Nathan Hosler – “Life that Really is Life” (1 Timothy 6:6-19)
Our passage begins with “of course.” For whatever reason, our lectionary passage starts in the middle of an argument. It is as if we are walking through a school and enter a room in which someone is teaching. The teacher looks up, just briefly interrupted—and begins again—“as I was saying.” We would need to lean over and whisper to the person beside us, “ What is the teacher talking about?” Why does contentment with godliness bring gain? Who is trying to get rich off of godliness?
Our teacher challenges those who think that godliness is a means of gain—religious leaders who lead for power or wealth. Specifically he instructs those he is teaching not to put up with those who have a “morbid craving for controversy and disputes about words.” These supposed teachers seek to make a name for themselves by disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing. Now obviously Paul is not opposed to challenging teaching and creating conflict. He does this all of the time. Paul, however, is doing this for the purpose of leading others in good thinking and living in relation to Jesus while the teachers he is challenging in this instance are seeking influence and think that godliness is a good business plan.
1. [So our passage begins with a making a strong value claim] Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment. Keep in mind that this is relating to teachers seeking to gain wealth and the belief that godliness should bring wealth.
To challenge this notion Paul brings two primary counter reasons. First, we have come into this world with nothing and will go with nothing and Secondly in being eager to become rich some have wandered from truth. We came and will go with nothing and seeking riches has led some from the truth. So our teacher urges contentment. in this case contentment is not being self-centered but depending on God., There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment
What is your picture of godliness combined with contentment?
On September 10th, Norm Yeater, a friend and pastor who we loved was in a car accident. By the time his family found him in the hospital the doctors knew he would not survive. While it is easy to make people out to be more than they were in these situations from our perspective Norm seemed like a deeply contented fellow. I am not exactly sure what this “great gain” is but Paul is making the point that the “gain” from godliness is not as trivial as monetary gain. Though Norm worked as a chaplain at a retirement home, and I assume got a salary from this work, he was also an unsalaried pastor at the Chiques Church of the Brethren, where I grew up. From this endeavor, I can assure you he did not get much “gain” in the form of funds. Furthermore, Norm exuded gentleness—I can’t imagine him “wrangling or arguing over words”—creating conflict in order to get ahead.
As I noted earlier, Norm was, from our distance a deeply content person. After he died it was discovered that he had made detailed plans for his funeral. These were not general plans but very specific including prayers, readings, and songs.
While I never had doubted Norm’s godliness, participating in the memorial service he had planned only bolstered my view of the deep faith he had. Our passage reads that godliness with contentment is great gain. Though I am not entirely sure what this means, I believe that Norm experienced this. The church where his funeral took place holds probably twice what this church holds and its overflow seating was filled with around100 people. This was in addition to a service at the home where he was a chaplain and a several hour visitation the day before. Apparently godliness with contentment was a gain for not only brother Norm but for many other people as well. We had all gained from his life.
This text begins with “There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment” and ends with
2. “So that they may take hold of life that really is life”
The inverse of this is don’t bother with lifeless life. Don’t waste your time with life that is not life. Dead life. In the middle Paul provides instruction between these two exceptional states of being—contentment with godliness and life that really is life” –we will spend some time with this final phrase before moving back to the middle.
The verses leading up to and including it read:
17 As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, 19 thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life
A few verses earlier the writer refers to “eternal life” We read, “take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”
Sometimes we might read “eternal life” as life once we die. In this we may tend toward a Gnostic tendency to devalue the material. We might think that only the “spiritual” matters. Only the “real” life after this present life matters. In this reading we might hear that we should put aside material things so that we can take hold of that which is pure spirit. That is, once we die we leave behind the material being which has held us back. We escape the captivity of this body and are free.
While we may hear Gnostic potential in this “take hold of eternal life” and “life that is really life” Paul resoundingly refutes this by telling the hearers that we should set our hopes on “God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment”
Paul asserts that it is God who gives us everything. Life and all that we have is a gift. This gift is from God.
This life includes enjoyment and is a gift to be enjoyed—which is not the same as consumption. We tend to equate more consumption with more enjoyment of life. We act as though the ideal situation is one in which we can endlessly consume. The writer asserts that life is a gift which should be enjoyed. He is not an ascetic or Gnostic but this does not equate us with being mere consumers. When I consume food, especially good but simple foods, I am certainly consuming but this is only a form of my directly enjoying God’s good gifts. The tomatoes we grew in the potentially questionable DC soil were remarkably good.
A few weeks back when picking up the weekly donation of produce from a stand at Eastern Market, Valerie, one of the farmers, cut wedges of tomato from several different types of tomato we had never heard of—this was a direct experience and enjoyment of God’s gifts which are given for our enjoyment. A food critic writing in the Smithsonian magazine choose the Giant Syrian tomato as one of her 10 favorite meals out of the 21,170 meals at good restaurants.
God has indeed given us many good, and often simple, things for our enjoyment. This giving and enjoying points to God’s affirmation of our whole lives. We are not mere consumers of ever more and greater luxuries. We are not mere spiritual beings trapped in material bodies waiting to be free.
So we see that this really life is related to “eternal life” and that this eternal life is not the negation of this present very material life.
3. Contentment with godliness and having possession of the life that is really life. This life that is really life must be set on a foundation says our teacher—Fortunately Paul gives us guidance for the foundation on which the really life is set upon.
Foundations are interesting things. They are an extraordinarily simple concept. You need a big, heavy non-moving object on which to set your house, church, tower. There is children’s Sunday School song which goes “don’t build your house on the sandy land. Don’t build it to near the shore.” In Cambodia, near the city of Siem Reap, there are not only foundations but almost entire structures that are hundreds of years old. Not only are these structures hundreds of years old but they are the largest religious structures in the world. In some hallways you can look up and stones almost as big as this pulpit stacked up to create both the roof structure and the tiles that keep off the weather. On a number of walls grow enormous trees. These roots come down maybe 10 to 20 feet before reaching the ground. The skill evident in these foundations has been on display for centuries.
On the other hand, last November we bought a little row home in NE DC, about two miles from here. We knew the floor sloped but the structural engineer we brought in said, without opening the walls or floor, that it was fine. It wasn’t going anywhere. Once we closed the contract, came in, and started working we found it was not so. The wall was not brick but wood. The wood in the 100 yr old house was setting on the damp ground– who really thought putting wood directly in dirt was a good idea?
Foundations are critical. Paul argues that if you want to hold something up as significant as the life that is really life you need an adequate foundation.
First he says–Act in accordance with your confession which was in the presence of many witnesses. Act in line with what you have professed. You will possess what possesses you. This is a fundamental challenge that we act in accordance with what we value. Runners run. Teachers teach. People who retire may or may not rest (as we have seen)—but at least the same boss isn’t telling them what to do.
Paul exhorts us—build a foundation
Build a foundation pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.
Build a foundation do not to be haughty, or to set your hopes on the uncertainty of riches
Build a foundation do good, be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share,
Build a foundation for the future, so that you may take hold of the life that really is life
The foundation we build is not with money or a bonus or prestige or vacation homes it is with these actions. These actions of pursuing righteousness, not setting our hope on the uncertainty of riches but on God, and being ready to share—these are the stones that will build a foundation. These are the foundation of the life that really is life.