Godliness Is Great Gain
1 Timothy 6:1–21
Key Verse: 6:11
“But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.”
After writing about the care of widows and elders in the church, Paul concludes this last chapter of this letter by talking mostly about the kind of treasure Christians should pursue in this world. He tells him: “Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” (10-11) However, it is very interesting that Paul begins this section by once more exhorting the church in the area of showing respect towards each other. While in the last chapter, he told the church members to “give proper recognition” to widows who are really in need, and to deem the elders who direct the affairs of the church as “worthy of double honor”, in this chapter, Paul exhorts those who are under the yoke of slavery to consider their masters “worthy of full respect”. Regardless of what position we occupy in society, whether we are in subservient positions or positions of authority, as Christians we must set the absolute example of respecting one another in Christ Jesus. This is good and pleasing to God our Savior.
Read verses 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 are not to show less respect for them because they are brothers. Instead, they are to serve them even better, because those who benefit from their service are believers, and dear to them. These are the things you are to teach and urge on them.” We all know that by the grace of God, legal slavery worldwide has nearly been abolished. Yet this passage is not outdated, and there is much still to learn from it. It’s interesting however to see why Paul would devote such a section to it. The Roman world was full of slaves. It is said that there were nearly two slaves to one free person. They had no legal rights nor privileges. Even the slave’s family belonged to the master. They had no voice and no protector to shelter them from the cruelty of masters who used them and abused them to his or her own benefit. Slaves respected their masters by habit or force in fear while their hearts burned with hatred. But something happened that changed the Roman world. Christ came and changed the world. And the Christian faith swept through the Roman world like wild fire. And it brought some radical changes to society including the slave-master system. Both slaves and masters were turning to Christ in faith, and becoming Christian. Sometimes, even in one home, both slaves and masters were of the same body of Christ, brothers and sisters in every way, blessed by the Lord with every privilege of a child of God. The question is how should this change their relationship?
When I was a young Christian, I had the audacity to criticize Paul thinking that as a good Christian Paul should have rather said, “Masters, set your slaves free.” But when I matured in my Christian faith I realized that Paul, like Jesus was not a social revolutionary but a spiritual revolutionary. Following in Christ’s footsteps, his concern wasn’t to reform the corrupt societies of the word, but to redeem the corrupt heart of humanity, and to conform it to the image of Christ. As Christ who is God, humbled himself and made himself nothing taking on the form of a servant, so also, Christ calls us to do the same. So it’s understandable that Paul would teach the slaves to consider their masters worthy of full respect. But it’s even more than that! He tells them to serve their Christian masters even better. And it also amazes us that Paul makes no exceptions nor gives any conditions for this kind of respect (such as if they are worthy of respect then respect them). He simply commands it. The way for us to better understand this relationship that Paul urges on us is to think of those in authority over us at work, or at school or at home, or in church. Whether they are Christian or not, makes no difference. As long as we confess Christ, the burden to respect them falls completely on us. If, as Paul says, they too are Christian, then our burden is not only to respect them completely, but also to serve them even better. The burden of respect and better service is totally ours.
What is “full respect”? It is not half hearted. It is not given begrudgingly. It is not forced respect. It is not even pretended respect. It is the kind of respect one offers unconditionally from one’s heart. And it is the kind of respect one can give only when one has personally known the grace of our Lord Jesus in his or her life and meditates on it in humility of heart every day. For how can I respect those in authority over me, though they may be cruel to me, unless I know how much the Lord has suffered on behalf of a wicked undeserving sinner like me! It’s usually my pride of self that causes me to disrespect the authority over me. Worldly authorities over me, such as my bosses or overseers may not be kind or forgiving towards us, thus they may not be worthy even of a little respect. Still, as Christians we are expected by the gospel standard to respect them fully and to consider them worthy of full respect as well. How much more if those in authority over us are Christian! Regardless of how mature they are as a Christian, Paul makes it clear that we have a God given obligation of full respect and service towards them from the heart. Just because those who are over us are brothers and sisters in Christ does not mean that we can take advantage of or disrespect them.
On the other hand of course, Christians who are in authority themselves should know how to treat Christians who are under them. Just because those under them are brothers and sisters does not mean that they can take advantage of them and use them to their own advantage. They should rather consider them first equal with themselves, and then treat them with the love and gentleness of Christ. But even if they do not, Christian slaves were commanded to serve their masters ever better than what is already expected of them. It was an unreasonable command given to Christian slaves. Let us recall this once more, while Paul did not give any commands to Christian masters, he laid the entire burden on Christian slaves, whether they served worldly masters or Christian masters. And we already mentioned why. It was the way of Christ! Christ the King of kings, and Lord of lords, the Master of all humanity, did not come to be served, but to serve (Mk. 10:45). And his beneficiaries, those who have been redeemed by his blood should do the same, both Masters and slaves.
