Sermon: Avoid the Pitfalls of Riches - 1 Timothy 6

The problem is not with having wealth. The problem is making it the goal or aim of our life. It is not a problem when we posses wealth, but it becomes a problem when the wealth posses us.

Scriptures: 1 Timothy 6


Money is an important topic. Jesus talked much about money. Sixteen of the 38 parables were concerned with how to handle money and possessions. In the Gospels, an amazing one out of ten verses (288 in all) deal directly with the subject of money. The Bible offers 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 verses on faith, but more than 2,000 verses on money and possessions.

But as Haddon Robinson reminds us, For every verse in the Bible that tells us the benefits of wealth, there are ten that tell us the danger of wealth. This is one that speaks to the dangers.

It has been said that there are three things which will get a preacher, wealth, wine or women. Paul's letter to Timothy is to warn him about the pitfalls of wealth, but it also points to one of the common traits that seems to characterize many false teachers: the inordinate focus upon wealth - simply put, greed.

From the outset let us agree that there is no spiritual virtue that is associated with poverty and there is no inherent wickedness associated with wealth. It is not a sin to be wealthy. Abraham was wealthy, David was wealthy, Solomon was wealthy, Lydia, Philemon and other godly people in the scripture were wealthy. The problem is not with having wealth. The problem is making it the goal or aim of our life. It is not a problem when we posses wealth, but it becomes a problem when the wealth posses us.

I. False teachers embrace false doctrine

The word for False teaching, literally means, different or opposite. The Greek prefix Hetros - is attached to the word didaskaleo - Homodidaskaleo would be - the same teaching, where as Heterodiaskaleo - means a different kind or the opposite kind of teaching. It refers to any teaching which runs contrary to the express written word of God, to God's revelation of Himself to us.

Notice three things about false teachings.

A. False teachings do not agree with sound words

There teachings are in contradiction to that which is wholesome and healthy, their teachings lead to ruin instead of life. Why? Because false teaching is usually based upon a half-truth or an incomplete truth, therefore their words cannot be sound. False teachers take scripture out of context and do what Paul describes to Timothy in II Timothy 4: 3 where he says.

"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine: but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; And will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths."

False teachings come in many different shapes and sizes. They may be false teachings about the person of Christ, such as modalism. This is the anti-trinitarian view that states there is only one person in the Godhead, variously manifested in the form or mode as Father, Son, or Holy Spirit.

It could be a false understanding about salvation, say that Salvation comes by work instead of by grace through faith, or that salvation can only come through faith plus works, as some believe you must be baptized in order to be fully saved.

Another strain of false teaching has to do with the inspiration and infallibility of the word of God. There are those, who call themselves Baptists, who claim that the Bible merely contains the word of God and is not fully the word of God. I had a professor at Baylor who outright denied the truth of certain passages of Scripture. He plainly said that Jesus never walked on the water, the only thing that was important was that the disciples believed He did.

All of this is false doctrine, the false doctrine these people were teaching at Ephesus was that if you came to Jesus, He would make you rich. Sound familiar?

And the result of false doctrine is always the same unless the church confronts it head on, and follows the sagacious advice of that wise scholar Barney Fife, "nip it in the bud."

False teaching that goes unchecked will always result in division within the church. Can you imagine if someone who had the respect of many of the members of the church were to come in and start teaching a health and wealth gospel? There are some people who, because of the personality of the false teacher, or because of their personal need at the time of the teaching would be tempted to believe it. In fact, there are almost always those who will follow after false teaching, because in almost any church there are always some people who do not know Jesus, and thus are susceptible to false teaching.

So the false teachers have embraced a doctrine that runs contrary to the teachings of Scripture.

B. False teachings do not agree with the words of Jesus

False teachers will often use the words of Jesus, but take them out of context, twist them, distort them, and spin them to fit their personal agenda.

You've got to remember that in the early church, they had the Old Testament and the words of Jesus, written down by the apostles, but they did not have the cannon or complete scripture as we have. We have the scripture. We use the word cannon to describe the completed scripture, that to which nothing can be added and nothing can be taken away.

One of the ways we can identify false teachers is by comparing what they say to what the scripture says. If what they say does not line up with scripture, then their teaching is false.

C. False teachings do not lead to godliness

They do not lead people to a life of piety, or reverence to God, they lead to sin and self.

False teaching almost always leads to the pursuit of pleasures in this life, rather than the treasures of the life to come. It always leads people away from God and towards someone or something else.

