1 Timothy 6:6-19
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1 Timothy 6:6-19 Biblical Commentary
While verses 1:1-2 identify Paul as the author and Timothy as the recipient, a number of scholars think that this letter was written later by a disciple of Paul, using notes compiled by Paul—which would have been an acceptable practice in that time and place. For the sake of simplicity, I will use the names Paul and Timothy to refer to the author and recipient—but with the understanding that the author might be someone other than Paul.
Early in this letter, Paul addressed the issue of men who were teaching a different doctrine (1:3)—”desiring to be teachers of the law, though they understand neither what they say, nor about what they strongly affirm” (1:7). As nearly as we can determine, these were Gnostics and Judaizers (those who insisted that Gentiles convert to Judaism before becoming Christians).
Paul picked up on the false teacher theme again in the early part of chapter six, saying,
“If anyone teaches a different doctrine,
and doesn’t consent to sound words,
the words of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and to the doctrine which is according to godliness,
he is conceited, knowing nothing,
but obsessed with arguments, disputes, and word battles,
from which come envy, strife, insulting, evil suspicions,
constant friction of people of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth,
who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.
Withdraw yourself from such” (6:3-5).
Note especially “who suppose that godliness is a means of gain” in 6:5. In verse 6 (the first verse of our text for the week), Paul tells us a better method to achieve real gain.
1 TIMOTHY 6:6-10: GODLINESS IS GREAT GAIN
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we certainly can’t carry anything out. 8 But having food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 But those who are determined to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful lusts, such as drown men in ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some have been led astray from the faith in their greed, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
“But godliness (eusebeia) with contentment (autarkeia) is great gain” (v. 6). As noted above, verse 5 provides the foundation for this verse. There Paul talked about those “who suppose that godliness is a means of gain”—people who expect to enrich themselves by their association with the Gospel. Here Paul tells Timothy what constitutes real gain—not monetary riches but rather “godliness with contentment.”
“godliness” (eusebeia). The Greek word eusebeia means devotion, piety, or reverence—outwardly directed—visible to the ordinary observer. However, the godliness that Paul enjoins here is not just for show. It is piety that wells up from the center of one’s being.
“contentment” (autarkeia). The Greek word autarkeia means contentment. It conveys a sense of self-sufficiency. The person who possesses autarkeia is content with life as he/she finds it. Today we might describe such a person as “centered” or “having his/her feet on the ground.” We might also describe such a person as not being anxious or driven. This doesn’t mean that the contented person has no ambition or is willing to accept the unacceptable. It means that the contented person has an inner sense of security that makes it possible to proceed unafraid. It also means that the contented person is not likely to jump off a bridge because the stock market tanked.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul spoke of the kind of security engendered by faith. He said, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.” Then he went on to say, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”—in other words, if God is for us, what does it matter who is against us? (Romans 8:28, 31).
“For we brought nothing into the world, and we certainly can’t carry anything out” (v. 7; see also Job 1:21). These two facts—that we started with nothing and will end with nothing—offer a sobering perspective to a materialistic person. Yes, there are those who have chosen to be buried in a Cadillac or to have jewels placed in their casket. They can take their expensive possessions that far—six feet under—but no further. Their possessions won’t follow them beyond the veil.
To the person of faith, these two facts (that we brought nothing into the world and can’t carry anything out) simply serve as reminders that we were dependent on God in the beginning, and will be equally dependent on God in the end. People of faith won’t have difficulty with that, because they have felt that same sense of dependency in the midst of life—not just at the beginning and end. It is a reality that has provided untold comfort in the midst of adversity, and contributes mightily to their contentment.
“But having food and clothing, we will be content with that” (v. 8). Today we would say that “food and clothing” hardly begin to satisfy our basic needs. Living in a complex world, we need transportation—probably a car (plus money for gas, repairs, and insurance). We need some sort of roof over our heads—a house or apartment. We need a way to keep in touch with people—a phone and the Internet. We need an education to prepare us for the workplace, and we need a job. Etc., etc., etc. Where does it stop?
But Paul could talk honestly about being contented with food and clothing. He was a tent maker (Acts 18:3), and it seems likely that he sometimes lived in one of his tents. The roof over his head was often that of a prison cell. He wasn’t an ascetic—a person who practices extreme self-denial as a spiritual discipline—but he often lived very simply.
