FROM FIRST TIMOTHY 6
This week, we continue our brief series of messages on financial stewardship. Last week, we looked at the poor widow of Mark chapter 12 and the Macedonian believers Paul cites as exemplary givers in Second Corinthians chapter eight. We saw that the kind of sacrificial generosity they showed in times of severe poverty and yet giving with great joy can only be an expression of God’s grace. These people gave away what they needed to live on—NOT to keep a law of some sort. They gave far more than the tithe because their hearts had been filled with love for God as they responded to all he had done for them in Christ. The Macedonians were responding to the gospel truth about Jesus that “for your sake he [Jesus] became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” Knowing that they had been the recipients of such grace and being so filled with gratitude, they responded with grace--great sacrifice accompanied by great joy. We were challenged to compare our heart motivation in giving to these believers to see if our giving was also marked by God’s grace.
Last week, we looked at the central heart issues connected to giving—why should believers give sacrificially to the Lord—what should motivate us? This week, we want to see from First Timothy chapter six, God’s Word as it relates to wealth a desire for more wealth. Paul’s treatment of this topic begins in verse six, but the surrounding context is important. The apostle has just condemned some false teachers who had been attacking the church with their lies and destructive doctrine. In nearly all instances where the New Testament writers condemn false teachers, the author notes that their fundamental problem was not theological—bad doctrine, but moral—bad hearts. 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 “…constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.”
Like the false teachers today, the false teachers of Paul’s day were ultimately motivated by the prospect of gaining wealth through their fraudulent ministries. Their counterfeit “godliness” is motivated, not by any love for God, but by their own self-centered desires to get rich. From that context of the false teachers and their desire for wealth, Paul pivots and speaks to the question of believers and our relationship to wealth. Paul contrasts the counterfeit “godliness” of the false teachers, which is motivated by material gain, with a genuine godliness that brings great spiritual gain. Beginning with verse six Paul says to Timothy, “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…”
The basic truth expressed here is: believers are called to actively avoid the intentional pursuit of material wealth, but are instead to strive after spiritual riches. What Paul is arguing against is harboring desires to be rich—to intentionally and purposefully make a goal of having more and more money. This doesn’t mean that every wealthy person—and in some sense that’s all of us—is in sin. Perhaps God has given you a gift for making money—you’re very astute in business. Maybe you’ve chosen a profession, worked hard to get the education required and it happens to pay a large salary. You didn’t go into the profession for the money, but to use your talent and/or help people. If you’re not in it fundamentally for the money—to satisfy a desire for personal wealth, you’re not necessarily engaged in soul-destroying behavior. Paul is not teaching that having money is in itself an evil thing. That goes beyond what the Scripture teaches.
As we’ll see more later, one indicator that your wealth is not, or has NOT become the main goal for you is the answer to the question, “if you lost it all tomorrow, would that be an emotional train wreck for you?” If you’ve not invested your time and energy for the purpose of getting wealthy, then if it disappears, you just start over. Here’s the potential danger, however in attaining wealth that all of us should be vigilant about. You can begin your career in order (on a human level) to serve others or because you just enjoy building a business or working to help businesses run better, but along the way—the wealth you’ve built up and the lifestyle made possible by it begins to eclipse your original goals in importance. You gradually find yourself less and less concerned with what drew you into the profession in the first place and more and more concerned about the financial benefits and more comfortable lifestyle you derive from it. That is a VERY serious heart problem and as we’ll see, Paul says we must take extreme measures.
At that point, your career has become more about the money than about honoring God by working for his glory and the good of others—employing other people, helping others in some way. This is why we must regularly do a heart check to see if what is motivating us to make money (or to keep the money we’ve accumulated) is a desire to be wealthy. The reason is because that desire for material treasure very easily and very subtly displaces your desire for the spiritual treasure you have in Christ. Jesus says in Matthew 6:24 24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Jesus provides the basis for Paul’s teaching that we should not desire riches. Here in First Timothy, Paul 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 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. Paul says the natural consequence of true godliness is NOT material gain, but the much more precious fruit of contentment—being satisfied with what God has given you—that is the fruit of real godliness. Paul contrasts the rock-solid contentment produced by spiritual wealth with the dry well of material wealth the false teachers were chasing after. The spiritual treasures we have in Christ are sufficient to bring contentment so that we require no material wealth. That’s an easy thing to say, but do we believe that? If you crash and burn because your favorite television program has been canceled, your laptop has a virus or your Rice Chex are soggy, the answer is probably, “no.’ In verse eight, Paul explains what he means by contentment, “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. He’s merely stating the obvious. That is—we must have our survival needs met to know contentment in Christ because you must be alive to be content.
