Bible Reading Philippians 4:10-13
At times Paul refused gifts of support – primarily from those who believed he was “in it for the money”. But in this following case, he is grateful for the support he receives from his dear friends at Philippi. But he also makes the point that it is less about the gift and more about their heart-felt care that he so deeply appreciates because it was a sign of the people they were becoming – committed to Christ and his mission, and receiving their future reward in heaven. He writes:
I could hardly contain my joy in the Lord when I realized you have started to show your care for me
once again. Since you have not had the opportunity to show how much you cared until now, I want you
to know how it touched me. I am not saying this because I am in need. I have learned to be content in
whatever circumstances. 12 I know how to survive in tight situations, and I know how to enjoy having
plenty. In fact, I have learned how to face any circumstances: fed or hungry, with or without. I can be
content in any and every situation through the Anointed One who is my power and strength. Neverthe-
less, it was admirable of you to participate in my affliction. (VOICE)
Message Rich in Faith 1 Timothy 6:6-19
A minister’s primary passion is to serve Christ and his people on their quest to apply a spiritual compass to their life. Paul learned -- it doesn’t come naturally to most -- he learned, probably primarily in problematic times; how to be content and therefore remain faithful to his fundamental task as a minister.
Some teachers started out sincerely but heard the siren call that led them down a false road to financial gain and enjoying divisive controversy at the expense of true godliness. Paul warns Timothy to be avoid their error.
- But Godliness with contentment is great gain. (1 Timothy 6:6 (NIV))
Objection: “But contentment leads to laziness”
One objection is that “Contentment leads to a passive settling for mediocrity”. If we are completely happy and at peace with who we are, and with what we have, and with the state of the world, then what happens to the work ethic? What motivates us to grow, to improve, to striving for excellence? What happens to wanting to make a difference? It is discontent and discord that drives us, that motivates us, that inspires us to act and live with energy to bring about change.
The problem is that “contentment” has become connoted to the feeling we experience after a thanksgiving feast -- happy and overfull, stuffed to the point where all we can do is sit in our La-z-boys, maybe loosen our belt buckle, and drift off into oblivion… Or if you don’t like that one, try a hot summer vacation day on a beautiful beach, baking in the sun, hypnotized by the waves lapping gently on the shore. No duties, no work, no expectations.
There are benefits to a relaxing, lazy day, or even a week. But a life lived like that leads to no production, no meaning, no purpose. Contentment’s modern connotation has become a negative quality that should be avoided or the whole world will stall into a useless standstill.
This word, translated here as “contentment”, is used in the Bible only 3 times - all by Paul. But it was a key word in Stoicism. To oversimplify. In desperate circumstances, people were tempted to give up and shut down in frustration and hopeless depression. Stoic philosophers presented a way of thinking to help people separate their difficult circumstances from their defeated feelings. I tend to think Mr. Spock, the Vulcan on Star Trek. No matter how bad and how little control they had over the situation, he could control and set aside feelings so that a calmly form a logical plan to implement. For the Stoic, contentment was a sense of self-mastery. If people were successful in mastering their inner life, it allowed them to cope and function and hopefully get traction and perhaps gain a forward momentum in circumstances over which they had very little control.
Not that Paul is a stoic by any means, but he does master his inner life in a way that enables him to sing praise while chained in stocks deep in a prison cell, and writes letters in which he rejoices over the progress of the gospel in spite of many types of personal setbacks and afflictions. For the self-mastery of the Stoics, the contentment of Paul, it was an essential inner attitude that recognizes that the essence of life comes from within and not, ultimately, from outer circumstances or possessions.
It was this contentment that modern critics call life paralyzing that today’s text sees as critical to enabling gains in life (especially the godly life).
Another twisted meaning is proclaimed by ripping the verse out of its context. In isolation, some believe the verse says: godliness (being good) + contentment (being at peace with life and yourself) is a means (a formula, a strategy, a method) to become rich.
Misinterpretation: “Contented goodness leads to riches”
Some translations seem to support it. “But godliness with contentment is: “a great means of gain.” (says the Lexham English Bible), or it is “a means of great gain.” (says the Disciples Literal New Testament) or “… godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment” (says the New American Standard Bible).
Thus, these thinkers conclude, if you are a generally good person who is happy with yourself and your world, God is going to pour down all kinds material prosperity on you.
This problem is not with the translation. It is the lack of context. Verse 5 says false teachers came to see godliness as a means of gain (meaning they saw religious teaching primarily as a career path to gaining wealth and that became their primary focus).
“Great gain” is the freedom and ability to pursue our highest calling.”
Paul is playing with parallel phrases. No context means no play on phrases, which means a potential loss of Paul’s intent. True godliness (where religious teaching, learning, and living is not a means to money, but primarily an answer to God’s call to daughtership or sonship and to service), added with contentment (self-disciplined enough to not lose that primary focus by chasing after lesser things as if they were the highest priority) -- does indeed lead to great gain -- for it grants us the freedom and ability to live life as it is meant to be lived under God call and care.
