seize (for help, injury, attainment, or any other purpose; literally or figuratively):—catch, lay hold (up-)on, take (by, hold of, on).”
The word appears 19 times in the King James Greek and is translated in the following manner: “take” (7 times), “take by” (3 times), “catch” (2 times), “take on” (2 times), “lay hold on” (2 times), “take hold of” (2 times), “lay hold upon” (1 times).
It describes Jesus when He “caught” sinking Peter (Matthew 14:31), Jesus “took” the blind man by the hand (Mark 8:23), Jesus “took” a child and sat him down by Him (Luke 9:47), Jesus “took” the man suffering from dropsy/edema (Luke 14:4), Israel’s hypocritical religious leaders trying to “take hold” or seize Jesus’ words that could be used against Him (Luke 20:20,26), the men “laid hold upon” Simon of Cyrene to carry Jesus’ cross (Luke 23:26), Barnabas “took” Saul/Paul and brought him to the Jerusalem apostles (Acts 9:27), the slave girl’s masters “caught” Paul and Silas (Acts 16:19), the Athenian philosophers “took” Paul and brought him to Mars’ Hill to teach them (Acts 17:19), the Greeks “took” Sosthenes the Christian and physically beat him (Acts 18:17), the Jews “took” Paul and throw him out of the Jerusalem Temple (Acts 21:30), the chief captain of a Roman army “took” Paul and had him bound with two chains (Acts 21:33), the chief captain “took” Paul’s nephew aside (Acts 23:19), Timothy was told to “lay hold on” eternal life (1 Timothy 6:12), rich Christians were instructed to “lay hold on” eternal life (1 Timothy 6:19), Jesus Christ “took not on” the nature of angels but “took on” the seed of Abraham (Hebrews 2:16), and God “took” Israel by the hand to lead them from Egyptian slavery (Hebrews 8:9).