By Jason Hood with assistance from Generous Giving staff
Paul writes 1 Timothy to counter false teachers who are leading the Ephesian church astray. He instructs young Timothy to guide the church in many important areas, including the selection of financially faithful leadership. Two whole chapters are almost entirely about generosity and wealth, including instructions on giving to widows, financial support for those teaching the word, and the dangers of appropriate uses of wealth. 1 Timothy contains some of the most important and one of the most misquoted passages on wealth in all of Scripture, and it is a critical book for understanding biblical generosity and financial stewardship.
Our study of 1 Timothy consists of two parts. In the first section, readers will find our stewardship study notes. These notes analyze, in a passage-by-passage fashion, the implications of the book’s teaching for Christian generosity and related issues. The second section consists of short essays describing the book’s major stewardship themes. These notes and essays are not intended to be comprehensive explanations of Paul’s goals in writing this book, nor do they exhaust the book’s possible applications in matters related to stewardship and generosity.
While Generous Giving’s Bible study material will aid anyone who is searching the Scriptures for guidance, they may prove especially useful as sermon helps for pastors and as a resource for teachers, advisors and lay leaders interested in obeying and teaching the message of Scripture in matters of generosity and stewardship. We readily acknowledge our fallibility in writing these study notes, for they are the work of humans, not God. Please search the Scriptures (Acts 17:11) as you read this material critically, carefully and prayerfully. May God bless you in your studies.
Passage-by-Passage Study Notes
1 Timothy 1:12-17 (Key Passage) — Basis for Service and Sacrifice: Paul outlines the reason for his service and sacrifice. He has interrupted warnings and criticisms of his opponents (1 Timothy 1:3-11, 18-20) to remind readers of the sort of person he was when he was saved by God, as if to say, “If God can do this for me, can’t he do this for these wretched folks in Ephesus as well—provided they, like me, turn away from sin and follow Jesus?” We must never forget that God’s grace is sufficient to save the thief, the greedy, the covetous and the stingy. God’s incredible grace blesses us abundantly and leads us to eternal life (1 Timothy 1:17). But it doesn’t just bless us as individuals; the grace of God leads us to follow Jesus (who laid down his life) by down our own lives, rights and possessions as we work for Jesus’ sake (1 Timothy 4:10), thus blessing others. Christians are called to learn to love sinners of all stripes so that we may show them God’s grace and truth. Paul begins this section by noting that God “gives him strength”: God’s grace doesn’t just cover sins, but it equips us for the challenging and costly road of discipleship as well.
1 Timothy 2:4-6 — How can we be more Christ-like? How can we be more in touch with God’s agenda? Giving ourselves for the lost is one such way of growing in the likeness of Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for the lost. As Paul notes in Colossians 1:24, sacrifice in the pattern of Jesus’ own sacrifice by today’s believers is necessary for those who are being ransomed. We do not save others—only Jesus’ sacrifice does that; but we are called to participate in God’s work of redemption. The ransom and suffering of Jesus did not finance evangelism, translate Bibles, train leaders or plant churches; the death of Jesus on the cross didn’t pay for missionaries and doesn’t help us to avoid the cost of potentially being shunned by friends, co-workers, family members and strangers who need to hear of the redemption God has made available in Christ. God desires “all people” to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, and our sacrifice and suffering for the gospel is the means by which the ransom earned by Jesus will be applied (Romans 9:14-15). See 1 and 2 Corinthians theme essay Ministry and Sacrifice and 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus theme essays Leaders and Financial Faithfulness, Church Planting and Pastors and Financial Discipleship.
1 Timothy 2:8 — Paul makes two challenges highly relevant to our message regarding behavior everywhere, probably meaning all the house churches of the region. He teaches men to seek holiness and a life of worship that avoids the hot-headed, violent conflict in which men frequently find themselves tempted to engage. The picture contrasts lifting hands in anger or disgust with the peaceful lifting of hands in prayer and praise. Such quarreling includes financial disputes when such disagreements become vindictive, public and unjust (see 1 Corinthians 6). See 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus theme essays Church Planting and Leaders and Financial Faithfulness.
