I have often talked and written about my several years of life while serving in an extraordinarily wealthy church environment in Texas during my grad school education. There were two types of wealthy people I encountered. In the words of the title today, there were those who allowed wealth to be a destructive roots system in their life that actually grew out of control and choked them, and there were those who rightly saw their wealth as God’s gift to invest to build foundations in heaven that could never fade away.
Paul addresses the issue of money, wealth, and the use of resources biblically …
A – The good desire – that is true gain (6:6-8)
6:6 – 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.
What “stuff” do we look for in life … really … that satisfies? Often it is thought of as great accumulation, but in fact, the thing that satisfies is contentment. That is a state of being free of worry or fear, yet also not having any sense of needing to get more of something. Add to this a godly attitude – one that is tuned to the bigger picture that is more than just this world – but sees it all in a kingdom view – and you’ve really got something that is the ultimate gain.
The word for “contentment” means being self-contained, picturing something that is free of circumstances.
Over the years I have often been struck by the contentment and peace in the lives of Christians going through the worst circumstances, usually physically – threatening life itself. It is a gift from God to those who trust with a big-world picture of things.
It is good to learn as early in life as possible that contentment is our true need both mentally and emotionally, and we get that by having a spiritual viewpoint that this world is the brief reality in a larger kingdom plan of God.
B – The bad desire – that is a trap for destruction (6:9-10)
6:9 – 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.
The “want to” here is a word with more than just simple desire, but of a conscious decision to go after something – in this case, the accumulation of riches. It is not a bad thing to have riches as the result of hard work and regular responsibility; but making it as a burning desire and goal leads to six distinct dangers that Paul gives in these verses …
- It leads to temptation. The “fall into” is actually the idea of continuously falling in a direction. There will inevitably be very questionable (if not outright wrong) ways of accumulating wealth that will come across the path of the one who has this as a primary goal of life.
- It is a trap … a snare. The picture is clear. Have you seen those outdoor shows of snares that can be put on a pathway that the unsuspecting animal, or person, can step into and trigger, lifting them right off the ground? Or that of a covered hole a person can fall into. It is said in Scripture that Satan is active in this way, and the appetite for wealth sets up an easier way of baiting you into a bad place.
- It creates foolish and harmful desires. The energy to gain wealth puts a person into a position of opportunity and possibility of doing stupid things that could never be logically defended. It makes you into the ultimate ADD person with no ability to consider consequences of actions beyond the first presumed result of gain.
- It sinks your life into ruin. The word for plunge is only used one other time in the NT—in Luke 5:7 to describe a boat overloaded with fish. And that is what the all-out intent to be wealthy can do—create a weight that sinks you and everything else.
- It causes a wandering from the faith – it is A root, not THE root … and not of ALL evil, but of A WIDE VARIETY of evils. And it is the LOVE OF… not the mere possession of money. But wrongly held, money-love results in a person gradually walking away from God and truth.
- It causes many sorrows and grief. This is a self-inflicted wound, like stabbing oneself with a sword.
All in all, if money brought contentment, we would not regularly see the discontent and unhappiness – often to the point of suicide – of the wealthiest people in the country and world.
C – The uncertain hope – that can be easily lost (6:17)
6:17 – 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.
Here we see how the personal letter to Timothy was meant for a wider audience than just the younger disciple. And there are some natural tendencies that come along with wealth:
- That it has some measure of representation as the blessing of God – when in fact the Scriptures often speak of the most unrighteous people possessing the greatest wealth in this life.
- That wealth becomes the object of trust and security rather than God. This is foolish, because riches are entirely uncertain and can be lost easily in a whole variety of ways.
And the appropriate perspective to have is just the opposite of this, as the verse goes on to say….
D – The certain hope – that can never be lost (6:17-19)
… 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.
Three perspectives are listed here for those Christians with assets to have as guiding principles …
- Put hope in God – the one who RICHLY provides from His true riches – providing the stuff money can never buy, including contentment. Remember that “today’s gains are tomorrow’s losses.”
- See material blessing as a stewardship – There is no shame in having wealth that is more abundant than others have. But there is a responsibility that comes with it to use it for good and for God and his people. We all have blessings from God to share. Some without wealth have other gifts and resources to be used for Kingdom work – gifts of service, or teaching … often abilities the rich may not have. And herein is a stewardship as well.
- Invest in eternity – It is like the ultimate layaway plan. What you give and use for kingdom work can never be lost.
You can be poor in this life and rich in the next. You can be rich in this life and poor in the next by using it upon yourself. OR, you can be rich in this life and rich in the next … but that can be difficult to do because of all the challenges listed above.
Let’s summarize this whole thing with a single statement: Money can control you in this world as you allow it to grow destructive roots, or you can control it and build foundations of eternal value.
A proper view of wealth and resources is one of those “nuts and bolts” things that helps a church be great. Just as there are varied attitudes and lifestyles of Christian individuals with wealth, the same is true of churches.
Let us see our corporate efforts as indeed investing for eternity and building foundations there, rather than being choked by the roots here!