Desiring God by John Piper
Money is the currency of Christian Hedonism. What you do with it—or desire to do with it—can make or break your happiness forever. The Bible makes clear that what you feel about money can destroy you:
Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. (1 Timothy 6:9)
Or what you do with your money can secure the foundation of eternal life:
They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (vv. 18–19)
These verses teach us to use our money in a way that will bring us the greatest and longest gain. That is, they advocate Christian Hedonism. They confirm that it is not only permitted, but commanded by God that we flee from destruction
and pursue our full and lasting pleasure. They imply that all the evils in the world come not because our desires for happiness are too strong, but because they are so weak that we settle for fleeting pleasures that do not satisfy our deepest souls, but in the end destroy them. The root of all evil is that we are the kind of people who settle for the love of money instead of the love of God (1 Timothy 6:10).
BEWARE THE DESIRE TO BE RICH
This text in 1 Timothy 6 is so crucial that we should meditate on it in more
detail. Paul is warning Timothy against false teachers:
[They are] people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth,
imagining that godliness is a means of gain. Now there is great gain in
godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world,
and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and
clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich
fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful
desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of
money is the root of all evils. It is through this craving that some have
wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (vv. 5–10, author’s translation)
Paul writes to Timothy a word of warning about slick deceivers who discovered they could cash in on the upsurge of godliness in Ephesus. According to verse 5, these puffed-up controversialists treat godliness as a means of gain. They are so addicted to the love of money that truth occupies a very subordinate place in their affections. They don’t “rejoice in the truth.” They rejoice in tax evasion. They are willing to use any new, popular interest to make a few bucks.
Nothing is sacred. If the bottom line is big and black, the advertising strategies are a matter of indifference. If godliness is in, then sell godliness.
This text is very timely. Ours are good days for profits in godliness. The
godliness market is hot for booksellers and music makers and dispensers of silver crosses and fish buckles and olivewood letter openers and bumper stickers and
lucky-water crosses with Jesus on the front and miracle water inside guaranteed to make you win at bingo or your money back in ninety days. These are good days for gain in godliness!
HE DIDN’T SAY, “DON’T LIVE FOR GAIN”
In his day or in ours, Paul could respond to this effort to turn godliness into
gain by saying, “Christians don’t live for gain. Christians do what’s right for its own sake. Christians aren’t motivated by profit.” But that’s not what Paul says. He says (in verse 6), “There is great gain in godliness with contentment.”
Instead of saying Christians don’t live for gain, he says Christians ought to
live for greater gain than the slick money lovers do. Godliness is the way to get this great gain, but only if we are content with simplicity rather than greedy for riches. “Godliness with contentment is great gain.”
If your godliness has freed you from the desire to be rich and has helped you be content with what you have, then your godliness is tremendously profitable: “For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). Godliness that overcomes the craving for material wealth produces great spiritual wealth. The point of 1 Timothy 6:6 is that it is very profitable not to pursue wealth.
What follows in verses 7–10 are three reasons why we should not pursue
GETTING RAISES IS NOT THE SAME AS GETTING RICH
But first let me insert a clarification. We live in a society in which many legitimate businesses depend on large concentrations of capital. You can’t build a new manufacturing plant without millions of dollars in equity. Therefore, financial officers in big businesses often have the responsibility to build reserves, for example, by selling shares to the community. When the Bible condemns the desire to get rich, it is not necessarily condemning a business that aims to expand and therefore seeks larger capital reserves. The officers of the business may be greedy for more personal wealth, or they may have larger, nobler
motives of how their expanded productivity will benefit people.
Even when a competent person in business is offered a raise or a higher paying job and accepts it, that is not enough to condemn him for the desire to be rich. He may have accepted the job because he craves the power and status and luxuries the money could bring. Or, content with what he has, he may intend to use the extra money for founding an adoption agency or giving a scholarship or sending a missionary or funding an inner-city ministry.
