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Earthly Gain or Eternal Satisfaction
1 Timothy 6:2c-10
That was Kenneth Copeland, best known for his teachings on health, wealth, and prosperity. That Gulfstream V is valued at $36 million—just purchased a month ago. His personal empire is estimated to be worth around $760 million. No one can really tell exactly, because the money is hidden under various ministry names and subsidiaries. It’s almost impossible to tally it all.
The wealthiest preachers in America include people like Pat Robertson, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, T.D. Jakes, and Joyce Meyer. Each of them is worth multi-millions of dollars, but there is stiff competition from overseas preachers, especially (and most surprisingly) from countries like Nigeria, where you wouldn’t expect that health and wealth campaigns could even possibly exist.
These preachers prey on the poor and get fat on the donations of the desperate. Now the names I listed are indeed false teachers–not because they’re rich, but because their teachings are false. They teach heresy. They preach a different gospel. They are not Christians, despite the fact that their followers think they are.
Today’s passage in 1 Timothy 6 contrasts the money-driven efforts of false teachers with the contentedness of genuine Christians. It contrasts earthly monetary gain with eternal satisfaction, found in Christ alone.
If you’re visiting us today, this is what we do at Faith Bible Church. We choose a book of the Bible and move through it verse by verse. Back in October, we started in 1 Timothy and it’s been a great series. We called it “House Rules”, because 1 Timothy tells Christians how they should conduct themselves in the household of God. After today, we have two more Sundays in 1 Timothy–Chris is preaching those. Then we have two visiting pastors and then we start a five-week series in Proverbs, which will be a blast.
Today we get to a passage that really is two different subjects. This is a big assignment and this really could have been two separate sermons–but the two topics are linked in a really interesting way. I want you to see this from the outset. This is a sermon of two halves, because there is a hinge right there in the middle of the text which connects the two topics together.
So let’s read the passage–it’s 1 Timothy 6, starting at the end of verse 2. It’s too much to put on the screen, so please follow along on the handout. Paul writes, “Teach and preach these principles. 3 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, 4 he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, 5 and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. 6 But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. 7 For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. 8 If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. 9 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. 10 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 griefs.”
Now, did you see the hinge in verses 5 and 6? It’s the words in the bold font. It would have been hard to miss them. There is a phrase there that is repeated–it is the phrase “godliness is a means of gain.” It’s in verse 5 and it’s repeated in verse 6. In verse 5, it closes out the section about false teachers by telling us that false teachers are motivated by personal financial gain. In verse 6, it introduces to us the idea that godliness does result in great gain, if it’s the right kind of godliness.
The hinge point of these two passages then is this–false teachers are driven by money. The godly are driven by contentment. False teachers are motivated by earthly gain. Christians are satisfied by eternal truths. So today’s passage then is all about false teachers and contented Christians and it describes what separates them–namely, the love of money. That’s what it comes down to.
Now the first thing I need to do is deal with the short phrase in verse 2–it’s the phrase we didn’t cover last week. The phrase in verse 2 says, “Teach and preach these principles.” Notice first of all that the word “principles” is in italics–that means that particular word is not actually in the original Greek manuscripts.
The translators added it for clarity sake, but technically it’s not there and they wanted to let us know that it’s not there. It’s an honesty issue. It’s a full disclosure issue. This is why we like the NASB. This is the kind of translation you want to use–a translation that tells you exactly what and why they made certain decisions.
Now here in verse two the literal phrase is, “Teach and preach these”–period. It just stops. The object of the sentence is implied, not stated. We can safely assume that Paul wants Timothy to teach and preach these–these things, these practices, these values, these principles. That’s the point here. Whatever Paul taught in 1 Timothy, these are the things that Timothy was to teach too.
And this is not the first time Paul has used these words in 1 Timothy. In 4:11 he said, “Prescribe and teach these things.” In 4:15 he said, “Take pains with these things.” In 4:16 he said, “Persevere in these things.” In 5:7, “Prescribe these things.”
