1 Timothy 6:6-11
August 16, 2020
Simplicity leaves room in our lives to pursue the right things.
I. Contentment is great gain (1 Timothy 6:6-8)
II. Love of money is a disaster (1 Timothy 6:9-10)
III. We?ve got better things to pursue (1 Timothy 6:11)
For most of us, at times, life feels like a cluttered, distracted and preoccupied mess. We look at our homes, our schedules and our mental closets and find them full of things that we think we need but know we probably don’t. We find tasks we know we don’t need to do that have to be done anyway. We find spending we know we don’t need to spend, but we keep spending it. We find in fact that rather than owning our stuff and our schedule, it owns us.
So we look back with nostalgia at earlier times and earlier ways of life. We hear the Amish and Mennonite cultures talk about “simplicity” and we think “Oh, if only my life were that simple.” For a hundred years our culture has sought ways toward simplicity in the complex mess of a modern world. The earliest book I found, and it’s a good one, is called The Simple Life. It was written by Charles Wagner. In 1901. In the 1980’s and 90’s American Evangelicals were fascinated by Dallas Willard and Richard Foster who included “simplicity” as a Christian disciplines in their best selling books. Richard Foster even wrote a whole book on The Freedom of Simplicity. But far more people read these books than had the discipline to practice them. More recently the cluttered world has been enraptured with Marie Kondo and her Life-changing magic of tidying up. Only keep the things that bring you joy, she says, and make those thing visible and accessible and you’ll never have to clean again.
But her method, like the techniques people cull from Foster, Willard and Wagner, fails to address the heart issues behind complexity and clutter and distraction. Not that they haven’t seen the heart issues. Wagner, writing in 1901 says that the outward show of simplicity, “which may now and then be counterfeited, must not be confounded with its essence and its deep and wholly inward source. Simplicity is a state of mind.” Similarly, Foster says “Simplicity is an inward reality that results in an outward lifestyle.” Dallas Willard writes that simplicity is “the arrangement of life around a few consistent purposes, explicitly excluding what is not necessary to human wellbeing.” Simplicity starts with an inward attitude. Jesus called it seeking the kingdom. Foster says “The inward reality of simplicity is beautifully encapsulated in Matthew chapter 6, especially Jesus’s concluding words that we are to “seek first the kingdom of God” and the righteousness of this kingdom, and all that is needed for life will be added to us.” The apostle Paul describes the same inward reality in the idea of pursuing godliness with contentment. This morning we want to look not so much at the techniques of simplicity but at the inward reality of contentment and the spiritual means of pursuing it.
We’re going to be looking at 1st Timothy 6, verses 6-11 and we’ll see that simplicity is a not-pursuing that allows us to pursue the right things. Let’s read the whole section, then we’ll begin looking at the gain that comes with contentment. 1 Timothy 6 But godliness with contentment is great gain, 7for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 11But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.
The verses we’re studying start with the word “but,” which alerts us that we’d better look at the context and spot the contrast. In this letter Paul gives advice to his mentee Timothy on things like teaching Scripture and choosing elders. In verse 3 he tells Timothy how to handle those who teach different doctrines, opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ and the teaching of godliness. He says such a teacher “is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, 5and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” That last phrase is the one from which we transition with a “but.” These false teachers are using religion for personal gain. Fortunately, we don’t have any teachers in our Christian culture who do that. Well, maybe we do. Maybe the whole prosperity gospel movement which has infected the church and tormented the world, is built on the premise that godliness is a means to gain. Paul could not be more clear in condemning that philosophy.
But the “but” goes further. In our verses Paul no longer talks about the false teachers, but about how our lives can stand in contrast to them as we pursue the right things. “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” Paul contrasts financial gain and financial security to the spiritual gain and spiritual contentment associated with godliness. What does Paul mean by godliness? Jerry Bridges answers this in The Practice of Godliness. He defines godliness as devotion-in-action or “devotion to God which results in a life that is pleasing to him.” He then defines devotion as fearing God, loving God and desiring God. He quotes William Law, who said the godly person is one who “lives no longer [according] to his own will, or the way and spirit of the world, but [according] to the sole will of God; who considers God in everything, who serves God in everything, who makes all the parts of his common life parts of [godliness], by doing everything in the name of God,” in ways that bring him glory.
