Developing Spiritual Strength
1 Timothy 6:3-10

By Paul Robison

Three loaded words.  A Japanese leader of a large organization once made a statement similar to this: “I like the word 'challenge'.  It brings out the best in us and causes us to do more” (Tanaka).  The Word of God often challenges us, and those challenges can be very difficult.  Here's another powerful word.  You hear it often.  See if you can fill in this blank: “This year's election is all about the __.”  Yes, analysts are saying it's all about the economy.  That word “economy” is really emotionally loaded isn't it?  We Americans are very concerned about our economy, and it's constantly being discussed.  Now, here's one more word.  See again if you can fill in the blank: “We want your business.  We strive to have ___ customers.”  Yes, the commercials tell us that if we will use this company's service, we will be satisfied.  Isn't it amazing that America is the richest nation on earth, yet its citizens are often not very satisfied?  We'll see in just a moment how our text from Timothy issues some great challenge for American Christians, challenges that touch both our economy and our satisfaction.
 
Before we look closer at how we can develop greater spiritual strength, let's review quickly what we have discovered in our previous sermons on 1 Timothy.  In this letter, we see that the church in Ephesus has been in chaos.  The apostle Paul hopes to come soon to help the church get back on its feet, but until he can arrive, he writes this letter to help Timothy and the members there know how to conduct themselves and to carry on:  “These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (3:14-15).  So Paul begins by giving instructions about avoiding the heretics, former church leaders who have shipwrecked their faith, about salvation (which is for all and not just for those with special knowledge), about lifestyle (a peaceful, evangelistic, and spiritual one that all members should display).  Then Paul discusses good church leadership (providing qualifications for elders and deacons), lists essential truths that can't be compromised (Jesus' incarnation, His resurrection, His ascension, His Gospel, His church, and His glorification), and describes the heretics' false teachings (forbidding marriage and eating certain foods).  Then Paul gives specific instructions to Timothy (and we've seen how those could be listed in about 20 commands).  In the next section, Paul instructs Timothy about working with various group and other members, such as widows, elders, and slaves.  Now in our passage today, 6:3-10, Paul gives further instructions about the heretics and the church members.  Let's read Paul's words and see if you can discover several challenges that he presents:  “If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings [or quarrels] of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself.  Now godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we bought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.  And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”  There are three challenges in this passage, and if we will apply them, they will help us to develop spiritual strength.
 
To develop spiritual strength, we are challenged to identify and to withdraw from heretics.  The heretics were former elders who renounced the Gospel and began preaching falsehoods in order to gain a following.  Paul mentions them right off in chapter one and then talks about their heresy in chapter four.  Paul returns to them again now at the close of this letter.  Look again at verses 3-5: “If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings [or quarrels] of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself.”  Listen to how Paul identifies the heretics.  Notice in verse 2 Paul says: “Teach and admonish these things.”  Paul wants Timothy to teach about everything that he has written in his letter up to this point.  Now notice the contrast in verse 3: “If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness.”  The heretics were teaching ideas contrary to what Paul had written, were teaching unhealthy words, were teaching messages contrary to Christ's teachings, and were teaching practices that did not lead to godliness or promotes the mystery of godliness mentioned in 3:16 where there can be no compromise.  Christ's teachings and His life are the standard, and nobody is at liberty to change those if one truly claims to be His disciple!  Identify those who are heretics.  Paul has told about the heretics' teaching, now listen as he describes their character: “he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings [or quarrels] of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth.”  Paul says these false teachers are proud or arrogant.  That word is the same one in 3:6 where candidates for elders are not to be novices lest they become proud or puffed up.  Then notice how Paul says that the false teachers know nothing.  They claim that they have an inside knowledge on matters (6:20), but Paul says that they really are ignorant people.  Does it sound to you like Paul is somewhat distressed and indignant?  The word translated “obsessed” is literally “diseased”.
Instead of healthy and wholesome teaching, these heretics are diseased with questionings or disputes (which is also in 1:4) and with arguments or literally a compound term meaning “word fights”.  It sure sounds like Paul is being judgmental doesn't it?  And now notice how the controversies and disputes of these sick men produce five other serious diseases of the soul: envy (which leads to taking sides), strife, (which leads to defending one's position), reviling, (which leads to saying slanderous things against the opposition), evil suspicions (which causes you to write off the opposition and always interpret their actions in the worst way), and useless quarrels (which leads to heated debates that don't help anybody).  Wow, sure sounds like Paul knows what goes on when a congregation splits doesn't it?  Paul earlier describes these heretics as men with seared consciences who speak lies (4:2); now listen as he describes their fruit.  He adds that they are men with corrupted or ruined minds and they no longer have any truth whatsoever in them!  Yes, these false teachers have really gone off the deep end.  Paul has described their teaching, their character, and their fruit.  But now listen as he describes their motive: “who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.”  Paul says that these former church leaders have become nothing but religious hucksters.  These men were commercializing their faith and padding their own pockets!  One wonders exactly how they were ripping people off!  However it was the first century sure sounds a lot like twenty-first century doesn't it?  Now notice the last part of verse 5 says: “From such withdraw yourself.”  Now Paul wanted Timothy and the congregation at Ephesus to take some firm action against these heretics.  Could we even say that Paul wanted these brethren to pass judgment upon these false teachers and to distance themselves from them?  In our age of tolerance, identifying heretics and withdrawing our fellowship from them is certainly a challenge.  But if we want to be the church of Christ, then we must be obedient to the apostle Paul's teaching here.  Ever since some elders were taken to court in Oklahoma and sued, we have become even the more skiddish about withdrawing from false members.  If we want to develop spiritual strength, the first challenge is to identify and to withdraw from heretics.
 
