Ninth Sunday After Trinity August 20, 2000
1 Timothy 6:6-10
234, 425, 403, 400
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. This is the Word of God.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, Who offers us the riches of eternal life, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
"Bottom line economics” is a term a lot of people are using in today’s business world. A good bottom line manager is one who keeps a close eye on profits when making decisions about how to run his company. He’s careful to take into account long-term as well as short-term profits. If he can make a change in policy that will cause that bottom line of profits to rise, either now or sometime down the road, then he does it. On the other hand, a decision that will hurt business later on must be avoided, even if it means passing up short term profits. A smart manager knows—keeping your eye on the bottom line is good business.
In one respect, at least, it’s also good religion. Consider: if offered a gift of a million dollars, most of us would take it. But what if someone said you could be a millionaire for one year—as long as you agreed to live in abject poverty the rest of your life? Most of us would reject that offer. Why? Because it’s a bad bottom line; in the long run, it just wouldn’t be worth it. What’s surprising is how many people there are who completely ignore the bottom line in making decisions about their life. I’m talking about the long term now, the eternal bottom line. Most people in our world are perfectly willing to pass up eternal treasures for the sake of material things—things that disappear as fast as you can snap your fingers. The danger is there for all of us. That’s why our text for today offers us a reliable guide on how to avoid eternal losses, and reap huge eternal profits. The Apostle Paul’s advice to Timothy, and to us, is—
Young Pastor Timothy needed Paul’s advice, because there were some false teachers stirring up trouble in his congregation. These men were “proud, knowing nothing, obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, destitute of the truth.” Well, why would these guys stick with Christian church if all they could do was fight and wrangle over words? Paul tells us—they did it because “they supposed that godliness was a means of gain.” Quite simply, they wanted to make money off the church. They loved money. They were looking for short term gains, worldly gains. In fact, Paul said, “Godliness with contentment IS great gain”—but not the kind of gain they were thinking of. If you look at the long term—the eternal bottom line—the love of money yields discontent and destruction.
Money will buy a lot of things. But one thing money can almost never buy is happiness and contentment. In fact, says Paul, what usually happens is just the opposite. “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” Money by itself isn’t necessarily bad; if the Lord has blessed you with monetary wealth, you should be thankful, and put those resources to work for the kingdom of God. But the love of money is something else again—all kinds of evil springs from that!
For so many people, money becomes a god, a little idol that they bow down to. They love it, and the “things” it can buy for them. But how quickly the bank account dries up! How soon the things wear out or are broken! They place their confidence in it to provide for them and get them out of trouble. But money is a weak staff, that so often breaks when you lean upon it.
Right about now you may be saying to yourself, “Boy, it’s a good thing I’m not like that!” But are any of us free from the lust of material wealth? Can we say for certain that we’ve never bowed down before the altar of the Almighty Dollar? When financial trouble threatens your family, which do you open first—your bank book or your Bible? Which would you be more likely to skip—a payday at the place where you work, or a worship service here at God’s house? My fellow Christians, beware! Keep your eye on the eternal bottom line! If money or anything else lures you away from the worship of the true God, you may very well end up losing everything that’s really important. The love of money is idolatry, and idolatry isn’t just dangerous—it can be eternally fatal! Paul says, “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.”
Keep your eye on the eternal bottom line! From that point of view, it’s obvious that focusing your life on money and possessions just isn’t worth it. If you want to avoid big losses, then avoid the love of money at all costs. On the other hand, if you want to lock in huge eternal profits, there’s a sure-fire formula for that, too. What is it? Paul answers: it’s Godliness with contentment. “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.” Faith in Christ yields contentment and eternal life!
Up till now we’ve been talking about the unfortunate people who make money their god. What a contrast when you compare the people to whom Jesus Christ is God and Lord!
If I asked you to name the two wealthiest people with whom you’re personally acquainted, who comes to mind? An old Lutheran pastor once described the two richest men he knew: “One is a laborer with his wife at his side, his little flock around the table, a simple meal before them. They fold their hands and bow their heads as grace is said and Jesus is invited to their table. They are happy and content, care knocks in vain at their door, and their greatest treasure lies upon the tidy shelf against the wall—a well-worn Bible. The other is an old man in a nursing home, his beloved Bible and hymnal among the few possessions he cherishes. From his little hoard of savings he finds it possible to give a silver coin each week to the Lord’s work (far more than the wealthy banker gives!) Thankfully he looks at the sunset in the west and thinks of pleasant bygone days, thankfully he praises God who has fulfilled His promise: at eventide it shall be light. These two have learned the great secret of true riches: godliness with contentment is great gain.”
