Using the Truth for gain

In the first century there were those who used the position of discipleship and their place in the ecclesias as a means of generating wealth. “Through covetousness”, wrote the apostle, “shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you” (2 Pet 2:3). Hence, he exhorted those who would be bishops to check their motives:

“The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind” (1 Pet 5:1-2)

Paul warns Titus, likewise, of those who would corrupt the truth for gain:

“For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake.” (Titus 1:10-11)

Paul exhorts Timothy that whoever was chosen for service in the ecclesia shouldn’t be somebody who was chasing money, whether bishops or deacons:

“Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous” (1 Tim 3:3)

“Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre” (1 Tim 3:8)

Peter had firsthand experience with this when he ran into Simon, who thought that the power of the Holy Spirit could be purchased, and therefore sold (Acts 8:18-23). If our motive for participation in the Truth is to use it for a tool to accumulate wealth, then our “heart is not right” and our “money will perish with” us. This is where the apostasy plunged into the depths of wickedness, making a profit on the backs of its religious dupes, selling them tickets to heaven and passes from hell.

Deceptive thinking: godliness generates gain

The other subtler deception is to believe that a godly lifestyle is a means of generating wealth. This is more the Christian businessman’s viewpoint, and perhaps the more pervasive in evangelical circles.

The context of the passage in Timothy is helpful to dispel or combat this thinking:

“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.” (1 Tim 6:6-9)

Paul exhorts Timothy that living a godly life with contentment, a Greek word meaning ‘a mind content with its lot’, is of great value. He then cites the passage in Job we previously considered in earlier articles (1:21). His exhortation is not to look to “gain” in this life, but rather to be “content”, that is, ‘to be satisfied’ with the basic necessities.

The problem Paul addressed to Timothy was those who “will” be rich, that is, those who ‘have the purpose’; those who will deliberately cultivate an affection or desire to be rich. Those who have the goal of being rich, of seeking an ‘abundance of outward possessions’, of being ‘affluent in resources’, will end up falling into “temptation”. Their fidelity and integrity will be sorely tested. If this is us—we will be snared. It will be like being trapped in the noose, caught suddenly and unexpectedly by our deceitful human nature (the diabolos). These hurtful or injurious cravings will end up drowning us. The Greek word is similar to the word baptised! Instead of dying with Christ, we will be plunged into the deep and sink into destruction. This desire for wealth will ruin us and destroy us. In the end there will only be “perdition”—a figure denoting ‘utter destruction like a pot being shattered, complete ruin’.

The reason the desire for riches and affluence is so dangerous is clearly stated:

“For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.” (1 Tim 6:10-11)

The love of money is “the root” of evil. The ESV translates this phrase as “a root of all kinds of evil”. It is a source of many things that are troublesome, injurious and destructive. Moreover, the craving of, or grasping for, money can cause us to wander from the faith. It changes our focus in life. The word “coveted” in verse 10 carries the idea of ‘stretching oneself out in order to touch or grasp something, reaching after or desiring something’. Our desire, and what we grasp after, needs to be that better country spoken of in Hebrews 11:16.

If we get our desires mixed up, we can be “pierced…through”. Thayer informs us the word is used metaphorically to mean, ‘to torture one’s soul with sorrows’. Hence the admonition is to “flee” these things. We need to seek safety in flight and instead “follow after” godly characteristics—something that involves running swiftly after those qualities so that we can catch them.

The other problem that springs out of this way of thinking is the notion that because somebody is wealthy, they are blessed of God, and therefore their actions must be right. We respect people more because of their wealth and despise those who are poor. This was the case in the days of the early ecclesia, where wealth became the basis for respecting persons (James 2:1-4).

Strong tells us that the respect of persons mentioned by James, can be defined as ‘the fault of one who, when called on to give judgment, has respect of the outward circumstances of man and not their intrinsic merits, and so prefers, as more worthy, one who is rich, high born or powerful’. This is a typical human response. Often, it is with the hidden and sometimes unconscious motive of currying favor. When we act like this, we are “partial”, that is, we make a distinction.

We should not allow the ‘bling’ of this world—the gold chains and rings and trendy fashions—to skew our judgment of someone. Also, we cannot suppose that because somebody is wealthy, God approves of their lifestyle and opinions. Our nature will often cause us to do this. Sometimes we are tempted to respect a brother who might be successful in business, or respected by the world’s standards, even though he is not sound in the Word.

James challenges us to check our perspectives or preconceived human notions which are often off base:

“Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdomwhich He hath promised to them that love Him?” (James 2:5)