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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
1 Timothy 6

 

 

Verse 1-2

Chapter 16

THE NATURE OF ROMAN SLAVERY AND THE APOSTLE’S ATTITUDE TOWARDS IT-A MODERN PARALLEL. - 1 Timothy 6:1-2

THERE are four passages in which St. Paul deals directly with the relations between slaves and their masters:-in the Epistles to the Ephesians, [Ephesians 6:5-9] to the Colossians 3:22-25; Colossians 4:1, to Philemon, [Philemon 1:8-21] and the passage before us. Here he looks at the question from the slave’s point of view; in the letter to Philemon from that of the master: in the Epistle to the Colossians and to the Ephesians he addresses both. In all four places his attitude towards this monster abomination is one and the same; and it is a very remarkable one. He nowhere denounces slavery. He does not state that such an intolerable iniquity as man possessing his fellow-man must be done away as speedily as may be. He gives no encouragement to slaves to rebel or to run away. He gives no hint to masters that they ought to let their slaves go free. Nothing of the kind. He not only accepts slavery as a fact; he seems to treat it as a necessary fact, a fact likely to be as permanent as marriage and parentage, poverty and wealth.

This attitude becomes all the more marvelous, when we remember, not only what slavery necessarily is wherever it exists, but what slavery was both by custom and by law among the great slave-owners throughout the Roman Empire. Slavery is at all times degrading to both the parties in that unnatural relationship, however excellent may be the regulations by which it is protected, and however noble may be the characters of both master and slave. It is impossible for one human being to be absolute owner of another’s person without both possessor and possessed being morally the worse for it. Violations of nature’s laws are never perpetrated with impunity; and when the laws violated are those which are concerned, not with unconscious forces and atoms, but with human souls and characters, the penalties of the violation are none the less sure or severe. But these evils, which are the inevitable consequences of the existence of slavery in any shape whatever, may be increased a hundredfold, if the slavery exists under no regulations, or under bad regulations, or again where both master and slave are, to start with, base and brutalized in character. And all this was the case in the early days of the Roman Empire. Slavery was to a great extent under no check at all, and the laws which did exist for regulating the relationship between owner and slave were for the most part of a character to intensify the evil; while the conditions under which both master and slave were educated were such as to render each of them ready to increase the moral degradation of the other. We are accustomed to regard with well-merited abhorrence and abomination the horrors of modern slavery as practiced until recently in America, and as still practiced in Egypt, Persia, Turkey, and Arabia. But it may be doubted whether all the horrors of modern slavery are to be compared with the horrors of the slavery of ancient Rome.

From a political point of view it may be admitted that the institution of slavery has in past ages played a useful part in the history of mankind. It has mitigated the cruelties of barbaric warfare. It was more merciful to enslave a prisoner than to sacrifice him to the gods, or to torture him to death, or to eat him. And the enslaved prisoner and the warrior who had captured him, at once became mutually useful to one another. The warrior protected his slave from attack, and the slave by his labor left the warrior free to protect him. Thus each did something for the benefit of the other and of the society in which they lived.

But when we look at the institution from a moral point of view, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that its effects have been wholly evil.

(1) It has been fatal to one of the most wholesome of human beliefs, the belief in the dignity of labor. Labor was irksome, and therefore assigned to the slave, and consequently came to be regarded as degrading. Thus the freeman lost the ennobling discipline of toil; and to the slave toil was not ennobling, because every one treated it as a degradation.

(2) It has been disastrous to the personal character of the master. The possession of absolute power is always dangerous to our nature. Greek writers are never tired of insisting upon this in connection with the rule of despots over citizens. Strangely enough they did not see that the principle remained the same whether the autocrat was ruler of a state or of a household. In either case he almost inevitably became a tyrant, incapable of self-control, and the constant victim of flattery. And in some ways the domestic tyrant was the worse of the two. There was no public opinion to keep him in check, and his tyranny could exercise itself in every detail of daily life.

(3) It has been disastrous to the personal character of the slave. Accustomed to be looked upon as an inferior and scarcely human being, always at the beck and call of another, and that for the most menial services, the slave lost all self-respect. His natural weapon was deceit; and his chief, if not his only, pleasure was the gratification of his lowest appetites. The household slave not infrequently divided his time between pandering to his master’s passions and gratifying his own.

(4) It has been ruinous to family life. If it did not trouble the relation between husband and wife, it poisoned the atmosphere in which they lived and in which their children were reared. The younger generation inevitably suffered. Even if they did not learn cruelty from their parents, and deceit and sensuality from the slaves, they lost delicacy of feeling by seeing human things treated like brute beasts, and by being constantly in the society of those whom they were taught to despise. Even Plato, in recommending that slaves should be treated justly and with a view to their moral improvement, says that they must always be punished for their faults, and not reproved like freemen, which only makes them conceited; and one should use no language to them but that of command.

