The Tragedy of Weak Desires: Money

A sermon on 1 Timothy 6:5-12 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 6/15/03

What do you really want? What do you desire greatly? Money? Career success? Marriage? Sex? Children?

In response to biblical expressions like, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”, “flee fornication”, and part of today’s text - “the love of money is the root of all evil” - many people have gotten the idea that Christianity is opposed to desire. Many believe that Christianity is a religion of self-denial: Christians don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t have sex outside of marriage, don’t do dozens of other enjoyable activities. Some might summarize this as, ‘Christians don’t have any fun!”

Certainly some philosophies that were prevalent at the beginning of Christianity oppose desire. A philosopher named Epictetus, who lived from 50AD to 138AD, wrote, “Destroy desire completely” (Enchiridion II). And Epictetus, though not a Christian, unfortunately influenced later Christian thinking.

But the Bible does not oppose desire. Rather, the Bible suggests that our desires are not strong enough! The Bible commands us again and again to seek our real happiness – to seek true life, to seek real joy. Our problem is not that we have desires – our problem is that our desire for real joy is not deep enough.

C.S. Lewis captured this biblical idea brilliantly in a sermon he preached about 50 years ago:

If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you asked almost any of the great Christians of old he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative ideal of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love. The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire.

If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Over the course of the next year we will look at a series of issues under the theme: “The Tragedy of Weak Desires”. We will see how pursuing joy in the things of this world – even good things of this world like money, sex, career, marriage, and children – tragically leads us away from our deepest and longest-lasting joy. Only by desiring GOD through Jesus Christ above all else can we find true joy; only in Him can we find true life.

This morning and next week we will look at money in this regard. Why does the Bible warn us against the desire for money? Won’t we be happier if we have more money?

Let’s read 1 Timothy 6:3-19. This morning we will focus on verses 5-12; next week we will consider verses 13-19.

 3 If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness,  4 he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions,  5 and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.  6 Now godliness with contentment is a great means of gain!  7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.  8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.  9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 

11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.  12 Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.  13 I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession,  14 to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,  15 which he will display at the proper time- he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords,  16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.  17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.  18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,  19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (ESV)

The Love of Money – the love of money. Why do people want money so much? Do they desire little pieces of green paper? Do they like looking at George Washington and Abe Lincoln and US Grant and Benjamin Franklin?

No. There are two main reasons why people love money. First, they think if they have money they can buy items or have influence over others that will lead to their happiness. Second, they think if they have money they will be secure.

Two myths about money: Money leads to happiness. Money leads to security.

In today’s passage Paul addresses the first myth directly, arguing that money does not lead to happiness at all. In next week’s text – for which the sermon title is “How to be rich and still be happy” - he deals briefly with the second.

Myth 1: Money leads to happiness

This myth takes many forms. Usually it takes the form of, "If I only had such and such, then I would be happy." If I only had . . . a new Camry; If I only had . . . one more bedroom; If I only had . . . another 5000 thousand dollars per year; If I only had . . . a horse; If I only had . . . the latest fashion, or a graduate degree.  If I had these things, I would be HAPPY!

Every year several magazines publish surveys of the most admired people in the world. Who is always on top? The wealthy, the famous. Because people think, “If I had money like Bill Gates, I sure would be happy!”

What does Paul tell us in this passage? How does he argue that this idea – believed by most of the people on this planet ever since money was invented – is wrong? Look again at verse 5:

[Opponents of the gospel who think] that godliness is a means of gain. Now godliness with contentment is a great means of gain! 

Certain false teachers think they can use the preaching of the “gospel” as a means of gain, as a way to wealth. Paul says, “Actually this is a way to wealth – the preaching of the true gospel leads to true riches, not the false, temporary wealth that comes from amassing dollar bills!”

Note that the original Greek translated “means of gain” in the ESV is only one Greek word – and that same word is repeated in verse 6. The NIV and some other versions just translate the word as “gain” in verse 6. But the word is better understood as “means of gain” and actually this translation makes more sense in verse 6. Paul is NOT saying godliness ITSELF is gain – he is saying godliness is a great – the greatestmeans to gain.

Furthermore, given what we have said about why people want wealth, we can substitute “means of gaining happiness” for “means of gain”. So we might paraphrase Paul’s thoughts in this way:

Those opponents think that by appearing godly and preaching they can make money and thus gain happiness. That is despicable – to see the preaching of the gospel as a means to gain wealth, as a means to any end not combined with the glory of God. But true godliness with contentment is indeed the means to the greatest happiness – not the sort of happiness that comes from wealth, but the deepest happiness of all, the joy that comes from eternal life with the Father”

In verses 7-10, Paul then explains his assertion, giving us three arguments that explain why the myth does not lead to true happiness.

First Argument: You are eternal, and money is not

Verse 7 provides the first argument: “for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.”

Earthly riches cannot be taken out of the world.

