The Tragedy of Desiring Money
A sermon on 1 Timothy 6:6-16 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, Sunday, 4/23/2006
What do you really want? What do you desire greatly? Money? Sex? Career success? Marriage? Children? Or is your main desire to be entertained?
The US Declaration of Independence declares that God has given us certain rights, and “among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Many then pursue happiness wherever they think they can find it
What does Christianity say about this pursuit of happiness?
In response to biblical expressions like:
many people have gotten the idea that Christianity is opposed to this pursuit of happiness. Christianity appears to them as a religion of self-denial:
Some might summarize this as, “Christians don’t have any fun!”
Certainly some philosophies that were prevalent at the beginning of Christianity argued that one should not pursue happiness in this world, that we should stifle our desires. A philosopher named Epictetus, who lived from 50AD to 138AD, wrote, “Destroy desire completely.” And Epictetus, though not a Christian, unfortunately influenced later Christian thinking.
But contrary to what many people think, the Bible does not oppose desire. Indeed, the Bible suggests that our desires are not strong enough! The Bible commands us again and again to seek our real happiness – to seek true life, to seek real joy.
We could cite verse after verse to establish this. Consider only one such passage, Matthew 6:19-21:
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
In verse 19, Jesus sounds a bit like Epictetus. Looking at that verse alone, one could come to believe that Jesus is saying, “Stifle desire! Destroy desire! Don’t store up treasures on earth!”
But he doesn’t stop there: He says, “Don’t store up treasures here, for that will divert you from the much greater treasure! You can have an imperishable, completely secure treasure. Store up the best treasures in heaven! This is the way to true happiness. Pursuing earthly treasures isn’t the way to the greatest happiness. So desire true, eternal treasures!”
So our problem is not that we have desires – our problem is that our desire for real joy, for real treasure, is not deep enough.
C.S. Lewis – now best known as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia - captured this biblical idea brilliantly in a sermon he preached about 50 years ago. Listen carefully:
The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire.
If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from [philosophy] . . . and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. (emphasis added)
Over the next few weeks we will look at a series of issues under the theme: “The Tragedy of Weak Desires.” We will see how pursuing joy in the things of this world – even good things of this world like money, sex, career, marriage, and children – tragically leads us away from our deepest and longest-lasting joy. Only by desiring God through Jesus Christ above all else can we find true joy; only in Him can we find true life.
This morning we will look at money in this regard. Why does the Bible warn us against the desire for money? Won’t we be happier if we have more money? Our passage from 1 Timothy 6 discusses this issue in some detail. Let’s now go to that text, and learn what God tells us about the desire for money.
Verse 10 tells us that the “love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” The love of money. Why do people love money? There are several reasons:
Sometimes it is helpful to distinguish between these motivations for pursuing money, but fundamentally the first and second are part of the third: Security and respect are means to greater happiness. So desiring happiness, people pursue money.
Do you think money leads to happiness? In today’s passage Paul addresses this idea directly, showing that it is a myth. Money does not lead to happiness at all. He provides us here with three arguments to prove the idea false. He follows those arguments with four steps to follow to achieve our greatest joy. We’ll look at those arguments and steps in the remainder of our time together.
The myth that money leads to happiness takes many forms. Frequently it comes out in statements like, "If I only had such and such, then I would be happy."
What does Paul tell us in this passage? How does he argue that this idea – believed by most of the people on this planet ever since money was invented – is wrong? Look at verse 5. Paul is speaking about [opponents of the gospel who think] “that godliness is a means of gain.Now godliness with contentment is a great means of gain!”
Certain false teachers think they can use the preaching of the “gospel” as a means of gain, as a way to wealth. Paul says, “Actually this is a way to wealth – the preaching of the true gospel leads to true riches, not the false, temporary wealth that comes from amassing dollar bills!”
Note that in verse 5 one Greek word is translated by the phrase “means of gain,” and that same word is repeated in verse 6. The NIV and some other translations just translate the word as “gain” in verse 6. But the word is better understood here in its usual definition, “means of gain.” This translation makes more sense in verse 6. Paul is not saying godliness itself is gain – he is saying godliness is a great – the greatest – means to gain.
Furthermore, given what we have said about why people want wealth, we can substitute “means of gaining happiness” for “means of gain.” So we might paraphrase Paul’s thoughts in this way:
Those opponents think that by appearing godly and preaching they can make money and thus gain happiness. That is despicable – to see the preaching of the gospel as a means to gain wealth, as a means to any end not combined with the glory of God. But true godliness with contentment is indeed the means to the greatest happiness – not the sort of happiness that comes from wealth, but the deepest happiness of all, the joy that comes from eternal life with God the Father.
So listen carefully: Paul is here asserting that the way to gain the greatest happiness comes not from money but from pursuing God Himself, from godliness. Is he right?
