Sermon preached on 1 Timothy 6:3-10 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 5/21/2017 in Novato, CA.
1 Timothy 6:3-10
“Godliness with Contentment”
Is godliness a means of gain? That’s a question that is essentially asked in this passage, in verses 5-6. Paul says the false teachers that we talked about last week thought it was. The false teachers supposed they could “gain” in terms of finances. They thought that their so called “ministry” (of teaching false doctrines) could make them money. Paul clarifies in verse 6 that in fact godliness is a means of great gain, but not as these false teachers thought. Paul then uses this idea to talk about contentment versus the love of money. So, that is what we’ll be considering today. We’ll be focusing on verses 6-10 as Paul contrasts contentment versus love for money.
Thinking first about content, let’s begin by stating in what way godliness is in fact a means of gain. Verse 6 asserts this. “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” Of course, earlier in this letter, Paul had already talked about the value of godliness. In 4:8, Paul said, that “godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” The kind of gain Paul says that godliness brings, is something that helps both here and now, but also something that will be good for eternity as well. So, yes, Paul says, godliness can bring a certain kind of gain, and that is a great thing.
But Paul qualifies this when he says in verse 6 “with contentment.” That immediately gets us thinking about what kind of gain we should be looking for. It tells us what kind of gain we should be seeking from godliness. The Greek word for “contentment” here is about the sufficiency you find within you. It’s a compound word in the Greek, literally the words “self” and “sufficient”. That is misleading, however, because in English the word self-sufficient means something different. But in Greek the idea is that you find within yourself a sufficiency. For example, if you have this inner sufficiency, you aren’t looking at yourself and saying well, I’d be good if I was taller, or wiser, or richer. Rather, you have an internal peace that is content with how God made you and the circumstances he’s placed you in. To clarify, this word shouldn’t be pressed to say that you are sufficient in yourself without a relationship with God. That’s not the point. Nor does this exclude a godly form of ambition where you set goals to improve yourself or your circumstances. But the idea is one of sufficiency with your state so that you can be described as “content” or at “peace”. You have a sense of sufficiency to be able to live your life in service to the Lord.
Paul further clarifies the kind of contentment he has in mind by the next two verses. In verse 7 he says, “We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” There are two similar Old Testament verses that make this point as well, Job 1:21 and Ecclesiastes 5:15. The reference in Job is spoken by Job to comfort him after he suffers great loss of both earthly possessions and his children. The reference in Ecclesiastes is spoken to address the vanity of seeking after riches in this life; you can’t take them with you when you die. You leave this world just like you enter it, with nothing; nothing of material value, that is. So, here in verse 7, we see that Paul’s talking about contentment in terms of material gain. Yes, godliness is great gain, but not in the sense of material wealth. In order to have this kind of great gain, you need to bring with it a sense of contentment that realizes that any earthly treasure is but fleeting. If you realize that earthly treasure is only for this life, you begin to look for the gains of godliness that also help in the life to come. Remember, that’s what 4:8 talked about in terms of the usefulness of godliness. True godliness can gain you things that you can take with you to the life to come. That’s why godliness is great gain with contentment; otherwise if you are trying to use godliness to gain in material things, you won’t experience this kind of “true” gain.
So then in verse 8 he further qualifies by pointing to the sort of minimum things we need to survive in this life. Verse 8, “And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.” More literally, “and having foods and coverings, with these we shall be content.” Both items mentioned are in the plural and clothing is a more broad term for coverings. These coverings can include both your clothing and whatever shelter or home you live in. Foods being in the plural helps us think about a complete diet too. But the point is clear. These are minimum things we need to survive and be healthy in this life. The word here for content is most literally the word for sufficient. It’s one half of the compound word mentioned in verse 6 for contentment. The idea is that we have foods and coverings, then that will be enough; that will be sufficient for this life.
To clarify, this is not saying that it is wrong to have more than this. It is not saying that we aren’t allowed to pursue beyond this. But this is the minimum we need, and if we need this and only have this, we shouldn’t have our peace taken away from us. We shouldn’t think there is something lacking or insufficient. There should be a heart within us that could live and survive if this is all we have. That’s Paul’s larger point here. The godliness that brings great gain is one done in the context of contentment even with a minimal amount of material things. If we can be content with just the bare minimum, in these sufficient things, then that will help protect us from the trap and troubles that come from the opposite: a love of money.
Let’s look at that next then. Let’s think about the love of money as its described in verse 10. This is the problem Paul presents for those false teachers who supposed they could get rich off their teaching ministry. If they thought such “godliness” was a means of gain, it shows they haven’t known true godliness. In fact, such a greedy lover of money will not know true gain either, but ultimately ruin, according to this passage. Oh they might make some money out of it; but Paul says that’s not true gain; not the kind of gain he thinks is really valuable.
And so, let’s observe then all the ways Paul describes their love for money here. As a side note, recognize that there are things we shouldn’t love. People often talk today of how wonderful love is, and though that’s generally true, there are things not to love. We certainly should not love money as the way it is described here. In verse 9, he describes people who desire to be rich. If we just had the language of desire here, it would be one thing. But this desire is defined by the other descriptions here. So, this isn’t just a mere desire to make more money to better meet your family’s needs and to have some surplus to enjoy and help others. No, this desire is their life’s quest. They have this large goal in life to get as much money as possible. Verse 9 goes on to call it a lust; one that is both foolish and harmful. It is a foolish lust in many ways, including as we said earlier that you can’t take anything with you when you die, and eternity is a lot longer than our relatively short time here on earth. It is a harmful lust as we’ll go on to see in a moment when we consider the outcome of this love of money. Verse 10 calls their love as greediness, though maybe a better translation is their aspirations or longings.