This godliness, combined with contentment, is of great value or gain to the believer. The word “contentment” translates a Greek word used relatively rarely in the New Testament, but often in other ancient Greek writings. It means having enough. In 2nd Corinthians Paul says “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” Here it is used subjectively for “a mind at peace with its lot in life.” In Philippians 4:11 the adjective form is used. Paul says “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” I need this contentment. In our family we have a phrase ‘post-vacation-depression.’ Gail and I just got back from two weeks in the cool forests of northern Minnesota. We thank you for them. But coming back to work in hot, humid Houston, and jumping back into ministry and busyness and life in a COVID world, is a door to discontent. I need to know how godliness with contentment is gain.
Paul gives one tool for this by saying “we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” This is plain common sense. We were all born naked and needy, and our needs were met. We all go out in a coffin or in ashes taking nothing with us. It reminds me of the story of the miser who made his wife promise that she would put all his money in his coffin, so that he could take it all with him. His wife finally promised she would, and just before the coffin was closed she wrote a check for the full amount and tucked it in his hand. Even if you take it with you, you can never use it.
Therefore, Paul says, we should be content with the minimum essentials of life, food and clothing. The second word is more literally “covering,” so maybe “shelter.” Jesus teaches us to look at the lilies of the field, which neither toil nor spin, yet “even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”
I’ve been reading several novels by Wendell Berry, set in the fictional Kentucky farming town of Port William from the Civil War to the 1980’s. Berry’s big idea is that the farmers could be close to self-sufficient, and that this simpler life led to more contentment than our modern complexity. It’s true that self-sufficiency itself was complex. Your food came from the fields and the barns and the garden, but you had to process it and put it up, grind your own corn, butcher your animals, and sew your own clothes. Yet, Berry says, this led many to contentment. If we have food and clothing with this we will be content. And if this contentment is combined with godliness, a love and fear and desire of God that focuses our lives on pleasing him, that, Paul says is a gain, a richness greater than the riches of the world could possibly give.
And so, in the middle section, Paul warns against that desire, the desire for worldly riches. He counsels simplicity in our dealing with money. Verse 9: But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
In sharp contrast to godliness, which with contentment is the foundation of all kinds of real gain, greed, the desire for riches is the foundation of all kinds of misery. We have trouble with that thought in our culture. The generation I grew up in was taught that you needed to make something of yourself. Riches and possessions were the yardstick that measured success. It was expected you would move from rental to house to bigger house and from used car to new car to luxury car. The generation we raised, I think, has this paradigm to a less dangerous degree, but no generation in the history of the world has ever been totally free from the conviction that it takes money to do stuff and therefore money is the garden in which all your desires, good or evil can grow.
This, says Paul, is incredibly dangerous. His language is emphatic. Those who are determined to be rich fall into temptation. This desire is “a trap,” the kind of snare used to trap animals. Furthermore this desire enables many other desires that are foolish, senseless and harmful. Do you see that? It’s a vicious cycle. How many times have we heard stories of athletes or media stars who have suddenly had the means to get drugs or sex or stuff in abundance and have ended up in addiction and toxic relationships and often broke. Think of the testimony of those who have won the lottery, who go on such a spending spree that they end up losing it all and deeply in debt. But then turn it the other way. Think of poor young men who turn to stealing or dealing because they need money to support their own habits. Being poor does not free you from the love of money and often you’ll go to any length to get it. It’s a trap. It’s a snare.
Paul says that it plunges you into the deep, like a ship sinking into the deepest part of the sea, a sea of ruin and destruction. Both words could be translated destruction, and both are used of physical, spiritual or eternal destruction. For example the first word is used in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” The second word is used by Jesus “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.” It’s used by Peter who says that “the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and the destruction of the ungodly.” With these strong words Paul says that the desire for riches leads you into peril.
In fact, verse 10, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” This is, of course, a well known phrase, and proverbs of this sort already existed before Paul wrote it. Notice it does not say “money is the root of all evil.” That’s a frequent misquotation, but not what Paul says. Money, or riches, is neutral. But the love of money is a root, not the root but one of the common roots, of all kinds of evil. That’ why Jesus says it’s harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. In that incident Jesus had questioned a rich young man who wanted assurance of eternal life. He said he was keeping all the commandments. But Jesus said “Go, sell all that you have and give it to the poor, and come and follow me.” The rich young man coveted his riches, and could not trade them even for spiritual gain.
