MESSAGE FOR OCTOBER 5, 2003 FROM FIRST TIMOTHY 6
(2nd in a series on financial stewardship)
This marks week two in our special emphasis on financial stewardship. Last week we spent some time in Malachi chapter one seeing the root cause of our failure to be generous and sacrificial in our offerings to God. Like the errant priests in the Old Testament, the cause of our sin in this area traces back to not rightly fearing and loving God. We must see that a grudging, give-what-is-convenient pattern of financial stewardship is not simply a personality trait or something we learned from our parents; it is a failure to love and fear God. We saw that last week. This week, we want to see from First Timothy chapter six, God’s counsel on wealth, desire and the wealthy. Paul’s treatment of this topic begins in verse six, but we must first see the context. Paul has just condemned the false teachers who had been attacking the church with false and destructive doctrine. In nearly all instances where Paul condemns false teachers he notes that their fundamental problem was not theological, but moral. They were bad people and their bad teaching flowed from their bad hearts. Paul describes some of the rancid fruit of the false teachers in verse five as including; “[and] constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.”
The false teachers of Paul’s day and our own seek to gain wealth through what they do—they are motivated in their “godliness” not by God but by their own self-centered desires to turn a buck. From that context of the false teachers and their desire for wealth, Paul pivots and gives a very typical and sobering New Testament treatment of wealth and the effect it has on us in the church when we pursue it. Paul contrasts the so-called “godliness” of the false teachers, which is motivated by material gain, with a godliness that brings great spiritual gain. Beginning with verse six Paul says, “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, 7for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9But 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. 10For 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.” But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. 12Fight 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… [Verse 17] 17As 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. 18They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.”
The basic truth expressed here is: believers are called to actively avoid the pursuit of material wealth, but are instead to strive after spiritual riches. We must see how radical this teaching is because this truth cuts at the very root of the tree of a capitalistic culture. One of the major tenets of American capitalism is the creation and acquisition of wealth. This is the capitalistic cultural ocean we all swim in and Paul here is saying that this basic value of our culture that saturates nearly all of Western life is antithetical to the believer. The biblical view of money and the acquisition of it are thoroughly counter-cultural. If we are living biblically here then we are at odds with the cultural values. The desire to acquire wealth is for the believer, sinful and we will see why in a moment. This radical teaching is not unique to Paul. He is simply expanding on what Jesus says in Matthew 6:19-20 where he warns us, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
Paul gives two reasons why we are to actively avoid pursuit of material wealth. The first is because all material wealth is temporal. Paul says the natural consequence of true godliness is not material gain, but the much more precious fruit of contentment. And he contrasts the rock-solid contentment found in spiritual wealth with the fleeting nature of material wealth the false teachers were chasing after. He says in verses 6-7, “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, …” What he means by “godliness” is being in a right relationship with God—walking in close fellowship with him—that alone is sufficient to bring us contentment. What we have spiritually in Christ is all we need to bring us all the satisfaction we could ever want. Do we believe that? Now, in verse eight, Paul makes the parenthetical comment “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. His point there is not to weaken his earlier claim about the sufficiency of Christ to bring us contentment. He is merely stating the obvious. That is—we must have our survival needs met to know contentment in Christ because without our basic survival needs we will not live and it’s hard (sic) to be content in this life if you are dead.
The reason why spiritual riches bring great, literally “MEGA” gain compared to the qualitatively different and much inferior “gain” of material wealth is because godliness brings contentment and material gain can never do that. Paul says this is a self-evident truth grounded in the basic truth of verse seven, for we brought nothing into this world, and we cannot take anything out of this world.” Paul is saying when God brings us into this world and takes us out of this world with no material wealth He is communicating something very powerful about the irrelevance of wealth to our contentment. When we come into this world we have NO material wealth and when we leave this world we have NO material wealth. Think about it. That means that material wealth is native only to this fleeting, finger-snap-in-eternity period of our existence. The point is two-fold. If material wealth were necessary for the contentment in this life, God would have installed that option in us at the factory. As it is, each one of us comes into this world like the stripped down, no-option, roll your own window down, black side wall, vinyl upholstered, no air-conditioning cars that you can’t even buy anymore on the car lots of America. We come into this world with NO fancy options—and at that moment we have all the material wealth we need to be content.
The second reason relates to the temporal nature of wealth. That is, if material wealth is necessary for contentment, God would not have so severely downplayed its importance by allowing us to have it only during this unimaginably brief moment in eternity. We see this in verse 17 where Paul says to Timothy, “As for the rich in this present age…” People have wealth only in this life. We’re not going to own any private property in heaven. If material prosperity were necessary for contentment, why would God severely limit the period of time we can actually possess material wealth to the one nanosecond this life is in light of eternity? That just doesn’t make sense. The fact that we don’t come into this world with it and don’t leave this world with it shows us it’s not necessary for contentment.
