The Snare of Materialism
Passage: 1 Timothy 6:6-10
Last Sunday afternoon, I received several text messages from a member of our church about how incredibly relevant to life last Sunday’s text was and how this has been true of all of 1 Timothy. I have thought the same thing many times while studying through this book. Time after time I have sat in my office looking at a verse in 1 Timothy, and it seemed as if Paul was thinking of me or of situations I am facing when he wrote that verse.
It’s as if someone with a perfect understanding of human nature and the kinds of problems that pop up in churches guided Paul to write this stuff. Of course, this is exactly what happened. God knows us perfectly, and he knows exactly what we need for life and godliness. Therefore, God’s Word always has a timeless relevance.
There may be no better example in 1 Timothy of how God’s Word transcends time than our passage for today. I think we would all agree that greed and materialism are rampant in our culture and do terrible damage to many people’s lives.
Did you know that household credit card debt in our country is right around $750 billion, and it is projected to rise another $90 billion in the next couple of years? That averages out to roughly $5,500/cardholder. Of course, some households have 2 or 3 cardholders, so oftentimes that number is much higher. It’s true that some people are there because of circumstances outside their control, but most of these dug themselves a hole because they didn’t discipline themselves to live within their means. The lust for pleasure overwhelmed financial responsibility.
Now hopefully we who are Christians and have set our hope on eternity do better than most, but I think we would all admit that to one degree or another we all struggle with greed. Therefore, it’s not just the world out there that needs to heed this admonition, I need it and so do you. God is speaking directly to us in this text.
There are two fairly clear sections to this paragraph. In vv. 6–8, Paul challenges us to pursue the virtue of godly contentment. Then in vv. 9–10 he warns us about the danger of materialism. We will look at these two sections consecutively today, and I’d like to summarize each section with a commitment that I hope you will make by God’s grace. The first commitment I’d like you to make based on vv. 6–8 is…
I will run hard after God and be satisfied in his provision (vv. 6–8).
Notice first from v. 6…
The Picture of Godly Contentment (v. 6):
It’s important to note the contrast between vv. 5 and 6. We saw last week in v. 5 that the false teachers were using their counterfeit godliness as a means of financial gain. They were marketing godliness and making a good return.
Paul condemns their greed, but in v. 6 he also clarifies that there is tremendous gain in godliness but not the kind that the false teachers wanted. Rather, godliness promises a profit that is far greater than money; it promises contentment.
The word Paul uses for contentment was a very significant term in Greek moral philosophy, especially among the Stoics. To the Stoics this word communicated the virtue of self-sufficiency. It was the ability to remain completely detached from circumstances or material possessions. They believed that this ability grew from an inner, almost super-human strength and independence that couldn’t be touched by the pains of life.
Paul says that godliness promises a similar contentment that does not rise and fall with circumstances or possessions. But this contentment is also very different from Stoic contentment. We see this clearly in Philippians 4:10–13. Paul uses the same word for contentment in v. 11. And notice in v. 12 that like the Stoics, Paul’s contentment is independent of circumstances. But v. 13 points out a major difference. Paul’s contentment was not rooted in self-sufficiency but in Christ’s sufficiency. Paul says that it is Christ who strengthens him by his grace to be content.
This is a very important distinction. Christian contentment is not merely a hardened gruffness that allows a soldier to endure the darkness of war. It is not growing calloused toward the ups and downs of life. Rather, Christian contentment is the fruit of walking with God, of renewing the mind through meditating on God’s character and promises, and of experiencing the grace that comes as the Spirit applies the Word to my heart. It is a supernatural fruit of the Spirit.
It is as Galatians 5:22 would say the ability to have joy through the Spirit. That brings us to a second difference, which is that Christian contentment is not a lack of feeling like Stoic ideal; rather it is positive joy and peace (Phil 4:4–7). How is it that God can command us to rejoice even in the face of hard circumstances like Paul endured over and over? The answer is that God gives it. He gives joy and peace as his Spirit plants his Word in our hearts and gives faith to believe.
