It helps sometimes to simply acknowledge that some texts are just difficult to preach. The epistles in the lectionary have dealt us a string of them just when everybody is getting back from summer vacation and we all just want to resume our regular routines in time before the holidays. A few weeks ago, it was slavery and Philemon. Last week, it was politics. This week, it is wealth. [1]

That said, when pastors and preachers often have to disavow people of clichés they think are from the Bible (for example: “God helps those who help themselves.”) at least this time we get one which actually is: “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils...” (verse 10). But notice how the original coinage is much more nuanced than many of the ways it gets copied. The love of money is not the root of all evil, just “all kinds of evils.” That is not to let anyone off the hook, but only to acknowledge Paul is not making a blanket indictment of all wealth. In fact, this nuance makes following the counsel of the text all the more difficult, or maybe it is not as difficult as it seems. “As for the rich in this present age... They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share...” (verses 17-18).

Which also reminds me of when my first job out of college, while I was still discerning my sense of vocation, was in church-related fundraising. One of the phrases I heard repeatedly from people who had every reason to be “haughty,” poignantly echoed the realism, almost verbatim, of verse 7. When I would ask them any variation of the question, “Why are you so generous?” they would often say, usually with a coy grin on their face, “Well, you can’t take it with you.” Whether or not they were explicitly aware of Paul’s closing instructions to Timothy, they were living it out. And I am going to guess you, dear reader-preacher, can picture in your own mind’s eye a few faces who have worn the same coy grin. They are the ones who have found the “great gain” which is “godliness combined with contentment” (verse 6). I am always astonished to see how the riches of their generosity give them a youthful vitality I hope to retain in my own life.

I am always astonished to see how the riches of their generosity give them a youthful vitality I hope to retain in my own life.

But just as surely, we can picture those among us who have fallen into the “temptation[s]” that lead to “ruin and destruction” (verse 9). Paul’s words to Timothy are not meant to simply be a gotcha moment to those who are, indeed, trapped in the vicious cycle of philarguria. His words are meant to recognize it is just the kind of debilitating disease the Greek word for it sounds like. Even modestly paid church workers are not immune: Luke’s Gospel uses the same word (philarguroi) to describe the Pharisees right before Jesus tells the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in today’s Gospel reading (Luke 16:19-31).

Certainly, Jesus’ parable provides a dire warning for where philarguria (not wealth, per se, but obsession with it) will lead. The road to it is often, to paraphrase the nonbiblical cliché, paved with good intentions. Which is why, I think, Paul’s admonitions feel so heartfelt. Notice the vigor of the imperatives: “Pursue righteousness... Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life...” (verses 11, 12). He is speaking as a beloving mentor to a beloved student, words of deep encouragement from someone who has learned life’s harder lessons, given to someone whom he knows will outlive him.

The Greek word we often give these later sections of Paul’s letters is paraenesis, godly counsel. The use of such counsel, which can so often sound like law, both leads to the Gospel and arises from the Gospel. If I may borrow again from Luke, we are those who have, against even the parable’s own skepticism, heard a word from the One who “rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). His Word has both convicted us of all the ways philarguria has infected our heart, while at the same time His own life, which “gives life to all things” (verse 13), inspires within us the youthful vitality of actions like love and endurance and gentleness (verse 11). One does not need monetary wealth to be generous.

No wonder Paul, here at the end of the letter, cannot help but break into a hymn of praise (verses 15-16). Like last week’s epistle reading (1 Timothy 2:1-7), it is easy for contemporary readers to miss how Paul is purposely (and slyly) coopting terms for Caesar to glorify “our Lord Jesus Christ” (verse 14). Perhaps Paul is reminding us that if we find ourselves caught in the bitter envies and greedy resentments which are at the root of so many evils, we need only look to the dead faces on the coins in our pockets to see through their deceptions. And only then, to remember whose living face is marked eternally on the coin of our beating hearts.

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Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in 1 Timothy 6:6-19.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach 1 Timothy 6:6-19.