6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.
17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
Godliness with contentment is great gain. Sounds good. But what is godliness. It is being like Big Ben, who is a street person in Portland. Daily he came to the Catholic church for a meal. The priest of the church was interviewed by the Portland Magazine and gave this account of what occurred on a particular Christmas Eve.
“An unusually large number of people came. At 9:00 we were down to the last pot of soup, though the hungry line still wove around the block. By 9:30 we were down to the last bowl, and there was Big Ben, face alight with his toothless grin. We filled his bowl to the brim, much to his delight, and that was the last of the last of the soup.
“As Ben made his way to the table in the corner, a tiny teenage boy whom none of us had seen before appeared. He looked like he had slept in mud. He was shivering for lack of a coat and his left eye sported a nasty bruise. Seeing that the last of the soup was served, his eyes grew large and it seemed he was going to cry, but he didn't. God knows how long he had waited in line only to find no soup. Some of us were reaching for our wallets when Big Ben appeared with his bowl and handed it to the boy. He then put his hand on the boy's cheek and caressed it as a father would caress his son's, and then mussed the boy's hair, giggled, and wandered off.
“It was a tender moment that stood in contrast to the steel, concrete, and cold that too often embrace those without hearth and home. It was a moment that knitted us together a little more tightly, and made me proud of my species. And it made me see, maybe for the first time, why God wanted to be human.”
Big Ben was hungry and really wanted that bowl of soup. But when he saw that boy’s disappointment, he gave it away. If that is not godly, I do not know what is.
As a homeless person, he had nothing to speak of. Just the clothes he wore. He had brought nothing into the world and would have nothing to take out of it. Of course, the same is true for us. Nothing will accompany us after we die. So the obvious question is: Why do we spend so much of our time accumulating wealth when we will leave it all behind?
Paul learned that having food and clothing is enough. He did not need lots of stuff in order to feel contented. I admit that I am not like Paul in that regard. I like stuff. But the older I get, the less stuff appeals to me. However, I have more stuff than he could ever imagine having. But, instead of beating myself up about it, I realize that he lived a very different lifestyle. He lived a completely iterant lifestyle. He stayed with friends. So having more than he could carry was impractical for him.
Carol and I live an iterant lifestyle. We move when the Bishop says to move. But we do not have to carry our stuff with us. We are allowed to call a moving van to take it to our new residence. So we can accommodate much more stuff than Paul could. However, prior to moving each time, we have sought to lower moving costs by getting rid of stuff that we have not used in a long time. Moving is a great way to encourage downsizing.
Seeking riches makes people susceptible to succumbing to temptations. They get overwhelmed by foolish and harmful desires that lead them to ruin and destruction. To emphasize that point, Paul says that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Notice, it does not say that money is the root of all evil. It is the love of money that is the root of all evil. Eager to get as much money as possible, people have wandered from the faith and have suffered many hardships.
So Paul tells Timothy is to flee from the pursuit of money, and instead pursue righteousness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. Pursuing so values will offer far more contentment than money ever can. In fact, if you place the pursuit of money at the top of your list, you will need money to take care of the problems which the pursuit of money will cause.
In verse 12 of our scripture lesson, Paul says to fight the good fight of faith. The implication is that sometimes to keep the faith, you need to fight what detracts from your faith. Then he says to take hold of eternal life, which to me means, never doubting its promise. And he says to make his good confession so it can be witnessed by many. Witnessing is so important. Because through witnessing people are exposed to the Word.
“Albert Pujols, the first baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals, is a World Series champ, an eight-time All Star, the recipient of three National League MVP awards, and according to a 2008 poll of 30 MLB managers, the most feared hitter in the sport. But even more impressive is his life off the field. The Pujols Family Foundation he started offers support and care to people with Down syndrome and their families, while also helping the poor in the Dominican Republic. He and his wife of ten years provide a loving household for four little children. But most importantly, he is a passionate disciple of Christ.
“While speaking at an event at Lafayette Senior High School in Missouri, Pujols told the audience of men and young boys, ‘As a Christian, I am called to live a holy life. My standard for living is set by God, not by the world. I am responsible for growing and sharing the gospel.’ Then, after reading Paul's words in Philippians 2:3—‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves’—Pujols told the crowd, ‘One way for me to stay satisfied in Jesus is for me to stay humble. Humility is getting on your knees and staying in God's will—what he wants for me, not what the world wants.’ He added: ‘It would be easy to go out and do whatever I want, but those things only satisfy the flesh for a moment. Jesus satisfies my soul forever.’”
Verses 17 – 19 of our scripture lesson focus on rich people. At first I was tempted to talk about rich people like Bill Gates, but then I got to thinking about the fact that you do not have to be a billionaire to be rich. “If you earn $50,000 per year in America and you don't feel rich, it's because you are comparing yourself to people who have more than you do-those living above even the 99th percentile of global wealth. It's also because we tend to gauge whether or not we are wealthy based on the things we don't have. If we think we need a bigger house or apartment, a nicer car, more clothes, or the ability to go out for dinner more often, we don't feel ‘rich.’ Again, it's all relative to our expectations. When you realize that 93 percent of the world's people don't own a car, your old clunker starts to look pretty good. Our difficulty is that we see our American lifestyles as normative, when in fact they are grossly distorted compared to the rest of the world. We don't believe we are wealthy, so we don't see it as our responsibility to help the poor. We are deceived.”
Several years ago, I went on a mission trip to Haiti. We stayed in Port-au-Prince, which like the rest of Haiti, is mired in poverty. One day, we visited a medical clinic that was situated across the road from a cardboard city. What I mean to say is that for as far as I could see, there were houses that seemed to be made out of cardboard. It is very doubtful that any of those houses had running water. I can only imagine how bad the sanitation facilities were. Compared to them, we are like millionaires.
In order to pursue God, we need to live a drastically different lifestyle; one that resembles Jesus’ lifestyle. But, of course, our culture and era make that difficult. However, we can do our best to make sure our utmost loyalties are to God and not to things, which, in the end, we cannot take with us. So instead of pursuing things, let’s pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. The pursuit of those qualities will bring us closer to God.