These evils, which are inherent in the very nature of slavery, were intensified a hundredfold by Roman legislation, and by the condition of Roman society in the first century of the Christian era. Slavery, which began by being a mitigation of the barbarities of warfare, ended in becoming an augmentation of them. Although a single campaign would sometimes bring in many thousands of captives who were sold into slavery, yet war did not procure slaves fast enough for the demand, and was supplemented by systematic man-hunts. It has been estimated that in the Roman world of St. Paul’s day the proportion of slaves to freemen was in the ratio of two, or even three, to one. It was the immense number of the slaves which led to some of the cruel customs and laws respecting them. In the country they often worked, and sometimes slept, in chains. Even in Rome under Augustus the house-porter was sometimes chained. And by a decree of the Senate, if the master was murdered by a slave, all the slaves of the household were put to death. The four hundred slaves of Pedanius Secundus were executed under this enactment in A.D. 61, in which year St. Paul was probably in Rome. Public protest was made; but the Senate decided that the law must take its course. The rabble of slaves could only be kept in check by fear. Again, if the master was accused of a crime, he could surrender his slaves to be tortured in order to prove his innocence.

But it would be a vile task to rehearse all the horrors and abominations to which the cruelty and lust of wealthy Roman men and women subjected their slaves. The bloody sports of the gladiatorial shows and the indecent products of the Roman stage were partly the effect and partly the cause of the frightful character of Roman slavery. The gladiators and the actors were slaves especially trained for these debasing exhibitions; and Roman nobles and Roman ladies, brutalized and polluted by witnessing them, went home to give vent among the slaves of their own households to the passions which the circus and the theatre had roused. And this was the system which St. Paul left unattacked and undenounced. He never in so many words expresses any authoritative condemnation or personal abhorrence of it. This is all the more remarkable when we remember St. Paul’s enthusiastic and sympathetic temperament; and the fact is one more proof of the divine inspiration of Scripture.

That slavery, as he saw it, must often have excited the most intense indignation and distress in his heart we cannot doubt; and yet he was guided not to give his sanction to remedies which would certainly have been violent and possibly ineffectual. To have preached that the Christian master must let his slaves go free, would have been to preach that slaves had a right to freedom; and the slave would understand that to mean that, if freedom was not granted, he might take this right of his by force. Of all wars, a servile war is perhaps the most frightful; and we may be thankful that none of those who first preached the Gospel gave their sanction to any such movement. The sudden abolition of slavery in the first century would have meant the shipwreck of society. Neither master nor slave was fit for any such change. A long course of education was needed before so radical a reform could be successfully accomplished. It has been pointed out as one of the chief marks of the Divine character of the Gospel, that it never appeals to the spirit of political revolution. It does not denounce abuses; but it insists upon principles which will necessarily lead to their abolition.

This was precisely what St. Paul did in dealing with the gigantic cancer which was draining the forces, economical, political, and moral, of Roman society. He did not tell the slave that he was oppressed and outraged. He did not tell the master that to buy and sell human beings was a violation of the rights of man. But he inspired both of them with sentiments which rendered the permanence of the unrighteous relation between them impossible. To many a Roman it would have seemed nothing less than robbery and revolution to tell him "You have no right to own these persons; you must free your slaves." St. Paul, without attacking the rights of property or existing laws and customs, spoke a far higher word, and one which sooner or later must carry freedom with it, when he said, "You must love your slaves." All the moral abominations which had clustered round slavery, -idleness, deceit, cruelty, and lust, -he denounced unsparingly; but for their own sake, not because of their connection with this iniquitous institution. The social arrangements which allowed and encouraged slavery he did not denounce. He left it to the principles which he preached gradually to reform them. Slavery cannot continue when the brotherhood of all mankind, and the equality of all men in Christ, have been realized. And long before slavery is abolished it is made more humane, wherever Christian principles are brought to bear upon it. Even before Christianity in the person of Constantine ascended the imperial throne, it had influenced public opinion in the right direction. Seneca and Plutarch are much more humane in their views of slavery than earlier writers are; and under the Antonines the power of life and death over slaves was transferred from their masters to the magistrates. Constantine went much further, and Justinian further still, in ameliorating the condition of slaves and encouraging emancipation. Thus slowly but surely, this monstrous evil is being eradicated from society; and it is one of the many beauties of the Gospel in comparison with Islam, that whereas Mahometanism has consecrated slavery, and given it a permanent religious sanction, Christianity has steadfastly abolished it. It is among the chief glories of the present century that it has seen the abolition of slavery in the British empire, the emancipation of the serfs in Russia, and the emancipation of the Negroes in the United States. And we may safely assert that these tardy removals of a great social evil would never have been accomplished but for the principles which St. Paul preached, at the very time that he was allowing Christian masters to retain their slaves, and bidding Christian slaves to honor and obey their heathen masters.

