“But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
We’re drawing close to the end of Paul’s first letter to Timothy. We’ve studied this letter at a depth that many of us never have before. It is my hope that at the very least those who have been reading these posts have a better understanding of what Paul has written, but also that the Lord has used this platform to encourage and strengthen His church.
There are several themes that run throughout this letter. You may think of the numerous warnings against false teachers who advocate different doctrines other than what our Lord has spoken and Paul has reiterated. Another theme that comes to mind is the constant emphasis upon the teaching and preaching of God’s Holy Word. But another theme, often overlooked, is the theme of godliness.
Godliness (εὐσέβεια) is a word that describes great respect for God as shown through devotion. Some Bibles may translate this word as piety or, like the NASB, godliness. But what does this mean? What does it look like? Let’s cut to the chase. To show respect through devotion implies obedience and imitation. People show devotion to other objects all the time. To show devotion to a sports team is to follow every game and wear their colors. To show devotion to a spouse is to care for them, spend time with them, and to never desert them. But in the context of devotion to God, who is our Lord, master and savior, it means that we obey His commands and imitate His character. That is what godliness looks like.
In 4:7-8 Paul warns Timothy not to be distracted by what has no value (in the present or in eternity) but to discipline himself in godliness as that has great value in the present and in eternity. In 6:3 Paul defined teaching/doctrine that is sound/good and healthy as that which conforms to godliness. In 6:5 Paul condemns the false teachers circling the Ephesian church as those who suppose godliness is only a means of financial gain.
The text before us is connected to the previous verses in the sense that Paul plays off of the false teachers’ morbid understanding of godliness and defines it with a biblical framework. Yet these verses stand apart because Paul has moved on from the focus of these teachers’ content to their character. This text cuts in two directions. First, Paul exhorts the believers in Ephesus in true godliness. Second, he exposes the apostate unbelieving false teachers through their objective lack of genuine godliness.
But if godliness is to be truly objective (black and white) and thus defined, then we need an objective test. Paul gives us that test in v. 6.
Exhortation to Christians in Contentment (vv. 6-8)
“But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.”
Notice that Paul immediately lays to rest any idea that true and genuine godliness is not a means of gain. It most certainly is not a means of financial gain as the false teachers suppose. But that does not mean that godliness is of little or no value. He already said in 4:8 that godliness is of benefit both here in the present age as well as in the age to come. Obeying God and aligning our character to match His is of great benefit. Paul uses the adjective μέγα, from where we get our mega. A mega-church is a very large church. Mega Millions is a lottery that promises the winner to win a large sum of cash. The prefix is attached to any English word to indicate something that is large, numerous, or great. Paul doesn’t just say that godliness is indeed a means of gain, but a means of mega-gain. But godliness is never seen apart from contentment. Godliness, by definition, is accompanied with contentment.
The word contentment (αὐτάρκεια) at its basis has an understanding of sufficiency. It either describes an object of state of sufficiency (having what is necessary) or a state of being satisfied regardless of the reality of having sufficient means or not. The first describes a reality while the second a state of mind. Understanding which one Paul is referring to is important.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. The Greek stoics of Paul’s day were not much different than secular philosophers of our own time. To them the key to contentment is always internal. They key is not to base our contentment on our circumstances, but upon what is within us. This is the root of the British “stiff upper lip.” No matter what the fates may throw in your face, you can take in on the chin because through discipline you may stand content. If this rings hollow to the reader, it is because it is.
Paul is not suggesting that godliness that is a means of fantastic gain is somehow accompanied with introspective navel gazing. Quite the opposite. Rather, he has the reality of sufficiency in mind. Paul is saying that true godliness, that which is of mega gain, is accompanied by the realization that we have all that we need. He proves his point in the next verse.
For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either.
