Godly Gain

Godly Gain

Having highlighted parts of chapters 1 and 2 in I Timothy these past two weeks, this morning we’re going to jump to the final chapter, chapter 6. Throughout this letter to Timothy, his spiritual son, Paul is providing Timothy instructions for leading the church. In chapter 3, he states, “14 Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, 15 if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” So throughout this book, Paul has sought to guide Timothy in how best to lead Christ’s church. This requires, negatively, confronting and correcting false teaching as we saw in chapter 1 and which comes up again in chapter four, among other places; and, positively, Paul provides Timothy with instructions for things like selecting elders and deacons in chapter three, and caring for widows in chapter 5.

As we turn to this final chapter, many of these concerns continue to be reflected. The chapter begins with instructions for how Christian slaves should treat their masters, namely with respect (1–3). This is followed by an admonition for Timothy to insist on correct doctrine and teaching, “the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ” and “godly teaching” (3), with Paul again insisting that Timothy challenge those involved in false teaching and divisive and harmful attitudes within the church, that he challenge those “who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain” (5).

In contrast to these, Paul tells Timothy in verse 6, the beginning of our passage, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” Once again in this chapter Paul is addressing a topic that withstands the test of time. As last week we considered how we’re to view those in secular authority—we should pray and intercede for them with thanksgiving that they might come to know Christ and that it might go well for us, Christ’s church—so now Paul is presenting what our view of money—and all of life—ought to be. In fact, verse 10 of our passages includes an often misquoted Scripture, that money is the root of all evils, whereas the verse actually states that it’s the love of money, not money itself, that is the root of all kinds of evil. And this love of money is what we’re to avoid.

Perhaps another way of thinking about Paul’s words is by working with the two-kingdom perspective mentioned last week. As citizens of Christ’s heavenly kingdom, we are to seek to be like Jesus was when he walked on earth. He worked a trade and so provided for himself—he was a carpenter as was his father, Joseph—and he was a teacher as well. But Jesus never became rich. In fact when a man once came to him and said, “I will follow you wherever you go,” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”[1] Jesus didn’t come to earth for financial, or any other type of gain for himself but for us. In fact, in his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul encouraged the church to be generous in its giving by reminding them of Jesus’ example, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he told them, “that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”[2] The eternal Christ, God’s Son, left his home in heaven to take on human form—to suffer and die for us and rise from death—that you—and I—and all whom he made in his image might have a means of returning to God after the Fall—that all might have an opportunity to go from the spiritual poverty of not knowing God to the spiritual wealth of not only knowing him, but even of loving and enjoying him now and forevermore.

This is what Paul means when he says that godliness with contentment is great gain. We are called to be godly, that is, we are called to be like God in Christ—loving and caring for all others, whether rich or poor, whether of good reputation or ill, whether believers or not—with contentment, being satisfied with what we have. And why should this be our attitude? Verse 7: “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” Life is a mysterious gift but it isn’t one of our own choosing. We didn’t choose to be born—ultimately that was God’s doing. Nor did we have anything to bring into world when we were born, naked and helpless. And when our earthly life is over, we won’t be able to leave this world with any possessions either. As the saying goes, “You can’t take it with you.” The source of all life is the living God, the giver of life. And, when we die, that same living God will return for those who are his, for those who have accepted his Son, Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, to call us home—to our true home in heaven with him, not this earthly home which is but a temporary abode during our time sojourning on earth. Since this world is not our final home, we shouldn’t try to make it into a kingdom for ourselves.

But while we are living on earth, verse 8, “if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” Life without food and clothing would be precarious. But we’re reminded here that if we do have food and clothing, what more do we really need in life? We may think we need more in order to be happy, but we really don’t.

