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Summary: An examination of the deceitfulness of wealth. Paul warns against succumbing to the pursuit of money.

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“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.” [1]

I concluded a previous message by citing the fifth verse of this chapter, but without commenting on what the Apostle meant in the final phrase. [2] Paul had just exposed those individuals who were creating such grief in the congregation in Ephesus; he stated that these individuals (likely false teachers) were “depraved in mind and deprived of truth.” The evidence offered for this view was that these individuals were especially denoted as warped because they were “imagining that godliness is a means of gain.”

The first verse of today’s text is a conjunction that should be considered adversative; the verse should not be separated from what has preceded. This means that the verb is emphatic. Thus, Paul’s intent was that readers would read, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” Some translations have sought to demonstrate this emphasis by adding words to indicate emphasis. One translation reads, “Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment.” [3] Another translation treats the verse, “But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied with contentment.” [4]

Paul is contrasting the attitude of the false teachers with true godliness. He is urging Timothy to embrace true godliness while rejecting succumbing to the allure of immediate gratification. In doing this, he has performed a great service for contemporary Christians. However, if we are not confronted with the Apostle’s teaching, we will find ourselves drawn toward self-destruction; and in the process, we will congratulate ourselves that we are godly. Paul has anticipated Peter’s censure of false teachers.

Remember what Peter said about such individuals. “In their greed [false teachers] will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep” [2 PETER 2:3]. Just as Paul has condemned the false teachers as “depraved in mind and deprived of truth” and motivated by a love of money, so Peter exposes the primary motivation of false teachers as an unbridled love of money. In fact, Peter says these individuals “have hearts trained in greed” [2 PETER 2:14]. Eugene Peterson has captured the scathing power with which Peter condemns these men in that second letter to the Diaspora, “Their specialty is greed, and they’re experts at it.” [5]

As a significant aside, the word translated “false” in Peter’s Letter is the Greek word plastós. The word sounds much like our English word “plastic.” Like plastic, false teachers can make their words appear to be anything they want. They can accommodate any expectation because; they can twist and distort their teaching such that it sounds plausible and even true. Thus, the unwary are easily deceived.

The false teachers “traffic in” separating Christians from their money. The practise of enriching oneself off the goods of the believers evidently became a problem among the early churches. In an ancient work known as The Didache we are given these instructions, “Concerning the Apostles and Prophets, act thus according to the ordinance of the Gospel. Let every Apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord, but let him not stay more than one day, or if need be a second as well; but if he stay three days, he is a false prophet. And when an Apostle goes forth let him accept nothing but bread till he reach his night’s lodging; but if he ask for money, he is a false prophet.” [6]

Compare what is written and the tenor of the Apostles’ stern words with the emphasis in some religious circles today. From earliest days in my service before the Lord I have heard people equate acquisition of wealth with righteousness. Wealth is presented as evidence of God’s favour—and it is. However, the absence of wealth is not indicative of God’s disfavour! Wealth is not the sole evidence of God’s blessing. In fact, accumulating wealth often blinds the eye to what is truly valuable. No better evidence of the veracity of that statement can be given than to recall a story Jesus told.

“Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’ But he said to him, ‘Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?’ And he said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’ And he told them a parable, saying, ‘The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, “What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?” And he said, “I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’” But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God”’” [LUKE 12:13-21].

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