The following was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, September 26, 2010.  The text for this week’s message was 1 Timothy 6:6-19.
We’ve spent the majority of this month working through Paul’s first letter to Timothy.  There are several things that we can walk away knowing as we read this letter.  In 1 Timothy 1 we saw Paul give thanks to Jesus for empowering him for ministry, counting him faithful to fulfill that ministry and appointing him to ministry.  We saw that this call to ministry wasn’t reserved just for Paul, but it is for all people.  All who follow Jesus Christ are called to ministry in one form or another.  It is up to us to be faithful to that call in our own lives.
Last week, we continued on the theme of a call to ministry, and came to see, what I believe without a doubt, is our call as a congregation, and that is to reach others with the good news of Jesus Christ.  I know a lot of what we talked about last week may have been hard to hear because it causes us to really examine what we are doing as a congregation.  We have to take a step back and wonder out loud what it is that we are doing, and does that help us reach others with the message of Jesus Christ.  If we are not focused on that goal, then we run the risk of creating a culture that is unwelcoming to those who aren’t already a part of the “in crowd.”
Today we move from a corporate focus to a more individual focus.  What we are looking at is pretty much the end of Paul’s first letter to Timothy.  In this section, we see a warning and a charge to Timothy as he continues to lead the people of the church at Ephesus.  Before we dive right into what he is saying in chapter 6, let’s get a better idea as to why he says it.
As I mentioned last week, one of the issues that Paul faced as he was fulfilling his ministry across the Roman Empire, was the presence of false teachers who would come in after him and teach a different doctrine than what Paul was teaching.  As we read today’s section, it seems as though Paul’s opponents are teaching that godliness is the best way to acquire wealth.  In describing some of their teaching in verse 5, Paul says that they imagine “godliness is a means of gain.”  Unfortunately, this teaching did not end with Paul’s opponents in the first century.  This teaching still exists today, and it poses a significant problem for the church.
This teaching is called many things today, but the most popular term is prosperity gospel.  The prosperity gospel teaches that God blesses his followers with material possessions.  While it is prominent in some strands of Pentecostal churches, it is not fair to say that all Pentecostals teach this type of theology.  It cuts across all denominations.  The major suggestion that comes through in most prosperity gospel teaching is that if you follow God, God will bless you, and you will be wealthy.  And it’s not spiritual wealth that they are talking about, but the bottom line in your bank account, material wealth.
I’m not going to go into detail about the different figures that represent this type of teaching.  The reason I bring it up is because that’s what Paul is talking about.  This type of theology is exactly what Paul is speaking against in the first place as he writes Timothy in today’s passage.  In the opening paragraph of today’s reading, Paul tells us that there is great gain in godliness with contentment; notice the qualifier there.  Being content with what you have is very different than saying that godliness leads to great gain.
Paul reminds us that we came into this world with nothing, and that there is nothing we can take out of it when we go.  That’s a pretty simple concept, but it’s one that we lose sight of from time to time.  I came across a story this week of a very wealthy man who had passed away.  At his funeral, one of the people leaned over to a friend and said, “How much did he leave?”  The friend looked at him and said, “How much did he leave?  He left all of it.”
I know I haven’t done a whole lot of funerals in my three years as a pastor, so maybe Tom/Halsey can help me with this, but I’ve never seen a moving truck as part of a funeral procession.  Have you?  We say it all the time, “You can’t it with you,” but sometimes I think we forget.  If we are never content with what we have, then that is the first sign that maybe we are being driven by something besides the will of God for our lives.
Paul says in verse 9, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.”  First off, the word that is translated as “desire” refers to a deliberate determination.  In other words, it is something that is plotted, planned out; something that becomes the focus.  I want you to do something real quick: hold out your hand in front of your face.  Focus on your palm.  While you are focusing on your palm, what else can you see?  You can’t really see anything else.  You’ve got a vague idea of what is going on around you, but you don’t really know.
If your desire to be rich causes all of your focus to be put into the pursuit of worldly possessions, then you’re missing out on a whole lot.  And that’s what Paul is saying here.  Those who desire to be rich fall into a trap.  You can’t see a trap if you aren’t paying attention to where you are going.  Paul says that those who desire to be rich fall into senseless and harmful desires.  What is really ironic about what Paul is saying here is that the word for “senseless” can also mean “foolish,” and it carries with it the idea of one who does not apply his/her mind to what is happening.  So what he is saying here is that if you have a deliberate determination to pursue wealth in your life, you are not truly applying your mind to what is happening around you.
Paul warns Timothy that the love of money is the root of all evil.  Hear that again: the love of money is the root of all evil.  Too many times people will take this verse and chop it up to say that money is the root of all evil.  But money itself is about as evil as the pew that you are sitting in right now.  Money is an inanimate object.  It neither has positive nor negative value apart from our motives.  But our desire, our deliberate determination to acquire money, can cause us to do all sorts of evil things.
Think about all the financial scandals we have seen over the past several years: Lehman Brothers, Bernie Madoff, Enron, and the list goes on.  These are individuals and companies whose pursuit and love of money lead them into traps.  Unfortunately, there have been several churches that have been hit by these kinds of illegal pursuits of money as well.  And here is Paul, warning Timothy of what will happen if the love of money gets in the way of more important things in life.  So what is Paul’s advice to Timothy in this instance?  Flee.
Paul tells Timothy to run away; to avoid these things.  He gives Timothy the charge to flee from the dangers and snares of this world; to not be caught up in pursuing things that will not last.  He tells Timothy to flee from these things, and to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.  He tells Timothy to flee from the things of this world, and pursue the eternal things of God.
We can’t just run away from things in this life.  We are always chasing something.  The key to chase something that is worthwhile.  Paul tells Timothy to pursue six things.  And these six things are not going to make you wealthy, in a financial sense.  But in a much more important way, these things will bring you a spiritual wealth that can never be taken, not even by death.  When you look at your life, are you rich in the things of this world, but poor in the things of God?  Or are you content with what God has given you, and do you pursue the things of God?
Paul’s charge extends beyond Timothy in the final paragraph, and what he tells Timothy applies to us in our lives as well.  He tells Timothy to instruct those who are rich in this present age to not be arrogant about it.  Do not be filled with pride because of your material possessions.  Don’t set your hopes on the things that you have been able to acquire in this world.  You don’t hear people talking about the salvation they received from their bank accounts.  Our material possessions have absolutely no bearing on our eternal life.  So why have pride in them?  Rather, place your hope in God.
God is the one who provides us with what we need.  We don’t have to worry about our well being because God will give us what we need.  We just have to remember that God’s view of what we need may not always match up with our view.  And this is where contentment comes back into the picture.  Contentment comes when we put all of our faith in God, knowing that He will provide.  When we have that kind of faith, we are no longer concerned with what we have, but our focus becomes what can we do for the glory of God.
As we wrap up this morning, I do want to make something clear.  I’m not standing up here today telling everybody that they need to give more to the church.  That’s not the point, so don’t go away thinking that this morning.  The point is: God provides.  Our society teaches us to rely on our personal wealth and to pursue stuff in this life.  Paul is teaching us to rely on the one who gives us everything we have in the first place.
Your giving to the church is a matter of personal discipleship.  What I’m trying to do today, by reading what Paul is saying to Timothy, is challenge you to rethink what it means to be wealthy, and what it means to be content with what God has given you in this life.  There are more important things than the bottom line.  Pursue them.  Pursue godliness in your life and flee from the temptation to believe the saying, “He who has the most toys wins.”  Because there is no victory in that.  Our only victory is in Jesus Christ.