Mark Twain framed the dangers of wealth very well saying, “I’m opposed to millionaires, but it would be dangerous to offer me the position.” Sadly, those with great wealth are often most depressed! Each year celebrities and moguls enter rehab and commit suicide. What does the Bible say about wealth, swagger, and elitism?
The Danger of Financial Temptation
In 1 Timothy 6:9 Paul warns Timothy that, “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare.” Paul is saying that people who have an internal drive for fame and wealth will eventually become trapped by it. Soon, like a wheezing, coughing, trapped animal, they wiggle to free themselves but can’t.
Paul goes on to say, “Many foolish and harmful desires plunge men into ruin and destruction.” The Greek term for plunge buthizo describes a ship overloaded with cargo sinking to the ocean floor. Paul’s word picture describes the downward spiral of financial greed, moving from temptation, to craving, to falling, to drowning.
The Drive of Financial Temptation
Paul explains why people are financially tempted in 1 Timothy 6:10, “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil…” Paul isn’t saying that money itself is evil but that a love for money is evil, and the root of many evils. Jesus taught on this principle more than anything else. Matthew 6:19 says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasures is, there your heart will be also… You cannot serve God and wealth.”
What Paul calls “money-love” Jesus calls “money-worship” and the simple point is that a person can’t serve God and money. There’s a choice to be made! When a person chooses to follow money instead of God, bad things happen. Paul describes them in 1 Timothy 6:10, “Some by longing for (money) have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” These “griefs” prompt greedy people, be it A-listers, moguls, or the everyday person, to struggle. They are unrest, dissatisfaction, gloom, envy, jealousy, boredom, tyranny, addiction, anger, depression, insecurity, spite, and loneliness.
Paul’s point is that greed acts as God’s rival. The human heart only has room for one master. There was one little guy who watched the ushers pass the offering plate at church. When they neared the seat where he sat, the youngster piped up, “Don’t pay for me daddy, I’m under five!” From the earliest years of life, we begin to analyze whether to give or take, whether something belongs to God or to me, greed is God’s rival.
The Dismissal of Financial Temptation
How does one escape the frightening clutches of money-love? Paul tells Timothy clearly, “Flee from these things, you man of God…” (V.11) Note, Paul challenges Timothy to flee greed by reminding him of his true heritage as God’s child! The surest way to avoid greed is to realize that a child of God has already inherited the kingdom of heaven and needs nothing else. And, the key for escape is to “flee” (literally, be a fugitive) and stay far away from people and places that tempt a tastes for riches.
As he flees greed, Paul then tells Timothy to, “Pursue” good. Being a man or woman of God means that we turn our eyes away from evil things and turn them towards good things. We don’t just remove our eyes, we replace our focus! This is precisely what Paul told the church of Ephesus to do in Ephesians 4:22, “In reference to your former manner of life, lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness…”
How do we run from greed and toward God?
First, Paul tells Timothy to focus on upward things, “Righteousness and godliness” (V. 11). Righteousness is obedience to God and godliness is the desire from which that obedience springs. The great reformer John Owens said it best, “A man may fill the pew, his communion, the mouths of needy, but what the man is on his knees before God, that he is and no more.” What we crave when alone, tells us who we are before God!
Second, Paul tells Timothy to focus on inward things, “Faith and love” (V. 11). Faith means confident trust in God’s timing and love is the voluntary commitment to elevate others above self.
Finally, Paul tells Timothy to focus on outward things, “Perseverance and gentleness” (V. 11). To persevere means to remain steadfast under hardship while gentleness is a meek and kind manner, something in 2016 we could call “swaggerless.” To be “swaggerless” is the peaceful posture opposite of what we see in modern stars, moguls, and many preachers. Instead of hype, pics, stories, tweets, hits, and glam, the “swaggerless” quietly trust God and serve people. They refuse the spotlight and don’t structure their life to be in the spotlight.
Fleeing earthly things and pursuing heavenly things promise a marvelous outcome. Paul tells Timothy, “Fight the good fight of faith and take hold of the eternal life…” (V. 12) To “fight” is the Greek word agonizomai from which we get agonize and refers to deep athletic or military conflict. Paul’s point is that when we set down earthly things to focus on heavenly things, we step into the heavenly battle waged over souls!
The outcome of our battle will be to, “Take hold of eternal life.” Take hold is aorist tense meaning “someday.” Paul promises young Timothy that if he sets down the earthly swagger and quietly goes about heavenly business; he is guaranteed a grip on the someday prize! James the brother of Jesus affirmed this in James 1:12, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”
In one way of thinking, many in our world aren’t TOO greedy. Instead, they’re actually shortsighted and NOT greedy enough. Sadly, they’re living for seventy-year cash instead of a thousand year crowns. They’re content with earthly retirement instead of eternal reward. Paul tells Timothy and all of us, “Think bigger!”
Danish theologian Soren Kiirekegaard wrote of an old theater house, which was packed to the gills with drunken sailors. The antics of the performers got crazier with each act, and the cheers of the sailors got louder as well. Towards the end of the show, the place was near riot, and someone knocked a kerosene lamp over in the lobby. The theater manager rushed into the assembly hall, halted the play, and yelled, “Fire! Fire! Everyone out!” Everyone grew silent for a moment until one man in the front row flung a bottle at the manager and the crowd began to laugh. Suddenly, the entire crowd broke out in applause, believing the manager was simply part of the show! Louder and louder they cheered while the building was engulfed in flames. In our first world nation we sit in comfy homes and hear the Word of warning preached in church, in tweets, and on YouTube; and we cheer louder and louder, meanwhile most never change, and the fires of hell glow increasingly near.