1 Timothy 2:9-10 — Paul next addresses a tendency common among women: the wearing of costly attire and fine jewelry. Some have suggested that Paul doesn’t care what women wear but is merely concerned that they “clothe themselves” with what really matters, namely, good works. It is certainly true that we must clothe ourselves in good works (Revelation 19:7-8; Luke 8:1-3). But to say Paul doesn’t address the issue of clothing or appearance is a misreading of the passage. He counters a spirit of opulence and flirtation that arises in the way women (and men) dress themselves and focus excessively on their appearance. Some of what Paul mentions here was usually seen as a sign of infidelity or flirtation or as giving one the ability to seduce. Whether someone intends to send this signal or not is beside the point; the goal is to avoid the appearance of evil (no small task in an age of rampant sexually explicit lifestyles and clothing) and to exhibit modesty that points away from our bodies and sexual flirtation—even when it is socially unpopular to do so. We must note carefully what Paul says here and ask relevant contemporary questions to measure our lives against his statement. Do we focus too much on external appearance rather than on acts of goodness and mercy? For adults and teenagers, do we focus on how we look more than we focus on what we do for others? Is a sizable portion of our allowance or budget spent on clothing, perfume, jewelry, hair care and the like—more so than the portion of our budget spent on “good works”? Do we spend more time at Easter or Christmas or every Sunday on our appearance (or our children’s) than on good works (or training our children in the same)? Are we wearing expensive clothes that set us apart from the poor and the lower class? Does such expensive clothing and lifestyles preserve our status in “better” company and limit our contact with those in need, for whom we could do good works? Since Paul intentionally contrasts being “clothed” with good works and being “clothed” with expensive attire and jewelry, we must ask: “Am I known for the appearance of my car and clothes and style, or for the appearance of my good works?” See 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus theme essay Pleasure in Possessions.
1 Timothy 3:1-7 (Key Passage) — Not a Lover of Money: Paul describes the characteristics of godly overseers. They must have lives above reproach worth following, lives that show they can be trusted by all. We should note that Paul says elders cannot be lovers of money. It is especially important that leaders, who are our examples, do not love money, for the love of money and possessions encourages skirting difficult Christian truths for the sake of dishonest gain to avoid displeasing wealthy givers or becoming unpopular. Love of money also encourages leaders and others to cozy up with the rich and great while marginalizing the poor and the needy (James 2:1-4). Household management and the training of children also involve financial aspects—are the children of a potential elder spoiled and indulged and wasteful, or do they show restraint and modesty? Does this say something about how his “spiritual children” will develop in their approach to money and possessions? Finally, this passage also notes the importance of hospitality (literally, “kindness to strangers”), opening the home and sharing possessions. This was a critical trait in early Christians, as a ministry to travelers and those in need (1 Peter 4:9). Furthermore, all these traits must have been practiced with consistency and humble perseverance (1 Timothy 3:6). See James theme essay Partiality to the Rich and 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus theme essays Pleasure in Possessions, Pastors and Financial Discipleship, Church Planting and Leaders and Financial Faithfulness.
1 Timothy 3:8-13 (Key Passage) — Deacons and the Church: Paul notes that deacons, who manage the resources of the church for the sake of those in need (Acts 6:1-6), must be tested carefully for fidelity and financial responsibility. They cannot be those who have been charged with dishonest gain. This includes not only the pursuit of dishonest gain but honest dealings when accidental unjust gain has occurred. Just as they are managing “God’s household” (1 Timothy 3:14-16), they must have managed their own as well (See also 1 Timothy 3:1-7 on “managing children and households well”). Have those who are going to be responsible for the church’s care for the poor instilled in their own children a concern for the poor and oppressed? Have they incurred large amounts of personal debt? Have they assumed the right to lead because of their personal affluence or social status? Can potential deacons distinguish between true and apparent needs (1 Timothy 5)? Are they aware of the church’s financial priorities (“cases of urgent need,” Titus 3:14), and do they have a track record of responding to such? See 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus theme essay Leaders and Financial Faithfulness.
