The Creeping Danger of Materialism

A Study on I Timothy 6

By Harold S. Martin

A Bible Helps Booklet No. 259

First Timothy 6 is one of the New Testament chapters that deals with money, finances, and material possessions. After warning against the inroads of false teachers in verses 1-5 of the chapter, we are given cautions about the dangers of falling under the grip of materialism.

1. The Results of Desiring to Be Rich

Jesus never said that we could not have possessions, but He did say that wealth and possessions would make it tougher to keep faithful. Every Christian has probably read that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God (Luke 18:25), yet many of us find it easy to pursue more and more wealth, instead of striving to live on less. The key message in 1 Timothy 6:6-10 is that desiring to be rich yields a number of results.

a) A lack of simple contentment

One result of desiring riches is stated in 1 Timothy 6:6, which says, "But godliness with contentment is great gain." There is a certain satisfaction which ought to characterize the child of God. Godliness (right living) along with a contented spirit, is a wonderful combination of virtues. The happy and grateful Christian (who is seeking to live for the Lord) will be a satisfied person. (By way of contrast, the person who has an excessive appetite for wealth and earthly possessions, will be covetous and greedy and filled with anxiety). Contentment does not come from having all our wants supplied; it comes from reducing our desires to include only the essentials of life.

b) The notion that we can take it with us

Another result of desiring wealth is found in 1 Timothy 6:7, "For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out." Every person comes into the world without a penny in his pocket (in fact, even without a pocket to put a penny in) - and all of us will leave this world without taking any material goods with us. The only things we can take with us to the other side-are those things which we do for Jesus while here. And, like Job in the Old Testament, we can take with us our families (because each child is a living soul and never dies). A miserly, dissatisfied, aging man (who was lingering on the borders of death) had befriended an older neighbor who was a good Christian. The miserly, sickly man hoped he could stay here forever; he said about the cheerful older Christian neighbor: "He is going to his treasure; I must soon leave mine." We cannot take our earthly goods with us. And only those children who know the Lord will enter the heavenly City.

c) An excessive desire for unnecessary things

1 Timothy 6:8 says, "And having food and raiment, let us be therewith content." The Greek word translated "raiment" is plural, and literally means "coverings." (It speaks of clothing to cover the body, and of shelter to protect us from the elements of nature. If we have enough to eat, and proper clothing to wear, and a roof over our heads-we should be content).

The virtue of contentment is not natural to the human heart. It must be learned. Paul wrote in Philippians 4:10-12 that he had learned to be content. Paul was reared in luxury. As a child he had plenty. But later, as a servant of Christ, he was sometimes in need. He did not always have enough, but he learned to be content.

Verse 8 of our lesson admonishes every one of us to learn to live with less and to be happy about it. 1 Timothy 6:8 is one of the passages in the Bible that should make many of us feel ashamed when we read it. The Scripture no where says that we may not save for future needs, but certainly our main concern must not be the accumulation of material possessions. Solomon says, "He that loves silver, shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loves abundance, with increase" (Ecclesiastes 5:10). One of Satan's most deceptive philosophies is the teaching that riches will bring everything your heart longs for. The advertisements say, "Take a break in Bermuda;" "Get the feel of a Buick;" "Things go better with Coke."

From the time we could crawl on our knees, we wanted a little red wagon, and then a tricycle with a bell. And then we wanted an automobile, and a house, and dozens of other things. For many today, there is an excessive hankering after snowmobiles and minibikes and calculators and digital watches and microwave ovens and VCRs. Instead of craving these things, we should consider making useful items (for gifts) with our own hands, buying second-hand clothing at the Salvation Army Store (or the Rescue Mission Shop), and doing our best to avoid day-dreaming about more and more material possessions.

It is difficult to believe that it can be right to have our homes stocked with costly items that are designed more for display than for usefulness. And somehow it seems inconsistent for Christian people in the Western world to have family worship, and kneel for prayer in front of an elaborate sofa that costs many hundreds of dollars, and bury knees in a lush pile carpet-and then pray, "Give us this day our daily bread." Something does not seem right about that style of living.

