(The studies in the book of 1 Timothy are based on a verse-by-verse application of the Bible truth found in the epistle. To profit from this lesson the reader should have a Bible open to the sixth chapter of First Timothy.)
The New Testament letters to Timothy and Titus are sometimes called “the pastoral epistles” because they deal in part with matters affecting pastors and congregations. The plural “you” is included (in the original Greek text) in the final greeting of First Timothy (6:21b); we know that the message is intended for all believers. Paul’s purpose in writing was to admonish, instruct, and give direction to God’s people, and especially to those in leadership positions in the church.
First Timothy is a guidebook with instructions about how to conduct a local church—choosing officers, disciplining offenders, dealing with the place of women—and in chapter 6, learning about the proper use of material things.
1. Caution About Those Who Teach for Money (6:3-5)
In verses 3-5 of the last chapter of First Timothy, the Apostle Paul is warning the young preacher about wasting his time and energy listening to false teachers who enjoy nothing but debates and arguments. Religious teachers promote their philosophies from a variety of motives. Some do not teach sound doctrine (6:3). They do not speak “wholesome words” and “doctrine which is according to godliness.” In fact, they have a morbid craving for controversy, “doting about questions and strifes of words” (6:4).
Some teachers love to argue about matters that are not clearly set forth in Scripture. They major on controversial subjects which tend to stir the emotions of people. They dwell on scary future events and prey on the fears of unthinking people; they say that if you belong to a church that has membership in the World Council of Churches, you are going to end up in the pit; they press for private or home schooling and imply that public school education is all bad. It is proper at times to express one’s opinion, but to be fanatically dedicated to promoting controversy is unhealthy. These things lead to unwholesome arguments and such teachers are “destitute of the truth” (6:5).
The teachers described in verses 3-4 often regard religious profession as a means of financial gain (6:5b). They sometimes will demand payment for their “professional services.” Over the years religious teachers and ecclesiastical agencies have gained huge riches at the expense of gullible people. Established churches and perverse teachers have sold indulgences, raffled lottery tickets, conducted church bazaars, and sent out letters that pictured starving people, and used high pressure appeals to get funds. We are told (in 6:5) to “withdraw” fellowship from such teachers. Not all unity is good. There are times when a servant of God must take a stand against false teaching and godless practices.
The thought about those who teach for financial gain leads Paul to give some profound insights about the dangers of wealth.
2. The Results of Desiring to Be Rich (6:6-10)
Every Christian has probably read that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God (Luke 18:25). Yet many of us find it easy to pursue more and more wealth, instead of striving to live on less. Our forefathers did without sugar until the 13th century, without coal fires until the 14th century, without printed literature until the 15th century, without potatoes until the 16th century, without coffee, tea, and soup until the 17th century, without puddings until the 18th century, without matches and electricity until the 19th century, and without canned goods until the 20th century. Surely, if we had to, we could live on less.
Money is one of the most unsatisfying of possessions. It does take away some cares, but it brings with it many additional concerns. Bishop J. C. Ryle says, “There is trouble getting it, anxiety in keeping it, temptations in the use of it, guilt in the abuse of it, sorrow in losing it, and perplexity in disposing of it.” One can be surrounded by all kinds of material things, and still sense that something is gnawing a hole in the heart.
In 1 Timothy 6, verses 6-10, we learn some great truths about money. There are a number of results that grow out of the desire for riches.
a. A lack of simple contentment (6:6)
We read in 6:6 that “godliness with contentment is great gain.” There is a certain satisfaction which ought to characterize the child of God. We must never be satisfied with what we are (for there is always room to improve our character), but we should constantly work at being satisfied with what we have. Contentment does not come from having all our wants supplied; it comes instead from reducing our desires to include only the essentials of life. It is related to the last of the Ten Commandments. We are not to covet. We are not to be caught up with the craving for more and more.
b. The notion that we can take it with us (6:7)
Verse 7 says that “we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” Every person comes into the world without a penny in his pocket; in fact, we come without a pocket to put a penny in. And all of us will leave the world without taking any material goods with us. Before Alexander the Great died, he said, “When I am dead, see that my hands are not wrapped in cloth, but are placed with the palms up, so that all who pass by can see that they are empty.” We can gather little or much between birth and death, but in the final hour, we will leave it all behind.
c. An excessive desire for unnecessary things (6:8)
Verse 8 says that “having food and raiment, let us be therewith content.” The word “raiment” (in the original text) is plural and means “coverings.” It refers to both clothing and shelter. If we have enough to eat, and proper clothing to wear, and a roof over our heads—we should be satisfied.
