Text: 1 Timothy 6:3-10, 17-19
Which of the following is the odd one out? Faith, doctrine, Scripture, gospel, salvation, money. Answer: none of them!
Money is a spiritual issue. Martin Luther observed that “there are three conversions necessary: the conversion of the heart, of the mind and of the purse.”
Consider the story of Zacchaeus, Luke 19. As a chief tax collector, Zacchaeus would have been very wealthy indeed. When he encounters Jesus, his response is, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
Then do you remember Jesus’ reply in the very next verse? – “Today salvation has come to this house.”
Yes indeed: money is a spiritual issue. Whole swathes of Scripture are devoted to the subject of money. Proverbs, Acts, James, Paul’s 2nd Letter to the Corinthians and his 1st Letter to Timothy. Something like 20% of the teaching of Jesus is about some aspect of money.
In fact, Scripture speaks with not one, but two, voices on the subject of money. The first of these is an affirming voice. Abraham is described as becoming ‘very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold’ (Gen 13:2). Job started off as a very wealthy man, and by the time God had finished with him he was twice as wealthy. In the New Testament, Philemon was sufficiently well-to-do that he could host an entire local church right there in his own home. In these and many other ways the Bible affirms money and the things that money can buy.
But there is a second voice, and this is the voice of warning.
Jesus famously warned in Mt 6:24 that ‘you cannot serve God and Money’. Money can all to easily usurp the place in our lives that belongs to the one true and living God. Indeed, it has been said that money is some people’s trinity: money is their creator – ‘my money made me what I am today’. Money is their saviour: ‘if I get into trouble then I’ll hire the best lawyer that money can buy’. Money is their comforter – ‘tired? stressed-out? – nothing that a bit of retail therapy can’t put right’.
Two voices, then: affirmation and warning. And we need to listen to them both. Pay attention only to the first, the voice that affirms money and possessions, and we plunge into materialism (prosperity gospel). Paul repudiates this when he says, 6:9f, ‘People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 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.’ But if we listen only to the second, the warning voice, we are heading for the error of asceticism (an unbiblical rejection of material things). Paul rejects this at a number of points in this letter, not least in 6:17, when he affirms that God ‘richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.’
So, with these two voices of Scripture to guide us – the voice of affirmation and the voice of warning – let’s consider now two attitudes towards money that Christian disciples are urged to cultivate.
1. Be contented
Paul says, v8 – ‘If we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.’
‘Food and clothing’ stand for the basic necessities of life. As Stott explains, ‘what Paul is defining is not the maximum that is permitted to the believer, but the minimum that is compatible with contentment.’
Some people are never contented, no matter how much they have. Ask anyone, rich or poor, how much money he needs, and the answer will always be the same: ‘Just a little more’. For some people, money is like sea water – the more we drink, the thirstier we become.
Other people are never contented, no matter how little they have. Racked by chronic guilt, they can’t enjoy anything.
But Paul is advocating to Timothy precisely the attitude he had adopted for himself. Phil 4:11 – ‘I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content’.
(a) Contentment means rejoicing in God’s goods gifts. We are not joyless ascetics, but take pleasure rather in the gracious provisions that flow from the heart of God. 4:3f – ‘…which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.’
(b) Contentment means being satisfied with enough. Bishop John Taylor puts it like this: ‘Our enemy is not possessions but excess. Out battle-cry is not “nothing” but “enough”!’ Epicurus said: “To whom little is not enough nothing is enough. Give me a barley cake and a glass of water and I am ready to rival Zeus for happiness.” And when someone asked him for the secret of happiness, his answer was: “Add not to a man’s possessions but take away from his desires.”
(c) Contentment means simplicity. Contentment frees us up to travel lightly, and live simply. Evangelical Commitment to Simple Lifestyle (1980):- ‘We resolve to renounce waste and oppose extravagance in personal living, clothing and housing, travel and church buildings. We also accept the distinction between necessities and luxuries, creative hobbies and empty status symbols, modesty and vanity, occasional celebrations and normal routine, and between the service of God and slavery to fashion.’