It’s like Paul stops every now and then simply to remind Timothy how important “these things” are. And he always says it in the present tense, which means these things need to be Timothy’s constant practice–all the time. Every day Timothy needs to be teaching and preaching these things. This was his task, this was his constant assignment in Ephesus. Okay, so that’s this phrase which introduces this next section–so let’s move to it.
In this next section, Paul lists out seven qualities of a false teacher. He has dealt with false teachers already in this letter, but he comes back to it now a third time, because the dangers these false teachers present are huge. So here in verses 3 to 5, we’re going to find the seven characteristics of false teachers. In other words, if you want to identify a false teacher, here is what you look for.
A. The Seven Qualities of False Teachers
1. False teachers have the wrong theology
Verse 1 says, “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“–this is what identifies a teacher of heresy. It’s someone who teaches a different gospel. It’s someone whose words do not line up with Scripture. It’s someone whose teachings are out of sync with everything God has revealed in Jesus and in His written Word. It’s someone whose teachings do not result in true godliness.
Now you have to be careful with how you apply this, because there are many Bible teachers who we might not necessarily agree with in every aspect of our doctrine. But that doesn’t mean they’re a false teacher. There are levels of disagreement that exist within evangelicalism that involve less essential areas of theology, and we can live with these.
For instance, we don’t necessarily agree with everything taught by John Piper, Tim Keller, RC Sproul, Francis Chan, and others–but we can fellowship with them. Because whilst there are differences, they’re not major differences on the nature of God, Christ, sin, and salvation. We agree on these essentials of the faith, therefore these preachers are not false teachers.
You say, “Well how do I know the difference?” We have to study their theology carefully. We have to evaluate their words very cautiously to see if their understanding on the character of God is off–to see if their description of the Gospel is out of whack with Jesus’ Gospel. To see if maybe they add things to the Gospel. The first quality of a false teacher is they have a wrong theology.
2. False teachers have the wrong attitude
Verse 4 says the false teacher is “conceited”. The words means to be puffed up like a cloud of smoke. It describes someone who blows smoke–someone who is full of hot air. He is puffed up. He is blinded by his own immense conceit.
These false teachers know how to talk. They know how to hold an audience. They like the sound of their own voice. They can filibuster on demand. They can talk for hours and hours and not say anything–and that’s because they think more of themselves than they ought. Have you ever found that people who are the most proud are also the ones who actually know the least? That’s what Paul says next.
3. False teachers have the wrong understanding
Verse 4 says, they ”understand nothing”. These people think they know a lot, but in reality they’re ignorant. Their pride prevents them from knowing anything. It’s like they live in a different world to the rest of us. It’s an alternate reality where mental, moral, and spiritual forces are so upside-down that they’re now completely out of touch with biblical realities.
That’s why in 2 Timothy 3:5 it says to stay away from these people, because you can’t convince them they’re wrong. They have no understanding to be able to even think straight. They are so mentally and spiritually lost they cannot receive the truth of the Word of God.
4. False teachers have the wrong approach
They have, in verse 4,”a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words.” And that’s not a good sign, folks. A morbid craving for controversy and argument does not bode well for a Bible teacher. But these people love controversies and weird theological questions, because it puts them in the limelight. It puts them on center stage.
This is how you sell books. This is how you get yourself on TV. If you sound like you’re teaching something novel, something exciting, something newly discovered–you increase your popularity. But in fact what’s really happening is, these people are undermining the inerrant, infallible, authoritative, sufficient Word of God, which never changes and in which is nothing new or novel.
They get into terminology battles that redefine words. They don’t understand divine truth, so they obsess over terms and little intricacies that seem so cool, but in reality are doctrines of demons. The Pharisees and Sadducees used to do this–they asked questions like, “Who really is my ‘neighbor’?” because they wanted to get out of loving some people.
And they taught that certain oaths needed to be kept, while other oaths weren’t binding. It all came down to what words were used in making the oath. They said that lighting a candle at night was work, so they didn’t allow lighting candles on the Sabbath. A Friday night in darkness made you godly. They argued over all these terms and words and created a system of manmade religion that had nothing to do with real Christianity or true godliness.
