Everything comes with a warning these days. Open ditches might cause injuries and hot coffee is liable to burn you—good thing they’re warning us! Commercials for prescription drugs (which should make us wonder why these companies are advertising to us instead of our doctors) are almost comical in the warnings they’re required to give. Sure, this product will curb your sneezing fits, but it’s likely to make you drowsy, give you constant diarrhea, and it just might kill you.
But one of the most dangerous activities our modern world offers us—an activity that almost every single person is engaged in—comes with no warning whatsoever. Unless we read the Bible. What is this dangerous activity? Pursuing wealth.
“Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 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.” (1 Timothy 6:6–9, emphasis added)
Paul is advocating contentment here. If you have food and clothes, you’re set. Jesus reminded us that he provides these things for the birds and flowers, so we shouldn’t be worried about going without.
But Paul gives a warning to those who lack contentment, “those who desire to be rich.” What happens to them? They fall into temptation, they get caught in a snare, and they get lured into “senseless and harmful desires.” The result? These people are plunged into ruin and destruction. Yikes.
What would you say the big ticket sins are? Lust? Unfaithfulness in a relationship? Lying? Stealing? Murder? Doctrinal Error?
All are bad. All will lead you into trouble. But according to this passage, the American Dream belongs on that list. For Paul, the American Dream is nothing but a big bear trap, ready to snap down on the legs of those blinded by dollar signs.
Let me be clear. There are many things that make America great. But if we asked what most Americans share in common, if we asked what makes up the heartbeat of the American Dream, the pursuit of riches is probably the common denominator. We’re not all greedy, but we do want a little bit more. Desiring God’s good gifts glorifies the Creator, but if you find yourself driven by that nagging urge to obtain just a little more, you’re in dangerous territory.
We tend to measure success in dollar signs and potential influence. Everything about God’s economy cuts in the opposite direction. We know this. As Christians, we’ve never truly believed that happiness comes through stuff. And yet the lie is all around us. Everyone believes it. The rich in this world appear so happy, so many of our problems could be at least alleviated with an increased cash flow, everyone around us is focused on the pursuit of wealth. Given enough time and enough subtle influence, we all find ourselves in the unrelenting pursuit of riches.
So be careful. If you’ve ever wondered where that ladder you’ve spent your career climbing ends, Paul can remove the mystery for you. It doesn’t end at happiness, as you’ve been promised since birth. The ladder ends with a sharp drop. Ruin. Destruction.
It’s better not to climb that ladder at all. Or to climb it with a sharp focus on the God who is the Giver of all good gifts and the Sustainer of all who find their satisfaction in him alone. If he leads you up the ladder, then he has a purpose in doing so. If he keeps you on the bottom rung, then he will keep you better fed than the ravens and more gloriously clothed than the lilies. After all, there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.
Thanks for this article, I was just talking about this with someone today. In light of being fed better than the ravens, how do you reconcile the fact that there are Christians who starve to death? I’m not trying to troll here, this is where the conversation has ended up in the past and I’m genuinely tripped up by it.
Great question. It’s not easy to answer. But I think it helps to take Jesus’ promises about his provision in light of his total teaching, and the teaching of the whole Bible.
For example, right before saying that God feeds the ravens and therefore will feed us, he says, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life,
what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will
put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matt. 6:25). His point isn’t that we will never be hungry, but that we shouldn’t be worried. After all, life is about more than having food.
I think his statement about providing for us like the ravens gives us confidence that God can easily provide for us even when we see no possible way of being provided for. And I think his statement that life is about more than food reminds us that we shouldn’t expect to have everything we want, or even everything we need. The New Testament promises suffering, and aside from those still alive when Christ returns, we are all guaranteed death. But suffering and death are not the terrifying realities they might be, because Jesus offers us hope beyond those things.
Again, that doesn’t make it easy, but I think his point about the ravens is that God feeds even the birds, who don’t worry about their food, so worrying isn’t going to help us. If food doesn’t come, then we have a larger hope as Christians that God is doing something that we don’t understand for his greater glory.