(May 15, 2023) Dr Jim McClure shares on 1 Timothy 6…
One of our favourite shows TV shows is the old British comedy series, As Time Goes By (1992 – 2005). In various ways it demonstrates how different life was then compared to today.
But can you imagine what life would have been like 2000 years ago – no cars, trains, planes, TVs, mobile phones, computers or credit cards! Basic comforts would have been minimal, food scarce and dining with friends at a local café or restaurant not even a consideration. There were no government welfare schemes, health benefits, or public schools.
In Jesus’ day, houses were generally very small, very basic with dirt floors, and extended families often lived under the same roof. At night oil lamps provided the lighting. Life was very difficult and often very brutal. The poor were frequently exploited and intimidated.
And this was the world into which the early church was born. The first Christians were confronted with the enormous challenge of impacting that world for God. That was what Jesus was saying when He preached, ‘You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden’ (Matthew 5:14). If we are followers of Jesus Christ, truly Christians, there must be some visible evidence in the way we live and in the values we hold. The challenge Jesus gave 2000 years ago continues – to us today in 2023.
Of course, meeting that challenge becomes very personal! It requires us individually to address our own characters and to ask ourselves, ‘What do I need to change in my attitudes and behaviour?’ When we become Christians, we are forgiven but we are not made perfect human beings! In His relationships with others Jesus gave us an example to follow. Sometimes we forget that! Jesus’ ministry and mission was not just about securing for us personal salvation. It was also particularly about changing the world for good and for God. Who we are and the way we live has a significant role to play in that challenge.
Listen carefully to what Paul told the Christians in Rome – ‘Those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son’ (Romans 8:29). I like the JB Phillips translation: ‘God… chose them to bear the family likeness of His Son.’ This presents a personal challenge for us – how well do we bear that ‘family likeness’ as members of Jesus’ family?
How are we going to do that? How can our family relationship with Jesus be seen in us?
Attitude and behaviour
The answer is that it is revealed through our character, attitudes, words and essentially through our behaviour with other people! You see, as well as there being a profound spiritual component in the Christian faith, there is also a profound behavioural component and both go hand in hand.
That is what lay behind the advice that Paul gave to his young friend Timothy who was pastoring the church in Ephesus. He made the point that there are core values in the Christian faith that cannot be compromised and he also affirmed that authentic Christianity is shown in our attitude and behaviour.
1 Timothy was written about 30 years after Jesus’ resurrection and there was a variety of issues in the church that clearly were creating confusion, disharmony and disunity, and in chapter 6:1-10, Paul addressed some.
In verses 1 and 2, the first thing that Paul asserted was that Christian conduct towards others should be respectful. In his day slavery was socially acceptable and slaves were at the bottom of the social ladder! In this letter Paul advised Christian slaves to be respectful towards their owners and Christian owners to be respectful towards their slaves. Paul’s point in these few verses was not about slavery as such. He was saying that regardless of our social position, we must be respectful towards each other!
Social discrimination takes place around us all the time – and regrettably it has always been present in the church. During the great evangelical revival in England in the 18th century, when God used the preaching of John Wesley and George Whitefield to bring many thousands of people into the kingdom of God, many of those who were saved were extremely poor and the clothes they wore were little more than rags.
One of the first things those new converts did was to go to church. But the wealthy people who attended often complained about those lower-class people in their dirty clothes sitting on the clean church pews!
Discrimination still happens in churches today where some people are considered more socially acceptable than others and some people are more popular than others. But the gospel call is to the ‘whoever.’ It does not classify people. There is room in Christ’s heart and in His church for the ‘whoever’ (John 3:16).
God does not discriminate between people and nor should we. But sometimes the way we respond to or relate to others can have a harmful influence.
Five destructive things
In his letter to Timothy, Paul warns about five destructive things that can negatively impact our Christian life and witness.
In verse 3 he wrote about those who ‘teach false doctrines and (do) not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching.’
Have you noticed how truth is under serious threat today? ‘Truth’ is being so redefined that evident lies are now considered to be truth. In George Orwell’s book Nineteen Eighty-Four one of the characters stated that two plus two equals five if ‘the Party’ decrees it to be so. And don’t we see this happening in Western societies today as moral values are being turned upside down? Today Christian values and beliefs are seriously under fire.
Sadly also within the church itself truth has always been under attack. People who believe and teach false things have always been active and their influence has constantly been destructive. Sometimes it’s a preacher who is responsible, sometimes it’s a church member.
