1 Timothy: The Love of Money

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on October 17, 2004

1 Timothy 6:3-10

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The Lord’s Day
Morning
October 17, 2004

I Timothy 6:3-10

“The Love of Money”

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan
III

I invite you to turn with me to I Timothy, chapter six. As
you do so, I’d just draw your attention to how the wonderful text from the
Psalms that we’ve just heard the choir sing ties in with not only our Call to
Worship and our opening song of praise to God, but how it ties into the passage
we’re going to read now in terms of trusting in God’s providence for His
provision, and also with our Stewardship theme and the discussion on the back
panel of the worship bulletin. The Lord just brought all those things together
for us in our worship today, and well worth our further reflection on this
Lord’s Day.

We have been in I Timothy for a number of weeks now.
We’re studying not only through I Timothy, but through all the Pastoral
Epistles, that is, I and II Timothy and Titus. Those Pastoral Epistles have
been called that for a number of years because they are epistles, or letters,
from Paul, who was a veteran pastor, an apostle, elder, missionary and church
planter, writing to two young men who were church planting in local
congregations, and writing to them about pastoral matters relating to life in
the local congregation. We have stressed over and over that Paul is interested
to set forth healthy priorities for life and ministry together in the local
church, and he is not merely giving advice–although he has much wisdom, and
every right to give wise counsel and advice–he is actually setting down the
pattern and the principles for ministry and life together in the local
congregation that he expects to see worked out in every Christian congregation
in every time and in every culture. And so what Paul is saying to these
congregations in Asia Minor in the first century is equally relevant and
applicable to us today.

Now, we’re back to a passage in which Paul is
speaking about false teaching again. Last week he had a word in I Timothy 6:1-2
to those in this local Christian congregation who were slaves. They were
actually in the condition of slavery, and he had some words to them about what
their attitude was to be in life. And we discovered as we studied it last week
that there are principles for us to learn, even out of his instructions to those
who are enslaved in this local congregation. But now he’s back to false teachers
again, here in verses three through ten. Well, this must be about the fifth
time already in this book that Paul has spoken about false teaching. He must
think that it’s a fairly significant issue to return to it over and over like he
does.

Let me just outline the passage for you before we
read it, so that you can follow along his train of thought.

If you look at verse three, Paul says some words
that characterize sound doctrine. He wants to give you a description of what
sound doctrine looks like, so that you can know sound doctrine when you see it,
and you can distinguish it from false doctrine when you see it.

Secondly, if you look at verse four, he speaks about
the character of false teachers. He explains two or three characteristics that
are evident in the lives and in the habits of those who are false teachers.

Then, if you look again at verses four and five, he
will describe for you the results of false teaching. In verse one he will have
told you that sound teaching leads to godliness. Well, in verses four and five
he’ll show you what false teaching leads to.

Fourthly, in verse five he will tell you one of the
key motivations for false teachers. And my friends, I think one of the things
that’s going to strike you today is how contemporary Paul’s words are. Paul is
speaking about one of the key motivations for false teachers in his day; well,
you will not have to look far to see this same motivation for false teachers in
our day.

Fifthly, if you look at verse six, he will contrast
the gain, the real gain that Christian godliness brings, with the false gain
that false prophets suggest.

And then finally, in verses seven through ten you’ll
see a sixth thing, a sixth principle that he sets forth, and it’s really a
warning. It’s a warning against what he says is one of the key roots of evil in
the lives of men and women.

So, having outlined somewhat of the direction of
Paul’s argument, let’s look to the Lord in prayer before we read His word and
hear it proclaimed, and ask for His help to understand it, and the Spirit’s aid
in applying it. Let’s pray.

Lord God, this is Your word. We know that Your
word is truth, and that You mean it to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our
way. By the grace of Your Holy Spirit, we pray that we would understand it; but
more than that, we pray that our hearts would be conformed to it; that our lives
would be changed by it; that we would begin to live the truth; and that we would
show the truth in the way that we live. We ask these things in Jesus’ name.
Amen.

Let’s hear God’s word in I Timothy, chapter six, verse
three.