Working to earn money for the cause of Christ is not the same as desiring
to be rich. What Paul is warning against is not the desire to earn money to meet our needs and the needs of others; he is warning against the desire to have more and more money and the ego boost and material luxuries it can provide.
THERE ARE NO U-HAULS BEHIND HEARSES
Let’s look at the three reasons Paul gives in verses 7–10 for why we should not aspire to be rich.
1. In verse 7 he says, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot
take anything out of the world.” There are no U-Hauls behind hearses.
Suppose someone passes empty-handed through the turnstile at a big-city
art museum and begins to take the pictures off the wall and carry them importantly under his arm. You come up to him and say, “What are you doing?”
He answers, “I’m becoming an art collector.”
“But they’re not really yours,” you say, “and besides, they won’t let you take
any of those out of here. You’ll have to go out just like you came in.”
But he answers again, “Sure, they’re mine. I’ve got them under my arm.
People in the halls look at me as an important dealer. And I don’t bother myself with thoughts about leaving. Don’t be a killjoy.”
We would call this man a fool! He is out of touch with reality. So is the person who spends himself to get rich in this life. We will go out just the way we came in.
Or picture 269 people entering eternity through a plane crash in the Sea of
Japan. Before the crash, there are a noted politician, a millionaire corporate
executive, a playboy and his playmate, and a missionary kid on the way back from visiting grandparents.
After the crash, they stand before God utterly stripped of Mastercards,
checkbooks, credit lines, image clothes, how-to-succeed books, and Hilton
reservations. Here are the politician, the executive, the playboy, and the missionary kid, all on level ground with nothing, absolutely nothing, in their hands, possessing only what they brought in their hearts. How absurd and tragic the lover of money will seem on that day—like a man who spends his whole life collecting train tickets and in the end is so weighed down by the collection that he misses the last train. Don’t spend your precious life trying to get rich, Paul says, “for we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of the world.”
SIMPLICITY IS POSSIBLE AND GOOD
2. Then in verse 8, Paul adds the second reason not to pursue wealth: “If we
have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” Christians can be and
ought to be content with the simple necessities of life.
I’ll mention three reasons why such simplicity is possible and good.
First, when you have God near you and for you, you don’t need extra
money or extra things to give you peace and security.
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you
have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we
can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can
man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5–6)
No matter which way the market is moving, God is always better than gold.
Therefore, by God’s help we can be, and we should be content, with the simple necessities of life.
Second, we can be content with simplicity because the deepest, most satisfying delights God gives us through creation are free gifts from nature and from loving relationships with people. After your basic needs are met, accumulated money begins to diminish your capacity for these pleasures rather than increase them. Buying things contributes absolutely nothing to the heart’s capacity for joy.
There is a deep difference between the temporary thrill of a new toy and a
homecoming hug from a devoted friend. Who do you think has the deepest,
most satisfying joy in life, the man who pays $240 for a fortieth-floor suite
downtown and spends his evenings in the half-lit, smoke-filled lounge impressing strange women with ten-dollar cocktails, or the man who chooses the Motel 6 by a vacant lot of sunflowers and spends his evening watching the sunset and writing a love letter to his wife?
Third, we should be content with the simple necessities of life because we
could invest the extra we make for what really counts. For example, the “Annual Statistical Table on Global Mission 2002” by David Barrett and Todd Johnson reports that there are 1,645,685,000 unevangelized people in the world.1 That means 26.5 percent of the world’s population live in people groups that do not have indigenous evangelizing churches. This does not count the third of the world that does live in evangelized peoples but makes no profession of faith. If the unevangelized are to hear—and Christ commands that they hear—then crosscultural missionaries will have to be sent and paid for.
All the wealth needed to send this army of good news ambassadors is
already in the church. And yet in 1999, the average Protestant gave 2.6 percent of his income to his church.2
According to the website of Mission Frontiers3:
1. The total global church member annual income is $12.3 trillion
2. Of this, $213 billion (1.73 percent) is given to Christian causes.
3. Of this, $11.4 billion (5.4 percent of the 1.73 percent) goes to Foreign Missions.
4. Of this, 87 percent goes for work among those already Christian; 12 percent goes for work among already evangelized non-Christians, and one percent—$114 million—goes to the unreached.
