Teaching series from 1 Timothy

A Healthy Church's Perspective on Money and Wealth

1 Timothy 6:6-19

Teaching t14020


Brief reminder of the setting and purpose (read 3:14,15) – to explain what healthy churches look like, and how each of us can contribute to our church’s spiritual health.

We come now to another passage related to this theme – how we (as individuals and parents) view and relate to our money and wealth.  Paul devotes most of chapter 6 (and part of chapter 4) to this subject, which indicates how important this issue is to the overall spiritual health of a local church.  Two high-altitude points before we dive into this passage:

Read Matt. 6:24.  “Mammon” refers to a false god related to monetary wealth – a literal personification of materialism.  As Jesus said, you will choose either to trust and serve materialism instead of God, or you will choose to trust and serve God instead of materialism (SLIDE).  There is no “both-and;” this is an illusion and a deadly form of self-deception.  And your choice will impact your life (and your impact on others) in profound ways for years to come.  So we need to get this right, and we need to help one another get this right.

This is why Paul gives Timothy two-fold advice (read 6:11,12a).  Fleeing from materialism and pursuing godliness (character & ministry) are both mandatory.  Whoever refuses to flee materialism will not be able to pursue godliness; and whoever refuses to pursue godliness will not be able to flee materialism.  So as Paul addresses first non-wealthy Christians (who most of us think we are) and then wealthy Christians (who most of us actually are), he elaborates for both groups what fleeing and pursuing look like [1] . . .

To non-wealthy Christians

Read 6:6-8.  For those of us who do not have much materially, Paul positively advocates (“pursue”) the great gain/profit of godliness with material contentment.  Here is what we should pursue – a life of intimacy with Christ and commitment to Him and fruitfulness for Him, coupled with being basically OK with what we have materially (rather than vice-versa!).  Sometimes this is called “simple living.”  (The “simple” refers to our material aspirations; progress in godliness is definitely not simple!)  This raises the obvious question: How can we cultivate material contentment?  The Bible gives two main answers to this question:

We can increase our appreciation of how spiritually wealthy we already are.  The poorest Christian is fabulously wealthy in Christ (quote Eph. 1:3; see “riches” in Eph. 1:7,18; 2:7; 3:8,16).  All of our deepest needs have been lavishly and permanently met.  Notice how Paul calls us to appreciate these great spiritual riches  (“Blessed be God . . .”).  This wealth becomes ours the moment we receive Christ (read Eph. 1:13 NLT).  But one of the great privileges of the Christian life is to deepen our appreciation of these riches (read Eph. 1:18,19).  As we do this, the sense of our true wealth increases, and our dissatisfaction and/or sense of inferiority because our lack of material wealth evaporates.  Why do I need the latest TV when I have all this?

We can also cultivate material contentment by increasing our ability to gratefully enjoy God’s current material provision.  Read 6:17b.  What has God richly supplied us with to enjoy?  The many gifts of His creation (read 4:3-5).  Here Paul refers to things like marriage and the many foods we can consume.  It would also refer to other relationships like friendship and children and grand-children, the many beauties of nature, the invigoration of physical exercise, etc. (e.g., HIKING WITH A GOOD FRIEND IN NATURE).  The old saying – “the best things in (this) life are free” – is profoundly true.  As we cultivate our ability to notice and enjoy these “small” things, and consciously give thanks to God for them, we become more content materially, and we become more immune to the lie of consumerist culture that we need more and new and expensive goods in order to be happy/content.[2]

The end of this quote explains why Paul also negatively warns us (“flee”) against materialism (read 6:9,10) – both the volitional goal of becoming rich (“want” – boulomai) and the affection for wealth (“love” – phileo).  This pursuit of and love for material wealth (which is in the cultural air we breathe), far from enabling us to attain happiness, will cause us to forfeit the above contentment and inflict terrible unhappiness and injury onto our lives.

6:9 emphasizes the injurious personal consequences of materialism.  It is like the bait in a trap – we seize it, but then we are seized by the trap and deprived of our freedom and injured.  We become enslaved to greed (pleonexia – “more;” drinking salt-water), envy (Facebook envy research), to consumer debt, etc.  These enslavements produce anxiety, pressure and conflict with our spouses, overwork that deprives us of energy for friendships and our children of our investment, etc.  Materialism is a self-mutilating lifestyle!

6:10 emphasizes the injurious spiritual consequences of materialism.  We can wind up full of the spiritual pain that results from wandering away from our true Treasure – our love-trust relationship with Christ.  We compromise our commitment to honesty in order to “close the deal” – and this begins to deaden our consciences.  We compromise our time with the Lord in order to “get ahead” – and this leads to spiritual staleness.  We compromise our involvement in ministry until we’re “better off” – and this godly desire shrivels.  Thank God that we can repent from this mind-set, and He will restore our spiritual intimacy (immediately) and fruitfulness (eventually) – but the pain inflicted by these choices is painful indeed.  Better to not go down this path to begin with!  Better to turn from this path today than to put it off until later!  If God is speaking to you about this, say yes to Him and tell another Christians friend about this important realization and decision.

