1 Timothy 6: Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; 7 for we

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1 1 Timothy 6: Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; 7 for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; 8 but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. 9 But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. 11 But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will bring about at the right time he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. 16 It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. 17 As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, 19 thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life. 1

2 A Rich Life I really don t enjoy preaching about money. Money is a sensitive topic. It s one of the fundamental things that people argue about. Married couples argue over money: Why did you buy this? We can t afford it! Yes, we can! Why are you so cheap? Politicians argue over money: We must raise taxes to fund programs! No, we must lower taxes to stir growth! And even churches argue over money. If you don t believe me, come to the session meeting at the end of this month where the elders will discuss next year s budget. The church and money are an especially combustible combination. This is a topic I d rather avoid. But if you re going to preach from the Bible, and that s what I do, then you re going to have to confront what the Bible has to say about money and wealth. And the Bible has a lot to say about these topics. We ve been reading from the Gospel of Luke for quite a while, so let s look at some of the references to money and wealth that we find in Luke: Early in the Gospel, when Mary is told by an angel that she will give birth to the savior, she sings a song of praise to God. The words include this line [SLIDE]: He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty (Lk. 1:53). 2

3 Later, during one of his sermons, Jesus issues a series of blessings and woes. Among the woes is a warning to the rich: But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation (Lk. 6:24). After telling the parable of the dishonest manager, Jesus summarizes the point of the parable by saying: No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth (Lk. 16:13). You may remember Jesus encounter with a rich young man who sincerely wanted to follow Jesus, but not if it meant giving up his great wealth. After the encounter, Jesus tells the disciples: Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God (Lk. 18:25). That s just a quick survey. Luke has many more examples. In recent weeks we actually skipped over a couple of passages about money and wealth. In Luke 12 Jesus tells the parable of the rich fool, who builds a bigger barn to contain all his money, unaware that that very night he would die. In Luke 16 Jesus tells of the rich man and Lazarus who in death experience a reversal of their earthly fate; the rich man suffers while Lazarus is comforted. All of these passages have a common theme they speak of the potential dangers of wealth. Let s say that again the dangers of wealth. How does that make any sense? It s counterintuitive to the way that our society thinks. We think of wealth as a good thing, as something to be desired, as the solution to so many problems. How 3

4 much easier life would be if only we had more money! But the Bible sees not only the love of money, but also even the desire for wealth, as the cause of problems. That includes what we read today in 1 Timothy, where the uncertainty of riches is contrasted with the certainty of the God who richly provides, and where the eagerness to be rich is contrasted with the command to be rich in good works. As this is our first time reading 1 Timothy, it would help to know a little background about this letter [SLIDE]. First of all, Timothy is the recipient, not the author. The author is Paul. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I should say that most biblical scholars don t believe that Paul wrote this letter. The style, the vocabulary, and even the theology are quite different than what we see in letters like Romans and 1 and 2 Corinthians. (If you want to learn more about this, come to the Bible study!) Most scholars believe that the letter was written about thirty years after Paul had died by someone who wrote in the voice of Paul, applying Paul s authority to their own situation. This was a common practice in the ancient world. We still do this today. The Internet is full of quotes falsely attributed to famous people. If Einstein said all of the things attributed to him, he would ve had no time for physics. One quote supposedly from Einstein, and which I saw a friend mention just the other day is this [SLIDE]: Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. The message of the quote is not to judge someone by an ability that they don t have. That s a good message. The problem is Einstein never said it. But when you slap Einstein s name on there, suddenly the quote has much greater credibility. If Einstein said it, it must be true! I read it on the Internet! Something like that is what we see in Paul s letter to Timothy. Someone wanted to apply Paul s authority to their own situation. However, for the sake of simplicity, I m still going to refer to the author as Paul. What was the situation that Paul was concerned about in 1 Timothy [SLIDE]? The church in Ephesus (modern Turkey) was becoming well established. No longer just an informal gathering of people who 4

5 believed that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, the church by this time had taken on its own identity apart from Judaism. The church was growing. Because of this growth, more organization was needed. Offices for bishops, elders, and deacons had been created, each with distinct responsibilities. This is the nature of organizations churches or otherwise that experience growth. They need to organize themselves to accommodate that growth. This church has more than 7,000 people come through the doors each Sunday. A church that size needs to be highly organized. By necessity, then, this church is structured somewhat like a business. The church is organized into different departments that cover particular areas, e.g., education, overseas missions, worship, sports and culture, service, etc. There is a hierarchy to lead the church. The pastor is like a CEO who provides the vision and direction, the elders are like the board of directors, and the pastors are like department heads (I suppose?), each in charge of his or her area. Contrast that with my old church, which had a membership of about one hundred and a Sunday worship attendance about our size sixty to seventy. They had just three elders and three deacons. There was no conference room. Their session meetings took place around a coffee table in the fellowship hall. There were no elections. No one wanted to serve. The pastor had to beg people to serve as elders and deacons. Usually the same people rotated from one position to the other when their term expired. After my internship had finished, the pastor even tried to make me a deacon! The church that Timothy was overseeing was becoming well established. It had elders and deacons. It had something else a growing prosperity. Some members of the church were wealthy. The church of the first century was a fascinating mix of people from various backgrounds: Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free people. The church also attracted groups who had little power in society women and the poor. They were drawn to Christianity s message of all being equal under God. 5

