Order Concerning Working and Wealth
1 Timothy 6
1 Timothy 6
1 Timothy 6. In this chapter we have inspired instructions that outline the order of God’s house concerning working and wealth. In the first place, servants (or, slaves) are addressed, both in general and also those who have believing masters (vv.1-2). Secondly, Paul addresses false teaching about gain, specifically the doctrine that we commonly call “the prosperity gospel” (vv.3-5). Thirdly, we have exhortations about contentment and covetousness (vv.6-10). Fourthly, the true goal of the Christian life is presented, in contrast with the desire to be rich (vv.11-16). Fifthly, rich brethren are addressed (vv.17-19). The chapter closes with an earnest plea to Timothy to “keep the entrusted deposit”; i.e. the truth committed to him (vv.20-21).
The Place of Servants (6:1-2)
Slavery and the New Testament. In the early days of Christianity, the institution of slavery still existed. The New Testament was not written to cause a world-wide slave revolt in the Roman Empire. However, knowing God's heart as revealed in scripture, we can see that slavery, in the sense of treating human beings as property, is morally wrong. The Law of Moses put certain limits on slavery. To sell a person into slavery against their will was condemned (Ex. 21:16). For Hebrew servants, there was the year of release, which came after six years (Deuteronomy 15:12-18). Slaves also had to observe the Sabbath rest (Deut. 5:14). God took these limitations very seriously (see Jeremiah 34:8-22). When we look at these principles, it becomes clear that to be a slave in Hebrew society was most likely a far better portion than to be a slave in pagan society. Nevertheless, "the law made nothing perfect" (Heb. 7:19). From reading both Old and New Testament scriptures, we see that bondage against a person's will was never God's desire. When we come to the New Testament, God does not overthrow the institution of slavery. From scriptures like 1 Timothy 6:1 we can see that there is nothing morally wrong with the master/servant relationship, if it is conducted in an honorable way. Instead of looking to change society, God gives instructions for how one can be an overcomer in the circumstances of slavery! When a slave was saved, they were brought into a new creation that totally eclipsed their outward identity; "...there is neither bond nor free... for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28), and were given higher motives in their service, "as unto the Lord" (Eph. 6:7). History shows that the gospel spread in the first century most quickly through the slave population of the Roman Empire!
Application to Employees. Although much of the world today is free from slavery, there is still an application to us of these New Testament principles concerning slaves or servants. Although many Christians today are not in slavery, most must work for a living. The employer/employee relationship is similar in many ways to the master/servant relationship, as the principles of respect, honesty, obedience, and fair treatment still apply.
¶ 1 Let as many bondmen as are under yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and the teaching be not blasphemed. v.1 Servants in General. The important point for a bondman (or, slave) was that he should hold his own master in honor. Elsewhere, bondmen are exhorted to “obey in all things your masters” (Col. 3:22). Here it is a deeper thing: to honor the master. It means to regard the master with an attitude of great respect. Of course, having this attitude also results in obedience. This would be extremely difficult in the case of a forceful, cruel, or brutish master. The reason given is consistent with the theme of 1 Timothy: “that the name of God and the teaching be not blasphemed”. The reputation of God and the doctrine of Christianity is at stake, even in the practical conduct of servants!