The prime biblical example of a person who actually lived with this value system is the man Paul is borrowing from here in this statement about the momentary nature of material wealth. That is, Job. Here was Job, one of the wealthiest people in the world—he had everything we could imagine in tremendous supply—houses, animals, property—incredible wealth. And in the opening moments of his story, every material possession he has (and even his children) is cruelly ripped away from him in one day. In a matter of moments, he is transformed from an incomparable prince to a destitute pauper. One moment, he is at the summit of Mount Everest in material prosperity and the next, he is violently plunged into the Dead Sea of destitute poverty. His reaction to this unprecedented fall from wealth is found in Job 1:21 where he says, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” Job makes two observations here that teach us about the irrelevance of wealth to contentment. First, he does a quick inventory of his financial standing in life and says in effect, “I have nothing materially which means I have precisely what I had when I arrived on earth and I have what I will have when I leave this place. There is no net loss—this is good. Job was clearly not a capitalist. Second, he bows before God’s sovereign will, “The God who loaned me all this stuff wanted it back—that’s ok—it was his to begin with.”
Job had miraculously never taken ownership of what God had given to him—he held it loosely and when God took it, there was no bitterness or resentment. And the net effect of those two observations is this one—“I haven’t lost anything that is truly important—I still have God so I haven’t lost anything of eternal significance.” That’s the eternal perspective Job had. That’s why he could say in the face of instant and epic loss, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job shows us it is possible to be wealthy in this world and be right with God. He also shows us you have to be an extraordinary saint (!) to pull that off. This is why Jesus says in Matthew 19:23-24, “And Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." What makes this truth so sobering is that according to any biblical measure, we are all filthy rich. This is why giving lots of money away is not simply an expression of worship—it is not simply a way to accomplish something for God’s kingdom. On a personal level, giving lots of money away every year is a way to insulate our hearts from the temptations that having money and nice homes and new cars bring to us. In light of what both Paul and Jesus teach about money and our corrupt, idolatrous hearts, giving lots of money away is a spiritual survival tactic!
That leads us into the second reason we should actively avoid the pursuit of material wealth. That is because intentionally attempting to acquire more wealth opens the door to temptation, to Satan and eternal destruction. Those come right out of verse nine which says, “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.” At this point it’s easy to say, “Paul is addressing people who are trying to be rich. That’s not me—I’m not working 80 hours a week to get a six-figure income. That’s what people do who desire to be rich.” That understanding of this text is not valid because we must allow Paul, not our ultra wealthy, capitalist culture to define what he means by “those who desire to be rich.” And he has already defined what it means to “desire to be rich” when he contrasted that desire with the contentment that comes from godliness. If you are not satisfied with what you have in Christ and are working to get satisfaction from what you can own, or spend or vacation with, then you fit Paul’s description of those who desire to be rich. You see, Paul was writing to an audience where there was no significant middle class, which is where most of us are. There was no industrial commercial enterprise to create a strong middle class and there were generally speaking, two classes of people, those who had enough to meet their survival needs and those who were considered wealthy.
Paul is saying to his audience in Ephesus, “If you are in the class of people that has enough to get by on and your survival needs are being met, don’t aspire to be in the other, “rich” class of people but instead find your satisfaction in Christ.” That teaching doesn’t translate as neatly into our culture where the middle class has immensely more than they need for survival but who are not in the culturally considered “wealthy class.” The point is—we must let Paul define what it is to want to be rich and he has already said that it is—if you are not satisfied with all you have in Christ and are looking for satisfaction in the material realm. Paul says this seeking after contentment from what is outside what we have in Christ is spiritually toxic and even lethal. These people “fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.”
Here, Paul echoes James in his progression of sin and death. In James 1:14-15 he says, But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. The desire, when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” Paul says when you desire to be rich you are tempted and James says temptation comes from our desires—same truth. When you desire to get your satisfaction from material wealth, you invite temptation to sin into your life and the apostles’ implication for us is stop this ruinous progression at this initial point of desire. In other words, when you find yourself desiring satisfaction in something other than Christ—take that desire to the cross and mercilessly kill it and claim the sufficiency of Christ for your satisfaction. That stops this hideous chain of events that follow.
If we don’t do that, the lethal progression continues. After temptation, comes the fall “into the snare” or trap. Desiring wealth enables a trap to be set for you and I believe Paul is speaking of a satanically set trap because this word translated “snare” or “trap” in the two other instances where Paul uses it in the pastorals clearly means a trap of Satan. In first Timothy 3:7 Paul says of potential elder candidates, “Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. In 2 Timothy 2:26 Paul uses this word speaking of the opponents of the gospel who need to be corrected in the hopes that they, “…may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” The desire to get satisfaction outside of God in material wealth is a trap of Satan and this is seen on several levels. It’s seen in the man who works a family-draining 60 hours a week to make enough money to make the payments on his boat or big house or whatever. That is a trap of the devil. This desire also enables a trap to be set because wealth promises a satisfaction it cannot bring. We see this when Jesus in the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:22 speaks of the thorny-ground sower. “As for what is sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” Riches—the bigger house, the new car, the expensive hobby all deceitfully promise what they cannot deliver--satisfaction.
