September 30, 2007
1 Timothy 6:6-10
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain.
7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
8 And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.
9 But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.
10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
Imagine a young person, boy or girl, who has just finished their education, and they are headed out into the real world. They are bright, talented, loaded with potential. What does our culture tell them about living a good life? What is a good life according to most Americans?
First of all, Americans want to be happy. A recent survey informs us that 84 percent of Americans describe themselves as “pretty happy” or “very happy.” Furthermore, if this young person is to be happy, the findings of the survey suggest that they should marry, be a Republican, an evangelical Protestant, locate themselves in the upper-middle class, live in a warm climate, be a Caucasian, and be a senior citizen. Well, the young people we are talking about are 22 so they are not senior citizens, but perhaps they can be happy anyway.
Secondly, our society says, be healthy. Our society has no place for the sick, weak, and frail. Our magazine covers, billboards, and TV screens all speak of our obsession with health and beauty. So our advice to young people is to hit the gym, wax those brows, apply some of the Smile Brite tooth strips, and look to win friends and influence people who do all of the same.
Thirdly, Be wealthy. The same happiness study reports that “happiness rises in a nearly straight line through eight levels of annual family income.” We dream of riches, not rags. Our culture encourages young people to dream of having enough money to buy all the flickering, fashionable, floating and four-wheeled toys they want, and they should have a comfortable nest egg in the bank to support a two-home retirement and plenty of time for golf vacations.
This is the American dream, and there is a recently published book that tells us the secret of attaining that dream. The book is entitled The Secret. The Secret is a book, but it is also a franchise, and a movement that has firmly grasped American spiritual consciousness during the last year. The basic idea of The Secret draws on what is called the “Law of Attraction,” which says that our feelings, thoughts, and desires attract and create actual events in the world and in our lives. This “law of attraction” is unknown to most people, but the movers and shakers of human culture over the centuries, so the book claims, have realized that positive thinking invites positive experiences.
Now if you follow American pop culture, you have heard all this before. Whether it was called the power of positive thinking by people like Norman Vincent Peale and Dale Carnegie, or Christ Science by Mary Baker Eddy, it is still just the same old mind over matter stuff. Sometimes we call it the name-it-claim-it movement, or the prosperity gospel.
Americans have always been suckers for the idea that if you clap your hands and close your eyes and turn around twice and wish real hard that your wish will become fact.
The Secret is only the latest manifestation of an ego trip that says I am what the universe is about. Oprah Winfrey is pushing it bigtime and Ellen DeGeneres. They have been talking about it on the Today Show and Larry King Live, and the book is flying off the shelves.
A movie has been made. The trailer to the movie summarizes the worldview this way: “This Secret gives you everything you want: happiness, health, wealth. You can have, do, be anything you want.” The film itself encourages people to “Act on impulse … the universe likes to move quickly.”
Oprah’s Web site has the following: “On February 8, 2007, millions tuned in to The Oprah Winfrey Show to learn the mystery of The Secret. Since the show aired, our message boards have been buzzing with people who want to know more. The Secret is defined as the law of attraction, which states that like attracts like. The concept says that the energy you put into the world — both good and bad — is exactly what comes back to you. This means you create the circumstances of your life with the choices you make every day.” [oprah.com/spiritself/slide/20070216/ss_20070216_284_101.jhtml. Retrieved May 29, 2007]
The underlying message of The Secret is simple. We create our own universe. Our desires can determine our reality. It all sounds like something from Peter Pan or the Wizard of Oz.
It is hard to hear that sort of thing and not burst out laughing. I am reminded of the old saying, “if wishes were horses, beggars would ride”—meaning that if all that we had to do was want it to get it, then everyone would have it. Since that is obviously not true, we conclude that The Secret is just the latest fad which has nothing of substance to offer serious people.
If you want to know the real secret turn to the Bible, open the pages of the word and there you will find something worth knowing.
In our passage today from I Timothy, the Apostle Paul is advising Timothy, a young colleague and his “son” in the faith. Paul is giving him the secret to being content as opposed to happy.
In chapter 1, he urges Timothy to maintain pure doctrine; in chapter 2, he says pray for your community; in chapter 3, he says be a person of character and competence; in chapter 5, he says remember that people are the bottom line. In chapter 4, he urges Timothy to: “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching” (4:16).
Rounding out this pastoral pep talk, Paul closes with words that speak to the meaning of life: “There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment” (6:6).
Now this is the opposite of the American Dream. Happiness and health and wealth is not what it is about. If the Apostle Paul were standing here today, he would tell us that we live in a pagan society, and that everything our society teaches about living the good life is wrong.
