1 Timothy 6: 6-19
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.
But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches but rather on God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.
“Take hold of the life that really is life.” I want some of that. It is just two words in Greek, (ὀντως ζωης,) and yet it tells us so much about what we are chasing after in this race of life. God has offered us all of the abundance of Heaven here on Earth, in the communion of the Church and the life of our Christian call. What does it cost? It is a gift freely given for all those who have faith in Christ. What does that free gift call us to give up? Everything.
Strange as it seems, there is a central contradiction of the Christian calling. We are freely given the status of Children of God, but that reality means that we cannot keep going on in life like nothing has changed. Once we taste the spiritual food of Holy Communion and feel the life-giving coolness of Baptismal waters, we cannot act as though the grace each of those things give us simply sit stagnant in our hearts. The outpouring of God’s love is a ceaseless flood, constantly moving us toward being better than we currently are. This is not vain self-improvement, not books sold to us on the premise that we will be made whole if we only lose another pound or perfect our workflow. This is genuine life, life that bursts out from the real needs and circumstances of this life, but that reflects the glory of another one altogether.
The lesson here is directed specifically to those who have a lot in this life. As I’ve talked about before, it is hard to say how our modern world and its income brackets relate to ancient concepts of money. In a world where most people are near starving, the wealthy were those who had food and housing with any amount left over. The super wealthy in ancient urban centers might have lavish housing, but the day-to-day wealthy people in the rural towns would have just a little land and a bit of money put away. For us today, we can look locally and see that most of us are not as poor as we could be. Many of us are even fairly well off. We have our house and savings and pensions and, while we aren’t about to buy a Mercedes, we have plenty of recreational income.
The global reality is not so rosy. People struggle to live on a handful of cents a day. Large corporations come into communities promising opportunities, but often only destroy local business and create labor monopolies.
A company can offer three cents more than a local manufacturer to the workers and, while not really lifting the plight of these workers any higher, claim that they are giving opportunities that the people would never have normally. Those goods, produced with this cheap labor to get the materials needed to make them and for the production itself, are sold on our store shelves for a fraction of what their actual production cost would be in a just world.
Cheap electronics, make-up filled with mica mined by child slaves, and of course the clothing we wear, are made by people who could never buy them themselves. That is the global cost of our current economic reality. Even locally, we know the exploitation that companies can personally inflict or cause in a community. Why is rent $1,000 a month in Clarksburg? Well, when pipeline companies were paying for their workers to live here, landlords took the chance to make a profit. Even with the workers gone, so few were local workers, the landlords aren’t about to drop their prices. Profit is profit, and wealth demands more of itself.
We have neighbors who are going hungry in the richest nation on earth. More shockingly, people in this room are finding themselves constrained, cutting back in ways they never should have to, to keep their life going. Many months, Grace and I look at all the bills we have paid, even with the generous pay we get from our churches and find that there is next to nothing to put away for savings. The tax man takes his cut, the doctor their own, and so much more to student loans, car payments, and, of course, food and medicine.
The difficult work that we are called to as people of God, is not to lose ourselves in worries about money. Jesus puts it a different way than the writer of Timothy does, saying that the birds of the air and the flowers of the field do not store up food or weave clothing, and yet God sees them cared for. Rather than a flat denial of hardship in life, the ethic of trust that Jesus is asking us to take part in should connect us with the deeper truth of God’s provision in our life. When we trust that God will care for us, then we are unafraid to give to those in need, even if our own wallet seems light. We will not think that we need to take every chance to make money, or save money, even if the way we go about doing it is sketchy.
Remember last week? We looked at the dishonest manager and how Jesus seems to be asking us to think about the injustice of how money works. The best way to make money is to cheat people, and those who cheat people will take advantage of the most trusting people they can find. Alternatively, the desperate are a good mark for those seeking personal gain. Think back to the reality of the world around us. Companies profit on the global poor, and we in buying those products made in those processes contribute to the evil of the world. Our love of cheap products, the love of excess profit on the part of companies, and the needs of the poor, all lead to the central proof of our text.
The love of money, is the root of all kinds of evil. That is not to say that by loving money, we may plot to commit evil, though that is sometimes true. Instead, 1 Timothy speaks to a much harder truth. All kinds of evil, (some translate the Greek to “all evil,” and aren’t wrong to do so,) come from the love of money. Wars, exploitation, rapid price gouging in the midst of pandemics and recessions, all of these are examples of people putting the almighty dollar before the truly almighty God of the Universe.
We can fight back against this great beast, against Mammon in all its most insidious forms. We can buy products we know are properly sources – that means finding foreign made products that pay their workers a fair wage. We can check our coffee for that little fair-trade logo that tells us the growers are getting their due. We can buy local and support those around us trying to build up the lives of our neighbors. We do not have to contribute, at least not fully, to the nightmare of industry that has gripped the earth in its claws.
Beyond that, we cannot be so worried about making ends meet. Sometimes, we struggle. There is only so much money that comes in, and seemingly endless reasons for it to go out from us. However, a little budgeting goes a long way. When we take time to count the costs, we can streamline our lives and find there’s a bit more room than we might have thought before. For some of us, that still is not going to leave much, but it might make us feel confident enough to give five dollars to someone who needs it that we might have otherwise walked right by.
We live out of fear of scarcity, but we live in a world of abundance. I am not going to tell you that if you have enough faith that God will give you plenty of money to get whatever you want. Plenty of people the world over have more faith than any of us here, but still stuffer in poverty.
No, faith does not equal money, because the love of money only leads us to further sin. Instead, faith allows us to trust that the ends will meet, and that people can help us if we fall short. That only happens, though, if those with the means to give are willing to give. Not just to the church, but to people in need. Sometimes we might use an agency like Open Heart to mediate that giving, but we create a world free of scarcity when we live a life of generosity and love.
So let us abandon our love of money, and pursue our first love, our God and our creator. The life that is really life is open to us, but only if we can divorce ourselves from wealth. – Amen.