Paul says that “through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” That’s what I picture happening to the rich young man. He wandered from following Jesus and his riches likely brought him only pain. Again, this is proverbial. The famous story of King Midas, whose wish was that everything he touched would turn to gold shows the ancient wisdom that an excess of riches starves and impoverishes you. I’m afraid the same can be true of us. We live such materially prosperous lives that we don’t even notice the narcotic. The ease and comfort that our relative affluence bring do not inspire us to greater service or sacrifice, they inspire us to crave more ease, comfort and convenience. This is one of the reasons why the heresy of the prosperity gospel has been so effective among both the rich and the poor. It baptizes the love of money and pronounces it good, drawing many from the true faith of Christ-following to the false promise of prosperity.
Most proponents of simplicity, whether ancient or modern, Amish or Japanese have identified wealth and possessions as an enemy of simplicity. They promote reduction of stuff as a way toward contentment. As Brett & Kate McKay have said in a summary article on simplicity “the practice of minimalism can be a valuable support to living the simple life . . . the more you desire material things, the more you’ve got to work to earn the money to buy them, and . . . the less time you’ll have to spend on other priorities in your life. Start running on that treadmill, and your loves will soon be grossly out of order.” They quote Charles Wagner, who says that buying and owning fewer possessions teaches you to attach less of your identity to your things, which prepares you to for life’s ups and downs, and to be of more service to your neighbor. They say “Purge your place of most everything you haven’t used in a year, and don’t feel you’ll ever use again. If you really aren’t sure whether something should be kept, go ahead and ask yourself [per Marie Kondo] Does it spark joy?” Brett & Kate McKay also recommend eliminating debt, along with Charles Wagner and Dave Ramsey.
“Simplicity gives the freedom to concentrate on what matters most; debt destroys it. It’s hard to put family first when you need overtime to pay the bills. It’s hard to give to charitable causes when your paycheck is spoken for. It’s hard to help others when you’re standing in a hole. Debt is an albatross that can force you to order your priorities in ways that don’t match your purpose. Get rid of it as soon as you can.” One of the sad stories Wendell Berry tells in his novel Jaber Crow is of a man who buys the lie that more equipment and more land make a farmer a success. He gets into a spiral of growing debt and harder work to get himself out until his unending pursuit bankrupts him and he loses it all.
All this, I believe, is good advice. But it would be wrong to see money as the only root of evil, the only path away from following Jesus. There are many and they are subtle. Sinful pleasure, especially in the pursuit of sexual freedom is a root of all kinds of evil. Many years ago there was a song that asked “how can it be wrong if it feels so right?” and our culture yells at the top of its digital lungs “it can’t, it can’t be wrong. The only wrong is to call anything wrong.” Meanwhile our children are led into sexual choices with lifelong physical and psychological consequences. Self-rule is a root of all kinds of evil. “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” Noble words but nobly wrong. Only Jesus has the wisdom and love to be my captain. Pride and self-focus displace other-focus and when we don’t love others we hurt them. Show me a proud, self-focused person and I’ll show you a family or community suffering. Works righteousness is a root of evil. How often the church has substituted conformity to a man-made standard for the gospel of faith in a loving Savior, bringing shame, guilt, doubt and despair on many who might have believed. Finally, lesser loves are a source of evil. When we elevate some other cause, some good thing above godliness, we do more harm than good. Causes like justice, gender equity or helping the poor can all be good and allow us to be the hands and heart of Jesus. But if they become all-in-all to us, at the expense of godliness, they become evil taskmasters with tainted fruit.
But what do we do about this? Can we make ourselves godly by human effort? Can we make ourselves content by an effort of the will? I don’t think so. I’ve often said that true change, the death of these false loves comes from the expulsive power of a new affection. Paul doesn’t use that famous sermon title here, but this is the point of verse 11. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.
