Sermon from 1 Timothy 6:6-19 on 9.29.13
It is a joy to be here to worship with you on our first Sunday together, and I want you to know how well you have welcomed me into this community of faith at Kuhn, into the manse, and here in Barboursville. As I ease into the idea of calling this place my home, you all have done your part, very graciously and selflessly, to help me feel at home. Slowly but surely, this place will be home and I ask for your prayers and your support as I continue in my first weeks and months here as your pastor. You all have an insert in your bulletin this week that has at the top of it “Fatten The Pastor”. I’d love to introduce myself to you and get to know each of you well, and there’s really no better way to do that, I think, than to prepare a meal and then to break bread together around a table. And I know that Presbyterians know how to feed each other well.
But it is not only food that nourishes us, but being together in community, that teaches us the richness of what it is to be church and disciples of Jesus Christ together. I pray that as we start this journey together, we will share life with one another and walk forward into the future that God has for us and to participate in each others lives. It is through community that we come to know what it is to live our Christian faith, and it is through relationship that we are fed in our faith.
That’s not far from what the writer of this first letter to Timothy has to say. Timothy seems to be a new Christian and the writer of this letter to Timothy is charging him throughout 1 Timothy to be a leader among the early Christians in Thessalonica. And we get a chance to overhear a bit of advice and teaching that this writer gives to this young Christian. Out of all the things an elder in the Christian faith might tell a young Christian, what do you say first?
There’s so much stuff to share about what life lived as a disciple of Jesus should look like and the letters to Timothy, the 3 of them, paint a great picture for us. First Timothy is only 6 chapters long—it’s a quick read, and I urge you to go home and take a look at the advice this writer gives to Timothy. The advice here in chapter 6 is quite practical. It’s about money and how to regard it—what role does it—or rather should it—play in our lives. What satisfies us? What makes us content? How are we nourished? Where does our livelihood really come from? Good questions. Big questions. It’s no secret that our culture has an insatiable hunger for more. We all know that. Bigger. Better. Faster. More. We are told by all the evening’s commercials and by all our magazines—by capitalism itself even—that life is better when it includes more stuff.
There are a lot of voices contending for our money and they all promise us that handing over some of it for whatever they’re selling will give us contentment. Not some contentment, but maybe eventually ultimate happiness—if we only spend the right amount of money. This passage challenges that notion. Even in first century Thessalonica, we have believers who are asking questions about how to think about money—how to regard money—as a follower of Jesus.
So often we talk about things like money in absolute terms. There’s one way to think about money over here on the far end where having more of it is the answer to all of our problems, and then there’s this other thought all the way at the other end that says if we deny riches and embrace a certain kind of poverty then in that self-denial we will be able to find God’s presence and meaning for our lives.
As is often the case, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. According to this passage, neither of those extremes are helpful. This passage has a surprising sense of moderation and fairness to it that we seldom hear from the loudest voices in our culture. 1 Timothy 6 says that we can neither fully embrace riches as our salvation nor can we see wealth as an evil to be shunned or avoided. Neither of those perspectives do us any good. Money is not an evil in itself, this author says.
If you listened closely you could hear that the popular phrase “money is the root of all evil” comes from 1 Timothy, but it is a misquote from this passage. Money is not the root of all evil, this author says; rather it’s the love of money that is a root of all kinds of evil. Do you hear that difference? It’s not money, but our love of money that gets us into trouble. We’re talking here about what we love. We’re talking here about where our hearts are, where our trust is.
There’s an old joke about how we’re born without pockets and how you never see a hearse towing a U-Haul These words to Timothy put it this way…
we brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out of it.
Jesus spoke about gathering up treasures in heaven instead of treasures here on earth where everything we own gathers rust and eventually fades away. This passage speaks about not worrying about these things but to put our ultimate trust in God—to pursue Godly things first and to give everything else in our lives less priority. And outside of our basic needs for food and clothing, what we can and cannot afford, what we have or do not have is not at all important if what we’re looking for is real nourishment—a nourishing life that really feeds us with the things of God. It is righteousness and godliness and faith, love, endurance and gentleness that sustain us. It’s these things that we should chase after. It’s these things that give us enough, that offer us real satisfaction. It’s these things that offer us life that really is life.
