The first is Richard Semmler. He’s 59 years-old. He’s never married, and lives in tiny flat in Virginia. He drives an old car, and lives frugally – he doesn’t take vacations, or even have a home telephone. He makes extra money writing textbooks.
He doesn’t have much MONEY, but Richard Semmler is an extraordinarily RICH man.
He doesn’t live this way because he HAS TO. What makes him exceptional is that he CHOOSES to.
He teaches calculus and algebra at Northern Virginia Community College. And makes more than $100,000 a year. But for the last 35 years he’s donated around HALF his salary to charity. Last year it was $60,000.
So far, by his count, he’s given away slightly more than $770,000. And his goal is $1 million! Extraordinary!
And he doesn’t just write a cheque. He stays involved with his money. He says “Most of my dollars go to very specific projects, so I know what I’m funding. I want to SEE my dollars at WORK.”
Once a week, and on holidays, he serves dinner at the Central Union Mission, and he offers free math tutoring to clients studying for their high school diploma.
He serves on the board of the Habitat for Humanity chapter in Northern Virginia. And he always helps build the houses he helps fund.
Steve Greene, manager of volunteers for Habitat. Says “He puts his hands where his money goes,”
This guy is committed to seeing his money put to USE. He’s a good steward of all that God’s given him.
And he does it all with a SMILE on his face. Cheerfully, without obligation or resentment. He’s CONTENT! Content with what he has.
That’s TRUE RICHES. That’s true GODLINESS! That’s true LIFE!
The second Christian is Creflo Dollar Jnr. He’s an American tele-evangelist. If you’ve watched any early morning TV you might have caught his show “You can change your world!”.
He wears grey silk suits, drips jewelry, travels in limousines and his own personal lear jet. And makes millions of dollars a year. Dollar by NAME, dollar by NATURE.
And his trademark message is that GOD DOESN’T WANT YOU POOR. Earthly Riches is where God wants Christians to be. Listen to a quote from his website on a webpage titled, “Claim Your Spiritual Birthright”.
“You were made wealthy and rich before you came into existence. You’ve been predestined to prosper financially. According to Ephesians 1:4-5, God chose to bless you before the foundation of the world as EVIDENCE of the holiness and righteousness made available to you through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Your inheritance of wealth and riches is INCLUDED in the “spiritual blessings”. You have EVERY RIGHT to live wealthy, and possess material riches-clothes, jewelry, houses, cars and money- in abundance!
The Bible says that wealth is stored up for the righteous (Proverbs 13:22, New American Standard). However, it will remain stored up until you claim it. Therefore, claim it NOW!
You possess the blessing to seize, and command wealth and riches to come to you (Deuteronomy 8:18). Exercise that power by speaking faith-filled words daily and taking practical steps to eradicate debt. Like God, you can speak spiritual blessings into existence (Romans 4:17). Remember, doubt keeps silent, but faith speaks!”
Another extraordinary Christian. But for different reasons!
PROFIT AND RICHES. GODLINESS.
My guess is that if you asked Creflo Dollar and Richard Semmler what they understood by those words you’d get COMPLETELY DIFFERENT DEFINITIONS.
What does it mean to be RICH? What does it mean to be GODLY?
Words can mean different things to different people. “The Eels will smash the Sharks”. Or “The Panthers will kill the Tigers”. Means two completely different things depending on whether you’re a footy fan, or a zoologist.
Words mean different things to different people.
And it’s the same in the passage we’re looking at this morning. 1 Timothy 6. Paul vs the false teachers. And they’re defining THESE SAME WORDS differently. Profit. Riches, Godliness.
We’ve already seen how their understanding of GODLINESS is different. Back in Ch 4, THEY thought godliness looked like ABSTAINING from things. Saying no to food, or alcohol, or marriage. That God would somehow be impressed with your sacrifices.
But Paul says that’s really god-LESS. Real godliness has value for ALL things, holding promise for THE LIFE TO COME. It’s about setting an example in speech, life, love, faith and purity. Every part of your life.
Which is FAR more widespread and comprehensive than just changing your diet.
And here in Ch 6, he takes on the false teachers again. From v3 he talks about how they love quarrels and controversy. That end up in nothing but envy, strife, gossip, and suspicion. Hopeless stuff!
But it’s their attitude to MONEY that he zooms in on. Look at the end of v5. “They’ve been robbed of the truth, and think that GODLINESS IS A MEANS TO FINANCIAL GAIN.”
They reckon there’s PROFIT TO BE MADE in teaching godliness. Peddling spiritual pearls for pennies. Something Creflo Dollar could say AMEN to!
But Paul wants to REDEFINE what they mean by profit AND godliness. Look there in v6.
6 But GODLINESS with CONTENTMENT IS great gain.
In one sense he’s AGREEING with them. There IS profit in godliness. But not in the way the false teachers understand it.