2 And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them because they are brethren; but let them the rather serve them with subjection, because they are faithful and beloved, who profit by the good and ready service rendered. These things teach and exhort. v.2 Servants with Believing Masters. Now Paul addresses servants of believing masters. There would be a tendency to allow the familiarity of their relationship in Christ (“brethren”) to erode the respect that ought to exist in a servant for his master. The flesh is constantly looking for an avenue to escape responsibility, and often it finds a way through the abuse of Christian love. Rather than lessen the effectiveness of a servant, Christianity gives an additional reason for servants to “serve them with subjection” their believing master: “because they are faithful and beloved, who profit by the good and ready service rendered”. In other words, the addition of Christian love to the natural relationship serves to increase fidelity, which is the opposite of what might be expected. It was needful for Timothy to “teach and exhort” these things because there was an element of false teaching at work that would use the gospel in a perverted way to incite laziness and rebellion on one hand, or else a wrong idea about gain and materialism.1
False Teaching, Especially About Gain (6:3-5)
3 If any one teach differently, and do not accede to sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the teaching which is according to piety, 4 he is puffed up, knowing nothing, but sick about questions and disputes of words, out of which arise envy, strife, injurious words, evil suspicions, 5 constant quarrellings of men corrupted in mind and destitute of the truth, holding gain to be the end of piety. vv.3-5 False Teachers and Their Teaching. Paul now turns to address the false teachers who were making inroads among the saints. In v.3 we have the character of their teaching: it was “different” from what Paul taught, it was not in agreement with “sound words”, contrary to the words of “our Lord Jesus Christ”, and not “according to piety”. It other words, the false teaching was heterodox to the Christian faith, and it was not compatible with “piety” or full devotion to God. In v.4 we have the character of the false teacher himself: he is proud or “puffed up”, he is ignorant or “knowing nothing”, and he is unprofitable or “sick about questions and disputes of words”. Questions and disputes of words are discussions and debates about small things of no moment. The result of this teaching is that certain men, “men corrupted in mind and destitute of the truth”, are stirred up to five kinds of evil: envy, strife, injurious words, evil suspicions, and constant quarreling. Such teaching would be extremely troubling to the assembly! These men are “corrupted in mind”, which means their thoughts about God are all wrong. Their doctrine is that “gain” (financial, material) is “the end” or object “of piety”. This evil system of teaching promotes the idea that Christians should live a godly life in order to merit material blessing from God. It is called today “the prosperity gospel”.
Contentment and Covetousness (6:6-10)
6 But piety with contentment “is” great gain. v.6 Piety with Contentment. Paul explains what true gain is; “piety with contentment”. We must have both together to have great spiritual gain. Contentment apart from godliness is just complacency. Contentment is a state of satisfaction with one’s own circumstances. This includes possessions, money, health, etc. “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb. 13:5). Contentment for Christians means to realize that the most important thing we have is something that man cannot take away from us: the abiding presence of Christ. As for everything else, the Christian can take his circumstances from the Lord. How much anxiety and agitation would we avoid if we were simply content with our home, our family, our income, our station in life, our physical appearance, etc.? This is extremely challenging for those who live in the affluent Western society. The economy itself is based on discontent; advertisers show people things they do not need, and discontent leads them to buy those things (in many cases, with money they do not have). How different was the Blessed Lord who could say, “My meat [satisfaction] is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work” (John 4:34). Paul had learned to be content in “whatsoever state” the Lord had put him in (Phil 4:11-13). Solomon could say, “whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy… behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit” (Ecc. 2:10-11). Piety, or full devotion to God, in combination with contentment will produce tremendous spiritual blessing.
7 For we have brought nothing into the world: it is manifest that neither can we carry anything out. v.7 Possessions are temporal. He gives the reason why we should be content with little; because “things” can only be possessed temporarily. The transient nature of material possessions drastically discounts their value (1 Cor. 7:29-31). The year of jubilee approaches! We were born with nothing – naked, in fact. We will die with nothing, in material sense. “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither” (Job 1:21). We can carry no possessions out. But there are works that follow us, experiences etc. that we take with us (Rev. 14:13)! See also Ecclesiastes 5:15-16.
8 But having sustenance and covering, we will be content with these. v.8 The Bare Necessities. Christians ought to be content with the bare necessities. Sustenance and covering, sometimes narrowly translated “food and raiment”, actually covers all the bare necessities of survival. “Sustenance” would include food and possibly enough money to buy food, and “covering” would include clothing and shelter. If we are trusting God for our circumstances, we can be content with the bare necessities. If we are not trusting Him, we will be absorbed with seeking to stockpile more possessions.
