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.

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