And so, for the rest of the chapter, he explains what the RIGHT way of understanding GODLINESS is, and PROFIT. And CONTENTMENT.
For the false teachers of Paul’s time, and for people today like Creflo Dollar, there was a close connection between GODLINESS and MATERIAL, earthly, WEALTH. Money in the bank means God’s BLESSING you. It’s a sign of your GODLINESS.
But Paul sees three problems with this view of PROFIT. Let’s look at them together.
1. Don’t last
One. Earthly riches don’t last. You don’t need to be an Einstein to work that one out. Look at it there in v7. It’s a well-known saying.
7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.
No matter HOW wealthy he was, a corpse can’t spend money.
A body in a $3000 suit is still dead.
A $1000 coffin stays in the ground just as well as a $20,000 one.
“For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” It might be a well-known saying. And it might be OBVIOUS. But it doesn’t mean people LISTEN to it.
We mightn’t fill our graves with treasures like the Egyptian pyramids. But we might as well. We spent our whole life accumulating STUFF, just so we can pass it on to our kids, or throw it out. Or see it rust, or burn, or break, or get lost.
It’s fool’s gold. It’s chasing a mirage.
It’s a truth King Charlemagne, for all his riches, knew. It was the message he took to his grave.
It was 800 AD. Charlemagne, was king of France. He seemed to have everything. According to one of his closest assistants, “He was six feet four inches tall, and built to scale. He had blond hair, animated eyes… a presence ‘always stately and dignified.’”
Charlemagne went to Rome on Christmas Day in a.d. 800. There in a church, dressed in his best imperial purple, he received the name “Charles the Great.” While kneeling before the altar, the Pope took the imperial crown and placed it upon Charlemagne’s head, hailing him the sixty-eighth Emperor of Rome.
But in AD 814 he became ill at the age of seventy-two, and died within a week.
He had, however, made all of his last arrangements with meticulous care. At his request, he was buried in the vault of the cathedral of Aix-la-Chapelle. His body was dressed in imperial purple and seated upon a throne inside the vault.
With a crown on his head, a scepter in his hand, a sword by his side, and an open Bible on his knees, the great Emperor sat in all of his glory, and the vault was closed and sealed.
Until 997, nearly 200 years later. When a German emperor had the vault opened. He was after the crown, scepter and sword. Charlemagne’s body was found just as had he had requested. And, there, on his lap was the open Bible Charlemagne had requested.
But it wasn’t opened to a random passage. One bony finger pointed to Matthew 16:26 “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? (NIV)”
Charlemagne lived, and died, with the truth that we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.
Earthly riches don’t last.
2. Leads to temptations
The second problem Paul sees with chasing riches is that it leads to TEMPTATIONS. It’s there in v9.
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.
It’s a devious trap – that more THINGS/ will give you more STABILITY, or success, or comfort, or happiness, or acceptance, or approval. And so the desire to get RICH means your tempted to be GREEDY, or to COVET, or to worship IDOLS, or to be SELFISH.
All harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.
But that’s not all. Look what Paul goes on to say in v10.
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.
Loving money and riches can EVEN lead to people giving up on being Christian. Desire for those things is BAD NEWS.
The third reason Paul says that chasing riches is wrong is that it leads to ARROGANCE. Look down to v17. He’s talking to those Christians who ARE rich.
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be ARROGANT nor to PUT THEIR HOPE in wealth, which is so UNCERTAIN, but to put their hope in GOD.
When you’ve got plenty of things around you, it’s easy to trust THEM, rather than God. For the focus to be ALL ON YOU. To be ARROGANT.
You see it in Kerry Packer. He walked into a golf club in Queensland recently, and the girl at the front desk didn’t know him. And he said to her, I want to play golf here. So make me a member. Now.”
It was an exclusive sort of club. And membership cost thousands of dollars. He pulled the money out of his wallet and he waved it around. But she just politely told him it wasn’t possible; that membership applications took some time to process. And he’d have to come back the next week.
Well, what do you reckon he did? You see, if you’re Kerry Packer, people just don’t treat you that way. So he demanded to see the manager. Who bowed and scraped and apologised. And made him an honorary member on the spot. I don’t know what happened to the girl at the desk. She was probably out looking for a job the next day.
But there’s that sort of arrogance you see from people who reckon they’ve made it. They’re wealthy. And that means you’ve got to treat them DIFFERENTLY to everybody else.
Arrogance is the attitude that says I’m a cut above everyone else. And that’s the way I expect to be treated.
And it’s no wonder the first thing Paul says to wealthy Christians, is GET RID OF YOUR ARROGANCE. And replace it with the same sort of godly humility that every Christian’s meant to have.
