1 Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled. 2 Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved.
Teach and urge these things. 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 But godliness with contentment is great 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. – 1 Timothy 6:1-10 ESV
As Paul begins to wrap up his letter to Timothy, he focuses his attention on godliness, a topic that was near and dear to his heart as a pastor. The Greek word for “godliness” is eusebeia (εὐσέβεια), and it refers to piety or reverence to God. In essence, godliness is the outward expression of one’s belief in God.
In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul declared his love for them and reminded them of his constant prayers for their spiritual well-being.
I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. – Ephesians 1:16-17 NLT
He knew that the key to their spiritual health would be their continued growth in godliness; the increase in their knowledge of and reverence for God.
I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. – Ephesians 1:19-20 NLT
Their belief in God was to include their belief in the power He had made available to them. Through their faith in Jesus Christ, they had access to the very same power that had raised the crucified body of Jesus back to life. And that same power could and should produce similarly miraculous changes in their own lives.
Back in chapter 3, Paul referred to godliness as a mystery (mystērion). He was stating that there was a time when the key to attaining godliness was hidden from men. The ability for anyone to truly know and reverence God was hindered. It wasn’t that they couldn’t have a relationship with God, but it simply meant that their ability to draw near to God was always hampered by indwelling sin. That was the whole reason for the sacrificial system. Sin separated mankind from God and sacrifices were required to atone for those sins. But all that changed when Jesus, the Son of God, took on human flesh. That was Paul’s point in chapter 3.
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory. – 1 Timothy 3:16 ESV
The sinless Son of God became a man and lived a perfectly godly life. He demonstrated His love and reverence for God by fully obeying His will. Paul emphasized Jesus’ godly behavior in his letter to the church in Philippi.
Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:6-8 NLT
And Paul challenged the Philippians to “have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had” (Philippians 2:5 NLT). They were to model their lives after His humility, obedience, and the selfless sacrifice of His life for the good of others.
Pau firmly believed that true godliness should make a difference in the way the believers in Ephesus lived their lives. The same power that raised Jesus back to life was available to them through the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God. And to demonstrate the practical necessity of godliness, Paul addressed three different groups of people in the church in Ephesus.
His point was to remind Timothy that the Christian faith was to be a practical part of everyday life. It was to make a difference in the way believers lived and interacted with the world around them. First, he addressed slaves – specifically those slaves who had come to faith in Christ and were now part of the body of Christ. Slavery was a ubiquitous part of the Ephesian culture. There were all kinds of slaves living and working in the community and worshiping within the congregation in Ephesus. Some of them had been sold into slavery, while others had been forced into slavery because they had been unable to pay their debts.
These slaves would have come from a variety of backgrounds and cultures. There would have been both Jewish and Gentile slaves. But the ones to whom Paul was referring were believing slaves – those who had placed their faith in Jesus Christ and were now part of the local fellowship in Ephesus. Paul encouraged Timothy to teach them to show respect to their masters and to work diligently. Paul spends no time condemning slavery or attempting to disrupt the social fabric of his day. He doesn’t condone the practice but neither does he condemn it. He simply wanted those who found themselves impacted by it to live their lives in a way that would honor God and illustrate godly behavior.
In his letter to Philemon, a Christian slave owner, Paul asked him to receive back Onesimus, one of his slaves who had run away and become a believer. Paul encouraged Philemon to view Onesimus differently.
…he is no longer like a slave to you. He is more than a slave, for he is a beloved brother, especially to me. Now he will mean much more to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord. – Philemon 1:16 NLT
Coming to faith in Christ had set Onesimus free from sin but not from slavery. In the cultural context of his day, Onesimus remained a slave and the legal property of Philemon. Faith in Christ does not always change our circumstances, but it does alter the way we should respond to them and live our lives in the midst of them. For Paul, the godly behavior of these believing slaves was of paramount importance.
…slaves should show full respect for their masters so they will not bring shame on the name of God and his teaching. – 1 Timothy 6:1 NLT
The manner in which they responded to their circumstances as believers who happened to be slaves would demonstrate their reverence for God. It would reflect their belief in and reliance upon God.
The next group Paul addressed were false teachers – those who were contradicting his teaching and stirring up “arguments ending in jealousy, division, slander, and evil suspicions” (1 Timothy 6:4 NLT). These individuals were arrogant and lacked true understanding. They had turned their back on the truth of God and were concocting their own version of spiritual reality. And their motivation was purely selfish and financially motivated. Paul said, “to them, a show of godliness is just a way to become wealthy” (1 Timothy 6:5 NLT). Their ministry was based on what they could get out of it and their godliness was all for show.
But Paul had a different understanding of godliness. It was the objective, not a means to an end. Godliness was not to be used as a device to gain respect, power, or financial gain. It was sufficient in and of itself. And when godliness was accompanied by contentment, it would prove more than profitable to an individual’s life.
…true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. – 1 Timothy 6:6 NLT
That’s why a godly slave could remain a slave and be content with his lot in life. Circumstances have little or nothing to do with godliness and should have virtually no impact on the degree of our contentment. Godliness is not dependent upon material possessions. The godly individual does not rely upon the accumulation of things to find contentment. This is why Paul writes, “So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content” (1 Timothy 6:8 NLT). The motivation of the false teachers was money. The motivation of the godly is Christ.
Paul ends up this section by talking about those who love money. Each of these three groups was part of the church in Ephesus. There were slaves, false teachers, and lovers of money participating in the body of Christ there. But not all of those who had a love affair with money were false teachers. There were obviously some in the church who had much and desired more, and there were those who had little and dreamed of becoming rich. In both cases, the love of money could prove to be dangerous.
…people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. – 1 Timothy 6:9 NLT
Their lives were not marked by contentment. They had made the accumulation of wealth their goal, rather than godliness. They had made money their provider and protector, putting it in place of God. But notice that Paul does not condemn money or wealth. He simply points out that the love of it and obsession with it are potentially harmful to the believer. The love of money can have devastating consequences on a believer’s pursuit of godliness.
True godliness is accompanied by contentment. The desire for more of anything other than Christ can be deadly to the believer. The desire for something other than Christ to fulfill our need for contentment, joy, and hope can also prove to be harmful to our spiritual maturity. Slaves needed to be content with their circumstances and live godly lives right where they were. The false teachers needed to be content with the truth of God’s Word and the message of Jesus Christ, just as it had been preached to them. And they needed to live godly lives without expecting any financial reward in return. Those who loved and longed for money were to be content with their current financial status and live godly lives regardless of how little or how much money they had.
Godliness combined with contentment is the real currency of God’s Kingdom. Like circumstances, money can be unsteady and unreliable. Both can change on a whim. And any version of the truth that doesn’t align with that of God will never produce godliness. And for Paul, a life without godliness was to be considered unthinkable for the child of God.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.