You are wealthy. Seriously wealthy. You own a townhouse, a country retreat, a holiday home and a condominium somewhere hot. Yet you grow tired of all that and cast around for something new… What if you could buy outright an apartment in a luxury cruise liner that spends the entire year gliding around the globe?
That’s reality, I understand, for 340 people who own apartments on the cruise ship ‘The World’. Apparently when it was in Sydney harbour, the captain was forced by the residents to turn the ship around halfway through the stay so everyone got a chance to have breakfast sitting on their private veranda overlooking the Opera House. The article I read about this ended with these words:
When you have that sort of money, any problems just slip serenely by.
In other words, money solves problems. No wonder we love it so much.
I don’t suppose many of us aspire to live on a cruise liner. But we do find it very easy to buy into the way of thinking that says, ‘Money solves problems’. Maybe not millions. Just more than we’ve got would do us nicely. Always more than we’ve got.
Does wealth solve problems? Not the real problems that should concern us, according to the apostle Paul. Would you please turn with me to Paul’s 1st letter to Timothy 6:6-10.
My title this evening is “The Love of Money” and it comes from what Paul famously writes here in verse 10 where he says:
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.
The Christian life is a nonsense unless you are clear that it is all in preparation for eternal life beyond the grave. That certainly applies when you consider the subject of how we should handle money. The Bible is clear that a right attitude to money has tremendous benefits. Those benefits become all the more clear when we look from the opposite direction and consider the disadvantages and dangers of having wrong approaches to money.
And that’s what Paul wants us to do. In verses 6-10 here Paul is acting as Timothy’s independent financial adviser, and he is training Timothy to do the same job for those he teaches. As we saw last week, Paul has just been warning Timothy about the false teachers who had the potential to wreck people’s faith and cause devastation in the church. And he says that one of the things motivating what they’re doing is the prospect of financial gain. They’re using religion to make money.
So in these verses Paul tackles two issues. I’ve set them out in my two main headings on the outline that is on the back of the service sheet. Firstly: Why we should be wary of wanting wealth. Then secondly: How to be happy with however much we have.
Firstly, WHY WE SHOULD BE WARY OF WANTING WEALTH
Put simply, the desire for wealth trips us, and then traps us. 6:9:
People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
Money is powerful stuff. Dynamite. It has great power for good. But an uncontrolled explosion of its power can cause havoc. Wrongly handled, it is exceedingly dangerous. Like an explosive that becomes more and more unstable as time goes by, until it is liable at any moment to blow up in your face. Except of course money explosions do not generally cause physical injury. The damage is done to our relationship with God. Then the shock waves from that affect every other aspect of our lives. Why is the love of money the root of all kinds of evil? Because money is spiritually dangerous stuff.
One danger of money is that it stirs up greed. ‘People who want to get rich fall into temptation…’ says Paul. Like the fat catalogue that comes through your door with all the latest things that are right up your street. The more you have, the more you want. The desire to be rich is a snare, Paul says. A trap.
A snare of course is something that is made as attractive as possible to its intended victim. And at the same time it is made as damaging as possible. So what seems like a tasty bit of cheese to a mouse is actually its sentence of death. How well have we understood that? The desire to be rich is to us what the rodent’s craving for that cheese on the trap is to them. It looks, oh so harmless and delectable, that little lump of cheddar on its ever so conveniently placed wooden platter.
The growth of debt in this country suggests that a very large proportion of us buy into the idea that owning things makes life better, and that money would solve problems if we had more of it.
The amount of money now owed by consumers in this country is £1 trillion. I didn’t even know what £1 trillion was, and had to read up on it. Apparently it’s a 1 with 12 noughts after it – a million million.
Once the craving for money gets a grip, then faith is threatened. 6:10:
Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith, and pierced themselves with many griefs.
You see, there is only room for one all consuming purpose in our lives. That purpose needs to be to follow Christ. Our purpose in life should not be to follow the gleam of imagined gold. Money stirs up greed.
Another danger of money is that it inclines its possessors to pride. One of the great temptations if we succeed in getting rich is the pride that so easily comes with the money. You can see this effect in what Paul says down in verse 17:
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant ...
If money is important to you, then you almost inevitably make it a measure of you. If your image of yourself is that you are standing high up on a mound of money, then you will think that you can look down on all those around you who have hardly got off the ground financially speaking. That is a dangerous distortion. Why?
Because of a third danger of money, which is that it is a false foundation. The temptation is to think that we can rely on money. Money is what makes us secure. We think we can safely build our lives on it. But it’s like building your house with shallow foundations on an old rubbish tip full of rotting garbage. You may get away with it for a while. But the time will come when your life will come crashing down around your ears.
The actor Marlon Brando died recently. He once said:
I’ve had so much misery in my life from being wealthy and famous.
Here’s another person’s more ordinary experience:
I have debts of nearly £45,000 on seven credit cards built up over the last ten years. I have no chance of paying them off – I can’t even afford the minimum repayments so am looking at bankruptcy very soon. When I get through it I will never look at another credit card again and will only spend the money I have.
Wealth – whether borrowed or not – cannot take the strain that life puts on it. So James 1:11 says:
... the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.
We should think of our lives as like the life of a short-lived plant that cannot stand the heat. We will shortly wither away.
Do not build your hope for a stable and lasting future on cash in the bank. It will disappoint us. But the other side of that coin is that a right attitude to money is a very effective hedge against financial recession. If you’re not leaning heavily on money, then you don’t fall over when it goes.
All the inherent dangers of hanging on to money as our chief means of support can be summed up in what we might call the Scrooge Factor. Paul puts it in this way in 2Corinthians 9:6:
Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly.