Some of you are even now facing very trying circumstances. Life feels cold and dark. But if you have Christ, you don’t have to be dominated by the ups and downs of this world. You can have joy through the grace of God. He promises to sustain his people as we seek him. And so look to him. Pray about your anxieties, and receive his grace.
And then give thanks for the contentment that God offers because it is “great gain” as our text states. It’s not the financial gain the false teachers wanted, but no amount of money could ever match godly contentment. To be satisfied in God and to rejoice in him is a great gift. How we ought to give thanks today that Christ empowers us by his grace to be content at all times even in the darkest days of life.
That’s the picture of godly contentment. Notice in v. 7 the…
The Emptiness of Materialism (v. 7):
This verse provides such a needed perspective for us sinners. So often we chase our tails day after day trying to find happiness in the things of this world. We dream of a bigger house, a nicer car, or an extravagant vacation. Or we tell ourselves that I will be happy when I feel good or look good. We stress over earning praise at work or seeing our team win a championship. We keep telling ourselves that if I just get over this hump, I will be happy.
But Paul graciously points out in v. 7 that everything in this world is temporary. Raise your hand if you have every watched a baby be born. Keep your hand up if you have seen a baby come out of the womb holding a bag of money or wearing a nice outfit. That’s absurd isn’t it? We don’t enter the world with any material things, and because of that we know that we will not take any material things with us in death either.
The Egyptian Pharaohs tried. They packed the pyramids full of riches, but none of it followed them into the afterlife. They just sat in the pyramid until grave robbers broke in and took them. Everything in this world is temporary and because of that, material things can never bring lasting contentment.
That’s not to say that these things cannot be a blessing. I get a lot of joy out of my family, my ministry, my home, and many other things. But if my joy is ever rooted in these things rather than in Christ, I am doomed for disappointment. It is only when I have the eternal perspective of v. 7 and when I am investing in godliness above everything else that I can have hope of true Christ-empowered contentment.
And so v. 7 reminds us of the emptiness of materialism. Finally, v. 8 urges us to keep…
The Proper Perspective on Material Things (v. 8):
“Food and clothing” are intended to be representative of the basic necessities of life. Sometimes, we make our lives so complicated because we think we have to have so much stuff. There are a lot of double income families out there that are living very comfortably, and they are running themselves into the ground, because they have convinced themselves that many luxuries are actually necessities.
Paul understood that we all have this tendency to complicate the pursuit of contentment; therefore, he commands us to be content as long as we have the basic necessities of life. He is urging us to simplify our perspective and ultimately to see God’s gracious hand in what we do have.
We miss that so often don’t we? You have a disappointing day at work. You didn’t get something you want, and you come home cranky. All you think about all night is on how you missed out on some desire that is ultimately a luxury, not a necessity. And because of how selfishness and pride have clouded your vision, you don’t find any joy in the comfortable home God gave you, the good food you are eating, and the wonderful family he has put around you.
I came across a poem this week that expresses very well our foolish lack of perspective. It was actually written by a 14 year old boy, Jason Lehman, and it became well-known only when his grandmother submitted it to “Dear Abby.” The poem “Present Tense” reads,
It was spring, But it was summer I wanted,
The warm days, And the great outdoors.
It was summer, But it was fall I wanted,
The colorful leaves, And the cool, dry air.
It was fall, But it was winter I wanted,
The beautiful snow, And the joy of the holiday season.
It was winter, But it was spring I wanted,
The warmth, And the blossoming of nature.
I was a child, But it was adulthood I wanted,
The freedom, And the respect.
I was 20, But it was 30 I wanted,
To be mature, And sophisticated.
I was middle-aged, But it was 20 I wanted,
The youth, And the free spirit.
I was retired, But it was middle age I wanted,
The presence of mind, Without limitations.
My life was over.
But I never got what I wanted.
