Theme: Investing with an eternal perspective keeps us from negative returns in this life and the one to come.
I Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain.
7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.
8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.
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.
10 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.
17 Command those who are rich in this present world
It is fascinating how at the end of this text Paul talks about building a foundation, building a house somewhere in eternity. It’s metaphorical, yet speaks to the fact that we can take hold of what is true life. Many people today say they are looking for “the good life”. Other people today are so confused and so morally adrift; they are saying, “I need to find out what is “a good life”, not “the good life.” But Paul goes one step further. He says, if you understand how to be a good steward of what God has given you, and don’t let what you possess, possess you, you will learn about “the true life”.
An old story tells of a wealthy man who getting on in years called in a faithful employee, who had been with him a long time. He gave this trusted employee some surprising instructions. He said, “I am going on a world tour. I will be gone for a year. While I am gone I want you to build me a house. I have already purchased the lot. Here’s the check that will cover all the expenses. I want you to take this money and build a nice house. Draw up the plans yourself and do it extremely well. I will see you when I get back.” So the old man departed and the employee went to work. With shrewd purchasing he cut corners at several points in the construction process. He used inferior materials at every opportunity, especially at those places that wouldn’t be easily seen. Finally the house was completed and he produced a beautiful, exterior shell that covered a shoddy piece of workmanship. He lined his own pockets with several thousand dollars that he had save by cutting corners. After all he thought to himself, the old man wouldn’t know the difference. He would never miss the money. So what if the house wasn’t that well constructed, he wasn’t going to be living in it that long anyway. The first day back from the trip the old man wanted to see his house and so they drove there and as they were driving he said to his trusted employee, “You may have wondered why I wanted you to build this house.” “Yes I did” the employee admitted. The old man said, “Because I have a really nice house already.” “I know you do,” said the employee. The old man said, “Well you have been a faithful assistant for all these many years, I wanted to find a way to show you my appreciation. Here are the keys. The house is yours.” What kind of spiritual house are we building with the money that God has entrusted to us? That’s really what Paul is talking about. Because in 19 he says, “they will lay up a treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age. That you might take hold of life that is truly life.” You know he is talking to rich folks. Some of us may excuse ourselves on that count, but when you consider that the United States has 85% of the world’s wealth and only 6% of the population, it is no wonder people are flocking to our shores. I think in some sense, we are all to listen to what Paul is saying, because God has blessed us beyond what most experience. And you will notice that the beginning of the passage and at the end and at the part that we skipped, Paul approaches his instructions on giving against the backdrop of eternity. In verse 7 he says, “We brought nothing in to this world, we’re not taking anything out of it either.” In verse 12 one of the verses we skipped he tells Timothy to take hole of the eternal life to which you were called. Verse 14, “keep the command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus.” In Verse 15, “which God will bring about in his own time” you see Paul is tying all of the sense of giving against the backdrop of eternity. And of course what we already read. The foundation of the coming age and in Verse 17, “instruct those who are rich in his present world.” You know it is not the end, it’s just the present. Everybody has two types of bank accounts, those that they know about, and one that they don’t know about. Jesus said it himself, “Don’t store up so much in the ones that we know about, store up in heaven.” So many people think about retirement planning, but very few think about expirement planning. Jesus and Paul were talking about expirement planning.