Now let's look at another challenge in verses 6-8: “Now godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we bought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.  And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.”  If we want to develop spiritual strength, we must realize what is true gain.  Another preacher puts it this way: “Godly and satisfied or contented at the same time?  What a tall order!  We understand about godliness; it is to become like God, more like Christ in all our ways.  The idea of contentment in this text is to become contented materially speaking, if you work at this, this will be the hardest challenge you'll ever do in your life.  [This is because we have been taught and conditioned by the advertising industry] to never be contented with what we have materially. ... A woman proudly told her friend, ‘I'm responsible for making my husband a millionaire.’ ‘Well, what was he before he married you?’ the friend asked. ‘Oh, a billionaire,’ she replied.  That sounds so much like our society.  We not only want to spend our own money but everyone’s money!  If [we] have the money and [we] see something that [we] want really bad, it is very hard for [us] to restrain [ourselves] and not buy it. ... It is our nature [developed commercial after commercial] that if we see something we like and we have the money, we will get it!  But what does the Scripture say?  Hebrews 13:5-6 admonishes: “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have.  For He Himself has said: 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.'  So we may boldly say: 'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear.  What can man do to me?'”  If the Lord is our helper, why shouldn’t we trust Him to provide what is needed in life?  We often want more than what is needed.  What could we do without in [this] life?  We don’t want to think about it, hear about it and most of all, and make any decision about it.  Haven’t you figured out that we Americans are spoiled?  We have more of everything and still want more” (Shepherd)!  The next challenge is to realize true gain, and this is extremely counter-cultural for us.  Notice what Paul said again: “If you want great gain, then you must accept the challenge of developing godliness with contentment.”  Why?  Why should we be contented or satisfied?  Paul gives a very simple and practical answer: “For we bought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.”  What a sobering truth!  All the goods and assets that you amass will end up going to others after your death.  You will leave this world with nothing.  So why do we strive so hard to gain more and more things when the bottom line at the end of our life is this truth: we are not going to take away even one red cent?  How does our economy look in that light?  Yes, learning to travel light in our culture is a very hard challenge indeed because we must realize true gain. “Well,” you might ask, “what does Paul mean when he says content?”  Here's his reply: “And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.”  Now the commentators tell us that the term for food could also include the means or job we do to get it, and the term for clothing could also include the shelter in which we live.  So, if we want to stretch it, Paul says that we should be content if we have a job, food, clothes, and shelter.  Now most Americans have these four things, but are they content?  No, they're in debt because they want many more things!  So how many Americans are in debt?  The American Debt Advisor responds: “Excluding minors, the total is somewhere in the neighborhood of 80% if we include secured debts like homes and cars.  Excluding those particular purchases puts us closer to 50% of the adult population, and half of that 50% has thousands of dollars owed [due to credit cards].”  It is indeed a great challenge to adopt the economy which the apostle Paul proposes and still lived in a satisfied way.  How had Paul learned to live with contentment on so little?  His secret is spelled out in Philippians 4:11-13: “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.  I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound.  Everywhere and in all things, I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  Paul said that the key to his economy was Christ.  Someone gave this good insight: “Money will buy a bed but not sleep, books but not brains, food but not appetite, finery but not beauty, a house but not a home, medicine but not health, luxuries but not culture, amusements but not happiness, religion but not salvation, a passport to everywhere but heaven” (Rowell).  You see, we need to realize what is true gain, and this is the second challenge.
 