The Apostle’s injunctions to slaves who have Christian masters is worthy of special attention: it indicates one of the evils which would certainly have become serious, had the Apostles set to work to preach emancipation. The slaves being in almost all cases quite unfitted for a life of freedom, wholesale emancipation would have flooded society with crowds of persons quite unable to make a decent use of their newly acquired liberty. The sudden change in their condition would have been too great for their self-control. Indeed we gather from what St. Paul says here, that the acceptance of the principles of Christianity in some cases threw them off their balance. He charges Christian slaves who have Christian masters not to despise them. Evidently this was a temptation which he foresaw, even if it was not a fault which he had sometimes observed. To be told that he and his master were brethren, and to find that his master accepted this view of their relationship, was more than the poor slave in some instances could bear. He had been educated to believe that he was an inferior order of being, having scarcely anything in common, excepting a human form and passions, with his master. And, whether he accepted this belief or not, he had found himself systematically treated as it were indisputable. When, therefore, he was assured, as one of the first principles of his new faith, that he was not only human like his master, but in God’s family was his master’s equal and brother; above all, when he had a Christian master who not only shared this new faith, but acted upon it and treated him as a brother, then his head was in danger of being turned. The rebound from groveling fear to terms of equality and affection was too much for him; and the old attitude of cringing terror was exchanged not for respectful loyalty, but for contempt. He began to despise the master who had ceased to make himself terrible. All this shows how dangerous sudden changes of social relationships are; and how warily we need to go to work in order to bring about a reform of those which most plainly need readjustment; and it adds greatly to our admiration of the wisdom of the Apostle and our gratitude to Him who inspired him with such wisdom, to see that in dealing with this difficult problem he does not allow his sympathies to outrun his judgment, and does not attempt to cure a longstanding evil, which had entwined its roots round the very foundations of society, by any rapid or violent process. All men are by natural right free. Granted. All men are by creation children of God, and by redemption brethren in Christ. Granted. But it is worse than useless to give: freedom suddenly to those who from their birth have been deprived of it, and do not yet know what use to make of it; and to give the position of children and brethren all at once to outcasts who cannot understand what such privileges mean.

St. Paul tells the slave that freedom is a thing: to be desired; but still more that it is a thing to be deserved. "While you are still under the yoke prove yourselves worthy of it and capable of bearing it. In becoming Christians you have become Christ’s freemen. Show that you can enjoy that liberty without abusing it. If it leads you to treat a heathen master with disdain, because he has it not, then you give him an opportunity of blaspheming God and your holy religion; for he can say, ‘What a vile creed this must be, which makes servants haughty and disrespectful!’ If it leads you to treat a Christian master with contemptuous familiarity, because he recognizes you as a brother whom he must love, then you are turning upside down the obligation which a common faith imposes on you. That he is a fellow Christian is a reason why you, should treat him with more reverence, not less."

This is ever the burden of his exhortation to slaves. He bids Timothy to insist upon it. He tells Titus to do the same. [Titus 2:9-10] Slaves were in special danger of misunderstanding what the liberty of the Gospel meant. It is not for a moment to be supposed that it cancels any existing obligations of a slave to his master. No hint is to be given them that they have a right to demand emancipation, or would be justified in running away. Let them learn to behave as the Lord’s freemen. Let their masters learn to behave as the Lord’s bond-servants. When these principles have worked themselves out, slavery will have ceased to be.

That day has not yet come, but the progress already made, especially during the present century, leads us to hope that it may be near. But the extinction of slavery will not deprive St. Paul’s treatment of it of its practical interest and value. His inspired wisdom in dealing with this problem ought to be our guide in dealing with the scarcely less momentous problems which confront us at the present day. We have social difficulties to deal with, whose magnitude and character make them not unlike that of slavery in the first ages of Christianity. There are the relations between capital and labor, the prodigious inequalities in the distribution of wealth, the degradation which is involved in the crowding of population in the great centers of industry. In attempting to remedy such things, let us, while we catch enthusiasm from St. Paul’s sympathetic zeal, not forget his patience and discretion. Monstrous evils are not, like giants in the old romances, to be slain at a blow. They are deeply rooted; and if we attempt to tear them up, we may pull up the foundations of society along with them. We must be content to work slowly and without violence. We have no right to preach revolution and plunder to those who are suffering from undeserved poverty, any more than St. Paul had to preach revolt to the slaves. Drastic remedies of that kind will cause much enmity, and perhaps bloodshed, in the carrying out, and will work no permanent cure in the end. It is incredible that the well-being of mankind can be promoted by stirring up ill-will and hatred between a suffering class and those who seem to have it in their power to relieve them. Charity, we know, never faileth; but neither Scripture nor experience has taught us that violence is a sure road to success. We need more faith in the principles of Christianity and in their power to promote happiness as well as godliness. What is required is not a sudden redistribution of wealth, or laws to prevent its accumulation, but a proper appreciation of its value. Rich and poor alike have yet to learn what is really worth having in this world. It is not wealth, but happiness. And happiness is to be found neither in gaining, nor in possessing, nor in spending money, but in being useful. To serve others, to spend and be spent for them, -that is the ideal to place before mankind; and just in proportion as it is reached, will the frightful inequalities between class and class, between man and man, cease to be. It is a lesson that takes much teaching and much learning. Meanwhile it seems a terrible thing to leave whole generations suffering from destitution, just as it was a terrible thing to leave whole generations groaning in slavery. But a general manumission would not have helped matters then; and a general distribution to the indigent would not help matters now. The remedy adopted then was a slow one, but it has been efficacious. The master was not told to emancipate his slave, and the slave was not told to run away from his master; but each was charged to behave to the other, the master in commanding and the slave in obeying, as Christian to Christian in the sight of God. Let us not doubt that the same remedy now, if faithfully applied, will be not less effectual. Do not tell the rich man that he must share his wealth with those who have nothing. Do not tell the poor man that he has a right to a share, and may seize it, if it is not given. But by precept and example show to both alike that the one thing worth living for is to promote the well-being of others. And let the experience of the past convince us that any remedy which involves a violent reconstruction of society is sure to be dangerous and may easily prove futile.


