GOD’S CHURCH, GOD’S WAY, 9

Money, Chapter 6:1—10

This final chapter of Paul’s first letter to Timothy includes some general advice wholly applicable to the church of the 21st century, despite the fact that first two verses deal with a subject long-ago extinct:  slaves and their masters.

As always, the challenge for serious students of the Bible is to find reasonable applications of every passage of Scripture, even if it seems there are none.  The fact is, the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write these words to Timothy and that same Holy Spirit preserved them for all time so that Christians of every age might learn some divine truth.

1.  A higher standard of conduct, verses 1, 2

All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered.  Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves.

Slavery was a fact of life in the first century; it was one of the greatest curses of the ancient world.  It has been said that the Roman Empire rested on the backs of slaves and that almost half of the population of Rome during Paul’s day was made up of slaves.   Although the KJV and some other versions translate doulois as “servants,” modern translations are correct when they use the more accurate English word, “slaves.”   Not all of these slaves were “grunt laborers” of the lowest social strata.  In fact, many Roman slaves were businessmen and cultured individuals.  A Roman slave “under the yoke” could have been a family physician, a barber, a teacher or a butler.

Sadly, under Roman law masters did not have to treat their slaves humanly, although it was not unusual for many slaves to have a very good lifestyle.  When the Christian Church invaded the first-century world, it was only a matter of time before the issue of slaves and masters would pose many problems.  Among the many new converts to Christians were slaves who, on the one hand were literally and physically “bound” to another human being, and at the same time set free in Christ.  Naturally in the course of time, many masters became Christians as well,  putting the early Church in the uncomfortable position of having to explain how masters and slaves, one in Christ yet separated by economic and social status, should co-exist in peace and mutual love and respect!

Verse 1 serves as an excellent summary of a Godly standard of conduct spelled out in greater detail in Paul’s other letters.  Some Bible scholars have gone so far as to suggest that when Paul wrote these two verses he had in mind not only church members who were slaves, but also elders who were slaves.  This interpretation is in keeping with the overall context of the letter.

The main thrust of Paul’s reasoning is that the conduct of believers should bring glory to God and the Church and not disdain and reproach on the Name of God or the Gospel.

Not all slaves had believing masters, but those who did should not think less of them because there were believers, but they should serve them even better because they were brothers in Christ.  The Christian slave was to consider his Christian master as “dear,” or “beloved,” which is another way to translate the Greek agapetoi.

Paul knew human nature, and he knew the temptation for a Christian slave to take advantage of his Christian master would be strong.   Both parties would need to exercise an amazing degree of restraint and forbearance if their relationship was to work and glorify God.   No matter how unfair it may have seemed, it was God’s will that master and slave get along and glorify God in their relationship.

2.  False teachers and the love of money, verses 3—5

These are the things you are to teach and insist on.  If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching,  they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions  and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.

While many translations, even the NIV, have considered the first sentence of this new paragraph as the last sentence of verse 2, the TNIV has assumed that Paul has moved on to his concluding thoughts and he used this sentence as a way to introduce these concluding thoughts.   I think this is probably correct.  “These are the things you are to teach and insist on” is far too strong a statement to refer to his teaching on the master/slave relationship.  Surely given what Paul is about say in verses 3 to 5, the strength of the sentence refers to the overall teaching of this letter; the responsibilities and duties of church leaders, especially in the face of false teaching to the contrary.

Paul had addressed false teachers and their teachings in chapter 1, and he returns to this subject, one he knew all too well.  If there was one thing Paul had a lifetime of experience in, it was confronting snake-oil salesmen disguised as preachers who were nothing more than hairsplitters who went about causing trouble in churches.  Verses 3 and 4 are a bitter and crushing indictment of those disreputable men who deviate from the standard, accepted orthodox Christian doctrine.  Paul’s opinion of men who take the good, God-inspired words of the Gospel, twist them and pervert them to serve their own selfish ends is picturesque, and translated in different ways:

  • Knowing nothing (KJV);
  • Conceited idiots (JBP);
  • A pompous ignoramus (NEB);
  • A swollen-headed person (J.N.D. Kelly).

People like that, when they are allowed to thrive in the Church, peddling their sick teachings, gain a following, rip away at the fabric of the Body of Christ, destroying fellowship, grieving the Holy Spirit, ultimately hindering  the effectiveness of the true expression of the Word of God.