1 Timothy 4:1-5 (Key Passage) — Goodness of God’s Provision: As also in 1 Timothy 5:23 and 6:17b, Paul presupposes the goodness of God’s creation. This is a fundamental Christian and Jewish belief, so much so that to deny marriage or certain foods outright is a violation of God’s plan for humanity; after all, he created these things for our benefit and enjoyment (1 Timothy 6:17). This does not mean that we should not fast, or that we cannot abstain from marriage or certain foods if doing so would improve our service to the Lord. For example, not eating pork while ministering to Muslims is probably quite wise, and there are certain intense ministry situations where marriage is not necessarily helpful. Paul is arguing that such abstinence does not automatically make one holy or acceptable to God. What makes food holy is the way we receive it: according to God’s word in prayer and thanksgiving. We must receive what God provides with gratitude, in the right spirit—this makes food “holy”. See 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus theme essay Pleasure in Possessions.
1 Timothy 4:11-16 — Devotion to Scripture and teaching suggests that spending money on resources (books, courses, conferences) and spending time on Bible study is a wise use of our resources. Paul again holds up the leader/pastor as an example to those around (1 Timothy 4:15), probably not only for believers but for unbelievers as well, as we grow increasingly into the likeness of Jesus.
1 Timothy 5:3-16 (Key Passage) — Helping Widows: Some of the longest passages in Scripture on money are instructions for collecting money or caring for the poor and their rights (Leviticus 25; 2 Corinthians 8-9; James 1:22-2:24). Paul’s instructions here are in part difficult to apply because of cultural differences (women have more financial freedom today). But certain financial principles can be adduced. (1) Special care and financial assistance must be given to widows. This is a hallmark of Christian religion, and failure to do this is brings us under judgment (remember Jesus’ story of Lazarus and the rich man, Luke 16:19-31). (2) Those who have relatives and others who are willing and able to care for their own should rely on them, not the church. (3) Funds are not to be given indiscriminately; support is especially to target those who themselves helped others when they were able (see the notes on 1 Timothy 5:8 and 5:10). This does not mean failing to meet the needs of those who are not known for good works, such as AIDS widows in Africa. But we “enroll” those in a special category who have been a blessing to the church and who will consistently need others to provide for their shelter and nutrition. (4) Those who can still work, marry and have children are not to be considered special cases for these “rolls” of the most needy; they should contribute to society and not be idle. However, they may well need help from the church with job training, raising young children, and the like. This is particularly true of women who must work long hours in low-paying jobs while their fatherless children lack loving guidance and supervision. See 1 and 2 Corinthians theme essay Remembering the Poor, 1 and 2 Thessalonians theme essay Work and Idleness and 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus theme essay Pleasure in Possessions.
1 Timothy 5:8 — God has ordained the family unit in part so that we can meet one another’s needs. Few social structures, if any, have fed more widows, raised more orphans, and encouraged more lonely elderly people than families taking care of other family members in need. Paul’s words indicate that we also must consider what role we should play for extended family members—aunts, uncles and cousins. Unfortunately our society has all but lost much of this impulse. But we must consider how God would have us care for those in need around us. Do we have family members who need shelter, housing, companionship, nutrition and medical care?
1 Timothy 5:10 — Part of the fruit of our good works is that we in turn receive good works. Paul indicates here the ideal older Christian woman: someone who can look back on a life of caring for others through good works, hospitality, caring for other Christians and caring for the afflicted (the sick and hurting). One of the principles of Christian giving is that giving to a brother or sister isn’t always a one-way street: As Paul says to the Corinthians when asking for money for needy Christians in Judea, “Your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness” (2 Corinthians 8:13-14). Those who do good will reap good in God’s kingdom, even in this present life. But we don’t only receive in this present life; Jesus tells us that we will be judged for our care for those in need (Matthew 25:31-46), and his reward will be far greater than the meeting of needs in this present life. See 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus theme essay Pleasure in Possessions.
