The Economy of Faith (11am)
Topic: Giving Scripture: Psalm 146–146, 1 Timothy 6:6–6:19
When we’re kids we are scared of things we don’t understand. We worry about monsters under the bed, a branch that scratches at our window, even just a dark bedroom. Our imaginations run wild with all the horrifying possibilities of what is creeping and stalking us. But we usually had our parents to enter the scene and push away those fears and remind us that we’re safe. So for me as a kid, the things that really scared me were the things that seemed to scare my dad. My dad was a pretty typical dad and had that aura of being invincible and tough. He wasn’t scared by much. But there was one thing I always heard my dad talk about as if it was the scariest thing in the world. He talked about it with my mom all the time. He always checked on it when he would grab the paper or watch the news. I even remember one time getting really nervous because my dad said this one thing is going to kill us. That thing, the one thing that seemed to scare my dad, was the economy.
As a kid, I had no idea what the economy was. I probably would have drawn it with wings and fangs and claws based on how much it bothered by dad. But as I got older, I learned more. That meant I learned the economy wasn’t some vicious monster. But it doesn’t mean I stopped being nervous about the economy. Economy is an interesting concept. It is always associated with finances but the word actually comes from two separate Greek words. Oikos, which means house, is where the eco comes from and nemomai, which means to manage, is where we get the nomy part. So economy literally means the management of a house.
In our text this morning Paul is still writing to our young pastor, Timothy, and encouraging him how to best love and lead the church in Ephesus. Our text comes at the end of 1st Timothy and actually includes a part of Paul’s final charge to Timothy. But before Paul wraps up his instruction and encouragement in this letter Paul talks about two things. Two things that, for some reason, Paul believes are connected. Those two things are money and faith. We’re in 1 Timothy 6:6-19.
1 Timothy 6:6-19
That’s a big chunk of text and in it are some gems that we may have heard quite often. People often say that money is the root of all evil. Verse 10 actually says that the love of money is the root for all kinds of evil. Verse 12 gives us the classic – Fight the good fight. But that actually cuts the verse off. What it actually says is to fight the good fight of faith. But I want to start with that first word of our text: But.
I’ve had more than one professor talk about the power of “but” and after I was done giggling inside my own head I would hear them describe how important it is to not lose where the biblical author is coming from. Here, Paul is saying “but” to the idea that godliness is a means to financial gain. Paul is shutting down the idea of the prosperity gospel. The idea that if we are Christian enough, holy enough, faithful enough that we will become rich. Paul stops that train right in its tracks. Instead, Paul says godliness paired with being content is the great gain.
Contentment is a big emphasis for Paul. We see through the text how Paul is wary of the pursuit for financial gain. It’s not money Paul is scared of. In several of his letters we hear Paul ask his audiences to share their wealth with the ministry of Christ. Instead, Paul is worried about what the ravenous search for wealth will do to the faith and heart of a person. Paul describes this terrible process that happens to people caught in that pursuit. And Paul isn’t the last or only voice to talk about the dangers of loving and pursuing wealth.
John Chrysostom was the archbishop of Constantinople in the late 300’s and has been venerated as a saint in both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. He’s commonly known as one of the church fathers and was given the nickname Golden Mouth because of how thoughtful and excellent is sermons and writings were. He says that the love of money is “a plague that so seizes all, some more, some less, but all in a degree. Like a fire catching a wood, that desolates and destroys all around, this passion has laid waste to the world.” John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist denomination, called the love of money the “parent of all manner of evils” because of the destructive path it can lead to.
Paul lays out in our text how the love of money, that ravenous pursuit of wealth, can twist and destroy. It begins with temptation. We are tempted to think that life would be better if not for a bigger bank account. That it could solve all our woes. We then become trapped. Ensnared like a fish that willingly but unknowingly swims into a cast net, we have no idea what we’ve done. And that’s when our desires, even if they may have had once been pure and good, are turned and we find ourselves plunged – like one who is drowning and can’t swim - in habits, interactions, and a life of ruin that we never wanted. It’s terrifying. And I’m sure many of us can think of a person we’ve known who fell into it.