Again, to clarify, there is an appropriate way to acquire wealth, use wealth, and even to want wealth. But that’s not what’s described here. This is money as an idol of the heart. It’s money that you begin to love in and of itself. You love it with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. You will do whatever you can for it, even to the neglect of God and neighbor. This is the wrong attitude to have toward money. Yet, surely we all know too well how alluring and enticing money can be.
Paul gets practical in his language here with a warning. In verse 9, Paul explains how this quest for riches bring you into temptation. Remember, how Jesus says that we should pray that we would not be led into temptation. But Paul says if you set your heart on money, that you will actually be putting yourself into a place of temptation. Surely many people have done that thinking that they can withstand such temptations. But then look at what else Paul says there in verse 9. Not only does this quest for money make you fall into temptation, but also into a snare; a trap! You go into thinking you’ll be able to overcome the temptation, and the next thing you find is yourself ensnared in it. One way it is a trap is that money tells you that if you get money you’ll be happy, but that is a lie. I think of Luke 12, that parable of the rich fool who kept building bigger and bigger storehouses. Listen to the point of that parable: Luke 12:20, “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’” That’s like what Paul said before. You can’t take material riches with you when you die. So, you need to be wiser and look to plan for life beyond this life. Paul is giving great warning here to what Jesus calls the deceitfulness of riches in the parable of the sower.
Paul then finishes his point here by pointing to the end result of this love for money. As someone makes it their quest and goal in life to acquire riches, they end up in bad place. Along the way, their love for money becomes a root for all kinds of evils. The idea is that when someone loves money like this, that many sins will come forth from them that find their root in this love for money. Whenever we sin, we should want to know what the root is so that we can deal with it at the core. For example, in the garden, when Adam and Eve sinned, there it seemed that the root of their sin was pride; Satan had promised that they could be like God if they ate of the forbidden fruit. Well, the love of money can be the root of all kinds of sins. People might lie for money. They might steal for money. They might murder for money! They might dishonor their parents for money, like not helping them when they are old because that would cost them too much money. Sins of all sorts can find their root in having the idol of money.
But it gets worse than that. Paul says that this love for money has been the reason why some have strayed from the faith, verse 10. He’s describing apostasy. This is how idolatry works, of course. Once you start going after another god, the god of money, this is where it ends up. It ends up turning you away from the Lord. And if that is the case, we are not surprised with the final outcome listed in verse 9: destruction and perdition. If money is your God, then it will destroy your soul. You will end up in hell, to be frank. That’s what Paul is saying. Sobering words.
And if all that wasn’t warning enough, notice the pragmatic point in verse 10. He talks about how all this leaves the person pierced through with many pangs. Let’s face it, trying to get rich isn’t easy. If you really are consumed with the acquisition of wealth, you are going to have a lot of troubles and grief in your life. How many movies or TV shows, for example, have you seen where a husband and father spends so much time trying to get rich that he loses his wife and kids out of his neglect for them. It’s a common story. Examples abound. Trying to get rich comes with so much hardship that it’s really not worth it, simply from a practical standpoint. Contentment is so much better in comparison. Hopefully this description of the love of money shows that desiring such does not leave us with gain. We ultimately lose it all when we make money our god.
So then, having worked through Paul’s comparison here between material contentment versus love for money, let’s finish today’s message by reminding ourselves of the ultimate goal in life. How can we pursue and find ultimate contentment? We need to pursue Christ and his kingdom and true godliness. When I spoke before about the word for contentment and said that it means that we find sufficiency in ourselves, we remembered that we don’t take anything with us. When we die, we don’t take any of those material things with us. We won’t be able to bring along our toys and treasurers. He who dies with the most toys, still dies. We won’t even take our food and clothing with us. Yet there is something we can bring along that is outside of ourselves. It’s that bread which came down from heaven and the robe of Christ’s righteousness which covers us in his glorious image. Find this heavenly treasure in Christ and the eternal life which comes with it. Desire and pursue this with all your soul!
I think of the parables Jesus told about this pursuit. In Matthew 13, Jesus spoke of how “the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Or in that same chapter Jesus said, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” Those two parables describe someone who found something that was more valuable to him than anything else. It was of such great value to him, that he would do anything, give anything, sacrifice anything, to obtain. Too many people have made money that greatest treasure. But Jesus says to make it him and his kingdom. Set Jesus and his kingdom as your greatest treasure. Pursue him and his kingdom with all that you are. This pursuit is worth it. To receive Jesus and his kingdom is the greatest of gain.
As further application, I love how we see this good pursuit described later in this chapter. The very next passage starts out describing the pursuits of a Christian in this way. Verse 11, “But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life.” We’ll get to study that next week but hopefully you see today how it is the fitting climax to today’s passage.
And then in terms of riches, see verse 17. “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.” That reminds us that riches aren’t the problem. It’s not wrong to be rich as a Christian. It’s not wrong even to have ambition in life that would seek to improve your earthly and material circumstances. But such earthly ambition must be governed by a greater ambition for godliness and contentment in Christ. This verse 7 reminds us then of where our focus and goal must ultimately be. Let us be looking in our pursuits to be concerned with the life that is beyond this life, in heavenly treasure beyond earthly treasure. That means we need to be pursuing Christ and his kingdom in all that we do.
If we are honest with ourselves, we know our struggles with this. At times, we can be so focused on Christ. Other times the world and its pleasures and riches distract us. Our Lord knows this. That is why he gives us times like this. His Word is reminding us again of where our focus needs to be. By the grace of God look to be recommitted today on setting Christ as Lord in your life. Throw off any idols that have gotten propped up in your heart. Put Christ as center stage in your life again today. Let us seek him again now, both in confession and in asking for his help in this glorious pursuit. Amen.
Copyright © 2017 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.