Verses 5-7

Chapter 17

THE GAIN OF A LOVE OF GODLINESS, AND THE UNGODLINESS OF A LOVE OF GAIN. - 1 Timothy 6:5-7; 1 Timothy 6:17-19

IT is evident that the subject of avarice is much in the Apostle’s mind during the writing of the last portion of this Epistle. He comes upon it here in connection with the teachers of false doctrine, and speaks strongly on the subject. Then he writes what appears to be a solemn conclusion to the letter (1 Timothy 6:11-16). And then, as if he was oppressed by the danger of large possessions as promoting an avaricious spirit, he charges Timothy to warn the wealthy against the folly and wickedness of selfish hoarding. He, as it were, reopens his letter in order to add this charge, and then writes a second conclusion. He cannot feel happy until he has driven home this lesson about the right way of making gain, and the right way of laying up treasure. It is such a common heresy, and such a fatal one, to believe that gold is wealth, and that wealth is the chief good.

"Wranglings of men corrupted in mind and bereft of the truth." That is how St. Paul describes the "dissidence of dissent," as it was known to him by grievous experience. There were men who had once been in possession of a sound mind, whereby to recognize and grasp the truth; and they had grasped the truth, and for a time retained it. But they had "given heed to seducing spirits," and had allowed themselves to be robbed of both these treasures, - not only the truth, but the mental power of appreciating the truth. And what had they in the place of what they had lost? Incessant contentions among themselves. Having lost the truth, they had no longer any center of agreement. Error is manifold and its paths are labyrinthine. When two minds desert the truth there is no reason why they should remain in harmony any more; and each has a right to believe that his own substitute for the truth is the only one worth considering. As proof that their soundness of mind is gone, and that they are far away from the truth, St. Paul states the fact that they suppose that godliness is a way of gain.

It is well known that the scholars whose labors during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries produced at last the Authorized Version, were not masters of the force of the Greek article. Its uses had not yet been analyzed in the thorough way in which they have been analyzed in the present century. Perhaps the text before us is the most remarkable among the numerous errors which are the result of this imperfect knowledge. It seems so strange that those who perpetrated it were not puzzled by their own mistake, and that their perplexity did not put them right. What kind of people could they have been who "supposed that gain was godliness?" Did such an idea ever before enter the head of any person? And if it did, could he have retained it? People have devoted their whole souls to gain, and have worshipped it as if it were Divine. But no man ever yet believed, or acted as if he believed, that gain was godliness. To make money-getting a substitute for religion, in allowing it to become the one absorbing occupation of mind and body, is one thing-to believe it to be religion is quite another.

But what St. Paul says of the opinions of these perverted men is exactly the converse of this: not that they supposed "gain to be godliness," but that they supposed "godliness to be a means of gain." They considered godliness, or rather the "form of godliness" which was all that they really possessed, to be a profitable investment. Christianity to them was a "profession" in the mercantile sense, and a profession that paid: and they embarked upon it, just as they would upon any other speculation which offered equally good hopes of being remunerative.

The Apostle takes up this perverted and mean view of religion, and shows that in a higher sense it is perfectly true. Just as Caiaphas; while meaning to express a base and cold-blooded policy of expediency, had given utterance to a profound truth about Christ, so these false teachers had got hold of principles which could be formulated so as to express a profound truth about Christ’s religion. There is a very real sense in which godliness (genuine godliness and not the mere externals of it) is even in this world a fruitful source of gain. Honesty, so long as it be not practiced merely as a policy, is the best policy. "Righteousness exalteth a nation": it invariably pays in the long run. And so "Godliness with contentment is great gain." They suppose that godliness is a good investment:-in quite a different sense from that which they have in their minds, it really is so. And the reason of this is manifest.

It has already been shown that "godliness is profitable for all things." It makes a man a better master, a better servant, a better citizen, and both in mind and body a healthier and therefore a stronger man. Above all it makes him a happier man; for it gives him that which is the foundation of all happiness in this life, and the foretaste of happiness in the world to come, - a good conscience. A possession of such value as this cannot be otherwise than great gain: especially if it be united, as it probably will be united, with contentment. It is in the nature of the godly man to be content with what God has given him. But godliness and contentment are not identical; and therefore, in order to make his meaning quite clear the Apostle says not merely "godliness," but "godliness with contentment." Either of these qualities far exceeds in value the profitable investment which the false teachers saw in the profession of godliness. They found that it paid; that it had a tendency to advance their wordly interests. But, after all, even mere worldly wealth does not consist in the abundance of the things which a man possesses. That man is well off who has as much as he wants; and that man is rich who has more than he wants. Wealth cannot be measured by any absolute standard. We cannot name an income to rise above which is riches, and to fall below which is poverty. Nor is it enough to take into account the unavoidable calls which are made upon the man’s purse, in order to know whether he is well off or not: we must also know something of his desires. When all legitimate claims have been discharged, is he satisfied with what remains for his own use? Is he contented? If he is, then he is indeed well to do. If he is not, then the chief element of wealth is still lacking to him.

The Apostle goes on to enforce the truth of the statement that even in this world godliness with contentment is a most valuable possession, far superior to a large income: and to urge that, even from the point of view of earthly prosperity and happiness, those people make a fatal mistake who devote themselves to the accumulation of wealth, without placing any check upon their growing and tormenting desires, and without knowing how to make a good use of the wealth which they are accumulating. With a view to enforce all this he repeats two well-known and indisputable propositions: "We brought nothing into the world" and "We can carry nothing out." As to the words which connect these two propositions in the original Greek, there seems to be some primitive error which we cannot now correct with any certainty. We are not sure whether one proposition is given as a reason for accepting the other, and, if so, which is premise and which is conclusion. But this is of no moment. Each statement singly has been abundantly proved by the experience of mankind, and no one would be likely to dispute either. One of the earliest books ill human literature has them as its opening moral. "Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither," are Job’s words in the day of his utter ruin; and they have been assented to by millions of hearts ever since.