The JWs come to your door and they want to argue over a word too. They argue that John 1:1 says, “The Word was ‘A’ God.” They’re so convinced of this that they produce their own translation of the Bible with that error in it, and others. But that one word difference is what keeps people from knowing the one and only true God.
Gloria Copeland was quoted in the Washington Post this past week. She said, “Christians should not ‘receive’ the flu.” She was teaching people that if you just speak the words, “I don’t ‘receive’ the flu season,” it will not be able to touch you. Now I looked it up–the word “receive” is used 1,050 times in the New Testament. But I tell you–none of them has anything to do with speaking the flu season out of existence.
This is what false teachers do. They take these words and confuse ignorant people with religious talk that leads to all kinds of fights. Paul says these heresy promoters flock toward controversies and disputes. They love these arguments.
5. False teachers have the wrong results
Look at this–again it’s verse 4. The wrong results are “envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions.” False teachers never produce unity. As much as they want to tell us they’re interested in unity, the Bible right here tells us otherwise. Listen to Paul, this is what he’s saying–conceited airheads only produce quarrels. And those quarrels arise out of arrogant hearts who only want to grow their audiences by showing off.
And then they have the audacity to claim that they love people. Let me tell you–love does not produce unity. Truth produces unity. But instead of faithfully teaching the truth of Scripture, these wolves produce four results.
Envy–that’s the secret annoyance that comes when rivals in the same business are successful.
Strife–that’s the trouble that comes from being in competition with others who also fight over words and contradictions.
Abusive language–I remember Benny Hinn responding to one of his critics. He said this, “I wish I could kill you. I wish God would give me a Holy Ghost machine gun and I’d blow your head off.” That’s abusive language.
Evil suspicions–that’s when the mind of an envious false teacher is haunted by mistrust and foreboding. He begins to suspect his opponents are working against him. You see it so often–TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network) is rife with examples of false teachers who just cannot get along.
6. False teachers have the wrong relationships
Verse 5 says out of the proud ignorant arguments comes “constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth.” That friction between these people is constant. It’s incessant wrangling and irritation. Why? Because they have depraved minds.
The fact that they are depraved tells us for sure, if we didn’t already know it, that they’re not saved. Christ is not in them. So let’s not make the mistake of giving them more credence than they deserve. They’re not misguided Christians–they are apostate unbelievers. They are enemies of God. And they are right now, Paul says, in a state of having been deprived of the truth. It’s in the passive voice, which means someone or something has pulled them away from the truth.
That doesn’t mean that they were once saved and now they’re not. Instead it means that they once had contact with the truth, but now they have been taken away from the truth. And we know from Hebrews 6, don’t we, that when a person has had full exposure to the truth and rejected it, then “it’s impossible to renew them again to repentance” (Hebrews 6:6). These people are not coming back.
7. False teachers have the wrong motive
Then the last quality of a false teacher, and in fact the one that is most central to this whole passage, is that Satan’s messengers have the wrong motive. Verse 5 says, they ”suppose that godliness is a means of gain.” This is the driving force behind false teachers. They are in it for the money. It has always been this way.
Two thousand years ago, it was Simon Magus who tried to buy spiritual powers from the apostles so he could keep his magic show on the road. It’s from him that we get the term “simony”, which refers to the purchase and sale of the ecclesiastical office.
Then throughout the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church sold indulgences to the most desperate of people. These poor people thought they were buying shorter sentences in purgatory for themselves and for dead loved ones. But all it was, was a way to raise the income of the church. Whether it’s the single operator in a small town or the hugest of worldwide religious movements, these false teachers are in it for one reason–personal gain, money.
Oh, and by the way–Paul’s use of the word “godliness” is said with a sarcastic undertone, because these people are not godly at all. They just try to look godly so they can con their victims. And they are oh so good at it–the false piety, the majestic buildings, the beautiful clothes, the cover-ups, the fancy illusion of success and growth, the 501(c)(3) charitable status. It is all there to hide what it really is–a business for profit. The personal profit of those in charge.
