Saturday, August 20, 2005

Paul--- Right on the Money

One of the most prevalent topics in the Pastorals Epistles is money and its accumulation. Paul is especially concerned with how Christian leaders handle money and sees it as a litmus test of their character.
Let us begin with 1 Tim.3.3,8 and Titus 1.7 which should be contrasted with texts like Titus 1.11, and it is good to throw in a text like 1 Tim. 5.18 for good measure. There is a deliberate contrast set up between the character of a good Christian leader and that of the false teachers who are indeed in it for the money. It seems clear enough that avarice or greed is seen as a significant sin, and one that Christian leaders especially should avoid.
At the same time, Paul believes leaders ought to be paid for their work of ministry, which should remove them from the temptation to pursue ministerial tasks primarily if not solely for the motivation of making a living, like so many other ancient philosophers or teachers for hire of that age.
This brings us to the rhetorical contrast or sunkrisis set up in 1 Tim.6.3-10 which should be studied as a whole unit, without extracting 1 Tim. 6.10 from the mix, especially since it is consistently one of the most misquoted verses in the NT. The issue here is not merely money, but rather the ‘love of money’ which is seen as a primary cause of apostasy or wandering from the faith as 6.10b indicates.
Paul’s concern here is, as 1 Tim. 6.5b shows with the use of apparent godliness for the sake of financial gain. By contrast Paul says godliness with contentment when it comes to possessions and the provisions of life, is in itself great gain, indeed a much greater gain than having wealth. Notice how in vs. 9 the focus is on the desire to ‘get rich’, which is said to lead people to become prey to various sorts of temptations and unhealthy desires.
The maxim cited in 1 Tim. 6.10 is meant to help climax the argument, stressing that the love of money is indeed a root of all sorts of evils. Money itself is not said to be evil, but the desire to have it in abundance, that acquisitive desire, is seen as a very serious evil that leads to others in its train. Christians are those who should be content with having the basic necessities of life taken care of, without trying to secure the future for themselves, and so missing out on the opportunity to trust God for the future.
Here of course is a message that will give many Mallox moments to many rich Christians. It stands as an obvious antithesis to much of what one hears from financial planners, even Christian ones, about storing things up in barns, and the like, to use a phrase of Jesus. It was Jesus of course who said that one cannot serve two masters—God and money. This is seen by Paul as almost a truism when it comes to Christian leaders. One’s ultimate love and trust must be placed in God, and that in turn should set at rest the acquisitive instinct that is in part an extension of the survival instinct, the attempt to secure one’s life by one’s own efforts.
From Paul’s vantage point one should face the future as follows: 1) content to live a simple or simplified Christian lifestyle; 2) letting one’s impulses and desires be ruled and overruled by godliness and godly priorities; 3) being generous with others as part of Christian hospitality, and frugal with one’s self; 4) engaging in faith rather than fear based practices and ministry and 5) scrutinizing especially closely one’s motivations for undertaking this or that Christian task—“not using godliness as a mean of financial gain”, whilst the church which supports the minister should 6) recognize that they have an obligation to support the minister adequately indeed even generously so he or she can focus on the tasks of ministry instead of on making a living. And 7) the issue then for Paul is in part about how one makes one’s money (hence the focus on dishonest gain when talking about church leaders), and just as important what one does with what one has--- a true test of character. How a person spends their money tells us a lot about that person, and all the more so if that person is a Christian leader.
It was John Wesley, having meditated on Jesus’ and Paul’s statements about money who stressed to his converts that ‘your luxuries should come after meeting other person’s necessities’. He says that while a Christian should make all they can by honest means and save all they can, they should also give all they can as the way to complete the way a Christian handles money. He stated that if you only make and save all you can without giving all you can ‘you may be a living person, but you are a dead Christian’. These are convicting words, and words we ought to hear more from Christian pulpits in the North America, especially in contexts where life styles of conspicuous consumption characterize much of the congregation.


brad said...

Thanks for this word. I am preaching on Matt 6, you cannot serve God and money, do not store up treasures, lilies of the field etc, tomorrow. I personally have always held the most radical view but I am slightly mellowing. Contentment is a good balance here. I believe Jesus is teaching how to live one day at a time and in total fearlessness.

I believe the only way to do this is to be extravagently anonymously generous. At the same time, our spirituality can make us rather winsome to our employers and lead us to having quite large incomes like Joseph.

PS Iam getting a lot of traffic from your site.
God Bless,

John said...

Dr. Witherington,

After having participated in an Table Talk discussion on this very subject on First Class, I'd like to thank you for this post. You've helped me streamline my thought process regarding Paul's views on wealth and given me some wonderful things to ponder.

Ben Witherington said...

You are most welcome John, and I would encourage you to read Wesley's classic sermon "On the Use of Money" as well. It was the second most frequent sermon he preached during the 18th century revival, after his other classic "Justification by Faith"

Unknown said...

do you then think it is a lack of faith to save for retirement instead of giving and trusting God for the future?