Now listen to Paul's next challenge in verses 9-10: “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”  The third challenge is to understand the dangers of wealth.  Notice the pattern Paul presents: Those who live for money, fall into temptation and a trap.  The temptation is to put the money above God, and trap is to always want just a little bit more.  And then from the stage of the lure, it progresses to the stage of lusts.  But these aren't just any old lusts; no indeed, Paul says these lusts will prove to be stupid and to bring injury.  And then following the stage of lusts, we progress to the stage of loss.  The weight of our greedy lusts presses us down so much that it drowns our faith and leads to our spiritual destruction as well as the loss of our eternal reward.  Did you hear anything positive in that picture?  Those who crave wealth and skating on ice that gets thinner and thinner!  One preacher has observed that of every verse in the Bible that tells us of the benefits of wealth, there ten that are warning us about the dangers of wealth.  Understand the dangers of wealth!  Paul continues to give his warning: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”
Around 1900, two scientists from the Pacific Islands Company studied a piece of rock picked up on the tiny island of Nauru. Instead of a fossilized rock, it was rich in phosphate, a valuable mineral.  Europeans and Asians heard of the discover, flocked to the island, and soon opened up strip mines.  The people of Nauru gained independence in 1968, but the government continued the mining practices.  In the early 1980s, Nauru boasted the world's highest per capita income, but it didn't last.  In the 1990s, everything crashed, and now 70% of the island is a mined-out ruin, unable to support anybody.  The government had to look for a new island on which to relocate its people.  A reporter observed: “When you are on Nauru, there's a noticeable sense of shame at what was done.  The Nauruans literally sold off their homeland for a pot of wealth that is now lost” (Larson/Elshof, 511).  Brethren, our homeland is heaven, let's not sell it off for any price with which Satan may tempt us!  Understand the dangers of wealth!  And then Paul states in verse 10: “for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”  One commentator made this good observation: “The desire for wealth leads to other desires that end up in ruin, of [this] truth the false teachers are Exhibit A (v. 10).  The wayward elders of Ephesus “'sold out' the gospel for different doctrines and in so doing have pierced (impaled) themselves with many sorrows. ... Here were good men, who ... allowed themselves to be ensnared by Satan. ... they had come to love money [more than the truth], and it did them in [spiritually]” (Fee).  You see, even as Christians, “we may be blinded by greed and materialism to such a degree that [we turn] away from the faith. [Notice what Paul teaches us:] “A life focused on material things [eventually] produces only pain” (NBS).  To develop spiritual strength, third challenge is this: Understand the dangers of wealth!  Did you know that 16 of Jesus' 38 parables talk about handling money?  Did you know that 1 out of 10 verses in the Gospels deal directly with the subject of money?  Did you know that there 500 verses on prayer in the Bible, but there are 2000 on money and possessions (Rowell)?  Living on Jesus' economy and being contented is indeed a very real challenge.  Don't let Satan turn you from following Christ by attracting you to the trap of materialism!  Remember Paul's inspired truths: Godliness with contentment is great gain and greediness will eventually bring you great pain and sorrow, both in this world and in the next.  Do you possess your possession or do your possessions possess you?
 
If you are in the whirlpool of greed which will led from foolish and harmful lusts to spiritual destruction and eternal loss, then reach out your hand for Jesus' hand, and let Him pull you from that dangerous situation.  You can do all things through Christ who will strengthen you!
Develop spiritual strength!  Focus on Christ and not on wealth!