Picture of Pastor David Cook

Sermon delivered September 5, 2009 by Pastor David Cook

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Biblical quotations are from the New Inductive Study Bible NISB unless otherwise noted. Divine pronouns and titles are capitalized.

True Godliness

1 Timothy 6:6-8

(RealAudio Version available)

Everybody has a skeleton in their closet.  At least most people do.  And I think that, as I've seen anyway, as a pastor, many churches have skeletons in their closets as well.  And I found that one of the joys of being a pastor and moving from church to church is that you get to share some of the skeletons of churches past with the churches that you move on to.  Of course, what goes around comes around.  I'll eventually get to share McDonald Road’s skeletons in the closets.  But I will keep it anonymous, I promise.

The skeleton in the closet at the particular church I’m speaking of was actually a closet, and this closet was located in the pastor’s study, I guess they would call it.  The place where the pastor and the elders meet to go onto the platform, and in that closet there was something interesting.  One day I was getting ready to go on the platform with some of the elders, and the door of the closet was open, and I could see that hanging in that closet was an interesting collection of suit coats and ties.  And I looked at that and I turned to one of the elders and I said, “I'm kind of curious.  What's this collection of coats and ties here for?”  And he looked a bit embarrassed and he said, “Well, that's for just in case, if we need somebody in an emergency to be on the platform, and they forgot to wear a coat and tie.”  And I looked at that collection and I said to myself. “It's no wonder nobody ever forgets.”  I would consider that a punishment.  If you did it once, you would never do it again, for sure.  I never saw that closet being used.  The coats and ties did look like they had been donated by somebody who had died many years before.

But the closet made me think.  Why do we have this rule?  Why is that rule there?  Because really, that rule, if it's not written, does exist in most of our churches.  Everybody on the platform I saw, that was a gentleman, was wearing a coat and tie, including myself.  Well we do that, some say, and Mrs. White would actually, I think, confirm this concept, because we need to dress our best when we come before God.  And that's true.  But I guess I'm wondering, what exactly was meant by that?  Does dressing our best mean dressing in our fanciest?  I own a tuxedo.  Maybe I should've worn my tuxedo.  I'm so sorry.  I'm embarrassed.  I don't really own a tuxedo, but if I did, should I wear it?  And maybe should I purchase one if we should dress our best. 

You know, it's interesting, I've discovered that dressing up for church is a new phenomenon.  It's not something that has been passed on from ages past, down from the early church to now.  The truth is, is that people did not dress up for church.  Or they did.  It just depended on who you were.  If you were a poor person you wore poor clothes to church.  You might have clothes that you worked with on the farm and then something else you wore to church, but they didn't look that much different.  They were humble clothing.  If you were a rich person, you dressed very richly.  Especially when the Emperor started showing up at church.  You wanted to look your best for the Emperor and improve your social standing.  In fact, did you know that if you were the right person or the wrong person, I guess, if you showed up to church dressed up, you could've been fined.  You would've been fined because you were stepping out of your social class.  If you were a poor person and you came with clothes that looked a little too nice, they would have fined you.

This whole concept of poor people and rich people wearing the clothes that they normally wear continued on down til we get to the Methodists, and the Methodists said, “Uh, uh.  This isn’t right.  We have these people coming to church who are all dressed up in their fancy clothes and they’re glorifying themselves and it makes the poor brethren look bad.  Really, we’re all equal in God's eyes.”  And so John Wesley put together a prescribed kind of dress for how you came to church, and it was very clearly spelled out.  What kind of colors.  What kind of material.  And it brought uniformity.  They all kind of wore the same things so that nobody felt lower or above the other.

And then something changed.  When the Industrial Revolution came in, suddenly we now have a middle class and people can start affording nicer clothes and clothes became less expensive and people started showing up to church dressed up.  And it caused a huge controversy.  The Methodists were concerned and upset, and there was, “What do we do?  This is going against what we believe.”  And so, oddly enough, the thing that was once immoral and wrong, eventually became the norm and is now considered the standard.