"We brought nothing into the world." What right then have we to be discontented with what has since been given to us? "We can take nothing out." What folly, therefore, to spend all our time in amassing wealth, which at the time of our departure we shall be obliged to leave behind us! There is the case against avarice in a nutshell. Never contented. Never knowing what it is to rest and be thankful.

Always nervously anxious about the preservation of what has been gained, and laboriously toiling in order to augment it. What a contrast to the godly man, who has found true independence in a trustful dependence upon the God Whom he serves! Godliness with contentment is indeed great gain.

There is perhaps no more striking example of the incorrigible perversity of human nature than the fact that, in spite of all experience to the contrary, generation after generation continues to look upon mere wealth as the thing best worth striving after. Century after century we find men telling us, often with much emphasis and bitterness, that great possessions are an imposture, that they promise happiness and never give it. And yet those very men continue to devote their whole energies to the retention and increase of their possessions: or, if they do not, they hardly ever succeed in convincing others that happiness is not to be found in such things. If they could succeed, there would be far more contented, and therefore far more happy people in the world than can be found at present. It is chiefly the desire for greater temporal advantages than we have at present that makes us discontented. We should be a long way on the road to contentment, if we could thoroughly convince ourselves that what are commonly called temporal advantages such as large possessions, rank, power, honors, and the like-are on the whole not advantages; that they more often detract from this world’s joys than augment them, while they are always a serious danger, and sometimes a grievous impediment, in reference to the joys of the world to come.

What man of wealth and position does not feel day by day the worries and anxieties and obligations which his riches and rank impose upon him? Does he not often wish that he could retire to some cottage and there live quietly on a few hundreds a year, and sometimes even seriously think of doing it. But at other times he fancies that his unrest and disquiet are owing to his not having enough. If he could only have some thousands a year added to his present income, then he would cease to be anxious about the future; he could afford to lose some and still have sufficient. If he could only attain to a higher position in society, then he would feel secure from detraction or serious downfall; he would be able to treat with unconcerned neglect the criticisms which are now such a source of annoyance to him. And in most cases this latter view prevails. What determines his conduct is not the well-grounded suspicion that he already has more than is good for him; that it is his abundance which is destroying his peace of mind; but a baseless conviction that an increase of the gifts of this world will win for him the happiness that he has failed to secure. The experience of the past rarely destroys this fallacy. He knows that his enjoyment of life has not increased with his fortune. Perhaps he can see clearly that he was a happier man when he possessed much less. But, nevertheless, he still cherishes the belief that with a few things more he would be contented, and for those few things more he continues to slave. There is no man in this world that has not found out over and over again that success, even the most complete success, in the attainment of any worldly desire, however innocent or laudable, does not bring the permanent satisfaction which was anticipated.

Sooner or later the feeling of satiety, and therefore of disappointment, must set in. And of all the countless thousands who have had this experience, how few there are who have been able to draw the right conclusion, and to act upon it!

And when we take into account the difficulties and dangers which a large increase in the things of this world places in the way of our advance towards moral and spiritual perfection, we have a still stronger case against the fallacy that increase of wealth brings an increase in well-being. The care of the things which we possess takes up thought and time, which could be far more happily employed on nobler objects; and it leads us gradually into the practical conviction that these nobler objects, which have so continually to be neglected in order to make room for other cares, are really of less importance. It is impossible to go on ignoring the claims which intellectual and spiritual exercises have upon our attention without becoming less alive to those claims. We become, not contented, but self-sufficient in the worst sense. We acquiesce in the low and narrow aims which a devotion to worldly advancement has imposed upon us. We habitually act as if there were no other life but this one; and consequently we cease to take much interest in the other life beyond the grave; while even as regards the things of this world our interests become confined to those objects which can gratify our absorbing desire for financial prosperity.

Nor does the mischief done to our best moral and spiritual interests end here; especially if we are what the world calls successful. The man who steadily devotes himself to the advancement of his worldly position, and who succeeds in a very marked way in raising himself, is likely to acquire in the process a kind of brutal self-confidence, very detrimental to his character. He started with nothing, and he now has a fortune. He was once a shop-boy, and he is now a country gentleman. And he has done it all by his own shrewdness, energy, and perseverance. The result is that he makes no account of Providence, and very little of the far greater merits of less conspicuously successful men. A contempt for men and things that would have given him a higher view of this life, and some idea of a better life, is the penalty which he pays for his disastrous prosperity.

But his case is one of the most hopeless, whose desire for worldly advantages has settled down into a mere love of money. The worldly man, whose leading ambition is to rise to a more prominent place in society, to outshine his neighbors in the appointments of his house and in the splendor of his entertainments, to be of importance on all public occasions, and the like, is morally in a far less desperate condition than the miser. There is no vice more deadening to every noble and tender feeling than avarice. It is capable of extinguishing all mercy, all pity, all natural affection. It can make the claims of the suffering and sorrowful, even when they are combined with those of an old friend, or a wife, or a child, fall on deaf ears. It can banish from the heart not only all love, but all shame and self-respect. What does the miser care for the execrations of outraged society, so long as he can keep his gold? There is no heartless or mean act, and very often no deed of fraud or violence, from which he will shrink in order to augment or preserve his hoards. Assuredly the Apostle is right when he calls the love of money a "root of all kinds of evil." There is no iniquity to which it does not form one of the nearest roads. Every criminal who wants an accomplice can have the avaricious man as his helper, if he only bids high enough.

