This evening we have come to an important part in our studies of Paul's first letter to Timothy and our title is 'Teaching Godly Living'; and our passage is 1 Timothy 6.2b-10. And after some brief words of introduction my headings are: first, 'The False Teacher'; secondly, 'The Godly Believer'; and, thirdly, 'The Warnings'. We begin with the last words of verse 2 of chapter 6:
"Teach and urge these things."
The Christian teacher – whether in a pulpit or elsewhere – has got to be "able to teach". Paul is clear about that. But that is not enough. They need to "urge" people as well - for the things to be taught are matters of life and death in this world, but also matters of spiritual life or spiritual death and destruction in the world to come and so hugely important. And this needs "urging". So these words from 1 Timothy 6, I trust we shall see, matter. Well, so much by way of introduction. First, then:
The False Teacher
"If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain." (1 Tim 6.3-5)
False teaching needs to be understood in the context of Paul's understanding that, as he puts it, the Church is a "pillar and buttress of the truth" (1 Tim 3.15). So once the Church has been deceived by false teachers and people believe what is wrong and contrary to God's truth, not only will the Church collapse, so much else will also collapse in the world around. That, simply, is because the Church is "a pillar and buttress of the truth". Imagine the great pillars in this church suddenly collapsing. The whole building would implode. Well, Paul is implying that that sort of implosion occurs in the world, when the Church or when Christians who make up the Church fail to teach the truth and drive away error. They fail in being "a pillar and buttress of the truth". So God's truth is no longer heard in the streets and public places of the world and with serious consequences. As the Old Testament prophet Amos put it, there is a famine "not of bread … but of hearing the words of the Lord" (Amos 8.11).
But what are the marks of a false teacher who causes such a famine? Paul gives you three. First, the false teacher is, verse 3:
"Anyone [who] teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness."
A false teacher in the church is someone who teaches differently to the teaching of Jesus and his Apostles. The Apostles were, of course, the ones Jesus commissioned to expound and to pass on his teaching. In simple terms, that teaching is what you have in the Bible. And, note, this teaching is not just theoretical or the product of a fertile imagination, for it contains vital history that centres on the Cross and Resurrection of Christ – a real Resurrection with an empty tomb. Indeed, an essential requirement for being an Apostle was to have witnessed the risen Christ. So we are talking about teaching that is factually verifiable. Let's not have any nonsense about Christianity being just about non-provable 'faith'. The outworking of the Christian ethic of Jesus – "that accords with godliness" - is further evidence. Interestingly, even secular anthropological research is now confirming the social value of churches. For where churches in developing countries really grow and take off, recent work is finding that more social good is achieved than by international and local government aid or the work of secular NGOs. So, first, a false teacher teaches (literally) "other" than the sound apostolic teaching of the Bible that is verifiable, historically and through its good social effect.
Secondly, a false teacher is arrogant and ignorant. Look at the first part of verse 4:
"he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing."
So, one, they are arrogant. They think they know better than Jesus and the Apostles. Sadly the most noted example of this today is where scores of false teachers in the Church quite explicitly oppose or deny Jesus and the Apostles over matters of sex and sexuality. Next month, July 2016, this probably will be the case with some at the General Synod of the Church of England over homosexual ethics.
But to be so arrogant as to think you know better than Jesus and the Apostles is, two, to expose your ignorance. For the wisdom of Jesus' and the Apostles' teaching is again confirmed empirically – it is proved. For, on average, if you follow Jesus' and the Apostolic teaching and limit sexual intercourse to heterosexual monogamous life-long marriage, the outcomes for adults, children and society are better than if you don't. Of course, there is forgiveness for all sin as this service of Holy Communion reminds us through the sin-bearing death of Jesus. Jesus, when the Pharisees suggested stoning a woman caught in adultery, did not condemn her, but he said:
"go and from now on sin no more." (John 8.11)
Thirdly, a false teacher is not only arrogant and ignorant (in some measure); he (or she) is often also self-interested and inevitably a trouble maker. Look at the second part of verse 4 and verse 5:
"He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain."