But there is a deeper issue here than dress.  Believe it or not, this is not a sermon where I'm coming here to say, I know it sounds like it, “Next week I want everybody here in jeans and a T-shirt.”  I'm not saying that.  Please don't think I'm saying that.  Next week Pastor Dave will be dressed in a suit and a coat and a tie. I promise.  However, I think that our stand on this is a symptom of a deeper issue.  I think it's a problem that has existed in all ages of the Christian church.  I think the early church struggled with it.

First Timothy chapter 6.  In First Timothy chapter 6, in verse five.  We’ll go a little bit before the text that was read today, and verse five is really a part of a sentence.  I don't want to read the whole sentence, because it's just too long, I’m just going to read the last part of it.  Paul is talking about people who are bringing in strange doctrines and who are causing all kinds of conflict and problems, and he has a number of different things to say about them that he’s frustrated with and then the last thing is kind of the punchline.  He says, “Who suppose that godliness as a means of gain.”  And if you have the King James version, it reads, “Who suppose that gain is godliness.”  There's two different meanings there, mostly because it can be translated both ways, or I should say, scholars have struggled with which way to translate it.  I personally will go with the King James, simply because I see it in the context of this passage as well as the Scriptures as well as historical context.  And so what I believe Paul is saying is, who suppose, these men suppose, that your wealth, that your wealth, is godliness.  That how much you have shows how godly you are. 

The early church struggled with this and they believed that if, and this was not just the early church, this was the Jews, that kind of passed on into the early church.  They believed that if you are wealthy and you had the right kind of clothes, the right kind of house, the right kind of camels, that God had blessed you, and if God had blessed you, you most certainly were godly.  Paul is speaking against this, I believe.  To believe that gain is godliness. 

We find this problem spelled out in James, chapter 2.  Go over to James for a second.  James, chapter two and verse two.  “For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘You, sit here in the good place,’ and you say to the poor man, ‘Well, you stand over here or sit down by my footstool.’  Have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil motives.’” 

You know, I don't think that anybody today would say to themselves or to anybody else, “Well I think that if you have lots of money you’re certainly more godly.”  We don’t believe that, but sometimes we have beliefs that we act out.  We don't even know why we’re acting them out, we just do.  Even though if we were asked point blank we would say, “No.  I don't believe that.” 

And I think it's seen in this area.  Take my suit.  I like this suit.  It cost about a hundred and 80 dollars.  It was a really good deal.  I was very excited to get it at that price.  Did you know that 50 percent of the world’s population survives on one to two dollars a day.  50 percent of our world.  That means that 50 percent of the world’s population would have to starve themselves and their families for 90 to a hundred and 80 days to afford wearing my suit.  Well, you say, “Let's take them to Goodwill.”  Okay, so we take them to Goodwill.  They would still have to starve themselves for five to 10 days to buy a 10 dollar suit.  That means that 50 percent of the world’s population is not worthy to sit on our platform, according to our standards. 

You know, I've seen this in our fellowship, in how we treat other people.  In a previous church, another skeleton in the closet, I guess.  In a previous church, it was a church that I had been assigned to that was really trying to reach out to people in kind of nontraditional ways.  Sometimes taking it to extremes, I believe.  And interestingly enough, they dressed very casually in church, but they were very, very wealthy.  And one day I invited a man who I was studying the Bible with to come to one of their house prayer meetings.  It was a small church, but it was the wealthiest per capita church in the conference.  I invited this man who was very poor and dressed very shabbily to their house prayer meeting and he came in and everybody greeted him kindly and I'm thinking to myself, “This is great.  This is our first opportunity to bring somebody in to the church,” at least since I've been there, and everybody’s sitting around.  They have the Bible study.  It's a great Bible study.  I enjoyed it very much.  I enjoyed myself and then we got up to leave and as I'm helping this man out to his car, he turns to me and he says, “David I will never, ever, darken the door of your church.”  And I said, “Excuse me.  What have I done?  What have we done?  I'm so sorry.  Please tell me.”  And he says, “David, the people in your church, they greeted me and then that was it.  They never looked at me.  They never talked to me.  Nothing.”  And he specifically pointed out, “It's because I'm poor and they’re rich.”