This where I want to use the concept of economy. See, we think of economy and we are immediately brought to the concept of finances. And for obvious reason. But what I want to do is use economy as the word it means: the management of the house. And in this case, that house is our life and heart. We are overwhelmed with the temptation to dictate the way we manage our life by the numbers we see on a bank statement or investment portfolio. Now don’t get me wrong, money is not bad. It is the means by which we provide for those we love, enjoy the good things of this life, and even support the life and ministry of the church. But too many have become snared in the “American dream” or the “rat race” where the only goal is to get more no matter what.
Instead, Paul says the management of our lives – the economy that we should live by – is our faith and trust in who God is and what God has done and continues to do. He says that the follower of God should chase after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. In this admonishment Paul is talking to and about multiple audiences. He’s talking to Timothy, our young leader. Paul is talking about the direction this church in Ephesus needs to be guided toward. And, thanks to God-breathed inspiration of Scripture, Paul is speaking to us today where we are. In a world where we told how much we need and how much better we will be when we get that much, Paul offers us a challenge that we are investing too much of ourselves in the wrong priority.
But Paul is not naïve enough to simply tell us to not worry about money and be good Christians. He knows this will be hard. He knows it is counter-cultural. In verse 12 he uses two verbs that are anything but passive. He says to fight the good fight of faith and to take hold or grasp the eternal life we are given through Christ. You see, Paul knows this isn’t an easy shift. When the economy of our lives, the way we manage our house and life, is fixed and centered on one thing – the wrong thing – it takes effort and force and endurance to readjust and engage a new center. That’s why there’s this one-two punch from Paul. Fight the fight of faith and hang onto the promise of eternal life. These are emphatic directions because Paul knows how difficult this change will be. But we can take confidence.
Paul spends the next few verses describing this God who urges us to make this change. The God who “gives life to everything”, who will come again, who is the “only Ruler, the King of Kings, and Lord of lords”, the immortal God who lives in unapproachable light. This is the God who inspires the faith we fight for, the God who promises the eternal life we cling to. The God who sent His son to death so that we might not be forced to live under the oppression of not only sin but also a society that deems our value based on the size of our bank accounts.
So Paul begins his message in our text with a warning about the tempting power of money and then weaves into the new life we are called to live with God at the center. Paul is doing a pretty classic rebuild. Cubs fans in the room know what I’m talking about. You see that what you have isn’t good enough. You get rid of the status quo and you invest in a change. And then you implement that change to get the best possible result. Just like a under-performing baseball team that turns it around through a rebuild. Well, Paul does the same thing with the economy of our lives. He says what we’ve been doing is wrong and destructive. That to allow the love and accumulation of money to dictate our lives is a path to evil and pain. He then washes the slate clean and shows us the right way things should be done. Holding fast to the love of God and the promise He makes to His children. And now Paul shows us how to take the field, so to speak.
Paul doesn’t believe Christians should just not have money and not care about money. Instead, Paul wants the way Christians use money to be influenced by their faith in God and not for money to be their god. Verses 17-19 show us Paul’s financial model. Having wealth is not wrong but for every dollar we have we should possess even more humility. For as large as our bank account may be, our faith should be the larger account. And with our wealth, we are to enjoy God and be generous. We are to do good, to share, and to serve. And by doing that, we lay up treasure in heaven. By actually not valuing money over all things we end up with a greater investment than we could ever accumulate on our own.
That is the economy of faith. When we allow our faith to choreograph and influence how we manage our homes and our lives we see a dramatic change. All of sudden we are no longer gripped with fear of that mysterious beast known as the economy. Instead, we hold fast to the promise of God in faith. We serve God in all that we do. And with the financial resources we have, we choose to be generous and do good in this world. To close, I want to read a quote from Philip Towner’s commentary on this text: “Godliness is not about acquiring better and more material things; it is instead an active life of faith, a living out of covenant faithfulness in relation to God, that finds sufficiency and contentment in Christ alone whatever one’s outward circumstances might be.”