One place we see this is in Ecclesiastes 5:11 where Solomon exposes the lie of these traps. Solomon, who knew something about the creation and acquisition of wealth says, “When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see with his eyes.” If you are looking for satisfaction in things or money, there will never be enough because the businessman Solomon tells us that with more production, comes more consumption. On a spiritual level, when we pursue wealth by placing the treasure of our time and our family and our energy into them, we often discover too late that they are a dead-end street and cannot bring the satisfaction they promise to our corrupt hearts. If you are there today, you are in Satan’s trap—you are one of his caged humans. I believe from 1 Timothy chapter six, we can say this is a satanic trap to keep us from usefulness in God’s kingdom and ultimately even worse as Paul continues.
The next step on this downward spiral of sin is--this desire for wealth causes us to fall into “many senseless and harmful desires.” The word here for “desires” is different than the word Paul used when he spoke of the “desire to be rich.” That word for “desire” means an intention or goal. If you have the intention or goal of acquiring wealth—that’s the idea. This word here Paul uses for “many senseless and harmful desires” is the one often translated “lusts.” What that means is that this intentional seeking after satisfaction in material wealth ultimately breeds other senseless and harmful lusts. We see this every day in the headlines. How many crimes find their root motivation in the lust for money? This is what fuels organize crime and the drugs and prostitution that flow from it. This is why people kill five year olds in the West End of Duluth. This is why people senselessly throw their money away at the casinos and play the lottery. This is why people take stupid risks in the stock market. These kinds of senseless and harmful lusts are the rotting fruit that grow out of the bad root of seeking satisfaction in something other than Christ. Maybe you have not fallen to this point yet. Perhaps God’s restraining grace has kept you from this point so far, but if you are looking for contentment outside of Christ, apart from God’s grace it’s only a matter of time until you are carried away by these senseless and harmful desires.
Paul finishes this wretched progression of sin by saying that these lusts “plunge people into ruin and destruction.” We may think that Paul is talking about going to prison or filing bankruptcy and those things do often follow those senseless lusts, but that is not what Paul is saying here. These two words translated “ruin and destruction,” which are based on the same root word, (so they are very similar) are predominantly used in the context of eternal destruction. This word translated “ruin” is used for what will happen to those who were persecuting the church in Thessalonica. In Second Thessalonians 1:9 Paul says of these people, “And these will pay the penalty of everlasting destruction [ruin], away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power.” This word translated “destruction” is the same Greek word used of Judas the “son of perdition” in John 17:12. It’s the same word used of the antichrist, the “son of destruction” in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. These words speak of eternal damnation.
Paul says someone who unrepentantly intends to find their contentment in material wealth will end up there—not just in bankruptcy or prison, but in the fires of hell. We must see how serious it is for us to look for contentment in anything other than Christ! This is temptation-bringing, trap-springing, senseless, lust-inducing, hell-destining idolatry. And the reason for this is in verse 10 where Paul says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving [literally—“stretching after”] that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” Having the kind of regard for money that causes us to see it as the means of finding satisfaction is the root of all kinds of evil as we have seen and it causes people to wander away from the faith.
Paul’s command to Pastor Timothy is “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.” The word Paul uses for “flee” is a very strong one. It means, “to run away from or escape.” He commands Timothy that his response to pursuing satisfaction in material wealth should be to, with all urgency run away—escape this satanic trap by pursuing righteousness. Paul tells Timothy(!) this. There is no indication in the Pastoral Epistles that Timothy had a problem with greed or covetousness, but Paul still uses this strong word of caution—“Timothy, get out of there—it is a burning building and it will fall in on you if you don’t leave NOW!” If this is Paul’s counsel to an ancient near eastern pastor living by faith, then how much MORE should it apply to us. Get OUT of this pursuit and instead “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.” The meaning is clear. Whatever energy or time or money you are using to find contentment outside of Christ, take that and use it for righteousness. Give your time to God, your money to God, your energy to God. Displace the godless goal of being content in things with an investment in the kingdom of God.
Further, in verse 17 Paul counsels the rich people like us, “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.” Paul is saying, fight against the pull to be impressed with yourself or your wealth and refuse the temptation to get your sense of security from your bank account, which is as secure as a home built on the San Andreas Fault line. Be impressed with God and his provision and his faithfulness and place your security in the bank of heaven, which has never failed and can never fail. Stop seeking after contentment in the flea-bitten, moldy canvas tents this world provides but instead seek after it in the heavenly mansion of what you have in Christ. May God grant us the grace to seek our treasure in what we have in Christ instead of the fleeting riches of this world.
Page last modified on 10/12/2003
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