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Contentment with wealth

1 Timothy  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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We need to be content with our possessions, being grateful and generous with what we've got.

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Jeff Bezos

A woman: without a man. is nothing
In 1964, Jeffrey Jorgensen was born to a teenage mother, who split with the boys father shortly afterwards. It might sound like the start of a hard life story, but it’s not. You see, the mother shortly after re-married, and Jeff took the last name of the new husband - Bezos.
Jeff Bezos proved to be quite the entrepreneur and smart thinker. By the mid 80’s, he’d graduated from Princeton University, and it wasn’t long before he started making a name for himself on Wall St. But despite a promising career in the finance sector, in the early to mid 90’s he threw it away for a new idea. This idea would harness another new thing to come along, a thing we call the internet. He saw the early potential of the internet, and so he thought he might start a book shop online.
And so he decided to give the book shop the name Amazon.
He started it out of his garage, and apparently, he installed a bell so that every time a book sold, the bell would ring. But it’s said that the bell didn’t last long because it kept ringing too frequently.
In fact the company took off quite quickly. It wasn’t long before the company was worth millions.
But Bezos didn’t stop there. Being an entrepreneur, and remember, the internet was still only a relatively new thing back then, he realised he could expand beyond books and into a variety of consumer goods.
Today, Amazon is still one of the big business success stories.
In fact, it was reported about this time last year that Jeff Bezos became the richest person in the world. Towards the end of last year he became the first person that Forbes reported as having over $100 Billion. But it doesn’t end there. Just a matter of weeks ago, it has now been reported that he is worth over $150 Billion.
In this last week, I just read an article that suggested that Jeff Bezos would need to spend $28 million a day, just in order to avoid getting richer.
That is what I call obscenely rich!

What’s your reaction?

Now I don’t plan on judging Jeff today. I don’t know what he does with his money, or what sort of attitudes he has.
Rather, I want you to think about what your reaction was when I told Jeff’s story.
Do you try to imagine what it must be like being in that situation? I mean - you could give millions away each day and you’re still getting richer!
You wouldn’t have any financial concerns, and not only that, you could make sure that none of your friends have any financial concerns either.
But then, maybe you’re more like me, in that you actually would not want to be that insanely rich. But even so, I must admit the idea of not having to worry about money certainly sounds appealing.

False teachers and wealth

This morning, my objective is to help us think about how we think about our wealth, or perhaps more generally, our material possessions.

1 Timothy re-cap

I’m going to be doing so by looking at the sixth chapter of 1 Timothy.
But first, let’s do a quick recap.
1 Timothy is written by the Apostle Paul to the young Timothy who is looking after the church at Ephesus. The big idea running throughout the letter is the importance of holding to the truth, with Paul giving lots of practical advice on how this can be achieved.

Chapter 6

As we come to the sixth chapter, we find the first two verses are usually linked to the previous idea, but I essentially glossed over that last week. You see, the fifth chapter covers various relationships, and we spent one week looking at his instruction to the widows, and last week his instruction on how we relate to our leaders. The first two verses which I’m not going to cover in this series, looks at the relationships between slaves and masters.

False Teachers

In verse 3 however, Paul quickly turns back to the main idea of the letter - which is to insist on sound teaching.
As verse 4 and 5 continues, he describes in some rather blunt language, what is going on with these people peddling false doctrine.
In verse 4 he describes them as conceited and understanding nothing. Although I much prefer the Revised English Version of 1989 which translated this by calling them “pompous ignoramuses”.

Attitudes of false teachers

Now I want to spend most my time thinking about wealth this morning, but it’s worthwhile just briefly looking here at what fuels false teaching because I believe it feeds into unhealthy attitudes towards wealth.
You see, the description that Paul gives in verses 4 and 5 can sound really harsh, and while it might be nice to characterise those who teach differently to us like this, the reality is, or at least mostly anyway, people aren’t specifically out there to cause controversies and quarrels or the other descriptors of verse 4.
However, that’s not to say I disagree with Paul - in fact, I believe Paul is right on the money. You see, I think it usually starts with a good intention. They perceive a problem with the good teaching of Jesus, and they think they know a better way.
But you see, it is at this point that they have become conceited and understanding nothing. As they then blindly follow their own ideas, naturally they are going to cause controversies and quarrels, resulting in envy and strife. That’s because it’s based on their conceited ideas.
As I move now more onto the topic of wealth, I want to hold that idea in the background, and I’ll come back to it later.
But you see, Paul links this idea of false teachers with a poor understanding of wealth at the end of verse 5.
The link comes with the idea that these conceited individuals, or as that other translation puts it, these pompous ignoramuses, realise that they can actually gain financially from what they do.
Unfortunately, in modern times we’ve seen this quite a lot. The tele-evangelist who promises prosperity but only after you send in your money. It’s so much the case that in the eyes of some, the church is just out there to get your money.

