Money is a complex subject – by some accounts about 15% of the Bible, or 2,350 verses, address the topic. There is also a crap-ton of books written on the subject (many of which are in my office, and you’re welcome to borrow). One of the most important passages on money in all of scripture is I Timothy 6, Paul’s seminal letter to his protégé. In this chapter, Paul addresses six categories of people or worldviews, from those stuck in permanent slavery to those rich in this world. A walk through this chapter will acquaint us with how it has shaped contemporary beliefs and misconceptions on money throughout history. Let’s begin.
NO HOPE OF WEALTH
1 All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. 2 Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves. These are the things you are to teach and insist on.
Paul first addresses those on this earth who have no hope of ever attaining any amount of temporal wealth (v 1-2). You and I have grown up in a world that allows upward mobility, but it’s worth noting that for most of human history this hasn’t been the case. If you were born into the home of a servant, for example, that was your lot in life. Paul begins his treaty on money by addressing those who have no hope of temporal wealth; those crushed by the ‘yoke of slavery’. Paul admonishes them to treat their master with respect – not because the master deserves it but because we do everything in our power to honor God. Even if your master is your spiritual equal – your ‘brother’ – Paul teaches us to ‘serve them even better’.
In America we have a social structure that gives the illusion of full equality through legal access to citizens’ rights, but we slip into a social hierarchy that is based on personal wealth or positional power. In this reality, those who have more money are higher up the social ladder. Paul doesn’t address the morality of the social structure here – he just speaks directly to those in it. Currently there is a lot of resentment toward wealthy people, wealthy employers and corporations, the 1 percent, and strong opinion regarding what should be done about the imbalance of wealth. It may be helpful for us to remember that as we encounter those who have more wealth than us to “not show less respect….Instead serve them even better.” We do this so that God’s name may not be slandered.
HEALTH AND WEALTH GOSPEL
3 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, 4 they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions 5 and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.
In verses three through five, Paul directly address those who believe that “godliness is a means to financial gain.” What is the core of this belief? Pride (v4). What does this world view create? Controversies and quarrels resulting in envy, strife, and constant friction.
There is confusion on this subject because if you follow the principles of the Kingdom, you often will succeed in a worldly sense. If you ‘serve your employer even better’, as Paul urges in the previous verse, your employer will often promote you to greater responsibilities. If you ‘do unto your customers as you’d have done unto you’, you will likely gain more customers. This is natural law.
So what is Paul cautioning against? Attitude. The attitude that seeks first financial gain and tries to use godliness as the route to that end. This is what Jesus explained when he said you cannot serve both God and money. You will love the one and hate the other or vice versa. Instead, Jesus teaches to seek first the Kingdom of God and everything else will be added unto you.
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.
Contentment. This is the truest form of wealth. No amount of wealth is enough without contentment. You’ve no doubt heard the quote from Andrew Carnegie on how much wealth is enough: Just a little bit more.
The reality is that our circumstances are continually changing and are often out of our control. If we learn contentment, we will always be happy. Paul of course addressed this in Philippians; “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”
In this letter to Timothy, Paul comes short of being content in EVERY SITUATION – instead telling Timothy in verse 8 “when I’m cold and hungry I get a little cranky”. Perhaps he hadn’t fully learned the secret yet. I guess we are all a work in progress.
PEOPLE WHO WANT WORLDLY WEALTH
9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
“Whoever loves money never has money enough” – Solomon
The next section of 1 Timothy 6 contains one of the 10 most well-known and misquoted verses in the entire Bible: Money is the root of all evil.
Who is Paul addressing in verses 9 and 10? Those “who want to get rich” or are “eager for money”.
The key words here all address matters of heart. As Jesus taught, God looks at the condition of the heart. “They that will to be rich”, “coveted after” and have a “love of money” all exhibit a condition of the heart that can be held by both the material rich and the poor.
The old school King James Version has some awesome language in these two verses:
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.
The word “perdition” is a fantastic one and it’s a major bummer it’s not part of our lexicon today. It “denotes the final state of ruin and punishment”.
And the KJV finishes with an incredible word picture – those who pursue worldly wealth ultimately pierce themselves through with many sorrows. This is what a life dedicated to making money looks like. It sucks. If you’ve met an elderly person who has pursued this lifestyle, you may have instantly recognized the bitterness they have – realizing that they are going to die and can take nothing with them. Solomon penned his frustrations on this saying “I hated all the things I had toiled for because I must leave them to the one who comes after me.” The piercing sorrow of bitterness and regret.
PURSUE SPIRITUAL WEALTH
11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Flee…and Pursue….” Paul commends his protégé, “But you are a Man of God and you’re going to go a different path than the road of perdition!” True wealth isn’t defined by what we HAVE (which rust and thieves can destroy), but who we ARE; our character. Paul tells Timothy to BECOME a person defined by ‘righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.’ These fruits of the spirit are what define a successful person. To these Paul says “I charge you”.
THOSE WHO ARE WORLDLY WEATHLY
17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
Paul wraps his treaty on money in verses 17 through 19 by addressing those who “are rich in this present world”. A teacher once explained that there are two main things to remember with a biblical world view of money:
– Money doesn’t BELONG to me
– Money doesn’t DEFINE me
Those are both identity issues. A follower of Christ is to identify their value as an Imago Dei (someone made in the image of God) and as a disciple of Christ by practice, not by possessions. Paul addresses our propensity to attach our identity to our wealth immediately: Don’t be arrogant (prideful) or put your hope in wealth, which is so uncertain.
In 2009, one of the richest people in the world, German billionaire Adolf Merckle, jumped in front of a train, killing himself because massive financial losses had lowered his net worth DOWN to around 9 billion dollars. When you put your pride and value in your wealth, then losing your money – which many have done – results in losing your value.
Paul is really addressing most of us in this section. By worldwide standards, we are extremely rich in this present world. Paul has some direct advice on what to do with our money:
– Do Good Works
– Be Generous
– Be willing to Communicate
The first two are common suggestions that we would give anyone who has a lot of money – do good stuff and be willing to share. Maybe that’s obvious, but it’s still difficult when it’s your money. The other two are interesting.
Wealth creates isolation. You can easily isolate yourself from the poor and those unlike you. If you want to take a trip to Italy or order a $100 bottle of wine at dinner, it’s just easier to do that if your friends can afford to do the same. You don’t have to feel guilty, or wonder if maybe you should pay for everyone, or worry about your friends wanting something from you. Paul’s solution to this isolation is translated ‘willing to share’ in the NIV, and ‘willing to communicate’ in the KJV. When you think of how ‘sharing’ applies to a wealthy person, you probably default to the idea of sharing money. But I believe this passage is pushing wealthy people to engage in dialog and willingness; to be used by people, to answer awkward questions, to share stories and struggles. Communication breaks down isolation.
Larry Burkett used to say the difference between hoarding and saving was attitude. It’s hard to emphasize the importance of the end of verse 17 – God richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. The attitude that everything belongs to God and he gives us “everything for our enjoyment” is the key to really enjoying money without guilt. Ecclesiastes 5:19 says “when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work-this is a gift from God.” Learning to enjoy wealth as a fabulous gift from our heavenly father is a spiritual skill that we must nurture and develop so we can honor God in all that we do.