Churches sometimes get what our culture says mixed up with what the Bible says. I have heard sermons that said that if you believe in Jesus, you will be happy, healthy, and wealthy. Well, Jesus died in his early thirties on the cross, and many of his early followers were murdered by various horrible means. Nothing in Christianity sanctions a happy, healthy, wealthy gospel.
In Timothy, the Apostle Paul is whacking away at a popular misconception, that possessions are a means to happiness.
V7: “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” Reality check here, folks. Wombs don’t have closets and the hearse does not tow a U-Haul trailer. You came with nothing. You leave with nothing. All of our stuff stays here. All possessions are temporary.
And our soul was never designed to be satisfied by what is temporary. If we focus on this world, any thing we crave today will be obsolete tomorrow. Jesus said to “store up treasure in heaven.” Spend your time on God and do not be too concerned about things of this world.
In vs8 and 9, Paul asks us to differentiate between wants and needs. We need things like food and clothing. Of course, we have more needs than that, but those are just samples of some things we have to have. Paul says the problem is that we tend to go well beyond what we need and focus on what we want. Thus, v9, “They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.”
Our culture says that we should have the ambition to be rich. Paul says if that is what you are about, if that is your ambition, then you will fall into temptation, because you will be tempted to do things that you ought not to do to get the money, and you will fall into a snare, a trap of worldliness and sin, you will find that you have “many foolish and hurtful lusts.” That is, you will suddenly discover that you have all these wants that you did not have before. You concentrate on all your worldly and material wants. You plunge yourself into that trap and your soul is dragged down to ruin and destruction.
Paul then summarizes the case in v10: “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”
Notice what he did not say. He did not say money is the root of all evil. He said, the love of money is the root of all evil. There is nothing wrong with money, there is nothing wrong with any material thing. It is not things that are bad, it is our love for, our worship for, things that is disastrous--because that love leads us to depart from the faith and causes us a lot of pain.
So, the goal for a Christian is to be content with our needs and not to order our lives around our wants. In terms of godliness with respect to money and possessions, Paul says pursue your needs, but not your wants.
Don’t fall in love with your wants, because that means you will worship money which you have to get to gratify your wants.
In this passage, we are presented with a distinct choice. You can love money or you can love God, but you cannot do both. That is a theme that we often find in the Bible. In Matthew 6:24, Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (ESV). Paul is saying essentially the same thing here in Timothy.
And notice this, Paul is not talking about happiness. Paul is talking about contentment. Happiness is an emotion; a state a person can be in. Contentment is a character trait. The Greek word for “contentment is αὐταρκεία, which carries with it the notion of sufficiency or “enoughness.” It says, I have enough, I am satisfied. The Bible uses this word to describe the way a believer ought to be. We may be happy, but we ought to be content.
In other words, Paul is saying to us, you live in a culture of money lovers and body worshippers. What should be your reaction to this culture? Choose to be content. Choose sufficiency. Choose satisfaction. Choose ‘enoughness.’
This implies obedience to another master. We can say that we have enough of this world because our master is not of this world. Our master is not money, but the Lord Jesus Christ.
Having said all this and having said that Paul is promoting contentment and not happiness, I must add that I find a lot of good advice in this chapter about how to be happy.
V6 talks about the great gain we have when we realize what life is really about. It is not about money. Again, nothing wrong with money. Live is just not about money. And until we get that straight we are not going to understand anything else.
Paul is recommending to us a life of financial simplicity because that is the best way to live.
Financial simplicity allows us to avoid certain life discomforts: senseless and harmful desires, ruin, destruction, piercing with pain and uncertainty. We avoid all that. Thus, we have great gain, rich provision, enjoyment, and a good future foundation.
The lesson seems to be this: true happiness stems from contentment and we are content when we live the way we were designed to live. God made us this way. People are designed to be satisfied with godliness and not greediness. That’s just the way it is.
So the love of money makes a promise it cannot keep. It cannot bring happiness. But when we are content with where we are, when we worship God with truth and depend upon the love we find in Jesus, that is when we have real happiness.
That is the secret. It is a secret from most people. But it does not have to be a secret. You can open the Bible and read about it. It is a secret that is available to everyone that accepts Jesus as Lord and savior.
Powell, Michael. “A study finds Americans unrelentingly cheerful.” The Washington Post, February 14, 2006. washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/13/AR2006021302145.html.
The Secret movie trailer and online version of the documentary: thesecret.tv/home.html.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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