Or to put it in other words: The more you don’t give, the more you don’t get. Those who are eager for money end up “pierced with many griefs” (verse 10 in our passage). Those who want to get rich end up plunged into ruin and destruction (v9). Take your stand on money and it collapses beneath you.
But we find it difficult! We do love money! We do want wealth! It is intensely seductive! So here’s the positive, side to what the apostle has to say, both to Timothy and to us. My second heading:
Secondly, HOW TO BE HAPPY WITH HOWEVER MUCH WE HAVE
Here then are five principles for the successful handling of the green stuff, from verses 6-8 here.
Principle 1: The greatest gain comes not through gold but godliness.
Take a look at verse 6:
But godliness with contentment is great gain.
A godly life is a life lived to please God. It is a God-centred life. And a God-centred life is turned outward by him to those around. Then the needs around us are no longer a threat to our security. Instead, they become an opportunity to give assistance. So, for instance, in verse 18 Paul says:
Command [the rich] to do good, to be rich in good deeds ...
When you invest like that, your return may not be in Sterling. It may be paid instead in the currency of glory given to God, and lives turned towards Christ, and real needs met, and others encouraged and inspired to give of themselves and their resources, and peace and joy, and a new willingness to give yourself even more wholeheartedly. But whatever the currency is, be sure of this: you will get a return - a hundred times over.
A while ago I read about a retired couple - let’s call them Robert and Susan. At that stage they were living in North West London. Robert used to be a train driver. Susan said:
Back in 1956 I was earning a nice little salary as a nursery nurse. But I gave it up so I could spend time working for the church - for nearly 40 years I’ve been doing visits, [and] Bible studies... it takes a lot of my time, but I enjoy it immensely. Robert’s salary meant we were never in want, and we could still covenant to the church. When he retired, we had to stop the covenant because he wasn’t paying any tax, but we still gave the same amount. Our income dropped right down, but we got by. I like to give from my housekeeping too - what I can.
People ask us, why do you do it? And we just say, its because God’s been good to us, so we want to give back.”
If we’re interviewed towards the end of our lives, what will be our account of how we’ve used our money? Robert and Susan have obviously learned a thing or two about the right approach. I wonder if they learned it by taking to heart what the apostle Paul teaches on the subject. I imagine they did. And we can do the same.
Make godliness, not gold, your goal. That is the first principle.
Number twois this: Our personal worth is not measured by the size of our bank balance.
I take it that that is the implication of the first half of verse 7:
... we brought nothing into the world...
It is failing to understand this that leads to the arrogance of the rich that Paul speaks of in v17. God made us. Christ died for us. That is sufficient grounds for self-respect.
We do not need to look up to those who have more money than us. And we cannot look down on those who have less – which for most of us is a large part of the world’s population. Contentment is a product of seeing ourselves as God sees us. You are valuable because God values you, not because your accountant values you.
Third principle: Earthly possessions are just that: only earthly possessions.
Look at the how verse 7 ends:
... we can take nothing out of [the world] ...
Wealth is an uncertain business even in this life. But of one thing you can be sure: you cannot take it with you. You just leave it behind for others.
The other day the papers reported the will of a reclusive spinster. She left £450,000 to her two dogs (Tina and Kate - collies). Their future is well provided for.
You will not be taking your credit cards to heaven. Or your piggy bank. That is a very simple fact. But it is very simply overlooked by vast swathes of humanity. Take it to heart, and the chains fall off. There is great freedom to be had if this principle becomes a truth by which we order our lives day by day. You can’t take it with you. So use it well, while you can. Think heaven, not earth.
Number four: Contentment comes through appreciating simple blessings.
... if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that ...
And verse 17 again, the second half:
Command those who are rich... to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.
God wants us to relish what he gives us. And he gives us so much – not least food and water and clothing and a shelter over our heads. Saying grace before meals as a mere thoughtless formality is worse than pointless. But saying grace before meals and meaning it is genuinely life-transforming. Why? Because it cultivates gratitude. A wholesome enjoyment and thankfulness for the simple blessings of life is a powerful antidote to craving after more.
One young man who had got himself badly into debt had this to say:
My wife sorted me out, made me stop spending and saw that I worked my way out of debt after uni. My lesson: marry the right woman.
I was going to say that you need to learn to appreciate the simple blessings in life like your wife – but I thought better of it.
But we do need to appreciate the good things God gives us that are right there in front of us. We mustn’t wait until things are taken from us before we take the trouble to notice what God has given us. Appreciate all the simple blessings God gives you.
And that leads to a fifth principle that Pauls spells out a little later in the letter. We’ll be coming back to this in a couple of weeks. But it is simply this: We should be generous.
The second part of verse 18:
Command [the rich] ... to be generous and willing to share.
Too many of us regard ourselves as generous people, without ever giving anything much anyway. What does it mean to be generous? It means that we give lots to other people. It may not be much in comparison with Bill Gates. But it’s a lot to us.
If you can’t in all honesty think of a generous gesture you’ve made, then let me make a suggestion that could change your life. Plan a generous action. Then carry out your plan. In this case it is not the thought that counts. It is the doing of it. We need to train ourselves in generosity. Because it is something we learn. There is no gene for it. It doesn’t come naturally. It is a question of obeying the command of Scripture. Be generous. Enjoy giving to others what God gives you.
So there are five principles that add up to a recipe for contentment with however much we’ve got. This is what Paul teaches Timothy so Timothy can teach others. One: make godliness not gold your goal. Two: know your true value. Three: think heaven. Four: count your blessings. And five: learn to enjoy giving away what you’ve got. If you are a Christian, that is the kind of person God is making you. That’s who he wants us to be. Not people for whom more money is the number one priority. But godly, glory-bound, grateful and generous people.