The Currency of Christian Hedonism
Money is the currency of Christian Hedonism. What you do with it-or desire to do with it-can make or break your happiness forever. The Bible makes clear that what you feel about money can destroy you:
Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. (l Timothy6:9)
Or what you do with your money can secure the foundation of eternal life:
They are to be liberal and generous, thus laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed. (l Timothy6:18,19)
These verses teach us to use our money in a way that will bring us the greatest and longest gain. That is, they advocate Christian Hedonism. They confirm that it is not only permitted but commanded by God that we flee from destruction and pursue our full and lasting pleasure. They imply that all the evils in the world come not because our desires for happiness are too strong, but because they are so weak that we settle for fleeting pleasures that do not satisfy our deepest souls, but in the end destroy them. The root of all evil is that we are the kind of people who settle for the love of money instead of the love of God ( 1 Timothy 6:10) .
Beware the Desire to Be Rich
This text in 1 Timothy 6 is so crucial that we should meditate on it in more detail. Paul is warning Timothy against
[They are] people who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. Now, there is great gain in godliness with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to bc rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs.
Paul writes to Timothy a word of warning about slick deceivers who discovered they could cash in on the upsurge of godliness in Ephesus. According to verse five, these puffed-up controversialists treat godliness as a means of gain. They are so addicted to the love of money that truth occupies a very subordinate place in their affections. They don't "rejoice in the truth." They rejoice in tax evasion. They are willing to use any new, popular interest to make a few bucks.
Nothing is sacred. If the bottom line is big and black, the advertising strategies are a matter of indifference. If godliness is in, then sell godliness.
This text is very timely. Ours are good days for profits in godliness. The godliness market is hot for booksellers and music makers and dispensers of silver crosses and fish buckles and olivewood letter-openers and bumper stickers and lucky-water crosses with Jesus on the front and miracle water inside guaranteed to make you win at Bingo or your money back in ninety days. These are good days for gain in godliness!
He Didn't Say, "Don't Live for Gain."
In his day or in ours, Paul could have responded to this effort to turn godliness into gain by saying, "Christians don't live for gain. Christians do what's right for its own sake. Christians aren't motivated by profit." But that's not what Paul said. He said (in verse six), "There is great gain in godliness with contentment."
Instead of saying Christians don't live for gain, he says Christians ought to live for greater gain than the slick money lovers do. Godliness is the way to get this great gain, but only if we are content with simplicity rather than greedy for riches. "Godliness with contentment is great gain."
If your godliness has freed you from the desire to be rich and has helped you be content with what you have, then your godliness is tremendously profitable. "For while physical training is a little profitable, godliness is profitable for all things, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come" (1 Timothy 4: 8). Godliness that overcomes the craving for material wealth produces great spiritual wealth. The point of verse six is that it is very profitable not to pursue wealth.
What follows in verses 7-10 are three reasons why we should not pursue riches.
Getting Raises Is Not the Same as Getting Rich
But first let me insert a clarification. We live in a society in which many legitimate businesses depend on large concentrations of capital. You can't build a new manufacturing plant without millions of dollars in equity. Therefore, financial offers in big businesses often have the responsibility to build reserves, for example, by selling shares to the community. When the Bible condemns the desire to get rich, it IS not necessarily condemning a business which aims to expand and therefore seeks larger capital reserves. The of ficers of the business may be greedy for more personal wealth, or they may have larger, nobler motives of how their expanded productivity will benefit people.
Even when a competent person in business is offered a raise or a higher paying job and accepts it, that is not enough to condemn him for the desire to be rich. He may have accepted the job because he craves the power and status and luxuries the money could bring. Or, content with what he has, he may intend to use the extra money for founding an adoption agency or giving a scholarship or sending a missionary or funding an inner-city ministry.
Working to earn money for the cause of Christ is not the same as desiring to be rich. What Paul is warning against is not the desire to earn money to meet our needs and the needs of others; he is warning against the desire to have more and more money and the ego boost and material luxuries it can provide.
There Are No U-Hauls behind Hearses
Let's look at the three reasons Paul gives in verses 7-10 for why we should not aspire to be rich.
(1) In verse seven he says, "For we brought nothing into the world and we cannot take anything out of the world."There are no U-Hauls behind hearses.
Suppose someone passes empty-handed through the turnstiles at a big city art museum and begins to take the pictures off the wall and carry them importantly under his arm. You come up to him and say, "What are you doing?"
He answers, "I'm becoming an art collector."