He tries to convince us with the three arguments we have mentioned. These appear in verses 7-10.
First Argument: You are eternal, and money is not
We see this in verse 7:
for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.
Earthly riches cannot be taken out of the world.
Why is this important? Consider: How long will you live on this earth? For myself, who knows? It might not be much longer. But perhaps I have twenty, thirty, or even fifty years left. Certainly not sixty. Some of the babies among us might live 100 more years, but not 120. How long will you live after your life on this earth is over? A lot longer than 60 or 120 years! Given those time frames, how important are the treasures you amass today compared to the treasures you amass in eternity?
One pastor tells of a man who came to him and said, “I want to be just like my grandfather!” “Why is that?” the pastor asked. “He died a millionaire!” the man replied. The pastor then said, “No, he didn’t.” The man said, “What do you mean? You didn’t even know him! I tell you, my grandfather died a millionaire!” The pastor said, “No. A split second before he died, he was a millionaire. But the moment he died he had nothing. All those earthly possessions no longer did him any good.”
At most, wealth will help to make us happy for the rest of our time on earth. But because we are eternal beings, the greatest means to happiness must be one that will gain assets that last for eternity, not those that will disappear upon our physical death.
You cannot take anything out of the world. Your happiness after you die had better be a concern. For you will be conscious a lot longer after you die than before.
You are eternal; money is not.
Second Argument: You don’t need riches for happiness now
Paul argues this second point in verse 8:
But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.
Perhaps a better translation of those words would be: "If we have sustenance and covering - if we have what we need in order to live, both to nourish us and to protect us from the elements, we will be content with that."
The word translated "content" is interesting. The same Greek word is used in Hebrews 13:5:
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, for God has said 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'
In Philippians 4:11-13, Paul uses the same word:
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
What is contentment? The Greek word means "self-sufficiency." The Greek philosopher Socrates said this when asked who was the wealthiest man: "He who is content with the least - for self-sufficiency is nature's wealth."
Paul takes this idea from Greek philosophy and infuses it with Christian truth. Instead of being self-sufficient, Paul says we are to be God-sufficient. The idea is that God is in control of our lives. And He will provide us with the resources necessary to accomplish whatever He wants us to do. Furthermore, true happiness comes not from building up resources, but true happiness comes from doing the will of God. So that is why Paul could be beaten and put in chains in a Philippian jail cell and still sing praises to God until midnight. He was content, he was God-sufficient, in that situation.
So Paul shows us both through his words and his life that in order to be happy, we only need enough food to keep us alive and adequate shelter for protection from life-threatening elements. He sang joyfully to God in jail, and we too can sing joyfully to God in the midst of our own trials.
So we’ve seen two arguments so far justifying Paul’s statement that money does not lead to happiness: Money doesn’t last into eternity, and money is not necessary for happiness now.
Third Argument: The desire for riches destroys us.
Paul says that the desire for riches is harmful even in this life, and leads to destruction in the next. Look at verses 9-10:
But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
Paul states the argument in verse 9 and then explains why it is true in verse 10. He says the desire to be rich leads people to fall into temptation. Into what temptation exactly?
Consider the two greatest commandments according to Jesus:
'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' (Matthew 22:37-39 NIV)
When we want to get rich, when that desire controls us, we are fulfilling neither of those commandments. Instead of loving God above all, we love money. Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and Money” (Matthew 6:24). Furthermore, when we love money we seek our own success, our own prosperity more than we seek the good of our neighbor. So the desire to become rich leads to the temptation to violate these two greatest commandments, on which, Jesus says, hang “all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:40).
That’s the temptation: To violate the most important commands of God.
In addition to being a temptation, Paul says those who desire to be rich fall into a snare, a trap – into senseless and harmful desires that lead to ruin and destruction. What trap is he talking about?
Ecclesiastes 5:10 says:
Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.
What is the nature of a trap? If you want to trap an animal what do you do?
A number of years ago when my older sister visited our home in Massachusetts, her son Daryl really wanted to trap one of the groundhogs we saw regularly. So one evening he and my kids tied a carrot to a string, and tied the string to a stick supporting a wire cage. Sure enough – and much to the surprise of all the adults – the next morning the cage was on the ground with a frightened, snarling groundhog trapped inside.
Most traps use some sort of lure like that carrot – something that looks good, that looks attractive, that looks like it will lead to happiness – but which actually leads to danger and destruction.
Just so with money. Money is a lure, for it looks like it will lead to happiness. But the more we get, the more we want. We try to get happiness thru money – but how many people do you know who got all the money they wanted, but never found happiness? So they keep trying to get more money, thinking, “a little more and I’ll be happy.” But they never are.
So the desire to get rich, instead of leading to happiness, leads to frustration even if you attain it. Ray Stedman calls this “destination sickness” – feeling terrible when you attain all you thought you wanted, and find that it doesn’t satisfy.
