For the purposes of reflection here, think of yourself as Timothy. Listen to what Paul is saying to Timothy as if he is saying it directly to you, which he is, of course. The whole of chapter 6 gives us a simple clear, catechism for Christian behavior in the midst of the world’s most attractive and false temptations.
Listen, as Paul tells us what to look out for as we go about shaping our lives to conform to that of Jesus Christ. Listen closely as he tells us who to be aware of as we try to grow in our faith. ʺWhoever teaches something different and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the religious teaching is conceited, understanding nothing, and has a morbid disposition for arguments and verbal disputes. From these come envy, rivalry, insults, evil suspicions, and mutual friction among people with corrupted minds, who are deprived of the truth, supposing religion to be a means of gain.ʺ (1 Timothy 6: 3-6) These types are very recognizable to us. We are confronted with this kind of thinking every day. Many who disagree with our practice of religion respond to us out of conceit and as a result, their response to us is rooted in misunderstandings that are shaped by their egos, rather than by the truth. There are those who would lead us astray with teachings that are not consistent with the true teachings of the Gospel and the Church. They are motivated by shallow things like envy and rivalry. Their attacks are little more than emotional insults, or are clothed in mistrust and suspicion. In every case, they are not interested in dialogue, for that would require them to ʺlistenʺ to the truth, which they find troubling. They are only interested in argument for its own sake.
He warns us, too, about those who see religion as a means for material gain. He tells us that the contentment we gain from true religion is our most precious gain. ʺFor we brought nothing into the world, just as we shall not be able to take anything out of it. If we have food and clothing, we shall be content with that. Those who want to be rich are falling into temptation and into a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains.ʺ (1 Timothy 6: 7-10)
Listen, now, as Paul exhorts us to be true to our calling as followers of Christ Jesus. He speaks with tenderness and love, ʺBut you, man [women] of God, avoid all this. Instead, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. Compete well for the faith. Lay hold of eternal life, to which you were called when you made the noble confession in the presence of many witnesses.ʺ (1 Timothy 6: 11-12) The truth of the matter is that we must compete with the world, but not on the world’s terms. We are not to respond to insult with insult, rather we are to respond to it with patient endurance, with love and gentleness. We can only do this if our faith is mature, and if it is not corrupted by worldly concerns. Rather, our faith should make us act righteously, which means with Jesus’ sense of mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation. This is the faith we were baptized into before ʺmany witnesses.ʺ Our faith is shaped by our belief in, and our love for, Jesus. If we act in any way that is contradictory to the way, the truth and the life that is Jesus, we are not being righteous.
Paul’s words both enlighten and challenge us here. He is right. We know that, because we know that his words are inspired by the Holy Spirit. But we know it, too, because he lived his life the very way he is challenging us to live ours. He knew the way, because he knew Jesus. He kept Jesus’ commandments to love God with all of his being, and to love his neighbor as he loves himself. This is what he is exhorting each of us to do too.
Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will enlighten us every moment of every day, so that we might live our lives out of holy righteousness, true devotion to Jesus, pure, untainted faith, committed love, willing patience, and that we be enabled to do all of this out of true gentleness toward ourselves and all others. Amen.