It’s all these sorts of results that come from wanting to get rich. From the love of money. Things which are the complete OPPOSITE of what’s expected from God’s people.
2. Flee, pursue, fight, take hold.
Which is why it’s no wonder Paul gives some pretty strong commands to Timothy. Look at the sorts of things he says from v11.
11 But you, man of God, FLEE from all this, and PURSUE righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12 FIGHT the good fight of the faith. TAKE HOLD of the eternal life to which you were called
This is an ACTIVE, DETERMINED, PURPOSEFUL CHOICE. To turn your back on ONE sort of riches. And to PURSUE the OTHER sort.
Pursue TRUE riches
So what’s the alternative? What does this sort of lifestyle LOOK LIKE? This fleeing riches, and pursuing godliness?
Well, it looks a lot like Richard Semmler. His life is A LIVING ILLUSTRATION of Verses 6-8.
6 But GODLINESS with CONTENTMENT is GREAT GAIN. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have FOOD AND CLOTHING, we will be CONTENT with that.
Each day, each PAYCHECK, Richard Semmler makes the choice of whether he’s going to chase FINANCIAL gain, or the GREAT GAIN that comes with godly contentment. Trusting in THINGS, or trusting in God. FINANCIAL security, or ETERNAL security.
His life reflects the truth that GODLINESS WITH CONTENTMENT is GREAT GAIN.
How are you DOING at that? How CONTENT are you? How do you FEEL about the things you’ve got? What things do you WANT to get at the moment?
If you’re NOT content, what would it take for you to be content? Would MORE MONEY do it?
DON’T FALL INTO THAT TRAP! God reckons there’s lots of things more money would DO for you, but making you more content isn’t one of them?
GODLINESS WITH CONTENTMENT is GREAT GAIN.
What’s GOD’s view of how to build contentment into your life?
Let’s look at each of those aspects in turn. (Godliness, contentment, great gain). And see what it would take for OUR LIFE to reflect that truth.
Firstly, GODLINESS. Look at v11. A man of God should FLEE from the traps of wealth, and pursue righteousness, GODLINESS, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.
The things of GOD are the treasures to be chasing. Not the things of earth.
Do you VALUE them? Are they a pearl of great price/ that’s worth selling everything you have that you might own it? That’s the sort of language Jesus uses.
And the rubber hits the road down in v17. To FLEE these things means to NOT put your hope IN WEALTH. Instead, pursue God. PUT YOUR HOPE in God.
Valuing and Pursuing the THINGS of God/ comes down to valuing and pursuing GOD HIMSELF.
Put your hope in God. TRUST HIM as the one who knows what he’s doing. Trust your today, and your tomorrow, into his hands. Trust that he knows you better than you know yourself, and LOVES you enough to work all things for your good.
To NOT be CONTENT – to NOT put your hope in God – is really a lack of FAITH. It’s DOUBTING God.
And look at how Paul describes the God we are to put our hope in. V17. “He RICHLY PROVIDES us with everything for our ENJOYMENT”. That’s the truth to hold on to when we’re tempted to covet, or greedy, or not to be content.
Paul goes on to describe what that sort of attitude of contentment, and trust in God, will LOOK LIKE. Look at v18.
18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.
When we’ve learned the truth that God richly provides for us for our enjoyment, then we’re FREED to use our wealth for HIM.
A content person is freed to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.
For some rich people a Rolls Royce is the status symbol. The sign that you’ve finally arrived. But when it comes to a Christian, OUR status symbol is to be our generosity and willingness to share. THAT’S the mark of godliness with contentment. That’s the mark of them “having arrived”.
Is GREAT GAIN (19)
Finally. What’s the great gain Paul says comes from being contently godly? The great profit that comes when you’re living with your hope put firmly in the God who richly provides?
It’s right there in v19.
19 In this way they will LAY UP TREASURE for themselves as A FIRM FOUNDATION FOR THE COMING AGE, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
A life of godly contentment. A life lived in generosity and willingness to share. Will result in laying up treasure in the world to come. Building rewards in heaven.
And when THIS life is lived with an eye on THAT life, then you understand what TRUE riches are. What’s WORTH CHASING.
In fact, more than that, you understand what TRUE LIFE is. Look at what Paul says there at the end of v19. Laying up treasure for the coming age is about taking hold of the life that is TRULY LIFE. REAL life.
That’s what eternal life is. (The life of eternity). It’s REAL life. The life we were DESIGNED for. The life which is our GOAL, our DESTINY, our FUTURE. Life where the riches of good deeds and generosity mean FAR MORE than cash or jewels.
Dwell on this verse this week. Mull it over. Roll it around like a boiled lolly. Plumb the depths of it. Let God speak to you through it. And change you.
And begin to live it out.
Godliness/ with contentment/ is great gain.