And note that, unlike almost every other vice, it never loses its hold: its deadly grip is never for an instant relaxed. The selfish man can at a crisis become self-sacrificing, at any rate for a time. The sensualist has his moments when his nobler nature gets the better of his passions, and he spares those whom he thought to make his victims. The drunkard can sometimes be lured by affection or innocent enjoyments to forego the gratification of his craving. And there are times when even pride, that watchful and subtle foe, sleeps at its post and suffers humble thoughts to enter. But the demon avarice never slumbers, and is never off its guard. When it has once taken full possession of a man’s heart, neither love, nor pity, nor shame, can ever surprise it into an act of generosity. We all of us have our impulses; and however little we may act upon them, we are conscious that some of our impulses are generous. Some of the worst of us could lay claim to as much as that. But the miser’s nature is poisoned at its very source. Even his impulses are tainted. Sights and sounds which make other hardened sinners at least wish to help, if only to relieve their own distress at such pitiful things, make him instinctively tighten his purse-strings. Gold is his god; and there is no god who exacts from his worshippers such undivided and unceasing devotion. Family, friends, country, comfort, health, and honor must all be sacrificed at its shrine. Certainly the lust for gold is one of those "foolish and hurtful lusts, such as drown men in destruction and perdition."

In wealthy Ephesus, with its abundant commerce, the desire to be rich was a common passion; and St. Paul feared-perhaps he knew-that in the Church in Ephesus the mischief was present and increasing. Hence this earnest reiteration of strong warnings against it. Hence the reopening of the letter in order to tell Timothy to charge the rich not to be self-confident and arrogant, not to trust in the wealth which may fail them, but in the God Who cannot do so; and to remind them that the only way to make riches secure is to give them to God and to His work. The wealthy heathen in Ephesus were accustomed to deposit their treasures with "the great goddess Diana," whose temple was both a sanctuary and a bank. Let Christian merchants deposit theirs with God by being "rich in good works"; so that when He called them to Himself, they might receive their own with usury, and "lay hold on the life which is life indeed."


Verses 17-19

elete_me 1 Timothy 6:17-19

Chapter 17

THE GAIN OF A LOVE OF GODLINESS, AND THE UNGODLINESS OF A LOVE OF GAIN. - 1 Timothy 6:5-7; 1 Timothy 6:17-19

IT is evident that the subject of avarice is much in the Apostle’s mind during the writing of the last portion of this Epistle. He comes upon it here in connection with the teachers of false doctrine, and speaks strongly on the subject. Then he writes what appears to be a solemn conclusion to the letter (1 Timothy 6:11-16). And then, as if he was oppressed by the danger of large possessions as promoting an avaricious spirit, he charges Timothy to warn the wealthy against the folly and wickedness of selfish hoarding. He, as it were, reopens his letter in order to add this charge, and then writes a second conclusion. He cannot feel happy until he has driven home this lesson about the right way of making gain, and the right way of laying up treasure. It is such a common heresy, and such a fatal one, to believe that gold is wealth, and that wealth is the chief good.

"Wranglings of men corrupted in mind and bereft of the truth." That is how St. Paul describes the "dissidence of dissent," as it was known to him by grievous experience. There were men who had once been in possession of a sound mind, whereby to recognize and grasp the truth; and they had grasped the truth, and for a time retained it. But they had "given heed to seducing spirits," and had allowed themselves to be robbed of both these treasures, - not only the truth, but the mental power of appreciating the truth. And what had they in the place of what they had lost? Incessant contentions among themselves. Having lost the truth, they had no longer any center of agreement. Error is manifold and its paths are labyrinthine. When two minds desert the truth there is no reason why they should remain in harmony any more; and each has a right to believe that his own substitute for the truth is the only one worth considering. As proof that their soundness of mind is gone, and that they are far away from the truth, St. Paul states the fact that they suppose that godliness is a way of gain.

It is well known that the scholars whose labors during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries produced at last the Authorized Version, were not masters of the force of the Greek article. Its uses had not yet been analyzed in the thorough way in which they have been analyzed in the present century. Perhaps the text before us is the most remarkable among the numerous errors which are the result of this imperfect knowledge. It seems so strange that those who perpetrated it were not puzzled by their own mistake, and that their perplexity did not put them right. What kind of people could they have been who "supposed that gain was godliness?" Did such an idea ever before enter the head of any person? And if it did, could he have retained it? People have devoted their whole souls to gain, and have worshipped it as if it were Divine. But no man ever yet believed, or acted as if he believed, that gain was godliness. To make money-getting a substitute for religion, in allowing it to become the one absorbing occupation of mind and body, is one thing-to believe it to be religion is quite another.

But what St. Paul says of the opinions of these perverted men is exactly the converse of this: not that they supposed "gain to be godliness," but that they supposed "godliness to be a means of gain." They considered godliness, or rather the "form of godliness" which was all that they really possessed, to be a profitable investment. Christianity to them was a "profession" in the mercantile sense, and a profession that paid: and they embarked upon it, just as they would upon any other speculation which offered equally good hopes of being remunerative.

