Welcome back to our series in 1 Timothy! This chapter continues Paul’s instructions to Timothy on ministering to the various kinds of believers in the church and also how to keep his own life in the will of God.
Christian Slaves (1 Tim. 6:1–2)
All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves.
Historians have estimated that half of the population of the Roman Empire was composed of slaves. Many of these people were educated and cultured, but legally they were not considered persons at all. The Gospel message of salvation and freedom in Christ appealed to the slaves, and many of them became believers. When slaves were able to get away from their household duties, they would fellowship in local assemblies where being a slave was not a handicap (Gal. 3:28).
But there was a problem: Some slaves used their newfound freedom in Christ as an excuse to disobey, if not defy, their masters. They needed to learn that their spiritual freedom in Christ did not alter their social position, even though they were accepted graciously into the fellowship of the church.
What were they to do now that they were free in Christ? They were to act in a way that would bring glory to Christ “so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered.” They would do this by showing respect to their masters and working hard.
I recall counseling a young lady who resigned from a secular job to go to work in a Christian organization. She had been there about a month and was completely disillusioned.
“I thought it was going to be heaven on earth,” she complained. “Instead, there are nothing but problems.”
“Are you working just as hard for your Christian boss as you did for your other boss?” I asked. The look on her face gave me the answer. “Try working harder,” I advised, “and show him real respect. Just because all of you in the office are saved doesn’t mean you can do less than your best.” She took my advice and her problems cleared up.
False Teachers (1 Tim. 6:3–10)
These are the things you are to teach and insist on. If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions, and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 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. 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.
Paul had opened this letter with warnings about false teachers (1 Tim. 1:3) and had even refuted some of their dangerous teachings (1 Tim. 4:1). The spiritual leaders in the local church must constantly oversee what is being taught, for it is easy for false doctrines to slip in (Acts 20:28–32). I know I have discovered teachers who were sharing their “visions” instead of teaching God’s Word!
The marks of these false teachers (vv. 3–5a). The first mark is they refused to adhere to “the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching.” Their teaching did not promote godliness. The prophet Isaiah said, “If anyone does not speak according to this Word, they have no light in them” (Isa. 8:20). It is important a church maintain sound [healthy] teaching (2 Tim. 1:13).
A second mark is the teacher’s own attitude. Instead of being humble, a false teacher is proud; yet he has nothing to be proud about because he does not know anything.
A believer who understands the Word will have a burning heart, not a big head (Luke 24:32; Dan. 9:1–20). This “conceited attitude” causes a teacher to argue about minor matters concerning “words.” The result of such unspiritual teaching is “envy, quarreling, malicious talk, evil suspicions, and constant friction.” The tragedy of all this is people are “robbed of the truth” while they think they are discovering truth!
The motive for their teaching (vv. 5b–10). These false teachers supposed “that godliness is a way of financial gain.” Here, the word “godliness” means “the profession of Christian faith,” and not true holy living in the power of the Spirit. They used their religious profession as a means to make money. What they did was not a true ministry; it was just a religious business.
Paul was always careful not to use his calling or ministry as a means of making money. In fact, he even refused support from the Corinthian church, so that no one could accuse him of greed (1 Cor. 9:15–19). He never used his preaching for “flattery or greed” (1 Thes. 2:5). What a tragedy it is today to see the religious racketeers who prey on gullible people, promising them help while taking away their money.
To warn Timothy—and us—about the dangers of covetousness, Paul shared four facts:
Wealth does not bring contentment (v. 6). As we have seen, Paul used this same word in Philippians 4:11, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (see The Secret of Contentment). True contentment comes from godliness in the heart, not wealth in the hand. A person who depends on material things for peace and assurance will never be satisfied because material things have a way of losing their appeal. It is the wealthy people, not the poor people, who go to psychiatrists and who are more apt to try to commit suicide.
Wealth is not lasting (v. 7). “We brought nothing into this world and we can take nothing out of it” (see Job 1:21). Whatever wealth we amass goes to the government, our heirs, and perhaps charity and the church. When someone’s spirit leaves his body at death, it can take nothing with it. We always know the answer to the question, “How much did he leave?” Everything!
Our basic needs are easily met (v. 8). Food and “covering” (clothing and shelter) are basic needs; if we lose them, we lose the ability to secure other things. A miser without food would starve to death counting his money. I am reminded of the simple-living Quaker who was watching his new neighbor move in with all of the furnishings and expensive “toys” that “successful people” collect. The Quaker finally went over to his new neighbor and said, “Neighbor, if ever thou dost need anything, come to see me and I will tell thee how to get along without it.”
The economic and energy crises the world faces will probably be used by God to encourage people to simplify their lives. Too many of us know the “price of everything and the value of nothing.” We are so glutted with luxuries that we have forgotten how to enjoy our necessities.
The desire for wealth leads to sin (vv. 9–10). These verses describe a person who has to have more and more material things in order to be happy and feel successful. But riches are a trap; they lead to bondage, not freedom. Instead of giving satisfaction, riches create additional lusts (desires) and these must be satisfied. Instead of providing help and health, an excess of material things hurts and wounds. The result Paul described very vividly: “Harmful desires … plunge men into ruin and destruction.” It is the picture of a man drowning! He trusted his wealth and “sailed along,” but the storm came and he sank.
It is a dangerous thing to use religion as a cover-up for acquiring wealth. God’s laborer is certainly worthy of his hire (1 Tim. 5:17-18), but his motive for laboring must not be money. That would make him a “hireling” and not a true shepherd (John 10:11-14). We should not ask, “How much will I get?” but rather “How much can I give?”
In Part 2, we will take a closer look at what Paul has to say about the pastor himself and the rich.
1. What should you do when there is a conflict between what God’s Word says and what your boss tells you to do? Who are we really working for and how will this affect our performance on the job?
2. What should church members do if their leaders start teaching ideas that contradict Scripture?
3. How can we “learn to be content” with what we have and not allow our culture to influence us?
4. Can a Christian be wealthy? If so, what are the unique spiritual dangers that he or she faces and what should he be doing to counteract them?