If you are reading this as a pastor, teacher or preacher, I want you to jot down how old you are here _________. If you wrote a number less than 30 know this letter and this passage was written for you. You are approximately the same age as Timothy himself, and moving in the same vocational direction as he was. Pay close attention. The three paragraphs we consider today obviously come at the end of Paul’s instructional letter to his dear young friend Timothy, yet contain some of the apostle’s most critical advice to a young pastor. Believers of all ages will find these words invaluable.
One word permeates this letter, where it is used eight times, and that is “Godliness” or “Godly”. It is like the letters I loved to receive from my girlfriend, while away at college, that came on perfumed stationary. I was eager to smell and read them. Very tantalizing. God is the one and only object of our adoration and devotion. “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” (Westminster catechism). He is to be the utmost tantalizing Being of our existence. The characteristics of the Father, embodied in the Son, Jesus Christ, made available to all believers through the indwelling Holy Spirit are summarized in this word “godliness”. The ancient words of the Shema, found in Deut. 6:5 are the consummate confession of the Jewish people for four thousand years, and still for us, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with your strength.” Hence, for Paul, the elder teacher, it is imperative that the young pastor, Timothy, be reminded of his ultimate calling, Godliness.
Verses 6:6-10 contain Paul’s strong statement that Godliness is a great achievement when it is accompanied with contentment, which is the sweet feeling of peace when I know I have all that I need in life. We entered life with nothing and we will leave life with nothing. There are no trailer hitches on hearses. Paul was well aware there were folks going into ministry for the express purpose of making money. Greed and covetousness are never far from religious leaders. The last of the Ten Commandments, found Duet. 5:21, is God’s clear warning to his chosen people. No doubt the words of the prophet Isaiah in chp. 1:23 were familiar to the apostle, “Your rulers are rebels, companions of thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts.” Hence the well known statement that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” For untold centuries religious leaders have fallen into this trap and come to shame and ruin.
Verses 6:11-16 Paul’s challenge is to flee from the above noted negative and pursue, chase after, hunt for, the Godly life. Paul then articulates this life as righteousness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. Don’t take this calling casually but be aggressive and fight for Godliness. I’m somewhat surprised Paul didn’t quote God’s challenge to Joshua, the young new leader of the Israelites, “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:7) Paul’s passion for God and Timothy’s pursuit of Him, erupts in a doxology in verses 15 and 16. What more could be said about the object of our devotion?
Verses 6:17-19 are Paul’s instructions for Timothy’s dealing with people who already have money, as opposed to those who want and desire money. Wealth, in and of itself, is not evil but neutral. It is a reality of life that some people have more money than others. It has always been so, and always will be so. King David in Psalm 62:9-10 puts the issue of riches in perspective, “Lowborn men are but a breath, the highborn are but a lie: if weighed on a balance, they are nothing; Do not trust in extortion or take pride in stolen goods; though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them.” To do good and to be generous are to be the hallmark of the Godly person.
Our Lord taught often throughout his ministry concerning all three of Paul’s current concerns for Timothy’s ministry: 1) The attractive allure of money and wealth; 2) The necessary pursuit of Godliness; 3) The wise use of wealth through generosity and good deeds. There are multiple cross references, but for our study here are three quotes from the words of Jesus regarding our three concerns: 1) The desire for wealth, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Lk.12:15; 2) The pursuit of Godliness, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet is did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” Matt.7:24-25; 3) The use of wealth, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Lk.12:32-34.
Throughout the history of the Church, from its birth recorded in Acts to its struggles with Jewish and secular philosophies expressed in Paul’s letters, its well documented history of two thousand years of excesses and failures, the world-wide Church of today needs to hear and heed the words of Paul to young Timothy. “…The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” Now, more than ever, this is true for both the Church and individual believers. This is true because of the instant and pervasive communication of all news and ideas via television, computers, and phones. The people of God are surrounded by a world obsessed with the desire for money and things.
Because of social media the poorest villager in Nigeria knows about the latest shoes made by Nike. And they are desired, even by the 12 year old pastor’s son. Churches desire the latest television and audio equipment so they “can communicate better” to the secular world. Pastors are regularly enticed to attend the latest conference, and why not fly business-class?
If someone gave your church $50,000 what would you spend it on? If your boss gave you a$10,000 bonus, what would you spend it on? Our desires are almost limitless, our needs, not so much.
Godliness. Godliness? When was the last time someone, anyone, told you to fight for it, to pursue it, to grasp it? As a pastor, teacher, preacher how would you even define it?
Is Paul for real? Twice he urges Timothy to “command” the wealthiest congregants to not be arrogant, but to be willing to share. Talking about money and finances is very difficult for most folks, especially in the church. To talk about it so boldly with people who have it is almost unthinkable. Christian “Baby Boomers” will transfer multiple trillions of dollars when they pass away over the next few decades. To whom and for what purposes will these funds be given?
This is a serious question the Church and its leaders must discuss and advise what to do.
Ideas and Themes to Be Explored
Contentment is a much unappreciated ideal in our world. What is its appropriate definition or word picture? How might Christians set an example for the world?
Given the list of Godly traits (v.11), how does the Fruits of the Spirit tie-in with these?
How do the promised rewards of verse 19 relate to the commands of v. 17 and 18?
Contemporary angle to preaching
- Have the church make a list of their wants versus their needs. This could be done as part of the worship, or as homework; it should be done by families, elders, deacons, young and old. Come up with helpful definitions.
- Do a word-study on Paul’s two commands, first the negative one of v.17 and then the positive one of v18. How would this be fleshed out in your church? What are the possibilities for “good deeds” surrounding your church and town?
Bud Thoreen was raised in Southern California and has a BA from Wheaton College and an Mdiv. from Fuller Seminary. He spent nearly 10 years as an Area Director for Young Life. Retired after 37 years as a remodeling contractor, he now works for FaithQuest Missions, engaging believers in what God is doing around the world. He spent 40+ years as an elder, teacher, part-time preacher at Irvine Presbyterian Church. You can contact Bud at [email protected]
Pastor Dr. Jim Dixon told the story about one Lord Gore, an Irish aristocrat, who came to Colorado in the 1850s on an exceedingly lavish hunting and exploratory trip to see the great Rocky Mountains. He came with a large party, hired many wagons and men to move all the goods and furnishings he brought with him, including a brass bed, down mattress, silken sheets, fine china and candelabras, a metal bathtub, cases of fine wines and food for everyone. He also brought 50 hunting hounds, and many guns and much ammunition with which to bring down game. Once in the mountains they began to hunt and kill all the game they could see, not for food or sport, but just to see how much they could bag. All told, they killed over 2000 buffalo, 1600 deer and elk, and many smaller game. It was a safari of untold excess. For his efforts, he had a mountain and river named after him in the area of Vail, CO.
Dr. Dixon states, “As Christians, the Bible tells us that we are visitors in this world, this world is not our home. We are exiles and aliens on the earth and our true homeland is in heaven. We live on this earth for a short time but we should not live as the world lives and our attitudes should not be the same as the world’s are. There are plenty of Lord Gores in this world—people who believe the earth exists to meet their needs but as Christians we are called to meet the needs of other people.”
Jim Dixon Sermon Library
The story is told of a very wealthy man who was about to die. He had all assets converted to gold ingots and asked that they be buried with him. After he passed and was buried, he approached the gates of heaven with two heavy suitcases. St. Peter peered inside then, with a puzzled look, asked the man, “Paving stones, why do you bring us paving stones.
Ben Witherington III, Jesus and Money, A Guide for Times of Financial Crises. Brazos Press