For an introduction to this series, click here.
October 24, 2007Well I had a great time in Wisconsin the past few days, for those of you who may have been wondering where I was. The weather was nice (except for Monday) and it was great to see some of the things that have changed and some of the things that have stayed the same in Watertown and elsewhere. But of course the company I had was the best part of my time. But let's get busy here.
Here we have the conclusion of Paul's first letter to his young friend Timothy. Paul wraps up a few things, and, typical of Paul's style, they cover a wide variety of topics. Paul begins with an enlightening discussion of masters and slaves:
"Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved. Teach and urge these things. 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." (6:1-5)
Notice very carefully what Paul is saying here. In the broad context, which continues later in the chapter, the passage is talking about contentment. This passage gives us the best glimpse of Paul's view of slavery. He tells slaves to be content with their lot in life and not to try to lead a revolution. Apparently there were some teachers who were trying to stir up slaves against their masters, and Paul tells us that is not where the focus of Christians should be.
Greediness has been a temptation for all time. Man always wants more, wants something he can't have. And some teachers were apparently feeding into this fleshly desire, telling them that God wants them to be wealthy and successful in this world. Always be careful of preaching that appeals to your physical or social desires. Everybody wants to be rich, happy, and have lots of friends. God is not so much concerned about these things as He is about us being conformed to the image of Christ.
"But godliness with contentment is great gain, 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. 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." (6:6-10)
Contentment is the attitude the Lord wants us to have. That's not always easy, but the Lord knows what is best for us. Our flesh wants to have more and more, and many people throughout history have fallen into the never-ending cycle of wanting something, getting it, and then wanting something else. Love of money is not limited to rich people. Poor people can just as easily lead lives full of jealousy and covetousness as rich people can. It is a temptation common to everyone, and God calls us to resist that temptation and learn to trust Him for our needs and be content with the things He brings into our lives.
Notice that Paul's formula is "godliness with contentment." Most of us have problems with both of those, and some have a problem with the contentment part. But remember the warning to the church at Laodicea in Revelation. Those people had contentment without godliness. That is also wrong.
A lot of people have the idea that we are supposed to serve God just because we love Him, and of course that is a big part of it. But notice that Paul says that "godliness with contentment is great gain." Nowhere in the Bible will you find that we are told not to seek eternal rewards. On the contrary, this and many other passages tell us that God will be glad to give us the rewards we earn and we should strive to earn them.
"As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called 'knowledge,' for by professing it some have swerved from the faith." (6:17-21, ESV)
Here is another instance where Paul tells believers to seek heavenly rewards. He tells Timothy to tell the rich people in the church to use their wealth to gain eternal rewards. Compared to most people in the world, we Americans are rich. Shame on us if we don't use our wealth to carry forward God's work.
Paul ends his letter with another warning to Timothy about not getting involved in petty arguments about the Bible. Even back in his day, there were things difficult to understand that got people in trouble. And apparently Timothy was willing to take up those arguments, in good faith trying to win the person to sound doctrine. Paul tells him not to get sidetracked, but instead keep his focus on the important things. Things have only gotten worse in our time. People get bogged down over very minor issues and go off on tangents based on a verse or two. Don't fall into that trap. Keep your focus on pleasing the Lord and on teaching and practicing the simple gospel of the Lord Jesus. Sure there are things that we don't completely understand. But we do know that the Lord Jesus came into this world to save sinners, and that after we are saved we need to grow in grace. Fulfilling that goal will take a lifetime anyway. Getting sidetracked on secondary and tertiary issues is foolish.