Text: 1 Timothy 6:3-10, 17-19.
Could we be contented with less in order to give away more?
We probably have items – cutlery, crockery, baby equipment, clothing, furniture, toys – that are in good condition but we don’t use or need them. We know that The Besom is able to pass them on to vulnerable people who really do need them.
We could easily identify one area in our everyday lives in which we could practice conservation (water, paper), sharing (books, tools, transport) or recycling (plastic, aluminium).
We would agree that there is a limit to the number of pairs of socks, handkerchiefs and bars of soap we need to give or receive this Christmas? We know that we could use Oxfam Unwrapped gift vouchers to send a goat, a brood of chickens, a bicyle or a set of tree seedlings to those in real need.
We know what to do. We know how to do it. Why then are we still so prone to clutter, wastefulness and extravagance? The thing that appears to be missing is the will, the motivation. As Christians, we have particularly strong reasons for living more simply. In the OT, the law of Moses, the writings of the prophets, and the teachings of the wise all cry out against ostentatious wealth and indulgent luxury as well as the selfishness and oppression that tend to flow from these. Jesus and the apostles both teach and model simplicity of lifestyle. Moreover, God says that we stand to gain, not lose, if we choose to be contented with less in order to give away more.
In 1 Timothy 6 Paul speaks about two groups of people and their attitude towards money and possessions. The first group are those who want to get rich, vv3-10.
Paul notes, v3-5, that there were some teachers who were trying to exploit the gospel itself as a means of financial gain. In ancient Greece, if you were an orator, your fortune was made. It was such mercenaries who were invading the Christian church and trying to make money out of the gospel.
Over against this money-grabbing attitude, in v6 Paul gives us a simple piece of arithmetic to ponder: godliness + contentment = great gain.
In v7 he reminds us that money and possessions have at best a fleeting value, ‘for we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.’
In v8 he asserts that contentment is consistent with possessing the basic necessities of life.
In v9f he says that a craving for wealth, far from bringing happiness, is fraught with peril, for the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. It leads to selfishness, cheating, fraud, perjury, robbery, envy, quarrelling, hatred, violence and even murder. Love of money often lies behind the exploitation of the weak, the neglect of good causes, and acrimonius divorce proceedings.
Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, many people still believe that money and possessions bring happiness. Ask anyone, rich or poor, how much money they need to make them happy, and the answer is likely to be exactly the same: ‘Just a little more.’ But, of course, ‘money will buy a bed but not sleep, books but not knowledge, food but not appetite, fine clothes but not beauty, medicine but not health, luxury but not culture, amusement but not happiness, a crucifix but not a saviour, a temple but not heaven.’
Paul was not one to preach one thing, but practice another. He relates his own experience to the Philippians, when he says (ch4), ‘I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.’
So, the message of Paul to those who want to get rich is: if you have enough, be contented with that.
The implication of Paul’s teaching here is that contentment has little to do with our outward circumstances, but much to do with our inward attitude. When someone asked a wise man for the secret of happiness, his answer was: “Add not to a man’s possessions but take away from his desires. Too often we pray, ‘Lord, change my circumstances, give me more,’ when we should be praying, ‘Lord, change me, make me contented with less.’
The second group of people that Paul has in mind in this chapter are those who are rich, vv17-19.
In this section Paul recalls how fleeting wealth is. He warns again of the dangers of wealth – especially arrogance. However, he does not urge rich people to give everything away. He does not teach austerity, for, he says, God ‘richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.’ God is a generous Creator, who wants us to appreciate the good gifts of creation. But because our God is such a generous Giver, we should seek to imitate him and be generous too. So, Paul urges urges the addition of one kind of riches to another kind.: ‘Command those who are rich in this present world…to be rich in good deeds,’ v17f.
Sometimes, those of us who have more than enough are shamed by the generosity of those who have little. The story is told of a Christian school for the children of the “untouchables” in India prior to World War II. Each year the children received Christmas presents from children in England. On one occasion the doctor from a nearby mission hospital was asked to distribute the gifts. In the course of his visit, he told the youngsters about a village where the boys and girls had never even heard of Jesus. He suggested that maybe they would like to give them some of their old toys as presents. They liked the idea and readily agreed. A week later, the doctor returned to collect the gifts. The sight was unforgettable. One by one the children filed by and handed the doctor a doll or toy. To his great surprise, they all gave the new presents they had just received several days earlier. When he asked why, a girl spoke up, “Think what God did by giving us his only Son. Could we give him less than our best?”
In 2 Corinthians 8 Paul urges his readers to ‘excel in the grace of giving.’ The reason? ‘For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.’
We know what to do. We know how to do it. What better motive do we need for turning knowledge into action than the grace of God in Jesus Christ?
Some years ago, a group of respected Christian leaders met together and produced ‘An Evangelical Commitment to Simple Lifestyle.’ I would like to make its closing words my closing words this evening:-
‘So then, having been freed by the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ, in obedience to his call, in heartfelt compassion for the poor, in concern for evangelism, development and justice, and in solemn anticipation of the Day of Judgment, we humbly commit ourselves to develop a just and simple lifestyle, to support one another in it and to encourage others to join us in this commitment. May Almighty God give us his grace to be faithful! Amen.’