“If any one advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words,
those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness,
he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in
controversial questions an disputes about words, out of which arise envy,
strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of
depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means
of gain. But godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by
contentment. For we have brought nothing into the3 world, so we cannot take
anything out of it either. And if we have food and covering, with these we
shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a
snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and
destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by
longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with
many a pang.”

Amen, and thus ends this reading
of God’s holy, inspired and inerrant word. May He add His blessing to it.

Well, here we have Paul again speaking about false
teachers, but once again we’re not off the hook. If we say, “Well, I’m not a
teacher, so I can’t be a false teacher,” or “I’m not a false teacher even though
I’m a Sunday School teacher,” or “I’m not a false teacher, even though I’m a
minister, so this passage doesn’t apply to me”…well, you’re going to be
disappointed, because this passage does apply to us. Even as Paul gives us as
Christians who sit under the teaching and preaching of God’s word (or who
should, regularly); even as he gives us instructions about how to distinguish
true teaching from false teaching, because we want to be nourished by the truth,
not led astray by falsehood, and so his words are applicable to all of us in
that way; even so, as he talks about one of the great characteristics of these
false teachers, he touches on a very important issue for the Christian life:
our attitude towards material wealth. What a timely thing for us to be thinking
about, even as we approach the season of the year when we think about our
commitment to the church’s work and worship; and more broadly, to our
stewardship of everything that God has given us, since He is the owner of all
things and everything we have we’ve received from Him.

I. Sound doctrine is in accord
with Jesus’ teaching, apostolic, and leads to holiness.

Paul begins by telling us what sound doctrine
looks like, in order that we will be able to distinguish between sound teaching
and false teaching. Look at what he says in verse three:

“If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not
agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine
conforming to godliness, [he goes on to say] he is conceited and understands
nothing.”

Notice how he describes sound doctrine: it is
according to the sound words that Paul and the other apostles have been
teaching. It’s apostolic. It’s according to Jesus’ teaching: it’s in strict
accord with the teaching that Jesus Christ gave. It’s not some new secret
teaching that no one has ever heard of before. It’s the same story that Jesus
preached. It’s the same truth that the apostles preached. It’s in accord with
the faithful teaching of the word that the Christian church had been nourished
on from the very beginning.

And notice what Paul says in verse three: It leads
to…what? It leads to godliness. It doesn’t leave you filled up with
information and not changed in your life. It transforms your life so that the
truth is lived out in godliness, in holiness, in commitment to Christ. And Paul
points this out in order that the people of God sitting in the pews can contrast
false teaching from sound teaching. Sound doctrine, Paul is saying, is in
accordance with Jesus’ teaching; it’s in accordance with the apostles’ teaching;
and it leads to godliness. It leads to holiness.

These false teachers, we know from books that we
have from around this time and a little bit later, many of them were claiming
that they had had revelations from God which even the apostles had not
received. Jesus had communicated to them by the Holy Spirit certain truths
which were key to the Christian life, key to the blessed life, which had not
been revealed to the apostles–or at least, some of the apostles; and so they
were coming as the mouthpieces of the Holy Spirit to tell the Christian church
truths which they had never heard before.

And the Apostle Paul says, ‘I want to contrast my
teaching. My teaching, by contrast,’ Paul says, ‘is the old, old story. I have
absolutely nothing new to tell you. What I have to tell you is what Jesus had to
tell you. What I have to tell you is what all the other apostles had to tell
you, because we didn’t make up our teaching as we’d go along. We got it from
the Lord Jesus Christ. We got it from the word. We preached the Bible, which is
God’s revelation of who He is and of His will and of His ways, and the way of
salvation. That’s where we get our teaching from. We don’t have any secret
teaching to bring to you.’ And Paul says there’s the contrast.