1 Timothy 5:17-18 (Key Passage) — Churches, Elders and Money: Some suggest Paul may not even be talking about financial assistance when he mentions “double honor.” However, the use of economic examples of payment for work (1 Timothy 5:18), the context of the church’s financial responsibilities, the assumption of material benefit for teaching (1 Timothy 6:5), and the use of the word “honor” in verses 3 (widows) and 17 (elders) all indicate that Paul has financial or material provision for those who lead, teach and preach in mind. Paul doesn’t want elders to be money-hungry; neither does he want them on the cusp of poverty if at all possible (particularly in a wealthy place like Ephesus, where the church could surely afford to support their leadership). Paul may be guarding against the idea that—since leaders should not “love of money” or use ministry for their greed (1 Timothy 3:3, 8; 6:5)—they should never receive financial support from the church. See 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus theme essays Leaders and Financial Faithfulness and Pastors and Financial Discipleship.
1 Timothy 5:19-20 — When error (including financial error) strikes the church, we must respond with loving discipline. When the error is willful and the person who commits it is unrepentant, we must address the issue publicly so as to warn others of the dangers of sin. While abuse of church discipline can produce problems, the neglect of discipline is at least as harmful. This also ensures that we do not earn a reputation for covering sin; it would be far worse to be known for covering up financial mistakes than to be known for correcting what mistakes do arise in an honest fashion. See 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus theme essays Leaders and Financial Faithfulness and Pastors and Financial Discipleship.
1 Timothy 5:24-25 — Paul teaches that our identity as believers or unbelievers will be shown by our works, in keeping with Jesus’ teaching on the matter: Good trees will bear good fruit, bad trees bad fruit. Ultimately in the day of judgment, there will be no middle ground (Matthew 25:31-46). In this present life, we prove our identity in large measure by our good works, especially for those in need (James 2:14-17; 1 John 3:16-19). Those same passages indicate we also can prove our identity by our lack of concern for those in need; compare also the good example of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:28-37) with the rich man who ignored Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). See 1 and 2 Corinthians theme essay Judgment within the Church.
1 Timothy 6:5 (Key Passage) — Is Godliness Financially Healthy? In 1 Timothy 6:2, Paul criticizes those who reject the teaching (much of it on financial responsibility) he has outlined above, urging the church to have nothing to do with those who reject sound teaching. He especially levels criticism at those who think “godliness is a means to financial gain,” probably meaning those who want to take on leadership roles in the church while expecting some financial advantage. Ironically, godliness is often ‘a means to financial loss.’ Paul notes in 2 Timothy 3:12 that those who desire to live a godly life will be persecuted. There is a very real chance that we may suffer hardship rather than success as we follow Jesus. Christian virtues such as generosity, sacrifice, discipline, honesty and hard work may prove to cost us more than they benefit us. We can be ostracized at work for telling clients the truth or failing to hide financial mistakes; we can be looked down upon by friends if we don’t have the right possessions, clothing, schools, cars, etc. Are we prepared for this? Note how Paul contrasts the pursuit of wealth with true godliness in the following verses. See 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus theme essays Leaders and Financial Faithfulness, Pleasure in Possessions and Pastors and Financial Discipleship.
1 Timothy 6:6-8 (Key Passage) — May I Desire to Be Rich? Paul intentionally contrasts contentment and godliness with desire to be rich and love of money in the next verses (1 Timothy 6:9-10). A lack of contentment will always lead to covetousness and love of money; and when we flee the desire to be rich (1 Timothy 6:11), we are already on the road to contentment. Paul’s willingness to live a simple life for Jesus’ sake and for the benefit of others poses a strong challenge not only for Timothy, but for contemporary believers. While it is certainly possible to be wealthy and a Christian (Luke 8:1-3; 19:1-10; 1 Timothy 6:17-19), Christians are called to run after godliness, not wealth. For Timothy and others like him who live among wealth, contentment with less than our neighbors is the only rational, intelligent option for believers since “we didn’t bring anything into the world, and we can’t take anything out of it” when we leave. While we are here, we can be content with only a little although we are free to enjoy what God gives us, provided we are generous (1 Timothy 6:17-19). Such contentment forms a third way between ascetic rejection of possessions as evil, which Paul counters in 1 Timothy 4:1-5, and materialistic pursuit of possessions. See 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus theme essay Pleasure in Possessions.