This warning has led me to pray some recurrent prayers to God: “Show me if my heart is being seduced by materialism (Ps. 139:23,24).”  “Give me neither poverty nor riches (Prov. 30:8,9).”[3]  “Protect me from this materialistic temptation (Matt. 6:13; EXAMPLE).”

So much for those of us who don’t have a lot materially – now for some words to those of us who have way more than we need (which, on a global scale, is virtually all of us) . . .

To wealthy Christians

Read 6:17.  Notice that Paul does not command wealthy Christians to divest themselves of their wealth.  Jesus may call us to do this for our own good – as He did with the rich young ruler (Mk. 10:21), but this is not the norm.  Nor does he call on them to feel guilty about their wealth (assuming that they didn’t gain it illicitly).  Instead, Paul begins with a strong negative (“flee”) – a warning about the special lies that wealth can lead us to believe.

“Not to be conceited” – How common it is for wealthy people to feel that their wealth makes them better or more important than non-wealthy people (MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY AD)!  Often, the main appeal of wealth is to facilitate this prideful snobbery.  To believe that being wealthy plays any part in my true worth, dignity, etc. is self-deception and to build my house on the sand (WOMAN AT CT: “WHERE ARE THE REAL PEOPLE?”).  The only proper foundation for this is my identity in Christ plus nothing!  “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.”  I, like everyone else, am a sinner worthy of God’s condemnation – and yet the object of His love and forgiveness through faith in Christ.

“Not to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches” – How common it is for wealthy people to be lulled into the false security that their wealth is permanent (6:7; Lk. 12:19,20)!  How common it is for wealthy people to believe that their wealth can protect them from any ultimate loss (FOREST FIRE PICTURE >> “Flee the wrath to come”)!  The only certainty and security in our lives is God – His character, His promises, His eternal kingdom.

Read 6:18,19.  Here Paul describes the special positive (“pursue”) challenge for wealthy Christians – to redefine true wealth, not in terms of the material surplus we have, but in terms of the surplus of what we do and give.  This will make us truly wealthy in this life and secure true riches in the next life. 

We become truly wealthy in this life by “doing good and by being rich in good works.”  These terms refer mainly to helpful personal involvement we render to others – e.g., to say something to comfort, to do something to bring joy, to bear a personal/emotional burden, to lighten a practical load, etc.  Wealthy Christians sometimes feel (because of conceit) that these forms of service are “beneath them,” and help only financially and from a distance.  But this kind of “foot-washing” will help others in a key way, and it will enrich our own spirits as we do so.

We will become truly wealthy in the next life by being “generous and ready to share.”  It is an ironic tragedy that most wealthy Christians give financially less proportionately than do their non-wealthy brothers and sisters.  The more we have, the more we feel we need.  The more we have, the more protective of our stuff we may become.  The bottom-line amount of our giving may indeed be far more than most others, but it may demonstrate a heart of far less sacrifice and love and trust in God.  We may allow our many investments to prevent us from investing significantly in our “heavenly mutual fund” that will pay dividends of eternal joy.

I praise God that our church has so many generous Christians!  As we come to the end of this year, our members’ giving has almost fulfilled our General Fund budget ($6 million), and has completed the Warehouse building campaign ($5.4 million over 3 years), and has fully funded our HADF ($70,000+) and our Global Partnerships ($530,000+), and has supported our missionaries ($770,000), and gave generously for disaster relief ($142,000 over past two years).  Many of you are becoming truly wealthy and laying up heavenly treasure!  The rest of you are welcome to join us!


Summarize the ways we can contribute to the health of our church.  Can you imagine what might happen if we fire on all cylinders in each of these areas?

[1] In 6:6-12a,17-19, there are 5 negative/flee verses (6:7,9,10,11,17) and 5 positive/pursue verses (6:6,8,12a,18,19).  The first set of negative/positive verses (6:6-12a) applies to non-wealthy Christians, including Timothy; the second set (6:17-19) applies to wealthy Christians.

[2] “Vast numbers of us have been seduced into believing that having more wealth and material possessions is essential to the good life . . . (But Kasser’s) formidable body of research highlights what for most of us is a quite counter-intuitive fact: even when people obtain more money and material goods, they do not become more satisfied with their lives, or more psychologically healthy because of it.  More specifically, once people are above poverty levels of income, gains in wealth have little to no incremental payoff in terms of happiness or well-being.  (Moreover) merely aspiring to have greater wealth or more material possessions is likely to be associated with increased personal unhappiness . . . People with strong materialistic values and desires report more symptoms of anxiety, are at greater risk for depression . . . use more alcohol and drugs, and have more impoverished personal relationships . . . Thus, insofar as people have adopted the ‘American dream’ of stuffing their pockets, they seem to that extent be emptier of self and soul.” Richard M. Ryan in Tim Kasser, The High Price of Materialism (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2002), pp. x,xi.

[3] “Two groups think too much about the material – those who have too much and those who have too little.  We need according to our (actual) needs – we need just enough of the material so that we can forget it and get on with this business of living.” E. Stanley Jones, cited in Ajith Fernando, Leadership Lifestyle (Tyndale House, 1978), p. 151.