The Lord's Day Morning
October 17, 2004
I Timothy 6:3-10
“The Love of Money”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
I invite you to turn with me to I Timothy, chapter six. As you do so, I'd just draw your attention to how the wonderful text from the Psalms that we've just heard the choir sing ties in with not only our Call to Worship and our opening song of praise to God, but how it ties into the passage we're going to read now in terms of trusting in God's providence for His provision, and also with our Stewardship theme and the discussion on the back panel of the worship bulletin. The Lord just brought all those things together for us in our worship today, and well worth our further reflection on this Lord's Day.
We have been in I Timothy for a number of weeks now. We’re studying not only through I Timothy, but through all the Pastoral Epistles, that is, I and II Timothy and Titus. Those Pastoral Epistles have been called that for a number of years because they are epistles, or letters, from Paul, who was a veteran pastor, an apostle, elder, missionary and church planter, writing to two young men who were church planting in local congregations, and writing to them about pastoral matters relating to life in the local congregation. We have stressed over and over that Paul is interested to set forth healthy priorities for life and ministry together in the local church, and he is not merely giving advice–although he has much wisdom, and every right to give wise counsel and advice–he is actually setting down the pattern and the principles for ministry and life together in the local congregation that he expects to see worked out in every Christian congregation in every time and in every culture. And so what Paul is saying to these congregations in Asia Minor in the first century is equally relevant and applicable to us today.
Now, we're back to a passage in which Paul is speaking about false teaching again. Last week he had a word in I Timothy 6:1-2 to those in this local Christian congregation who were slaves. They were actually in the condition of slavery, and he had some words to them about what their attitude was to be in life. And we discovered as we studied it last week that there are principles for us to learn, even out of his instructions to those who are enslaved in this local congregation. But now he's back to false teachers again, here in verses three through ten. Well, this must be about the fifth time already in this book that Paul has spoken about false teaching. He must think that it's a fairly significant issue to return to it over and over like he does.
Let me just outline the passage for you before we read it, so that you can follow along his train of thought.
If you look at verse three, Paul says some words that characterize sound doctrine. He wants to give you a description of what sound doctrine looks like, so that you can know sound doctrine when you see it, and you can distinguish it from false doctrine when you see it.
Secondly, if you look at verse four, he speaks about the character of false teachers. He explains two or three characteristics that are evident in the lives and in the habits of those who are false teachers.
Then, if you look again at verses four and five, he will describe for you the results of false teaching. In verse one he will have told you that sound teaching leads to godliness. Well, in verses four and five he’ll show you what false teaching leads to.
Fourthly, in verse five he will tell you one of the key motivations for false teachers. And my friends, I think one of the things that's going to strike you today is how contemporary Paul's words are. Paul is speaking about one of the key motivations for false teachers in his day; well, you will not have to look far to see this same motivation for false teachers in our day.
Fifthly, if you look at verse six, he will contrast the gain, the real gain that Christian godliness brings, with the false gain that false prophets suggest.
And then finally, in verses seven through ten you’ll see a sixth thing, a sixth principle that he sets forth, and it's really a warning. It's a warning against what he says is one of the key roots of evil in the lives of men and women.
So, having outlined somewhat of the direction of Paul's argument, let's look to the Lord in prayer before we read His word and hear it proclaimed, and ask for His help to understand it, and the Spirit's aid in applying it. Let's pray.
Lord God, this is Your word. We know that Your word is truth, and that You mean it to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our way. By the grace of Your Holy Spirit, we pray that we would understand it; but more than that, we pray that our hearts would be conformed to it; that our lives would be changed by it; that we would begin to live the truth; and that we would show the truth in the way that we live. We ask these things in Jesus' name. Amen.
Let's hear God's word in I Timothy, chapter six, verse three.
“If any one advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions an disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the3 world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired and inerrant word. May He add His blessing to it.
Well, here we have Paul again speaking about false teachers, but once again we're not off the hook. If we say, “Well, I'm not a teacher, so I can't be a false teacher,” or “I'm not a false teacher even though I'm a Sunday School teacher,” or “I'm not a false teacher, even though I'm a minister, so this passage doesn't apply to me”…well, you’re going to be disappointed, because this passage does apply to us. Even as Paul gives us as Christians who sit under the teaching and preaching of God's word (or who should, regularly); even as he gives us instructions about how to distinguish true teaching from false teaching, because we want to be nourished by the truth, not led astray by falsehood, and so his words are applicable to all of us in that way; even so, as he talks about one of the great characteristics of these false teachers, he touches on a very important issue for the Christian life: our attitude towards material wealth. What a timely thing for us to be thinking about, even as we approach the season of the year when we think about our commitment to the church's work and worship; and more broadly, to our stewardship of everything that God has given us, since He is the owner of all things and everything we have we've received from Him.