Paul didn’t need to explain to the Christian slaves why the burden of respect and of serving responsibility fell entirely on them. But he went ahead and did so that all the Christian slaves throughout history would know their important role in representing Christ to the world. Who then are the real Christian slaves? It is anyone who has been freed from the bondage of sin and has become bound to Christ as his servant. At the same time, it is anyone who is in a subordinate position and accountable to authority. In these first 2 verses, Paul really tells us much about why respecting authority is so important. Christians who understand and accept God’s sovereignty fully understand this. But in any case, we should elaborate. Christians should consider their influence. All our actions reflect on Christ and on his church. Anytime a non-believing person in authority sees the un-Christian behavior of a Christian worker, it’s such an opportunity for them to slander God’s name and to ridicule the Christian cause. That’s why Christians should behave like Christ in all situations, as much as they are able to. When we behave as Christ— that is, submitting instead of rebelling— humbling ourselves instead of arrogantly defending our position— most of the time, Christ (rather than us) is honored. If we care about our own honor, then we fight back and we rebel and such. But if Christ’s honor is more important to us than our own, then what Paul said is completely true for us. In that sense then, we can understand that respect is not an option when you and I are a Christian. It is a mandate, a command, by which we have to live. It’s an opportunity to reflect the love of Christ even to those who do not deserve it.
Read verses 3-5. “If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” What a way to expose what’s really in the hearts of some people! Who can see what’s in the heart of others? No one but God! But here it is! Paul tells us exactly what’s in the hearts of those who spread false teachings, and who do not agree with the truth. What is the sound Christian teaching? It is the teaching of Christ who taught us many things. He taught us to love those who hate us, and to bless those who curse us. He taught us to be forgiving in all things, and to sacrifice in all things for the sake of righteousness and the kingdom. Paul, through the Spirit of Christ, also taught that Christian slaves should respect their worldly masters and serve their Christians masters even better. This gospel teaching, whether it calls for “loving your enemy” or “forgiving your offender” or for “slaves respecting and serving their master ever better” does not seem to be like a “sound teaching” by the standards of the world. The world usually teaches selfishness and coldness and vengeance. But the truth is that Jesus’ teaching is “sound” and the world’s teaching is the one that’s “corrupt” by the power of sin which rules and guides the hearts of people.
So for those who do not agree with the sound teaching, here’s the truth of the matter. Their motives are clearly exposed. Paul says that they are conceited and ignorant. They have an unhealthy interest in causing trouble among the people of God’s household, the church. They set brother against brother by their gossip. They are good at planting doubt rather than faith. They like to argue and to find fault with this and that. They usually target the weak of heart and mind in order to draw them away from truth, especially those who have suffered from bitterness and complaining and have not resolved them in Christ. And Paul tells us that they do all this for self and for self gain. They may gain some recognition and popularity from those like themselves, but eventually they lose their faith, and they lose the truth, and they become the slaves of the devil who leads them to self destruct.
Paul tells us that those who have an unhealthy interest in constantly challenging the gospel teaching with a false teaching of sorts do so for personal gain. The gain they seek doesn’t always have to be money— it may be simply to gain attention for themselves— but it seems that their motives are always crooked. And whatever they think they may gain, in the end, they gain nothing but grief. Read verses 6-10. “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. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men 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 offers different advice for the church that stands on truth. We should seek to gain something, but what gain should the children of God seek? A Christian must seek to gain godliness. In other words, seek to be and to become godly in your life. That is good gain. And in seeking godliness you will learn to be content not greedy for things that usually cause people to stumble and fall. Contentment is a godly virtue! That is, to be content in what God has given you in this life to have and to be. I know the world says, “Be all you can be.” In other words, strive to be the highest, the best, the greatest! But John the Baptist wisely said: “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.” (John 3:27) And this means that we can be and can have only what God has given us to have and to be. This is not giving into our lot, fatalistically. This is surrendering to God’s grace and providence so that we might not fight unnecessarily a fight that we are not destined to fight, but to give our effort and time to fighting towards what God has given us to fight and to win.
God loves us and knows exactly what each of us needs. That’s the truth. To one he gives riches and to another he gives poverty. To one he gives compassion and to another he gives wisdom. Whatever God gives comes from God’s loving heart for his children. But not all who receive from God are content. Some become greedy and pursue the unhealthy path of moneymaking, when they ought to put their God given gifts towards other things that would otherwise produce great and glorious fruit for God. But when they given themselves to money making, some Christians end up bitter, sorrowful and without a friend in the world. But the child of God, you and I, should be content with what God has given us, with who he has made us to be. If he gives riches, be content and share your riches. If you hoard them, they might grieve you. If he gives poverty, be content and share the blessings that come from poverty. You think they are no blessings of poverty? So many Christians have lost sight of the blessings of poverty when they relentlessly pursued making money in their discontentment, and became like beggars at heart. Pursue godliness as gain Paul says. That is good for us to pursue, and be content. It is God’s will that his children pursue godliness which is the greatest of gains in one’s life. If you are godly, wisdom will follow you in all things.
