Eternal Life and the Love of Money
1 Timothy 6:6-19
September 29, 2019
A father once gave his little girl two dollars and told her, “You can do anything you want with one of the dollars, but the other dollar belongs to God.”
She nodded in understanding and with joy she ran to her favorite candy store. But on the way she tripped and one dollar fell into the storm drain. She got up, brushed herself off and said, “Well Lord, there goes your dollar.”
Today we’re talking about everyone’s favorite church topic that I bet you all have just been waiting in eager anticipation for me to preach on: money. Everyone loves it when their pastor starts talking about money. I say that tongue-in-cheek of course because money is one of those church topics that can make us squirm a little bit. In fact, I’m amazed nobody has bolted for the door yet. In my experience, whenever the pastor talks about money, I tend to leave church feeling either guiltier or poorer. Depends on how successful the pastor was at extracting dollar bills from my wallet. I actually made a bet with church council that after preaching once about money I could either increase our tithe by 200% or decrease our membership by 50%.
Money is just one of those topics that can be a little uncomfortable to talk about in church. We live in a culture and are raised with a worldview that believes the more money we have the happier we will be; the purpose of our lives then becomes accumulating wealth. And indeed, most of our lives revolve around either making money or spending money. In a culture built on capitalism, it becomes everyone’s responsibility to make their own money, and the money we make is what we deserve for our hard work – our worth and our utility to society is often predicated on how well we can support ourselves and thrive with the money we make. Those who don’t make enough money to support themselves are often viewed as leeches on the system and those who make millions of dollars are worshipped and fawned over. It makes sense then how much we desire money; money can buy status, friends, beautiful homes, nice cars and a pretty comfy life.
It can get awkward real fast then when your pastor stands up and starts preaching about how money is the root of all evil. Passages like the one Grant read for us are often used to preach about how terrible and evil money is and how we need to give it all to the church before it burns a hole in our pockets or drags us to hell. Most of us have probably heard a sermon like this before, I’m sure. This will not be one of those sermons. You can all breathe a collective sigh of relief. When I look at passages like the one Grant read, and others that address money in Scripture, nowhere do I see that money itself is evil or the root of evil. Money, I think, has an amoral quality, it’s neutral. Nowhere in Scripture do I see it stated that having money is evil or wrong, even if it’s a lot of money. Scripture, it seems to me, is less concerned with how much money we have, and is more concerned with how we think about money and how we use what we have.
Paul in this letter to Timothy writes in verse 17: “As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” Notice that Paul doesn’t say: “As for those in the present age who are rich, give away all your money or else.” Also, notice that contrary to how this passage is often preached on, Paul doesn’t say: “Money is the root of all evil.” He says: “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” Money it seems is a neutral category, but it is the love of money that Paul warns the church against.
While money is certainly the focus of Paul’s final exhortations to Timothy in this letter, Paul has a much deeper and more profound point to make than to encourage Timothy to stay away from wealth. What Paul is doing in this passage is giving Timothy, and us by extension, a new perspective on life that is meant to shape the ways we relate to each other and the material world.
Our tip-off to the perspective change that Paul is trying to enact is found in two loaded commands: the first is in verse 12: “take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.” And the second command is in his closing line: “take hold of true life”, or in some translations: “take hold of the life that really is life.” And so this begs the question: what does money have to do with eternal life or “true life”?
Let’s start by looking closely at these two commands. Paul commands his readers to take hold of eternal life, or in Greek: aioniou zoes. Often, when we hear eternal life, we’ve been conditioned to think about the destination of our souls post-death; eternal life becomes equivalent in our minds to living in heaven with God, as opposed to living in hell, separated from God. Eternal life is the carrot at the end of the stick, the reward for a life of good Christian behavior. With this traditional understanding of eternal life, as life in heaven after death, we could understand that Paul is trying to tell us that in order to obtain eternal life, in order to get into heaven, you must guard yourselves from the snares of money.
However, recent scholarship suggests that for Paul, eternal life is not some futuristic goal, something we get after we behave ourselves in this life. But for Paul, eternal life is so much more profound. For Paul, eternal life is a prize to be seized upon in this life, it’s not something we wait for until we die. In other words, eternal life starts now! Paul in this passage is attempting to emphasize the present reality of eternity right now. This is what Jesus is getting at when he preaches: “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” It’s not, “the Kingdom of God is coming soon, so get ready”; it’s “the Kingdom of God is already here, so live into it!”