Contentment consists of being satisfied with the basic necessities of life. Our heavenly Father knows that we need food, clothing, and shelter, and if we pursue a godly life, He has promised to supply these essentials (Matthew 6:33).
The self-centered Adamic nature often seems to want more. From the time we could crawl on our knees, we wanted a little red wagon, and then a tricycle with a bell—and then a bicycle, a car, and a house—and dozens of other things. Today it is snowmobiles, minibikes, calculators, computers, digital watches, video games, and other costly things designed more for display and entertainment than for utility. Every advertisement is geared to create within us a spirit of discontent. They hold out the item and say, “Look, you don’t have this; you’ve got to have this; you really ought to want it.” The media is designed to appeal to our natural sense of greed.
Two factors have had a tremendous impact on the buying habits of multitudes of people in the western world—the supermarket, and the credit card. Two cautions may help us to be wise in our response to these blessings. 1)Don’t shop at the supermarket when you are hungry. 2)Don’t use a credit card unless for convenience and the balance is paid in full each month.
There is the story of the Amish couple who were working outside when they saw a moving van pull up next door, hauling the earthly goods of their new neighbor. Among the many items unloaded from the truck were a deluxe refrigerator with a built-in ice maker, a state-of-the-art stereo system with a compact disc player, a remote-controlled television with a VCR, and a whirlpool hot tub. The following day the Amish couple welcomed their new neighbors, and stopped by with a loaf of homemade bread.
After the usual greetings and a cordial conversation, the Amish man concluded their visit by saying, “If anything should go wrong with your appliances or equipment, don’t hesitate to call me.”
The neighbor said, “That’s very generous of you; thank you.”
“No problem,” the Amish man said, “I’ll just tell you how to live without them.”
d. A path toward spiritual destruction (6:9-10)
Verses 9-10 remind us that those who “will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, . . . for the love of money is (a) root of all evil.” The desire for riches is one of Satan’s snares. Some have been doing nothing but making money, and their primary aim in life is to make more.
Following after riches has brought many to spiritual destruction. People sometimes are tempted to deceive, to defraud, to cheat, and even to abuse—to get more money. Verse 10 makes it clear that it is not necessarily an abundance of money, but the love of money, which often leads to lying, stealing, and adultery. And so indeed, the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Greed for money has lured people into committing acts of gambling, fraud, arson, perjury, theft, and even murder.
People who have violated God’s laws to get money and material things have “pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (6:10b). Those sorrows include the tragedy of a wasted life; the sorrow of losing one’s children to the world; and the grief of seeing wealth vanish over night. All of us must guard against becoming obsessed with material comforts, and with a desire to gorge ourselves with trivial things—things that soon become more junk to sell at the next yard sale. A good philosophy is this: “Use it up; wear it out; make it do; do without.”
3. Goals to Seek Instead of Riches (6:11-16)
There are some things from which we need “to flee,” and other things which we are “to follow after.”
The man of God is told (in 6:11a) to “flee these things.” What are the things from which we must flee? They include those things mentioned earlier in the chapter:
- a desire for controversies (described in verse 4)
- a spirit of discontent (described in verse 8)
- and a love for money (described in verse 10)
At the same time, the man of God must “follow after” a life of true Christian piety, including “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, (and) meekness” (6:11b).
- “righteousness” speaks of our attitude toward the teachings of the Bible. We should be eager to follow its teachings.
- “godliness” speaks of our attitude toward God. Our chief ambition should be to please Him in every detail of life.
- “faith” (faithfulness) speaks of our attitude toward duty. We are to keep our word, carry out our responsibilities, and fulfill our obligations.
- “love” speaks of our attitude toward all persons. We must focus on going the second mile, turning the other cheek, and avoiding retaliation.
- “patience” (perseverance) speaks of our attitude toward circumstances. It is not so much patience with people, as avoiding bitterness toward God when the trials of life come crowding in.
- “meekness” speaks of our attitude toward self. We must make deliberate efforts to lay aside self-will, self-pity, and any signs of self-importance.
We are to keep on pursuing these things. The qualities described here are the elements of true Christian character. And if we keep on following after these things, we will not so quickly be trapped by an unhealthy love of money.
