As we’ve studied the book of 1st Timothy I have pointed out to you a number of its themes and distinctive points. We’ve noticed its stress on church leadership, false teaching, and (that interesting one) the care of widows. There is another theme that I want to point out today.
The word godliness is used 9 times in this epistle. Which is interesting because the word is used only 15 times in the whole of the New Testament. We’ve talked a lot about proper church order (church leaders, church discipline, church authority, church structure), but all of this was for one main reason: to promote godliness. That’s been the underlying theme. It is important to get the church straight, so that we might keep our lives straight.
But this theme of godliness becomes much more prominent in the passage that we are looking at today. For in this passage we find the greatest concentration of the word godliness. The word for godliness appears four times in these 13 verses. That is a third of the NT’s total use of the word right in this tiny section.
So that certainly sets up our theme for this morning. The passage before us calls us to godly living. And when we read this passage, what we find is that godliness involves the whole notion of stewardship. If you want to be godly, you must be a good steward of the three most important things that God could ever give to us.
Now we usually think about stewardship in terms of dollars and cents. Financial stewardship is something that we will certainly talk about. A lot of this passage has to do with money, contentment, and greed. There’s no overlooking that. But I want you to notice that there’s another kind of stewardship. As a matter of fact, there is a more fundamental stewardship that underlies godliness. And that is the stewardship of truth.
I. Stewardship of truth [3-5]
Paul addresses this in verses 3-5. You may notice that our passage begins by talking about false teaching and the importance of sound doctrine. It says, “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing.”
Notice that good theology is emphasized three different times in this one sentence. First he mentions those who are teaching different doctrines. Then he qualifies that by saying that doctrine is to agree with the “sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The word sound there means healthy. It is the word from which we get the word “hygiene.” You’ve heard that cleanliness is next to godliness? Well, that’s kind of biblical, at least in the sense that good, clean, healthy biblical doctrine is what underlies godliness.
And that’s the point that’s made in the third mention of doctrine in verse three. He says that this teaching is what accords with godliness.
So the point is that if you want to be godly, you have to be a good steward of Biblical doctrine. Godliness flows out of and is in accord with biblical truth. If you are not in accord with what the Scripture teaches you are not going to be in accord with godly living.
And that is exactly what we find fleshed out in the rest of verses 4-5. To show you how godliness is directly linked to godly doctrine, Paul gives you a profile of someone who is not a good steward of truth. Paul describes for us what a false teacher is like and he says that a false teacher is anything but godly. Paul spares nothing in describing how corrupt a false teacher’s life is.
He says that the false teacher is puffed up with conceit. He is a proud man. As a matter of fact, he is inflated with arrogance.
It goes on to describe how destructive he is. It says he has an unhealthy craving for controversy and quarrels. He is a ticking time bomb in that wherever he goes he produces envy, dissension, slander, and constant friction among people. Paul basically says that he is like a Tasmanian Devil within the church: he comes flying in and tears it all up.
Most of all, he is greedy. He is greedy because he imagines that godliness is a means of gain. (You could also say he’s a hypocrite too because he’s posing as a godly person in order to get the payout.)
What it comes down to is that the false teacher is a cancer in the body of Christ. He attacks the corporate unity and destroys its peace. And that is because he has no inclination to the purity of the church. He is not a good steward of biblical doctrine. And because his beliefs are polluted, he becomes a toxin to the rest of the church.
Again, the point of what Paul is saying here is that to be godly (and if you want to maintain the peace, purity and unity of the church), you must first be a good steward of Biblical doctrine.
This is something that we need to take to heart, and I really want you young people to take note of this. If you are adverse to studying the Bible or learning more doctrine, then you have to understand that you are putting a godly life on the sacrificial alter and readying it for the slaughter.
There are some people who are just adverse to studying doctrine and really getting into biblical teaching. But there are other people who just aren’t all that motivated. Maybe they think that listening to sermons is boring and they would rather be off playing video games or playing Frisbee. But take heed, godliness begins right here. It begins with this book and the sound words it contains.
So, to have a godly life you have to be a good steward of the truth of the gospel. But its not just doctrinal stewardship that you should be concerned with. Godliness is also undergirded by financial stewardship.
II. Stewardship of money [6-10]
Verses 6-10 remind us that if money management is more than just making sure that the balance in your checkbook is on the up and up. Proper fiscal stewardship includes a whole demeanor—an attitude. It consists in a spiritual condition we call contentment. And what I want you to see is that this has a direct bearing on the life you live before God.
In verses 6-10 Paul contrasts contentment with the love of money, which is greed. And he shows you that one who has a proper attitude towards money (and is a good steward of what he has) will be a godly person. As a matter of fact, he will excel in his godliness. He says in verse 6, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.”
Now, does he mean that someone who is content is going to make millions of dollars? Is that the kind of gain to which he’s referring? No. Because he goes on to say that if he just has food and clothing, that’s enough. Just possessing the basics of life is sufficient for someone who finds his satisfaction more in his God than he does in his wallet.