Balancing our view

Well, this link then gets Paul going on the topic of wealth - but what we find is a very balanced view of it all.
He effectively addresses his comments, first to the Christian poor, and then later in verse 17, to the Christian rich, but it might not be the message you might expect.
You see, depending on your view on such matters you might expect him to lift one of these groups up and condemn the other. And unless you hold to the prosperity doctrine, you’re probably going to assume that t is the poor that will be lifted up as a model, and the rich condemned for there ways.
It’s this kind of view that we turn to people like Jeff Bezos and assume that to get that much wealth, you must be wicked in some way.
But Paul doesn’t do this. Instead, we’ll see he takes certain views and balances it with a godly understanding.
Well, as I go through this passage, I’m going to take four different skewed view points, and show how Paul straightens them up.
The initial four views are often what we naturally move towards because they are part of our nature.
The first natural inclination is covetousness, which I’ll then look at materialism, asceticism and finally selfishness. And as I cover each of them, I’ll show what the godly approach should be.

Covetousness

So firstly let’s look at covetousness. By this I’m talking about the lust for more possessions.
In verse 9 Paul talks about those who want to get rich. In verse 10 he talks about those who have a love of money.
Now you might not want to be Jeff Bezos, but I’m sure most if not all of us at some stage wishes for more.
But it is in verses 9 and 10 that Paul makes it very clear what the problem with this is.

A trap

In verse 9, he talks about it as a trap. And it can be quite a hidden trap at that. You see, we all know that we need money. Our whole economy is based around money and so if we are going to live in this world (which is where God has placed us at this point in time), then money is essential. And so, it follows that we need to go and earn some money. But it doesn’t take long before our seeking after money to survive becomes seeking after money because we want more.
This is the trap. You started with what was essential, but you’ve just plunged hook line and sinker, right into the realm of ruin and destruction.
We see this really clearly with those caught up in gambling addictions, but even if it is more subtle it happens to all of us.
Sometimes its those decisions we have to make in life, where we place too high a priority over the dollar figure and not enough on what is actually the right thing to do.

A root of all kinds of evil

But not only is this covetousness a trap, in verse 10 we see it becomes a root of all kinds of evil.
Now this verse is actually a well known one, but it often gets misquoted. It’s often misquoted in such a way that you think, well, whats the harm in that, but as we’ll see soon, it makes a big difference.
You see, it is often quote, “money is the root of all evil”.
But let’s be clear. Firstly it’s not money that is wrong, but the love of money.
Secondly, its not the root of evil, but a root. In other words, its not as if this is the only means of which evil comes, but just one means.
And thirdly, its not all evil, but all kinds of evil. That might sound like a pedantic change, but it does make a difference.
You see, money is not evil. We don’t have to be scared of it and shun it. What we do have to be careful of is to be overcome by it.
So what we find in this verse is that covetousness is not just a trap to ruin and destruction, but leads on to all sorts of other evils.
You see, that love of money can lead to bad choices. If you tell a simple lie on your tax return for example, you could save a whole heap of money.

Contentment

But there is a correction to being covetous.
You see, in verse 6, Paul introduces the concept of contentment. In verse 6 he says: “But godliness with contentment is great gain”.
Being content means accepting what you’ve got. Being content is not about being rich or poor, but instead recognising that whatever it is you have, has come from God, and you can be thankful for that.
Once you combine that attitude with a godliness, well, now you are going to be gaining. That gain most likely won’t be a financial gain, but rather something far better - a spiritual gain.
And it is in verse 7 and 8 where Paul spells out the reason why we should be content.
In verse 7 it is the brutal truth - when you came into the world you had nothing, and when you leave, you take nothing with you.
You know, there is sometimes the sentiment - “He who has the most toys, wins!”
But what a load of nonsense! There is no prize for making the most money.
One day Jeff Bezos is going to die. When he gets to the gates of heaven, no one is going to pull out his bank statement and say, wow, you did well, come on in. That $150 billion will count for nothing.
And as verse 8 says, if you have food and clothing, then be content. His point is clear. There are things we need for survival. If you have them, then don’t worry about what else, just be content.
The dangers of covetousness are real - but we can avoid them by taking an attitude of contentment.

