Addicted to the Gains (October 13, 2019)
Addicted to the Gains
1 Timothy 6:6-16
There’s a financial article posted on CNBC that’s been getting a lot of attention recently. You may have seen the highly critical editorials discussing it entitled something along the lines of “$350k a year and still struggling”. The article itself was talking about how it’s difficult to maintain a “Middle Class” lifestyle even on $350,000 when you live in an expensive coastal city like San Francisco or New York. The many critical editorials and comments then pick apart the line by line budget that was posted, and criticize the exorbitant spending in certain areas. It’s a whole big thing right now.
Rather than getting into it, I think the article points out a fundamental flaw in our society: We always want more. We’re always looking for gain. Although the actual median household income in the US right now is just under $60k, wouldn’t it be nice to be making $350k? Who here wouldn’t want that kind of money?! What if? Just to make my point, what if you did work up to that amount of income? What if you set that as your goal and you finally made it, $350k a year! What then? What will your life look like? Will you have such a big excess in income that you can rest easy for once? I’d venture a guess to say you’d be making $350k and still be struggling. Because for the most part, people in our society live to their means. That means if you are making $20k a year, you will find a way to get by and probably be pretty ok. And if you build that income to just under $60k a year, you would increase your spending to get by at about that level – maybe buy a newer car, maybe take on a mortgage. And then if you finally achieved your dream of making $350k a year, you’d most likely be in about the same boat as you always were. You maybe had to move to a bigger city to make that income where housing is more expensive. You’ve maybe had to take on a busier lifestyle so that meals on the go and childcare are a must. You get the picture. People typically live to their income. Most people could probably cut back in a few places to have a little more cushion. But people typically want to gain more. In our minds we want to gain more so that we can have that financial security if we lose a job or the car breaks down. But at what amount is that? Our goal is usually not a fixed amount, but rather our goal is gain – and always more.
Interestingly, Paul does talk about gain. Paul even encourages gain. “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim 6:6), he says. But gain in the right context. And gain of the right thing. “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim 6:9-10). As you are gaining a bigger income – for the sake of financial stability and security (you tell yourself) – you find out that it turns out not to be about security. You’ve tasted a new lifestyle, achieved a new lifestyle, and you quite like it. And you wonder, what’s the next level like? So, you focus on gaining more. And without realizing it your focus has shifted from that level of security you’ve wanted to just the wealth itself. It quickly becomes a temptation and a trap. It leads to foolish and even harmful desires. And finally, you find yourself in ruin and destruction. And here’s what we don’t realize. That all sounds very bad and scary, like, “Hello? Don’t you realize the terrible path you are on?” It sounds bad and scary when you say it like that, but what does it actually look like?
It looks like business success. It looks like nice cars and big houses. It looks like nice clothes. Maybe it even looks like a big yacht on the Mediterranean. Wouldn’t that be nice?! In fact, it looks so good that the prophet Jeremiah even complained to God, “Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease? You have planted them, and they have taken root; they grow and bear fruit” (Jer 12:1-2). It looks nice on the surface, but underneath they may be caught in an unyielding trap. The rich young man who came to Jesus, even though he lived a very virtuous life went away sad with head hung low because he had great wealth (Mk 10:22). Judas was driven to ruin and destruction because in his pursuit to gain he betrayed his Lord. Grieving and despairing, he took his own life (Mt 27:3-5). Make no mistake about it, our society’s love for money, our goals of gaining just for the sake of gaining are deadly! And it’s often a silent killer – what appears to be “the good life” often ends in our “eternal death”. And what then? What will all your gains be for then? To you, all your gains will be gone.
