Keep Fighting the Good Fight

Sermon 1822 1 Timothy 6.6-10, 17-19 September 18, 2022

“Fighting, fighting, fighting. Here we go again with one of those divisive sermons! Does Pieper never get sick of stirring up trouble? Why can’t we all just get along?”

Oh, you are mistaking Christianity for some other religion. Other religions seek to expand by conquest, by force of law. Oh, you are mistaking Christianity for false teachers who see trouble and danger “out there,” in the other guy’s backyard. If that were the fighting Paul and Jesus encourage us to face, battle down an external threat, then the battle should have been won long ago. Bad ideas die. The world revolves around the sun. Enemies are cut down. Napoleon’s Grand Armeé became dust and ashes littering Europe from Moscow to Waterloo. We would have been done fighting after the first three hundred years of Christianity and we would be living in a temporary heaven on earth until our reservation was called in the real heaven.

But we have to keep fighting. Victory is always elusive, always temporary. We have to keep fighting the good fight of Christianity because the battle is within us. I can prove this by pointing to Paul’s words today regarding money.

Keep Fighting the Good Fight

1. Our sinful human nature is always the problem.

2. God is always the answer.

“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 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. 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 (6-10).”

It seems so easy. You got food? You got something to cover yourself? You’re good to go! This is the Flower Children of Woodstock. This is Henry Thoreau at Walden Pond. This is the Greek and Roman pastoral paradise. This was George Carlin ranting against a place for my stuff. This is how Marie Kondo makes her living—trying to get us all to declutter! Why should this be so difficult?

It is so difficult because we want more. We hunger for more. We want to be rich, and then richer the next day. Some look for shady deals to make a killing. Others throw their whole life away in a vain attempt to strike it rich. I think of the 49ers—not the football team, the real ones, gold miners who gave up everything to strike it rich. Most didn’t. Some bend the rules, sidestep laws for a few bucks. Oh, but we wouldn’t sell black market cigarettes to avoid the tax. We wouldn’t steal an idea from a business partner to start our own social media platform. But you notice, it isn’t money that is the problem. That would be an “out there” threat and maybe the false prophets would be right. If we could just curtail the use of money, or the use of “big money” or distribute it all equally to everyone, problems would go away!

No, Paul says “the love of money.” That’s in here. That’s in us. If I have a wild mountain lion roaming around the neighborhood, the problem is not the neighborhood. The problem is the lion. We, what’s in here, is the problem. Our sinful human nature is always the problem. Solomon says it so much better than I, “the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep (Ecclesiastes 5.12).” He always wants more.

I’m not talking about the wealthy. I’m talking about fishermen in Galilee, ordinary Joes like you and me, living on a clerk’s salary, tips at the bar, Social Security. When Jesus told the rich ruler to sell all he had and follow him, the disciples were stunned. They liked money, too! Jesus added to their discomfort by saying it was easier for the rich to enter heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. They threw up their hands in despair, “Who, then, can be saved?”

Admit it. It is hard to argue at the checkout when the error is in your favor. And whenever you try to sort out the bill, the errors in your math tend to go your way. It is especially evident in the youngest. When we started the preschool we had to work through Rose Henderson at the County Health Department. She was in charge of preschools. At first I didn’t like her because she never let us cut any corners—our plumber complained he couldn’t get the plumbing for the sink crammed into that little space. But as we did what she told us we had to do, she became one of our school’s biggest friends in high places. She made sure we avoided a lot of costly mistakes. But, anyway, while I was losing yet another argument in her office, I looked up at the poster behind her. The Three Rules of Three Year Olds. The first one was, “Everything I see is mine.” That was also rule two and three! From cradle to grave we are inflicted with the sinful human nature. We all are inflicted with this love for stuff, this love for what money can buy because we have the sinful human nature, inherited from our parents and their parents and their parents going all the way back to Adam and Eve. “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature,” Paul confesses (Romans 7.18).” We are going to have that sinful human nature as long as we live. We must keep fighting the good fight until the day we enter heaven.

Keep fighting the good fight. God is the always the answer.

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life (17-19).”

“The life that is truly life.” Doesn’t that grab your attention? It certainly got mine. The life that is truly life. How can I get that life? What must I do to be saved? While Paul doesn’t say it in so many words here, his answer is the same he gave to the jailer at Philippi so many years before. “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” God gives this life that is truly life.

We are to put our hope in God. Trust in him. Expect only good from him. Consider him as your highest good, that which you cannot do without.

