I saw a cartoon this week where a guy turns to his friend and says, “Do you think Jesus died so we could lead a more comfortable life, Like being a disciple of Jesus is really about being nice and succeeding in life? Like God just wants us to be happy, wealthy, and healthy?” It’s a good question. What’s the end game in Christianity? What’s the point? What kind of life should we expect as followers of Christ? What does God ultimately want for us? We find an insightful answer in Paul’s letter to Timothy.
Timothy, teach these instructions, and appeal to those under your ministry to live by them. If others are teaching otherwise and bringing unhealthy conversations to the community, if they are not sticking to the sound words in the teaching of our Lord Jesus the Anointed, if they are not teaching godly principles — then they are swollen with conceit, filled with self-importance, and without any proper understanding.
They probably have a gross infatuation with controversy and will endlessly debate meanings of words. That kind of talk leads to envy, discord, slander, and evil mistrust; and these people constantly bicker because they are depraved in their minds and bereft of the truth. They think somehow that godliness is the way to get ahead financially.
This is ironic because godliness, along with contentment, is great gain - it gives us great wealth but not in the ways some imagine. You see we came into this world with nothing, and nothing is going with us on the way out! So as long as we are clothed and fed, we should be happy.
But those who chase riches are constantly falling into temptation and snares. They are regularly caught by their own stupid and harmful desires, dragged down and pulled under into ruin and destruction. For the love of money—and what it can buy—is the root of all sorts of evil. Some already have wandered away from the true faith because they craved what it had to offer; but when reaching for the prize, they found their hands and hearts pierced with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6:3-10)
Our culture tells its own story about what the end game of life is. It’s apparently a lot of money, an exciting sex life, a desirable body, a huge reputation, great vacations. Only then do you have the good life. And there is something alluring about that, right? Who wouldn’t want those things? Anybody craving to be poor or unnoticed? Anybody planning to get married thinking, “I hope our sex life just falls apart”? Anybody hoping to vacation close to my house in Grawn instead of in France? Nobody?
It’s not those things that are bad. Of course we are drawn to them. Sex, money, health, freedom, and a good reputation are not bad things. It’s the degree to which we love them and desire them that can trip us up. Because of sin, our culture takes good things and distorts them or misuses them. It’s the trickiest kind of temptation. It’s not money, it’s the love of money. It’s not things, it’s the love of things. It’s not sex or health or comfort, it’s the love, the craving, the belief that those things are the point of life.
What we see here in 1 Timothy is that if we aren’t careful, we simply move that perspective into church life. The “love of money” verse isn’t about everybody who has money. It’s about those who believe that being a follower of Christ is just another way to be wealthy, and by wealthy they mean exactly what the world means. It turned out that they weren’t interested in Christ. They were interested in His toys. They wanted a Jesus who would cater to them. They wanted a “god with benefits” where they could show up, get what they wanted to make them feel good, and then go on their way.
The bottom line is that they believed that God + Something Else = Great Gain. When this kind of concept creeps in, the issues usually become bigger than just money: godliness and an exciting sex life is great gain, godliness and a desirable body are great gain, godliness and a huge reputation are great gain.
In this climate we will hear really unhelpful and false phrases like, “God wants everybody to be rich. God wants everybody to be healthy. God wants everybody to be able to accumulate things and look impressive and always be comfortable. If you don’t have it, you’re the problem. Just have more faith and do everything right, and you will earn your reward. ” Nobody will say it, but it sure looks like genuine godliness means you can gain the whole world and keep your soul. It looks like if you deny yourself and take up your cross you will be able to indulge yourself and take up your wallet.
Paul says people who believe this are “without understanding” and “bereft of truth.” The belief that Christ died and rose again so we can make money or never be sick or always be happy is simply wrong. And like any idea, it has consequences.
Of course they were full of themselves. If they had money (or health, or whatever counts a wealth in their culture), then they were clearly on a different spiritual plane than everyone else. Of course there are going to be arguments. The ones not getting rich have to defend themselves. If they lose their job, they have to explain their sin or their lack of faith.