I. Sound doctrine is in accord with Jesus’ teaching, apostolic, and leads to holiness.
Paul begins by telling us what sound doctrine looks like, in order that we will be able to distinguish between sound teaching and false teaching. Look at what he says in verse three:
“If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, [he goes on to say] he is conceited and understands nothing.”
Notice how he describes sound doctrine: it is according to the sound words that Paul and the other apostles have been teaching. It's apostolic. It's according to Jesus’ teaching: it's in strict accord with the teaching that Jesus Christ gave. It's not some new secret teaching that no one has ever heard of before. It's the same story that Jesus preached. It's the same truth that the apostles preached. It's in accord with the faithful teaching of the word that the Christian church had been nourished on from the very beginning.
And notice what Paul says in verse three: It leads to…what? It leads to godliness. It doesn't leave you filled up with information and not changed in your life. It transforms your life so that the truth is lived out in godliness, in holiness, in commitment to Christ. And Paul points this out in order that the people of God sitting in the pews can contrast false teaching from sound teaching. Sound doctrine, Paul is saying, is in accordance with Jesus’ teaching; it's in accordance with the apostles’ teaching; and it leads to godliness. It leads to holiness.
These false teachers, we know from books that we have from around this time and a little bit later, many of them were claiming that they had had revelations from God which even the apostles had not received. Jesus had communicated to them by the Holy Spirit certain truths which were key to the Christian life, key to the blessed life, which had not been revealed to the apostles–or at least, some of the apostles; and so they were coming as the mouthpieces of the Holy Spirit to tell the Christian church truths which they had never heard before.
And the Apostle Paul says, ‘I want to contrast my teaching. My teaching, by contrast,’ Paul says, ‘is the old, old story. I have absolutely nothing new to tell you. What I have to tell you is what Jesus had to tell you. What I have to tell you is what all the other apostles had to tell you, because we didn't make up our teaching as we’d go along. We got it from the Lord Jesus Christ. We got it from the word. We preached the Bible, which is God's revelation of who He is and of His will and of His ways, and the way of salvation. That's where we get our teaching from. We don't have any secret teaching to bring to you.’ And Paul says there's the contrast.
And somebody comes along and says, ‘Oh, I've got something new and secret for you. You've never, ever heard it before. This is special teaching that I alone have received, and it's the key to the Christian life and to unlocking the blessings of life,’ you can be certain you’re hearing a false teacher, because Paul is saying, ‘My teaching is open. It's not some secret teaching for the Illuminati that only special Christians have heard and can understand. No, our teaching is open. The apostles…we've all been preaching the same message. It's the only message we have. It's the message we received from Jesus Christ. We’re preaching the old, old story.’
Sound doctrine, Paul is saying, is in accord with Jesus’ teaching, in accord with the apostles’ teaching, and it leads to godliness. It doesn't lead to speculation. It doesn't lead to divisive argument. It leads to godliness. It is productive of a life which is in accord with God's word.
Now, Paul tells you that so that you can contrast that to the product of false teaching. So there is his first principle: sound doctrine is in accord with Jesus’ and the apostles’ teaching, and it leads to godliness.
II. False teachers are prideful and ignorant.
But he doesn't stop there. He goes on to look at two or three characteristics of false teachers, and you see those things in verse four. Notice what he says about a person who doesn't advocate sound doctrine: he's conceited, understands nothing, but has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words. Isn't that amazing? Three things, he says, are characteristic of false teachers: pride, ignorance, and preoccupation with obscure things. How many times have you seen this!
I’ll never forget a professor of mine in seminary looking to us–and we were talking about a very, very intelligent man who was teaching things that were untrue–and he said, “Brothers, all you need to be a heretic is a little intelligence and a little pride, and you've got the perfect ingredient for heresy.”
Well, here's Paul saying the same thing. Those who are teaching these false teachings, their problem is they’re conceited. They’re prideful. They’re puffed up. They want to have a special standing and esteem and authority and control over believers, and so they cook up their own teaching. But because they cook up their own teaching, they show that they really don't understand Christianity, though they profess to be smarter than everybody else, they really don't understand the rudimentary truths of the grace of the gospel revealed in the word of God.
