Rich people are materialistic. We all know it. All they care about is their money and things. Or so I thought. My background consists of a blue-collar neighborhood and an inner-city high school in Southern California. My quick judgment of wealthy people, when first I encountered them, was that they were superficial, worldly, and materialistic. They were caught up in things and appearances. They lacked the simplicity of the virtuous poor, the salt of the earth, among whom I numbered myself.
“The love of money is the root of all sorts of evil,” says the apostle (1 Tim. 6:10, NASB). He warns not of money per se, but the “love of money,” and “longing for it.” He addresses not the rich so much as “those who want to get rich” (v. 9), among whom we could add those desperate to hang on to their money or multiply their money and become richer yet.
The money problem that the apostle Paul is addressing is a human problem, not the exclusive hang-up of the upper classes. Often the rich, having grown accustomed to wealth, pay little attention to it. Old money is notorious for modest housing, old cars, and shabby clothing. The acquisitive impulse often is more evident in the poor, the middle class, and the newly wealthy. These classes of people both envy and idolize the rich and famous. They dream of limitless wealth and conspicuous consumption. They become obsessed with getting wealth and long for the opportunity to ostentatiously display it. The reverse snobbery of people of modest means, who loathe people of substance while they pretend virtue, cannot mask the reality that we ordinary folks are not exempt from the apostle’s warnings. We all struggle with the “love of money,” rich and poor alike.
Both then and now there are preachers who will justify materialism and even preach a “health and wealth” gospel, at the heart of which is the promise that “godliness (usually a warped form of godliness) is a means of gain.” The apostle complained of such preachers then, and we still hear of such preachers today (1 Tim. 6:5).
Genuine Christianity offers a different perspective and a better alternative: “But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment” (v. 6).
The gain of godliness is spiritual, not material. True godliness is accompanied not by wealth but by contentment with one’s lot. Contentment is found in becoming indifferent towards wealth. Money is fine. Use it if you’ve got it. But don’t be consumed with its pursuit. Don’t long for it. Don’t love it. Why not? Because we can’t take it with us, the apostle reminds us.
“For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either” (v. 7). Life is short and eternity is long. Why spend one’s life accumulating things that must be left behind, that are useless in eternity? Also, nutrition and shelter should be enough. What else do we really need? “And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content” (v. 8).
Plus, money is a huge distraction and dangerous deception. Many “fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches” (v. 17). Wealth presents many a “temptation and snare.” It arouses “many foolish and harmful desires” (v. 9). Like what? Covetousness, materialism, pride, self-sufficiency, idolatry, selfishness, greed, fraud, deceit, abuse of others, neglect of others, neglect of the soul, and so on. These desires “plunge men into ruin and destruction” (v. 9).
Contented people live simply; they live quietly; they live peacefully. Those who wish to accumulate or preserve wealth are tortured by their options: vacations, cars, houses, clothes. Poor folk don’t wrestle with their options because they have so few of them. The rich are concerned with the progress of their investments and things. They’re terrified of losing it all. Poor folk have little to lose. The rich fear con-artists taking advantage of them, cheating them, or using them. Poor folk are confident that their friends and acquaintances are genuine. Wealth and its pursuit easily becomes an obsession, an idol, which can destroy the soul. The “worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word,” Jesus warned (Matt. 13:22). Didn’t Jesus say something about the futility of trying to serve God and mammon? Didn’t Jesus say something about the futility of laying up treasures on earth rather than in heaven? Didn’t Jesus say where our treasure was, there would our hearts be also (Matt. 6:19–24)? Some who “long for it,” for money, the apostle says, “have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Tim. 6:10).
Modernity is materialistic. Every day the modern world lies to us in saying that happiness will be found in more things, bigger things, and better things. It projects a very seductive image of satisfaction through consumption. Regrettably, many professing Christians fall prey to the world’s counterfeit vision.