1 Timothy 6:9-11 (Key Passage) — Love of Money and Evil: This is a frequently misquoted passage. Paul does not say, “Money is the root of all evil,” but “Love of money is a root of all evils.” If we covet and love possessions, we can easily be led into almost any other sin. Such desires lead us away from the faith even though we may not realize it at first. Covetousness itself is idolatry. We might lie to protect or gain wealth or neglect our parents because of the inconvenience or financial cost; we might call ourselves by the Lord’s name in vain as we neglect his lordship over our finances. The practice of self-indulgence and pleasure-seeking can lead to adultery, and many divorces are rooted in financial catastrophe brought on by reckless spending. The desire for wealth is a trap, Paul says, using a vivid example from trapping animals—we are pierced by painful spikes, run through, and held fast until we die. The desires for wealth and possessions by which we are distracted and to which we fall prey are “senseless” (1 Timothy 6:10) since we will all be leaving this earth shortly with nothing (1 Timothy 6:7). See Colossians theme essay Idolatry Is Worthless, See Joshua and 1 Timothy theme essay Consequences of Greed and 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus theme essay Pleasure in Possessions.
1 Timothy 6:11-16 — Paul calls Timothy to flee these things—love of money and desire for wealth—and turn to the things of God so that he may better serve the one who called him. This is not just about Timothy’s special job as a minister or overseer. It is about salvation itself, turning in repentance from this world’s idols and sinful traps. This is shown by the following verses and their emphasis on salvation and judgment and the list of character traits (1 Timothy 6:11) which are common to all Christians. We may not need contentment and simplicity in the same way as Timothy, whose ministry was that of an overseer. But we still need the freedom for Christian service that comes from living with open hearts and hands and a lack of concentration on our own material possessions and pursuits. Many of our neighbors are in need of our ministry of sacrifices and generosity (see the study note on Colossians 1:24). See Joshua theme essay Choose Whom You Will Serve and 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus theme essay Pleasure in Possessions.
1 Timothy 6:17 (Key Passage) — Danger of Wealth: Paul follows his earlier command for those who aren’t rich, but wish they were (not to love money or desire wealth but to pursue contentment, 1 Timothy 6:7-10) with commands for those who are wealthy. This is additional evidence that teaching and preaching about wealth is not optional for pastors, teachers and other leaders. Wealth is not bad, though we should not pursue riches; God gives us good things in this world for our benefit and pleasure, provided we share what we have and do not fall in love with things (see the notes on 1 Timothy 4:1-5). Besides this, we don’t always have to own a thing to enjoy it. Think of the sun moon and stars; or the way we can share the possessions and blessings of others. The wealthy are exposed to certain sins, and they must especially avoid (1) pride and (2) trust in riches. Pride includes boasting about one’s own accomplishments (see note on Genesis 4:17-22), looking down on others with less money, education, social connections or even (see note on James 2) simply ignoring the poor in favor of concentration on the rich. Trust in riches leads us into a subtle, never-ending quest for “enough” money and resources to make us safe and comfortable and content. In reality, all wealth is “uncertain” and could vanish for a variety of reasons. In contrast Paul teaches those of us with money to hope in God our provider, who gives us richly what we need—perhaps even to the point of providing trials (see note on James 1:2-4), up to and including taking our wealth away like Job. As John Stott says: “Many people have gone to bed rich and woken up poor ... or not woken up at all” (see note on Luke 12:15-21). See Joshua and 1 Timothy theme essay Consequences of Greed and 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus theme essays Leaders and Financial Faithfulness, Pleasure in Possessions and Pastors and Financial Discipleship.
1 Timothy 6:19-21 — It is worth noting that Paul does not think we earn or buy our way into heaven (see also 1 Timothy 1:12-17). Rather, our generosity is measured as a true response to the free gift of salvation, as in Luke 12:32-33: “The Kingdom as gift leads to selling possessions and giving to the needy and thereby providing for oneself ‘a treasure in heaven.’ ” (Gordon Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus [New International Biblical Commentary], 158.) Nor does the teaching about wealth and generosity in 1 Timothy 5 and 6 come from humans—it is “entrusted by God” (1 Timothy 6:20) as with all other truth.