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1 Timothy 6:2b-10: Valuing Godliness with Contentment Print E-mail
1 Timothy
Sunday, 01 October 2006

What do you value most in the world?  What is it that holds your affection?  What do you pursue above all else?  It is easy to answer such questions quickly: I value God more than anything, He holds my greatest affection and I treasure Him above all else.  Yet, the question is not what do you say you value, but rather what do you actually value.  In other words, if I asked your children or your co-workers what you value, what would they say?  Or if I simply looked at your bank statement, what would it say you value?  Possibly a right way to phrase the question is this: what does your lifestyle say that you value?

As we have seen throughout the letter of 1 Timothy, Paul is giving Timothy instructions for dealing with a group of false teachers in Ephesus.  We have seen that they misunderstand the Law (1:3-11), forbid marriage and require abstinence from certain foods (4:1-5), and have shipwrecked their faith (1:18-20, 4:1-5).  These teachers are causing serious problems in the Church at Ephesus and Paul is urging Timothy to hold fast to the faith and to silence these teachers.  After giving instructions concerning widows, elders, and slaves, Paul returns his attention to these teachers in our passage this morning.  In his instructions to Timothy we find some important principles about true doctrine, godliness, contentment, and our valuing of our relationship with Christ.  I want to consider an outline of Paul’s argument so that we can consider these principles together this morning.  As we will see, the outline can be summarized by three statements. 

A False understanding of doctrine leads to viewing godliness as a means of (financial) gain (2b-5).

Even though we have said it before, it bears repeating that doctrine, or what we believe, will impact our practice and how we live.  Paul tells us that his opponents were teaching a different doctrine.  Look at verses 2b-3.  They were teaching things that did not square with the true faith that was revealed by Jesus Christ.  This is what we would call heresy.  Yet, notice what heresy reveals and where it leads.  Look at verses 4-5.  The doctrinal errors were leading to lifestyles of sin.  Granted, a person’s lifestyle is not always a foolproof test for sound doctrine, but we must see that there is a clear connection between errors in belief and errors in practice.  The idea that doctrine does not matter is simply foolish and arrogant.  Not only does it matter to the person teaching, but it will also (by necessity) have a negative impact on the community of faith.  It often leads to controversy and quarrels and envy and slander and everything else that Paul mentions in this verse.  Thus, we must hold fast to the true doctrine of Christ as revealed in the New and Old Testaments that we may avoid such errors and sin.

A particular problem that was taking place in Ephesus is mentioned at the end of verse 5.  Look at that verse with me again.  Apparently the false teachers were using ‘godliness’ as a means of financial gain.  They were parading around claiming that their teaching and lifestyle were godly so that others would be taken in and support them financially.  It is not hard to identify such sin in our own day.  Unfortunately, all you have to do is take a trip to your local Christian bookstore to find examples of ‘godliness’ being used a means of financial gain.  We have peddled the Bible in every way imaginable, from gospel gum to Jesus action figures (I am not exaggerating, both of these products exist).  Yet, we also see this in our churches when business men join large churches to boost sales or when pastors and teachers compromise the gospel to increase attendance (and giving). 

One obvious example of this is the propagation of the ‘health and wealth’ gospel, which essentially teaches that people with true faith will be blessed physically and materially in this life.  The problem with all of this is our failure to value that which is truly valuable.  According to the Word of God, the Spirit is more concerned with conforming me to the image of Christ (even through suffering) than He is giving me a nice car or perfect health (see Romans 8:26-30, where our ‘good’ is being conformed into the image of Christ).  Yet, like the false teachers, as we stray away from the true doctrine as revealed in Scripture, we inevitably move toward seeing godliness as a means of mere financial gain.  This leads us to the second summary statement of Paul’s argument.

Yet, only godliness with contentment is a means of great (true) gain (v. 6-8)

After stating the errors of the false teachers, Paul goes on to explain the true value of godliness.  Look at verses 6-7.  The odd thing here is that it seems that Paul is contradicting himself, for he has just said that it is wrong to think of godliness as a means of gain.  Yet, it seems that Paul is contrasting financial gain with true gain, which is contentment.  How does this work?  Well, as he says in verse 7, we must come to grips with the undeniable fact that we cannot take any ‘stuff’ with us when we die.  We came into the world with nothing and we will take nothing into eternity with us.  As Job says: Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return (Job 1:21).  Since material wealth is fleeting, Paul teaches us that contentment is true gain because it frees us from being obsessed with the stuff of earth.  Contentment frees us from being a slave to the ‘almighty dollar.’  Paul is teaching us that godliness with contentment is great gain because it liberates us from pursuing a gain that will never be satisfied.  The pursuit of money is an endless pursuit.  Yet, godliness with contentment is an endless peace with God.