When we Christians live in luxury, dress in the height of fashion, buy expensive hunting equipment, and get almost everything we want-where is the self-denial? Where is crucifying the flesh? Where is cross-bearing? Where is nonconformity to the world? Where is setting affections on things above? Under the Old Covenant (in Old Testament times), every 50th year was a Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:10). It was like the regular Sabbatic Year, but in addition, all Israelite slaves were freed, and all property that was bought during the last 50 years, was returned to the families of the original owner. We do not say that this is God's law for today. In fact, it was superseded by another principle in New Testament times - but the Year of Jubilee prevented the accumulation of great riches by only a few persons. Under the New Covenant, God has another antidote for the poison of greed. It is the grace of giving.

God knows the dangers of wealth, and the deceitfulness of riches, and that these things choke out the Word-and so He teaches us to give willingly to worthwhile causes, and to be generous in our sharing with others.

d) The path toward spiritual destruction

Another result of desiring riches, is that it is a road that leads toward destruction. 1 Timothy 6:9-10 says, "But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts . . . for the love of money is (a) root of all evil, which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows."

The desire to be rich is one of the devil's snares. Some have been doing nothing but making money and their only aim in life seems to center around making some more! Some of the most miserable people in the world are those who have nothing but money. One man who had a multitude of trophies indicating his tremendous success in the realm of sales (he was top salesman for a large firm), said, when reminded of the importance of preparing for eternity: "I am sick within and I am sick without."

Seeking after more and more financial gain has brought many to spiritual destruction. The love of money is "a root" of all evil. The word "the" is not in the original text. It is not that absolutely every evil springs from a love of money, but a love for money lies behind many evils: A girl will sell her body and give up her virtue - sometimes for money. A businessman will deceive and shade the truth-sometimes in order to make more money. And so, as we conclude this section on the results of desiring to be rich - let every one of us be reminded to guard against the desire to gorge ourselves with trivial things - things that soon become more junk to sell at the next yard sale! We must learn to reduce our desires to include only those things that comprise the essentials of life.

There is an old Amish proverb that says, "Spend less than you earn, and you will never be in debt." All of us would do well to consider the following cautions related to spending money: (1) Be careful about trying to keep up with others. One little adage says, "The reason why it is hard for some to save money, is because their neighbors are always buying something they can't afford." (2) Be aware that window-shopping is dangerous. Looking at display windows and browsing through catalogs may be one way to spend an evening, but it is easy for a person to convince himself that he must have what he sees. Window-shopping and catalog-browsing arouse new wants and trigger impulse buying. (3) Be slow about buying something because "It's a good deal." Getting something at a discount does not necessarily make it right for us to spend the money to buy the item. The logic, "But it was such a good bargain," or, "I bought it at a special sale"-does not justify spending money for things that we don't need, or that are not really a good investment. Anyhow, concerning spending, a worthwhile saying to remember, is this: "Use it up; wear it out; make it do; do without." We must continually guard against the tendency to make financial gain the supreme concern in life.

2. Goals to Seek Instead of Riches

1 Timothy 6:11 says, "But thou, 0 man of God, flee these things, and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, (and) meekness." There are some things the Christian needs to flee, and other things that each of us need to follow after. The man of God must flee "these things" (verse 11)-and that includes the spirit of discontent (described in verse 8), and a love for money (described in verse 10). While each of us is to flee the love of money, at the same time, the man of God must follow after a life of true Christian piety.

Instead of seeking riches, each of us is to constantly strive to cultivate the virtues described in verse 11:

Righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness-follow after these things. The person who continues to cultivate these virtues will not so quickly be trapped by the love of money.

Verses 14-15 (1 Timothy 6) remind us about the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. When He comes again, He will be a great and mighty Potentate, King of kings and Lord of lords. One who keeps the Lord's coming in view, will not so quickly get caught up in the grip of material things. After all, when the Lord comes, earthly possessions will not mean very much! Closets full of clothes, useless trinkets scattered all over the house, expensive shopping trips - all will diminish in significance! When we think of the greatness of Jesus Christ, and how He will become the Supreme Ruler over all the earth, the wealth of this world seems much less impressive. As the hymnwriter says, "The things of earth will grow strangely dim, in light of His glory and grace."