In many of his letters Paul specifically addresses some of the false teaching that had penetrated Christian fellowships in his day. Unfortunately it still happens today and some churches continue to be open to false teaching, especially from popular preachers.
How would we recognise false teacher? Let me give you some indications: they are –
Some false teachers disagree with what God’s word plainly and evidently says and often put their own incorrect interpretation on it. They discredit the integrity of God’s word and behave like the snake in Eden who said to Eve, ‘Did God really say?’ Such false teachers diminish God’s word by putting doubts into our mind regarding the authority and truth of the Bible.
Some false teachers distort God’s word and manipulate it and pervert it to make it say what they want it to say. That is what lies behind such cults as the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science and others. They distort and wrongly use God’s word to achieve their own ends. And distortions of God’s word are sometimes even found in churches we consider reputable.
Some false teachers decipher God’s word to make it align with their own theories and this is particularly true regarding many preachers majoring on interpretation of biblical prophecy. Over the years I have heard various preachers dogmatically declaring what they claim to be the correct interpretation of certain biblical prophecies yet they have been wholly wrong.
About eight years ago some popular preachers were declaring that an approaching lunar eclipse, a ‘blood moon’, was mentioned in the Bible and they claimed that this would be the beginning of the End Time apocalypse. That such events would begin as this ‘blood moon’ appearance would end come September 28, 2015.
Before that date some preachers wrote books about the ‘blood moon’ declaring it to be a sure sign of the coming end of the world – and they made huge amounts of money from the sale of those books.
About four or five days before the supposed immanent ‘end of the world’ event, I spoke to a group of Christians and asked if any of them had read those books. Many had. I commented that I did not accept the view that the end of the world would take place then, but said that I would be proven right or wrong in a few days. Well, we are all still here! The interpretation of the so-called prophetic preachers was wrong. The biblical truth had been manipulated to fit into the preachers’ own narratives. We need to be careful when some people give dogmatic interpretations of biblical prophecy.
Some other false teachers, both within and outside the church, dismiss God’s word. They reject it on the basis that the world has significantly changed from when the Bible was originally written thousands of years ago and consequently it is irrelevant today. But there is an authority in God’s word that neither time nor culture can erase.
Yes, there are those who disagree with the Bible, others who distort it, others who decipher it wrongly and others who dismiss it. But this is not a new phenomenon – the message of the Bible has always been attacked before and Paul’s warning of 2000 years ago is just as relevant to us today.
Paul’s point was that there are foundational and clearly evident truths to be found in the Bible. There are basic certainties in the Bible that we can all understand and on which we can all agree. But Christians do not need to be in total agreement on everything. Some parts of the Bible are difficult to understand, even for biblical scholars, and there are some parts of the Bible on which committed Christians and scholars disagree about their meaning… and that is okay. I find that a relief because I have never found anyone who agrees with everything I say!
In verse 4 Paul warned about those who are ‘conceited and understand nothing.’ The Greek word translated as ‘conceited’ means ‘being puffed up like a cloud of smoke.’
Such people are inflated with a sense of their own importance and swollen with conceit. JB Phillips translates verses 3 and 4 this way, ‘If anyone tries to teach some doctrinal novelty which is not compatible with sound teaching (which we base on Christ’s own words and which leads to Christ-like living), then he is a conceited idiot!’
Popular Bible commentator, Warren W. Wiersbe, has accurately observed, ‘A believer who understands the word will have a burning heart, not a big head.’ What a picture that paints and how accurately it describes the egotistical person who is self-centred, self-absorbed, self-important and self-satisfied.
Sadly, over the years I have seen egotism obstruct and even destroy the work and witness of many churches. When individuals in a church think of themselves as more important than others, the end result is not good. Paul also raised this issue in his letter to the Christians in the church in Rome when he stated, ‘I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment’ (Romans 12:3).
In 1 Timothy 6:4 he explained how egotism reveals itself in a church. He described it as having‘… an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions.’
What a list! Egotism does nothing but cause harm in the church.
In 1 Timothy 6:5, Paul wrote about ‘men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.’ What this simply means is that there are preachers and teachers whose principal motivation is money. Their motivation is not to encourage godliness but to increase personal financial gain.
Over the years we have seen them, using their ministries and communication skills as they preach about Christ and commitment and appeal for donations to increase their bank accounts. They exploit godliness for gain.