Of course, we must ask: exactly what does Paul mean by contentment?  He answers in verse 8.  Look at that verse with me.  Paul does not tell us to be content with no provisions.  He is not saying that people who are starving or freezing should be content.  That is not what he says.  Rather, he tells us that true contentment comes with us having the basic necessities of life: food and clothing.  Now a thousand questions could be asked at this point: how much food and clothing, is this all, what about shelter, etc.?  Yet, without getting specific, I would say that in general we are not content with such basic necessities.  When I look at my own life (especially after we moved this weekend), I struggle with my own contentment with a simple lifestyle.

As an example, consider Paul himself.  Look at Philippians 4:10ff.  Paul did not live an extravagant life.  He spent much time in prisons and other people’s homes and risking his life for the sake of the gospel.  Yet, the Lord had taught him to be content.  He was content in times of plenty and content in times of want.  How do you get there?  Again, harking back to what he has already written in verse 7, we must see that this world is temporary.  Investing in the stuff of earth is a waste.  Rather, like Jesus taught us in Matthew 6, we need to invest in eternity.  We need to have the right perspective.  We need to value Christ and our relationship to Him over everything else in this life.  In the end, only what is done for Him will last.  Godliness with contentment is indeed a means of great (true) gain.

For the desire to be rich drives us away from the faith and into great peril (v. 9-10).

Paul goes on in verses 9-10 to explain the great danger in the desire to be rich.  Look at those verses with me.  The language that Paul uses here is severe.  He wants Timothy (and us) to understand the awful peril that results from the love of money.  Not only is it a trap and a snare, not only does it lead into temptation, not only does it plunge people into ruin and destruction, but it actually leads away from the faith according to verse 10.  The unquenchable desire to be rich is a great weapon of the enemy to lead us further and further away from the glorious goodness of our God.  You cannot serve both God and money (see Matthew 6:24).  Rather, as we will look at next week, we must use our money in our service to God. 

I should note at this point that Paul is not calling money evil per se.  It is not as if having money is evil in and of itself.  No, money is necessary to live and Paul knows this.  His warning is against the love of money.  The issue for Paul (and for Jesus) is the heart.  What is it that we esteem?  What is it that holds our affection (and thus our attention)?  As we said at the start, what is it that we value most?  God is not as interested in our money as He is our heart.  Yet, how we spend our money is good indication of what our heart prizes.  Thus, we must be willing to take a hard look at ourselves and what we value.  Again, not what we say we value, but we actually value as evidenced by our lifestyle.

If we put the three summary statements of Paul’s argument together it would read as follows: A false understanding of doctrine leads to viewing godliness as a means of financial gain.  Yet, only godliness with contentment is a means of great (true) gain.  For the desire to be rich only drives us away from the faith and into great peril.  You might respond by saying that you seldom struggle with viewing godliness as a means of financial gain.  Granted, you may not be false teachers or members of the Church to prosper your business or coming up with the latest way to sell the Bible, but we cannot deny that we often value ‘stuff’ over God, which is a similar sin.  Is Christ indeed your all?  If I moved in with you (or you moved in with me) would we be able to say of each other after a period of time that we value Christ over everything else in our life?  Would your children or neighbors or co-workers say that?  Would they conclude about you and me that we are content with the basic necessities?  Or would they see in us the same value system that is prevalent in the world?

I encourage you this morning to be honest with yourself.  This has been a difficult text for me this week because it challenges what I value.  I have spent time this week wrestling with the question of my own contentment.  And the thing I keep coming back to is not that I love money and stuff too much as much as it is that I simply love Christ too little.  Yet, when I stop and consider my redemption I cannot help but be floored by the overwhelming value of free grace.  When I think of what a wretch I truly am and just how much I could never earn or deserve the forgiveness that Christ bought me with His blood, I cannot help but lose my taste for the stuff of earth.  Thus, as we approach the table this morning, may we come with this prayer: Lord Jesus, show me the value of the cross and grant me grace to value you over everything else in my life.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Sunday, 08 October 2006 )

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