“Paul does not mince his words. He condemns them as ‘men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain’ (1TI 6.5). The life of these ministers had become a charade. Their ‘ministry’ was nothing more than a thinly veiled mask to cover up their greed.”
What matters most to us in life? There is a ‘right’ answer to that question, but then again there are many ‘real’ answers that lurk beneath the surface.
No serious-minded Christian would argue with the truth of the Shorter Catechism’s assertion that ‘the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever’. (It is nothing less than Jesus’ exhortation to ‘seek first the Kingdom of God…’ [Mt 6.33] in statement form.) However, since attitudes and actions speak louder than words, the reality is often very different.
We have used the last two posts on this theme of ministerial godliness to explore Paul’s counsel in his first letter to Timothy as the young pastor of the church in Ephesus – a church that was beginning to reel from the impact of false teachers and their influence. Throughout the letter he has highlighted the link between distorted doctrine and warped behaviour – not least on the part of the false teachers themselves.
The apostle’s concern is to impress on his young pastor-friend the importance of godliness as the outworking of healthy teaching and as one of the marks of a faithful minister. And, as we noted in the very first post, this tallies with Robert Murray McCheyne’s perceptive remark when he said, ‘My people’s greatest need is my own personal holiness’.
As we follow this thread through 1Timothy, it takes us all the way to the final chapter where Paul says, ‘godliness with contentment is great gain’ (1Ti 6.6). Its value is much more far-reaching than one might at first imagine.
The backdrop to this comment is significant. He has just spent the last paragraph revisiting the issue of false teaching and its effect on how professing Christians live. Indeed, he contrasts ‘false teaching’ with ‘godly teaching’ (1Ti 6.3) and goes on to expose the inconsistency between the behaviour of false teachers and the message of the Bible they claim to proclaim.
Paul does not mince his words. He condemns them as ‘men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain’ (1TI 6.5). The life of these ministers had become a charade. Their ‘ministry’ was nothing more than a thinly veiled mask to cover up their greed.
It is not without significance that Paul puts this connection under the spotlight. Jesus had already done something similar in the Sermon on the Mount when he identified ‘mammon’ as the most common rival god to the true God who claims our deepest devotion in life. In fact Paul punctuates this little section in his letter with the warning, ‘…for the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil’ (1Ti 6.10). But the fact he connects it to what motivates ministers is telling.
It is not at all uncommon for pastors to grumble about their level of income and standard of living in comparison with their neighbours and friends in the secular sphere. And in many cases it is the sad reality for them. Even Paul himself – the preeminent preacher-theologian of the New Testament world – knew first hand what it was like to struggle to make ends meet (Php 4.12). It was a key reason why, at times, he had to provide for himself financially through tent making. But when income becomes a fixation and ‘godliness’ becomes a fiction to encourage more support, then it reveals something dangerous in our heart of hearts. One pastor in America said, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, ‘The test of a minister’s sanctification is, after preaching away, how far up the turnpike he gets before he opens “the envelope”!’ But its truth is closer to the mark than many might admit.