Materialism

But the next natural inclination that I mentioned before is materialism.
Materialism in many ways is related to covetousness. But whereas covetousness is that lust for more, materialism is the obsession for what we’ve got.
We can start to recognise it in ourselves when an object we love is damaged or lost.
Take for example your beautiful new car that gets a big ding in it at the car park.
Or your collection of stamps (or whatever else you collect) is stolen.
How do you feel? Well it’s probably natural to feel disappointed, but how far do you allow that disappointment to affect you?
The problem comes when we allow it to start dominating us.

Simplicity

Well, the correction for this again comes in verse 7 and 8 that we looked at a moment ago.
You see, rather than becoming obsessed with your material possessions, Paul points us to simplicity of lifestyle.
I used verse 7 and 8 before as why we should be content, but they also work to show us the preferred way to materialism.
You see, life gets unnecessarily complicated by our things. But like money that I discussed before, it’s not the possessions themselves that is wrong, but the obsession of them.
Your things, whatever they may be, might be very nice, but they’re only things. You don’t get to take them to heaven and unless they’re one of the essentials for life, they’re not even going to help you now. So just let them be.
If you have them, great! If not, move on.
It is only once we detach ourselves in this way that we will truly be able to look at what is important.

Asceticism

But in all of this, we can swing too far the other way.
You see, the third natural inclination that I mentioned earlier is asceticism, which is essentially the exact opposite to materialism.
Asceticism means to avoid all forms of indulgence, in other words, shunning the material order.
Now that might not seem like a natural inclination, and for many it isn’t, but it can be the natural reaction when we realise the pitfalls of wealth.
Certainly, many Christians in the past have gone down this track.
Now getting rid of material possessions is not bad in and of itself. Certainly it can be a good thing at times, but there are pitfalls with it.
The big problem with it is when we start to think that the possessions are bad in and of themselves.
Paul starts to address this issue when he comes to the second paragraph that deals with wealth in this chapter.
Now, I mentioned briefly earlier that verses 6 to 10 were essentially written to the poor, warning them about becoming covetous. And verses 17 to 19 are essentially written to the rich.
Now you might expect the message to the rich is to renounce all their possessions, after all, we’ve just heard about the dangers of loving money.
But he doesn’t, instead balancing out the view I highlighted before of asceticism.
At no point does he say that there wealth is bad.

Gratitude

What he does say instead is to not become arrogant, and certainly not to put your hope in your wealth, but instead, put your hope in God (and this is where the real correction occurs), who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.
You see, against this notion of asceticism, which isn’t the aim at all, Paul points us toward gratitude.
You see, though a simple lifestyle should be our aim, God is actually a very generous God, and quite often he provides for more than our needs. This only becomes a bad thing when we start to think that we somehow were the reason for this - that’s the warning against arrogance.
You see, for those of us here who have managed to save a bit, you could point to a number of factors of how you came about that money, no doubt including hard work of course. But for all those factors, including hard work, we can actually trace it back to God.
For this reason, we always need to pull back from the notion that we somehow need to shun all material things, and instead be thankful for whatever God has given you.
God doesn’t just provide our every need, but provides for our enjoyment as well.

Selfishness

Finally, the last natural inclination that I want to highlight is our inclination towards selfishness.
You see, selfishness is that self-focus, when applied to wealth puts the focus on the accumulation of goods for ourselves.
It’s one of the pitfalls of having money. You know, somehow we seem to think, when I have a bit more money, then I will be able to give to others. But the reality is, the more we have, the more we want to keep it for ourselves. It partly comes from the arrogance of somehow thinking we are the reason we have what we have.

Generosity

But Paul has a strong word to those who think like this. In verse 18 he says, “command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share”.
The best way to avoid being selfish is to give. I want to suggest that this should be the case regardless of whether you are rolling in money, or whether you are just scrapping by.
Don’t give out of some notion that you will be blessed materially in the process - rather give out of thankfulness to God. Give in the knowledge that God gave to you in the first place.
And as it says in verse 18, that generosity should be more than just with our money, rather also include our good deeds.
When we gain a biblical understanding of wealth, giving should be a natural thing.
And in the process, we also have a great promise in verse 19. You see there is a promise of a return, but pay special attention to the fact that this return is not in this age, but in the age to come.
Now, I don’t know precisely what the exact nature of that treasure in heaven will look like, but you can be assured that it will be good.

Conclusion

I want to come back to the question I asked about how you reacted to the story of Jeff Bezos.
We can easy covet what he has. Or we could become obsessed with his possessions. Or maybe we would be repulsed by it in our form of asceticism, or think selfishly about what we have, somehow wanting to protect it.
Well against covetousness, ask God to help you be content.
Against materialism, ask God to help you live more simply
Against asceticism, ask God to help you to be grateful for what you have.
And against selfishness, ask God to give you a generous heart.
Let’s pray...
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