And furthermore, they fixate on controversial questions and disputes about words. Do you remember Jesus’ saying to the Pharisees that one of their problems was that they would strain out a gnat and swallow a camel? Well, Paul is saying these false teachers are just like that. They’ll get fixated on some tiny little truth off to the side (that's probably not even a truth), and they’ll teach about it every time you turn around. It may be some aspect of end-time teaching. I've told you before the story of the fellow that I was introduced to in my home church, in between the winter and spring term of my first year of seminary. I walked up to him and he stuck his hand out, and the first words were not “Hi, Hello, I'm Tom…” it was, “What do you think about the little horn of Daniel?” Why is it they always fixate on some small…and all they want to talk about is this particular aspect? Well, Paul says this is a characteristic of a false teacher. They’re prideful, they’re ignorant despite what they may claim, and they have an unhealthy interest in the obscure.
III. False doctrine leads to personal ungodliness and corporate disruption.
Now what does this result in? That's the third thing that Paul teaches. Look at verse five. What does this kind of teaching result in? Verses four and five, he says, “Out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, constant frictions between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth.” In other words, false teaching will lead to personal ungodliness and to corporate division.
Now, it is true that sometimes learning the truth itself can be difficult for the people of God, and they can wrestle and struggle with it. And so those of us who care greatly about the truth must be very concerned that our fundamental concern is that the truth would lead to transformed lives characterized by loving service of one another; real godliness; commitment to brothers and sisters; and not to a spirit of being smarter than everybody else.
We Presbyterians care a lot about truth, in a day that doesn't care about truth. That means that we're liable to spiritual pride. We must guard against that. One way to guard against that is always making sure that the truth is leading us to more Christlike-ness, leading us to more godliness, leading us to more commitment in our lives to the word of God.
That having been said, Paul says that false teaching will always lead to dissention, wrangling about words, evil suspicions, strife amongst the brethren; it won't produce godliness, it won't deliver the goods!
How often have we seen this in practice, where men claim to have seen a truth that nobody else understands, and they destroy Christians and they break them apart from the church, and they divide congregations? How often have we seen this in practice. Well, Paul tells us right here.
IV. Many false teachers are motivated by a desire for material gain.
Now, in verse five Paul goes on to tell us what one of the key motives of these false teachers is, and it's the fourth thing that he tells us in this passage. He just comes right out and tells us that these men suppose that godliness is a means of gain, and by that he means that these men suppose that godliness is a means of material gain. They think they’re going to get rich off of the gospel. They’re going to get rich off of Christianity. They’re going to gain material wealth through the truth of Jesus Christ and the gospel. Paul is saying they’re motivated by a desire for material gain.
Now, my friends, this could have been written yesterday. If you were to turn on the television today or any day of the week, four out of five programs that claim to be Christian proclamation of the truth are doing exactly what Paul is speaking about here. They are turning Christianity into a means of gain. It's everywhere. The most common false teaching in churches in the English-speaking world today is the false teaching that God wants you to be physically healthy and materially wealthy all the time; and that if you’re not, it's because you don't’ have enough faith or you haven't made the commitment to the secret teaching of whoever it is that's teaching that particular message. It's very common, and here's Paul talking about it 2,000 years ago. He's saying, ‘These false teachers–they’re motivated by a desire for material gain.’ And Paul wants to make it clear that that is not what Christianity is about.
V. The gospel in fact does bring great gain (though not the kind false teachers are looking for)
Notice what he says. This is the fifth thing, and you’ll see it in verse six: “But godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment.” In other words, Paul is saying, yes, the gospel does in fact bring great gain, but it's not the kind of gain that the false teachers are teaching about. You know, false teachers who teach the health and wealth teaching will very often teach it as if it's a radical truth; it's a truth which is greater than the truth that is being preached by those gospel preachers who don't say that God is going to make you healthy and wealthy if you embrace that particular teaching of health and wealth. They’ll teach it as an exercise of “greater faith”, something that goes beyond the mundane experience of many people that claim to be Christians.
But think about it, friends: we live in a materialist consumer culture that values life based on the bottom line. What the “health and wealth” teachers are teaching isn't radical at all. It is totally conformed to the whims and trends and desires of this world. What's really radical is what the Apostle Paul is saying, because it's what Jesus is saying.
The gospel does bring great gain, but it's not the kind of gain that the false teachers are talking about. It's the kind of gain that comes with contentment, because the gospel involves believers who have become by grace disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, taking up their cross and following Him, dying daily to sin and to self; living for Christ, living for one another. That's why Jesus was so fascinated at that poverty-stricken woman who gave her last mite to the temple offering. And He said to His disciples, ‘Look at that woman. There is a model for the worship of God. She had little, and she gave everything that she had to the Lord.’