This poem points out the fact that we are always surrounded by blessings, and as Christians we know that everyone of them comes from the hand of God. Yet so often we want something else. We do not see the good things he has put around us, and we just want more. We need to obey God’s command to us in this verse and see his gracious hand all around us, and then we need to be content. We need to have joy.
And so the first resolution I’d like us to make today is that “I will run hard after God and give thanks for his provision.” That first part is very important. God doesn’t say it’s enough to be content. Some of us (me included) are very good at just gritting our teeth and taking life like a good Stoic. But God calls us to something more. He calls us to experience a supernatural contentment that is rooted in godliness and Christ’s power.
That means that if you are depressed, sad, or disappointed, it’s not enough to distract yourself with entertainment or people or even a Jesus pill of a quick verse or song. You need to build a godly foundation and run hard after Christ so that he is your joy. This is possible only if Jesus is everything to you. Jesus has no interest in being your Prozac pill. No, he is the Lord. And so commit yourself today to go hard after God, to practice the spiritual disciplines and to obey his Word because true contentment must be tied to true godliness.
And then commit yourself to be content and to give thanks for his provision. Don’t lose sight of what you deserve as a wicked sinner, and don’t lose sight of God’s gracious blessings all around you. Tell God today, “By your grace, I will run hard after you and give thanks for your provision.”
The second commitment I’d like us to make is that…
I will guard my heart against the trap of materialism (vv. 9–10).
One of the most well known lines in all of 1 Timothy is the opening of v. 10, which is worded as a proverbial warning. Is important to note that this proverb does not say that having money is the root of evil; it is the love of money and by extension all materialistic greed that leads to wickedness and destruction. Understand that you can be dirt poor, and still love money and endure grave consequences because of your greed.
I think it’s also worth noting that this proverb does not claim that the love of money is the exclusive root of evil. The NKJV is correct according to the Greek to put an a instead a the in front of root. There are a variety of desires that can lead to destruction, but greed is certainly one of the most dangerous desires we can entertain.
And v. 9 tells us why by showing us in a three step process how greed leads to destruction. Notice first…
The Lure of Wealth:
Paul mentions those who “desire to be rich.” Again, it’s not that they are rich; it’s that they want to be rich. There’s nothing with having money or being successful. Verses 17–19 give instructions to those who are wealthy. Paul never tells them to stop being wealthy but to make sure that money doesn’t become their confidence and that they are generous with their money and not stingy.
Money can be a great tool to advance God’s work and to serve others. If God has blessed someone financially, the Scriptures never say that they shouldn’t enjoy the blessings of this world, assuming that they do so with gratitude to God and with the knowledge that he is our only ultimate satisfaction.
Rather, Paul is concerned for those who crave wealth because craving wealth makes someone especially susceptible to “temptation and a snare.” It’s no secret that there are special temptations that come with greed because greed so easily clouds our perspective on life. It can consume our whole focus. Someone thinks, “I have to get this promotion.” “I have to get a little more in the bank so that I can be secure or do this fun thing.” And that clouded perspective tempts them with foolishness and sin. They neglect their family because work consumes them. They begin to fudge their ethics to get an extra advantage. Or they just keep swiping the credit card when there’s no money in the bank.
They are lured by a fake pleasure like I fish that is loses its life for a plastic worm. And then they find themselves in a snare or a trap. All of those long hours in the office with a female coworker combined with a neglected marriage make the draw of unfaithfulness very strong. Or a person starts to dig himself into a hole through an unethical decision. Or maybe the stress of greed starts to lead someone down a path of substance abuse or into viewing pornographic material.
The lure of wealth leads secondly to…
The Snare of Lust:
Paul says that these lusts are “foolish and harmful.” To the outside observer, it’s obvious that this person who is corrupted by greed is making terrible choices, but he can’t see it. Sin has deceived his heart and blinded his vision. It happens all of the time. I had a friend in MI who a year ago walked away from a wonderful wife and two beautiful young children for the temporary pleasure of another girl. To every outside observer, it made no sense, but sin deceived his heart. That story is repeated over and over.