“But those who are determined to be rich fall into a temptation (peirasmos) and a snare” (pagis) (v. 9a). The words “trap” and “snare” are paired frequently in the Bible to highlight the danger of entrapment (Joshua 23:13; Job 18:9; Psalm 69:22; Proverbs 7:22; Isaiah 8:14; Amos 3:5; Romans 11:9).
The Greek word peirasmos means to test or to tempt. The difference between a tester and a tempter is that the tester hopes the subject will pass the test, but the tempter hopes the subject will succumb to the temptation. In either case, the tempting/testing applies pressure to reveal the person’s true character—the strength of his/her spiritual grounding.
God sometimes tests his people, to know whether they will keep his commandments (Deuteronomy 8:3). In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ temptation, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1)—delivered by the Spirit to the tempter.
In this verse, Paul warns Timothy that “those who are determined to be rich fall into a temptation.” Note that the warning isn’t against riches but rather the determination to gain riches—although both riches and the determination to gain them are problematic:
• When the rich man came to Jesus wanting to know how to inherit eternal life and went away disappointed with Jesus answer, Jesus told his disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter into the Kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to enter in through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God” (Luke 18:24-25).
• But the determination to become rich can be as spiritually corrosive as possessing great wealth. The person who is determined to become rich is sorely tempted to treat God, honor, principle, friends, and family as unnecessary ballast to be dumped as he/she strains to accumulate wealth. Some strivers cut legal corners and end up in jail. Many fail to reach their goal, and then realize that they have sacrificed everything meaningful in a futile quest. Some who attain great wealth end up hollow at the core.
• A great danger is that those who are determined to gain wealth will end up like the rich man in Jesus’ parable, “in anguish in this flame” (Luke 16:24)—on the wrong side of the great gulf that separates the saved from the lost (Luke 16:26).
“and a snare” (pagis) (v. 9a). A pagis is a trap or snare—something designed to catch the potential victim unaware and to hold it securely until the trapper comes to retrieve it. In this case, Satan designs the pagis and hopes the quarry will fail to notice its lethal jaws.
“and many foolish and harmful lusts” (epithumia) (v. 9b). Those who are determined to become rich are likely to find themselves subject to “many foolish and harmful lusts” (epithumia). This Greek word epithumia speaks of out-of-control desires—carnal appetites (Galatians 5:16)—the kinds of desires that suck people in, grind them up, and spit them out. It isn’t just the desire for money that prompts harmful behavior, although money is usually involved at some point. Fame, power, and sex are also great tempters.
“such as drown men in ruin (olethros) and destruction” (apoleia 684) (v. 9b). Both of these Greek words, olethros and apoleia, have to do with ruin and destruction, but there are subtle differences:
• Olethros can be less final and more redemptive. Paul talked about handing a man over “to Satan for the destruction (olethros) of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 5:5)—the idea being that the present torment might prompt repentance and save the person’s soul.
• Apoleia suggests finality, such as death and/or exclusion from God’s kingdom. However, even here there is a ray of hope. The lost (apololos) sheep is found (Luke 15:4, 6), as is the lost (apolesa) coin (Luke 15:9).
But even if there is the hope of redemption, who wants to go through that! Who wants to rummage through the wreckage of their life in an attempt to rebuild! Why not avoid the sorrows that come with greed (v. 10)! Why not “lay up for (ourselves) treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves don’t break through and steal” (Matthew 6:20). Why not“seek first God’s Kingdom, and his righteousness” in the expectation that God will give us what we need (Matthew 6:33).
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (v. 10a). This proverb may be original with Paul, or he may be quoting a proverb with which he is familiar. In either event, it has certainly become a familiar proverb for us.
However, people often misquote this verse. They say, “Money is the root of all evil,” but that isn’t what Paul says. It is the LOVE of money that is “a root of all kinds of evil.”
Keep in mind that Paul’s concern here is prompted by people “who suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (6:5)—people who treat their religious position as a revenue center—people who can’t tell the difference between prophet and profit. Such people are not to be trusted. They will follow the god who pays the best wages. When people turn to them for counsel, money-lovers will respond with whatever serves their personal interests—not with something tailored to help the supplicant.
“Some have been led astray (apoplanao) from the faith in their greed” (orego) (v. 10b). The Greek word apoplanao is a combination of apo (from) and planao (to seduce), so the picture we get here is of a person who is distracted from the straight and narrow path by an attractive temptation.