Eternal life, or a life that is eternal, that doesn’t perish, interrupts our present time, it converts it and creates profoundly new ways of living here and now. Let me give you an example to help understand this concept in ordinary terms. Take for instance a couple who is in a dating relationship. They’re very serious and they know they want to get married. They know their end goal: marriage. But their end goal of marriage, of an intimate relationship spent in mutual self-giving love, does not begin when they say their vows. It begins now. Even while they are still dating, they are laying the foundation for their marriage. And that reality changes their present and transforms the ways they treat each other and live with one another now.
The same is true of eternal life. Eternal life, or a life that does not perish, but is spent in eternal relationship with God, a life of wholeness where there is no brokenness – that life does not start the moment you die. It starts now. Because if we trust or believe that God is restoring us to our full humanity, making us whole again, piecing together the broken pieces of our life, then that doesn’t begin when we die, that begins now.
You see, Paul intentionally draws a connection between eternal life and how we think about money, because they are inextricably related. If eternal life begins now, then that changes our perspective on wealth and material accumulation. Because material things are passing, but we are not. Material things and wealth will perish, they do not last; the relationships we have with others will not perish. And this is where Paul’s second command comes in. He implores Timothy to seize hold of the life that is really life. Paul is setting up a contrast between real life and a destructive life.
Real life, or true life is a life of godliness spent in contentment; he writes: “for we brought nothing in to the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.” Real life or a true life, is one that “does good, that is rich in good works, generous and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future.” Real life is a life spent living into who we were created to be: relational beings designed to help and aid one another, generously giving of ourselves and content with only what is necessary.
Paul’s picture of “the life that is really life” is contrasted with a destructive life, a life that is trapped by self-interest, a life that plunges people into ruin and destruction, trapped by many senseless and harmful desires. The root of this destructive lifestyle, according to Paul, is often tied to our love of money, our love of material things. But again, notice that Paul does not tie money to a destructive lifestyle, but it is the love of money that is tied to it. A destructive lifestyle is often predicated on a life that values money over relationships, values material accumulation over good works, a life of self-interest over self-giving, a life that values what is perishable over what is imperishable.
Now, I don’t think I need to do much to prove Paul’s point for us. It is an observable fact of life that people’s love of money has the ability to corrupt and make people do terrible things to others and themselves. We see the love of money rip apart families as work and career becomes more important than time at home. We see the love of money fund sex-trafficking and other heinous ways of accumulating wealth at the expense of others. Our country was built on the backs of slaves whose forced labor single-handedly upheld our nation’s economy, all for the love of money. We’ve witnessed the destructive forces that the love of money can cause. We’ve probably all experienced the effects of it to some degree or another. Money has the ability to change people in ways that most other things do not have the power to.
And so I think we need to take Paul’s cautionary commands very seriously. Paul longs for Timothy and these other new Christians to experience the freedom and the joy found in a life with Christ – a life that is being made new, that is becoming whole. But Paul sees the temptations of money and material accumulation; he knows it carries with it a poisonous dagger.
I think this is what Jesus was referring to when he preached that it is harder for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle – and let’s just say that getting a camel through the eye of a needle, which was a tiny door in the city gates, was very nigh impossible. Again, when Jesus is talking about the kingdom of God, he’s not referring to some far off future reality, he’s referring to true life, eternal life lived out now. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to live a life that is truly life.
So then what do we do with our money? Do we give it all away? Do we avoid wealth at all costs? That’s been the approach taken by many Christians, and maybe it’s not a terrible idea. But I don’t think that’s what Paul is trying to tell us to do here.
Paul, I think, is not trying to persuade Timothy and these early Christians to get rid of their money, but to think of their money in a different light. He contrasts faith in money with faith in God. Everyone, whether they believe in God or not, put their faith in something. We all put our faith in something to save us, to bring us happiness, to make our life fulfilled and whole. Preconditioned by our capitalist culture, most of us put our faith in money and in our careers to save us, to make us happy, to give us purpose. And this works for awhile, until it doesn’t. Until we slow down long enough to realize that our drive to work harder, to earn more money, to climb to the top has only left us empty, devoid of healthy relationships, and devoid of life that is really life.
