In the closing chapter of his first letter to Timothy, Paul is encouraging his young protégé to follow the lessons he has learned from his mentor. In particular, one of those lessons concerned living a life characterized by godliness. Paul warned his friend by telling him that there are people who are unfamiliar with the truth and demonstrate this unfamiliarity as they “suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (1Timothy 6:5). Imagine the audacity of such a person – using the pretense of serving God to become financially wealthy. Aren’t you glad those people existed only in the first century? (Yes, that was a heavy dose of sarcasm.)
There are – without a doubt – a multitude of people who are driven by the overwhelming urge for more. The Apostle Paul said as much when he wrote: “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:9-10 niv). Many people of faith have given in to their baser instinct for more and have become impaled by their greed and forfeited their witness to a watching world. That’s the thing about greed – it doesn’t care who you are or to whom you pledge your allegiance. Greed is an equal opportunity destroyer.
Just ask Mr. BBB. You remember him, don’t you? In Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells a story about a man whose agricultural efforts were so blessed, he decided he needed to build bigger barns (BBB). Here’s the story: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry’” (Luke 12:16-19). Sounds like he had things figured out, doesn’t it? He followed the “work-get-rich-retire” success playbook step by step. Nothing wrong with that, is there? That depends. It depends on your definition of success. You know the rest of that story in Luke, right? “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’” (Luke 12:20). Do you know the answer to God’s question? The answer is “somebody else.” Get it? All the stuff we accumulate in the course of our lifetime will – at our death – become the property of someone else. Looking back at Paul’s letter to Timothy, the Apostle said: “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out” (1Timothy 6:7). Regardless of our wealth or poverty, we will each leave behind every possession we acquired. And the hole we’re buried in will be just about the same size.
Having told this story about Mr. BBB, Jesus then drove home His point: “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:21). And let’s not forget what prompted this story. “And He said to them, ‘Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses’” (Luke 12:15).
So, does the Bible tell us that we should avoid hard work and jettison any idea of ambition? Absolutely not! The biblical response to avarice and the idolization of money is simple: contentment. Let’s finish up where we started in Paul’s letter to Timothy. “Now godliness with contentment is great gain...And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content” (1Timothy 6:6, 8). Biblical contentment is a settled feeling of satisfaction that is based on the awareness of the abundant blessings of God. And the greatest blessing that is ours can be found in connection with contentment. “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).