The word in verse 5, "godliness" (we also had it in verse 3), can be translated 'religion'. So a false teacher can be marked by self-interestedly thinking there is money to be made, or some other advantage to be had, in religion. That is certainly a great temptation, on the one hand, for TV prosperity gospellers. On the other hand, it is a temptation if you are a well-known academic or book-writing bishop. For if you write a book denying biblical teaching, you probably will initially get more notoriety and initially more sales of your book and more money, than if you wrote a book confirming the Bible. And the result of such denials by such teachers is trouble. If you study Church history, you will see how prophetic Paul was. For false teaching inevitably results in producing …
"… quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth".
So much for the false teacher; Paul writes secondly about:
The Godly Believer
"Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content." (1 Tim 6.6-8)
So the first thing Paul here says about the godly believer after the negativity about the false teacher is that he or she should be a pleasure seeker. You say, 'How on earth?' Well, having just said that false teachers can be seduced by money – they imagine that "godliness [or religion] is a means of gain" - Paul now digresses on the notion of "gain". However, he doesn't say, 'don't follow these false teachers for the godly believer doesn't live for gain or for personal advantage or for happiness.' Nor does he go on to say: 'Christians are to do the right thing only for its own sake.' No! What he says is this:
"there is great gain [but] in godliness".
He is implying that the Christian should rightly be concerned with gain and advantage and personal happiness. But, and this is the big 'but', he knows there is greater gain at the end of the day than in being like Sir Philip Green, formerly of BHS, or billionaire Mike Ashley, chairman of Newcastle United football club. For the Christian gain is not through gaining riches. Nor is it with just any sort of religion, including Christianity just as a religion. Rather it is through religion - the Christian religion - "with contentment" – "godliness with contentment". And the Bible means by contentment being independent of what happens, for good or bad. So Paul says in Philippians 4.11:
"I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content."
For he knew God, who had good purposes for him, was in control of any and every situation. Who, here, needs to learn that lesson this evening? So the Godly believer is a pleasure seeker – a seeker after gain – but not in seeking gain or personal advantage from money, but from going God's way not the world's, which is always for their best.
Secondly, he or she is ready for heaven. Look at verse 7:
"we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world."
Are you ready for heaven? The godly person realizes that money cannot buy you a place in heaven. The tragedy is that people in the West are ignoring eternity and think that the state of the economy and money is the ultimate value. In the meantime extremist Muslims are rightly recovering a belief in heaven, but sadly a wrong belief of how you get there. As Shadi Hamid comments:
"As individuals, most (although not necessarily all) Islamic State fighters on the front line are not only willing to die in a blaze of religious ecstasy, they welcome it."
And, as one Muslim Brotherhood official put it, many join their own movement so they can (I quote):
"get into heaven … I was far from religion and this was unsettling. Islamists resolved it for me."
So are you ready for heaven and eternity – if some gunman was to shoot you later this evening, as happened last Sunday in Florida? Or as Jane Cox was killed on Thursday? I've been away at the church Blaithwaite weekend in the Lake District. I realised I'd be coming back and immediately having to preach this sermon. So I was looking over this passage and what I intended to say on my smartphone in bed early on Saturday morning. I was literally reading these words in verse 7, "we brought nothing into this world and we cannot take anything out of the world", when at the top of my screen was a green message alert. It was from my daughter, Zoe Earnshaw, saying (I quote): "Rod's Mum [her mother-in-law] died of heart attack. Could you phone. Thinking both fly back [to Australia] for funeral." That was quite a shock as it was unexpected.
But how are you to be ready for heaven? The way to be ready is truly to believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, so that you "should not perish but have eternal life," in the famous words of John 3.16. And Paul is saying, to understand that and live by that is worth infinitely more than the greatest fortune you could amass in this life. For, to repeat verse 7 as it bluntly says:
"We brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world."