In this case, the temptation is characterized as orego, which can mean stretching out to grab something—straining to take hold of it. It reflects desire—covetousness—greed. In this verse, people are led astray by their intense desires—their covetousness—their greed—their overwrought libido.
“and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (v. 10c). The phrase that comes to mind is “hoisted with their own petard”—a petard being an explosive device that has the potential to blow up in the face of the person trying to use it.
Another phrase is “to fall on your own sword”—to inflict mortal damage on oneself either on purpose or by accident.
The emphasis in this verse is the self-inflicted quality of the sorrow/pain/grief that the fallen person experiences. Yes, there was a tempter, but there was also a choice. The person could have taken the straight and narrow path that leads to life, but chose instead to take the wide and easy path that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14; Luke 13:24).
1 TIMOTHY 6:11-16. FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT OF FAITH
11 But you, man of God, flee these things, and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of faith. Lay hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you confessed the good confession in the sight of many witnesses. 13 I command you before God, who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate testified the good confession, 14 that you keep the commandment without spot, blameless, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ; 15 which in its own times he will show, who is the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; 16 who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light; whom no man has seen, nor can see: to whom be honor and eternal power. Amen.
“But you, man of God, flee these things” (v. 11a). Paul both compliments Timothy and reminds him who (and whose) he is. Timothy is a man of God, and a man of God needs to act in accord with his godly identity. A man of God needs to flee temptations, snares, and harmful lusts (v. 9). He needs to avoid loving money and being being led astray by greed (v. 10).
“and follow after righteousness (dikaiosune), godliness (eusebeia), faith (pistis), love (agape), patience (hupomone), and gentleness” (praupathia) (v. 11b). Paul, having warned Timothy concerning the things to flee, now tells him what to seek:
• “Righteousness” (dikaiosyne) appears frequently in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the OT) as well as in the New Testament. In both Old and New Testaments, it connotes the meeting of high ethical standards and the sense of being found not guilty. Such righteousness is possible only as we are in a covenant relationship with God. It is gift of God.
• “Godliness” (eusebeia) means devotion, piety, or reverence—outwardly directed—visible to the ordinary observer. However, it is not just for show. It is piety that wells up from the center of one’s being.
• “Faith” (pistis) is a positive response to the Gospel—to the Good News that Christ died for our sins and brings us the promise of eternal life.
• “Love” (agape) is the kind of love that feels a concern for the well-being of the other person.
• “Patience” (hupomone) is endurance in adversity—the ability to stand one’s ground when challenged—continuing in the faith in spite of difficult circumstances.
• “Gentleness” (praupathia—related to praotes and praus) is the kind of graceful spirit that comes from a deep faith that God is good and will prevail in the end. We might talk about such a person as the strong, quiet type.
“Fight (agonizomai) the good fight of faith” (v. 12a). The Greek word agonizomai is derived from the word agon, which has to do with competition in athletic games—an important part of Greek and Roman life. We get our word agony from this Greek word, because athletics so often involve “the agony of defeat,” as the old ABC Wide World of Sports used to remind us weekly—but “the thrill of victory” is the other side of the equation. Successful competitors tend to be those who focus on the thrill of winning instead of the pain of losing.
Paul urges Timothy to continue his presence on the team—to persevere in the face of opposition—to take his lumps and get back up to try again—because the game in which he is playing is a life and death struggle against dark forces—the “good fight of faith.” Timothy will need to continue to fight temptation personally, and will need to contend with the false teachers (1:3, 7; 6:3-5), who are formidable opponents. As a pastor, he will also need to coach others to bring them to faith—and to help them in their struggles with false teachers and other tempters.
In 2 Timothy 4:7-8, Paul uses similar language for his own experience—although here he uses the present tense (indicating a continuing struggle) for Timothy’s fight but there he uses the perfect tense (indicating a completed struggle) for his own fight—”I have fought the good fight. I have finished the course. I have kept the faith.”
“Lay hold of the eternal life” (v. 12b). We tend to think of eternal life as having to do only with longevity—an unending life that we can begin to experience after death—once we go to heaven. However, Jesus portrayed eternal life as also having to do with quality of life, starting in the here and now. In his High Priestly Prayer, he said, “This is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and him whom you sent, Jesus Christ” (John 17:3).
“to which you were called” (kaleo) (v. 12b). The Greek word kaleo can indicate calling someone by name, and often means being called to a particular task. God called Timothy to embrace eternal life (v. 12b) and to proclaim the possibility of eternal life to others.