Imagine a pool table. You are the white cue ball, taken out of the ball bin below and born(e) to the tabletop where life is played out. Since in some games the 8 ball is the final and winning shot let’s use that ball to represent your ultimate God-given goal and purpose. By diligently chasing that ball, you will become the best, fullest and richest life that you can possibly have. If you have ever played pool, you know that especially early in the game, there is rarely an easy approach to the 8 ball. Other balls become obstacles that need to be moved, removed, or otherwise skirted around.
Meanwhile, the message comes from everywhere that in every situation you should look out for number __? That’s right -- number 1. That solid bright yellow ball glows with attraction like gold to a gold digger, always rolling around in front of you, daring you to chase it, to bash through the other balls in your pursuit of it, and never looking to another...
And so do the other balls, you can name each as some goal or distraction or duty, sometimes blocking your progress, other times beckoning you to chase them -- and granted to finish the field, you will have to deal with many of them, juggling them at the same time. But whatever legitimacy they may have in their proper place, they implore you to over-prioritize and chase after it rather than your highest calling. That highest calling, always present, seems somehow to just float around the table, its ebony shade almost disappearing into the background among the brighter balls right in front of you.
Some may point out that there is even more value in the 15 ball with its highest number and beautiful maroon stripe. Let’s call this one wealth. You should be chasing it, they say. And it is alluring, and now that someone has mentioned it, it too always seems to be right in front of you, giving you a good look, a tempting taste, but never enough, for that is how coveting and greed works. It is like diet pop for most people -- It doesn’t quench thirst, it makes you more thirsty. The more you drink the thirstier and hungrier you become. Satisfaction continues to elude you as you can never quite pocket what you want. And the more parched you become, the more willing you are to compromise yourself and cut corners to capture it until finally it leads you into a pocket where you are the one who is trapped. You may have followed it in, or it may have managed to stay on the table while you yourself are sunk. Some of those pool table pockets even look like the grates of a prison cell.
When you choose to pursue anything with a higher priority than God and your God given goals - you fall into a pocket/trap that imprisons you from leading the life you want and are meant to live. Lucky for us, for now, when we figure it out and ask, God’s forgiveness takes us back out of the pocket that caught us and allows us the freedom to once again chase his new dreams for us…
This verse that some claim as a promise that being good and content is a strategy to material riches becomes nonsensical when returned to the context of Paul’s flow of thought.
For Paul’s next words after godliness with contentment is great gain is “For we brought nothing into the world” (1 Timothy 7:7a (NIV)) When we are first pulled out of the womb, the ball bin -- and placed on the table, we don’t come with anything. Our only worry is figuring out how to breathe air and getting warm, and then maybe how to eat something… “and we can take nothing out of it”. (1 Timothy 7:7b (NIV)) The original language emphasizes the exit over the entrance, probably because bringing no-thing in is obvious, and our history; but as we are rolling around the table of life, sometimes it is easy to forget we will be going back to the ball bin and we that can’t take anything with us.
If we are nothing in and nothing out -- what does that say about what we have in-between? What we have is only on loan, and all we really need is what we need to survive. But if we have food and clothing [lit. covering material - so (as some translations indicate) it could represent shelter as well as clothes], we will be content with that. (1 Timothy 7:8 (NIV))
Prioritize what it takes to keep chasing the 8 ball around the table, and don’t get caught up in all the extras that you don’t truly need. Henry David Thoreau is quoted on the front of the bulletin -- “We are rich in proportion to the number of things we can afford to let alone”. Our wealth is not based on what we possess, but on what we do not need. True happiness is not found in things, or in more things, or in the pleasantness of our circumstances, and much less, in a desire for situations or possessions we do not yet have. Don’t confuse fulfilling a need with all the other things we may want it to do. We may need a different car.
We may think we’ll be happy with a new fancy car, but how long does it take before the joyous excitement of the purchase, the hopes of impressing others, the esteem it promises, and the feel of new luxury fades into just another piece of hardware designed to get us from point A to point B along with a drudgery of non-ending payments?
Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. (1 Tim 6:9-10a (NIV))
Someone described it as a three-step process -- the lure, the lust, the ruin. On our pool table it would be the bright attraction, the chase, the pocket prison. And if you want to throw an extra pun into the mix -- plunge actually means to drown -- different kind of pool -- but still… Wrong desires are a personal monster which drowns its victims into an ocean of irretrievable loss.
Paul, seeing the disaster false teachers experienced when they chased the 15 ball (wealth), now warns Timothy (and us) to not fall into the same trap. The injury done to themselves and the gospel by caring more about riches and creating controversies had plunged people (not just themselves) into (the imprisoning pockets) of ruin and destruction.
Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.(1 Tim 6:10b)
Because when someone loves money more than anything else, opportunities will arise in which they are tempted to compromise themselves and violate others to get it, and sooner or later it will catch up with the coveter. They may (or may not) keep it within the bounds of law, but eventually, if the priorities are not corrected, morality will be ignored or rationalized away to justify the pursuit of their one great selfish love.