1. David B. Barrett and Todd M. Johnson, “Annual Statistical Table on Global Mission 2002,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 26 (January 2002):22–3.
2. See www.emptytomb.org/research.html.
3. See www.missionfrontiers.org/newslinks/statewe.htm.
If we, like Paul, are content with the simple necessities of life, billions of
dollars in the church would be released to take the gospel to the frontiers. The revolution of joy and freedom it would cause at home would be the best local witness imaginable. The biblical call is that you can and ought to be content with life’s simple necessities.
HOW TO PIERCE YOURSELF WITH MANY PANGS
3. The third reason not to pursue wealth is that the pursuit will end in the
destruction of your life. This is the point of verses 9 and 10:
Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and into a snare, and
into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin
and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils. It is
through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and
pierced themselves with many pangs. (author’s translation)
No Christian Hedonist wants to plunge into ruin and destruction and be
pierced with many pangs. Therefore, no Christian Hedonist desires to be rich.
Test yourself. Have you learned your attitude toward money from the
Bible, or have you absorbed it from contemporary American merchandising? When you ride in an airplane and read the airline magazine, almost every page teaches and pushes a view of wealth exactly opposite from the view in 1 Timothy 6:9—that those desiring to be rich will fall into ruin and destruction. Paul makes vivid the peril of the same desire the airline magazines exploit and promote.
THE IMAGES OF WEALTH
I recall a full-page ad for a popular office chair that showed a man in a plush
office. The ad’s headline read, “His suits are custom tailored. His watch is solid gold. His office chair is ____________________.” Below the man’s picture was this quote:
I’ve worked hard and had my share of luck: my business is a success. I
wanted my office to reflect this and I think it does. For my chair I chose a
_____________. It fits the image I wanted.… If you can’t say this about
your office chair, isn’t it about time you sat in a _______________? After
all, haven’t you been without one long enough?
The philosophy of wealth in those lines goes like this: If you’ve earned
them, you would be foolish to deny yourself the images of wealth. If 1 Timothy 6:9 is true, and the desire to be rich brings us into Satan’s trap and the destruction of hell, then this advertisement, which exploits and promotes that desire, is just as destructive as anything you might read in the sex ads of a big city daily.
Are you awake and free from the false messages of American merchandising? Or has the omnipresent economic lie so deceived you that the only sin you can imagine in relation to money is stealing? I believe in free speech and free enterprise because I have no faith whatsoever in the moral capacity of sinful civil government to improve upon the institutions created by sinful individuals. But, for God’s sake, let us use our freedom as Christians to say no to the desire for riches and yes to the truth: There is great gain in godliness when we are content with the simple necessities of life.4
WHAT SHOULD THE RICH DO?
So far we have been pondering the words in 1 Timothy 6:6–10 addressed to
people who are not rich but who may be tempted to want to be rich. In verses 17–19, Paul addresses a group in the church who are already rich. What should a rich person do with his money if he becomes a Christian? And what should a Christian do if God prospers his business so that great wealth is at his disposal? Paul answers like this:
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor
to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly
4. For an explanation and qualification of what I mean by “the simple necessities of life,” see the section later in this chapter entitled “Our Calling: A Wartime Lifestyle.”
provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in
good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure
for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may
take hold of that which is truly life.
The words of verse 19 simply paraphrase Jesus’ teaching. Jesus said:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust
destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves
treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where
thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your
heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19–21)
Jesus is not against investment. He is against bad investment—namely, setting your heart on the comforts and securities that money can afford in this world. Money is to be invested for eternal yields in heaven: “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven!” How?