“and you confessed (homologeo) the good confession (homologia) in the sight of many witnesses” (v. 12c). Paul reminds Timothy of the confession that he made—most likely a confession of faith at the time that he was baptized. Paul reminds Timothy that he made this confession “in the sight of many witnesses,” reminding Timothy of the obligation to others that he assumed when he made his confession.
Paul doesn’t give us any details regarding the wording of that confession, but we can make some educated guesses. Elsewhere Paul talks about confessing “with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and (believing) in your heart that God raised him from the dead.” The consequences of that sort of confession would be that “you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
Paul will repeat the phrase, “good confession,” in verse 13b below.
“I command you before God, who gives life to all things” (v. 13a). Paul summons his full authority here, commanding rather than imploring—reminding Timothy that God is present in their midst—the God who created all things and gives life to all things.
“and before Christ Jesus” (v. 13b). Paul adds another authoritative dimension to his plea. He is commanding Timothy in the presence of Christ Jesus.
“who before Pontius Pilate testified the good confession” (v. 13c). This refers to Jesus’ appearance before Pilate shortly before Jesus’ crucifixion (Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 18). In that context, the word “confession” doesn’t appear, but the confession seems to be the acknowledgment of Jesus as king (although Pilate did so only tongue in cheek—Mark 15:9).
“that you keep the commandment without spot, blameless, until the appearing (epiphaneia) of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 14). Paul tells Timothy to “keep the commandment.” Which commandment? Paul doesn’t say, but is clearly telling Timothy to remain faithful to his calling and to the central tenets of the Christian faith—and to do so without doing anything that would compromise his witness—and to do so until the end of time, when Jesus will return to claim his own.
“appearing” (epiphaneia) (v. 14). The Greek word epiphaneia means an appearance. In the New Testament, it usually means a divine appearance or a manifestation of the divine will. We use the word Epiphany to speak of the Wise Men coming to the baby Jesus—an early manifestation of the Lord to Gentiles. Paul typically uses epiphaneia to speak of Jesus’ Second Coming (2 Thessalonians 2:8; 2 Timothy 4:1, 8; Titus 2:13), and that is clearly its sense here.
“which in its own times (kairos) he will show” (v. 15a). There are two Greek words for time—chronos and kairos:
• Chronos has to do with chronological time—clock time—the time by which we keep daily appointments.
• Kairos has to do with special time—special moments in time—the forks in the road that make all the difference—moments with the potential to determine destinies. Paul uses kairos here, signaling that he is speaking of a significant moment in time.
Paul uses the word kairos here to denote the significance of the event of which he has been speaking—the Parousia—the Second Coming of Christ.
“who is the blessed (makarios) and only Ruler, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (v. 15b). Are these characteristics of God or Christ? Paul’s reference to “our Lord Jesus Christ” at the end of verse 14 makes it appear that Paul is ascribing these characteristics to Christ. The fact that the book of Revelation uses the phrase, “Lord of lords, and King of kings” to speak of Christ (Revelation 17:14; 19:16) helps to confirm that assessment.
However, most commentaries believe that Paul is talking about God here—and the comment, “whom no man has seen, nor can see,” (v. 16) tends to confirm that judgment.
The Greek word makarios, as used in the New Testament, has several possible meanings:
• Blessings received from God
• A benediction soliciting blessings from God
• Praise given to God in response to blessings received.
In this instance, Paul is speaking of God as one worthy of praise or honor. He has bestowed blessings on us—and he is worthy of our praise because of his providence.
Paul confers three titles on God. He is the “only Ruler,” which emphasizes monotheism. He is the “King of kings, and Lord of lords,” emphasizing his supremacy over all earthly rulers and people of high position (see also Deuteronomy 10:17; Psalm 136:3).
“who alone has immortality” (athanasian) (v. 16a). The Greek word athanasian is a combination of a (not or without) and thanatos (death). Being immortal means not being subject to death. Paul uses this word in 1 Corinthians 15:53-55 to describe that transformation that takes place when the “mortal will have put on immortality” so that “death is swallowed up in victory.”
“dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen, nor can see” (v. 16b). This comment has its roots in the story of Moses’ encounter with Yahweh on Mount Sinai. There “the appearance of the glory of Yahweh was like devouring fire” (Exodus 24:17). Later, when Moses requested to see Yahweh’s glory, Yahweh replied, “You cannot see my face, for man may not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). Yahweh hid Moses in the cleft of a rock and covered Moses with his hand. Yahweh then permitted Moses to see his back, but said, “My face shall not be seen” (Exodus 33:23).