Although this false teacher understands nothing, he is obsessed with “controversies and arguments.”  The Greek word Paul used is noson, and describes a “mentally sick person having a morbid craving.”   What characterizes false teachers?  Paul couldn’t be clearer.  Any person who has an undue obsession with sinful things, and who tries to persuade others to be just as interested in them by using clever and wordy arguments is one whom Paul would classify as a mentally sick false teacher.   One scholar describes they typical false teacher in these terms—

The heretic spoken of is a theorist merely; he wastes time in academic disputes; he does not take into account things as they actually are.

It doesn’t take a genius to know that a morbid craving for sinful and controversial things is not the sign of good mental health!  These verses are as close to invective as Paul ever comes in his writing.

The results of allowing false teachers to gain a foothold in local church are boiled down to five salient points:

  • Envy and quarreling.  These two are also seen in Romans 1:29 and Galatians 5:21.
  • Malicious talk.  The Greek is the plural blasphemiai. This is actually an all-purpose word; when used against God it means “blasphemy,” but when used against another person it means “abusive” or “hurtful talk.”
  • Evil suspicions.  Included in the definition would be things like slander and “evil conjectures” or “false suspicions.”  A false teacher, because they are mentally sick, assumes other people are as sick as they are, and so they treat others with arrogance and conceit.
  • Constant friction.  False teachers are as annoying to people of good faith as sand paper rubbed against the skin.  They constantly find ways to use their words to wound others who disagree with them.

The fact is these men have been deluded into thinking that godliness—or appearing to be godly—is a clever way to get rich.

Of these men, Paul has nothing good to say.  Jude described them this way—

These people are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead.  They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.   (Jude 12, 13)

3.  The correct perspective for the young preacher, verses 6—10

But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.  Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.   For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

The fact that false teachers were traveling from church-to-church proclaiming their lies as truth and being well-paid for their efforts, prompted Paul to write a verse of timeless wisdom:  “We brought nothing into the world, and we take nothing out of it.”  Even though we most often hear this recited at funerals, it has more to do with how a godly person lives his life than how he dies.  The truly godly person is not interested in becoming rich.  Note that Paul does not discourage desiring the necessities of life (“food and clothing”).  When anybody indicates they “don’t care about money,” obviously they must be lying, unless they are naked, starving, and homeless!  Of course we need to “care about money” because in our society we exchange our money for clothing and food and other necessities of life.  What Paul is stressing is that no godly person should ever “obsess” over possessing more and more money.  To desire worldly wealth is to deny the true wealth a believer already possesses!

A life of true devotion to God is always marked by “contentment.”  That word has, in recent years, come to mean “settling for” something less than what you really wanted.  However, in the Greek, autarkeia means “a perfect condition in life in which nothing else is needed.”  If you are a genuinely godly person, completely sold out to and living for God that will be your attitude (contentment) regardless of whether or not your friends or co-workers have more than you have.  A truly devoted Christian has God, and they recognize that if they possess Him, they have all they need.  Such a person has discovered that satisfaction in life comes from living for Christ.  The Christian faith pays awesome dividends to those who embrace it fully and humbly.

People who “determine” to become rich fall into all kinds of sin.  Paul is not talking about ambition, which is a good thing, nor is he teaching Timothy that it is better to be poor than rich.  Only a mentally incompetent person could believe that!  Of course it is better to rich than poor!  However, obsessing over how to acquire more and more money is a sin which leads to even greater sins.  Filling your days and nights scheming to get more money distracts you from what you should be doing:  praying and trusting God!  The only obsession a Christian should have is the healthy obsession of knowing Christ more.

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10, 11)

Obsessing over the acquisition of money is equated to “the love of money” by Paul.  Money itself is not evil, but the “love of money” is something that leads to greater and greater evil.  Notice carefully that “the love of money” is not THE root of all evil, merely one root among many others.  How diligent must the Christian be to avoid tripping over all roots that lead to evil!

Perhaps you have had the experience shared by so many Christians; the experience of wanting more and more money for supposedly worthwhile purposes.  When we focus our energy on the money, we never get enough of it; the amount we thought we needed is never enough.  We get angry, we get depressed, and sometimes our faith wavers.  This is what Paul is cautioning Timothy against. The young pastor surely saw the successes of the false teachers and who wouldn’t be tempted to wonder what they’re doing right?  Paul’s warning to Timothy should serve as a warning to all Christians, everywhere, to keep their eyes on God and off of other people.  Christians ought to have a single-minded devotion to God, for when we focus on Him, all our needs will be gloriously and abundantly met.

For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.  (Matthew 6:32—34)

(c)  2010 WitzEnd


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