It’s so much at odds with the Bible and church history that in order to sustain they argument they have to deconstruct the message of the Bible, reading a word instead of a verse, a verse instead of a whole chapter, a chapter instead of whole books, or looking at the life of once character in the Bible and assuming it’s normative for everyone. (“Look how Jabez prayed! If I pray that I will get what Jabez got! It’s a promise for everybody!”)
People in this position become toxic to others: envy, discord, slander, and mistrust are the obvious fruit. They are pierced through with sorrows, because idols will always fail us. We will never have enough. If God + anything = contentment, we will always need more and better things to go along with God. I like how Matt Chandler summarizes the issue:
“The universe shudders in horror that we have this infinitely valuable, infinitely deep, infinitely rich, infinitely wise, infinitely loving God, and instead of pursuing him with steadfast passion and enthralled fury — instead of loving him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; instead of attributing to him glory and honor and praise and power and wisdom and strength — we just try to take his toys and run. It is still idolatry to want God for his benefits but not for himself.”
Fortunately, Paul doesn’t stop there. He gives the antidote:
“Godliness, along with contentment, gives us great wealth but not in the ways some imagine. You see we came into this world with nothing, and nothing is going with us on the way out! So as long as we are clothed and fed, we should be happy.”
Godliness is literally "godly heart-response expressing itself in reverence for God and the things He says are worthy of veneration” – reverence for what he says matters (biblehub.com). The Prodigal Son who said to his father, “I am not worthy to be called your son.” His dad didn't argue with him. He didn't pat him on the back and try to give him props about how he was too hard on himself. His dad basically said, “Yeah, you were dead and lost. Now you’re not, and what I give to you changes everything. I am going to have a banquet, and I will set the table.” If you go away from the parable thinking the primary point was either the son or the feast, you have entirely missed the point. It’s about the Father in the story - a God who saves us, forgives us, and takes us back when we are at the bottom of our sinful self and then invites other to join him in a celebration for us and with us.
True Godliness is an awe of a God like that, not the feast that he brings. It’s all about Christ, not us. Godliness is not greed for the goodies God can bring; godliness is reverential worship of a God whose sacrifice, power and holiness has the ability to make even the most broken people beautiful.
Contentment is “having all we need within through the indwelling Christ.” (biblehum.com). It’s not complacency with evil and injustice; it’s the peace that comes from believing that my circumstances will never separate me from the love of God. Paul writes in other places about what happens because of the work of Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit:
“To keep me grounded and stop me from becoming too high and mighty due to the extraordinary character of these revelations, I was given a thorn in the flesh—a nagging nuisance of Satan, a messenger to plague me! I begged the Lord three times to liberate me from its anguish; and finally He said to me, “My grace is enough to cover and sustain you. My power is made perfect in weakness... I am at peace and even take pleasure in any weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and afflictions for the sake of Christ because when I am at my weakest, He makes me strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
“I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:11 – 13)
And when this happens, we are free to pursue the things that really matter:
“Timothy, don’t let this [the destructiveness of the love of money] happen to you—run away from these things! You are a man of God. Your quest is for justice, godliness, faithfulness, love, perseverance, and gentleness.” (1 Timothy 6:10-11)
A godly response of reverence and awe to an awesome God is to pursue the things of God, not the things from God. The Bible talks a lot about being transformed into the image of Christ. That’s the quest. That’s what we are shooting for. Godliness (reverential awe of God and transformation into the image of Christ) with contentment (Christ is all I need) is great gain.
You may well have a life where you are blessed in all the ways I mentioned earlier. Awesome. The Bible is clear that every good and perfect gift comes from God, and that God gives good gifts to His children. My point is not that God is stingy or uninterested in our flourishing. He clearly in the Bible and throughout history has provided generous blessing to many people (though not the same ones to everyone, and not all the time).
Does God want us to be happy, healthy, and wealthy? If He does, it will be for His glory and not ours. His kingdom, not ours. His purpose, not ours. What I see here is God wants you to be so enamored with Christ that none of those other things distract you or distance you from Christ.
There is only ONE THING that gives us assurance and hope, and that is Jesus Christ. What is the good life? Knowing that Christ is sufficient, and no matter our circumstances, He is worthy, and He is working in us, and that is enough.