The old proverb which states that no hearse is every accompanied by a U-Haul rings true here. When we die, we can take nothing from this earth with us. But in the same breath we must admit that no baby comes into this world holding a suitcase. We come into this world naked and without so much as a dollar to our name. And yet that has no bearing on sufficient care we are given.
Our culture would look at this arrangement in horror. Why didn’t that baby plan ahead? Where is he going to live? What is he going to eat? How does he plan on paying the bills? And yet all the needs of that baby are met as soon as he arrives into this world. He is utterly helpless, yet shows no signs of alarm, fret or worry. This is the picture of godly contentment.
Is this not the picture that Jesus painted in Matthew 6? – “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Jesus is not suggesting that we face life with a stiff upper lip no matter our circumstances, but rather He commands that we rest in God’s ability to provide. A lack of contentment is to doubt God’s ability to provide for our needs. A lack of contentment is simply a nice way of saying that we do not believe God and are therefore living faithlessly. How can we make a claim to godliness if we are in fact living faithlessly? A baby is content, in a state of sufficient care, with nothing more than to be fed and warmed. Ironically, that is exactly Paul’s point.
If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.
We sure have a funny idea about what we need in life. Ask someone, anyone, what they need in order to live. The list will likely include things like a house, a car (maybe two), high-speed internet, a cell phone or two or three, and on and on the list goes. But let’s just stop and take Paul’s argument into consideration. Are any of those things necessary to sustain the life of a child? Does a baby come into this world with any of those things? Then what makes you think we should elevate them to the level of needs?
Paul is very matter-of-fact when it comes to needs. Only two things make the list: food and covering. The term covering (σκέπασμα) is a broad term that could be applied to clothing or shelter. I can’t help but notice that he does not use the term home or house. Something to protect against the elements will suffice. Yet we have the gall to whine about living in less than 2,000 square feet or not wearing the latest fashion (which is probably a blessing). Paul poses two questions: Are you fed? Are you covered? In these we shall be content.
Don’t miss the tone. That last phrase is given with the expression of a command. Paul mimics the same tense as Moses when he recorded the voice of Yhwh giving the Ten Commandments.
You shall have no other gods before Me
You shall not make for yourself an idol
You shall not take the name of Yhwh your God in vain
With these we shall be content
Contentment is found by realizing that God has indeed met and continues to meet our needs. If we have food to eat, clothes to wear, and a place to get out of the snow, then there is nothing else that we need. Our needs are sufficiently met. Godliness – obeying and imitating God’s person, commands, and character – is impossible unless we are resting in the sufficiency of His care.
Exposing Apostates with their Malcontent (vv. 9-10)
“But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
Notice that Paul begins by pointing to a different group. He is no longer speaking to his audience, but is referring to a group outside of his audience; namely, those who want to get rich. The group is identified by a unifying characteristic. They are those who desire/want/wish. The Greek word used here is βούλομαι and it means to have a strong desire or longing for something. But the term does not only describe a desire. The term indicates that whoever has such a longing is actively taking steps to bring it to fruition.
Even so, Paul does not leave this term hanging in the air. He tells us the object of their desire: to be rich. This term (πλουτέω) is very telling. It means to be high on a scale of affluence or to be abundantly and overly supplied. The desire is not to have enough to get by, but to be overflowing well past the point of excess. Those who are marked by this characteristic fall into temptation, and a snare, and many foolish and harmful desires.
The terms Paul uses (temptation, snare, desires) paint a picture of successive events. A temptation, when used negatively, is more or less bait; a tasty morsel placed just so in order to entice. Yet that temptation leads only to a snare or a trap. Once sprung, the victim is held fast with many (note the plural) desires.
Desires translates the Greek ἐπιθυμία. It indicates a strong desire even a craving. Paul uses this term with some frequency in his other letters in both positive and negative contexts. The idea is that this sort of desire is a burning passion that must be satisfied. Clearly the context is negative as Paul calls these many passions foolish and harmful.
