A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy. 6:9-10. b). The covetous poor.
Not until verse 17 does Paul give Timothy instructions for the rich. In verses 9 and 10 he is still describing the poor. It is not now the contented poor he has in mind, however, but the covetous poor, those who ‘want to get rich’ (9) and are motivated by ‘the love of money’ (10).
The Old Testament is full of admonitions against covetousness, especially the Wisdom literature. We are warned that money is addictive, since ‘whoever loves money never has money enough’ (Ec.5:10). We are told not to be ‘overawed’ by the wealthy, but to remember that they will leave their wealth behind them (Ps. 49:10, 16ff.). It is also explicitly stated that ‘one eager to get rich will not go unpunished’ (Pr.28:20). So we should pray to be given ‘neither poverty [i.e. destitution] nor riches’, but only our ‘daily bread’, i.e. the necessities of life (Pr.30:7ff.).
Jesus must have reflected on this strand of Old Testament wisdom. He certainly endorsed it, telling us to beware of greed, and reminding us that our life does not consist in the abundance of our possessions (Lk.12:15ff.).
Moreover. the warnings of Scripture are conveyed to us not only through verbal instruction and exhortation, but through cautionary tales as well. Adam and Eve, Achan, Judas, and Ananias and Sapphira all came to grief through some form of covetousness (Gn.3:6; Jos.7:20-21; Mt.26:14ff. and Jn.12:4ff; Acts 5:1ff.).
Paul now takes up the same theme and traces the downfall of the covetous. *People who want to get rich fall…* (9a). First they, *fall into temptation and a trap*. They thus do to themselves what they pray God will never do to them: they lead themselves into temptation, indeed into multiple temptations like dishonesty and theft. And the ‘trap’ they fall into is surely the devil’s (as in 3:7 and 2 Tim.2:26), for through their greed he ensnares them in materialism and moral compromise; they become ready ‘to sacrifice duty and conscience to the pursuit of wealth’.
Secondly, covetous people fall *into many foolish and harmful desires* (9b). Of course greed is itself a desire, selfish and even idolatrous (Eph.5:5), but it breeds other desires. For money is a drug, and covetousness a drug addiction. The more you have, the more you want. Yet these further desires are *foolish* (they cannot be rationally defended) and *harmful* (they captivate and do not liberate the human spirit). As Schopenhauer said, ‘gold is like sea water – the more one drinks of it, the thirstier one becomes’.
And the third and final stage in the downfall of the covetous, their wrong desires *plunge* them *into ruin and destruction* (9c). The metaphor pictures them sinking and drowning, either in ‘utter destruction’ (BAGD) or, taking the two nouns separately, in disaster in this life and in the destruction of hell in the next. The irony is that those who set their hearts on gain end in total loss, the loss of their integrity and indeed of themselves. For, as Jesus asked, ‘What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? (Mk.8:36).
Tomorrow: 1 Timothy 6:9-10).b), the covetous poor (continued).
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.