“to whom be honor and eternal power. Amen” (v. 16c). The more common form of this sort of doxology would be “to whom be honor and glory forever. Amen.” But here Paul emphasizes God’s power instead of his glory. Paul is happy to have God as the ruler of the universe—and of his personal life.
1 TIMOTHY 6:17-19. CHARGE THE RICH NOT TO BE HAUGHTY
17 Charge those who are rich in this present world that they not be haughty, nor have their hope set on the uncertainty of riches, but on the living God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy; 18 that they do good, that they be rich in good works, that they be ready to distribute, willing to communicate;19 laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold of eternal life.
“Charge those who are rich in this present world (aion—age) that they not be haughty”(hupselophroneo) (v. 17a). People who are wealthy (or influential or talented or famous) often regard their good fortune to be their just due—and regard other people as inferior. They tend to have an inflated idea of their own worth and a deflated view of the worth of others.
Here Paul uses the word hupselophroneo, which means to think highly—in this case to think highly of oneself—to be proud. This word is sometimes translated “puffed up.”
Some people would object, saying that pride is a good thing. We need to help people develop a sense of pride in their accomplishments, large or small. We need to help people feel a sense of racial pride—national pride—etc., etc., etc. There is much to commend this viewpoint, but I would substitute “self-respect” for “pride.” The person who has self-respect is likely to feel secure and positive about life, but is not likely to have a low opinion of the rest of humanity. The problem with hupselophroneo people is that they seem to be unable to enjoy their good fortune without looking down their noses at everyone else.
“nor have their hope set on the uncertainty of riches” (v. 17b). Wealthy people tend to love their wealth and to trust it to solve whatever problem might arise. But here Paul draws attention to the uncertainty of riches, which are always subject to the vagaries of moth, rust, thieves, inflation, taxes, fraud, and a host of other perils. In the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21), Jesus says that the rich person’s soul could be required at any moment. Building more barns (or a stronger investment portfolio) won’t help then.
The church will do well to remember this verse. We wish that we could snag a rich donor or two. But John Wesley said, “I fear, wherever riches have increased (exceeding few are the exceptions), the essence of religion, the mind that was in Christ has decreased in the same proportion.” Wesley also said that the only way to grow in grace for those who “gain all they can” is for them to “give all they can.”
“but on the living God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (v. 17c). This puts the focus back where the focus belongs—on God rather that self. God is “the living God”—not a myth or a carved idol. As the living God, he has the power and the will to provide his creation with the things they need—not only for their survival, but for their enjoyment as well.
“that they do good, that they be rich in good works” (v. 18a). If those who are rich make their relationship with God the center of their lives (v. 17), they will be in an especially good position to “do good” and to “be rich in good works.”
We might be tempted to counter, “We are saved by faith, not works.” While true, that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t call us to do good works. If we truly love God and neighbor, we can hardly escape the call to do some good things for others.
“that they be ready to distribute” (eumetadotos) (v. 18b). The word eumetadotos would be better translated “ready to give” or “ready to share.” The idea is that of a generous spirit.
“willing to communicate” (koinonikos) (v. 18b). Note the similarity between the word koinonikos and the word koinonia. We use the latter word to speak of koinonia groups—by which we mean small fellowship groups that allow us to forge a strong connection with a few people within the larger church. However, if small groups are to maximize their potential, they need to be service groups as well as social groups. That aspect of service is also implied by the word koinonia.
The word koinonikos, then, suggests a connection with other Christians—a partnership with Christ—and a willingness to do good works in Christ’s service.
“laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold of eternal life” (v. 19). Jesus says:
“Don’t lay up treasures for yourselves on the earth,
where moth and rust consume,
and where thieves break through and steal;
but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,
where neither moth nor rust consume,
and where thieves don’t break through and steal;
for where your treasure is,
there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
Elsewhere, Paul emphasizes that we cannot be saved by our works (Romans 3:27-28; 4:1-5; 11:6; Galatians 2:16; 3:2, 10). Salvation is available only through grace—as a gift from God. But he also acknowledges “that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God?” (1 Corinthians 6:9). He calls us to produce the works of the Spirit—”love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:16-26). We do so, as Earl Palmer puts it, “not in an attempt somehow to make the team, but because we are already on the team” (Palmer, 360).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2013, Richard Niell Donovan