All I Need...
There’s an old story about the rich man who learns from an angel that his time on earth was at its end. The rich man asked for special permission to take his wealth with him. Of course, that violated the rules-- "you can’t take it with you." He applied for an special exemption, and wonder of wonders, it was approved. He was told that he could take one suitcase with him to heaven. So he quickly converted all his assets to gold, packed a huge steamer trunk and off he went to heaven. Of course, St. Peter was there at the pearly gates ( he always is in these stories) and stopped the man from entering, "Sorry, but we don’t allow luggage." The man produced the paperwork and said, "But I have special permission." Well, Peter was intrigued, "What do you have in there that is so important?" The man opened up the trunk stepped back proudly as Peter looked in. Peter looked up totally puzzled, "Pavement? You brought pavement?"
We have a very hard time seeing gold as only pavement, but that's what it is in heaven. But down here in the "real world," money and the things it buys is what makes the world go 'round. In a recent class I quoted Woody Allen who supposedly said, "Money is important if only for financial reasons." But we stress money for far more than mere financial reasons. For us, money is a gauge of value ("How much is he worth?") and a symbol of freedom (as in "independently wealthy"). At times we are all that guy from Jerry McGuire running around yelling, "Show me the money!"
In our reading for today from 1 Timothy 6, Paul warns us about the spiritual dangers of being that guy. He reminds us of the rule the rich man tried to get around in our story-- "We can’t take it with us." Because that rule has no exceptions, we need to be very careful how much value we place on money and the things of money. Paul says that when we love money too much, we fall headlong into Satan’s trap.
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
There’s nothing wrong be having money; later in this chapter Paul will counsel the rich on how to invest their money so that it shows up on their balance sheet in heaven (1 Tim 6:17-19). Here the warning is to those who aren’t rich but want very much to be so. When we focus too much on money and the stuff it buys, we are just too open to Satan’s temptations. Like the Rhinestone Cowboy, "There’ll be a load of compromising on the road to my horizon…" The more we focus on stuff, the less we focus on God.
So what are we supposed to do? Paul says the key is to "be content." Not just be content, but be content with having food to eat and clothes to wear. Not just content with food and clothes, but be content while realizing that not being content gives Satan a target in our lives at which to shoot his flaming arrows.
We’re all a bunch of Jerks. Or at least, we are all a lot like Steve Martin in this scene from The Jerk. It is so hard for us to be content with the things that we have. All we need is just one more thing. And the more we focus on that one more thing, the more we miss God in the process.