God richly provides for us. He gives us house and home, spouse and children, land, your little pooch and kitty cat, possessions and all that we own and all that we have. He gives us good weather and good government (no matter how hard we try to mess up both of those things), peace and order, health, a good name, good friends and faithful neighbors. All this he does not because we have earned or deserved it, but purely because he is our good and merciful Father in heaven.

If we think we are self-made men and women, just look at that first picture of us in the hospital, that little, crumpled face, those squinty eyes, that stocking cap covering our head, misshapen from the birth canal. We were all beggars then. We wouldn’t have lasted the night had it not been for the generosity of strangers including our moms. How could that newborn be the master of the universe?

As God has given us so many material blessings, just stop and think about the spiritual blessings. As for earthly blessings, God can make the sun rise and set and most of the earthly blessings take care of themselves. But the spiritual blessings, those are a much more difficult. He gave up his own Son for us all.

Oh, God was not asking us to do something he himself wasn’t willing to. Remember how the devil tempted Jesus? He showed him all the kingdoms of the world in an instant. All their glory and power. All their wealth. “All this I will give to you, for I can give it to anyone I want. So if you worship me, it will all be yours (Luke 4.6-7).” More money than any government could think of taxing! Not enough numbers known to man to count it all! “It is written: Worship the Lord your God and serve him only (8).” Even what little he had he gave away. Remember when he told Judas the betrayer, “What you are about to do, do quickly”? And when Judas left the Upper Room some of the disciples thought he had gone out to the streets to give money to the poor! Jesus was not attached to wealth. Though Lord of all, he spent no time working out options to purchase this home or that vacant lot.

And at the end of that perfect life the only thing that belonged to him was the cross. He carried his own cross to Calvary. He suffered for our greed and coveting. God the Father treated Jesus as if he were the only one who had ever wanted to have ever more, even if he couldn’t have it. They divided his clothes and cast lots for his robe. They buried him in a borrowed tomb. But our guilt, our punishment, the Father dressed Jesus in that. He became poor that we might become rich, that we might possess “a treasure in the coming age,” Paul puts it.

God is always the answer as we keep fighting the good fight. He keeps us in the thick of battle. He keeps us from tiring. He keeps us from becoming discouraged.

Following the lead of Jesus we are not arrogant, demanding rights or breaks we have no right demanding. We don’t put our trust in our money. Cash is king? Not in times of inflation! Stocks the answer? You been paying attention lately? Bonds? No, they gave up on that two years ago. All those wise guy insider tips for your money are so uncertain.

The biggest dividends come from what we give to the Lord, what we share with those in need, what we use to spread the message that will save people for all eternity. Isn’t that the whole point of Jesus’ parable of the conniving servant? His fat is in the fire and so he goes back and cooks the books. Everybody who gets their debt drastically reduced is going to give him a handsome kickback when his master cans him. “Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” Use your money shrewdly to promote the work of the Gospel.

I don’t know how you will do it. Maybe it is increased offerings for the church. Maybe it is baking bread and giving it to new neighbors with an invitation to come to church to taste the Bread of Life. I know when we started our church, I used a big part of my evangelism budget to hire ten UNLV students to do phone calling into the community, letting people know who we were and seeing if they’d like to be on our mailing list. Some of my supervisors were aghast that I would stoop to telemarketing. “Just doing what Jesus told me to do,” I replied as I kept cutting paychecks for the callers. We made 15,000 phone calls. We got a mailing list of 1478 people. We got 114 in our first service, including one of the phone callers I had hired! Forty-six of those first time attenders stayed to become members. A lot of them are in heaven 33 years later. Best money I ever spent.

Can you come up with something to top that? Yes, we have other responsibilities--mortgage, food, clothing, tuition, retirement. But deep down, every Christian is like a 24 year old getting behind the wheel of a sports car. How fast will this puppy go? Every Christian looks at the financial resources God gives them and wonders, “How many can I reach for God with this?” Why not let it rip? No speed limits to Christian generosity and plans to “get the Gospel out there.”

Keep Fighting the Good Fight

1. Our sinful human nature is always the problem.

2. God is always the answer.

Pieper a trouble maker? Oh, you don’t know the half of it! I live to make trouble! I live to tick off the devil. I live to tweak this sanctimonious, unbelieving world. On my best days, I can even play chess with my sinful human nature and bluff him into making a stupid, game-ending move. But you know what they say—a man is known by the enemies they keep. Want to make some enemies, too?

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