Rich In Faith
This is a very powerful, clear and direct teaching from Paul to Timothy, and it has very challenging implications for us today, just as it did in Paul’s day. It is about something very near and dear to many of us, maybe too near and dear. What Paul is saying here about faith, or godliness, is a direct challenge to our concepts about money and wealth. And it is important for all of us to be open to this challenge. We will be looking at this challenge over the next three days. In the end, it is not as much about money and wealth as it is about how rich we are in our faith, our godliness.
Paul begins this section of his letter to Timothy by warning him about false teachers whose teachings do not “agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing…[they] think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” (verse 3-5) How do we know if we are hearing a false teaching? According to Paul, we will know them by their pride, their quarrelsomeness and their greed for material gain. In their teaching, they will turn godliness, faith, religion, into a means for material gain, mostly for themselves. They will do this under the guise of gospel values too. The Greek word used here for contentment is the word “autarkeia,” which is a technical Greek philosophical term implying the virtue of independence from material goods.
Paul teaches us truthfully here as he tells Timothy, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” It is true, isn’t it. We brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out of it. Paul, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is teaching us a profound and important message here. Godliness with contentment is our greatest gain. What is contentment? Aristotle taught that happiness (contentment) is the ultimate desired end of all human beings, and that it is our nature to pursue it. The Declaration of Independence named this “pursuit of happiness” as one of our “inalienable rights,” but Jefferson’s pursuit of happiness was understood as the right to pursue of “private property.” This is not the gospel message. For Paul, contentment, or happiness, is not about financial gain, or even what we might call material “comfort.” Rather, it is a state of being that comes from being rich in faith. If we are rich in faith, if we have given ourselves over to God, we become wealthy, beyond our wildest dreams, in the love of God. Indeed, we become so wealthy in the love of God that we are moved from the depths of our souls to give of that love generously to all others, without expecting anything in return. There is no greater “wealth” that we, as human beings, can pursue. Only this “wealth,” only these riches, only this godliness, will bring us the joy, or contentment that we so naturally desire as children of God. It is the only gain that we as Christians ought to pursue. Who is our mentor in all of this? Jesus Christ, the One who, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself…” (Philippians 2:6-11)
What greater wealth is there than to be one with Jesus? If we are rich in our spiritual needs, if we have found our contentment in godliness, it is not just easy, but natural to say, “…if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” With the contentment of godliness, or faith, we have no need for any material wealth beyond that which allows us to meet our basic material needs of food, shelter, water, and clothing. Remember the rich young man who asked what he needed to do to get to heaven? Jesus reminded the rich young mand of the commandments, and the young man responded saying that he had followed these things all of his life. We know that Jesus loved him and knew that he was sincere and truthful in this. He also knew that this rich young man’s desire for heaven was real. Because of this Jesus gave him the ultimate challenge, the one that would make the rich young man’s desire come true. Jesus said, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me.” (Matthew 19:21) Where is our treasure? Is it in material things? Or is it in God’s generous graces? Can we not hear Jesus saying these things to us? And then, “Come follow me.”
Lord, the false teachings of the world and of our culture are all around us. They hem us in from all sides, even from within. Strengthen us in our faith. Fill us with the lasting riches of your grace. Help us to let go of the false hopes of material things. Make us generous with our time, our talents and our treasure in the service of love. We ask these things believing in the power of the name, Jesus. Amen!
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