6 But the church also included wealthy members among its ranks. In fact, the wealthy were patrons of the church. They supported the church financially. The early church did not have church buildings. Churches met in the homes of wealthy members. With their finances and their hospitality, the wealthy, in particular wealthy women, played a vital role in supporting the church. Paul says as much in his letter to the Romans, where he praises one of these female patrons a woman named Phoebe: I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, 2 so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well (Rom. 16:1). Paul holds up Phoebe, this female deacon, as an example of someone blessed with riches who uses them to richly bless others. Timothy s church could have used someone like Phoebe. The wealthy there were not setting a good example. It s not clear what the exact problem was, but when money is concerned, greed is never far behind [SLIDE]. Paul warns that those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction (1 Tim. 6:9). Let s break this sentence into two parts, the first being, Those who want to be rich fall into temptation. What temptation is Paul talking about? Well, obviously he s talking about money, but money is neither good nor evil. Money is morally neutral. It s our attitude toward money that s either good or evil. Money is just a means to accomplishing some end. For Christians, that end is the kingdom of God. Money is a tool that we put to use for God s kingdom. From the perspective of the kingdom of God, money has no value by itself. I know that sounds strange. Don t we know the value of money by simply looking at it? Of course, every paper bill has a number on it that signifies its value (1,000, 10,000, 50,000, etc.). But that s not the kind of value I m talking about. I don t mean a 6

7 numerical value. I m talking about the true value of money. The true value of money doesn t appear on the face of a bill. The true value of money rests solely in the good that it can accomplish for those in need. For Christians, then, money is a means for securing an end greater than itself. That end is the kingdom of God. The danger of money, then, the temptation into which we can fall, is when we confuse the means for the end. When money becomes the end itself rather than the means for working toward the kingdom of God, that is when, as Paul writes, we become trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction (1 Tim. 6:9). When the love of money overshadows the love of God, that is the root of all kinds of evil, as Paul writes (1 Tim. 6:10). Now, you re probably thinking, that doesn t sound like me. I don t have a love of money. I m not even rich. It s so easy for us to rationalize and let ourselves off the hook. We compare ourselves with the heirs of the Samsung or Lotte fortunes, or with athletes and celebrities. And it s true, by those standards we re far from rich. But by the standards of much of the world by the standards of many of the immigrants from Vietnam and the Philippines and elsewhere in Southeast Asia who come to Korea in search of work, we are rich. By the standards of the North Koreans who risk their lives crossing rivers and wandering through jungles to come here, we are rich. I m not trying to lay a guilt trip on you. I m not. I m just trying to remind us to remind myself of the bigger picture. Compared with much of the world, we are the rich. The transformation of Korea from the end of the Korean War until now is a remarkable success story. Korea is a world leader in communications technology well beyond America in terms of wireless technology and high-speed Internet. Yes, I know that the job market these days is not good, especially for young people, but the fact remains that Korea is the envy of many neighboring nations. We are rich. None of us have any doubt tonight about whether we will be able to eat dinner or have a warm bed to sleep in with a roof over our head. For us, those things are a 7

8 given and that makes us rich, because for many people the world over those basic necessities of food and shelter are not a given. I think of Paul s first lines here to Timothy [SLIDE]: there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these (1 Tim. 6:6,8). But will we? Will we be content with our slice of the pie when our neighbor seems to have received a bigger slice? Will we be content with the blessings that we have received or will we instead choose to obsess over the things that we lack the things that those around us seem to have in abundance? I should have said earlier that in writing this letter to Timothy, Paul is recognizing him as a leader of the church. Paul is calling upon Timothy to be an example for the people to follow. We see that in verse 11 [SLIDE]: But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness (1 Tim. 6:11). I don t know whether it s significant, but I find it interesting that Paul charges Timothy to combat greed not with its opposite generosity but with this long list of virtues righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. It s as if he s saying that greed is so powerful, so dangerous, so all-consuming that it must be combated not single-handedly but with this arsenal of virtues. To fight the good fight of faith, one had better come armed with virtue. Paul s charge to Timothy is a charge to us all, not just to the leaders of the church. Wherever we are in church, in school, at work, at home we are all leaders. By the way we use our resources and spend our money we can either lead people to Christ or lead them away from Christ. We demonstrate that our trust is either in riches or in the God who richly provides. We can either pursue a life of riches, or we can live a rich life a life rich in good works, generous, and ready to share (1 Tim. 6:18). 8

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