How long will you live on this earth?

How long will you live after your life on this earth is over?

Given those time frames, how important are the treasures you amass today compared to the treasures you amass in eternity?

Ray Stedman tells of a man who came to him and said, “I want to be just like my grandfather!” “Why is that?” Ray asked. “He died a millionaire!” the man replied. Ray then said, “No, he didn’t.” The man said, “What do you mean? You didn’t even know him! I tell you, my grandfather died a millionaire!” Ray said, “No. A split second before he died, he was a millionaire. But the moment he died he had nothing. All those earthly good no longer did him any good. They were no longer of any use to him.”

At most, wealth will make us happy for the rest of our time on earth. But because we are eternal beings, the greatest means to happiness must be one that will gain assets that last for eternity, not those that will disappear upon our physical death.

Second Argument: You don’t need riches for happiness now

Paul gives us a second argument in verse 8: “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.”

Perhaps a better translation of those words would be "If we have sustenance and covering - if we have what we need in order to live, both to nourish us and to protect us from the elements, we will be content with that." God tells the Christian that his joy is found in becoming what God intends him to be. And all we need to accomplish that task is sufficient food to stay alive while his task remains, and covering to keep off the elements. As Jesus says in John 4:34, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”

The word "content" is an interesting one. The same Greek word is used in Hebrews 13:5: "Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, for God has said 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'" In Philippians 4:11-13 Paul uses the same word:

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

What is contentment? The Greek word means "self-sufficiency." The Greek philosopher Socrates said this when asked who was the wealthiest man: "He who is content with the least - for self-sufficiency is nature's wealth." Paul takes this idea from Greek philosophy and infuses it with Christian truth. Instead of being SELF-sufficient, Paul says we are to be GOD-sufficient.

The idea is that God is in control of our lives. And he will provide us with the resources necessary to accomplish whatever he wants us to do. Furthermore, true happiness comes not from building up resources, but true happiness comes from doing the will of God. So that is why Paul and Silas in chains in a Philippian jail were able to sing praises to God, and be content, to be God-sufficient, in that situation.

So Paul shows us both through his words and his life that in order to be happy, we only need enough food to live and adequate shelter for protection from life-threatening elements. He sang joyfully to God in the Philippian jail, and we too can sing joyfully to God in the midst of our own trials.

So we’ve seen two arguments so far justifying Paul’s statement that money does not lead to happiness: Money doesn’t last into eternity, and money is not necessary for happiness now.

Third Argument: The desire for riches destroys us

Paul’s third argument is that the desire for riches is harmful even in this life, and leads to destruction in the next.

But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

Paul states the argument in verse 9 and then explains why it is true in verse 10. The desire to be rich leads people to fall into temptation. Into what temptation? Consider the two greatest commandments according to Jesus:

'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'  38 This is the first and greatest commandment.  39 And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' (Matthew 22:37-39 NIV)

When we want to get rich, when that desire controls us, we are fulfilling neither of those commandments. Instead we love money, we seek money more than we seek God. And we seek our own happiness, our own success, our own prosperity more than we seek the good of our neighbor. So the desire to become rich leads to the temptation to violate these two greatest commandments, on which, Jesus says, hang “all the Law and the Prophets.”

In addition to being a temptation, Paul says those who desire to be rich fall into a snare, a trap – into senseless and harmful desires that lead to ruin and destruction. What snare is he talking about?

Ecclesiastes 5:10 says:

Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.

What is the nature of a trap or a snare? If you want to trap an animal what do you do?

A few years ago when my older sister visited our home in Massachusetts, her son Daryl really wanted to trap one of the groundhogs we saw regularly. So one evening he and my kids tied a carrot to a string, and tied the string to a stick supporting a wire cage. Sure enough – and much to the surprise of all the adults – the next morning the cage was on the ground with a groundhog trapped inside.

Most traps use some sort of lure like that carrot – something that looks good, that looks attractive, that looks like it will lead to happiness – but which actually leads to danger and destruction.

Just so with money. Money is a lure, for it looks like it will lead to happiness, but the desire for it leads to destruction.

Now, in some sense it is true that more money will lead you to be happier. Economists love to consider two different situations “ceteris paribus”, that is, “everything else being equal.” If you could have $10,000 more money this year and change nothing else at all, you would indeed be happier. You could in fact give the $10,000 away, change nothing else, and that alone would presumably increase your level of happiness.

But in real life everything else is not equal.  Instead, when we get more, we want more. As the author of Ecclesiastes says, we aren’t satisfied with what we thought would satisfy us. We want even more.

Furthermore, when we get lots of money, dozens or hundreds of people want some of it from us. They tell us all sorts of flattering things about ourselves in order to get that money. And we begin to think highly of ourselves. We tend to forget God; we tend to forget our families.