Luke 12:32–34 gives one answer:
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you
the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide
yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the
heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth
destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
So the answer to how to lay up treasures in heaven is to spend your earthly
treasures for merciful purposes in Christ’s name here on earth. Give alms—that is, provide yourself with purses in heaven. Notice carefully that Jesus does not merely say that treasure in heaven will be the unexpected result of generosity on earth. No, He says we should pursue treasure in heaven. Lay it up! Provide yourselves with unfailing purses and treasures! This is pure Christian Hedonism.
YOU WILL BE REPAID AT THE RESURRECTION OF THE JUST
Another instance where Jesus tells us how to invest for eternal joy is Luke
14:13–14, where He is more specific about how to use our resources to lay up treasures in heaven: “When you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (NASB). This is virtually the same as saying, “Give to the needy; provide yourselves moneybags in heaven.”
Don’t seek the reward of an earthly tit for tat. Be generous. Don’t pad your
life with luxuries and comforts. Look to the resurrection and the great reward in God “in [whose] presence is fullness of joy; at [whose] right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
BEWARE OF BEING WISER THAN THE BIBLE
Beware of commentators who divert attention from the plain meaning of these texts. What would you think, for example, of the following typical comment on Luke 14:13–14: “The promise of reward for this kind of life is there as a fact. You do not live this way for the sake of reward. If you do you are not living in this way but in the old selfish way.”5
Is this true—that we are selfish and not loving if we are motivated by the
promised reward? If so, why did Jesus entice us by mentioning the reward, even giving it as the basis (“for”) of our action? And what would this commentator say concerning Luke 12:33, where we are not told that reward will result from our giving alms, but we are told to actively seek to get the reward—“provide yourselves with moneybags”?
And what would he say concerning the Parable of the Unrighteous Steward
(Luke 16:1–13), where Jesus concludes, “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings” (16:9)? The aim of this parable is to instruct the disciples in the right
5. T. W. Manson, The Sayings of Jesus (London: SCM, 1949), 280.
and loving use of worldly possessions. Jesus does not say that the result of such use is to receive eternal dwellings. He says to make it your aim to secure an eternal dwelling by the use of your possessions.
So it is simply wrong to say that Jesus does not want us to pursue the
reward He promises. He commands us to pursue it (Luke 12:33; 16:9). More
than forty times in the Gospel of Luke there are promises of reward and threats of punishment connected with the commands of Jesus.6
Of course, we must not seek the reward of earthly praise or material gain.
This is clear not only from Luke 14:14, but also from Luke 6:35, “Love your
enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High.” In other words, don’t care about earthly reward; look to the heavenly reward—namely, the infinite joys of being a son of God!
Or, as Jesus put it in Matthew 6:3–4, don’t care about human praise for
your merciful acts. If that is your goal, that’s all you will get, and it will be a pitiful reward compared to the reward of God. “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
LURING OTHERS TO THE REWARD BY LOVING IT OURSELVES
The reason our generosity toward others is not a sham love when we are motivated by the longing for God’s promise is that we are aiming to take those others with us into that reward. We know our joy in heaven will be greater if the people we treat with mercy are won over to the surpassing worth of Christ and join us in praising Him.
But how will we ever point them to Christ’s infinite worth if we are not driven, in all we do, by the longing to have more of Him? It would only be unloving if we pursued our joy at the expense of others. But if our very pursuit includes the pursuit of their joy, how is that selfish? How am I the less loving to
6. John Piper, Love Your Enemies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979). I list and discuss these instances on pp. 163–5.
you if my longing for God moves me to give away my earthly possessions so
that my joy in Him can be forever doubled in your partnership of praise?
LAYING UP FOR YOURSELF A GOOD FOUNDATION
Paul’s teaching to the rich in 1 Timothy 6:19 continues and applies these teachings of Jesus from the Gospels. He says rich people should use their money in such a way that they are “storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” In other words, there is a way to use your money that forfeits eternal life.7
We know Paul has eternal life in view because seven verses earlier he uses the same kind of expression in reference to eternal life: “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:12).