So that’s it. These are the seven qualities of a spiritual wolf. Wolves who think that their fake “godliness is a means of gain.” Now Paul, having introduced the idea of godliness and gain in verse 5, now takes that phrase and repeats it. But this time he’s going to show that contented godliness really is a means of great gain. This is the hinge point of the passage. So look at this in verse 6. Here I want to show you the six qualities of the contented Christian.
B. The Six Qualities of Contented Christians
The first characteristic of a genuine believer is that they know their WAY
1. Contented Christians know their way
Verse 6 says, “But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.” The way to great gain (heavenly gain, eternal gain) is contented godliness. If you really want the greatest gain, be truly godly–and that means forgetting about material gain. That’s what it comes down to–God has already determined how you will live your life. He’s already decided whether you will be rich or poor, or somewhere in the middle. The question is whether you’re willing to accept that or not.
Paul said in Philippians 4:11, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need” (Philippians 4:11–12).
“Contentment” means you’re satisfied with God’s provision, whatever that may be. It means you know God is in control and you are willing to trust Him enough to submit to His plan. There are plenty of examples of people who did not live this way and they regretted it. John D. Rockefeller said, “I have made many millions, but they’ve brought me no happiness.”
Cornelius Vanderbilt added, “The care of millions is too great a load . . . there is no pleasure in it.” Millionaire John Jacob Astor described himself as “the most miserable man on earth.” And despite his wealth, Henry Ford once remarked, “I was happier doing mechanic’s work.”
Let’s be honest–who of us hasn’t dreamed about what we could do if we won the lottery? I’m picking that a good number of us have wondered how life might be if we were instantaneously rich. But let’s face facts–at the core of this dream is the reality that we’re just not personally content with what we’ve got.
We really do need to live differently than that. Now unbelievers only have this world to live for–but we live for more than that. And we know that true gain is found in Christ. It’s discovered via godliness–and we know that we have to trust God. That is the key to godliness. So the first thing we learn is that contented Christians know their way to great gain, and that way is via godliness.
Now second and third–and I’m going to put these together . . .
2. Contented Christians know their beginning, and
3. Contented Christians know their mortal end
Verse 7 says, “For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either.” Job said, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return” (Job 1:21). Some nosey person at a funeral asked the minister, “How much did the rich lady leave behind?” The minister answered, “All of it, she left all of it behind.”
Why do we get so entangled with possessions? It’s a pretty shortsighted person who wants to collect stuff that’s only going to burn. Look at this line on the screen–pretend this is God’s eternal timeline. Just imagine that this line goes for eternity that way and eternity that way. This line has no end in both directions. God has always existed for eternity past and God will exist for eternity future.
Right here in the middle of that never-ending timeline is a small dot–it’s so small you can’t even see it. And that small dot is your life. It could be a day, it could be 20 years, it could be 100 years. No matter how long your life may be, it’s still a small dot compared to eternity, and it’s over so quickly.
In the space that dot occupies, we live our life on earth, focusing on all kinds of things that won’t last, can’t last, were never designed to last—things we can never take with us. Why do we do that? It’s because we’re not content. Contented Christians know their naked beginning and they know their naked, mortal end.
4. Contented Christians know their necessities
In verse 8, Paul says, “If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.” All we need are the necessities of life. True godliness is happy with that. Listen, if the Lord has provided you with extra, if He has determined that you would have an abundance–that’s great. Enjoy it! Use it for His glory. Don’t feel bad about that.
First Samuel 2:7 says, “The Lord makes poor and rich.” The wealth of any individual is God’s choice. Deuteronomy 8:18 says that it’s the Lord your God who gives “power to make wealth.” So God is in control of the distribution of money, and if He has seen fit to give you more than others, don’t feel guilty about it–that’s God’s good choice. Use it for His glory.
But when it comes to contentedness, whether you’re rich or poor, understand this–we really do need very little. Just the basics–food, clothing, and shelter are the necessities. And you know what? The Lord Himself promised He would provide all of those things.
In Matthew 6 Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount and this is what He said. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven … 21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19–21).
“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? … 30 You of little faith! 31 Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ … 33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:25–33).
If we focus on God’s kingdom and if we pursue His righteousness, if we go after personal godliness, if we go hard after obedience–then God will provide everything we need for this lifetime. Everything! That’s His personal promise. He’s gonna keep that promise. It makes no sense then to be discontent, because God has our necessities under control.