Something similar was happening in the early church and Paul specifically referred to it here. Over the years religious rogues, many of whom have become TV personalities, have preached an enticing prosperity gospel of personal wealth, health and success. They say that the more you give to God through them, the more God will give to you. Some have been exposed for the frauds that they are. But many are still operating today and using their skills to increase their riches.
Paul told Timothy to be aware of such people and his warning is still relevant for us today!
After warning about the exploitation of godliness, Paul affirmed in contrast, that the source of true enrichment in life is related to godly contentment. He wrote in verse 6, ‘Godliness with contentment is great gain.’
Of the 15 times the word ‘godliness’ occurs in the New Testament, Paul referred to it eight times in this letter. He really wanted his young friend Timothy to grasp how central true godliness is in a person’s life. Godliness is not just for super-Christians. It is for all of us. It does not require our having any special ability or any particular spiritual gift.
But what actually is godliness?
I would define it as having a right attitude towards God and a right relationship with God. True godliness is having God as the priority in our lives. Godliness is not about lacing our speech with religious talk, and it is not about doing religious things. True godliness is not about having our conversations laced with Bible quotations but about living godly. True godliness is about having our lives centred on God in the confidence that He will never leave us or forsake us regardless of our circumstances.
When Paul wrote his letter to the Christians at Philippi who were very concerned about him, he was locked in a prison knowing that there was a real possibility of execution in the near future. Yet, he wrote in Philippians 4:11, ‘I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.’ Paul had been through many kinds of hardships and difficult experiences when he wrote those words. So he knew what he was talking about when he stated to Timothy, ‘Godliness with contentment is great gain.’
Paul’s godliness was grounded on the intimacy of his relationship with God and this gave him a profound sense of contentment and that is what enriched his life. Furthermore, he was aware that authentic godliness was essentially not a human achievement. In 2 Timothy 3:5, Paul warned about people ‘having a form of godliness but denying its power.’
Where, then, is the source of this power that enables authentic ‘godliness’ to operate in and through our lives?
Paul in effect answered that question in Ephesians 3:16, ‘I pray that out of His glorious riches He (God) may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being.’ Just before His ascension Jesus’ promised His disciples, ‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you’ (Acts 1:8). That promise was realised on the Day of Pentecost when the church began its mission.
The Holy Spirit was given to followers of Jesus to enable them not only to ‘do’ but also to ‘be.’
In 1 Timothy 6:6-10, Paul wrote about the enchantment that has captivated every generation – a strong desire for money and possessions! There is a familiar saying that money is the root of all evil. The Bible does not say that. In verse 10 Paul rightly commented that ‘the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.’
There is clearly no merit in poverty and there is nothing evil about being rich. But wealth, or, more especially, a desire to be rich and to live an affluent lifestyle, can so easily become a trap that ensnares many people. It can distort our perspective on life.
Every day we are being bombarded by the persuasive power of advertising. The happy, smiling faces in the advertisements seek to convince us that happiness is found in the possessions that money can buy. We are persistently promised that our lives would be so much more content and we would be so much happier if only we owned a new car, a new house, a new TV, a new bed, a new suit and so on. There is always something that cries out to us, ‘Buy me and I will make you happy.’
Wealth is not the ultimate key to happiness is life. But its appeal can be so enticing that for many good people and many godly people, money and possessions become a trap. They can capture us and distort our perspective on life. Money and material things can become for many people the ultimate goal in life.
About 1000 years before Paul was born the writer of Ecclesiastes discovered how wrong that was and he accurately observed, ‘Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income’ (Ecclesiastes 5:10) .
The tragedy is, as Paul observed in verse 10, ‘Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.’
As Christians we need to realise that our contentment in life can only be found in a committed and developing relationship with God.
For us today, living in a strongly materialistic age, Paul’s advice still stands firm: ‘… flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.’
Paul’s writings in 1 Timothy 6:6-10 are, overall, good advice for 2023!
Dr Jim McClure, author of several books and Bible studies, offers them free in electronic version in EPUB, Kindle and PDF formats.
Looking for Answers in a Confusing World is particularly recommended. Questions seeking enlightenment on biblical perspectives are welcomed. Link: OnlinerConnect@gmail.com
Thanks for another relevant and meaningful meditation, Dr Jim, bringing ‘sound advice’ by applying scripture to our present day situation and also enlightens, encourages and challenges me in my Christian living.