with Tony W. Cartledge
1 Timothy 6:6-19

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Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the light_sun_cloudsLORD. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”- Jeremiah 18:6

Find Contentment Where You Are

We might as well admit it: most of us feel a lot happier when our bank accounts are healthy and our retirement savings are growing. Are there any of us who wouldn’t be pleased to have stronger finances and a big cushion to fall back on if things turn sour? Is there a political candidate anywhere who doesn’t claim that his or her plan will put more money in more people’s pockets?

That’s a reality of life, but it’s not the only approach. In today’s text, Paul does his best to convince Timothy that money can be more trouble than treasure, and the love of money should be avoided at all costs. Can the aged apostle convince a crowd of modern materialists that we’ve gotten it wrong with our pursuit of prosperity?

True contentment(vv. 6-10)

The text begins in the middle of a one-sided conversation. Beginning in 4:11, Paul had run through a litany of instructions ranging from church leadership (choosing elders, managing charity) to personal advice (respect older people, drink a little wine). He insisted that those who labor in God’s behalf should be paid for their efforts (5:17-18), but sharply criticized those who were “depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain” (6:5). Apparently, prosperity preaching is not just a modern heresy.

This thought led Paul into a short meditation on the proper understanding of money and material things. The primary “gain” one should seek is the contentment inherent in true godliness itself, he said (v. 6). Although wealth exerts a near universal appeal, Paul reminds us that possessions play a role in our lives only between birth and death (v. 7): one who has adequate food and clothing should be content (v. 8).

The desire to be rich is a temptation that can trap believers through “senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction,” he added (v. 9). Note the contrast: those who seek security through increased possessions will find not gain, but grief.

Paul’s conclusion in v. 10 is often quoted, though not entirely correctly, as an aphorism so common that many people don’t realize it originated in the Bible. “The love of money is the root of all evil” (v. 10a, KJV) overstates the Greek text, which has no definite article before the word for “root.” Literally, it says “for a root of all kinds of evil is the love of money.”

The single word translated as “love of money” describes someone who goes beyond an appreciation for the value of money to making the pursuit of wealth the prime purpose of life. Financial greed is not the only wellspring of evil, but it spawns any number of sinful, selfish, and harmful acts. The lure of money is so powerful that it can even lead people away from their faith. Paul spoke of some who were so eager for gain that they “have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains” (v. 10b). Chasing money would lead to destruction (v. 9), Paul believed, with the ruinous wounds being self-inflicted by people who stab themselves with the dagger of their own greed, causing intense pain.

True grit(vv. 11-16)

As a “man of God,” Timothy was to avoid the dangers of greed and materialism. Indeed, Paul’s language suggests more than avoidance — he was to “shun all this,” literally, to “flee these things” and run in the opposite direction. Instead of chasing after wealth, he was to “pursue” righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. The list recalls other texts in which Paul described similar attributes as the fruit of the spirit.

It is composed of familiar virtues, most of which had been previously mentioned in the letter. The term translated “godliness” stands out in particular: it appears nine times in the Pastoral Epistles attributed to Paul (plus four times in 2 Peter), but nowhere else in the New Testament. “Godliness” can function as an umbrella word for the righteousness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness characteristic of the life God wants us to live.

“Fight the good fight of the faith” (v. 12) should not necessarily raise images of combat, however spiritual. The term usually translated as “fight” (agōnizou) is the root of the English word “agonize,” and its basic meaning had to do with striving for victory in an athletic contest, to “compete in the good competition.” Wrestling and races were the most common events in ancient games, both requiring intense effort.

Since Paul had used the verb “pursue” in v. 11, and had spoken of the goal of eternal life in v. 12b, perhaps the image of “running a good race” would be more apt than the idea of fighting (see 2 Tim. 4:7). In either case, the believer recognizes that faith is a struggle and living up to our confession of faith requires daily effort. As athletic events take place before spectators, so our confession of faith is lived out “in the presence of many witnesses,” so we should be careful what kind of testimony we give.