The Apostle takes up this perverted and mean view of religion, and shows that in a higher sense it is perfectly true. Just as Caiaphas; while meaning to express a base and cold-blooded policy of expediency, had given utterance to a profound truth about Christ, so these false teachers had got hold of principles which could be formulated so as to express a profound truth about Christ’s religion. There is a very real sense in which godliness (genuine godliness and not the mere externals of it) is even in this world a fruitful source of gain. Honesty, so long as it be not practiced merely as a policy, is the best policy. "Righteousness exalteth a nation": it invariably pays in the long run. And so "Godliness with contentment is great gain." They suppose that godliness is a good investment:-in quite a different sense from that which they have in their minds, it really is so. And the reason of this is manifest.

It has already been shown that "godliness is profitable for all things." It makes a man a better master, a better servant, a better citizen, and both in mind and body a healthier and therefore a stronger man. Above all it makes him a happier man; for it gives him that which is the foundation of all happiness in this life, and the foretaste of happiness in the world to come, - a good conscience. A possession of such value as this cannot be otherwise than great gain: especially if it be united, as it probably will be united, with contentment. It is in the nature of the godly man to be content with what God has given him. But godliness and contentment are not identical; and therefore, in order to make his meaning quite clear the Apostle says not merely "godliness," but "godliness with contentment." Either of these qualities far exceeds in value the profitable investment which the false teachers saw in the profession of godliness. They found that it paid; that it had a tendency to advance their wordly interests. But, after all, even mere worldly wealth does not consist in the abundance of the things which a man possesses. That man is well off who has as much as he wants; and that man is rich who has more than he wants. Wealth cannot be measured by any absolute standard. We cannot name an income to rise above which is riches, and to fall below which is poverty. Nor is it enough to take into account the unavoidable calls which are made upon the man’s purse, in order to know whether he is well off or not: we must also know something of his desires. When all legitimate claims have been discharged, is he satisfied with what remains for his own use? Is he contented? If he is, then he is indeed well to do. If he is not, then the chief element of wealth is still lacking to him.

The Apostle goes on to enforce the truth of the statement that even in this world godliness with contentment is a most valuable possession, far superior to a large income: and to urge that, even from the point of view of earthly prosperity and happiness, those people make a fatal mistake who devote themselves to the accumulation of wealth, without placing any check upon their growing and tormenting desires, and without knowing how to make a good use of the wealth which they are accumulating. With a view to enforce all this he repeats two well-known and indisputable propositions: "We brought nothing into the world" and "We can carry nothing out." As to the words which connect these two propositions in the original Greek, there seems to be some primitive error which we cannot now correct with any certainty. We are not sure whether one proposition is given as a reason for accepting the other, and, if so, which is premise and which is conclusion. But this is of no moment. Each statement singly has been abundantly proved by the experience of mankind, and no one would be likely to dispute either. One of the earliest books ill human literature has them as its opening moral. "Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither," are Job’s words in the day of his utter ruin; and they have been assented to by millions of hearts ever since.

"We brought nothing into the world." What right then have we to be discontented with what has since been given to us? "We can take nothing out." What folly, therefore, to spend all our time in amassing wealth, which at the time of our departure we shall be obliged to leave behind us! There is the case against avarice in a nutshell. Never contented. Never knowing what it is to rest and be thankful.

Always nervously anxious about the preservation of what has been gained, and laboriously toiling in order to augment it. What a contrast to the godly man, who has found true independence in a trustful dependence upon the God Whom he serves! Godliness with contentment is indeed great gain.

There is perhaps no more striking example of the incorrigible perversity of human nature than the fact that, in spite of all experience to the contrary, generation after generation continues to look upon mere wealth as the thing best worth striving after. Century after century we find men telling us, often with much emphasis and bitterness, that great possessions are an imposture, that they promise happiness and never give it. And yet those very men continue to devote their whole energies to the retention and increase of their possessions: or, if they do not, they hardly ever succeed in convincing others that happiness is not to be found in such things. If they could succeed, there would be far more contented, and therefore far more happy people in the world than can be found at present. It is chiefly the desire for greater temporal advantages than we have at present that makes us discontented. We should be a long way on the road to contentment, if we could thoroughly convince ourselves that what are commonly called temporal advantages such as large possessions, rank, power, honors, and the like-are on the whole not advantages; that they more often detract from this world’s joys than augment them, while they are always a serious danger, and sometimes a grievous impediment, in reference to the joys of the world to come.

What man of wealth and position does not feel day by day the worries and anxieties and obligations which his riches and rank impose upon him? Does he not often wish that he could retire to some cottage and there live quietly on a few hundreds a year, and sometimes even seriously think of doing it. But at other times he fancies that his unrest and disquiet are owing to his not having enough. If he could only have some thousands a year added to his present income, then he would cease to be anxious about the future; he could afford to lose some and still have sufficient. If he could only attain to a higher position in society, then he would feel secure from detraction or serious downfall; he would be able to treat with unconcerned neglect the criticisms which are now such a source of annoyance to him. And in most cases this latter view prevails. What determines his conduct is not the well-grounded suspicion that he already has more than is good for him; that it is his abundance which is destroying his peace of mind; but a baseless conviction that an increase of the gifts of this world will win for him the happiness that he has failed to secure. The experience of the past rarely destroys this fallacy. He knows that his enjoyment of life has not increased with his fortune. Perhaps he can see clearly that he was a happier man when he possessed much less. But, nevertheless, he still cherishes the belief that with a few things more he would be contented, and for those few things more he continues to slave. There is no man in this world that has not found out over and over again that success, even the most complete success, in the attainment of any worldly desire, however innocent or laudable, does not bring the permanent satisfaction which was anticipated.

