Summary: The difference between "life" and "death" is the focus of our love. Do we love the things of this world that are fleeting, or do we love the eternal God? It makes all the difference.
Mary Ellen is on a little kick right now. At least, I hope it’s a “little” kick and doesn’t go on for too much longer. She has decided she wants a horse. She’s been talking about wanting a horse for quite a while, but what had been just moderate interest reached full-blown desire a couple of weeks ago. Ken and Mary Ellen had been downtown, where they encountered one of the horses pulling a carriage. They were allowed by the carriage driver to come over and pet the horse, which seems to be the “trigger” that got Mary Ellen going. She cried all the way home and for the rest of the night. She announced to both Ken and I that she was not going to sleep until she got a horse. Of course, the whole reason she was having this little meltdown was because she was tired. So after Ken tried reasoning with her for a bit, he called me to go in and talk with her and tell her to go to sleep.
So I made my way to Mary Ellen’s room, quite certain that I wasn’t going to have any more success than Ken did, but willing to try nonetheless. And here’s what I told Mary Ellen. I said, “Mary Ellen, I remember being your age and feeling like life was not fair. So I know exactly how you feel right now. But here’s the good news, I don’t feel that way at all anymore, ever. And you won’t either as you grow up. Do you know why? Because you come to understand that life is pretty good. I may not have everything I want, but I have everything I need. I have a roof over my head, and I can buy new clothes when I need them, and I eat three meals a day; which is a lot more than a lot of people in this world. And the people who have to live that way, without the basic needs of life, their lives are not fair, but our lives are, even when we can’t get everything we want.” Well, that silenced Mary Ellen’s tantrum for all of about five seconds, and then she was on it again. So I just told her “goodnight” and left the room.
I share that story with you because I think to a great extent, this is what Paul is getting at in his letter to Timothy this morning; our perspective on life. It’s so easy to get caught up in the trappings of this world, isn’t it? There’s always more we want. There’s always something else we “need.” And, of course, the only way to acquire those things is with money. So we get into the job market, and once we have a job, we start focusing on how we can be promoted so we can make more money so we can get more stuff. Before we know it, our whole life is focused around material possessions! Sound familiar? I don’t think any one of us could say that we have not wanted something at some point in our lives, even into our adulthood. Mary Ellen wants a horse, and I want the new iPhone 5s. Does either of us need those things? Of course not. Is it bad for Mary Ellen to get a horse and for me to get an iPhone? Paul seems to say that having material goods is not bad in and of itself. When the problems begin, though, is when all of our energies are focused solely on wealth and material gain.
Christ instructed his followers that the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” The problem with money and material possessions, as we all know, is that they steal our focus, they sap our strength, and they consume our minds. The love, which should be focused solely on God in Christ Jesus, is consumed by love of worldly, fleeting things. What should be directed to God becomes focused on something else entirely. In a word, it’s idolatry.
But Paul didn’t focus on the problem, and neither should we. We all know the challenges we face when it comes to money and possessions. So the more important question is, how will we overcome those challenges? How will we keep the focus where it needs to be? How can we live in this world that is so centered around material gain, but keep our worship on God alone? This is what Paul wants us to focus on, and what we should be focusing on every single day. Because, you see, we are met by the temptations of this world everyday, at every turn. And if we are to remain fully devoted to God, it requires constant attention. Not only must we resist the urge to seek monetary gain simply for the sake of monetary gain, but we must also choose to use the resources we do have in ways that are consistent with God’s will and even God’s own generosity.