Paul addresses Timothy directly. “You.” First person singular. “O man of God.” What is a man of God? In the Old Testament it was a title for prophets, who served God and spoke his word. But in the New Testament the woman or man of God seems to be the person who benefits from the word.
Paul says in 2nd Timothy “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” The person of God is the one shaped and equipped by the sustained ministry of God’s word in his or her life. Through Scripture, God shows what is right, identifies what is wrong, corrects behavior and thinking and trains in right doing by repetitive practice. This is what equips us for godliness and for contentment. Thus instructed, the person of God will flee from the temptations of money, power, pride, pleasure and the pursuit of lesser loves.
But Paul does not stop with counsel to turn from these things. Such negative counsel is rarely successful. He tells Timothy, and us, what to turn to: “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness.” In recent years I’ve come to love what I call the virtue lists of the New Testament. There are many. They’re all good. They show us how our faith is not a matter of externals, but of the heart, an interior development of character that brings life change.
This list is especially powerful, for the pursuits are so central. Pursue righteousness. Righteousness is the holy, just, perfect, sinless nature of God. Righteousness is also right standing before God, holiness and sinlessness in ourselves. Such righteousness is also impossible, in our own power, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Righteousness, rather, is a gift from God, the result of Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross, by which our sin is atoned for and we are declared righteous in God’s sight. Given that, how can we pursue righteousness? Well, what we’ve are declared to be, how we are seen by God in Christ is not yet how we live. We do not live in perfect righteousness and holiness. This is what Paul is telling us to pursue, to become in daily life more of what we are in the eyes of heaven. Jerry Bridges, who wrote The Practice of Godliness, first wrote The Pursuit of Holiness. That’s what Paul’s saying.
Furthermore, pursue godliness. Remember that Jerry Bridges defined godliness as love for God, fear of God and desire for God that leads to changed character. These three things are worthy preoccupations for the daily life of the contented soul, the preoccupations of true simplicity. Rich Mullins wrote a song called “My One Thing,” which David will sing in a bit, about preoccupation with God over everything else. He says “Everybody I know says they need just one thing. What they really mean is that they need just one thing more. Everybody seems to think they've got it coming. Well I know that I don't deserve You, still I want to love and serve You more and more. You're my one thing. You're my one thing. And the pure in heart shall see God.”
Third, pursue faith. I take this to mean trust. If you are not trusting in yourself or in your stuff or in your money, then you’d better be learning how to trust God. Life is hard, and difficult circumstances and stresses come often. Pursuing faith means a conscious choice to trust God at those times even when we see no human way out of the difficulties. Fourth, pursue love. Our whole series is about pursuing the two greatest commands, love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Paul is reminding us that this pursuit is of more value than all the riches. The beauty of these two great commands, which are really one command, to love, is in their simplicity. All of the law and prophets are summed up in these two commands. Paul says in Romans “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”
Fifth, pursue steadfastness, or endurance. The life of godliness, contentment, is a long obedience in the same direction. The person who starts off after these things tomorrow, sees no results on Tuesday and gives up on Wednesday is likely to start pursuing their own interests Thursday. One who starts weight training for the first time today would be foolish to expect to bench press 225 pounds tomorrow. Godliness is a long term project. Thus steadfastness is an active evidence of contentment. “It’s okay not to be there yet.”
And finally, sixth, pursue gentleness. This one is a bit surprising. All of the other virtues on the list are self-evidently spiritual, but this one seems like an add-on, like something optional, just as Nancy Leigh DeMoss said about gratitude when we looked at it a few weeks back. But Jesus was gentle, he invites us to rest in him because he is gentle, and we are to pursue the same gentleness-in-strength he modeled. Gentleness is not self-focused, is not aggressive, is not trying to get its own way, but in humility is putting the needs of others ahead of our own. This way lies contentment. This way lies simplicity. Like humility, gentleness isn’t so much about thinking less of ourselves as thinking more of others. It is being at peace, content, with what comes our way even if what comes our way invites anger, resentment, bitterness or revenge.
So what have we said? Simplicity is a not-pursuing that allows us to pursue the right things. Simplicity is a not-pursuing of stuff, of worldly gain, of self-sufficiency, of lesser loves that allows us to pursue godliness in all its forms and aspects, which when allied with contentment, has value in all things.