And somebody comes along and says, ‘Oh, I’ve got
something new and secret for you. You’ve never, ever heard it before. This is
special teaching that I alone have received, and it’s the key to the Christian
life and to unlocking the blessings of life,’ you can be certain you’re hearing
a false teacher, because Paul is saying, ‘My teaching is open. It’s not some
secret teaching for the Illuminati that only special Christians have heard and
can understand. No, our teaching is open. The apostles…we’ve all been
preaching the same message. It’s the only message we have. It’s the message we
received from Jesus Christ. We’re preaching the old, old story.’

Sound doctrine, Paul is saying, is in accord with
Jesus’ teaching, in accord with the apostles’ teaching, and it leads to
godliness. It doesn’t lead to speculation. It doesn’t lead to divisive
argument. It leads to godliness. It is productive of a life which is in accord
with God’s word.

Now, Paul tells you that so that you can contrast
that to the product of false teaching. So there is his first principle: sound
doctrine is in accord with Jesus’ and the apostles’ teaching, and it leads to
godliness.

II. False teachers are prideful
and ignorant.

But he doesn’t stop there. He goes on to look at
two or three characteristics of false teachers, and you see those things in
verse four. Notice what he says about a person who doesn’t advocate sound
doctrine: he’s conceited, understands nothing, but has a morbid interest in
controversial questions and disputes about words. Isn’t that amazing? Three
things, he says, are characteristic of false teachers: pride, ignorance, and
preoccupation with obscure things. How many times have you seen this!

I’ll never forget a professor of mine in seminary
looking to us–and we were talking about a very, very intelligent man who was
teaching things that were untrue–and he said, “Brothers, all you need to be a
heretic is a little intelligence and a little pride, and you’ve got the perfect
ingredient for heresy.”

Well, here’s Paul saying the same thing. Those who
are teaching these false teachings, their problem is they’re conceited. They’re
prideful. They’re puffed up. They want to have a special standing and esteem
and authority and control over believers, and so they cook up their own
teaching. But because they cook up their own teaching, they show that they
really don’t understand Christianity, though they profess to be smarter than
everybody else, they really don’t understand the rudimentary truths of the grace
of the gospel revealed in the word of God.

And furthermore, they fixate on controversial
questions and disputes about words. Do you remember Jesus’ saying to the
Pharisees that one of their problems was that they would strain out a gnat and
swallow a camel? Well, Paul is saying these false teachers are just like that.
They’ll get fixated on some tiny little truth off to the side (that’s probably
not even a truth), and they’ll teach about it every time you turn around. It
may be some aspect of end-time teaching. I’ve told you before the story of the
fellow that I was introduced to in my home church, in between the winter and
spring term of my first year of seminary. I walked up to him and he stuck his
hand out, and the first words were not “Hi, Hello, I’m Tom…” it was, “What do
you think about the little horn of Daniel?” Why is it they always fixate on
some small…and all they want to talk about is this particular aspect? Well,
Paul says this is a characteristic of a false teacher. They’re prideful, they’re
ignorant despite what they may claim, and they have an unhealthy interest in the
obscure.

III. False doctrine leads to
personal ungodliness and corporate disruption.

Now what does this result in? That’s the
third thing that Paul teaches. Look at verse five. What does this kind of
teaching result in? Verses four and five, he says, “Out of which arise envy,
strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, constant frictions between men of
depraved mind and deprived of the truth.” In other words, false teaching will
lead to personal ungodliness and to corporate division.

Now, it is true that sometimes learning the truth
itself can be difficult for the people of God, and they can wrestle and struggle
with it. And so those of us who care greatly about the truth must be very
concerned that our fundamental concern is that the truth would lead to
transformed lives characterized by loving service of one another; real
godliness; commitment to brothers and sisters; and not to a spirit of being
smarter than everybody else.

We Presbyterians care a lot about truth, in a day
that doesn’t care about truth. That means that we’re liable to spiritual pride.
We must guard against that. One way to guard against that is always making sure
that the truth is leading us to more Christlike-ness, leading us to more
godliness, leading us to more commitment in our lives to the word of God.

That having been said, Paul says that false teaching
will always lead to dissention, wrangling about words, evil suspicions, strife
amongst the brethren; it won’t produce godliness, it won’t deliver the goods!