Why is Jesus drawing attention to that? Not to impress upon His disciples the principle that if you follow Jesus in the “Seven Secrets of Health and Wealth” that you will be a multi-billionaire, but to show the kind of gain that one gets when you follow Jesus. And so Paul makes clear that the gospel will always foster a gain that brings with it contentment. And my friends, this world may be whispering a lot of things in your ear: it's not whispering “be content.” Everything around you is screaming, “Don't be content”; or, “You can't be content until you have the next thing.” And Paul is saying that when the gospel takes hold of you, and you are able to believe in the kind and tender lovingkindness and mercy of God, you will be able to rest in His provision like you have never rested before, no matter how much or how little you have.
VI. Guard your heart against the pernicious love of money.
And then he goes on to say this: in verses seven through ten, he calls us to guard our hearts against the pernicious love of money. He says we brought nothing into this world, we cannot take anything out of it, either; if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. Now, my friends, no Christian is immune from an inordinate love of money. You can be poverty stricken and living in the slums of San Paulo, Brazil, and struggle with the love of money. When you are poverty stricken, your temptation is to want something that you don't’ have, and to think what you don't have will give you the satisfaction you’re looking for.
We have a different struggle. All of us have this struggle: we have so much we are both inclined to forget the One who has given us what we have; and we are inclined to enjoy the things we have received from His gracious hand more than we enjoy Him. We are tempted to view Him as a means to get what we really want, which are things which we think will give us satisfaction and fulfillment. In other words, instead of loving God and using the world, we use God to get the world which we love more than God. That is the challenge of affluence, and we are awash in the wealthiest culture in the history of the world. We are Christians in the midst of that affluent culture, and so we ourselves must be on guard against the pernicious love of money.
Notice two things: Paul does not say that money is the root of all evil. This is not a proto Marxist speech here. This is not a rant against capitalism. But he says “the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil.” When your desires are centered upon things and material blessing, when that is where your satisfaction and your delight and your security comes from, ah! then you’re in trouble, because God wants us to depend upon Him. He wants us to love Him and use the world, not use Him and love the world.
Paul also doesn't say that the love of money is the root of all evil. That's how the King James translated this passage, and that's a perfectly good literal translation, but this is one of those passages where Paul clearly uses “all” to mean not “every last one,” but “every category, all sorts, all kinds of evil.” Paul in this very book will show several roots of other sins, but here he is saying that the love of money is the root of all kinds of sins. The New Testament bears that out, doesn't it? I'm haunted by the last phrase of verse ten, aren't you?
“Some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith,
and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
You can think about that very thing in the New Testament. Ananias and Sapphira; Simon Magus, who wanted to buy the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit so that he could make money; Judas, who sold our Savior for thirty pieces of silver; and even more heartbreaking than that, the rich young elder who came to Jesus to ask Him how he could have eternal life–and he went away sorrowing, we're told in the gospels, when Jesus told him to sell everything that he had and follow Him, “because he had many things.” And his contentment, his fulfillment, his satisfaction was in those things. We think of him wandering away from the faith. There he was, standing in front of his God and Savior, and he left Him because he had chosen to serve mammon rather than God. This is why Jesus is so concerned that we are determined to use the material blessings that God gives us: not to worship them, not to love them, not to find our ultimate delight in them, not to find our fulfillment or our security in them.
By the way, that's one way that stewardship to the church works. When you give for the building of Christ's kingdom, one of the things that it does is it teaches you to trust that the Lord will provide for you in that you have given away for His work. It's a blessing to give that away, and then to depend on, “Lord, You’re going to have to bring in what I need. I'm committing to support Your work, trusting that You will support my family's needs.”
No, guard your heart against the pernicious love of money, Paul says. In this passage, Paul not only gives us words whereby we can detect false teaching, but he searches our own hearts to see if we love God more than we love things. I don't know of a greater challenge for us as a congregation than that. Many sins and temptations we grapple with and wrestle against, but that one is one whereby we will be measured, friends. Let us pray that God, by His Spirit, would help us to love Christ, to love His kingdom, and to seek Him first and then let God add the other things.
Lord God, we thank You for the way that Paul knows our hearts in this passage. And he knows our hearts not simply because he knew his own heart or because he was a wise pastor, because these words aren't ultimately Paul's words. They’re Your words, and You made us and You know our hearts and You know our sins. Lord God, forgive us for the way that we have loved things and comfort more than we've loved you. And Lord, given how much You have given us, we pray that You would by the Spirit help us to make that count for the work of Your kingdom, and that even in the way we use wealth we would show that we worship God and no one else. This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.