We are instructed to “fight the good fight of faith” and to “lay hold on eternal life” (6:12). Life is a battleground; it is not a playground. All of us are engaged in a constant warfare with the devil. The tense of the verb “fight” is the imperative present, which means that the struggle will be a continuous process. The words “lay hold on eternal life” are similar to Paul’s example, when he said, “I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God” (Philippians 3:14).
The “good profession before many witnesses” (6:12b) may refer to Timothy’s baptism, or to the time of his ordination—a time when he likely reaffirmed his faith in Christ.
In verses 13 and 14 we are given a charge. Just as Jesus made a noble stand before Pilate (see John 18:37), so we are to teach sound doctrine, preserving the Word of God. We are not to tamper with it, or dilute it. We are to take a noble stand for the truth, and the example of Jesus should give added courage in our attempt.
In verses 14b-15, Paul declares that the coming of Christ is certain, and that at God’s appointed time, Jesus will be revealed in such a way that all persons will know that He is the one ruler with power—the King of kings and the Lord of lords. One who keeps Christ’s coming in view will not so quickly get caught up in the grip of material things. After all, when the Lord Jesus returns, earthly possessions will not mean very much. The hymn writer says, “The things of earth will grow strangely dim, in light of His glory and grace.”
We are reminded (in 6:16) that our coming Lord Jesus is far greater than all Caesars and Pharaohs and other monarchs, for He alone is immortal and cannot die. And our Lord’s brilliance in His glorified state is so dazzling—that in our human bodies—we would be vaporized by the splendor.
4. Admonitions to Those Who Are Wealthy (6:17-19)
The dedicated Christian must come to recognize that his wealth is for sharing, and not primarily for hoarding. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). In the earlier verses of this chapter, Paul addressed those who were seeking wealth; now he speaks to those who are already rich.
Those who are rich in this world are not to be “highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches” (6:17a). Not all of the early Christians were peasants and slaves; some were people of great wealth. They were not rebuked for being wealthy, nor is it suggested that they should give away all their possessions. They are simply instructed not to trust in them. (One of the great snares of riches, is that it’s difficult to have them without trusting in them.)
The word “uncertain” means that riches are here today and gone tomorrow. The word “highminded” means “to be proud of themselves”—as if they deserved the riches. God often gives riches as a reward for thriftiness and hard work. The person who increased his five talents so that it became ten talents (Matthew 25:14-30), was rewarded for his diligence—and just so, the Lord often blesses those who are diligent and frugal. But the person who loves money, even if he earns it honestly—and depends on it, and finds that he has become a slave to it—will err from the faith and backslide from God, and pierce himself through with many sorrows (as verse 10 says).
The clause, “who gives us richly all things to enjoy” (6:17b), means that good and proper things in life are to be used and appreciated without feelings of guilt. This includes food and exercise and nature and vacations and rest and family life, etc. The statement is not intended to condone luxurious living, but it does provide balance to those who might want to use verse 8 to insist that we must live in mud houses and walk barefooted in summertime so that we don’t have to buy as many shoes.
Verses 18 and 19 exhort the wealthy to “do good” and to be “rich in good works” (6:18). The wealthy are to “lay up in store for themselves a good foundation (for) the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life” (6:19). The rich are to be generous with their giving, using money to do good works—supporting missionaries, spreading the Gospel, and helping the needy. Those who give generously to support the cause of Christ will lay a foundation for the world to come. It will bring blessings in both worlds. “Eternal life” (6:19b) is life everlasting—life with a capital “L.”
Each of us needs to strive for a happy median regarding material things, seeking to be thrifty without being miserly. Proverbs 30:8-9 provides a good balance. If one is poor, there may be a temptation to steal; if one is rich, there will be a tendency to think he can get along without God, and perhaps deny any need for God. It is best for most of us just to have the simple necessities of life—no more and no less. So it is well to pray, “Lord, help us to escape the dangers of prosperity, and save us from the desperations of poverty.”
The conclusion to the epistle of First Timothy includes a final charge to the young preacher. In 6:20a, Timothy was to guard that which was committed to his trust (the doctrines that comprise the Christian faith). And in 6:20b, Timothy was to turn away from godless philosophical discussions (the word “science” refers to human reasoning about the mysteries of life). All of us must guard against falling victim to the subtle theories of men.
The closing benediction is short. The prayer is for the blessing of God’s grace (favor) to be upon “you” (plural)—all the believers in Christ Jesus. Our great duty in life is spelled out in Ecclesiastes 12:13, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”