How often have we seen this in practice, where men
claim to have seen a truth that nobody else understands, and they destroy
Christians and they break them apart from the church, and they divide
congregations? How often have we seen this in practice. Well, Paul tells us
right here.

IV. Many false teachers are
motivated by a desire for material gain.

Now, in verse five Paul goes on to tell us
what one of the key motives of these false teachers is, and it’s the fourth
thing that he tells us in this passage. He just comes right out and tells us
that these men suppose that godliness is a means of gain, and by that he means
that these men suppose that godliness is a means of material gain. They think
they’re going to get rich off of the gospel. They’re going to get rich off of
Christianity. They’re going to gain material wealth through the truth of Jesus
Christ and the gospel. Paul is saying they’re motivated by a desire for
material gain.

Now, my friends, this could have been written
yesterday. If you were to turn on the television today or any day of the week,
four out of five programs that claim to be Christian proclamation of the truth
are doing exactly what Paul is speaking about here. They are turning
Christianity into a means of gain. It’s everywhere. The most common false
teaching in churches in the English-speaking world today is the false teaching
that God wants you to be physically healthy and materially wealthy all the time;
and that if you’re not, it’s because you don’t’ have enough faith or you haven’t
made the commitment to the secret teaching of whoever it is that’s teaching that
particular message.
It’s very common, and here’s Paul talking about it
2,000 years ago. He’s saying, ‘These false teachers–they’re motivated by a
desire for material gain.’ And Paul wants to make it clear that that is not what
Christianity is about.

V. The gospel in fact does bring
great gain (though not the kind false teachers are looking for)

Notice what he says. This is the fifth
thing, and you’ll see it in verse six: “But godliness actually is a means of
great gain, when accompanied by contentment.” In other words, Paul is saying,
yes, the gospel does in fact bring great gain, but it’s not the kind of gain
that the false teachers are teaching about. You know, false teachers who teach
the health and wealth teaching will very often teach it as if it’s a radical
truth; it’s a truth which is greater than the truth that is being preached by
those gospel preachers who don’t say that God is going to make you healthy and
wealthy if you embrace that particular teaching of health and wealth. They’ll
teach it as an exercise of “greater faith”, something that goes beyond the
mundane experience of many people that claim to be Christians.

But think about it, friends: we live in a
materialist consumer culture that values life based on the bottom line. What
the “health and wealth” teachers are teaching isn’t radical at all. It is
totally conformed to the whims and trends and desires of this world. What’s
really radical is what the Apostle Paul is saying, because it’s what Jesus is
saying.

The gospel does bring great gain, but it’s
not the kind of gain that the false teachers are talking about. It’s the
kind of gain that comes with contentment, because the gospel involves believers
who have become by grace disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, taking up their
cross and following Him, dying daily to sin and to self; living for Christ,
living for one another. That’s why Jesus was so fascinated at that
poverty-stricken woman who gave her last mite to the temple offering. And He
said to His disciples, ‘Look at that woman. There is a model for the worship of
God. She had little, and she gave everything that she had to the Lord.’

Why is Jesus drawing attention to that? Not to
impress upon His disciples the principle that if you follow Jesus in the “Seven
Secrets of Health and Wealth” that you will be a multi-billionaire, but to show
the kind of gain that one gets when you follow Jesus. And so Paul makes clear
that the gospel will always foster a gain that brings with it contentment. And
my friends, this world may be whispering a lot of things in your ear: it’s not
whispering “be content.” Everything around you is screaming, “Don’t be
content”; or, “You can’t be content until you have the next thing.” And Paul is
saying that when the gospel takes hold of you, and you are able to believe in
the kind and tender lovingkindness and mercy of God, you will be able to rest in
His provision like you have never rested before, no matter how much or how
little you have.

VI. Guard your heart against the
pernicious love of money.

And then he goes on to say this: in verses
seven through ten, he calls us to guard our hearts against the pernicious love
of money. He says we brought nothing into this world, we cannot take anything
out of it, either; if we have food and covering, with these we shall be
content. Now, my friends, no Christian is immune from an inordinate love of
money. You can be poverty stricken and living in the slums of San Paulo,
Brazil, and struggle with the love of money. When you are poverty stricken,
your temptation is to want something that you don’t’ have, and to think what you
don’t have will give you the satisfaction you’re looking for.

