Life that Really Is Life | Proper 21

1 Timothy 6:6-19

 6 Actually, godliness is a great source of profit when it is combined with being happy with what you already have. 7 We didn’t bring anything into the world and so we can’t take anything out of it: 8 we’ll be happy with food and clothing. 9 But people who are trying to get rich fall into temptation. They are trapped by many stupid and harmful passions that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some have wandered away from the faith and have impaled themselves with a lot of pain because they made money their goal.

11 But as for you, man of God, run away from all these things. Instead, pursue righteousness, holy living, faithfulness, love, endurance, and gentleness. 12 Compete in the good fight of faith. Grab hold of eternal life– you were called to it, and you made a good confession of it in the presence of many witnesses. 13 I command you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and Christ Jesus, who made the good confession when testifying before Pontius Pilate. 14 Obey this order without fault or failure until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 The timing of this appearance is revealed by God alone, who is the blessed and only master, the King of kings and Lord of lords. 16 He alone has immortality and lives in light that no one can come near. No human being has ever seen or is able to see him. Honor and eternal power belong to him. Amen.

17 Tell people who are rich at this time not to become egotistical and not to place their hope on their finances, which are uncertain. Instead, they need to hope in God, who richly provides everything for our enjoyment. 18 Tell them to do good, to be rich in the good things they do, to be generous, and to share with others. 19 When they do these things, they will save a treasure for themselves that is a good foundation for the future. That way they can take hold of what is truly life. (CEB)

Life that Really Is Life

If you think about it, it really is amazing how much attention the Bible gives to material possessions. In parables and oracles it warns about the delusions that wealth brings, and wants nothing less than to destroy the way that we humans can make idols out of dollar signs. The Scriptures repeatedly direct our attention to the poor and the destitute. They constantly ask what we often think are rather impertinent questions about how we earn and spend our income. So brash is the Bible about material possession that any preacher who tries to reflect upon the biblical truths regarding money and possessions is likely to be accused of “talking too much about money.”

Well, I don’t care if anyone thinks I talk too much about money because, personally, I don’t think anyone in the church talks enough about money…at least not in the right way. Additionally, I always like to preface my sermons that concern what are possibly unpopular topics by saying that I preach about it because it’s part of God’s word to God’s people.

“Of course”, Paul writes, “there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment” (1Tim.6:6). How many of us can honestly say that we’re content with what we have or with our financial situation? I mean, I think I’m a pretty content guy, but sometimes I struggle with contentment, too! The reason so many of us are not content with what we have is because we’re constantly bombarded with messages that tell us that in order to be happy, in order to find contentment, we need more.

We’re conditioned to be discontent. The goal of every advertisement you have ever seen is to sow discontentment about our current reality and make us feel like if we just had this product we’d be happy. We’ve bought into the belief that happiness depends upon outward circumstances, visible achievements, a larger paycheck, and material comforts rather than coming from inner spiritual qualities such as love, peace, compassion, and generosity just to name a few. But breaking the cycle of conditioned discontent requires courageous soul work. It requires a reordering of who we are from the inside out.

Contentment comes from seeking that which satisfies. The trouble is that most people live under the delusion that if we just had a little more, we would be satisfied. It’s interesting that when most people are asked how much money they would need to earn in order to be happy, they almost always give an amount equal to about 20% more than what they are currently making. So a person who earns $30,000 a year believes that with just $6,000 more, they would be happy. A person who earns $100,000 a year believes that with just $20,000 more per year they would be happy. A person who earns $500,000 a year believes that when they earn $100,000 more they would finally arrive and be happy.

You see, it doesn’t matter how much a person earns, we always think we would finally be happy if we earned about 20% more than what we’re making now. This is a prescription for never-ending unhappiness because even if we did reach our goal of earning 20% more than we currently earn, we would suddenly find that we needed another 20% more to really be happy. We can never possess enough to satiate our culturally conditioned appetite for more.

Contentment comes from seeking that which satisfies, but most of the time we’re too busy seeking the things that will never satisfy. And I wonder, why do we keep chasing after this stuff? Why do we keep driving ourselves to acquire more money and more stuff? Once we have acquired it, what are we going to do with it? How long will it really make us happy?

We’ve all seen the bumper sticker that says, “Whoever dies with the most toys wins.” But Paul says something that we all know very well to be absolutely true: “for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it”, (1Tim.6:7), which is why I kind of like that other bumper sticker that says, “Whoever dies with the most toys, still dies.” Jesus tells us to be on our guard against all kinds of greed; “for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Lk.12:15).