This section starts with contentment. “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim 6:6). So, how do we get there? How do we get to a proper attitude toward wealth so that we can use it for eternal gain? First, realize that there is a fixed amount of time that we all have – both on a personal level from birth to death, and on a historical level. One day our Lord Jesus Christ will appear. One day this will all end and something new will begin. Second, realize that you can’t take anything with you when that time comes. “We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it” (1 Tim 6:7). You can’t take your money. You can’t take your house, or car, your masterpiece, or your virtual character. The only thing you can take with you is people. Yourself, and hopefully others.
Does that mean I have to strive to keep a zero balance in my bank and give the shirt off my back? Of course not. But it does mean that you shouldn’t be overly worried about those things. “If we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Tim 6:8), Paul says. Jesus gives the perspective behind this. “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt 6:33). “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim 6:6). Focus your attention on his kingdom of believers and your own righteousness. Seek gain in these areas by knowing Jesus and growing in him so that you can share it with others and build the kingdom of God. Your clothes, your food, the roof over your head, God will take care of those. He will provide those. That’s Jesus’ promise to you. And when you trust his promise to take care of you, it loosens your grip on them, so that you can use them more freely for eternal gains. You begin to manage them in a way that builds God’s kingdom.
Really, you can think of every resource we have as a commodity. There’s my finances and my time. There’s my abilities and my energy. And all of these can be traded and spent in different ways. The vast majority of people use their time to buy money. My first job was at McDonald’s. I made $5.15 an hour. So, I traded an hour of my time for 5 dollars and 15 cents. And my parents taught me at a young age how to manage that money – including a line item for church, for the kingdom. Then, as you gain more money often because of it, you have less time. So, some people start to trade their money for time. Hire a landscaper to take care of your lawn. Hire a maid to clean the house for you. Hire capable people to take care of certain tasks of your business and all of this frees up some time. What are you going to do with that time? Hopefully something good. Hopefully something that’s good for more people than just yourself. It’s great to hear about the super wealthy who are also big philanthropists. Or those who use their time to develop something for the greater good.
The man in Jesus’ parable traded his money for something very interesting. It sounds crass when you say it outright, but that’s what I’m going to do. The man in Jesus parable (Lk 16:1-13) traded money for people – for relationships. He was caught, being dishonest, and was about to lose his job so he used what he had available to him to win favor with people so that they would welcome him in when he lost his job. And that’s the point that Jesus is making with this parable. It’s not wrong to have lots of money. It’s not wrong to gain more wealth, but what are you doing with it. Jesus says, “Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone” – when you die and can’t use it anymore – “you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Lk 16:9) – there will be people in heaven with you because you used what God gave you to manage for the good of the kingdom. To build relationships with people. To send out missionaries. To support Ministers of the Gospel. To expand outreach efforts. All of this is driven toward a kind of gain that will last forever – a gain of people for heaven.
When you manage your finances well, and have a godly attitude toward them, you can use your wealth for gains that will last forever. That means having in our minds a focus on God’s kingdom. That means having in our hearts a contentment with what we have. That means trusting God when he promises to provide for us. That’s what we will spend our whole lives doing – working on believing his promises. “Fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Tim 6:12) Paul says. Which yes, includes knowing Jesus as your Savior, taking up your cross of persecution and struggling with sin. But doesn’t it also include restraining my sinful desire for worldly gains and trusting in God to provide for me and take care of me? Doesn’t it also include struggling to be content by wanting the things I already have rather than having all the things I really want? “Fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Tim 6:12) includes a disciplined struggle against the temptations of wealth because you trust that God will indeed provide what you truly need.
And as we struggle with that, subduing sinful desires more and more, we will find contentment in what we have. And that contentment, along with godliness will lead us to pursue faith, love, and endurance (1 Tim 6:11). Endurance that although you’re struggling and might cry out with Jeremiah from time to time, “Why does the way of the wicked prosper?” (Jer 12:1), you have faith. Faith that God will provide for your needs. Faith in his promise will free up a lot of wealth from hands that want to amass more and more of it, so that you can reach out to others in love. Use what you have – your wealth, your time, your talents, your energy – to build relationships that are eternal.