You know, it’s interesting, it's also reflected in how we do missions.  When we think of going as missionaries, we think of rich people going to poor people.  Right?  We go to help the poor heathens who don't have very much money and put clothes on them and give them an education and help them to have a better life.  Right?  And we give them the Gospel and we use that as the means to help give them the gospel.  We rarely think of going to a wealthy nation, to people maybe, who are even wealthier than us, to give them the Gospel and ask them to give up the good things that they have.  Which is exactly what the early Christian church did.  It was the poor people going to rich people in those days, and saying, “Come join us.  Come give up what you have for God and be a part of a movement that's changing this world.”

Well, Paul fights vigorously against the idea that what you have shows how good you are.  In First Timothy six, verse six, he turns the whole equation around, and he says, but godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.  So the first equation was, gain equals godliness, or wealth equals godliness, and he says “No, no, no.  Godliness plus contentment equals wealth.”  Godliness with contentment equals great riches.  And that's really what we're saying here today and what I believe Paul is saying in this passage.  It's godliness with contentment makes you rich. 

The interesting thing about this is that it just kind of stops worrying about how to look when you’re godly.  It just stops it.  Before, the equation was something that was a standard that helped us to judge others and ourselves.  “If I have the right clothing, the right clothes, if I look right, I’m godly.  I’m worthy.  I'm able to serve in the church.”  And it turns it around and it says, “No.  Really, the equation is something that's a rule for living.  Godliness plus contentment equals gain.”  It's no longer something that we’re judging other people with or ourselves.  It's simply a rule to live by.

Well, let's look at this rule to live by.  If godliness plus contentment makes us rich, then I want to find out what this means.  So let's look at what Paul says.  And Paul talks very clearly about these two components of true wealth and he starts with contentment.  Verse seven to 10, he says, “For we have brought nothing into this world, so we cannot take anything out of it.”  I think that's the foundation of contentment, when we realize that we are nothing of our own.  We don't own anything.  Like Job says, I was naked when I came into this world and I will be naked when I go out.  Everything that I have is given to me by God.  How can that possibly demonstrate who I am?  It demonstrates how good God is, not how good I am.  And then in verse eight, he says, “If we have food and covering or clothing, with these we shall be content.”  True contentment is being happy with the basics.  Happy with what we’ve been given.

You know, when I was a student missionary we'd see these little kids playing out in the field there on the islands, and they’d have a little stick and a wheel that spun that was made out of palm fronds or something, they just kind of run it along the ground or they let it blow in the air and that was their toy.  Or they had a stick and a rock, and that was their toy.  And they were so happy.  The difference between the kids with a stick and a rock

compared when I came back and saw the kids here with all the toys that they have was astonishing.  You don't notice it until you've gone away and come back.  The dissatisfaction here compared to the happiness there was amazing.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Content makes poor men rich.  Discontent makes rich men poor.”  I think it's so true.  If you're happy with what you have you’re a rich man.  If you're not happy, even though you may have everything, you're poor.

There's a story told about an ancient Persian named Ali Haphed.  Now Ali owned a very large farm that had orchards and grain fields and gardens.  He was a very wealthy and contented man, until one day, a wise man from the East came and said, “Ali, if you really want to be rich you need to own a diamond mine.”  And that night, Ali Haphed went to bed a poor man because he was discontent and he wanted a diamond mine.  And so he went and he sold his property, his orchards, his fields, his gardens, his house, and he went out in search of a diamond mine.  He searched the world over.  Finally he became so poor, broken and defeated that he committed suicide.  And then one day, the man who purchased the place from Ali took his camel down to a stream in his garden.  And as the camel put his nose down into the brook, the man noticed something shining in the sands of the stream, and he reached down and he picked it up and he pulled out a stone that reflected all the hues of the rainbow.  The man had discovered a diamond mine, what became a diamond mine, that was eventually known as Golconda, which was the most magnificent mine in all history.  And if Ali Haphed had remained at home and dug around in his own garden he would have found acres and acres and acres of diamonds.  But instead, he died dissatisfied and broken in a strange land.