I’ve known people who in their younger years are very involved with church, and they are committed to raising their kids to love Christ. But they fall in love with a hobby, a vacation home, or a travelling sports league takes begins to dominate life. Nothing they are doing is wrong, but they love it so much that it begins to affect their priorities, and they can’t see it.
Their commitment to the church wanes, and then they are shocked when their kids finish high school and don’t want anything to do with God. They don’t realize that for years they have communicated to their kids that they don’t need to really take God that seriously by how they have established the priorities in their home.
This leads to the third stage of destruction which is…
The picture of “drowning” is very significant. It is in the active voice, so the idea is that the trap of greed is pulling this person down under the water until their lungs are filled with water and they die from a lack of oxygen.
I do want to emphasize that Paul intends to describe complete spiritual destruction that ends in eternal hell. Verse 9 uses terminology that is consistently used for the eternal damnation of the wicked, which is why the NKJV uses “perdition.” Verse 10 is also clear that this is what Paul has in mind when it says that these people “stray from the faith.”
Sadly, I’ve been around a number of people who have walked away from Christ, and very rarely does someone leave the faith for intellectual reasons. They may end up claiming that’s the case, but rarely does it begin there. No, almost without exception, the journey away from Christ begins with lust or greed. I want love, I want success, I want to feel good, or I want respect.
And just like God said would happen, the heart becomes more and more deceived and the vision becomes more and more blurry. The snake slowly wraps tighter and tighter around their body and begins dragging them down. Then one day they realize they have to choose between their sin and God, and they can’t give up their sin, and so God has to go, or at least the God of the Bible for a god of my own making that fits what I want.
Folks, I pray that we will all see in this passage the firm but compassionate love of our Father in this warning. And I hope that you will commit yourself before God that, “I will guard my heart carefully against the trap of materialism or any form of greed.”
Maybe you are doing relatively well today in this regard. You are keeping your priorities straight and rejoicing in God’s provision. Praise the Lord! And remember today that the contentment you have in God is great gain. It is worth more than all of the wealth you could ever have. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are not rich beyond anything this world can offer.
Maybe God’s Word has pierced your heart today and shown you where greed has affected your vision and priorities, and you are very troubled by what God’s Word has said. I would urge you to give thanks for God’s gracious warning and for the work of his Spirit to show you your sin. After I pray, I’m going to give you an opportunity to talk with God and confess your sin to him. And praise the Lord that he does forgive. And then I am going to urge you to spend some time this afternoon reflecting on what needs to change in your life and in your family. Don’t look in the mirror of God’s Word and walk away unchanged. Be a doer of the Word.
Maybe you have sat there the whole time this morning running excuses through your mind about why you are okay. Instead of really dealing with the text of Scripture, you’ve been doing mental gymnastics to justify how you are living. You should be very concerned if you have been doing everything you can to run from the Bible rather than toward it. You need to consider if maybe Satan has wrapped himself around you far more than you ever realized. You need to cry out to God for grace, and may need to sit down with a godly friend and get their perspective on where you are really at because you might not be able to trust yourself to see clearly.
Maybe you are in despair today. You know that you are not content, and you desperately want the contentment vv. 6–8 describe. Run to God for grace. Dig into his Word, pray, and lean on his people. There are people all around you who love you and want to be an encouragement. And trust that God will be faithful as you seek him.
Maybe you know that you do not have a relationship with God. You’ve always lived for yourself and for temporary joys. But you see today that this world is passing away and that God offers a contentment that things never can. You want to know how you can have a relationship with this good God. Jesus said in John 3 that you need to be born again. You need to see that you are a sinner who has broken God’s law and because of that you deserve his judgment. But Jesus bore the punishment you deserve when he died on the cross and rose again. And the Bible says that you must respond to Christ’s work by believing on Jesus and Jesus alone for your salvation, and it promises that if you do, he will forgive your sin and make you his child. I pray that you will call out to him today and receive his grace and begin down the road to godly contentment because godliness with contentment is great gain.