We have a different struggle. All of us have
this struggle: we have so much we are both inclined to forget the One who
has given us what we have; and we are inclined to enjoy the things we have
received from His gracious hand more than we enjoy Him
.
We are tempted
to view Him as a means to get what we really want, which are things which we
think will give us satisfaction and fulfillment. In other words, instead of
loving God and using the world, we use God to get the world which we love more
than God
. That is the challenge of affluence, and we are awash in the
wealthiest culture in the history of the world. We are Christians in the midst
of that affluent culture, and so we ourselves must be on guard against the
pernicious love of money.

Notice two things: Paul does not say
that money is the root of all evil
. This is not a proto Marxist
speech here. This is not a rant against capitalism. But he says “the love
of money is the root of all sorts of evil.” When your desires are centered upon
things and material blessing, when that is where your satisfaction and your
delight and your security comes from, ah! then you’re in trouble, because God
wants us to depend upon Him. He wants us to love Him and use the world, not use
Him and love the world.

Paul also doesn’t say that the love
of money is the root of all evil
. That’s how the King James
translated this passage, and that’s a perfectly good literal translation, but
this is one of those passages where Paul clearly uses “all” to mean not “every
last one,” but “every category, all sorts, all kinds of evil.” Paul in this
very book will show several roots of other sins, but here he is saying that the
love of money is the root of all kinds of sins. The New Testament bears that
out, doesn’t it? I’m haunted by the last phrase of verse ten, aren’t you?

“Some by longing for it have
wandered away from the faith,

and pierced themselves with
many griefs.”

You can think about that very thing in the New Testament.
Ananias and Sapphira; Simon Magus, who wanted to buy the extraordinary gifts of
the Spirit so that he could make money; Judas, who sold our Savior for thirty
pieces of silver; and even more heartbreaking than that, the rich young elder
who came to Jesus to ask Him how he could have eternal life–and he went away
sorrowing, we’re told in the gospels, when Jesus told him to sell everything
that he had and follow Him, “because he had many things.” And his contentment,
his fulfillment, his satisfaction was in those things. We think of him
wandering away from the faith. There he was, standing in front of his God and
Savior, and he left Him because he had chosen to serve mammon rather than God.
This is why Jesus is so concerned that we are determined to use the material
blessings that God gives us: not to worship them, not to love them, not to find
our ultimate delight in them, not to find our fulfillment or our security in
them.

By the way, that’s one way that stewardship to
the church works.
When you give for the building of Christ’s kingdom, one
of the things that it does is it teaches you to trust that the Lord will provide
for you in that you have given away for His work. It’s a blessing to give that
away, and then to depend on, “Lord, You’re going to have to bring in what I
need. I’m committing to support Your work, trusting that You will support my
family’s needs.”

No, guard your heart against the pernicious love of
money, Paul says. In this passage, Paul not only gives us words whereby we can
detect false teaching, but he searches our own hearts to see if we love God more
than we love things. I don’t know of a greater challenge for us as a
congregation than that. Many sins and temptations we grapple with and wrestle
against, but that one is one whereby we will be measured, friends. Let us pray
that God, by His Spirit, would help us to love Christ, to love His kingdom, and
to seek Him first and then let God add the other things.

Let’s pray.


Lord God, we thank You for the way that Paul knows our hearts in this passage.
And he knows our hearts not simply because he knew his own heart or because he
was a wise pastor, because these words aren’t ultimately Paul’s words. They’re
Your words, and You made us and You know our hearts and You know our sins. Lord
God, forgive us for the way that we have loved things and comfort more than
we’ve loved you. And Lord, given how much You have given us, we pray that You
would by the Spirit help us to make that count for the work of Your kingdom, and
that even in the way we use wealth we would show that we worship God and no one
else. This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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