Paul gives two reasons why we’re to actively avoid pursuit of material wealth. The first, as we’ve seen is because we don’t need material wealth to be content. Paul implies this is self-evident in verse seven, “for we brought nothing into this world, and we cannot take anything out of this world.” God brings us into this world and takes us out of it with no material wealth. That implies the irrelevance of material wealth to our contentment. Think about it. We could put it this way: We know that material wealth is not necessary for contentment in this life because we neither enter nor exit this world with any of it. 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 you can’t even buy anymore in America. We come into this world with NO extras—and God says at that moment we have all the material wealth we need to be content.
The best Biblical example of a person with wealth, but who didn’t find his contentment in it is Job. Job was one of the wealthiest people in the world—he had everything a person of his era 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 suddenly ripped away from him in one day. In a matter of minutes, this wealthy man is reduced to a destitute pauper. His reaction to this abrupt fall from wealth is 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 imply the irrelevance of material wealth to our contentment. First, he does a quick inventory of his financial standing in life and says in effect, “I have precisely what I had when I arrived on earth and what I will have when I leave it. In that context, there is no net loss for me. If you were hit hard by the recent economic downturn, your bottom line may look very different than it used to look, but in Biblical terms—you suffered no net loss. You still possess what you came into this world with. Second, Job bows to God’s sovereign will and says in effect, “The God who loaned me all this stuff wanted it back—that’s ok—it was his to do with what he wanted.”
By God’s grace, Job had never taken ownership of what God had loaned to him—he held it loosely and when God took it, there was no melt down. One reason for this is because his goal was not to accumulate wealth—he just happened to be very blessed by God. And the net effect of his attitude toward wealth was—he could say in essence—“I haven’t lost anything of eternal importance.” That’s the God-centered perspective Job had. That’s why he could worship in the face of instant and epic loss, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job shows us it’s possible by God’s grace to be wealthy in this world and make your delight—not in your riches, but in God. If your wealth dries up, you note its passing, make adjustments, worship God and go on with life. That’s what it looks like to have wealth, but not hooking your contentment to it. In Job, God provides a template for us and the crucial, potentially soul-saving question is, does my attitude toward my wealth mirror Job’s?
This is not by any means easy. The incredible difficulty of NOT trying to find your contentment in material wealth is why Jesus says in Matthew to his disciples 19:23-24, “…"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 sobering to us is by any Biblical measure, we’re all rich. One important implication of this truth is this-giving a lot of your money away is not simply an expression of worship—it’s not simply a way to accomplish something for God’s kingdom. Regularly, sacrificially giving lots of money away helps insulate our hearts from the ever-present temptations that we experience as we accumulate money and nice homes and many possessions. In light of what both Paul and Jesus teach about money and our corrupt, idolatrous hearts, for the wealthy, giving a lot of our money away is a spiritual survival tactic! It helps us keep our priorities straight—our hearts anchored in heaven instead of this world that we must understand is desperately working to pull us into its materialistic value system.
That leads us to the second reason Paul gives why we should be actively avoiding the intentional pursuit of material wealth. That is because intentionally attempting to acquire more wealth opens the door to temptation, to Satan and eternal destruction. That comes 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.” In case you’re wondering if you desire to be rich, Paul has already implied what it means to “desire to be rich” when he contrasted that covetous desire for wealth with the contentment that comes from godliness. If you’re not satisfied—not content with the spiritual riches you have in Christ, but are working to find contentment from what you can own, spend or enjoy materially, then—regardless of your income, you fit Paul’s description of those who “desire to be rich.” So many people look for their contentment in what they can purchase. If we only had this….and then, this…and then, this…. It’s important to remember that Paul was writing to an audience where there was basically no middle class, which is where most of us are. Generally speaking, there were two classes of people, those who had just enough to meet their survival needs and those who were considered wealthy.
In that context, part of what Paul is saying to Timothy and the believers in Ephesus is, “If you’re 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 contentment—your satisfaction in Christ.” Paul says seeking after contentment from anything other than what we have in Christ brings great spiritual peril. He says these people “fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.”
Here, Paul is consistent with James as he details the downward spiral of desire, sin and death. James says in 1:14, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. [like the desire to be rich] The desire, when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” Hear the similarity to Paul. 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 find your contentment in material wealth, you invite powerful temptation to sin into your life. Both Paul and James tell us to stop this ruinous downward spiral right up front--at this point of initial desire. You can know when your desire for wealth has overcome your desire for Christ when, if your desire for material possession is frustrated, you get angry or grieve—if you don’t get what you want, you pout or engage in self-pity. When you commit those kinds of sins in response to not getting or achieving what you want, then you know it’s become more important to you than Christ—it’s become an idol. So, take that covetous desire to the cross, confess it as sinful and mercilessly kill it—we’ll see how to do that in a moment. Then we can claim the sufficiency of Christ for our satisfaction. That stops this series of calamities that follow after this initial desire.
