October 10, 2004: True Riches vs. Counterfeit Wealth

Let us pray:  Dear Savior, today remind us not to be taken in by the counterfeit happiness that this world offers.  Teach us to value the intangibles of life that make our hearts glad and that fill our souls with good things.  Yes, remind us that being “other-worldly” is actually a good thing, because that other world is the one that You inhabit and is called: heaven.  Amen


TEXT:  I Timothy 6: 6-16

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:

Has someone ever asked you: what’s your favorite book?  And if you answered: “the Bible,” what was their response?  I’ll bet they smiled briefly, fidgeted in their seat, and quickly moved on to another subject.  Or maybe, their eyes just glazed over.  Why do so many people respond to discussions about the Bible in such a manner?  Why do some of you approach the issue of “bible study” with  a bored look on your face?  I think it all stems from the fact that for most people the Bible seems a bit old-fashioned, quaint, and out-of-touch with what we face in our fast-paced modern society.  Of course, nothing could be further from the truth!  For if you actually read the Bible and ponder: “what does this mean to mean in my life right now,” you’ll discover that it is much more “cutting edge” than anything on Dr. Phil or Oprah.

The lesson before us is one example of this.  Here St. Paul writes a letter to young Pastor Timothy, a long-time protégé.  Timothy was the pastor of a church Paul planted in the great city of Ephesus.  As we learned last Spring when we discussed Paul’s life in Bible Class, Ephesus was a city filled with proud people who were enamored by wealth and prestige.—Much like our modern, American society.  Now when Christianity appeared in their midst, it became stylish for some to embrace it.  After all, it was new and cutting edge.  Also, to such superstitious people it was a way of hedging their bets on a more lucrative life when it came to business.  Some felt: “if I get in good with this Christian God, perhaps it will open more doors for attaining wealth.”  Just like some business people today who join a church simply to supply them with more business contacts, or because they view faith as a rabbit’s foot against recessions,  some of the Ephesians engaged in similar behavior.

Listen to how St. Paul describes this situation in the verses directly proceeding our text.  “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 arguments that result in envy, quarreling, 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.”

Many years ago I had a member who moved down south to a small town in the proverbial “Bible belt.”  They were sickened by the attitude shown by the churches in that town.  Yes, everyone went to church on Sunday because it was the socially acceptable thing to do.  But, the churches were all about: which one is the biggest, which one has the nicest indoor pool, which one had the most obvious wealth, which one would enable them to “get ahead” in their business life.  It became apparent to that person that those churches and many of the people in them suffered from: Ephesianitis!   Well, since we’re not immune from such a rabbit’s foot mentality when it comes to our faith, let’s look at our lesson by considering:



Right after that severe indictment of some of the membership at Timothy’s church, Paul goes on to say this: “But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into this 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.”

Note well here that Paul doesn’t say that “money is the root of all evil.”  No, he says that “loving it”—valuing it more than true Godliness is the problem.  We all have to have money to live.  Paul did, too.  He even worked on the side and made tents to supplement his work for God.  But, letting it dictate your life, letting it control you, equating the level of one’s financial wealth with one’s level of faith in God—that’s where the problem lies.  Viewing church as a means to have God provide more financial wealth first and providing spiritual wealth second—that’s just plain wrong.  Why?  Because it turns God into a rabbit’s foot and tries to re-create heaven on earth.  Some who felt this sting of spiritual ruin were Judas, Annanias and his wife: Sapphira.  All of them let the love of money destroy their souls.  So, the point is clear: don’t let this happen to you!  As Jesus says elsewhere: “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and forfeit his own soul?”


So, what should be our response to this seeking after counterfeit wealth?  St. Paul now tells us.  “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.  Fight the good fight of faith.  Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (That’s a reference to Timothy’s ordination vows.)  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.”

God doesn’t live in temples made with mere human hands.  He isn’t confined to space and constrained by time.  No, He is eternal.  He is almighty.  He is other-worldly.  And as His children, we are, too.  That means our lives and our attitude should celebrate that other-worldliness!  God’s riches aren’t measured in silver and gold.  They are measured in love, faith, and joy.  They are measured in the forgiveness that God has shown us in Christ when He suffered and died, giving His life for ours in order to wipe our conscience clean and win us a place in glory.  We live in the here and now because we have to.  But, our hearts and souls are in the hereafter.  That’s because our 80 odd years on planet earth are but a blip, the blink of an eye, when compared with life in eternity.

Our church isn’t financially rich.  We’re not prestigious in a social sense.  Our building is humble.  And yet, none of that matters.  Not when you contrast true riches, eternal riches, vs. such counterfeit wealth.  Yes, God is speaking directly to your heart when He says: “But godliness with contentment is great gain.”  And only you, dear faithful Christians, have such inner comfort.  So, rejoice in that richness and live your life at peace with God!  Amen