1 Timothy 6:6-12
Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
Do we expect to be paid for having good faith? I’ll repeat, do we expect to make money from being faithful? Ok, so we don’t expect money. Notoriety then. A good reputation? What is that we want? We must be doing this for some reason. There has to profit to being Christian… Or is there? Is there really any benefit to the faith? What can we gain.
For many today and in the earliest Churches, the Gospel was the perfect way to gain. You could handle money, like Judas did, skim off the top and no one will need to know. Insist that you are someone who has a unique message, one that the people will perish without. All it will cost them is a few small payments of good, “Seed Money.” Or maybe you are simpler, and you want the power of being a leader in the community. Someone that everyone might look up to, a king among paupers defined by your faith.
The earlier Church was not unaware of these problems. False prophets were not in the business just to make people believe lies – the were in the business to make money, to be famous, to be the pastor everyone knew and respected. To counter this, some mindful disciples wrote rules about how to handle the ministers who traveled through towns. Let’s look at a few: “Whosoever then comes [and teaches the truth], receive him. But if the teacher himself be perverted and teach another doctrine to destroy these things, do not listen to him.” That one is easy, that makes sense.
“Concerning the Apostles and Prophets, act thus according to the ordinance of the Gospel. Let every Apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord, but let him not stay more than one day, or if need be a second as well; but if he stay three days, he is a false prophet.” So it is more than teachings that defines a false prophet, it is also how long they linger to eat up what they are offered. Let’s see if there is anything else, “has his judgment with God, for so also did the prophets of old. But whosoever shall say in a spirit ‘Give me money, or something else,’ you shall not listen to him; but if he tell you to give on behalf of others in want, let none judge him.” Huh… Again, it seems like being a false prophet has a lot to do with what we expect out of our work for God, not just what we preach or teach.
It is easier to see the qualities of a false prophet in a minister. Those of us who stand and preach are not the most subtle people. When we start asking for money, when we start moving the narrative to suddenly give ourselves all power and authority, we can hope that those sort of things are obvious to us. Though some especially deceptive ministers can lead congregations to give them more than they ever deserve in terms of money and authority, most are removed from the equation before then. Either the systems that give them their ordination catch on or the congregations they’ve hurt take a stand against them. Not always of course, but hopefully often.
The problem is never just in leadership though. The clerical abuses are usually the most evident and they impact the most people. Those with authority carry more responsibility and therefore abuse of their authority affects more people. Still, the allure of power is present to all members of the faith. WE want to have more control than we did before, and if our faith gives us that power we are prepared to sacrifice the authenticity of our belief to gain it.
It seems strange to put it that way. That our faith gives us power. But it does. Not just spiritual power, but societal power. Though we sometimes pretend otherwise, the church maintains a great deal of influence in the world. A majority of the United States remains enrolled in Church membership, and a majority of that majority attend services at least once a month. To be a member of the church is to have connections, it is to have a place of authority to speak from, it is a way to instantly have rapport with people.
The promises of God seem to some people to be a way to grow in importance. The opportunity to speak truth, to work wonders, to pray authoritatively. These all can become a distraction from our actual mission and life in the church. This is why Jesus, in giving his church authority over the continued mission of the church told them, “Do not rejoice that the spirits are under your authority, but that you are saved.” The membership in the body of Christ, our place in the world to come, these are the things that we are to take joy in – not the power we gain because of these things.
The sacrificial nature of the Christian life is rooted in giving up our power. It is rooted in us not taking advantage of the things that God has given us. This means that we do not take from those in need, it means we do not horde our wealth, it means we should consider others more significant than ourselves. The church is not to be a place where the power plays of the world are played out. We must work to stand separate from it all – we cannot give in and worry about who is an alpha or beta in a social interaction, over who is superior for one reason or another, but honestly seek to live in peace with one another.
The advantage of faith is not to be found in our authority. It is not to be found in us gaining advantage. We are, after all, to give that up. What then do we gain from being in the church? Eternal life of course. The benefit of God’s presence in the world to come, but does that benefit only exist in the hereafter? Or is there something for us now?
The truth is that when God breaks into our lives and we decide to pursue a life based on sacrificial love rather than worldly power plays then the life eternal immediately begins. We are not waiting for heaven to experience our salvation, we are living it out now, and we need only to pursue it to enjoy it. If we are willing, if we listen, if we look to the kingdom and not toward our own elevation.
The problem with the church generally is that those of us who benefit from the power that Christianity gives us are far too willing to sit and enjoy the rights and privileges granted to us and not willing to extend them to anyone else. It is so often the poor or the marginalized who we ask to live sacrificially. “Do not worry about money. Be happy with what you have. Yes you are not being treated fairly, but simply keep the faith and at least you can be happy in that.” While we can never say it is bad to be optimistic about a situation, telling people who suffer that their real problem is their outlook is a hollow gesture.
Christ asks us to take our abundance and count that as loss. To give to those in need and to take the lower seat whenever possible. If we are able to do this, to remove our desire for money and power, then our life becomes something greater than it was before. The money that would have led us to commit evil no longer controls us, we are free to do good. We are no longer concerned with where people come from, what they look like, what they can give us socially – therefore we gain new friendships, the family of the faith grows.
When we are committed to God, not because it makes us important or gives us worldly power we come into our full inheritance. We behold God and love God for who God is. We love one another because God first loved us. The tapestry of creation becomes a story we can understand because we know that different as we all may be, the image of God is sculpted deep within each and everyone of us.
Then, and only then can we be truly content. Not so that we never desire justice for ourselves, not so that we are satisfied with a broken world. But that we can be self-sufficient in the love of God. That desiring nothing but God’s will, riches mean nothing to us, we want only what is right, and with little or much we know always what is ours and what is Gods. Let us commit ourselves to love of God, and not love of money, of power, of advantage. – Amen