Now though Paul is addressing here a timeless theme—how we ought to view money and material goods—he is doing so within a particular context, that of false teachers whom his spiritual, son, Timothy, is to address. Again part of this false teaching, verse 5, is that they thought godliness—no doubt a false understanding of godliness—was a means to financial gain. And this leads Paul to observe some universal truths about the desire to get rich and have more money in verses 9 and 10: “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.” I don’t know how true it is since I’ve never taken the time to look it up, but I sat under a pastor once who observed that Scripture has more to say about money than it does about heaven and hell. Think about that. Whether or not he was right, Scripture does have an awful lot to say about our attitude towards money. This indicates a profound understanding of the conflict of interest that can inherently exist between living our lives for the accumulation of more wealth as opposed to living our lives for God. As Jesus taught in his Sermon on the Mount, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”[3] And then again Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and money.”[4]

So why is it that 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? Why is it that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, causing some who have been eager for money to wander from the faith and pierce themselves with many griefs? Why can’t we serve both God and money? We’ve all heard or known people whose desire for financial wealth and prestige drove them into ruin—either through gambling—or playing the lottery—or winning the lottery—or spending so much of their time working to make money that they had no time to nurture and develop their relationships—with God, with their family, with their friends. Paul is urging Timothy to challenge this enduring belief—this timeless mistaken belief—that earthly wealth will bring us fulfillment when the truth is that godliness with contentment is what will satisfy our longings, is what will satisfy our soul.

In his admonitions to Timothy, Paul is seeking to keep this young follower of Christ grounded in the truth of who God is and the values God calls us to have rather than the alleged truths of the false teachers and what they are valuing—namely, financial gain and wealth. “But you, man of God” Paul tells Timothy in verse 11, “flee from all this”—in other words, Timothy is to flee from seeing his own position as a teacher as a means of financial gain. So that’s the negative side. Positively Timothy is instead to “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” In other words, he should seek to love and serve and be like God; he should seek to love and serve and be like Jesus Christ. “[We] cannot serve God and money”:

Whereas serving money—doing what we do for the sake of achieving wealth—may cause us to go down morally questionable paths, serving God will lead us to want to do what is morally right;

Whereas serving money—doing what we do for the sake of achieving wealth— may lead us to act in an immoral manner, serving God will lead us to want godliness, to seek to do those things that please him;

Whereas serving money—doing what we do for the sake of achieving wealth— may cause us to feel self-sufficient and proud of our financial achievements, serving God will lead us to want to have faith, to trust in God as we become aware that all that we are and that we have comes from and is to be used for him;

Whereas serving money—doing what we do for the sake of achieving wealth—may become an end to serve ourselves, serving God will lead us to actually love God and those whom he’s placed in our lives;

Whereas serving money—doing what we do for the sake of achieving wealth— may result in temporary pleasure during our earthly sojourn, serving God will lead us to endure, to withstand even difficult or unpleasant situations;

Whereas serving money—doing what we do for the sake of achieving wealth— may cause us to treat others harshly, serving God will lead us to be gentle and kind, as we seek to emulate God, as we seek to be like Jesus Christ.

But you, man of God—but you, woman of God—flee from serving money—flee from doing what you do for the sake of achieving even more money—and instead pursue serving God; instead pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.

Paul continues his admonition of Timothy in verse 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.”[5] This was probably at Timothy’s baptism. Brothers and sisters, do you ever ponder the fact that our faith—our committing our lives to following and being like Jesus Christ—is a fight? Is a struggle? Is a violent or vigorous confrontation? It’s not easy to follow Jesus.

It takes effort to live according to his will and ways.

It requires taking captive every thought and submitting it to him.

It demands persevering through doubts and temptations and believing the truth of what has been preserved for us in God’s Word.

It calls us to live according to God’s standards as these are presented to us in Scripture as opposed to living according to our society’s standards especially when these go against what the Scriptures teach. But, as Paul says, we are called to fight this faith fight and it’s a good fight. It’s a fight that God approves. For it’s a fight that calls us to take hold of the eternal life to which we’ve all been called, as the second half of verse 12 indicates. Though Paul is specifically addressing his spiritual son’s Timothy confession of faith, this is also a shared confession. Weekly we declare part of this shared confession as we publically proclaim the Apostles’ Creed:

We believe in God the Father,

We believe in God the Son,

We believe in God the Holy Spirit;

We believe in the Holy Catholic—or universal—Church;

We believe in the communion—or fellowship—of saints, of all who given their lives to follow Christ;

We believe in the forgiveness of sins,

We believe in the resurrection of the body,

and We believe in the life everlasting. We have been saved for and profess and take hold of the eternal life to which we’ve been called. Eternal life is what serving God rather than money ultimately leads.