You know, really, I think contentment is the root of the 10 Commandments in so many ways.  Obviously the 10 Commandments is a reflection of God's love and character, but I think contentment is a huge part of it as well.

Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.  Be content with Me is your God.  Don't go after other gods.

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images.  Be satisfied.  Be content to worship Me without being able to see Me. 

Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.  Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.  Be content.  Be content to work six days and get whatever you can on those six days, but not to get on the seventh day.  Be satisfied with what I've given you.

Honor your father and your mother.  Be content with the parents that I've given you.  Treat them right.

Thou shalt not commit adultery.  Be content with your spouse.

Thou shalt not kill.  Be content to let God give justice.

Thou shalt not steal.  Be content with what you have.  Don't take from others.

Thou shalt not bear false witness.  Be content to let the truth be the truth and let whatever happens, happen.

Thou shalt not covet.  Just be content.

So we have contentment, but contentment by itself is not alone.  Paul says we need to take godliness and add contentment to it.

So what is godliness.  Well he talks about godliness again in verse 11.  He says, “But flee from these things you man of God and pursue righteousness.  Godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.”  So we have godliness listed there in kind of this package of other great qualities.  If you look at the other qualities there, there’s something similar about all of them that I think applies as well to godliness.  All of these things are things that come from out of us, to us, in us, and out of us to others, or to God. 

Pursue righteousness.  Our righteousness is as filthy rags.  We need Christ's righteousness.  Christ gives us his righteousness, and we shine with His righteousness and show others what God is like.  Faith.  To every man has been given a measure of faith.  God gives us faith, and then we in turn exercise the faith towards God in order to be righteous.  Perseverance.  On our own we can't survive but with God's strength we can persevere.  And we can be an example to others.  Gentleness.  On our own, again, we cannot be gentle, but with Christ living in us and out of us we can be gentle towards other people and show them what Christ is like.  And so I believe godliness is the same kind of thing.  It’s something that comes from God.  Comes in us and shines out of us.  God likeness.

Well, Paul continues on and he says, “Fight the good fight of faith.  Take hold of eternal life to which you were called.”  I think godliness is not only having God living in us and out of us, but it's sticking with Him.  Sticking with that new plan.  Hanging onto Him through to the end.  Verse 13.  “I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things,” and I'll skip down, “that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Hang on to Christ.  Stick with Him.  Don't let go.  Don't stop living this life.  This is godliness. 

Then Paul has to turn his eyes fully on Jesus, and he says, “He who is the blessed and only sovereign.  The King of kings and Lord of lords.  Who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light.  Whom no man has seen or can see.  To Him be honor and eternal dominion.  Amen.  And true godliness is focusing off ourself and focusing on Christ.  And focusing on His glory and on His honor. 

You know, when we’re godly, who gets the glory.  I don't get the glory because I'm not being like me.  God gets the glory because I'm being like Him.  And so when we put these two together, godliness and contentment, we will have true wealth and Paul talks about that a little bit.  He talks to some rich people.  He says to Timothy, “Instruct those who are rich,” verse 17, “instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, Who richly supplies us with all things.”  And right there, he’s striking again at that whole idea of trusting in what you have.  He says, do not fix your hope on the uncertainty of riches.  Don't trust in what you have but put your trust in God who richly supplies you with all things.  And when we put our trust in God and we don't put our trust in what we have, He'll make us wealthy.  He'll give us everything we need, and everything that we want.  He'll give us a good reputation.  So we can stand in front of God's people without shame.  And then he says, “Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works.”  Now there’s true wealth.  To be wealthy in good works.

