Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. And in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many 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, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time—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.
As for those who are in the present age rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus 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.
All right – so anyone confused yet? We’re working our way through a series called “That’s NOT in the Bible,” we’re looking at sayings that aren’t actually in the Bible, yet they are quoted as if they are. No doubt, you saw either on the sign outside or in your bulletin that today’s saying is “Money is the root of evil,” and yet we just read a passage, from the Bible, and you might be thinking, “Wait a minute, there it is, plain as day!”
Remember at the outset of this series, we said these phrases are a bit of a grab bag – some are silly, some are antithetical to the gospel, and others are really close to actual Biblical phrases. This is one of those that’s really close. Verse 10 of today’s reading says, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” It’s a subtle difference, and yet, that subtlety is where we really find meaning. May we pray.
How much money is enough? If you were to ask this question of people across the spectrum in terms of wealth and income, you would get a remarkably consistent answer. Can you guess what that answer would be? “Just a little more.” In the movie The Wedding Singer, Adam Sandler’s character goes on a job interview at a local bank, and the bank manager asks him, “Do you have any experience with money?” Sandler replies, “No, sir, I have no experience but I'm a big fan of money. I like it, I use it, I have a little. I keep it in a jar on top of my refrigerator. I'd like to put more in that jar. That's where you come in.”
When people responded that “enough” money would be “just a little bit more,” it turned out most people had in mind a figure that was about 7-10% more than their current income. So, for the person who made $10,000 a year, “enough” would be another $700-1000/year. For the person making $50,000 a year, “enough” would be another $3500-5000/year. For the person making $1,000,000 a year, “enough” would be another $70,000-100,000/year. These figures are consistent across generational lines and at all income levels.
Here’s what is encouraging. Most people really don’t want to be super-rich, they want “just a little bit more” so they can be just a little more comfortable. But here’s the rub - so long as we want “just a little bit more,” we desire something that is always going to be just a little bit out-of-reach. “Just a little bit more” remains a moving target that we’re always really close to, yet that always remains just beyond our grasp. Like every first down in football, once we’ve achieved it, the chains are moved a little further down the field. The difference, however, is that unlike football, chasing after money has no endzone. We just keep reaching, and reaching again, and reaching again, and as long as we continue to reach, the thing we seek remains just out of our grasp.
Money itself is not evil. Having money is not evil. Being wealthy is not evil. It’s how we use money, and the attitude we have about money (our love for it, that is), that we must carefully watch. Today’s text says, “Those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. And in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains” (1 Timothy 6:9-10).
Money itself is the not the problem, it’s the love of it and the desire to be rich where we can get ourselves into trouble. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; you will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24). This is pretty simple: loving God places claims on our lives that are inconsistent with what we do if we love money. The appetite for things that grow out of a desire to be rich are sure and certain ways to lead us away from the faith.
How so? If we think of evil as the antithesis to things of God, and realize that sin, at its core is self-centered living instead of God-centered living, then we see that loving money is the express lane to a self-centered life, ie: a sinful life, ie: one that is bent toward evil. Money tempts us to be self-made people, but the gospel tells us we are God-made people. Money tempts us to think we can do it on our own, but the gospel tells we cannot do it apart from God. Money tempts us to be completely independent, but the gospel tells us we are most fully alive when we are dependent on God, and interdependent with each other. The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and the desire to be rich has led many away from the faith.
Today’s text tells us not to be lovers of money. Verse 11: “As for you, man [or woman] of God, shun all this. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; [not join the rat-race looking out for number one], take hold of the eternal life [not take hold of lots of material pleasures]” (1 Timothy 6:11-12). This is the call upon those who claim to be Christians, not to get caught up in the games the world invites us to play about accumulating and pursuing and loving money, but in our love for God and neighbor, living a life in which righteousness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness are the most important things we have to show on our life’s balance sheet.
Doing this requires us to mentally re-set the definition of success. The world defines success in terms of wealth, yet today’s Scripture turns that notion on its head, saying “There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment” (1 Timothy 6:6). We Christians play by a different set of rules and have different standards of success. The world says, “Get as much as you can while you can at whatever cost necessary.” The world says, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” That’s how the world defines success. That’s how the world defines great gain. But our definition is different; there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment.
One way we can do that is by practicing gratitude. Rather than focusing on what we don’t have and pining away for those things, we would do better, every day, to take stock of what we do have, and to praise and thank God for the blessings that are already ours. Over time, practicing gratitude serves as a reminder that even the very breath we are given is a gift. Everything we possess, every skill we have, the ability to work and earn a living, material blessings and everything we have is a gift - simply recognizing that reality leads us to experience godly contentment - the place our Scripture tells us is the place of great gain. It’s not about how much stuff we have, it’s about using what we have, whatever that is, however much or little it may be, for God. Practicing gratitude leads us away from loving money and the things money can buy, and it leads us to fall more in love with God.
Another way we can keep from falling into the trap of loving money is to check our motivation. Of the stuff we desire, what’s our motivation? This is a question we need to ask both as individuals and as a church - what’s our motivation for desiring the stuff we want? God does not want us to hoard, God wants us to share. Is it for our own purposes and our ego and making ourselves look good, or is it something God can use and we can share? If it’s just for ourselves, our own egos, to make ourselves look good, then we’ve missed the point.
The text closes, and so do we, by saying, “As for those who are in the present age rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus 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” (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
Before you think, “Phew, I’m not rich, so this part doesn’t apply to me,” you’re not off the hook on this one. Every single one of us in this room is rich. How do we figure? What do you think a normal annual household income for someone living in Charlotte is? Any guesses? The median household income in Charlotte in 2009 was $49,799. On a global scale, where do you think this median income of $49,799 would rank? If you could fill in the blank, saying that income is in the top “X” percent of world income, what number would you say?
As it turns out, this “middle-of-the-road” person in Charlotte is in the top 0.98% of world income earners. That means that more than 99% of the world’s population is poorer than the median household in Charlotte who makes $49,799 a year.
Any idea what the median income is around the world? It’s $762 a year. That means the median income in Charlotte is 65 times higher than the median income around the world. Now, before you start saying, “Yes, but the cost of living is vastly different in various parts of the world,” which is true, know that these figures are already based on purchasing power parity, meaning $10 would buy you the same amount no matter where in the world you were. Differences in the costs of living are already taken into account.
So how does a person live on $762 a year? Very differently than we do. They don’t have electricity, appliances, heat, air conditioning, running water, a bathroom, a telephone, a bed, a car, a radio, or a computer. They don’t have healthcare. They don’t have an education. Almost 100% of their income goes toward a meager amount of basic food to remain alive. They would be lucky to get a few pieces of clothing and a bit of medicine, and that’s about it, and if they survive to the ripe old age of 45, they would be one of the oldest people they know.
Did you realize you were so rich? Puts things into a little different perspective, doesn’t it? Perhaps makes us a little more grateful to realize, relatively speaking, all that we do have. Perhaps that makes it a little easier to define great gain as godliness combined with contentment.
Friends, whether we realize it or not, we are rich people. That perspective makes it seem a little odd to devote our lives to the love of money and the pursuit of wealth, when we already have so much. Money itself is not the root of evil, but the love of it certainly can be.
What we actually need a little bit more of isn’t money - it’s godliness and contentment. Set your aim to grow there, for in so doing, we set our hearts not on the uncertainty of riches, but in God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Do good, be rich in good works, be generous, and ready to share. Store up for yourself the treasure of a good foundation for the future, and take hold of the life that really is life.