We must strive to gain godliness. You and I must strive to be content in what God has given us. And what has he given us? And what can you and I gain more or better than the love of our God and the righteous healing blood of God’s Son who died to set us free from living a dead end life in this world. Everything this world has to gain us, or inherit us is empty and vain and perishing. The Bible tells us that we have been handed an empty way of life, that ends in grief and death. But God did not leave us in that misery. He gave us his Son. In Jesus, and by faith in him, he has given us salvation and ushered us into his kingdom. What more can we gain that we have already gained! We have inherited life and faith and mission to tell the world of Christ! We have inherited our Lord’s life and his eternal glory! If you and I are not content with these, if we continue to pursue the empty things of this world, its pleasures, its wealth, its money, what does this reveal about us? It shows that you and I have no godly wisdom. Godliness is gain— Paul says! And that’s the purest form of contentment. So how can I be content? I think the only way to be content, really content, is if I stop to deeply appreciate the gift of life Jesus has given me.
Read verses 11-16. “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 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. 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 to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time— God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 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.” Paul gave Timothy the best advice a good father can advise his beloved son. Run away from all that is worldly by nature. Flee from the things that attract worldly people— all that glitters in the world— the lusts of the flesh— and such. Instead, he tells him to go after righteousness and godliness and faith and love. These are the noble things of God and life and they require patience when we serious about pursuing them. They require some fighting on our part. Paul tells Timothy to fight the good fight of faith in their pursuit. It’s always a battle to struggle against the desires of the flesh, against the temptations which flood our soul from every corner. We all know that life in general is a battle, unless we are in a vegetative state in some hospital. But it’s foolish to fight worthless battles. Money is an unworthy challenger. The lust of the flesh is worthless battle. These are losing battles. The only worthy and noble challenger to fight is by faith and with faith. With faith we put all our hope in Christ who fought the battle and won, and we stand with him by faith to fight the rest of the war. To engage in any other human battle is worthless and unworthy and unproductive and waste of time.
Paul also charged Timothy in the sight of God to imitate Christ who made the good confession of faith. Jesus could have fought for his life to save his life but he didn’t. He fought for truth. He confessed that he is the Messiah, the King of Heaven. He confessed that his kingdom is not of this world. Jesus also had a confession in his own heart that God loves him and is leading him in the way of righteousness, even though God was leading him to the cross to die. Jesus fought that battle in faith and with faith and by faith, all the way through his suffering, crucifixion, death and resurrection until he was taken up to heaven from where he will return. That was the confession Paul was talking about. Paul charged Timothy who also had a confession of Christ in his heart to remember that while we are living the godly life gaining godliness and being content, we have a promise to hold on to. Whatever we sacrifice here to gaining godliness isn’t lost. It’s kept in heaven for us at the return of our Lord. We only need live by faith and pursue godliness with contentment.
Read verses 17-21. “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. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 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. Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith. Grace be with you.” What about Christians who have been entrusted with material goods? What kind of education does Paul have for them? Be generous with their financial possessions. Use it properly. Wealth is given to some of his children as a trust, so that they may wisely use it for the benefit of those who are less fortunate. They need to share with their brothers and sisters what God has entrusted them with. Why should they do that? Paul says because it’s better to lay up riches in heaven than to lay up riches on earth where it will perish. Paul also tells rich people “Do not be arrogant”. Arrogance comes easy to the rich when they think they made themselves rich, and when they trust their own money more than they trust God. Arrogance comes easy to the rich when they despise the poor. Even they must fight their own arrogance through faith depending on God rather than on their wealth, and hope in God, and they must do so practically. This means that they must be generous with good deeds that glorify God and serve the needs of their suffering brothers and sisters.
Look at verse 20a. “Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care.” Finally Paul urges Timothy to guard what has been entrusted him as a good minister of Christ Jesus. He had been entrusted with the word of life. He had been entrusted with the message of the gospel. He had been entrusted with the preaching and teaching of this word of God to the whole world, and especially to the church in his care. Timothy was also entrusted with God’s flock. For them Timothy must continue to fight the good fight of faith to the end, until the coming of our Lord Jesus. We too have been entrusted with the word of life, and with eternal life and with the flock of God. For that, we must learn what’s worth fighting for and fight for it. It is the fight to bring the gospel to all people, especially here to Triton students. It is our God given responsibility. We cannot shirk that! More so, we have also been entrusted to pursue godliness and to be content in all that God has given us so that our influence may be godly and fruitful.