If you've been down to the quay side in the last couple of months you'll have seen the side of the Baltic adorned with very large letters spelling out something of a motto of our generation. Have you seen it? Some clever artist has affixed this phrase to the side of the building:
'Satisfy Me'. 'Satisfy Me'.
That's what it says in huge bold letters all down the side of the building so that you can see it from miles away.
And that's what our world says, it's written in huge bold letters all over our politics, our entertainment and leisure, our work, our consumption even our religion. In fact it could be argued that seeking satisfaction for our desires is the religion of this age. It goes all the way down to our very souls. It's written through us like a stick of rock.
You feel it don't you? Is your work really satisfying? Should you stick at it or look for something better? Is your home good enough? Don't you want something just a little more … what – comfortable? Roomy? Glamorous? Impressive? What's your desire? Is your relationship all that it could be… would you be better off with someone who could satisfy your desires just a little better? Are you happy with your wardrobe, with your kids, with your life?
Wherever we look we'll find things that are just a bit unsatisfying, and we are bombarded with messages that tell us that we should be satisfied, and if we would just buy this or buy that then we would be truly satisfied… but no amount of buying, no amount of ladder climbing, no amount of dreaming and striving and demanding the universe for more ever satisfies us.
And in our passage this morning God through the apostle Paul puts his finger on just what it is that is wrong with that message.
If you've closed it, please open up 1 Timothy 6 again, on page 842.
You probably know that Paul wrote his letter to Timothy to help Timothy to sort out issues in the church in Ephesus that had been confused by false teaching. He tells Timothy how to stop the false teachers and how to lead the church and to stay faithful himself. And as he comes to the end of the letter in this passage he contrasts two approaches that we can take – either the way of the false teachers, who pursue God for the sake of getting something else; or the right way – forsaking everything else in order to get God. He shows that if you pursue God to get money you end up with grief, but if you forsake everything to get God you get contentment, and eternal life. We're going to look at this passage under two headings:
Pursuing Money via Jesus leads to grief
Pursuing Jesus instead of money leads to true gain
Pursuing Money via Jesus leads to grief
"If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain."
There's a lot in this passage that we would love to think about in detail. But for this morning I just want you to notice that Paul is talking about false teachers here. He describes their teaching – which is false and does not agree with sound instruction of the Lord Jesus. He describes their character – they are conceited and ignorant and love arguments. And he describes the outcome of such teaching – it is corruption – it produces envy, strife, malicious talk evil suspicions and constant friction – it's profoundly ugly. And the final outcome is corrupt minds that are devoid of the truth. False teaching is a disaster for the church, and a disaster for the false teacher. Timothy must protect the church from such as these, and God forbid he should follow their example.
We may think that Paul comes on a bit strong here. But he knows what he's talking about, and the proof is there in Ephesus for Timothy to see. Sadly the truth is all around for us to see too. But it's not just a case by case analysis – these things are true by definition of false teachers. These men reject the revealed will of God and teach others to trust in their word instead – how's that for pride? And what do they think will happen to them – these men who wreck God's church and destroy his flock – what do they think will happen to them when they stand face to face with the God whose church they have been plundering? They will be punished most severely as Jesus says in Luke 20v47! So they trade eternal punishment for a few years of worldly gain – I'd call that ignorant, wouldn't you?
And at the very end of this little paragraph there is a very telling note on their motives. I'm sure you saw it – they think that godliness is a means to financial gain.
Do you see how they have this backwards? They pursue the outward forms of Christianity not because they want to know Christ and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings and so somehow to attain to the resurrection of the dead – they're not really interested in Jesus at all, what they want is money. God is a means to an end, and a pretty pathetic end at that.
Listen to Joel Osteen
"It's God's will for you to live in prosperity instead of poverty. It's God's will for you to pay your bills and not be in debt. It's God's will for you to live in health and not in sickness all the days of your life."
What is the gospel, what is Joel Osteen's good news he has to share? – you can live your best life now, you can be debt and illness free because God loves to bless and give comfort and prosperity. God is simply a means to an end. Sadly this prosperity preaching is as popular as money – people lap it up.