Paul charges Timothy “in the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus” who “made the good confession” “while testifying before Pontius Pilate,”[6] verse 13, “to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” According to John, Jesus’ confession before Pontius Pilate included stating, “My kingdom is not of this world”[7] and “the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.”[8] And if we belong to Christ, then neither is our kingdom—neither is our hope—to be placed in this world but we are to place our hope in the truth of Jesus Christ’s testimony in word and deed as these are recorded for us in God’s Word. And so we, like Timothy, are to fight the good fight and take hold of the eternal life to which we are called until we die or Christ returns—whichever comes first.

Paul notes that Jesus Christ’s return will occur when God brings it about, in his own time. And Paul gets so wrapped up in thinking about our wonderful God that smack in the middle of his charge to Timothy, he breaks out in a benediction in verses 15 and 16: “God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.”

Paul then returns to the matter at hand in verses 17–19, namely how Timothy—how we who are followers of Jesus Christ—are to view money. In verse 17 he says, “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—is this an intended pun?!—us with everything for our enjoyment.” Though he is not living in 21st century United States, Paul is all too aware that money can make us feel like self-made people. So he tells Timothy to caution the rich first not to be arrogant—not to have an exaggerated sense of their own importance or abilities. Money can make us feel this way. It can make those who have it—especially if they have a lot of it—feel as though they are better or more deserving than those who don’t. Paul further tells Timothy to command the rich, secondly, not to put their hope in wealth. Again, this can be all too easy to do. Since money can meet many of our needs, it’s all too easy to conclude that money is all that we need. But if we think that money is all that we need, if we place our hope in wealth, in an abundance of money, we’ll likely miss out on those things that matter most in life. Wealth, Paul sagely observes, is so uncertain. There’s no way to hang on to it. All it takes to lose money is a bad investment—a loss of health—a natural disaster—a thief [e.g. current Wells Fargo fiasco]. And if we’ve placed our hope and identity and self-worth in wealth, where will be should we lose it? No, Paul tells Timothy, command those who are rich in this present world to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. If we put God first in our lives, we will never be disappointed, not in this life, not in the one to come. In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis offers his own variation on this theme: “I think earth, if chosen instead of heaven, will turn out to have been, all along, only a region in hell: and earth, if put second to heaven, to have been from the beginning a part of heaven itself” (Introduction, p. 8). I’m not sure Lewis if is right, but I like the juxtaposition he, too, sets up. To make earthly goods our heart’s desire is to miss out on all that God, our loving Creator and Redeemer, has in store for us; but to make God and his kingdom first in our hearts, enables us to enjoy him and others in the way he intended from the start.

In verse 18 Paul tells Timothy to command the rich three things: “ [1] to do good, [2] to be rich in good deeds, and [3] to be generous and willing to share.” He doesn’t say that the rich must stop being rich. But, as those who have money, they are to use that money for the service of others, to be generous—ever ready to give of their plenty. And they’re not only to give of their wealth, our equivalent of writing a check and being done with it. No, they’re to give of themselves—to do good and be rich in good deeds. To be rich in what they do for others. And that’s something all of us can do, that’s something all of us are called to do, regardless of whether or not we are financially rich.

If those who are rich in this present world demonstrate such liberality in the giving of their means and the giving of themselves, then, verse 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.” Brothers and sisters, as we keep seeing time and again, all of our earthly lives is a preparation and practice for our heavenly lives. Once in heaven, our faith will no longer be a fight—it will no longer be a violent struggle—for we will be able to know and love God and others easily as God ever intended. We will know him no longer by faith but by sight. We will enjoy him not only now but for all eternity. This is the life that is truly life. This is that to which all who call upon the name of Jesus Christ—whether rich or poor—are called. We are called to faith, hope, and love—faith in the risen Christ, hope of our resurrection in him, and love for God and each other. This is what typifies the heavenly, not earthly, kingdom. This is the godly gain which we, even now, can experience and enjoy.

Let us pray.


Benediction: I Timothy 6:15–16: “God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.”


[1] Luke 9:57–58; Parallel in Matthew 8:19–20.

[2] 2 Corinthians 8:9.

[3] Matthew 6:19–21.

[4] Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13.

[5] NIV/Reformation Study Bible: Perhaps at his baptism during Paul’s first missionary journey.

[6] John 18:33–37: 33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” 34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” 35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” 36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” 37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” John 19:7–11:The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.” When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”

[7] John 18:36.

[8] John 18:37.

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