Because of our fallen sinful state, if given a choice between the real God and one made by men, fallen sinful man, on their own accord will always choose the one made by men. It is only the Holy Spirit that enables us to choose God.

II. False teachers cause fierce division

They are conceited and understand nothing - This is pride, he thinks he knows it all, and has an unteachable spirit. The apostle is describing an attitude of arrogance, one which sees self as the only true authority.

There are five results of their division, all of which have to do with the disruption of interpersonal relationships within the church.

1. Envy

Inward discontent rising from the desire to have what belongs to another

2. Strife/discord

It is interesting to note that the Greek word here is ERIS - which, as a proper name, was the name of a Greek Goddess who was the personification of strife. According to my Greek Mythology book, she gave birth to work, forgetfulness, hunger, pain, battles, fights, murders, killings, quarrels, lies, disputes, lawlessness and ruin. It was she who, according to Homer, started the Trojan war. This is the word Paul uses to describe the result of false teaching.

3. Abusive language

Literally the word is Blasphemies - in this case, not blaspheming God, but one another. False teachers get people talking about each other, gossiping, spreading tales, telling lies.

4. Evil suspicions

Calling one another's motives into question.

5. Constant friction

This is the state of being where false teachers are not confronted.

These false teachers have three personality traits.

1. Depraved minds - unregenerate minds

They think upon the baser things, the things of the flesh, rather than upon the things of the Spirit.

2. Deprived of the truth

They have been robbed of the truth. By believing the lies they teach, their own teaching has robbed them of the truth. They see people responding to their teaching and they begin to believe their own lies. Listen friends, a large crowd does not a church make. Just because people believe it does not mean it is the truth. Jim Jones and David Koresh should be vivid examples to us all that false teachers eventually are robbed of the truth by their own lies.

3. Driven by a perverted sense of godliness

Their motivation is money and the false promises it holds.

III. False teachers are victims of deception

Notice four areas of deception.

1. Material gain

They are deceived into believing that God will make them materially rich (vv. 5b-6), when in reality godliness itself is the treasure, not money. The deception is their perverted sense of godliness - They believe that godliness is a means of financial gain. They are driven by their devotion to greed, not to Jesus. These are the health and wealth preachers of our day who tell us that since we are children of the King we should live like princes, and that anyone living like a pauper is simply not right with God. What a bunch of baloney.

2. Earthly focus

They are deceived into making Earth their home instead of in Heaven. Look at verses 6-8. Godliness itself is the treasure - it brings peace, joy, fulfillment. Godliness with contentment is great gain.

You can't take it with you. They do not understand the temporality of life, they are deceived into believing this earth is reality, when it is eternity that is reality (Matthew 5:19-21).

For the Christian, God plus the basic necessities should be sufficient. This is not a prohibition against being wealthy, but a word of caution to those whose aim and desire is wealth. The rich young ruler's problem was not that he had wealth, but that wealth had him.

3. Happiness from wealth

The Chicago Tribune (9/1/96) ran the story of Buddy Post, "living proof that money can't buy happiness." In 1988, he won $16.2 million in the Pennsylvania Lottery. Since then, he was convicted of assault, his sixth wife left him, his brother was convicted of trying to kill him, and his landlady successfully sued him for one-third of the jackpot.

"Money didn't change me," insists Post, a 58-year-old former carnival worker and cook. "It changed people around me that I knew, that I thought cared a little bit about me. But they only cared about the money."

Last time anyone checked, Post was trying to auction off seventeen future payments, valued at nearly $5 million, in order to pay off taxes, legal fees, and a number of failed business ventures. He plans to spend his life as an ex-winner pursuing lawsuits he has filed against police, judges, and lawyers who he says conspired to take his money. "I'm just going to stay at home and mind my p's and q's," he said. "Money draws flies."

Those whose desire is after money honestly believe that money will bring them happiness. But it will not.

Christina Onassis, the heiress of the Onassis fortune once said, "Happiness is not based on money. And the best proof of that is our family."

4. False sense of ownership

They are deceived as to who owns who.

In verse 9 it says they fall into a snare - In classical Greek this word represented a device that brought danger or death, often with an unexpected sense of suddenness.

In I Timothy 3:7 the word is used to describe the snare or trap of the devil. The devil knows how to bait the trap, he knows how to make it attractive, and this is a warning to those who would carelessly and casually wander off after the pursuit of money. It will suddenly and without warning trap you and it will own you, instead of you owning it.