And Paul would have us understand that the false teachers error starts with their focus on money – they cannot see Christ in all his glory and goodness because their sights are fixed elsewhere, all they see are pound signs, all they see are things they want to buy, lifestyles they want to experience, pleasure they want to enjoy.
Indeed, Paul says, it is their love of money that leads them to twist and distort the gospel, that leads them to make a shipwreck of their own faith and the faith of all who listen to them.
Look down at verse 9:
"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."
The desire to get rich is a dangerous temptation, a trap of Satan that leads through foolish and harmful desires into ruin and destruction. It is a root of all kinds of evil. Get this right – money is not the root of all evil as is often quoted. Money is not the root of all evil – as if all evil stems from money, and therefore being rid of money would rid us of all evil. That's not what it says is it? It is the love of money that is the problem – the Love of money, the desire for it, the grasping, hungry desperation for it. And love of money is not the source of all evil, but of all kinds of evil – it is endlessly creative – first is leads us to this sin, then to another, when we are fully given over to it there is no telling what we will do to get more. Read the headlines – the boyfriend who killed his fiancé and stashed her in the cess pit under the garage to steal her wealth; the industrial espionage, the stealing of secrets, the stabbing in the back, the manipulation of markets, the rip off merchants who steal from the vulnerable and the poor, the violent robbery that destroys lives for a few pounds … these things go on all around us all the time – driven on by insatiable thirst for money and all that comes from it.
The Bible is full of examples of those who have pierced themselves with many griefs through the love of money, like Geharzi in our Old Testament reading from 2 Kings – he thought that his master had let Naaman off too lightly, went after him for just a bit of the wealth… and Naaman's leprosy clung to him and his descendants… like Judas who sold Jesus off for 30 pieces of silver and like Annanias and Saphira who tried to pretend they were more generous than they were, keeping money for themselves but pretending that they were giving generously – and God put them to death on the spot!
This is so profoundly obvious and yet so hard for us to accept. Its shot through the papers – and yet love of money and the desire for more is the fundamental assumption of our financial and economic system. Capitalism depends on the consumers insatiable thirst for more. So it uses powerful tools to increase and dangerously amplify our dissatisfaction with what we have so that it can sell us more of the same.
Now if love of money is so all pervasive, so deeply ingrained into the very fabric of our world, and if the love of money is so disastrous, then we need to ask ourselves, each and every one – how badly am I infected? Note I don't ask 'do you love money?' 'Are you infected?' with this deadly desire, but 'how badly are you infected, how deep does it run in you, how far gone are you down this path of temptation, how badly ensnared in this trap of desire? How close to ruin are you?' You and me, all of us, need to take a good hard look in the mirror.
To help with that here are some diagnostic questions -
• When you mind goes into neutral what do you think about – is it your concerns about money, or do you drift into imagining what life would be like if you had a little more – the holidays, the cars, the house…
• When you hear that we're talking about money at church does your heart sink because you don't want to hear it?
• When you give does it fill you with joy or do you begrudge it?
• Do you delight to spend on others, or on yourself?
• Do you quickly grow bored with your possessions and lust after new things – phone, clothes, car…
• Do you think that a purchase will cheer you up
• Do you love owning things
So on the one hand we need to know that pursuing money via Jesus leads to grief. But there is a better way. This is point two:
Pursuing Jesus instead of money leads to true gain
Look at verse 6:
"But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that."
The problem with the false teachers is that they thought that godliness was a means to get rich. Well it is – but not in the way they think. Godliness with contentment is itself gain, wealth of a greater kind than money. Godliness does lead to joy and peace and pleasure – it leads to joy and peace and pleasure that has nothing to do with money. Godliness with contentment is true riches. The things that we think money will give us cannot be bought. We are right to long for joy and security and peace and comfort and deliverance from trouble – but these things don't come from a fat bank account, they come from knowing the living God.
