and constant friction between men of depraved mind who are devoid of the truth. These men regard godliness as a means of gain.
I. THE OPPOSITION TO APOSTOLIC TEACHING- ON THE DUTIES OF SLAVES. "If any one teacheth other doctrine, and does not assent to sound words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness."
1. The nature of this false teaching. It points, as the word signifies, to "a different doctrine" from that of the apostle. There were false teachers in Ephesus who, from a pretended interest in the class of Christian slaves, taught them that the gospel was a political charter of emancipation; for the yoke of Christ was designed to break every other yoke. They must have been of the class referred to elsewhere who "despised government" (2 Peter 2:10; Jude 1:8), and encouraged disobedience to parents. The tendency of their teaching would be to sow the seeds of discontent in the minds of the slaves, and its effects would be to plunge them into a contest with society which would have the unhappiest effects.
2. The opposition of this teaching to Divine truth.
(1) It was opposed to "wholesome words," to words without poison or taint of corruption, such as would maintain social relations on a basis of healthy development.
(2) It was opposed to the words of Christ, either directly or through his apostles. He had dropped sayings of a suggestive character which could not but touch the minds of the slave class: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's;" "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth;" "Resist not evil;" "Love your enemies, pray for them which despitefully use you."
(3) It was opposed to the doctrine of godliness. It was a strange thing for teachers in the Church to espouse doctrines opposed to the interests of godliness. The disobedience of slaves would commit them to a course of ungodly dishonoring of God and his gospel.
II. THE MORAL AND INTELLECTUAL CHARACTER OF THESE FALSE TEACHERS.
1. They were "besotted with pride." They were utterly wanting in the humility of spirit which the gospel engenders, but were puffed up with an empty show of knowledge.
2. Yet they were ignorant. "Knowing nothing." They had no true understanding of the social risks involved in their doctrine of emancipation, or of the true method of ameliorating the condition of the slaves.
3. They "doted about questions and disputes about words." They had a diseased appetency for all sorts of profitless discussions turning upon the meanings of words, which had no tendency to promote godliness, but rather altercations and bad feeling of all sorts - "from which cometh envy, strife, evil-speakings, wicked suspicions, incessant quarrels." These controversial collisions sowed the seeds of all sorts of bitter hatred.
4. The moral deficiency of these false teachers. They were "men corrupted in their mind, destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is gain."
(1) They had first corrupted the Word of God, and thus prepared the way for the debasement of their own mind, leading in turn to that pride and ignorance which were their most distinguishing qualities.
(2) They were "deprived of the truth." It was theirs once, but they forfeited this precious treasure by their unfaithfulness and their corruption. It is a dangerous thing to tamper with the truth.
(3) They heard that "godliness was a source of gain." They did not preach contentment to the slaves, or induce them to acquiesce with patience in their hard lot, but rather persuaded them to use religion as a means of worldly betterment. Such counsel would have disorganizing, disintegrating effects upon society. But it was, besides, a degradation of true religion. Godliness was not designed to be a merely lucrative business, or to be followed only so far as it subserved the promotion of worldly interests. Simon Magus and such men as "made merchandise" of the disciples are examples of this class. Such persons would "teach things which they ought not for the sake of base gain" (Titus 1:11). - T.C.
I. We may take first THE MATTER OF CREED, and we shall find, when we come to investigate, that in this department the words of the Lord Jesus were distinguished by two qualities which mark them as pre-eminently healthy. The first of these is their positive character. The Lord was no mere dealer in negations. Dr. Samuel Johnson complained of Priestley, as a philosopher, that he "unsettled everything and settled nothing"; but no one can read the four Gospels without feeling that in meeting Jesus he has come into contact with One who speaks in the most positive manner. On subjects regarding which the wisest minds of antiquity were completely uncertain, He has the fullest assurance. We may wade through volumes of metaphysics, from those of Aristotle to those of Kant, without getting any distinct notion of God, but "when we hear Jesus say, 'God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth,' we feel that God is a personal reality; and though Christ does not define the nature of spirit, yet when He speaks of God as thinking, loving, willing — His Father and ours — we understand Him better than the philosophers, though He penetrates to the depth of a nature which they had vainly sought to define." He has settled our minds upon the subject, not by argument, but by awakening in us the God-consciousness which is one of the instincts of our being, and so bringing us to say, "It must be so, for I can rest in that." In like manner, when He enforces duty He evokes the conscience within us to a recognition of its responsibility. So, too, in reference to the future. He does not argue, He asserts with the speech of One who knows whereof He affirms, and forthwith the natural longing of the heart for immortality finds its craving satisfied, and settles in the certainty that "dust thou art, to dust returnest, was not spoken of the soul." Akin to this positive characteristic of the Saviour's words concerning creed is the discouragement which they give to all indulgence in speculations about things which are merely curious, and have no bearing upon our character or conduct. Thus, when one of His disciples asked, "Are there few that be saved?" He declined to answer the question, and fixed the attention of His hearers on the vital and urgent matter of individual duty, saying, "Strive ye to enter in at the strait gate," Everything that is profitless and without bearing on life and godliness He brands as unworthy of consideration or discussion, and all mere logomachies are unsparingly condemned by Him. Now in these two things you have the symptoms of mental and spiritual health. The man who accounts nothing certain never focuses his mind on any. thing; while he who runs after every sort of speculation, scatters his mind over everything. The one never gets ready to do anything; the other attempts so much that he really accomplishes nothing. Is it not, precisely, in these two respects that the unhealthiness of much of the thinking in our own age manifests itself?