I love that: “Life that really is life.” If you could scrape away all that gets in the way of having life that really is life, then what would you have after all that scraping?
It’s easy to get ourselves entangled in other things, things that distract us and draw us away from God—the source of life, the source of all that nourishes, and the source of all that is living-giving.
Shane Claiborne is a name I might mention again in a sermon, and I wonder if you’ve ever heard of him. Shane is a Christian who, when he was in college, made visits to Calcutta to work with Mother Teresa. Shane is a peacemaker, and his journeys have taken him to some of the most troubled regions of the world – from Rwanda to the West Bank – and he’s been on peace delegations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Shane has chosen to live and work in one of the most troubled communities in Philadelphia where he and his wife has established an intentional community called The Simple Way. When Shane was younger and trying to figure out what to do with his life, he found that he wasn’t content chasing after the same things that all of his friends in college were chasing after—high paying careers and the right majors to major in. He saw past the promises and the enticement of money, and he began asking serious questions about how he might be better nourished, fed by his love of justice and righteousness since he realized that chasing after the uncertainty of riches was not going to nourish his soul.
Shane has a lot of things to say about richness and poverty as you can imagine. But as he was recalling his story of what drew him to the work he does, he said,
As I pursued that dream of upward mobility preparing for college, things just didn’t fit together. As I read Scriptures about how the last will be first, I started wondering why I was working so hard to be first.
We will never be content if we never think we have enough. And it is impossible to live a nourished life if we think piles and piles of money and stuff can make us happy. This isn’t new news, is it? But here’s the twist. There’s no mention in this passage about how the rich among us should forsake their riches and become poor. The author tells Timothy to tell the rich that there’s nothing wrong with being rich—but to realize that it’s not the money that provides them with enjoyment, it’s not the money that gives them nourishment of satisfies their souls. It is only God who does that.
The rich are indeed an important part—a welcome part—of the Christian community in Thessalonica. But the author of this letter says that it is dangerous if we love having money more than we love everything else—if we become entangled in riches, if we trust in money more than we trust in our God. If what is in our bank account nourishes us more than what is in our souls.
Our first treasures should be in the things of God. Our first treasures should not reside in a hefty paycheck or a padded retirement account. Our first treasures should reside in our trust of God and the things of God—justice and righteousness and godliness.
When money is our first treasure we easy become trapped by the temptation to have more of it and our desire to accumulate more and more becomes senseless and harmful and, as this author says, it leads us into ruin and destruction.
This author knows that it isn’t the blessing of having money that gives is life but it is the promises of our God—who richly provides for us—that our true vitality, our true treasure, and our only salvation comes. And if we pledge our allegiance to, if we have our trust in anything else other than in our God, then we are putting our hope in lesser things.
This letter to Timothy was written somewhere in Palestine in the 1st Century. So we should realize that by biblical measures, we are all rich. We should admit that. Here is 21st Century America, we use lots more resources to live our lives, however humbly we think we may be, than anyone in the 1st century. Because of that, it’s even easier for us to become entangled by the desire to be wealthy. To have more than we need, yes, but also to confuse our paychecks with our real source of nourishment. And disentangling our hearts and our lives from all those messages we receive about how more of everything makes us happy is harder these than it ever has been.
But let’s retrain our vision to the promises and the riches of eternal life promised in Jesus Christ.
Our God is the source of all things and through God’s gift of Jesus Christ we find nourished life. We are upheld not by anything external, but we are given full and fulfilled lives through the richness we find in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. And it is in the love of Christ that our only treasure, our fullest pursuit of life, and our deepest trust should lie. Our ultimate trust, our ultimate hope, and the only sustaining and life-giving promise there is comes from faith in the Eternal One.
Let us take hold of this life—this nourishing life. Let us pledge our allegiance to this King of kings and Lord of lords, and put all lesser things in his hands. Then, then we can take hold of life that really is life.
All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful. Who is our nourishment and our greatest treasure.