Godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Timothy 6:3-10, 17-19)

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project

The last section of 1 Timothy is packed with powerful exhortations and warnings for rich Christians. (We will skip over Paul’s charges to Timothy in verses 11–16 and 20, which are directed to Timothy in his particular situation.) First Timothy 6:3–10 and 17–19 have direct work­place applications. In reading and applying these passages, however, we must avoid two common mistakes.

First, this passage does not teach that there is no “gain” to be had by being godly. When Paul writes that those who are “depraved in mind and bereft of the truth” imagine that “godliness is a means of gain” (1 Tim. 6:5), what he is denouncing is the mind-set that godliness necessarily leads to financial gain in this life or that godliness should be pursued for the sake of immediate, financial gain. The folly of this thinking is threefold:

  1. God often calls his saints to suffer material want in this life and, therefore, God’s people should not set their hope on the “uncer­tainty of riches” (1 Tim. 6:17).
  2. Even if someone were to gain great riches in this life, the gain is short-lived because, as John Piper puts it, “There are no U-Hauls behind hearses” (1 Tim. 6:7).[1]
  3. Craving wealth leads to evil, apostasy, ruin, and destruction (1 Tim. 6:9–10).

Note carefully, however, that Paul encourages his readers to know that there is great gain in godliness when it is combined with content­ment in the basic necessities of life (1 Tim. 6:6, 8). Our God is a God “who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Tim. 6:17). Paul commands the righteous rich “to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share” (1 Tim. 6:18)—not to sell everything they have and become poor. They are to be rich in good works so that they might store 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” (1 Tim. 6:19). In other words, godliness is a means of gain as long as that gain is understood as life and blessings in the presence of God and not only more money now. Paul’s exhortation in 1 Timothy 6:18–19 is similar to Jesus’ teaching, “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matt. 6:20; cf. Matt. 19:21; Luke 12:33).

The second mistake to avoid is thinking that this passage and its con­demnation of a love for money means that no Christian worker should ever seek a raise or promotion or that no Christian business should try to make a profit. There are many reasons why someone could want more money; some of them could be bad but others could be good. If some­one wanted more money for the status, luxury, or ego boost it would provide, then this would indeed fall under the rebuke of this section of Scripture. But if someone wanted to earn more money in order to pro­vide adequately for dependents, to give more to Christ-honoring causes, or to invest in creating goods and services that allow the community to thrive, then it would not be evil to want more money.[2] To reject the love of money is not to oppose every desire to be successful or profitable in the workplace.

John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, rev. and exp. ed. (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2003), 188.

See Wayne Grudem’s important book, Business for the Glory of God: The Bible’s Teaching on the Moral Goodness of Business (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003), for a more detailed account of this assertion.