This is the sermon I preached Sunday, 9/25 at St. Timothy and St. Mark Lutheran Churches. The text is 1 Timothy 6:6-19.
Have you ever had a conversation with someone that started out like this, “Jim, how are you doing? I haven’t seen you in so long.” Jim replies, “I’m living the dream!” Sometimes it seems to mean the respondent is doing great. Other times I’ve heard people say this in a sarcastic way because they’re in a very hard place. I would like to make one small change to that statement so that it says, "I'm living the life."
At first glance, we think it's obvious that this passage is about stewardship; and it is. But it is about so much more. There is a little phrase at the very end of the passage that I cannot shake. Every time I read this passage it hits me again and again: “…take hold of the life that really is life,”(v. 19b). What does that mean? Does it mean that those who are going their own way, not following Jesus, are missing out on something? It seems to me that there is a false life being offered to people, one that claims we will be happy and fulfilled if we only make enough money to own all the really cool things. We've all heard the expression, "He who has the most toys wins." After all, God wouldn’t want to deny us now, would he?
I have some questions about this "life that really is life." First of all, what is it? How do we get this life? What good does such life do us? Once we have this life, what do we do with it?
What is this life? It is life in Christ. It is connected to the "treasure of a good foundation." One stores up heavenly treasure because it will last for an eternity. Riches stored up on earth are fleeting and can disappear at any moment. For example, a stock market crash, a devastating fire or death.
Life in Christ is something available, accessible and something people of faith can take hold of. It is not beyond us or out of reach. In the midst of worldly temptations such as endless toys, never growing old, wealth and security, we can experience our joy in God's call to live a life in Christ which manifests signs of mutual love and compassion, justice and kindness, from beginning to end, secure in all that God will bring about at the right time.
First Timothy contrasts our desire to accumulate earthly wealth that can disappear in a second with the Christian focus of accumulating heavenly wealth that will last for eternity. "Godliness with contentment" becomes the aim of our life pursuit. It is connected with contentment because of the capacity to be satisfied with what is ours instead of being driven to possess what isn't ours. Contentment is something that is difficult to live. When I'm in the parsonage and looking out towards Lake Chautauqua, and I see boats out there, I admit I think, wouldn't it be nice to have a boat? And then I think, wouldn't it be interesting to have Ray drive it? Those of you with boats probably struggle with other things that produce envy in your life. If we were never envious, I don't think we would be human. When we live our life in Christ, we confess our envy to God, receive his forgiveness and move on.
We come into this life with nothing and we leave this life with nothing. We've all heard the phrase, "You can't take it with you." We collect riches, possessions and decorations along the way. In reality, there's only so much you can stuff into a coffin, and even less when you're cremated. According to Paul, all we really need is food and clothing.
There is a verse in this passage that is often misquoted. We hear people say, "money is the root of all evil," but that is a misquote. The verse correctly reads, "the love of money is a root of ... all... evil" (v. 9). It is our insatiable desire for money and the toys it buys that is the cause of all evil. Money in itself is not evil. It's when money becomes our god that it becomes evil.
If God has blessed us with riches in this life, this passage instructs us to not be haughty. We must remember that our good fortune is a direct result of God's favor on us and has nothing to do with anything we have done. We are urged to rely on God, who is the source of all we have (v. 17). Riches are positive if we do good works, are "generous, and ready to share" (v. 18). If we use our possessions wisely, we find ourselves engaged in doing good. Our motive for doing this is to lay "a good foundation for eternity" (v. 19).
How do we obtain our life in Christ? There is nothing we can do to obtain it. It is a gift from God, freely offered by God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God makes us his own through our baptism. As we read God's word, we learn more and more about God's love and how he sent Jesus to redeem us from sin and the distractions of this world.
What good does life in Christ do us? Life in Christ, is a different kind of riches. We are not consumed by the riches and things of this world. The life of Christ in us turns our entire world upside down. Paradigms of our life shift. Some are destroyed. Paul writes that "there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment" (v. 6). The life of Christ in us makes us godly.
It's interesting that Paul uses the word "gain" to describe the good life in Christ. He also writes about financial gain throughout this passage. Material gain seems wonderful at first, but after a while, you only want more. We never have enough. But then the great gain Paul speaks of is something that is not a fleeting emotion, but something we have for eternity.
We don't have to worry about our stocks sliding, the devaluation of the dollar, how many Rolls Royces we drive or how many mansions we own. Our gain in life in Christ is eternally in the black; giving us the ability to live life in a way that is beyond all of our expectations. Paul says that "God ... richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment" (v. 17)
Once we have accepted our life in Christ, what do we do with it? We need to share this life. It's funny how easily and quickly we tell everyone when we have gotten a great deal on something. We can hardly keep quiet about it; posting it on Facebook and telling everyone who will listen. We want them to know how they too can get a good deal.
But why are we so timid about sharing what God has done, is doing and will do in our lives and in the lives of all believers? I know this isn't easy to do and I have to confess that even for me, a trained pastor, I have my timid moments.
One of the reasons for the growth of some of the larger churches is because part of the DNA of the worshippers is sharing their faith with others. It is easy to find ways to take something said in church and use it as a means of gently sharing the gospel. We do a great job in this congregation of inviting others to join us at church and sharing with others.
But a part of learning to share is also learning how to listen to those who you are sharing with. You need to be able to hear and understand the context of where the person you are sharing with is coming from.
While living in Palestine, I learned the art of listening to those of a different religion. I learned about Islam from Muslim university students and as a result, they were curious about Christianity. This made it easier to explain what our faith was about. If we are open, God will provide opportunities to share the life of Christ with those who are not yet following him.
Accepting God's gift of a life in Christ, is what today's second reading is all about. We are God's children because God gives us life. I challenge all of us (myself included) to look for ways to share this wonderful and abundant life we've been given. We live in a world full of hurt that sorely needs to hear about the abundance and generosity of our God. Let's not keep God's good news of his heavenly riches to ourselves.