This holds no matter what that income might be. The fact that happiness does not correspond to income was very strongly driven home to me when as a 20 year old I went to East Africa for the first time to teach secondary school. I was living with people who were making 3 or 4 dollars per day, maybe having $1500 per year to raise a family of 7 or 8. And there was tragedy in this community because of poverty - there was high infant mortality, there were children who were dying of diseases that were curable, there were children whose education was halted because their parents didn't have the money to send them to school.

And yet, these people who were very, very poor by our standards had a joy of living that I rarely found among my friends in the States. And I have found that to be true in many, many different places.

So the desire to get rich, instead of leading to happiness, leads to frustration even if you attain it. Ray Stedman calls this “destination sickness” – feeling terrible when you attain all you thought you wanted, and find that it doesn’t satisfy. This is the trap and snare of the desire for money. We get what we think we need, but then we need more to satisfy ourselves. Like a drug addict, we need a greater and greater quantity to give us our fix. If we love money, we will never be satisfied with what we have.

And of course many people never even reach the amount of money they think they want. They too become frustrated, always thinking (falsely) that they could be happy if they could just have a little more.

Money is indeed a trap in that way.

But this is not worst of it. The words Paul uses: “ruin, destruction, pierced themselves with many pangs” are much stronger than is indicated by the problems the desire for money leads to in this life. Paul is saying that the desire for money leads to eternal ruin. Those who seek money “wander away from the faith”.

The love of money harms us now, and can lead to an eternity in hell. That is a real trap – the allure of happiness, but behind it, hell.

So Paul tells us that money does not lead to happiness because:

            1) You CANNOT use money in the eternal state;

            2) You don’t need money now for happiness; and

            3) The love of money harms you: now, you are never satisfied, and eternally, it leads to your destruction.

How Should We Then Live?

So what should be our attitude towards all this? Paul addresses this in verse 11: “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things.”

FLEE from the love of money – RUN AWAY from it. Have nothing to do with it. As soon as you see any indication of this cropping up in you – turn and run!


FLEE from all that; but then do what? Paul gave us three reasons why money does not lead to happiness. Now he gives us three commands. The first of these is found in the second half of verse 11::

Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.

His first command is to run after something else. Turn and run away from the desire for money and run toward something else. What are we to run after?

Paul lists six goals, which we have time only to define:

Paul’s second command is found in the first part of verse 12: Fight the fight of faith. This is an athletic term used for runners or wrestlers. Paul is saying, “Put all your energy into this fight!”

What is the Fight of faith? Think of it as the fight to believe – the fight to believe that God speaks truth, that God is faithful to His promises. Such as to believe:

This is what John Piper calls “the purifying power of living by faith in future grace.” Being confident that God is speaks truth, that He is faithful to His promises, and that He Himself is the source and goal of all true happiness.

So Paul commands Timothy and us first, to pursue the six goals, second, to fight the fight of faith, and then finally he tells us to pick up the glory to be revealed in us:

Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.

The idea implied by the verb tense is to pick it up now, like a sword. In effect Paul is saying,

“You have eternal life: Pick it up! Hold on to it! Know that all this around you is temporary; all this will fade away! You live for eternity! You have an inheritance that can never spoil, perish, or fade! You can store up treasures in heaven for ever – so do it!”

Paul tells us to live in the light of the second coming. Jesus’ return is not just a legend. It is not just some far off promise that might or might not happen. We all must live fully conscious that Jesus will indeed return, and after He does He will destroy this earth and place us in a new heavens and new earth. As we sang earlier today,

I cannot tell how all the lands shall worship,
When, at His bidding, every storm is stilled,
Or who can say how great the jubilation
When all the hearts of men with love are filled.
But this I know, the skies will thrill with rapture,
And myriad, myriad human voices sing,
And earth to heaven, and heaven to earth, will answer:
At last the Savior, Savior of the world is King!


Next week as we consider verses 13-19, we will see more of the importance of the second coming, and discuss how the rich should live in light of that event. But for now:

We are not ascetics: we see no virtue in poverty for the sake of poverty and, as we will see next week, there is no biblical command telling everyone with money to give it all away. Indeed, some of those poor people I knew in Kenya were just as caught up in the love of money as many in this country.

This is the point: Everything in our culture tells us to desire more material goods.

My friends, I implore you – I implore myself – desire the greatest joy imaginable!

Desire to be the child of the king of the universe – and thus the owner of all things, for you are in Christ and He owns all.

Desire to see the God of All look upon you with great delight.

Desire to experience the ever-increasing happiness and ever-deeper worship of eternity, as God displays to YOU more and more of His infinite and inexhaustible greatness and joy.

Don’t be satisfied with the mudpies of money and success; desire with all your heart that eternal holiday in God’s presence. For in His presence is fullness of joy.

This sermon was preached at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC on 6/15/03. The C.S. Lewis quote is from his sermon, “The Weight of Glory.” The hymn quoted is by W.Y. Fullerton, and is sung to the tune “Londonderry Air.” For more by Ray Stedman see

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