Robert Fulgum is a well-known author. He has written a series of best sellers the most popular probably is, “All I Really Need to Know, I learned in Kindergarten.” His books have grown to 15 to 20 million copies, in 30 languages, and 100 countries. He is pretty well off financially I would guess and as a way of keeping his spiritual life centered, do you know what he does? He visits his own cemetery plot. I don’t know what’s wrong with him but he said he likes to visit it. In spite of his great wealth, he said it reminds him to live life in a way that is rich toward God. And when he goes and visits his own cemetery plot he will sit down and he will say this to himself. “Don’t get lost here” meaning this life, “Don’t get lost here. Know where you are going.” I don’t think he was just thinking, know that you are going to die, but know that you’re going to give an account and you don’t want to cheat yourself when you come to give that account of heavenly investments. So what is the key to eternal investing? What are the marks of a good expirement plan? Well, Paul starts to get at it very simply right at the beginning of the text. And I need to give you a little context. If you will go back in 1st Timothy, Chapter 6 in Verse 3 you will see that he is commanding Timothy to watch out for false teachers. We don’t have time to unpack it, but he basically says that you’ve got to be careful because when you listen to these false teachings opposite of what the Lord Jesus taught, it’s going to cause problems and he says at the end of Verse 5, “these false teachers who have been robbed of the truth, think godliness is a means to financial gain.” You know the sad part, is that in some ways what they think is true. There have been many, many leaders, ministry people that have made money on the hearts and sympathies of the religious in this world. And Paul is saying that these people, that’s the way they live. They are trying to make a fast buck using religion. But then he turns the thought, he turns the thought in Verse 6 and he says, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” You see that’s his plan. That is his expirement plan. Do you want great gain in this life, then think about having godliness with contentment and you will have the best investment plan for the future that anybody could ever have. And that’s the way text starts in Verse 6, “but godliness”. Now the question is, well what does he mean? What is godliness? There are a huge number of clues in this text, but again if you go back to the context, note what he says. If anyone teaches in Verse 3, false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching … the beginning of godliness is to heed the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ, it is to trust our Lord Jesus Christ as our savior. That’s the beginning of godliness. And what did Jesus teach? Jesus taught the core of the commandments. Love the Lord your God with all your heart. Serve the Lord. Worship him only. Serve him only. He taught the commandments. The 1st commandment, you shall have no other gods before God. Now when God said to Moses in the commandments, you shall have no other gods before me. Why didn’t he say, “you shall believe in no other gods” ? In fact, in 1st Corinthians Paul says there really are no other gods. So why does God say, “you shall have no other gods before me? Because we make things god, because we take good things like a job, or a career, or a person or money and we make them into our gods. That’s why he said it that way. And that’s why God in saying, “you shall have no other gods before me” all through scripture always ties in our worship of God with systematic proportional, steady giving, which demonstrates that God is first. Godliness exhibits a God-first mindset. If you look at the rest of the text you will see other clues to what Paul means when he says, “but godliness.” If you look in Verse 17, there are a number of things that indicate what godliness is. Putting God first is described as not being arrogant, not being conceited, recognizing that what we have is a gift from his hand. He says, “godliness is not putting hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but putting hope in God”. It’s where we put our hope, that’s our trust. God is our foundation. He goes on to say that God provides everything for our enjoyment. A godly person says, I know where my gifts, where my blessings come from. They come from God who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. And he goes on to say that godliness is also demonstrated by sharing, doing good deeds, being generous, and willing to share. You see godliness is a God-ward orientation in all of life that humbly recognizes that it all comes from above. And godly people I believe become increasingly less impressed with money and with what it can do because they know it will not last. In effect, Paul is saying, “why put your hope in something that the Proverbs says is so uncertain.” It’s like a bird that has wings and just flies away. Anybody who has ever made a bad investment or trusted the wrong person or made a bad deal, understands completely what the Proverbs is saying, when he says money has wings.
Almost eighty years ago, in 1923 at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago, Illinois, eight of the most powerful and wealthy men gathered for a meeting. It was said that these eight men were so wealthy that when you combined their wealth that they controlled more money than the US treasury, if you can believe that. In that group there were men such as Charles Schwab, he was the president of a steel company. Richard Whitney was the president of the New York Stock Exchange. Arthur Cutten was a wheat speculator. Albert Fall was a presidential cabinet member, but in his own right a very wealthy man. Jesse Livermore was the greatest bear on Wall Street of his generation. Leon Frasier was the president of the International Bank of Settlements and Ivan Kruger headed the largest monopoly. He might have been like the Bill Gates of his day. Quite an impressive group of people, wouldn’t you say? Well let’s look at what happens only a few decades later. Charles Schwab died penniless. Richard Whitney spent the rest of his life serving a sentence in prison. Arthur Cutten, the great wheat speculator became insolvent. Albert Fall was pardoned from Federal prison so that he might die at home. Leon Frasier, Jesse Livermore and Ivan Kruger all took their own lives. Seven of the eight greatest people (less than 80 years ago) that people would want to be with, and hobnob with had lives that were disasters before they left this planet. What mistake did they make? They forgot godliness. Thinking that what they had and what they controlled belonged to them.
