Start with some riddles.
I can fly but I have no wings. I can cry but I have no eyes. Wherever I go, darkness follows me. Who am I? (A Cloud)
I can be cracked, made, told, and played. Who am I? (A joke)
You can catch me but cannot throw me. Who am I? (A Cold)
If you run after me, I may destroy you. If you love me, I will bring evil into your life.If you long for me, you may lose your faith. If you have me, you'll be tempted to trust me. But I cannot be trusted. Who am I? The answer, says Paul in 1 Timothy 6…is money.
We're nearly at the end of the letter of 1 Timothy. And if you've been with us over the last few weeks then I hope you remember what it's all about. The apostle Paul was writing to his young friend and disciple Timothy, who was leading a church in Ephesus that was under attack from false teachers. And so he writes to Timothy to encourage him to stand firm and stand up for the truth of the gospel, the good news of Jesus. To fight the good fight and hold onto the faith, that's chapter 1.
How is Timothy going to do that? In two ways. By guarding the church, and by guarding himself. Paul tells him to guard the church by putting it in order and make sure the right people are in leadership, that's chapters 2 and 3. And he tells him to guard himself by being on the lookout for false teachers and by watching his life and doctrine closely, that's chapter 4. It was Timothy's job to guard the church, and to guard himself.
And then do you remember in chapter 5.3 the letter changes and Paul begins to give Timothy instructions that he was to teach and urge upon the whole church. Paul said that all Christians should honour widows and elders and masters. Why? Well because it wasn't just Timothy's job to guard the church. It's the job of all of us. If we are Christians then we carry Christ's name and Christ's reputation around with us. Like kids in a school uniform, we wear Christ's colours. So it's not just Timothy's job, or our church leaders' job to guard the church, it's the job of all of us who are Christians.
Andin the same way now Paul says it's not just Timothy or our church leaders who need to guard themselves, all Christians need to. That's what we're going to see in chapter 6.
Paul starts this final part of the letter by going back to the false teachers.
A false teacher is anyone who stands up and says, 'Jesus said this, but actually the truth is…this.' A false teacher is anyone who thinks he knows something, when in fact he knows nothing. He has a high view of himself, and he loves to argue. These people love to argue and to prove how clever they think they are. Perhaps you've met people like this, I know I have. And they draw in other people who are like them. And they debate and they challenge and they fight about words and things of little consequence, because they think it makes them look good. They think they know better, they think that they are wise, they think that they are something… And behind all of that, Paul says at the end of v5, they "think that godliness is a means to financial gain."In fact in the original it just says 'gain', "think that godliness is a means to gain."
Why are there false teachers? What motivates false teachers? At the end of the day, Paul says, it's a desire for more. More status, more influence, more position, more power and more money. They see their teaching and their godliness as a means to gain. And so Paul says if we are to guard ourselves from abandoning the faith like false teachers, then the first thing that we must be aware of is…
1) The Danger of Wanting More. (v.3-10)
Imagine if I gave you £5. Not as a loan, or with any instructions, just £5 to do whatever you like with. How would you spend it? A free £5, maybe you'd buy a magazine, or rent a film, or take a friend out for a coffee? What if I gave you £50? How would you spend that? What if I gave you £500? That's a lot of money isn't it? What would you do with £500? What if I gave you £5000? Or £50,000? How would you spend that? We all have a £5 dream don't we? And a £50 dream, and a £500 dream. Sometimes when we're walking along I'll ask Gayles that question, or she'll ask me. 'What would you do if someone gave you £50 right now' And do you know what. I've always got an answer. In fact I've usually got 3 or 4 or 5 answers and I have to think hard to decide which one I want the most. I've never been asked that question and thought, 'I don't need £50, I'd give it away.'
Now perhaps you wouldn't say that you want to get rich…but we all want more don't we? We all have a £50 and a £500 dream, don't we? Let me ask you. Do you already know the next phone you want to get, or the next laptop, or the next car, or the next pair of shoes, or piece of music, or book or toy or game, or i…thing?
We want more, we want more things. And things cost money and so we love money. But again Paul gives us a warning,. Money isn't bad in itself, Paul said back in chapter 4 that everything can be good if we give thanks to God for it. No, money isn't dangerous, but the love of money is dangerous.Wanting more is dangerous.
Some people, eager for money, have wondered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
That's what had happened to the false teachers. As Jesus said in Matthew 6,
You cannot serve both God and money
If you love money, if you are always wanting more, then at some point gaining more will come into conflict with following God. A promotion will move you away from your church. Late night shifts with double pay will mean you can't get to homegroup. Whatever it might be.
Now, why do we love money, why do we want things and want to be rich? The answer is because we think that things will make us happy. Steve Jobs, the former CEO of Apple, once said "People don't know what they want until you show it to them." And we want those things because the promise is that when we have them we will be happy. But it's a lie isn't it? Because we never have enough, we're never content. When we get what we want it's great…for a while. But then they come out with a new model. And it's smarter and faster and… The lie is that Money (and the things that money can buy) = Contentment.