5. Contented Christians know their danger
Verse 9 says, “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.” The key word here is “want”. Underline it! Those who “want” to get rich are headed for danger–great danger. The “want” for more leads to temptations, snares, foolish and harmful desires. Simply stated, the “want” for money leads to other sin–think about it.
The businessman whose only drive is to make more money will end up neglecting his family, his wife, and his God. The dreamer who gambles to make a fortune will lose his job, his family, his friends, and his testimony. The housewife who dreams about new furniture and new decorations will neglect to give to ministry or give to people in need because she so focused on herself.
The student who steals will lose his friends and will ruin the beginning of what could have been a successful education and career. The covetous person who is so envious of what others have will become bitter and miserable and will not be able to praise God with authenticity. The pastor who thinks he’s worth more than what the church pays him will become useless to God and will not be able to model the godly contentedness that the church needs to see.
In each of these cases, it’s the “want” for more that leads to all these sins. These people are now in danger of ruin and destruction because the snowball of sin gets rolling and you can’t stop it.
There was a rich man who committed suicide. In his pocket, they found $30,000 and a letter. The letter said, “I have discovered during my life that piles of money do not bring happiness. I am taking my life because I can no longer stand the solitude and boredom. When I was an ordinary workman in New York, I was happy. Now that I possess millions, I am infinitely sad and prefer death.” That man had lived his life with a “want” for more, and it drowned him. And we’re not even talking about what comes after death, which is eternally worse than the ruin that can happen in this lifetime.
6. Contented Christians know their temptation
Look at verse 10, “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 griefs.” Pink Floyd was wrong when they wrote, “Money”. Money is not the root of all evil today. The “love of money” is “a” root of “all sorts of evil.”
Being rich is not the issue–wanting to get rich is. Money is not the problem–the love of money is. Being around money is not the issue–longing for more of it is. Demas forsook Paul because he loved the world (2 Timothy 4:10). Judas sold Christ for thirty pieces of silver. They wandered away from the faith. That’s what loving money does to a person–it leads some to even deny the faith.
A few years back, Chris Daughtry placed 4th in the American Idol competition. After that, he got a record deal and became one of the more successful Idol contestants ever. In the days that followed, he wrote a song called “Home” and he wrote these words, “Be careful what you wish for ‘cause you might just get it all.” It was a warning to his fans because he had gained all he wished for, and learned the hard way that it wasn’t as good as he thought it would be.
We need to learn that lesson without having to go through the hard life experience. We need to learn it, because God has told us that’s the case. We need to learn it by faith. Maybe you work in degrees of want. Maybe you justify your desires for more by explaining, “Well, I don’t want millions. I’m not that selfish. I’d just like to pay off my mortgage. If I could just do that, I’d be happy.”
Or, “I’d just like to know for sure that my kids can go to college.” Or, “All I need is that first car, then I’d be fine.” Or, “All I need to be happy are those jeans, or those shoes, or that jacket. Once I get them, then I’ll be satisfied.” And you tell yourself that your amount of money-love is at an acceptable level. You know, “I’m not as bad as that person!”
But the problem with that kind of thinking is that those normal life experiences (the mortgage, the car, the college, the clothing)–they become evil desires when they’re all-consuming. If these goals are all you ever think about, if you stay awake at night trying to figure out how you can get these things–then yes, you have discovered that you are not content.
Not only is that a miserable way to live, but it also shows that you don’t trust God. It shows that you won’t wait for His timing and His plan and His design. Please, please don’t go down that road–that road will kill your godliness. It will kill your sanctification. And it may even lead you to destruction. Please don’t go there.
The point here is not that a Christian must avoid riches. He must avoid the love of them. The goal is not to die poor. The goal is to live contentedly. It’s so tempting to love money. But remember Jesus words, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24).
Who are you going to serve? It’s either one or the other. You can’t have your feet in both camps. You got to decide. False teachers have chosen to love money. But we need to be different than that. We need to be different. May God help us in this. Let’s pray.