Paul wrote of contentedness in another place too. In Philippians 4:11-12 he says, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.” And we might say, “Well, congratulations, Paul, you figured it all out. Good for you, but my situation is different.” We might think that until we learn that Paul wrote those words of being content “in any and all circumstances” from a Roman prison cell where he was waiting to find out whether or not he would be executed. Paul, for me, is a model of contentment.

Then Paul goes on in 1 Timothy, “but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” You see, this struggle with being content over what we have is nothing new; it is as old as the human race. Paul says that Christians should be content with the basic necessities of life. That’s all it really takes for a Christian to be content. Yet, to our mindset, that is absolutely ludicrous. But why does it sound ludicrous to us? Because our appetites are insatiable. We only see scarcity where there is nothing but abundance. Surrounded by water, we are dying of thirst.

Benjamin Franklin said, “Contentment makes poor men rich, but discontentment makes rich men poor.” Whether we are content or discontent really depends upon our world view. Do we see the abundance of what we have? Or do we see only the scarcity of things we don’t have yet? Is anyone here lacking the basic necessities of life? If you are, then you should be able to rely on your sisters and brothers in Christ to share with you out of our abundance. If not, then why do we kill ourselves with anxiety in our quest to get more of the stuff that will never satisfy us nor give us contentment? The words of Saint Augustine are as true today as when he wrote them down 1600 years ago: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

I have heard more than one person misquote what Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:10. Someone will say, “Well, you know, money is the root of all evil.” Well, not quite. There’s nothing wrong with money. It’s the love of money that is a root of all kinds of evil. There is nothing wrong or insidious about money itself. Money is important stuff. We go to work and get compensated with a paycheck. With that check we deposit money in our bank account. Then, with that money the first thing we do is tithe so we can support the ministries of the church… Right?… We tithe first, then we buy food and pay our bills. Then, we have some left over to put in our savings. We still have some left over for household items. Then we have more left over for discretional spending like entertainment and gifts. Maybe you even give yourself an allowance. Without money we can’t even get the most basic necessities of life: food, shelter, and clothing. Money is exchanged for the necessities of life. Money is a good thing. It’s not evil.

The root of many kinds of evil is the love of money. That’s when we have an unhealthy relationship with money and are ensnared by it because we are filled with the desire to get rich. The moment the idea sneaks into our mind that more money will make us happy, we have become a servant to money, we’ve set money up as an idol. And I don’t mean that any of us bow down before a dollar bill or pray to pennies. Anything that gets in the way of our relationship with God is an idol. It is our idolatrous worship of money, our unhealthy relationship with material possessions, our eagerness to gain, which is the cause of our piercing ourselves with many pains. It is our idolatry to money which causes us to wonder away from the faith.

So what is the cure for this kind of idolatry? What is the prescription for dealing with the disease of culturally conditioned discontent? God’s answer is generosity. God created humankind to be extravagantly generous. Generosity is a part of God’s nature, and because we are created in God’s image, generosity is a part of our nature too. We are created to give, but we are tempted to keep. Proverbs 11:24-25 says, “So give freely, yet grow all the richer; others withhold what is due, and only suffer want. A generous person will be enriched, and one who gives water will get water.” Our lives are supposed to be reflections of God who made us. It is through generosity in giving that we find contentment and satisfaction with what we have been given. Life itself is a gift, and so every person’s life is intended to be a source of generosity and giving.

Paul says again, “As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.”

A good baseline for what it means to be giving generously is the tithe, which started with Abraham. Jesus commended the practice of tithing, telling the Pharisees that they should, indeed, tithe their leaves of mint and dill but they should also attend to the matters justice and mercy and faith (Mt.23:23; Lk.11:42). John Wesley tithed and expected Methodists to do the same. Generosity is a spiritual discipline.

The people we admire and respect for their generous spirits, spiritual wisdom, deep-heartedness, and mature faith are almost always extravagant givers. Name one person you admire and respect because of all they keep for themselves. Name someone you consider generous and spiritually mature who never gives, or who constantly complains about giving, or who always seeks to give the least amount required. Depth of faith and maturity of spirit lead to an eagerness to give generously because that is how God made us. Tithing isn’t about what God wants us to do, but about the kind of person God wants us to become.

Extravagant generosity stretches us to offer our utmost, our very best to God. People who practice this kind of generosity have done the courageous soul work necessary to change their lives and find “great gain in godliness combined with contentment.” A generous life is a better life because only when we live the way God hard-wired us to live do we find the contentment and satisfaction that we’re all looking for but so often are seeking it in the wrong places. Generosity is a necessary step on our way of taking hold of the life that really is life.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s