3. Admonitions to Those Who Are Wealthy

1 Timothy 6:17-19 instructs further: "Charge those who are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches; but in the living God who gives us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good . . . (and) be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come." The Christian must come to recognize that his wealth is for distribution, not for hoarding. We must remember the words of Jesus, how He said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35).

Many citizens of the industrialized nations are rich people. We don't feel rich; we think it is hard "to make ends meet"-but when we compare our standards of living with those of past generations (leaking house roofs; no refrigerators; only outhouses for toilets) - we have much more than is needed for a decent life. The contrast is much greater (even today) when inhabitants of the Western world compare their standards of life with those of persons living in the underdeveloped nations.

The word "rich" is really a relative term. One cannot absolutely define it. It varies in meaning depending upon where you live or with whom you are being compared. By some standards, if in your kitchen, you have cups that match saucers, you are rich. On the other hand, in many parts of the world - if you have a kitchen, you are rich. The Bible no where condemns wealth if it is acquired honestly and distributed wisely. It is good to occasionally meet a committed Christian who has riches, and at the same time lives modestly and distributes generously to the Lord's work. In consecrated hands, wealth can be a means of upbuilding the work of God.

It is a fact that frequently when a person becomes a Christian, his new life in Christ tends to lead to increased prosperity. The individual develops more and more the qualities of thriftiness and hard work. And like the man in the parable which Jesus told, the hard-working person ought to be well paid. The man who increased his one talent so that it became ten talents, was rewarded for his diligence.

1 Timothy 6:17 says that the living God "gives us richly all things to enjoy." This means simply that good and proper things in life are to be used and appreciated without any guilt feelings. The "all things" certainly include family life, work, food, exercise, and the beauties of nature. We should enjoy these things and thank God for them. This is a wholesome balance to the earlier verses (in this chapter) about riches.

Sometimes people seem to feel that to enjoy good things is somehow basically wrong. One little lady, a number of years ago, after eating ice cream for the first time in her life, commented: "Why it tastes so good it must be sinful." God is not saying that we should become ascetics and live in mud houses, and cook over open fires, and walk bare-footed, and rigorously deny ourselves every good thing-but He does expect a careful balanced view when it comes to the use and abuse of money.

1 Timothy 6:17 says that those who have riches are not to be "highminded" nor to "trust in uncertain riches." Sometimes people who have been financially prosperous assume a "know-it-all" attitude. They think that because they know how to make money, they know all there is to know about everything. They become experts at giving advice, but it is not necessarily wise counsel. And sometimes people who have wealth "trust" in uncertain riches. But we are told in 1 Timothy 6:10 that the person who loves money - even if he earns it honestly-must not hoard it, depend on it, nor become a slave to it. One who trusts in riches will err from the faith and backslide from God and pierce himself through with many sorrows.

1 Timothy 6:18 (speaking to those who have accumulated some wealth) urges such persons to be "rich in good works, ready to distribute, (and) willing to communicate (share)." Instead of unduly desiring more and more unnecessary things, we are to use money to support missionaries, spread the Gospel message, and help the needy. Wealth imposes a heavy responsibility upon us. We are to be generous with our giving. We are to labor with our hands so that we may have "to give to him that needeth" (Ephesians 4:28). In fact, 1 Timothy 6:19 promises that those who give generously to support the cause of Christ, will lay a foundation for the world to come. Such use of money is laying up treasure for a coming age.

Each of us needs to strive for a happy medium regarding material things-seeking to be thrifty without being miserly. The writer in Proverbs 30 states it eloquently: "Give me neither poverty nor riches, lest I be poor and steal ...(or) lest I be full and deny thee" (Proverbs 30:8-9). If one is poor, there will be a temptation to steal. If one is rich, there will be a tendency to think he can get along without God, and deny any need for Him. It is best for all of us just to have the simple necessities of life, no more and no less. This seems to be "the golden mean" which will help us avoid the dangers of prosperity as well as the desperations of poverty.

The Lord does not promise riches if you become a Christian - but He will endow you with a new nature; He will implant within you a new desire to work hard and diligently (and this often results in greater prosperity). The greatest benefit, however, of becoming a child of God - is to receive the forgiveness of sins. If you have never cried out to God for mercy; if you have never received the salvation He offers through Jesus Christ, why not do it today?

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Robert Lehigh, Editor

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