The Life That Really Is Life
1 Timothy 6:6-19
6 Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; 7 for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; 8 but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. 9 But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. 11 But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith; 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. 13 In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will bring about at the right time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. 16 It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. 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.
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Years ago I was at a presbytery meeting - for those who have never had that thrilling experience, this is when elders and pastors gather to represent their congregations and vote on all sorts of issues impacting the greater church.
I happened to end up sitting with an elder who had never been to one of these meetings before. So, I was doing my best to orient him and point out things in the agenda, but I noticed that the very first thing he did was open his packet to the presbytery budget. He studied it for awhile and then he turned to me and said, “Your budget is a reflection of your values. And what this budget tells me is that we are more invested in office supplies than we are in the needs of young people.”
Since that day, I have never been able to look at a budget without thinking about that comment.
Our church budgets, and our personal budgets, reflect our values - they demonstrate we are willing to invest and where we are willing to go without. And, in much the same way, our calendars reflect where we are willing to invest our time and energy and what we are willing to sacrifice. Budgets and calendars are spiritual documents, and every so often part of our call as disciples is to examine these spiritual documents. And, if they aren’t reflecting what is truly important to us, then we are called to make some changes.
In the life of the church, stewardship season is the time when we reflect on what we have and how we’re using it to honor God. It’s when session elders take stock of the financial gifts of the church in order to be sure we are stewarding them in a way that reflects what we believe. But, it’s also an invitation to every individual member of this church to pause ask ourselves, “How will I faithfully manage the time and money offered to me in this life?”
In today’s text, 1 Timothy, Paul cuts right to the chase with his advice on being a faithful steward. He is writing to a group of leaders he is worried are being influenced by those who have an unhealthy relationship with faith and money. And he’s worried the church is going to get caught up in that culture.
If you remember back a bit, the earliest Christians in the book of Acts were so sure Jesus was about to return at any moment, that it says they, “were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” (Acts 2:44-45). Their attitude was, “Why keep any excess if the savior is returning tomorrow? Give it to someone who needs it more than I do.”
But as each generation came and went and they found themselves still waiting on Jesus to return, their attitudes toward time and money began to change. In their waiting, they grew complacent and much more settled in the earthly life. They built homes, began to stockpile food. Things like longterm healthcare insurance began to sound like a good idea, not to mention IRAs and 401ks.
And if you look at Paul’s words you see that none of these investments are inherently evil, it’s never the money itself that’s the issue. Instead it’s how the relationship with money influences belief and action that poses a threat to the Christian community. Then and now. “… the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” Paul says. “in their eagerness to be rich, some have wandered away from the faith…” Therefore, do not set your hopes, “on the uncertainty of riches.”
In 1942, Clarence Jordan became one of the founding members of the Koinonia Farm in Americus, Georgia. Koinonia is the Greek word for “communion” and that is exactly what they did here: found communion with God and one another. It was a radical experiment in desegregation but also in the participants’ relationship with material goods. If you pledged to become a member of the Koinonia community, all earthly possessions were surrendered. They could not be returned and they were used to provide for the basic necessities of the community: food, clothing, shelter, and medical care.
Some people called this a cult.
The Koinonia community called it - Christianity.
Their time was then spent cultivating - crops and relationships. Jordan had degrees in theology and agriculture. He reached out to local African American farmers and by 1965 the community was fully integrated. Black and white people farmed the fields together, ran vegetable stands together, worshiped together, learned together, helped one another. And, as you can imagine, faced a lot of hatred from the outside together.
What they were doing scared the world. Because the world did not understand. Who would give up all their possessions and place them in the trust of ones they had been taught to fear? Who would be willing to risk their reputation and safety to be in relationship with “the enemy”? Many members of the Koinonia community were ex-communicated from their churches. Locals who did not share their values bombed their vegetable stands and threatened them with death.
But the ones participating in the community would say that what they found here was freedom. Without the worldly concerns of accumulating wealth, they were free to focus on other things. Without the social barriers of segregation, they were free to build relationships with their brothers and sisters in Christ. The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. The love of Christ calls us to share what we have.
Now the example of the Koinonia Farm is an extreme one, but we can still take something from it. It was leaders’ reflection on Scripture, that led them to redistribute their resources of time and money. And none of this was easy, it involved a lot of risk and discomfort. Faithful stewardship is sacrificial, a struggle, which is why Paul urges the church to “Fight the good fight of faith;” in order to “take hold of the eternal life”
The eternal life, or the “life that really is life” as Paul calls it, reflects our belief in a God who wants for all people to be able to live abundantly, and that is something we have to fight for in a society and culture constantly trying to tell us that what we need to be content can be purchased at a store.
Last month in the New York Times there was an article titled, “The New Spiritual Consumerism”. It was, unfortunately, a very fair critique of one of my favorite shows, Netflix’s “Queer Eye”. Now, if you’re not familiar with this show, the premise is that five gay men, each specializing in particular lifestyle aspect: fashion, home design, grooming… come makeover some helpless individual struggling to live his or her best life. The article states,
As its gurus lead the men (and occasionally, women) in dabbing on eye cream, selecting West Elm furniture, preparing squid-ink risotto and acquiring gym memberships, they are building the metaphorical framework for an internal transformation… The makeover is styled as an almost spiritual conversion. It’s the meaning of life as divined through upgraded consumer choices.
While the show does a lot of things well, what the article names is that the show is silent to the fact that most of the makeover subjects are struggling to meet their basic financial needs. There is not just an emotional but a practical reason their homes are shambles, their closets are not full of designer clothes, and they’re not using a $40 hair product. They either can’t afford them in the first place, OR perhaps they can, but they choose to spend their financial resources in other ways.
Theologically speaking, Queer Eye comes dangerously close to reducing the experience of grace to receiving materials upgrades.
“The spiritual conversion of the show occurs when the subject pledges a personal commitment to maintaining a new lifestyle going forward. But what these people need is not a new perspective. They need money, and they need time, which is money.”
They need money. They need time. Their discontentment will not be solved with products and nor will anyone’s — that is what Paul refers to when he talks about “setting our hopes on the uncertainty of riches.”
As followers of Christ we are keenly aware there truly are many without food and clothing or the basic necessities of life. We’re also aware of our call as the church to be at the center of any effort redistribute resources so that everyone has enough.
That is what a faithful church does with financial gifts - each of us offers a portion of what God has given us, then as a body we decide how to best redistribute resources to ministries that might truly meet basic needs of others have a longterm transformative effect: mission, service, faith formation, worship, care, and stewardship of property so that we might be, as Paul says, “rich in good works, generous, and ready to share.”
Like any spiritual practice, offering our time and money to God or in service to God’s people, should cause some discomfort in our lives - that’s why it’s called sacrifice. That’s why Paul refers to it as “a fight”. But also like any spiritual practice, the more we do it, the more we experiences its benefits. Recalibrating the role of money in our lives has the power to recenter our hearts and minds to the will and call of Jesus Christ, who was and is for us a living sacrifice.
When we become free from the love of money we become free from all sorts of idols in our midst that are trying to tell us what to value. And when we become free from those idols, we become free from discontent, free for the life to which we have been called.
There is an invitation being extended to us all right now, and it’s appropriate that it comes at one of the busiest times of the year. What values do we want our lives to reflect? How must we redistribute our time and money in order to recalibrate? The pursuit of these things isn’t easy, because the world is always competing for our time and money. But if we can nudge ourselves closer to how God is calling us to live, giving not out of guilt or shame but out of our desire to be closer to God and one another, what we will find at the end will not seem like a punishment, but rather the freedom to take hold of the life that really is life.