The reason the use of your money provides a good foundation for eternal
life is not that generosity earns eternal life, but that it shows where your heart is. Generosity confirms that our hope is in God, and not in ourselves or our money. We don’t earn eternal life. It is a gift of grace (2 Timothy 1:9). We receive it by resting in God’s promise. Then how we use our money confirms or denies the reality of that rest.
PRIDE OF POSSESSIONS
Paul gives three directions to the rich about how to use their money to confirm their eternal future.
First, don’t let your money produce pride: “As for the rich in this present
age, charge them not to be haughty” (1 Timothy 6:17). How deceptive our
hearts are when it comes to money! Every one of us has felt the smug sense of superiority that creeps in after a clever investment or a new purchase or a big
7. This does not contradict the biblical doctrine of the eternal security of God’s chosen people who are truly born again, a doctrine firmly established by Romans 8:30. But it does imply that there is a change of heart if we have been born of God, and this includes evidences in the way we use our money. Jesus warned repeatedly of the false confidence that bears no fruit and will forfeit life in the end (Matthew 7:15–27; 13:47–50; 22:11–14). For more on eternal security and perseverance of the saints, see Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1994), 788–809 and Thomas R. Schreiner and Ardel B. Caneday, The Race Set before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2001).
deposit. Money’s chief attractions are the power it gives and the pride it feeds. Paul says, Don’t let this happen.
WHY IT IS HARD FOR THE RICH TO INHERIT LIFE
Second, he adds in verse 17, don’t set your “hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” This is not easy for the rich to do. That’s why Jesus said it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:23). It is hard to look at all the earthly hope that riches offer and then turn away from that to God and rest all your hope on Him. It is hard not to love the gift instead of the Giver. But this is the only hope for the rich. If they can’t do it, they are lost.
They must remember the warning Moses gave the people of Israel as they
entered the Promised Land:
Beware lest you say in your heart, “My power and the might of my
hand have gotten me this wealth.” You shall remember the LORD your
God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm
his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.
The great danger of riches is that our affections will be carried away from
God to His gifts.
IS THIS A HEALTH-WEALTH-AND-PROSPERITY TEACHING?
Before moving on to Paul’s third exhortation for the rich, we must consider a common abuse of verse 17. The verse says that “God…richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” This means, first, that God is usually generous in the provision He makes to meet our needs. He furnishes things “richly.” Second, it means we need not feel guilty for enjoying the things He gives us. They are given “for enjoyment.” Fasting, celibacy, and other forms of self-denial are right and good in the service of God, but they must not be elevated as the spiritual
norm. The provisions of nature are given for our good and, by our Godward
joy, can become occasions of thanksgiving and worship (1 Timothy 4:2–5).
But a wealth-and-prosperity doctrine is afoot today, shaped by the halftruth
that says, “We glorify God with our money by enjoying thankfully all the
things He enables us to buy. Why should a son of the King live like a pauper?” And so on. The true half of this is that we should give thanks for every good thing God enables us to have. That does glorify Him. The false half is the subtle implication that God can be glorified in this way by all kinds of luxurious purchases.
If this were true, Jesus would not have said, “Sell your possessions, and give
to the needy” (Luke 12:33). He would not have said, “Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink” (Luke 12:29). John the Baptist would not have said, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none” (Luke 3:11). The Son of Man would not have walked around with no place to lay his head (Luke 9:58). And Zacchaeus would not have given half his goods to the poor (Luke 19:8).
God is not glorified when we keep for ourselves (no matter how thankfully)
what we ought to be using to alleviate the misery of unevangelized, uneducated, unmedicated, and unfed millions. The evidence that many professional Christians have been deceived by this doctrine is how little they give and how much they own. God has prospered them. And by an almost irresistible law of consumer culture (baptized by a doctrine of health, wealth, and prosperity), they have bought bigger (and more) houses, newer (and more) cars, fancier (and more) clothes, better (and more) meat, and all manner of trinkets and gadgets and containers and devices and equipment to make life more fun.