In vv. 13-16, Paul gave to Timothy a solemn charge that drew imagery from the legal system and the idea of a solemn oath. Paul issued the charge before powerful witnesses: “in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession” (v. 13). The term “good confession” may refer to Christ’s confirmation of his identity as the Son of God (John 18:37), but more likely was intended to describe his faithful testimony despite suffering and the certainty of death. To fight the good fight is to faithfully champion the good confession. Timothy, like all faithful believers, was to stand firm in his faith in every circumstance, “to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 14).

Just what is “the commandment” that Timothy was to keep so faithfully? Some think it may have been a baptismal or commissioning vow, but Paul probably had in mind the things he had just named: to live with righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness (see “The Hardest Question” online for more).

Timothy was to live out this calling until Christ’s “manifestation,” the anticipated return of Christ, which would take place in God’s time (v. 15a). In keeping with the solemn nature of his charge to Timothy — a charge made before God — Paul recited a litany of divine titles and closed with a formulaic acknowledgement of “he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.” (vv. 15b-16).

The exalted titles offer a fitting reminder that we worship a God who is far more than our personal comforter. Many people live as if they have a deity in a bottle, ready to call God forth like a genie when they have a need, paying little attention at other times. How does that attitude fit with Paul’s description of the awesome, immortal God?

True goodness(vv. 17-19)

One would think Paul’s powerful charge would be a perfect way to end the letter, but his command to Timothy led to a challenge for his younger colleague to extend a similar directive to others, particularly the rich.

Having just spoken of God’s immortality, Paul wanted affluent believers to remember that wealth is temporary and uncertain, in contrast to the lasting hope we have in God, “who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” (v. 17, cf. 4:10 and 5:5). We have a natural desire for pleasure and enjoyment, and Paul doesn’t criticize that.

We also have a tendency to buy more expensive toys or adopt more extravagant tastes as our income increases, perhaps assuming that we deserve it. But do pricier pleasures bring us greater delight than the simple joys anyone can appreciate? All we truly need for enjoyment, Paul says, God provides.

There is no sin in being blessed with material wealth, but financial prosperity brings a particular responsibility to others, not just to one’s own family and estate. Persons who have wealth should “do good” in ways that they are particularly equipped to do: “to be rich in good works, generous, ready to share” (v. 18). Such generosity does not buy the wealthy a ticket to glory, but is an appropriate reflection of their faith in and service to Christ.

As Jesus encouraged his followers to lay up treasures in heaven, so Paul called for believers to be “storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life” (v. 19).

What is real life? We may fantasize about sipping martinis on a private tropical beach and think “that’s real living,” or “that would be the life,” but we would be wrong. For Paul, “the life that really is life” is found in joyful service to God through sharing with others in helpful ways. That’s one area in which the rich have no advantage: “real life” is available to all.

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Adult Teaching Resources

Download the PDF for September 25, 2016 teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide, Digging Deeper, and Hardest Question pages.

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Additional Links/Resources
Read Scripture online: 1 Timothy 6:6-19


Parent Prep

We all want to provide for our children. We want to provide for them a safe place to live, food to eat, clothing to wear, an education that will propel them into the future. We also want non-material things for them like happiness, love, and joy. But we can also slide into the notion that we also want to provide what everyone else is providing for their children as well. Many times this leads us into purchasing things that we see other people purchasing for their children and we think our children need those things as well. Social media hasn’t helped at all with this trend. The posts we see of Facebook and the pictures of the new stuff and new places that are on Instagram make our desires even stronger. This is even before the sites pick up on what we see and post ads for these things as well. But the real question is how much is too much? I don’t have a great answer, but maybe start with this: what would you be willing to give away? After trying to answer that you will find out what is controlling you and your children.

Teaching Resources | Download

Download the PDF for youth teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide for this lesson.

Encourage youth to check out this video ahead of the lesson.

“If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof via www.youtube.com

Additional Links/Resources
Read Scripture online: 1 Timothy 6:6-19