Read the Passage: 1 Timothy 6
Greed and Contentment (6:1–10)
While Paul does not give many specific details about the false teachers in the Ephesian church, we can learn about their doctrine from Paul’s general description of their errors, as well as from the issues on which Paul chooses to instruct Timothy. Indeed, from 1 Timothy 6, we can deduce that the false teachers in Ephesus had an errant doctrines related to work and to wealth. As this chapter begins, however, in 1 Tim. 6:1–2 Paul gives instructions on the proper interaction between bond-servants and masters. Note that the relationship in view here is more akin to what we would identify with voluntary indentured servitude than with forced racial slavery. In this passage Paul encourages servants to honor their masters, especially if they are Christians. Since believers submit to Christ, when bond-servants submit to their masters it reflects and confirms the gospel message (cf. Titus 2:9–10).
In 1 Tim. 6:3–5 Paul gives a general description of the false teachers in the Ephesian church. The general characteristics of false teachers that Paul discloses include: (1) teaching contrary to biblical doctrine; (2) not affirming doctrine that leads to godliness; (3) being prideful; (4) obsessing over minutia that lead to arguments; (5) promoting envy, strife, and the like; (6) being destitute of the truth; and (7) viewing religion as a means of financial gain. While Paul had earlier instructed Timothy to charge or to confront these false teachers (cf. 1 Tim. 1:3–7), here Paul says, “From such withdraw yourself” (1 Tim. 6:5). The idea here is that while we have a duty to confront sin and to exhort others toward godliness, in interacting with someone who has rejected the truth, sometimes the best course of action is to withdraw from them (cf. Matt. 7:6; 15:14; Prov. 9:7; 26:4).
Paul’s description of the false teachers, especially concerning their error of greed, led him to review several biblical principles related to material goods. First, Paul writes that “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6). Certainly, God knows our material needs and will meet them (cf. Matt. 6:25–34). Indeed, we cannot take material goods with us into the grave; thus, it is foolish to fixate upon them. Second, Paul notes that greed will “drown men in destruction and perdition” (1 Tim. 6:9). Thus, to make material goods one’s idol is both foolish and harmful. Said differently, those who chase after worldly goods will never catch them, and a distorted pursuit of material things will eventually kill. Third, Paul observes that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10). In other words, greed both destroys and opens the door for additional sins.
Godliness and Confession (6:11–16)
Beginning in 1 Tim. 6:11, Paul starts to address Timothy personally, addressing him with the phrase, “O man of God” (1 Tim. 6:11). This term is used only of Timothy in the New Testament, although it is used some 70 times in the Old Testament. In this passage Paul urges Timothy to flee from sin, to cling to righteousness, to fight the fight of the Christian faith, and to keep the “good confession” (1 Tim. 6:12), by which he means Timothy’s public testimony. Paul then calls upon God the Father and Christ the Son to witness Timothy’s ministry. In 1 Tim. 6:15–16 Paul branches into a doxology, noting of God that “no man has seen or can see [Him], to whom be honor and everlasting power” (1 Tim. 6:16). Of course, Paul was denying neither the reality of Jesus’ incarnation nor the legitimacy of occasional theophanies; rather, Paul is referring to God’s holy glory.
Wealth and Works (6:17–21)
Before concluding his letter, in 1 Tim. 6:17–19 Paul returns to the topic of wealth and material possessions. Here Paul does not condemn those in the church who are rich, nor does he speak disparagingly of wealth. Rather, Paul encourages those who are rich to be good stewards of their wealth, to avoid haughtiness, and to not trust in their wealth. Recall that earlier Paul had taught that it is the love of money that is a root of all evil, not the possession of money itself (cf. 1 Tim. 6:10). Money, then, is not inherently evil; however, money can tempt those who possess it, as well as those who do not possess it, toward sin. In concluding this epistle, Paul once again charged Timothy to avoid sin and to steward the gospel well. The reference to “what is falsely called knowledge” (1 Tim. 6:20) likely refers to an aspect of the false doctrine being taught in Ephesus.
- Why does Paul encourage servants to honor their masters? Wouldn’t it be better for Paul to abolish the idea of indentured servitude?
- How was Timothy to know when he was supposed to confront false teachers and when it was better to withdraw from them?
- How can Christians best live and work in the material world while at the same time avoiding the sins of greed and self-sufficiency?
- If no man has seen or can see God (cf. 1 Tim. 6:16), how do we explain Jesus’ incarnation, as well as Old Testament theophanies?
- Do most Christians have a proper perspective on wealth and poverty? How would you summarize biblical teaching on this topic?