We recognise that the seed of God’s word is easily smothered by the “cares and riches of this life.” To live simply means to be free of distractions, in order to love and serve God and others.
The first practical principle arising from the passage, then, is the principle of contentment. And it leads straight to our second principle, the principle of generosity.
2. Be generous
What Paul has to say in v17f is addressed especially to rich Christians. They are not condemned for being rich. Curiously enough, they are commanded to become even richer: that is, to add to their present wealth another kind of wealth. ‘Command those who are rich in the present world…to be rich in good deeds…command them to be generous and willing to share.’
What does biblical generosity mean?
(a) Generosity means giving proportionately. As it happens, I do not happen think that the OT law of tithing is binding on Christians. If you think differently, then God bless you, but you ought to realise that the OT actually laid down a triple tithe: 10% to temple, priests, Levites; 10% for annual festivals; 3.3% for the poor. But as far as I can see, the NT does not express giving in terms of an exact percentage. It expresses rather in terms of generosity. Some may need to give less. They may need to make as their priority caring for their family, or paying off debts. But many of us could give more.
(b) Generosity means giving to those who have no way of repaying our generosity. The prevailing culture at that time was one of reciprocity: if I give to you, then I expect you to return the favour. But Jesus himself (Lk 6:35) challenges this by insisting with Jesus that his followers should lend (or give) ‘without expecting to get anything back’.
(c) Generosity means giving the first and the best, rather than the last and the least. This is the philosophy of Besom, as I understand it, and it’s a very biblical philosophy. Our giving should be modeled God’s giving – v17 ‘who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.’ If God’s gifts of his best to us, then should be not give of our best to God and to his work? There are two ways in which a Christian may view his money – ‘How much of my money shall I use for God?’ or ‘How much of God’s money shall I use for myself?’
(d) Generosity means giving with abandon. I take it for granted that we should take some care with our giving. It would be irresponsible to give money to someone who is very likely to go and spend it on alcohol or drugs, or to an organisation that refuses to state what its accountability arrangements are. But generosity will always have an element of abandon, of giving for the sheer joy of giving, out of love for those we are giving to. Think of the woman with the alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, Mt 26:6ff. She poured it over Jesus’ head as he was reclining at the table. ‘What a waste!’ complained the disciples. ‘Leave her alone,’ replied Jesus. ‘She has done a beautiful thing to me.’ Think of the widow who gave her mite to the temple treasury: she might have had plenty of good reasons for withholding it, but she gave it anyway, and Jesus commends her for doing so, Mk 12:41-44. After all, we are not deserving of God’s grace, so we do not wait until we find people who are worthy of our generosity.
(e) Generosity means giving ourselves, not just our money. Of the unbounding generosity of the Macedonian church, Paul says in 2 Cor 8:5, ‘first they gave themselves’. When ambushed by the love of Jesus, the demand can never be other than, ‘your money and your life.’
(f) Generosity means giving cheerfully. ‘God loves a cheerful giver’, 2 Cor 9:7. I would be cheating if I were to point out that the Greek word for ‘cheerful’ is where we get our word ‘hilarious’ from. But it is not cheating at all to point out that ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive’, for Jesus himself said so (Acts 20:35).
I began with an odd-one-out question. Let me finish with an arithmetic question. What do you get if you add godliness and contentment together? V6 – great gain.
In so many ways, when we follow Jesus the values and expectations of the world are turned on their head. Didn’t Jesus say that it is by losing our life that we find it; by dying that we live, by denying ourselves that we discover ourselves, by taking up our cross daily that we find resurrection life, and by giving that we receive?
And so may we all learn the gift of contentment, and the grace of giving. And so we will discover the truth of what the apostle says in v19, that we are laying up ‘treasure for ourelves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that we may take hold of the life that is truly life.