On a side note, Paul does not write this verse as if this outcome is only a possibility. He does not say that those who want to get rich might fall. He says that they do fall. He writes this warning as the inevitable outcome.
Do not miss the final statement in v. 9. These base desires plunge men into ruin and destruction. This is not hyperbole (an exaggeration to make a point). Paul says in the plainest of terms that their wish for riches will only end in bodily and eternal destruction. Let’s mimic Paul’s language. A desire for wealth leads to hell.
Sin never makes sense and is always illogical. What sense does it make to defy God? He is the one who made this world very good. To defy God is to pursue the curse. What sort of sense does that make? It is utterly foolish and thoroughly harmful to pursue this sort of action. Yet this is Paul’s description of the wish for riches. What sense does it make to have wealth as your goal? In the next verse, he explains further.
For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
The first line of this verse has become well known even among the pagan so as to become something of a proverb in all circles. The truth of this single statement rings true to all men. From the love of money stems all kinds of wickedness. Theft, murder, extortion, prostitution, bribery, and just about anything else you’ve ever seen in a gangster movie all stem from a love of money.
To clarify, Paul is not stating that the love of money is the sole root of all evil. Notice that the NASB carefully reflects the Greek in that the love of money is a root and not the root. Paul is simply saying that literally nothing good comes out of the love of money.
And some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs
Once again he points to those outside as some who long for it and brings two striking actions into view. First, they have wandered away from the faith. The verb is actually a passive and should read: they have been led astray. Their love of money has led them away from the faith. This should not come as any surprise because the gospel of Jesus Christ (the faith) runs completely against the grain of the love for money.
To love money means that you do not love God with all of your heart, all of your soul, all of your mind, and all of your strength (Matthew 22:37). To love money is inherently selfish and therefore you do not love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39) nor do you love the brethren as Christ has loved you (John 13:34-35). To be in love with money is to be a camel that cannot pass through the eye of a needle and thus render eternal life impossible (Mark 10:25).
These lovers of money are exactly who Jesus was referring to in His parable of the soils – “And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22). They reject the Redeemer in favor of riches, and as such commit themselves to destruction.
And pierced themselves with many griefs
The word pierced is better understood as impaled. This verb is not at all passive, but active. These individuals take the many griefs and pains that accompany their headlong pursuit of riches and run themselves through. These griefs could refer to the panging guilt of a conscience that has actively walked away from the faith or they could refer to the natural consequences of a selfish life. There are two prime examples of such men.
The first comes from within this letter. In 1:19, Paul mentions some ex-members of the church of Ephesus who have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. The have impaled themselves with many griefs.
The second is not found here, but seems obvious enough; Judas Iscariot. For the love of money, thirty pieces of silver, he betrayed his God. He was racked by guilt to the point of suicide, but not to the point of repentance. He preferred to be plunged into ruin and destruction.
The love of money is not a problem that only the rich must deal with. It is a horrible miscalculation to think that only those with money love it. Many people who live paycheck to paycheck are absolutely enthralled with money even though they do not possess much of it. So the question that I pose to the reader is this: do you love money?
This is an easy question to answer. If we take the time to consider what we spend our time on, the attitude with which we spend it, and were our money goes, all will quickly be revealed.
Are you consumed with gaining money? Are you always looking for another way to earn more, gain more, bringing in more money? If so, you have a love of money.
What motivates me to go to work? Do you work in order to do a good job, to let your good works shine before men so that they will glorify your Father who is in heaven? Are you concerned with serving your employer to the best of your ability? Or are you working only so that you can cash that check at the end of the week? You very well could have a serious love of money.
Where does you money go? Look through your bank records and see what you spend your money on. Does it go to entertainment, dining out, your 10th and 11th pair of jeans, a new television, the biggest cable package, or (in my case) outdoor equipment that only gets used once or twice a year? You very probably have a serious and dangerous love of money.
Very few of us are what Americans would call “rich.” Most of us struggle with loving money and self instead of Christ and His church.