Now, there are many godly people here and I don’t think you are going to make those mistakes, but Paul says remember the second part of the equation of a great expirement plan. It’s not just godliness in Verse 6, but godliness with contentment is the means of great gain. What does contentment mean? Well, it doesn’t mean indifference; it doesn’t mean complacency. It basically means freedom from fear over one’s financial situation. It’s the ability to say, enough is enough and really mean it. It’s being able to keep essentials to a minimum and not be bothered by it. It’s the opposite of being driven, jealous or grasping. It’s the same word used in 2nd Corinthians 12, Verse 9. You know that verse. As soon as I say it, you will know the word. Where God says to Paul, “my grace is sufficient.” It’s the same word. My grace is sufficient for you. A God-ward orientation plus a loose hold contentment equals an investment for eternity. Now look at how Paul makes his appeal for contentment in Verse 7. He said, “we brought nothing in to this world and we’re not going to take anything out of it either.” Someone said that human beings are born with their fists clenched and die with their hands open. I also found out that if a person doesn’t provide their own clothing for the last time they will be viewed, and they buy from the funeral, the funeral clothing has no pockets in it. What a great image to keep in mind. So Paul is saying you start to understand contentment when you realize we are just not going to take anything out of this world. So we better learn to understand what that means. And then he talks about in Verse 8 the measure of contentment. If we have food and clothing we will be content with that. Now when he says food, it doesn’t translate into Greek: “filet mignon”, it just means food. Now I love steak, I love filet mignon, nobody is saying you shouldn’t have filet mignon. I am saying, it just means basic food. And when it says clothing, some translations say shelter, it’s also not talking about a palace, it’s talking about a dwelling. Again, there is nothing wrong with having good things, as long as they don’t become first, as long as we put them in their proper perspective. But basically Paul is saying, if we have enough to eat, if we have a warm dry place, we will be content.
I learned this past week, or two weeks ago that a huge tree fell in the Sackett’s property and took out a couple of cars and part of the house. Everybody is fine, but when things like that happen or terrorism, or an earthquake, or a hurricane, it’s just an exclamation point to say, “It’s not going to last.” And then in Verses 9 and 10, he starts to talk about what contentment is not. He has spoken of the measure of it and the description of it and the results of it, but he says, just in case somebody doesn’t get what contentment is, let me tell you what it is not. And in Verses 9 and 10 he basically launches into a list that if you follow it is like a downward spiral that ends in a pit. He says people who want to get rich… now this is not speaking of somebody who says, “boy I wonder what it would be like to just have no problems with money whatsoever, I mean filthy stinking rich, I wonder what it would be like to hit the lottery”. He’s not talking about that. Everybody has wondered that to some degree. This word talks about reasoning faculties. He’s talking about people who in their reasoning faculties constantly think passionately about getting rich. Everything is designed to that end. He says people in that category, fall in to temptation, a trap, into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. Very sobering. For the love of money, not money, for the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some people, anybody have somebody in mind? Some people, eager for money have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. It’s a pretty dismal picture.
Russian author Leo Tolstoy tells the story of a rich man who was never satisfied. Tolstoy tells wonderful stories. He told a story of a man who always wanted more and he heard of a wonderful chance to get more land. For 1,000 rubles he could have all that he could walk around in a day, but he had to make it back to the starting point by the end of the day or he would lose everything that he invested. He arose early and set out. He walked on and on thinking that he could get just a little more land if he kept going on, but he went so far that he realized that he must walk very fast if he was going to get back to the starting point and claim the land. As the sun went lower in the sky, he quickened his pace. He began to run. He came within sight of the starting place and so he exerted his last energies plunging over the finish line, falling to the ground, dead. His servant took a spade and dug a grave. He made is just long enough and just wide enough and buried him. Do you know the title of Leo Tolstoy’s story? “How much land does a man need?” And he ends the story with this line: “six feet from his head to his heels was all that man needed”. Now I know we won’t make that same mistake, but we can often forget how much land we are eventually going to take up and it wrecks our understanding of what true investment is all about. Godliness with contentment is a means of great gain.
Gracious Lord, we thank you for your love and grace to us, which seeks to guide us and instruct us, warn us, reprove us, correct us, and lead us so that we will not miss what the true life is all about. Even as we respond to this word in our singing and the rest of this service, help us to release that which has hold of us, or just help us Lord to be affirmed in the way that you have led us to give. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.