9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and many unwise and hurtful lusts, which plunge men into destruction and ruin. v.9 Covetousness. Some would argue that if possessions are only for this life, then why not pursue them? Here we find that it actually has a negative effect; because “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:34). If we pursue possessions, it will have an terrible impact on our life. Here Paul addresses those who “desire to be rich”. Note that he doesn’t say “they that are rich”, but “they that desire to be rich”. Sadly, this desire is often found in those who are not rich (Prov. 13:7). If a person desires to be rich, the whole direction of their life is wrong. “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matt. 6:22-23). When the motives are wrong, a person will “fall into temptation and a snare, and many unwise and hurtful lusts”. It leads them on a path that ends in total ruin. A few examples would be Ananias and Saphira, Gehazi, and Achan. Temptation in itself is not wrong, but to “fall into temptation” is. A “snare” is stronger than a temptation, and it supposes a holding mechanism, such that the prey cannot escape even if they wanted to. Then “unwise and hurtful lusts” follow, which prey on the desires and ignorance of the covetous person. The path is unidirectional, heading toward “ruin”, except for the delivering grace of God. Only an unbeliever can end in “destruction” in a full sense, but even a believer can make shipwreck of his life through the same error; i.e. covetousness leads into a path of sin.
10 For the love of money is the root of every evil; which some having aspired after, have wandered from the faith, and pierced themselves with many sorrows. v.10 The Love of Money. To support the preceding statement, Paul explains why covetousness leads to a path of sin. It is because “the love of money is the root of every evil”. In other words, every form of evil that exists, every kind of vice, can be motivated by the love of money. Whether it be lying (Acts 5:3), murder (1 Kings 21), taking bribes (1 Sam. 8:1-3), prostitution (Hos. 2:5), unfaithfulness in relationships (Gen. 38:8-10; Mark 7:9-13), and even the betrayal as in the case of Judas (John 12:6; Luke 22:3-6), the love of money can be a motivation. The point is simply this: covetousness leads to other sins. Paul referenced examples he knew of, and we know of many also, of those who “aspired after” money, and this led them to “wander from the faith”. Effectively, they abandon the Christian faith eventually, in some cases proving that they were never genuinely converted. The path of covetousness is not a happy path either; “and pierced themselves with many sorrows”. This refers to the self-inflicted sorrows of a path of sin, allowed by God in His government; addictions, lost children, broken marriages, legal troubles, etc. When people pursue money, they are often trying to make themselves happy, but they end up pierced through “with many sorrows”. What a solemn warning!
The True Goal of the Christian Life (6:11-16)
11 But “thou”, O man of God, flee these things, and pursue righteousness, piety, faith, love, endurance, meekness of spirit. v.11 Flee and Pursue. Timothy was to “flee” (run away with fear) the things that Paul had just mentioned; namely, materialism and covetousness. It shows that the love of money is a snare for believers as well as unbelievers. This was the negative action, but there was also a positive action; “pursue righteousness, piety, faith, love, endurance, meekness of spirit”. Notice that Paul addresses Timothy as “O man of God”. Whenever this expression is used (used first of Moses, but most often for prophets in 1 and 2 Kings), it has to do with an individual standing for God as His representative in a day of ruin. No matter what others did, Timothy was to be a man of God. This expression is used in the first and second epistles to Timothy, and nowhere else in the New Testament. There are six things that ought to characterize the “man of God” who holds himself aloof from covetousness. “Righteousness” would be the practical consistency of our walk. “Piety” (sometimes translated godliness) is full devotion to God. “Faith” is trusting God in all circumstances. “Love” is the proper motive for all Christian activity. “Endurance” is the strength to carry on through trying circumstances for an extended period without giving in. “Meekness of spirit” refers to an attitude of humility or grace that would be unoffending to others. All of these characteristics were seen perfectly in our Lord Jesus Christ as a man on earth!
12 Strive earnestly in the good conflict of faith. Lay hold of eternal life, to which thou hast been called, and hast confessed the good confession before many witnesses. 13 I enjoin thee before God who preserves all things in life, and Christ Jesus who witnessed before Pontius Pilate the good confession, vv.12-13 The Good Conflict and Good Confession. We will not be able to fight (“strive earnestly in the good conflict of faith”) if we do not continually flee and follow the things in v.11. The conflict that we are engaged in is a spiritual one, not a physical one (Eph. 6), although the allusion is to the Greek games. Satan is opposed to the truth and testimony of Christ here in this world. Those who are going to stand for the truth are going to come under attack! The goal of the conflict is to “lay hold of eternal life”.2 In John eternal life is presented as a present possession, but Paul often (not always) presents it as a goal at the end of the pathway. Here it is an objective to strive for, and also a purpose that the believer has been called to. Nevertheless, there is a present enjoyment of what we are striving toward. To lay hold of something is to apprehend it (Phil. 3:7). This conflict involves standing for the truth, and this is summed up in the expression “the good confession”. Timothy had confessed the truth “before many witnesses”; i.e. there was no doubt which side of the conflict Timothy was on! The spiritual conflict is real, and Timothy might well suffer a martyr’s death. But Paul gave Timothy his charges in the sight of God who sustains all things, and in the sight of Christ Jesus, who – like a captain – has Himself witnessed the good confession in the face of certain death.