And if we believe that lie, and if we live our lives chasing after the same things that the world does, then Paul says we are in danger of losing our faith. Instead we should remind ourselves of what we know is true.
If we are Christians then we know that this life is only the beginning. It's only the introduction. To a story that never ends. Eternal life lies ahead of us and we know that none of the things that we gather together will come with us. None of it will last. And when we remember that, well then, v8… Paul says that we need to guard ourselves. And the first thing we need to look out for is the danger of wanting more. Secondly, he says, we need to be aware of…
2) The Danger of Having More. (v.17)
The second danger that Paul mentions is not for those who want to get rich, but for those who are rich. Not for those who want more, but for those who have more. And the danger here is that we put our hope in our money. When we have money in the bank, or in our wallet. When the mortgage has been paid off. When we have saving and insurance and a good job and a pension plan. The danger is…we feel safe and secure because of those things.
Do you remember the parable of the rich man, Luke 12? He says to himself…
You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry
And God says to him…
You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?
And again the temptation for us is to think, 'Well, that's not me. I'm not rich.' But that is simply not true. 80% of the world's population live on less that $10 per day, that's about £2100 per year. Nearly half the world's population live on less than $2.50. If you have food in your fridge, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep then you are richer than 75% of the world. And if you have money in a bank, and in your wallet and change in a pot around your house, you are among the top 8% richest people on the planet. You and I are richer than almost anyone else in the world, and almost anyone else in history. And so Paul says we are in danger. And the danger of having more is that we believe the lie that…
Money = Security
Paul says that those who want to get rich and those who are rich are in danger. That those who want more and those who have more are in danger of choosing money over God, and believing that money will make them content and that money will make them secure. And I think that Paul's words are particularly relevant for us today, because I think most of us fall into both categories.
We not only want to get rich, but we are rich. We face not only the danger of wanting more, but at the same time we face the danger of having more. And our faith is at risk.
Imagine that you are standing on a beach watching someone building a sandcastle. And as you watch them, you marvel at the time and the effort and the energy they are putting in to their castle. But you also notice that behind them the sea is coming in. They, on the other hand, are too busy building their castle, higher and wider, making it stronger and more impressive, to turn around and see what is coming. And you start to think to yourself, 'What a fool, how foolish they are putting all their effort and energy into building something that will not last'
But there isn't just one person building a sandcastle. There are 100s and 100s. In fact as far as the eye can see in both directions down the beach people are building sandcastles. And none of them realise that soon the sea will come in, and wash it all away. They are too busy building their castles. They are all frantically building and adding and even though some of the castles look amazing and beautiful and impressive, none of the builders looks happy. Because they are all constantly looking at each other's castles. They're all busy comparing their own, copying what each other has, and trying to make something bigger and better than the next. There are old people who've spent their whole lives building their castle. And young people, just starting out, going at it with all their might. And all of them are utterly consumed with getting more and having more, and none of them realises that all the time the sea is coming in, and nothing that they have made will last.
Do you see?
That's what the world around us is doing. That's what the false teachers in Ephesus were doing.
And that is what you and I are in danger of doing. The world around us constantly tells us to build and build and get and get and gather and gather,more and more. Promising us that things and money will make us happy…
but no one is ever content. Promising us that the more we have the safer and more secure we will be. But ignoring the fact that our lives will be over in a moment and everything we have gathered will be gone. We're in danger of wanting more, but never being content. And of having more, but never having enough.
But there is another way, there is a better way. And Paul describes it in v.18-19. Do you see what Paul says? So often people think that living a Christian life, not wanting more and not having more, sounds dull and boring and empty. They think that if you're content simply to have food and clothing, well then, you're missing out. I think that a lot of Christians think that by not chasing after the things of this world, we're missing out. And that the secret of Christian contentment is to set the bar so low, and to set your expectations for this life so low that being content is miserable.
But what does Paul say?Is it wrong to be rich? No! We should be rich in good deeds! Is it wrong to store up treasure for ourselves? No! We should store up treasure in heaven! Being a Christian isn't about missing out on good things, it's about being able to see through the lies of this world, and investing in thing that are really good and that bring real contentment. Like being kind and loving and caring and generous and willing to share.
Being a Christian isn't about missing out by not storing up treasure for ourselves on earth. It's about seeing through the lies of this world and knowing that our treasure here won't last. But that there is a treasure that will last, that will last forever, and it is godliness and obedience and love for God. Being rich in good deeds and storing up treasure in heaven, not only bring us security and safety in the life to come. But it brings contentment and pleasure like nothing else in this life as well.
So what are you and I doing with our lives? Where are we investing our time and our effort and our energy? Are we just like the world around us, building our own little sandcastle? Running after the things of this world and believing their lies. If that's you, well then, are you content? Do you feel secure?
We need to guard ourselves against the danger of wanting more, and the danger of having more. We need to look beyond this life to the life to come. And we need to start storing treasure that will last forever.