"But they're not really yours," you say, "and besides, they won't let you take any of those out of here. You'll have to go out just like you came in."
But he answers again, "Sure, they're mine. I've got them under my arm. people in the halls look at me as an important dealer. And I don't bother myself with thoughts about leaving. Don't be a kill-joy."
We would call this man a fool ! He is out of touch with reality. So is the person who spends himself to get rich in this life. We will go out just the way we came in.
Or picture 269 people entering eternity in a plane crash in the Sea of Japan. Before the crash there is a noted politician, a millionaire corporate executive, a playboy and his playmate, a missionary kid on the way back from visiting grandparents.
After the crash they stand before God utterly stripped of Mastercards, checkbooks, credit lines, image clothes, how-to-succeed books, and Hilton reservations. Here are the politician, the executive, the playboy, and the missionary kid, all on level ground with nothing, absolutely nothing in their hands, possessing only what they brought in their hearts. How absurd and tragic the lover of money will seem on that day-like a man who spends his whole life collecting train tickets and in the end is so weighed down by the collection he misses the last train. Don't spend your precious life trying to get rich, Paul says, "for we brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out of the world."
Simplicity Is Possible and Good
(2) Then in verse eight Paul adds the second reason not to pursue wealth: "If we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content." Christians can be and ought to be content with the simple necessities of life.
I'll mention three reasons why such simplicity is possible and good.
First, when you have God near you and for you, you don't need extra money or extra things to give you peace and security.
Keep your life free from the love of money. Be content with what you have. For he has said, "I will never fail you nor forsake you." Hence we can confidently say, "The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid; what can man do to me?" (Hebrews 13:5-6)
No matter which way the market is moving, God is always better than gold. Therefore, by God's help we can be and we should be con tent with the simple necessities of life.
Second, we can be content with simplicity because the deepest, most satisfying delights God gives us through creation are free gifts from nature and from loving relationships with people. After your basic needs are met, accumulated money begins to diminish your capacity for these pleasures rather than increase them. Buying things contributes absolutely nothing to the heart's capacity for joy.
There is a deep difference between the temporary thrill of a new toy and a homecoming hug from a devoted friend. Who do you think has the deepest, most satisfying joy in life, the man who pays $140 for a fortieth-floor suite downtown and spends his evening in the half-lit, smoke-filled lounge impressing strange women with ten-dollar cocktails, or the man who chooses the Motel 6 by a vacant lot of sunflowers and spends his evening watching the sunset and writing a love letter to his wife?
Third, we should be content with the simple necessities of life because we could invest the extra we make for what really counts. For example, the "Annual Statistical Table on Global Mission 2002" by David Barrett and Todd Johnson reports that there are 1,645,685,000 unevangelized people in the world. That means 26.5 percent of the world's population live in people groups that do not have indigenous evangelizing churches. This does not count the third of the world that does live in evangelized peoples but makes no profession of faith. If the unevangelized are to hear- and Christ commands that they hear-then cross cultural missionaries will have to be sent and paid for.
All the wealth needed to send this army of good news ambassadors is already in the church. And yet in 1999, the average Protestant gave 2.6 percent of his income to his church.
According to the website of Mission Frontiers.
1. The total global church member annual income is $12.3 Trillion ($213 billion)
2. Of this, $213 billion (1.73 percent) is given to Christian causes.
3. Of this, $11.4 billion (5.4 percent of the 1.73 percent) goes to Foreign Missions.
4. Of this, 87 percent goes for work among those already Christian; 12 percent goes for work among already evangelized non-Christians, and one percent-$114 million- goes to the unreached.
If we, like Paul, are content with the simple necessities of life, hundreds of millions of dollars in the church would be released to take the gospel to the frontiers. The revolution of joy and freedom it would cause at home would be the best local witness imaginable. The biblical call is that you can and ought to be content with life's simple necessities.
How to Pierce the Heart with Many Pangs
(3) The third reason not to pursue wealth is that the pursuit will end in the destruction of your life. This is the point of verses nine and ten:
Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs.
No Christian Hedonist wants to plunge into ruin and destruction and be pierced with many pangs. Therefore, no Christian Hedonist desires to be rich.
Test yourself. Have you learned your attitude toward money from the Bible, or have you absorbed it from contemporary American merchandising? When you ride an airplane and read the airline magazine, almost every page teaches and pushes a view of wealth exactly opposite from the view in 1 Timothy 6:9 that those desiring to be rich will fall into ruin and destruction. Paul makes vivid the peril of the same desire which the airline magazines exploit and promote.