Paul says, “We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” God designed our life that way on purpose, and it’s a good thing, too. It shows us that material wealth is essentially unimportant, from an eternal point of view. If money were really important, the Lord would make sure that every baby was born with a wallet full of hundred dollar bills. If big houses, fancy cars and expensive clothing were really important, the Lord wouldn’t make us leave them behind when we die.
But they’re not important. None of those things changes the eternal bottom line one bit. So if you haven’t got a lot of money, if you haven’t got a lot of luxuries—please don’t have worry about it, and think you’re “unsuccessful,” and give yourself ulcers over it. It’s really not that big a deal! Our true riches lie elsewhere.
The greatest treasure you can have is one no money can buy. Paul simply calls it “godliness.” He’s referring to the faith in Christ that the Holy Spirit works in a person’s heart. And Christian faith doesn’t stay bottled up there in the heart, either. It finds expression in the way a Christian talks, and the way he lives. What your faith shows to other people is a fruit of the Holy Spirit working in you. In this way your godliness benefits others. But first and foremost, the person your godliness really benefits YOU! In Galatians Paul describes the bottom line benefits of being a Christian; he says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Gal 5:22-23. Those are the gifts you receive along with faith in Christ. The deeper the faith, the richer the gifts. I ask you, is there anything we need to be happy in this world that’s not on that list? If there is, I’d sure like to know what it is!
“And having food and clothing,” Paul says, “with these we shall be content.” Contentment, too, is a gift God gives us. And what a precious gift that is! Which would you rather be—a gas station attendant who’s happy, or a millionaire who’s miserable? The Lord blesses us by opening our eyes to our spiritual riches, by letting us see things from the point of view of the eternal bottom line. With that kind of outlook, Paul says, you could have a very happy life even if all you had were the clothes on your back and the food on your table. But we’ve each of us been given so much more than that. Take a look at our lives! Look at the material wealth the Lord has blessed us with—our homes, our property, our jobs, our clothes, cars, TV’s and microwaves. Don’t we each have to confess, with the Patriarch Jacob, “O Lord, I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant!”—Gen 32:10.
God has given each of us more than enough material wealth to make us content and happy. But let’s not forget our greatest source of wealth. God has given us His Son, Jesus Christ. He literally gave Him up on the cross for us. On that first Good Friday, Jesus became made Himself a human/divine sacrifice to atone for the sins of the world. He forfeited his life by incredible suffering. Why? Well, really, He did it in order to straighten out your eternal bottom line! On Calvary Jesus changed your bottom line from a negative balance to a positive one. With His blood, He paid off all your sins. With His perfect righteousness, He made you worthy to stand before God justified and clean. At the cross of Christ, forgiveness is free for the asking, and full sonship and eternal life is yours to keep!
They say “you can’t take it with you,” but this is one source of wealth that we can and will carry with us into the mansions of heaven. The salvation that our Lord Jesus has won for us is a treasure that doesn’t fade away, and that strengthens us for the trials we have to go through in this life. Paul asked, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”—It’s a good question. If you and I are God’s beloved children, redeemed by Christ and bound for heaven, what can the world do to us? What misfortune can defeat us? What financial setback can possibly overcome us? None can. In Christ, the victory is already ours! Paul says, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”—Rom 8:31,37.
If you’ve been watching the news lately, you may have noticed that many larger corporations are increasingly coming under fire for a rather risky investment strategy—they’ve been borrowing from their employee pension funds and using the money to speculate in the stock market. Many of longtime employees are worried about their pensions, and I don’t blame them one bit. Can you imagine? How terrible it would be to put your money into a pension plan for thirty years, and then just when you’re ready to retire, see it all disappear! Well, the day of our “retirement” from this world is approaching for each of us. Let’s keep our eyes on the eternal bottom line, remembering that “godliness with contentment is great gain.” Let’s make sure we’re investing our resources in things that won’t disappear. As Jesus once said, "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.” AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.