So the gain that he is talking about here is spiritual gain. It is the gain of godliness. He’s going to gain by virtue of the fact that he will enjoy what he has. It is the gain of grace that he experiences. He will gain the riches of eternal life and gain the benefits and comforts of it. He is going to gain by virtue of the enriched relationships that he has. He will be more godly because he will be able to share what he has and do many other good works.
But look at how the greedy person is described in verses 9-10. These two verses talk about the love of money and they show you just how detrimental this idolatry is to one’s life.
Now it can be detrimental to one’s physical well-being. That may be what Paul is talking about in verse 9 when he says that these people can be plunged into “ruin and destruction.” Greed can destroy a person’s life and take them to the grave.
There’s an old African fable about a tiger that was once walking through the jungle. As he came through the brush he spied on his left an antelope. He began to salivate and lick his chops as he anticipated the tasty dinner he was about to have. But as he crouched and prepared to pounce, he spotted on his right side two African children playing together. So he had a deer on one side and two children on the other. He stood for a moment gazing at both options, flummoxed as what to do. Then he split in half, one going to the left and one going off to the right.
The moral of the story is this: Greed kills.
And there are a lot of tombstones in many a graveyard that mark the plots of people who have died just like that tiger because they could never be satisfied. There was never enough.
But I believe that these two verses have a lot more in mind than one’s physical harm or death. These two verses are talking about how this desire for riches destroys one’s spiritual well being and makes godliness impossible.
Look at the language of 9-10 again. It starts by saying that those who desire to be rich “fall into temptation.” They fall into many senseless desires—harmful desires. These are descriptive of deeper inward issues that a person experiences. It is talking about how the soul becomes more and more depraved and entrenched in ungodliness.
Then in verse 10 it says that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils. Now, mind you, it is not money itself that he’s talking about. Money in and of itself is a neutral thing, something that can be used for all kinds of good. Rather, he’s talking about the love of money. And what does this love of money do? It is the root of all kinds of evils. It gives birth to other sins and leads to other corruptions. In other words, it may start as a deranged inclination lodged deep within the heart, but it eventually manifests itself as theft, extortion, oppression, envy, gossip, Sabbath breaking, marital infidelity, malic, and a world of other degenerate deeds.
So again, Paul is showing you that greed and godliness cannot walk hand in hand. Materialism will devour a man’s soul and suck every last drop of godliness out of it. It is a vortex that pulls you deeper depths of sinfulness.
It is important that we come to grips with where our heart’s true affection is. If we are going to be godly, then we must make money management something that first starts in the soul and not in our account books.
This leads to our last point. Godliness is found one more time in our passage. The last occurrence in the book is in verse 11, where Paul commends the stewardship of the most important thing: our souls.
III. Stewardship of soul
In verse 11 Paul says, “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. 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.”
This is rapid fire exhortation and it is all about how we take care of our souls. Paul tells us that we must protect our souls from falling into an ungodly living, and the way we do that is by following these exhortations.
Look at the words again and notice the intensity of them. Paul tells Timothy to flee, to fight, to take hold and to pursue. These are, what you might call, power words. They stress urgency and intensity. When you flee something, you don’t just take your time & swagger off. It demands robust vigor. The same is true for fighting and grasping.
Why does Paul use such language? He knows what is at stake. It is Timothy’s soul that is on the line. If we are languid when it comes to dealing with sin or if we take a laisse-faire approach to developing Christian virtue, then what does that say about the value we put on our soul? What does it say about our interest in spiritual things? It says that we do not much care what our spiritual standing is.
If that is the case, we are poor stewards of the most precious item we possess.
But how do we treat our physical bodies? Many of us go to great lengths to preserve our physical welfare. We stay away from things we know are going to be harmful. Many of us take pains to pursue proper nutrition and exercise. We want to best maintain our health and welfare. If this is how we treat our bodies, how much more should we take the proper steps to preserve our souls?
What is it that we must do to ensure that our souls are eternally secure? We must flee these things. False teaching and greed are things we must run from and have nothing to do with. We need to fight temptation and grab hold of the eternal life to which we were called.
In other words, we must demonstrate the same discipline with our souls as we give to our physic.
Those of you who have been with us for a while you may notice that verse 12 brings us full circle. We began this series 3 months ago with this verse. We talked about making the good confession “in the presence of many witnesses.” We studied this verse when we all took the vows of membership together and we talked about how important such a thing is in the life of a believer and in the life of the church body.
But the emphasis today is the first part of that line: “take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.” Again this is a power word. It means to grasp. It means to clutch in such a way that there is no possible way to tear it from your hand.
Obviously, this is a metaphorical way of talking. We cannot physically grasp eternal life. So what does it mean?
It means this: When we die we will enter our eternal dwelling place. When that happens, we will be perfected. Sin will be a by word. It will be anachronistic because we will be forever freed from it. This is what Paul is referring to. Take hold of that. Embrace the fact that we are freed from sin and are to live as the angels do now, in all godliness.
And that is how we might summarize all that has been said here. Being a godly person is ultimately about being a steward of the eternal life that we now possess in Christ. May the Lord bless us to that end.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.