So Paul points to the genuine good of contentment. If we have food and clothing we will be content with that – if we have enough to eat and adequate shelter, we have all we need.
But notice that is it not contentment in and of itself that Paul is talking about – but godliness with contentment, because the one leads to the other. The Greeks had an ideal of contentment and so do the Buddhists. The Greek stoic philosophers taught their follower that desire was the problem. If we could just stop wanting things and relationship then we would be content to let fate take it's course… like Simon and Garfunkel sang 'I am a rock, I am an island… and a rock feels no pain and an island never cries'. Buddhism teaches that reality is an illusion that mindfulness or meditation will free us from… but neither stoicism nor Buddhism can stop us from desire, it's part of us, no amount of noticing our breathing will stop it, nor will strength of will. Jesus provides us a better way – the way of relationship with him – it is godliness that produces contentment.
Look at verse 11:
"But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 1Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses."
How does the man of God find contentment – not through pursuing wealth, but by fleeing from the love of money and pursuing relationship with Jesus and all that comes from it – righteousness and godliness – these go together as characteristic patterns of Christian behaviour; love and faith – the great pair of Christian virtues that hold us to Christ – and endurance and gentleness.
It takes more than saying no to bad things, we need to actively say yes to good things. The pursuit of Jesus gives us a greater vision to pursue, a great aim and project that allows us to see through the false promises of wealth and so resist it's temptations.
So there are four commands in these verses.
1. Flee from all this – flee from the temptations of the love of money. Like Joseph running out of Potiphar's house when Potiphar's wife tried to seduce him, we too must flee this dangerous temptation.
2. Pursue righteousness etc. – don't run aimlessly, run for the better promises that will give you strength to resist temptation
3. Fight the good fight – that is, give yourself to the mission of God and his Kingdom. Fight the good fight paints the Christian life as like being at war in a great eternal battle against Satan and his armies, contending for the gospel of Christ and seeing it grow by releasing the captives of sin and death and bringing them into life.
4. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called. Here is the ultimate answer to the false promises of wealth. I skipped over verse 7 earlier – but it's profound: 'We brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out of it'. He who dies with the most toys – leaves them all behind and someone else will have them. John D Rockerfeller was famously the riches man in America, Wikepedia suggests he may have been the richest man to ever live, with a fortune estimated at between 300 and 400 billion dollars. When he died, so the story goes, someone asked his estates executor how much he left – and the answer 'everything' – he left everything, because you can't take it with you when you go. The false and alluring promises of wealth are pressed no us everywhere, so we need to be tenacious if we are to keep hold of the promises that are unseen. So Paul says to take hold of it with a tremendous grip and cling on for dear life.
So what about you, what about me? Do you tire of giving reviews and talk about generosity? Do you hear the siren song of consumption, do you feel the pull towards comfort, luxury and all that wealth affords? You'd be very unusual if you didn't.
But hear this: Jesus says no to all that, not because he's a spoil sport, but because he wants us to have true gain, the gain of contentment that is not dependant on our circumstances, contentment that can enjoy wealth and that can rejoice in poverty, knowing that it has something far greater than money. And he wants us to live with him in glory forever – enjoying his rich provision, but much more than that, revelling in his presence and the presence of his father. This is the greatest joy in heaven, the great reward we seek, not comfort and luxury, not spending power, but life in the very presence of almighty God.
So this morning, these weeks of vision and giving, they're not about filling the coffers of the church, they're not about achieving a balanced budget. They're about the battle for our souls. The world says 'satisfy me, satisfy me'. Jesus says there is nothing in this world that is big enough and good enough and eternal enough to satisfy us – but he is. He warns us against the love of money so we develop a greater love that will satisfy us so that we are content. So you, if you would be a man or woman of God, flee from all that and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called. That is – pursue Jesus for Jesus sake, nor for what he can give you. And take hold of eternal life and do not let go, because the day will soon come when Jesus will come back and then we will discover the true value of all our investments – those who have invested in money will see it blown away forever, but those who have invested in God's Kingdom will be truly satisfied and will glory in him forever.