Sooner or later the feeling of satiety, and therefore of disappointment, must set in. And of all the countless thousands who have had this experience, how few there are who have been able to draw the right conclusion, and to act upon it!

And when we take into account the difficulties and dangers which a large increase in the things of this world places in the way of our advance towards moral and spiritual perfection, we have a still stronger case against the fallacy that increase of wealth brings an increase in well-being. The care of the things which we possess takes up thought and time, which could be far more happily employed on nobler objects; and it leads us gradually into the practical conviction that these nobler objects, which have so continually to be neglected in order to make room for other cares, are really of less importance. It is impossible to go on ignoring the claims which intellectual and spiritual exercises have upon our attention without becoming less alive to those claims. We become, not contented, but self-sufficient in the worst sense. We acquiesce in the low and narrow aims which a devotion to worldly advancement has imposed upon us. We habitually act as if there were no other life but this one; and consequently we cease to take much interest in the other life beyond the grave; while even as regards the things of this world our interests become confined to those objects which can gratify our absorbing desire for financial prosperity.

Nor does the mischief done to our best moral and spiritual interests end here; especially if we are what the world calls successful. The man who steadily devotes himself to the advancement of his worldly position, and who succeeds in a very marked way in raising himself, is likely to acquire in the process a kind of brutal self-confidence, very detrimental to his character. He started with nothing, and he now has a fortune. He was once a shop-boy, and he is now a country gentleman. And he has done it all by his own shrewdness, energy, and perseverance. The result is that he makes no account of Providence, and very little of the far greater merits of less conspicuously successful men. A contempt for men and things that would have given him a higher view of this life, and some idea of a better life, is the penalty which he pays for his disastrous prosperity.

But his case is one of the most hopeless, whose desire for worldly advantages has settled down into a mere love of money. The worldly man, whose leading ambition is to rise to a more prominent place in society, to outshine his neighbors in the appointments of his house and in the splendor of his entertainments, to be of importance on all public occasions, and the like, is morally in a far less desperate condition than the miser. There is no vice more deadening to every noble and tender feeling than avarice. It is capable of extinguishing all mercy, all pity, all natural affection. It can make the claims of the suffering and sorrowful, even when they are combined with those of an old friend, or a wife, or a child, fall on deaf ears. It can banish from the heart not only all love, but all shame and self-respect. What does the miser care for the execrations of outraged society, so long as he can keep his gold? There is no heartless or mean act, and very often no deed of fraud or violence, from which he will shrink in order to augment or preserve his hoards. Assuredly the Apostle is right when he calls the love of money a "root of all kinds of evil." There is no iniquity to which it does not form one of the nearest roads. Every criminal who wants an accomplice can have the avaricious man as his helper, if he only bids high enough.

And note that, unlike almost every other vice, it never loses its hold: its deadly grip is never for an instant relaxed. The selfish man can at a crisis become self-sacrificing, at any rate for a time. The sensualist has his moments when his nobler nature gets the better of his passions, and he spares those whom he thought to make his victims. The drunkard can sometimes be lured by affection or innocent enjoyments to forego the gratification of his craving. And there are times when even pride, that watchful and subtle foe, sleeps at its post and suffers humble thoughts to enter. But the demon avarice never slumbers, and is never off its guard. When it has once taken full possession of a man’s heart, neither love, nor pity, nor shame, can ever surprise it into an act of generosity. We all of us have our impulses; and however little we may act upon them, we are conscious that some of our impulses are generous. Some of the worst of us could lay claim to as much as that. But the miser’s nature is poisoned at its very source. Even his impulses are tainted. Sights and sounds which make other hardened sinners at least wish to help, if only to relieve their own distress at such pitiful things, make him instinctively tighten his purse-strings. Gold is his god; and there is no god who exacts from his worshippers such undivided and unceasing devotion. Family, friends, country, comfort, health, and honor must all be sacrificed at its shrine. Certainly the lust for gold is one of those "foolish and hurtful lusts, such as drown men in destruction and perdition."

In wealthy Ephesus, with its abundant commerce, the desire to be rich was a common passion; and St. Paul feared-perhaps he knew-that in the Church in Ephesus the mischief was present and increasing. Hence this earnest reiteration of strong warnings against it. Hence the reopening of the letter in order to tell Timothy to charge the rich not to be self-confident and arrogant, not to trust in the wealth which may fail them, but in the God Who cannot do so; and to remind them that the only way to make riches secure is to give them to God and to His work. The wealthy heathen in Ephesus were accustomed to deposit their treasures with "the great goddess Diana," whose temple was both a sanctuary and a bank. Let Christian merchants deposit theirs with God by being "rich in good works"; so that when He called them to Himself, they might receive their own with usury, and "lay hold on the life which is life indeed."

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 6:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/1-timothy-6.html.

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Saturday, January 25th, 2020
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