Thirdly, the godly believer is contented with enough. Look at verse 8:
"But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content."
How true that can be if you trust in God! By contrast, the covetous and the greedy think you always need more. Too many think like that in the modern world. One Professor of Pschology has written as follows:
"Most people in our culture today are caught up in the middle of almost complete self-centredness – their discontented state causes them to be focused on getting what they want. That leads to unhappiness and unfulfilment … the more we have; the more we want; and all the more, unhappy we become … discontentment is an endless cycle that gets us nothing but more misery."
How foolish it is to be like that, and how wise to live by Jesus words in Matthew 6.31-33 (our Gospel reading):
"Do not be anxious, saying, 'what shall we eat?' or 'what shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be yours as well."
So the godly believer is a true pleasure seeker – seeking gain but God's way; ready for heaven; and contented with enough. That brings us, thirdly, to:
"But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs." (1 Tim 6.9-10)
The first warning here is about wrong desires. Look at verse 10:
"But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction."
The Bible view of sin is this: what the heart desires, the will chooses and the mind rationalizes. And "the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick" (Jeremiah 17.9). That is why, to use the biblical metaphor but reality, you need to be spiritually born again and given a new spiritual heart, through faith in Christ. However, in the modern world wrong desires are the major problem, with temptation everywhere.
Do you take what Paul says here seriously? For what he is picturing is a three-strand interlocking downward spiral. First, there is the wanting to be rich. Now this might be for an altruistic purpose, so that you can support charities or create employment. But be careful. The Bible, in fact Jesus, also spoke of the "deceitfulness of riches". Then, secondly, if you are wanting to be rich, you can be tempted to give in to further and stronger wrong desires. Verse 9 speaks of "many senseless and harmful desires". When you have riches and no concept of right or wrong, as with many in the secular West, you can pay for more sin and of better quality which is all the more tempting. Just read the so called serious press for scores of examples each week; usually it is in terms of financial greed or sexual malpractice. And, thirdly, this leads to hell – yes, let's again be blunt. We are told these "harmful desires… plunge people into ruin and destruction." And that is a very serious warning against strong desires.
Secondly, is the warning regarding money. Look at verse 10:
"For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils."
Note, it is not money itself that is the problem. Rather it is "the love of money". So don't get this wrong. Money in itself is never the problem. Money is morally neutral. It is a form of power. And power is morally neutral. The moral questions relate to how you got that money and then how you spend it. So money is the problem when it is acquired immorally and spent selfishly because of the love of money. The question, therefore, in the churches and in this church in its first multisite year, which we knew would be expensive, is this (assuming you've acquired your money morally): 'are you spending your money entirely selfishly or are you giving the right amount back to God and for others?'
And that question leads on to the third warning which is against not persevering and against "wandering from the faith". As the second half of verse 10 says:
"It is through this craving [for money] that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs."
Jesus warns about such a drift too. In the Sermon on the Mount he said:
"the one who endures to the end will be saved" (Matt 7.13)
But didn't Jesus say:
"This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day" (John 6.39)?
And didn't Paul write to the Corinthians, in 1 Cor 1.8 that Christ himself would:
"sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ"?
He certainly did. But while Paul was confident that nothing could separate him from the love of God, he never presumed that he himself was saved regardless of what he did. For he told those same Corinthians that he tried to keep himself under control, "lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified" (1 Cor 9.27). And as he told the Galatians, it is "only faith working through love" that is evidence of true faith in Christ (Gal 5.6).
So to conclude: one, guard against false teachers who teach other than the Bible teaches; for, however polished they seem, underneath in some measure, they will be arrogant, ignorant and self-interested trouble-makers. Then, two, seek, in the strength of the Holy Spirit, to be a godly pleasure seeker, ready for heaven and contented with enough. And, three, heed the warnings about wrong desires, the love of money and the danger of "wandering from the faith". So let us pray as we echo the words of our next hymn:
"O Jesus I have promised to serve you to the end. Be now and ever near me, my Master and my Friend."