The Good Confession. The “good confession” is something that Timothy had confessed, and that Christ Jesus had confessed before Pontius Pilate. It seems that the Lord gave this confession in John 18:37; “Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.” The good confession involves confessing the full truth regardless of consequences; “Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness” (Rev. 1:5). What Jesus answered to Pilate goes far deeper than the truth of His kingship. It involved who He is as the truth. As the truth, Jesus revealed what man is, and who the Father is. Yes, Jesus was a king, but the deeper reason why the Jews had delivered Him was that He bore witness of the truth, and this was the very reason for the Lord to come into the world. Paul, in writing to Timothy, tells him to follow the Lord’s example when under attack by those who would detract from the sound doctrine he was maintaining. The Lord set the perfect example of One who was on trial for the truth, and His life was at stake. He did not swerve from the truth, but answered fully. That was the good confession. Am I willing to confess the truth – the whole truth of who I am are in association with Christ – in the face of death? Our calling is to follow Christ Jesus.
14 that thou keep the commandment spotless, irreproachable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ; 15 which in its own time the blessed and only Ruler shall shew, the King of those that reign, and Lord of those that exercise lordship; 16 who only has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light; whom no man has seen, nor is able to see; to whom be honour and eternal might. Amen. vv.14-16 The Appearing in View. Timothy was to keep the commandment (or, the charges Paul had laid on him) in a holy and uncompromising manner, “until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ”. This means it is a lifelong conflict, but it also means that Timothy was to labor with the appearing in view! It was a present hope. When Christ is manifested, the truth He confessed in the good confession will be publicly manifested! And those who stand for Christ will be shown or manifested along with Him (Col. 3:4). But Paul continues to speak about the glorious appearing, when our Lord Jesus Christ will manifest the glory of God before the world! Christ is called “the blessed and only Ruler” denoting His power, and “the King of kings and Lord of lords” denoting His royal authority (see Rev. 19:16). That which the saints apprehend now by faith will be publicly manifested (Isa. 40:5). Truly, Pilate had no authority except that given him from above. But Christ will be manifested as “the only Ruler”, and His authority is of a different kind altogether. Here is it not only the official glories of Christ that will be manifested, but Christ’s Divine glory; “who only has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light; whom no man has seen, nor is able to see”. All the kings of the great empires claimed to be Divine, but their claims were refuted when each eventually died. Christ only has immortality! This thoughts lead Paul to burst forth in a doxology of praise; “to whom be honour and eternal might. Amen.” The saints long to see Christ have His rightful place!
Wealthy Brethren (6:17-19)
¶ 17 Enjoin on those rich in the present age not to be high-minded, nor to trust on the uncertainty of riches; but in the God who affords us all things richly for our enjoyment; v.17 Two Dangers for the Rich, and the Remedy. Previously Paul had addressed those who desire to be rich, but now he addresses those who really are wealthy believers. It is important to remember that a status of wealth is only “in the present age”. Not one cent of that wealth can be taken beyond this life. There are two great dangers for those who are rich. First, there is the danger of being “high-minded”, self-important or arrogant. Wealth often breeds a sense of self-importance, and leads to association with high-society. This is not only compromising to the wealthy believer himself, but it also creates divisions between brethren. Second, there is the danger “to trust on the uncertainty of riches”. That is, money provides a defense (Ecc. 7:12) against many kinds of natural calamities. Whenever a trial arises, a certain sum of money can make the problem go away… almost. But money can be an unreliable defense; hence they are called “uncertain riches” (Prov. 23:5). But the danger is to trust in the riches rather than trust in “the God who affords us all things richly for our enjoyment”. Rather than trust in the riches, which is really a form of idolatry, the wealthy believer must look beyond the riches to the God who has provided for them. Notice that provision is not evil in and of itself. God intends natural provisions for our enjoyment! They key is to take them with dependence and thanksgiving from God’s hand. The money is the Lord’s. There are many wealthy brethren that have used their resources for tremendous blessing (vv.18-19).