WHY GOD PROSPERS MANY SAINTS
They will object: Does not the Old Testament promise that God will prosper
His people? Indeed! God increases our yield so that by giving we can prove that our yield is not our god. God does not prosper a man’s business so he can move from a Ford to a Cadillac. God prospers a business so that thousands of unreached peoples can be reached with the gospel. He prospers a business so
that 20 percent of the world’s population can move a step back from the
precipice of starvation.
I am a pastor, not an economist. Therefore, I see my role today the way
James Stewart saw his in Scotland thirty years ago.
It is the function of economists, not the pulpit, to work out plans of
reconstruction. But it is emphatically the function of the pulpit to stab
men broad awake to the terrible pity of Jesus, to expose their hearts to
the constraint of that divine compassion which halos the oppressed and
the suffering, and flames in judgment against every social wrong.…
There is no room for a preaching devoid of ethical directness and social
passion, in a day when heaven’s trumpets sound and the Son of God
goes forth to war.8
OUR CALLING: A WARTIME LIFESTYLE
The mention of “war” is not merely rhetorical. What is specifically called for
today is a “wartime lifestyle.” I used the phrase “simple necessities of life” earlier in this chapter because Paul said in 1 Timothy 6:8, “If we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” But this idea of simplicity can be very misleading. I mean it to refer to a style of life that is unencumbered with nonessentials—and the criterion for “essential” should not be primitive “simplicity,” but wartime effectiveness.
Ralph Winter illustrates this idea of a wartime lifestyle:
The Queen Mary, lying in repose in the harbor at Long Beach,
California, is a fascinating museum of the past. Used both as a luxury
liner in peacetime and a troop transport during the Second World War,
its present status as a museum the length of three football fields affords
a stunning contrast between the lifestyles appropriate in peace and war.
8. James Stewart, Heralds of God (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1972), 97.
On one side of a partition you see the dining room reconstructed to
depict the peacetime table setting that was appropriate to the wealthy
patrons of high culture for whom a dazzling array of knives and forks
and spoons held no mysteries. On the other side of the partition the
evidences of wartime austerities are in sharp contrast. One metal tray
with indentations replaces fifteen plates and saucers. Bunks, not just
double but eight tiers high, explain why the peace-time complement of
3000 gave way to 15,000 people on board in wartime. How repugnant
to the peacetime masters this transformation must have been! To do it
took a national emergency, of course. The survival of a nation
depended on it. The essence of the Great Commission today is that the
survival of many millions of people depends on its fulfillment.9
There is a war going on. All talk of a Christian’s right to live luxuriantly “as
a child of the King” in this atmosphere sounds hollow—especially since the
King Himself is stripped for battle. It is more helpful to think of a wartime
lifestyle than a merely simple lifestyle. Simplicity can be very inwardly directed and may benefit no one else. A wartime lifestyle implies that there is a great and worthy cause for which to spend and be spent (2 Corinthians 12:15).
America today is a “save yourself ” society if there ever was one. But
does it really work? The underdeveloped societies suffer from one set of
diseases: tuberculosis, malnutrition, pneumonia, parasites, typhoid,
cholera, typhus, etc. Affluent America has virtually invented a whole
new set of diseases: obesity, arteriosclerosis, heart disease, strokes, lung
cancer, venereal disease, cirrhosis of the liver, drug addiction, alcoholism,
divorce, battered children, suicide, murder. Take your choice.
Labor-saving machines have turned out to be body-killing devices. Our
9. Ralph Winter, “Reconsecration to a Wartime, Not a Peacetime, Lifestyle,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, 3rd ed., ed. Ralph Winter and Steven Hawthorne (Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey, 1999), 705.
affluence has allowed both mobility and isolation of the nuclear family,
and as a result, our divorce courts, our prisons and our mental institutions
are flooded. In saving ourselves we have nearly lost ourselves.