II. But now, passing from the domain of creed TO THAT OF CHARACTER, WE ARE EQUALLY STRUCK WITH THE HEALTHINESS OF THE SAVIOUR'S WORDS in reference to that.
1. For in dealing with that subject He is careful to put supreme emphasis, not on that which is without, but on that which is within. He distinguishes between the head and the heart, and never confounds intellectual ability with moral greatness. Now the healthiness of all this is apparent at a glance, for it goes to the root of the matter, and only One who was Himself whole-hearted could thus have prescribed for diseased humanity.
2. Again, in reference to character, the healthiness of the Saviour's words appears in that He insists, not on asceticism in any one particular, but on full-rounded holiness. He does not require the eradication of any one principle of our nature, but rather the consecration of them all.
3. But looking now, to the department of conduct, we have in that another equally striking exemplification of the healthiness of the words of the Lord Jesus. He was very far from giving any countenance to the idea that religion is a thing only of sentiment. He insisted, indeed, as we have seen, on the importance of faith in the great central doctrines; and He was equally emphatic in declaring the innerness of holiness. But He dwelt on both of these only that He might the more effectually reach that conduct which one has called "three-fourths of life."
4. But another illustration of the healthiness of Christ's words in regard to conduct may be seen in the absence of all minute and specific details. He lays down great principles, leaving it to the conscience of the individual to make the application of these to the incidents and occasions of life as they arise. The words of Christ are not like the directions on a finger-pest at a crossing, or the indicators of the cardinal points upon a spire, which are of service only in the places where they are set up; but rather like a pocket compass, which, rightly used and understood, will give a man his bearings anywhere. Nothing so educates a man into weakness and helplessness as to be told in every emergency precisely what he must do. That makes for him a moral "go-cart," outside of which he is not able to stand, and the consequence is that he can never be depended upon. If the teacher shows the pupil how to work each individual sum, he will never make him proficient in arithmetic. The man who is continually asking himself, as to his food, what he shall eat and what he shall drink and what he shall avoid, is either a dyspeptic or a valetudinarian. He is not healthy. And in like manner, he who in the domain of morals is continually inquiring of somebody, may I do this? may I go thither? or must I refrain from that? has never rightly comprehended the healthiness of Christ's words, and is far from having attained the strength which they are calculated to foster. Here is the great law, "Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation."
(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
I. THE WHOLESOMENESS OF CHRIST'S TEACHING. The apostle speaks of "wholesome words," a translation which we prefer to that given in the Revised Version ("sound words"), because it conveys the idea of imparting health to men and to society. Christ's teaching is the ozone of the moral atmosphere.
1. It concerned itself with practical questions. The Sermon on the Mount (which is the chief specimen given us of His teaching) proves this to demonstration. As Jesus Himself put it: a candle was not lighted by Him in order to be looked at or talked about; but that it might give light to all that were in the house. In other words, the Christian religion is to be used rather than to be discussed, and is meant to throw light upon all the obscurities of life's pathway until it leads up to the light of heaven.
2. His teaching was embodied in His perfect life. This made it the more helpful. These slaves, for example, to whom the apostle had been speaking, wanted to know what they were to do under the provocations and hardships of their lot. And nothing could help them more than the knowledge of Him whose gentleness was never at fault; who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered He threatened not, but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously.
3. His teaching, tended, to the increase of godliness. "The doctrine which is according to godliness, means the teaching which makes men more like God — in holiness and righteousness and love. But in sharp contrast with this is presented —
II. THE UNWHOLESOMENESS OF FALSE TEACHING, the effects of which were visible in the character of those who accepted and taught it.
1. Self-sufficiency was written on the forehead of each of them. As Paul says, "He is proud," literally "carried away with conceit," "knowing nothing." A footman is generally more awe-inspiring than his master. And this was true of pretentious teachers in Paul's days, of whom he says they are "carried away with conceit."
