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What does the Bible really say about how we should view wealth? Paul wrote two letters to his young minister protégé Timothy. In 1 Timothy, Paul’s concern was to combat false teaching which had infiltrated the church. These false teachers were füll of pride and greed; they were in the ministry for the money (1 Timothy 6:1-6). But Paul teaches that there is no direct relationship between the genuineness of your faith and the abundance of your funds. For reasons that are all his, God may choose to bless you financially, but with that gift comes great responsibility. “To whom much is given, much is required.” We are all God’s stewards, whether we have a lot or a little, and God is not your financial genie. You cannot make a bargain with God to enrich yourself (“God I will serve you if you…. bless my business…help me get out of debt…find me a job.”). We serve God period—regardless of whether or not he does those things for us. There is no direct correlation biblically between a person’s spiritual maturity and their material prosperity. You can be spiritually mature and rich by this world’s standards, or you can be spiritually mature and poor.
There also is no direct correlation between wealth and personal contentment (1 Timothy 6:5-6). In fact, wealth and contentment don’t usually go together. Researchers looked at life satisfaction data from 37 countries collected over various time periods, from 12-34 years, and concluded that over time; peoples’ happiness does not increase when their country’s income increases. Another recent study suggests that increasing wealth may actually make a person less happy. That shouldn’t surprise us; oftentimes the more you get, the more you want. As your standard of living rises, so do your expectations. You need to continually increase your standard of living just to remain at the same level of happiness, yet missionaries in third world countries often encounter very poor people who are extremely content. That is hard to explain—if you think that possessions are a key to happiness. Both personal experience and rigorous academic studies tell us thaț accumulating more stuff is not the secret to happiness. Jesus said: “Beware, and be on guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15). While there is no direct correlation between wealth and contentment, there is a strong correlation between spiritual maturity and contentment (Philippians 4:11–13). Contentment is both a satisfaction with God’s sufficient provision and a settled sense of God’s adequacy. Paul found contentment in any and every circumstance through his relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus was his provider and sustainer. Jesus was the source of his joy and contentment. He can and should be ours too (Philippians 4:6-7).
Paul suffered from some kind of chronic, debilitating physical illness. And Paul did what we do: he saw doctors (Luke the physician was his frequent traveling companion; see Colossians 4:14) and he prayed and asked God to heal him, But God said “no” (2 Corinthians 12:8-ĝa). But when God said “no” (“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”), how did Paul respond? He said: “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dweli in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong”. In light of his personal experience, 1 Timothy 6:6 makes perfect sense: “Godliness actually is a means of great gain—when accompanied by contentment.”
Increasing wealth does not increase contentment, but godliness does! This is why pursuing wealth as a life goal takes you down a very dangerous path. Wealth is temporal, not than eternal (1 Timothy 6:7). We are immortal beings, so we should invest ourselves in things that are eternally significant. Wealth accumulation does not qualify as an eternal investment (Matthew 6:19–21).
Not only is wealth temporal, it also is uncertain (1 Timothy 6:17). I don’t need to tell you that wę are living in uncertain economic times both as a country and as a world! The US economy has lost more than 6 million jobs. The outstanding public debt in the United States is now hovering near 16 trillion dollars—and it’s going to gęt worse! But our needs are pretty basic: food, clothing, and shelter (1 Timothy 6:8). According to the Word of God we don’t NEED more than these—and with these, we should be content. There is nothing wrong with having more. And if you have more, as far as material things go, you are blessed. But we must recognize that we have way more than we need. God says in 1 Timothy 6:8, that if we have food and covering, we should be content.
If we are not careful, the pursuit of the American dream, can easily lead to covetousness and misēry. Contentment is a key to joy and happiness. A person who is content has a settled conviction that says, “I have enough.” But many of us have climbed on that hedonistic treadmill. As our standard of living has risen, so have our expectations! Our lifestyle has gone up—and so has our discontent! God warns us to be careful not to fix our hope on the uncertainty of riches. The desire to get rich will complicate your life and lead you away from God (v. 9-10).
Many people have made it their goal to accumulate wealth—and they have paid a high price for it. I know people who, in the name of “providing for their families,” have abandoned their God given role as a husband wife, as a nurturing mother or father. Yes, their family enjoys things—but at what cost? They are a stranger in their own home. Their marriage is on the rocks, and their influence in their children’s lives is nearly non-existent, Then, because of the stress at home is becomes easier to just work more. Coworkers think we are wonderful—but they don’t have to live with us!
And so I will say it again: The love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away frọm the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. There is no direct relationship between the genuineness of a person’s faith and the size of their bank account. There is no direct correlation between wealth and personal contentment. There is a strong correlation between spiritual maturity and personal contentment.
APPLICATION / CHALLENGE
- Don’t bargain with God or try to “buy him off”. Serve Him with all your heart simply because he is worth of your devotion.
- Don’t seek contentment through wealth accumulation. Be content with food and covering
- Don’t set the pursuit of wealth as your life goal. It will greatly complicate your life and lead you away from God.
- Work through the “Digging Deeper” section of this week’s Talking Points, Walking Points.