Good Means for an Evil End

He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words…imagining that godliness is a means of gain.”

- 1 Timothy 6:4b-5

Sound doctrine is one of Paul’s main concerns in 1 Timothy, for it alone cures the relational and doctrinal disease spawned by false teaching (Rom. 12:2). As we saw in 1 Timothy 1:10, the Greek words rendered as “sound doctrine” mean “health-giving doctrine.” Thus, “sound words” in 6:3 can likewise be represented in English as “health-giving words.” This life-producing teaching is given throughout the Bible, but the contents of 1 Timothy are specifically in view here; so, the apostle refers to things like the right use of the Law (1:8–11), proper sex roles (2:8–15), church officer qualifications (3:1–13), the incarnation and exaltation of Christ (vv. 14–16), personal holiness (4:11–16), and the correct behavior of widows and slaves (5:1–6:2a). When such things are practiced and taught, the church is at peace with itself and is a powerful witness to the truth.

We know this to be the case because Paul tells us in 6:4b–5 that the potentially terminal illnesses of disruption and confusion result when the church does not embrace “the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness” (v. 3). The Greek for “unhealthy craving” in verse 4 is the verb nosō, which means “sick with.” If health-giving doctrine is not the church’s concern, the diseases of envy, dissension, and the like result (vv. 3–5). These vices violate the Savior’s command to love one another and make it impossible for the world to recognize us as the disciples of Jesus who serve the one, true creator God (John 13:35). Matthew Henry comments, “When men are not content with the instruction of the Lord Jesus Christ, but will frame notions of their own and impose them, they sow the seeds of all harm in the church.”

Deprived of the truth, some even turn godliness into a means of financial gain (1 Tim. 6:5). It is right for the Lord’s-appointed shepherds to earn a living from their work (5:17–18), but not heretics who, despite their best efforts to the contrary, often offer some godly truth in the toxic mess they sell. They might profess salvation in Christ but give false promises of wealth and prosperity in order to entice people to give, or they may present the gospel as a way a person can buy his way into heaven. Such people are to be avoided at all costs.  

Coram Deo

It is amazing how many people see the gospel as a way to prosper. Rank heresy guaranteeing a hundred-fold financial reward in this life for those who “name it and claim it” permeates the airwaves. Companies emblazon “Christianesque” slogans on everything one can think of and end up making a mockery of salvation. Let us hold to the sound teaching of historic Christianity that we might never view godliness as a means of financial gain.

Passages for Further Study

Psalm 10
Proverbs 14:30
Matthew 24:24
1 John 4:1–6

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