18 to do good, to be rich in good works, to be liberal in distributing, disposed to communicate of their substance, 19 laying by for themselves a good foundation for the future, that they may lay hold of what is really life. vv.18-19 Instructions for the Wealthy. In addition to the dangers set forth in v.17, those who are wealthy also have a unique opportunity; i.e. generosity. Instead of hoarding their substance, or spending it on their own pleasure, the rich ought to “do good” (acts of kindness, etc.), to be “rich in good works”, distributing and communicating their wealth to those who have needs. In this way, the rich can use their resources, which they cannot keep forever, to lay up treasure in heaven (see Luke 16:1-9). “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal” (Matt. 6:19-20). By focusing on serving the Lord, the rich “may lay hold of what is really life”. In other words, the “life” that the rich are accustomed to is not real life in comparison with what believers enjoy. By “seeking first the kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33), those who are rich lay hold of that which is truly life. It is similar to the thought of “the true riches” (Luke 16:11). It can be particularly intimidating to exhort those who are rich, but it was a necessary part of Timothy’s charge.
Conclusion for Timothy (6:20-21)
¶ 20 O Timotheus, keep the entrusted deposit, avoiding profane, vain babblings, and oppositions of false-named knowledge, 21 of which some having made profession, have missed the faith. Grace be with thee. vv.20-21 Conclusion. The apostle closes this first letter with a solemn appeal to Timothy to keep the truth Paul had committed to him, referred to here as “the entrusted deposit”. This expression conveys the thought of sacred responsibility, as one entrusted with a valuable object. An illustration of this might be how the priests and Levites were instructed to carry the gold and silver vessels from the river Ahava in Babylon all the way back to Jerusalem in Ezra’s day. The vessels were weighed before the journey when given to the priests and Levites, and they would be weighed again “by number and weight” in the chamber of the House of the Lord to show that nothing committed to each one had been lost in the journey (see Ezra 8:29, 34). This is how we are to hold the truth entrusted to us! The truth, of which the Assembly is the pillar and base, is committed to the hands of individuals to keep. The expression “the good deposit entrusted” is also used in 2 Tim. 1:4, where it is made clear that the truth committed to us can only be held through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.3 There are various things that would distract us from the important task of keeping the entrusted deposit. Two categories are mentioned: (1) “profane, vain babblings” which are discussions that exalt man and demean or make common the things of God, and (2) “oppositions of false-named knowledge” which refers to speculations that arise from the mind of man contrary or beyond scripture (2 John 1:9), rather than true knowledge which is derived from the revelation of God. It claims to be knowledge, but it is falsely-named; i.e. it is untrue. Man’s mind intrudes into the things that God alone can reveal; e.g. things that happened billions of years ago. This last expression may apply historically to the Gnostic school of thought, as the word comes from the Greek word ‘gnosis’, which means knowledge. Paul could speak of “some having made profession” of Christ and the entrusted deposit, but then being influenced by the oppositions of false knowledge “missed the faith”; i.e. abandoned true Christianity. These would be those who made a profession, but were unwilling to confess the good confession, proving that they were never real. Finally, Paul closes the epistle with “Grace be with thee”, showing that the man of God can only carry out his responsibility in the house of God through the grace of God!
- We have a rebuke of socialist tendencies in vv.1-2, and a rebuke of capitalist tendencies in vv.9-10.
- It is a single act, and duration is excluded from the thought, all being summed up in its completion… It is the prize at the end of which faith could have laid hold now… – Kelly, W. The Epistles to Timothy.
- “The deposit” here, as in 2 Tim. 1:14, means the truth entrusted by God through His chosen instruments, divine revelation conveyed in words taught of the Holy Spirit, the pattern of sound words which Timothy heard from Paul among many witnesses. – Kelly, W. The Epistles to Timothy.