Sunday, June 07, 2015

Sermon: 1 Timothy 6: 3-19 Godliness with Contentment

We’re in the middle of exam season, with the GCSEs and A Levels continuing for another couple of weeks or so. Some students might have finished, depending on their subjects and the exam timetable, but most are still working hard at the revision. It’s now 18 years since I was sitting my GCSE exams, and most of the things I learnt went in one ear (or eye), stayed in my head long enough to sit the exam, and then went out the other ear (or eye). But the odd time, a random line from one of the poems we learned in Mrs Carson’s English Literature class echoes round my head.

This week, as I was working on our passage of scripture, the line from the poem came back to me. I had to look up who wrote it - William Wordsworth (of the daffodils fame). He says:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.

Writing in the early 1800s, Wordsworth laments the greed and busyness of business, getting and spending we lay waste our powers. Now if he thought that back then, what would he make of our consumer society today? Shopping channels dedicated to making you part with your money for a bargain knife set or his and hers watches. Adverts on most of the other channels designed to make you want a newer, bigger, better version of the things you already have, which work very well - phones, cars, perfume, you name it, they’ll try to sell it. Tailored internet adverts, where Google read the mail in your email account and your browser history and then sell you the things you’ve been thinking about buying - all at a special price.

Wordsworth’s words are worth much as they diagnose the problem of a consumer society. Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers. Many today would agree, and misquote the Bible as they try to figure out the problem. So they declare that ‘money is a root of all kinds of evils’. They see money as the problem and some form of socialism or communism as the solution.

But that just won’t do. You see, the Bible doesn’t say that that money is a root of all kinds of evils. It says in verse 10 that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. Money itself is neutral, something we use to conduct business, to be paid and to buy goods and services. It’s the love of money, the desire for more, that is a root of all kinds of evils. Because then you make it your god, the thing to be worshipped, the thing to serve. Dreams become schemes to make more and more.

For Wordsworth, the escape from this getting and spending lies in pagan Greek mythology, getting back to nature. But the living God tells us here in his word that the answer to greed and getting is found in a very different practice. It’s not something that sits naturally or easily with us - in fact, a Puritan preacher wrote a book in the 1600s describing it as the Rare Jewel - Christian contentment.

Paul has sent young Timothy to be the church leader in Ephesus, and he writes this letter to encourage him, and remind him what he should be teaching the Christians in that church. Throughout the letter, there’s an emphasis on godliness, of becoming more like God when you have been saved by God. It’s applied to various situations, and in the last chapter, Paul addresses the problem of false teachers, who don’t hold to the gospel. Instead, they reckon that godliness is a means of gain. They look at ministry as a way of lining their pockets and becoming rich.

Look at verse 6. ‘Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment.’ See how Paul turns that around? The false teachers reckon godliness leads to gain. But the great gain in godliness comes when you’re content! Paul tells us why: ‘for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.’

When a baby is born, it has nothing to its name (and maybe doesn’t even have a name, immediately). However hard she works, for as long as she lives, whether she makes a fortune or dies in debt, she cannot take anything with her. It’s like the TV quiz ‘The Chase.’ No matter how many thousands the team have accumulated, maybe £60,000, the chaser catches them in the final round and the money drops to £0.00.

Paul says that the great gain of godliness is contentment. What does that look like? ‘But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.’ Enough to live on, enough to get by.The Bible challenges us today, on this gift day, is enough really enough for us?

The next two verses highlight the dangers of the love of money: it’s a snare and a diversion. ‘Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare...’ As Admiral Ackbar in Star Wars would say: ‘It’s a trap!’ You don’t realise until you’re caught, and then it’s too late. So late, that ‘some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.’

There is great gain in godliness with contentment. As we come towards a close, Paul applies this contentment in two ways. For Timothy, the man of God (and for all of us), he is to flee these things and instead pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. It’s a bit like the Stranger Danger advice given to children - if there’s a danger, then run away. Get away from whatever or whoever is leading you astray. So if you feel the love of money is attempting to take you, then get away from it. Take hold of what you have - eternal life, stored up, safe, which isn’t affected by your bank balance or your stocks and shares portfolio.

But Paul also applies this contentment to ‘the rich in this present age.’ (17) Don’t be haughty, proud, or thinking that you are someone because you’re rich. Don’t set your hopes on the uncertainty of riches (as the mortgage ads remind us, the value of investments can go down as well as up). Instead, set your hope on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.

So if God has given us everything, then we have those things to use in his service. Do good. Be rich in good works. Be generous and ready to share. Use your wealth in this world, not for yourself, but to store up treasure in heaven, as you take hold of that which is truly life.

The reformer Martin Luther once said that the last part of a man to be converted is his wallet. If we’re so used to living for ourselves putting our own needs first, then it’s not surprising that it’s difficult to change our thinking and our way of living. The desire for security is always strong. Being financially responsible is a good thing. But our ultimate security lies beyond this life, where pounds and euros are as useless as monopoly money would be in Tesco.

God gives us everything. It’s all from him. And it’s all for him. Practice contentment (enough is enough) and generosity (towards others), as we take hold of that which is truly life, and hold loosely the things of this world. Then we will find that rare jewel of Christian contentment, and discover the great gain that can be found nowhere else.

This sermon was preached at the Gift Day service in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 7th June 2015.

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