And so Paul is exhorting Timothy and the early Christians that they can look all they want for a fulfilling life in money, but they will only find heartache and destruction. Instead, Paul is reminding Timothy of his baptism – of his confession made in the presence of many witnesses, the same confession that Jesus made. Paul is reminding Timothy that he has been baptized into the life and death of Christ, and that he has therefore been baptized into a fundamentally new way of living and therefore a new way of viewing money and material accumulation.
Because money and material goods perish, but we do not; our relationships do not. This past week Cliff Tiedt’s memorial service was held here. And this room was packed. We had to add extra chairs and there were still people standing in the back. The amount of people here was a testament to the impact of a life that was truly life. Cliff’s life left a profound impact upon those he interacted with; and the ripples of those impacts will ripple on for eternity. Money and material wealth do not leave an impact like that; a life of godliness, good works and generosity is all that can leave an impact like that.
But we live in a society built upon principles of accumulating wealth and the power that comes from wealth. And so this is not an easy way of living that Paul is calling us to. But in reminding Timothy of his baptismal confession, Paul is reminding him of a fundamental truth in life that one of my undergrad professors always liked to remind us of: beholding is becoming. That which we fix our gaze and our attention upon is what we slowly become. If we fix our gaze upon money and the accumulation of wealth, then that is what our life will begin to reflect. And before we know it, we wake up and realize that we no longer work to live, but we live to work, we live to make more money, to try to buy more happiness in order to fill that void inside of us.
But when we behold God, when we behold the True Relationship, the True Source of All Life, then our life slowly begins to reflect the self-giving God. When we behold money, we become self-interested, when we behold God, we become self-giving; when we behold and place all our attention into getting and keeping money, we become curved in on ourselves; but when we behold God, we become generous and more interested in helping others than in buying a new boat. Beholding is becoming. What we behold is what defines our life. So what is it that you spend so much of your life beholding and putting your attention towards?
God desires for us to live a whole life, a life of shalom, an eternal life, a true life that is really worth living. And Paul is quite honest in this passage that this is not an easy stroll in the park. Paul commands us to seize hold of eternal life, to seize hold of the life that is really life. The Greek verb here is epilombanomai. It means “take hold of, grasp, seize, sometimes with violence or force.” Eternal life and true life are alternative realities to be seized. They do not happen passively, we must actively pursue them; we must actively work to behold God rather than our love of money. We must fight the good fight. We must strive, like an athlete towards a life of generosity that certainly requires dedication and hard work.
Maintaining a healthy relationship to money does not happen overnight and it does not happen once and for all, especially not when we live in a culture that is constantly inundating us with advertisements and reminders about all the things we didn’t realize we needed in order to live a happy life. As Christians who acknowledge that every good gift we have is a gift from God, this takes a while to translate from an intellectual concept to something we live out in practice. It’s a lot easier to say that our money belongs to God until we have to write a check, or until we see a need and have to decide how generous we want to be.
Now, my hope and prayer is that you are giving your money somewhere. It doesn’t need to be here at this church. I want to make that very clear: I’m not preaching about money and generosity so that we can get more of your money. Yes, we need money to operate and continue to do ministry, but I trust that God will provide. My hope though is that you are giving money somewhere, whether it’s a church, a charity, an organization or a friend in need. Because a life that is not self-giving, a life that does not know how to be generous or give to others is not really a true life. That is Paul’s point in all of this.
Generosity is not born overnight, but generosity starts from a desire to make a difference and to help someone other than yourself. My encouragement is that if you have that yearning in your heart, if you have that little voice that is whispering, maybe I don’t need all of this money and all of this stuff, then I encourage you to listen to that voice and that yearning and start with baby steps.
God desires us to have eternal life, the life that is really life, the life that is really worth living. When we behold God, when we put our faith in God rather than money or material accumulation, we just might find ourselves to be a little more generous, a little less self-interested, and little more alive. God came down so we might experience life and life to the fullest. Let us live into this reality; let us seize hold of the life that is worth living.