David Neff, in one of his writings said

"Jesus taught that money is one of the spiritual powers we fight -0 not simply green paper of copper-nickel sandwiches. Money is not some thing; it is someone. And as someone, it tricks us into thinking we master it, when inevitably it masters us."

Haddon Robinson, who was for years the President of Denver Seminary said

"Money has a way of binding us to what is physical and temporal, and blinding us to what is spiritual and eternal. It's a bit like the fly and the flypaper. The fly lands on the flypaper and says, "My flypaper." When the flypaper says, "My fly," the fly is dead. It is one thing to have money, another for money to have you. When it does, it will kill you."

IV. False teachers are headed for destruction

1. In death it brings them to destruction

Look at verse 9 - But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into man foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition (NKJV); to ruin and destruction (NASB).

When the goal of our life, when our ambition in life is to become rich, when we become seduced by the god of gold, we begin a journey that takes us down the pathway to destruction and ruin. Look at what verse 9 says, it says they fall into temptation. The word fall is in the present tense which indicates a state of continual falling - they are drowned in temptation - This means the tempting of a person to do wrong, to go against God, to act in a manner inconsistent with Biblical teaching.

The person whose desire is toward money will constantly be assaulted with the temptation to do wrong in order to get it and keep it.

Money is like a drug, it is alluring and enticing, and it is addictive. The advertisers of our day paint it out to be the cure all, and you don't have to be rich to be stricken with this gold fever, with this temptation for riches.

It is a consuming passion that is never satisfied. How much is enough? The answer is that when money is your God, you never get enough.

Mother Teresa said, "Once the longing for money comes, the longing also comes for what money can give: superfluities, nice rooms, luxuries at table, more clothes, fans and so on. Our needs will increase, for one thing brings another, and the result will be endless dissatisfaction. This is how it comes. "

The word destruction - here in verse nine is the word usually used to describe the eternal ruin of the soul ( Hebrews 19:39, Revelation 17:8 translated "perdition").

2. In life it brings them to sorrow

Look at verse 10. If you had to pick a verse that summed up the scriptural teaching on the love of money, it would be this one. An inordinate desire for money leads to all kinds of evil. It is the tap root that branches out into all kinds of problems.

The problem with drugs, with prostitution, with most of the crime in our country, it can all be traced back to the love of money. Someone wants money and is willing to do anything to get it, willing to sell them selves, willing to see others die, willing to do unthinkable things just for money.

A survey entitled, The Day American Told the Truth, asked people what they would be willing to do for 10 million dollars. One out of four people, that's 25 percent said they would abandon their entire family, 23 percent said they would leave their spouse, and three percent of those surveyed said they would put their children up for adoption.

Paul says that some by longing for wealth have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many a pang. The word for desire, means to stretch one's self out in order to touch or grasp something, to reach after or desire, even when it puts their very life in danger. The word for sorrow means "consuming grief." it is a sorrow, a deep and abiding sorrow, a distress that knows no reconciliation.


How does this apply to me? I'm not rich. Oh no? In comparison to the rest of the world, Americans are the wealthiest. William Boice of Phoenix, Arizona, writing in The Christian Standard, asks a piercing question.

Give yourself a spiritual check up - ask the tough questions, what is the motivation for my life. Am I making money to support my ministry or to feed my personal desires?

Tony Campolo says

What is the desire of your heart? Is money a tool you use to expand God's Kingdom, or is it a means of extending your own empire?

John MacArthur in his excellent commentary on the book of I Timothy keys in on verse 8 and offers five practical principles that will help keep life free from the desire for more material possessions.

1. Believers must consciously realize that the Lord owns everything they have. They are merely stewards of their possessions. Purchases should be evaluated as to how they would advance the Kingdom, or make one's ministry more effective.

2. Believers must cultivate a thankful heart. Since God owes them nothing, anything they receive from Him should make them thankful.

3. Believers must learn to distinguish wants from needs. That principle, if followed, would greatly increase the amount of money available for the Lord's work.

4. Believers must discipline themselves to spend less than they make. The ease of buying things on credit has become a severe temptation. As a result, many people are so hopelessly mired in debt that they will never get out.

5. believers must give sacrificially to the Lord. Laying up treasure in heaven for the work of the kingdom should be their highest joy and source of greatest reward.

Dr. Calvin Wittman is pastor of Applewood Baptist Church, Wheat Ridge, Colorado. He serves as a trustee at Criswell College, and regularly contributes to Open Windows, a monthly LifeWay devotional publication.