After temptation springing from our desire, next comes the fall “into the snare” or trap. Looking to wealth for satisfaction opens the door for Satan to trap you like an animal in a snare. We know Paul is speaking of a satanically laid trap because this word translated “snare” or “trap” in the two other instances where Paul uses it in the pastorals clearly implies Satan’s work. 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 contentment outside of Christ through material wealth is a trap of Satan and this can manifest itself in countless ways. For instance, it’s seen in the man who works a family-draining 60+ hours a week so he can make enough money to buy his wife and kids things he never had as a child. That’s a trap of the devil. His bait is this often false notion that you are doing this for your family. We love our families and Satan uses that love mixed with another lie (that giving our families what we didn’t have is important) to lure us into a trap.
The truth—which he always works hard to obscure is--your family doesn’t really want the stuff you can buy for them nearly as much as they want YOU. You’ve believed a lie and are trapped in the snare of the devil as he prowls around seeking whom he may devour. Apart from God’s grace—you are easy pick in’s for the devourer when he comes around to check his traps. It’s simply a deceitful trap that what you desire in this world can bring contentment. Jesus teaches this in the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:22. He speaks of the thorny-ground and says. “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, boat, snowmobile—when waved in front of our fallen hearts deceitfully promise what they cannot deliver--contentment. Many people who once professed Christ are in hell today because they chose to believe that false promise. Sadly, they never found contentment in life and they’re certainly not content now because they chose to believe the lie that crept into their life because they desired to be content in worldly treasure apart from Christ. If we don’t repent of our idolatry, we will be easy prey.
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.” This word is often translated “lusts.” What that means is that this intentional seeking after contentment and satisfaction in material wealth ultimately breeds other, additional senseless and harmful lusts. The desire to be rich is the “mother desire” that gives birth to the other lusts. Sadly, the person who wants to be rich doesn’t know that that their sinful desire for wealth is an incubator for thousands of others that can end up costing him/her things like marriage, family, reputation, her own soul.
We see this dynamic every day in the headlines. How many senseless and harmful crimes find their root motivation in the lust for money? The desire for money is what fuels most crime--the drug abuse and the prostitution that flow from it as well as white collar crimes—embezzlement and tax fraud. This is why people senselessly throw their money away at the casinos. This is why people take foolish risks in the stock market. People whose desire for wealth is satisfied when they win the lottery are four times more likely to divorce. Once they get what they thought would make them content, it only breeds more sin in their lives. These kinds of senseless and harmful lusts are the rotting fruit that spring from the toxic root of the desire to be wealthy--seeking satisfaction in something other than Christ. Maybe you’ve not descended to this level yet. Perhaps God’s restraining grace has kept you from this point so far, but if you’re looking for contentment in wealth, apart from God’s grace it’s only a matter of time until you’re carried away by these senseless and harmful desires.
Paul finishes this wretched descent to ruin by saying that these lusts “plunge people into ruin and destruction.” Paul is not talking about going to prison or filing bankruptcy. Those things do sometimes result from these senseless lusts, but that’s not what Paul is saying here. These two words translated “ruin and destruction,” 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—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 senseless, temptation-bringing, trap-springing, lust-inducing, hell-plunging idolatry. And the baseline 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.” Regarding money as the means of finding satisfaction and “stretching after” is, according to Paul, the root of all kinds of evil as we’ve seen and it can cause people to wander away from the faith. They have rejected Christ as the source of their contentment and often as a result their hearts become hardened to him.
What are we to do if we find ourselves on this downward spiral? Paul’s command to 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” means, “to run away from or escape from” and it implies danger. He commands Timothy that his response to the temptation to pursue satisfaction in material wealth should be to, with all urgency run away—escape this satanic trap by pursuing God and the fruit he brings into a life. Paul tells Timothy to kill this sin—by fleeing it. Paul is quite consistent in how he tells us to respond to lust—sexual and otherwise, FLEE! Get OUT of there! Don’t stand and fight—once lust has been conceived, it’s too late—you only get victory by getting out of the context of temptation. Get OUT of this pursuit and instead “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.” Once you’ve fled the temptation, give whatever time, energy, or money you were using to find contentment in wealth and use it for God’s kingdom. Give your time to God, your money to God, your energy to God. Displace the godless goal of being wealthy by pursuing the Great Treasure, Jesus Christ. Invest in his kingdom.
This is a call for us to stop seeking after satisfaction in the flea-bitten, moldy canvas
tents this world provides, but instead seeking after it in Christ. The power of the alone cross can liberate us from this desire for wealth---it can spring
us from the trap—it can help us flee and displace the desires for the things of this world with an overcoming desire
for Christ and his kingdom. Jesus died to set us free from the power of sin as we confess our sin, admit our helplessness
and look to him in faith for deliverance. May God grant us the grace to seek our treasure in Christ and not the fleeting riches
of this world.
Page last modified on 1/21/2013
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