How hard have we tried to save others? Consider the fact that the U.S. evangelical slogan, “Pray, give or go” allows people merely to pray, if that is their choice! By contrast the Friends Missionary Prayer Band of South India numbers 8,000 people in their prayer bands and supports 80 full-time missionaries in North India. If my denomination (with its unbelievably greater wealth per person) were to do that well, we would not be sending 500 missionaries, but 26,000. In spite of their true poverty, those poor people in South India are sending 50 times as many cross-cultural missionaries as we are!10
The point here is to show that those who encourage Christians to pursue a
luxuriant peacetime lifestyle are missing the point of all Jesus taught about
money. He called us to lose our lives in order that we might gain them again
(and the context is indeed money): “What does it profit a man to gain the
whole world and forfeit his life?” (Mark 8:36). And the way He means for us to lose our lives is in fulfilling the mission of love He gave us.
BE RICH IN GOOD DEEDS
Which leads us to the final admonition Paul makes to the rich: “They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Timothy 6:18). Once they are liberated from the magnet of pride and once their hope is set on God, not money, only one thing can happen: Their money will flow
freely to multiply the manifold ministries of Christ.
WHAT ABOUT THE LAKE HOME?
So what does a pastor say to his people concerning the purchase and ownership of two homes in a world where thirty-five thousand children starve to death
10. Ibid., 706.
every day and mission agencies cannot evangelize more unreached people for lack of funds? First, he may quote Amos 3:15: “I will strike the winter house along with the summer house, and the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall come to an end.” Then he may read Luke 3:11, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none.”
Then he might tell about the family in St. Petersburg, Florida, who caught
a vision for the housing needs of the poor. They sold their second home in Ohio and used the funds to build houses for several families in Immokalee, Florida.
Then he will ask, “Is it wrong to own a second home that sits empty part of
the year?” And he will answer, “Maybe and maybe not.” He will not make it
easy by creating a law. Laws can be obeyed under constraint with no change of heart; prophets want new hearts for God, not just new real estate arrangements. He will empathize with their uncertainty and share his own struggle to discover the way of love. He will not presume to have a simple answer to every lifestyle question.
But he will help them decide. He will say, “Does your house signify or
encourage a level of luxury enjoyed in heedless unconcern of the needs of others? Or is it a simple, oft-used retreat for needed rest and prayer and meditation that sends people back to the city with a passion to deny themselves for the evangelization of the unreached and the pursuit of justice?”
He will leave the arrow lodged in their conscience and challenge them to
seek a lifestyle in sync with the teaching and life of the Lord Jesus.
WHY HAS GOD GIVEN US SO MUCH?
In Ephesians 4:28, Paul says, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” In other words, there are three levels of how to live with things: (1) you can steal to get; (2) or you can work to get; (3) or you can work to get in order to give.
Too many professing Christians live on level two. Almost all the forces of
our culture urge them to live on level two. But the Bible pushes us relentlessly to level three. “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all
sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2
Corinthians 9:8). Why does God bless us with abundance? So we can have
enough to live on, and then use the rest for all manner of good works that alleviate spiritual and physical misery. Enough for us; abundance for others.
The issue is not how much a person makes. Big industry and big salaries are
a fact of our times, and they are not necessarily evil. The evil is in being deceived into thinking a six-digit salary must be accompanied by a six-digit lifestyle. God has made us to be conduits of His grace. The danger is in thinking the conduit should be lined with gold. It shouldn’t. Copper will do.
LIVING ON THE BRINK OF ETERNITY
Our final summary emphasis should be this: In 1 Timothy 6, Paul’s purpose
is to help us lay hold of eternal life and not lose it. Paul never dabbles in
unessentials. He lives on the brink of eternity. That’s why he sees things so
clearly. He stands there like God’s gatekeeper and treats us like reasonable
Christian Hedonists: You want life that is life indeed, don’t you (v. 19)? You
don’t want ruin, destruction, and pangs of heart, do you (vv. 9–10)? You want all the gain that godliness can bring, don’t you (v. 6)? Then use the currency of Christian Hedonism wisely: Do not desire to be rich, be content with the wartime necessities of life, set your hope fully on God, guard yourself from pride, and let your joy in God overflow in a wealth of liberality to a lost and needy world.
He who loves his wife loves himself.
An excellent wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.