I know of a rich man in the city of Phoenix, Arizona and this rich man took it upon himself to befriend poor people, really, really poor people and help them and lead them to Christ.  And one of those very, very poor people was my father.  And because this rich man took notice of my dad who was a little boy at the time, and his sons played with my dad like they were just good buddies, because he did that I'm here today and my father is a pastor today.  And the rest of our family were Christians because of this one man.  And when he died you should have seen the people that showed up at his funeral.  All these people coming to say, “Thank you.  Thank you for showing me Jesus.  Thank you for being a witness to me and helping me when I was in distress.”  That's true wealth.  That's when a rich man is rich, when he dies with that kind of a heritage and that kind of an inheritance.

And then Paul closes with, again to the rich.  “Storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.”  And that's the ultimate wealth.  The ultimate wealth that comes from taking godliness and adding contentment to it, and that is the life, the eternal life, and life abundant now with Jesus.  That's true wealth. 

No longer are we looking to see if we’re good enough by what we have and respecting other people by what they wear or by what they own.  We're just focused on being God-like, being content and letting Him take care of us and giving us what we need.

And so, I wonder if we need a closet.  I wonder if we need a closet in our church to help just in case people come unprepared to church.  In this closet we’ll have a coat of godliness.  And then we'll have a coat, or a tie maybe, we'll have a tie of contentment and we’ll put them together, and then when people can put these on they’ll be truly wealthy and they'll have the right standard for being prepared for church and for being able to stand before God's people on the platform.  Well we can't provide that, but I know somebody who can, and everyday I think that each one of us, we shouldn't leave our homes, I don't care what day of the week it is.  We should not leave our homes without these two on.  We've got to put on Christ’s godliness, God's godliness.  We've got to put on contentment and walk around like we're really, really rich.

There's a story of a hippie who came to church one day, and it was during the time of when there were revivals taking place across the campuses and there were other social movements, a lot of social discord taking place, and this hippie decides he wants to go to church, and he walks in the back door and he starts walking down the aisle.  And everybody in the church turns, and they're concerned.  They're worried about what he's dressed in, and his bellbottoms and his funny looking shirt and his hair and his beard.  And he walks down the center aisle all the way down to the front of the church and proceeds to sit down on the floor, there's a bit of a gasp, right in front of the front pew. 

And then people turn because there’s a stir in the back of the church, and there's an old man marching down to the front of the church with a cane and he has a determined look on his face.  And he's walking down the aisle.  All the way down to the front, and he turns in front of that hippie and he turns with that determined look on his face and then he steps past the hippie and everybody's holding their breath.  What's going to happen?  What kind of confrontation are we going to see here?  And the old man turns, and with great pain and with help from the hippie, sits down on the floor next to the hippie.

I think that man had it right.  I think he was godly.  I think he wasn't worried about how the hippie was dressed.  He was more worried about making the hippie feel welcome.  He wasn't worried about preserving an old tradition.  He was worried about spreading the gospel of love with a sinner like himself.  And he was content.  He was content to let God take care of the church's reputation.  He was content to let God take care of his own reputation.  And he was content to sit in an uncomfortable position in an uncomfortable place through the entire church service for the sake of one of God's creatures.  And for the sake of Christ.

In the end, I believe that that old man was the richest person in the house that day, because godliness plus contentment makes you rich.  I think it's high time that yours truly, and all of us start acting like we’re rich too.

Our hymn today is number 468.

Dear heavenly Father.  Thank You so much that we are Your children through Jesus.  We thank You Lord that You are the one who makes us godly.  Help us to be content with what You’ve given us.  Help us to be truly wealthy like You've intended us to be.  Thank You so much for Jesus and His love and that we can live with Him and with You for eternity.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Hymn of Praise: #559, Now Thank We All Our God
Scripture: 1 Timothy 6:6-8
Hymn of Response: #468, A Child of The King

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McDonald Road Sermon transcribed by Steve Foster 9/24/09.