Flee this… Follow that
(See 1 Tim 6:11 (NIV)) By contrast Paul tells Timothy, But you, man of God, By this honorable title, Paul emphasizes the contrasts the false teachers with Timothy. It is better to look for and encourage the potential within a person rather than look for and scare them into faults that may (or may not) lay within them.
Then he gives a typical pattern -- flee this, follow that. … flee from all this, (meaning the practices to which the false teachers surrendered] and pursue righteousness (doing right by God and others), godliness (living life with a constant reverent awareness of God), faith (or better, faithfulness -- loyal to God and his cause), love (based on a keen awareness of God’s loving acts for us, and we in turn love others) endurance (SISU) - keeping on in these qualities no matter what life may throw, whatever pool balls get in our way and not letting them defeat our pursuit of godly goals) and gentleness (which means being quick to forgive and having the inner strength to support what is right without losing control of ourselves and sabotaging our own efforts by an explosive anger).
Fight the good fight of the faith. (1 Tim 6:12a (NIV)) Most take this as an allusion to an Olympic athlete’s sacrificial discipline to win the prize, and it is an ongoing process. We never stop chasing the 8 ball and we don’t get distracted by the allure of the 15 ball or any other -- by riches or any other distraction. Instead, keep your eye on the 8 ball -- keep your eye on Christ and his saving mission in the world, (and all the other necessary balls of your life will fall into place.
Finally, Paul instructs Timothy what to tell people who are already rich, and here it is reinforced that it is not money but the disproportionate love for money that is the problem.
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 1 Timothy 6:17 (NIV)
Shakespeare writes about a king wandering the country in unfamiliar places. He comes to a closed gate. He wants to pass so tells the two gatekeepers that he is a king. One of them asks, “But if you are a king, where is your crown?” And the king replies -- “My crown is in my heart, not on my head decked with diamonds and precious stones. It is not to be seen. My crown is called content -- a crown that kings seldom enjoy.
On human terms, wealth is associated with privilege, power, popularity, security, and political clout, not to mention many other things -- and no doubt it has its influences on people. It is also associated, as Shakespeare points out, with stress, pressure, anxiety, and great responsibility. As far as God is concerned, how wealth is used is a sign of the heart, and it is the heart’s priorities to which God sees and responds.
Therefore, for all the benefits they provide, people with resources should not see themselves as better than others. They must not put too much trust in their resources. The same traps capturing those who would love to have money will also ensnare those who already have, but misuse it. Instead, Paul tells Timothy,
Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, (1 Timothy 6:18-19a (NIV)
At the end of a crime show, Langston summarizes for Nick the moral of the story, “The philosopher Eric Fromm forecast a society that was obsessed with possessions. He believed that human beings had two basic orientations: “having” and “being”. Now the person with the “having” orientation seeks to acquire and possess things, property, even people. But a person with the “being” orientation focuses on the experience, they derive meaning from exchanging, engaging, and sharing with other people.
Nick interjects, “Sounds like the right way to be.”
“Unfortunately, Fromm also predicted that our commercialized culture is doomed to the “having” orientation, which leads to dissatisfaction and emptiness.”
Nick: “So society is to blame?
“[There will always be extremes, but] things don’t have to mean everything, nor do they have to be devoid of meaning. Things are one way we can experience and enjoy life.” Nick concludes, “As long as they don’t get in the way of living”.” (Abridged from CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: “House of Hoarders” Season 11:5 2010)
or as Paul put it, so that [we] may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:18-20 (NIV))
and I don’t think Paul meant true life as just about in that next life in heaven -- but a life lived well here. And this was Paul’s heart for Timothy -- that when his time on the table was done, he could look back and see he had always pursued God’s love and mercy and transforming grace, allowing all the other things he needed to deal with fall into its proper place, and sidetracked by nothing this world had to offer. It is the hope for all of us as we juggle the many areas of our life. On your pool table, what has distracted you, or is in danger of distracting you from chasing your God-given goals, from chasing God himself? When everything is said and done, how will we have lived our lives? Let’s bow our heads and meditate on that question while the praise band gets in place…
Closing Prayer Let’s pray. Lord, we have been blessed with resources, and whether they be few or many, we are responsible with how we use them. We may selfishly serve our only own desires; or if you have enriched us, we may have enough, and are being called to also answer the need of our neighbors. Forgive us when we chase a path of mistaken priorities, show us how, by example and tangible aid, enable others to live as God meant them to live. May what you have given never be used to separate us from others, but always to pull us together, that we too may look at our day, our year, our life, and know we have spent wisely and ethically for the building of your world because we have lived our lives for you.
Closing Music When it’s All Been Said and Done
Closing Blessing Now go in the sight of God who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus our king of kings and lord of lords, resolved to keep our life true to the one who calls us his children. Amen.