This is the trap and snare of the desire for money. Like a drug addict, we need a greater and greater quantity to give us our fix. If we love money, we will never be satisfied with what we have.
And of course many people never even attain the amount of money they think they want. They too become frustrated, always thinking (falsely) that they could be happy if they could just have a little more.
Money is indeed a trap in that way.
But this is not worst of it. Paul says those who seek money “wander away from the faith.” They thus face “ruin and destruction” eternally, and are “pierced with many pangs” for all eternity. Having violated to two summary commandments, having spurned God for money, they now face eternal ruin.
So the love of money harms us now, and can lead to an eternity in hell. That is a real trap – the allure of happiness, but behind it, hell.
So Paul tells us that money does not lead to happiness because:
1) You cannot use money in the eternal state;
2) You don’t need money now for happiness; and
3) The love of money harms you: now, and eternally, it leads to your destruction.
So if money doesn’t lead to happiness, what does? Paul addresses this in verses 11-16, giving us four steps to finding true joy.
Step 1: Flee these things
But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. 1 Timothy 6:11
Flee from the love of money – run away from it. Have nothing to do with it. As soon as you see any indication of this cropping up in you – turn and run!
flee! Flee from all that, but then do what?
Step 2: Not only are we to run away from the love of money, but we are also to run towards six positive goals. We find these in the second half of verse 11:
Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.
We could easily preach a sermon on each of these six; today, I’ll only define them:
Step 3: Fight the fight of faith.
We see this at the beginning of verse 12. Paul uses an athletic term here, one that usually refers to runners or wrestlers. Paul is saying, “Like an athlete, put all your energy into this fight!”
What is the fight of faith? The fight to believe that God speaks truth, that God is faithful to His promises, that God Himself is the source of true joy. For example, we must fight to believe such truths as these:
We can summarize the truth behind these verses as an equation:
$0 + God > $1,000,000,000 - God
Do you believe that equation? That’s what the Bible tells us. If we are to believe it, we must fight the good fight. For the world will try to persuade us that joy is found everywhere else. People will say, “Pursuing righteousness – that’s joy? How about instead a big car, a nice house, a hefty bank account?”
We must fight to believe that God’s Word is true. How can we fight?
So the first three steps to our greatest joy are to flee the love of money, to pursue those six goals, and to fight the fight of faith. Finally:
Step 4: “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.”
We are to take up eternal life like we would take up a sword in order to go into battle. In effect Paul is saying, “You have eternal life: Pick it up! Hold on to it! Use it in your fight! Know that all this around you is temporary; all this will fade away! You live for eternity! You have an inheritance that can never spoil, perish, or fade! You can store up treasures in heaven for ever – so do it!”
As Paul says in verse 16, God alone is inherently immortal. And so He is the only possible source of eternal life. Those who are in Christ Jesus share in this life. The richest man in the world cannot buy this. He loses everything the moment he dies. So hold on to this confidence! Value what you have! And so defeat the allure of the glitter and glitz of the world.
Have you been playing with mud pies, looking to find satisfaction and pleasure in the things of this world?
Has making money been more important to you than pursuing godliness, righteousness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness?
Listen carefully: Everything in our culture tells us to desire more material goods. How has that affected you?
My friends, I implore you – I implore myself – desire the greatest joy imaginable! Desire to be the child of the king of the universe – and thus the owner of all things, for you are in Christ and He owns all. Desire to see the God of All look upon you with great delight. Desire to experience the ever-increasing happiness and ever-deeper worship of eternity, as God displays to you more and more of His infinite and inexhaustible greatness and joy.
Throw yourself on the mercy of the One who gave His Son for you. Say to Him, “Lord God, I have neglected you. I have sought happiness and joy in the things of this world. This dishonors you. Please forgive me by the blood of your son. Make Him my joy, my Savior, my Lord, my treasure. Enable me to fight the fight to believe all your promises. Make me yours.”
So, my friends, don’t be satisfied with the mudpies of money and success; desire with all your heart that eternal holiday in God’s presence. For in His presence is fullness of joy.
This sermon was preached on 4/23/06 at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC. The C.S. Lewis quote is from his sermon, “The Weight of Glory.” Ray Stedman is the pastor who tells the story of the penniless millionaire. For more by Ray Stedman see www.raystedman.org. The Epictetus quote is from the Enchiridion. For an earlier version of this sermon preached 6/15/03, see www.expository.org/1tim6a.htm. For the follow-up to that sermon, “How to be Rich and Still be Happy,” see www.expository.org/1tim6b.htm.
Copyright © 2006, Thomas C. Pinckney. This data file is the sole property of Thomas C. Pinckney. Please feel free to copy it in written form, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice.
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