2. Love of verbal disputes was another characteristic of theirs. The word translated "doting" indicates a distempered and sickly condition, which turns away from the "wholesome" food of the gospel; just as a child with a poor appetite refuses bread-and-butter, and can only daintily pick and choose among delicacies, and the more he has of them the worse his appetite becomes. It is a bad sign when society has unwholesome appetites, caring more for art than for truth — more for manner than for matter; for these are signs of decadence such as preceded the fall of the Roman empire.
3. A carnal appetite was displayed by these opponents of our Lord's wholesome words. Our translation, "supposing that gain is godliness," is incorrect and misleading. No one supposes, or ever supposed, that worldly gain is godliness, or leads to it; but many in all ages have been guilty of what Paul suggests, namely, of "using godliness as a way of gain." In other words, these men, corrupted as they were in mind, in the whole inner life, and "bereft of the truth," only professed the Christian faith so far as it was serviceable to their worldly interests.
(A. Rowland, LL. B.)
Supposing that gain is godliness
I. I AM TO EXPLAIN THE MEANING OF THE DOCTRINE THAT VIRTUE CONSISTS IS UTILITY. This sentiment has been maintained by those who believe, as well as by those who disbelieve Divine revelation. The turning point is utility. Intention is of no farther value than as it leads to utility: it is the means, and not the end. "The result of this part of the subject is, that those persons have been grossly mistaken, who taught that virtue was to be pursued for its own sake. Virtue is upon no other account valuable, than as it is the instrument of the most exquisite pleasure." All who suppose that virtue consists in utility, agree in maintaining that virtue has no intrinsic excellence, as an end, but only a relative excellence, as a means to promote the only ultimate end in nature, that is, happiness. Since happiness is, in their view, the supreme good, and misery the supreme evil, they conclude that the whole duty of men consists in pursuing happiness, and avoiding misery. Upon this single principle, that virtue wholly consists in its tendency to promote natural good, in distinction from natural evil, Godwin has founded a scheme of sentiments which, carried into practice, would subvert all morality, religion and government.
II. I proceed to demonstrate THE ABSURDITY OF SUPPOSING THAT "GAIN IS GODLINESS," OR THAT VIRTUE ESSENTIALLY CONSISTS IN UTILITY. This sentiment is not only false, but absurd, because it contradicts the plainest dictates of reason and conscience.
1. To suppose that virtue consists in utility, is to suppose that virtue may be predicated of inanimate objects. These have a natural tendency, in various ways, to promote human happiness. The mode in which a man is made subservient is by inducement and persuasion. But both are equally the affair of necessity. The man differs from the knife as the iron candlestick differs from the brass one; he has one more way of being acted upon. This additional way in man is motive, in the candlestick it is magnetism. Such is the natural and avowed consequence of the doctrine, that virtue consists in utility. It necessarily implies that mere material objects may be really virtuous; and some material objects may have more virtue than the most benevolent of the human race.
2. To suppose that virtue consists in utility, is to suppose that virtue may be predicated of the mere animal creation. It is no less absurd to ascribe virtue to the utility of animals than to ascribe virtue to a refreshing shower, or a fruitful field.
3. To suppose that virtue consists in utility, is to suppose that men may be virtuous, without any intention to do good. They certainly may be very useful, without having utility in view. Men are every day performing actions which have a tendency to promote that public good which lies beyond all their views and intentions. But the doctrine under consideration places all virtue in the tendency of an action, and not in the intention of the actor. Intention is of no farther value than as it leads to utility. This is stripping moral virtue of every moral quality, which is a gross absurdity.
4. To suppose that virtue consists in utility, is to suppose that men may be virtuous in acting, not only without any intention, but from a positively bad intention. If the virtue of an action consists altogether in its tendency, it may be as virtuous when it flows from a bad intention as when it flows from a good intention, or from no intention at all. The intention of an agent does not alter the tendency of his action. A man may do that from a good intention, which has a tendency to do evil; or he may do that from a bad intention, which has a tendency to do good. Some actions done from the worst intentions have been the most beneficial to mankind. Be it so, that no malevolent action has a natural or direct tendency to promote happiness; yet if virtue consists in utility the good effect of a malevolent action is just as virtuous as the good effect of a benevolent one. For the doctrine we are considering places all virtue in the tendency of an action, and not in the intention of the agent.
5. To suppose that virtue consists in utility, is to suppose that there is nothing right nor wrong in the nature of things, but that virtue and vice depend entirely upon mere accidental and mutable circumstances. There are certain relations which men bear to each other, and which they bear to our Creator, which create obligations that never can be violated without committing a moral crime.
6. To suppose that virtue consists in utility is to suppose that there is nothing in the universe intrinsically good or evil but happiness and misery.
7. To suppose that virtue consists in utility is to suppose that there is really no such thing as either virtue or vice in the world. If the actions of free agents are either good or evil, solely on account of their tendency to promote either pleasure or pain, then nothing can be predicated of them but advantage or disadvantage. Actions which promote happiness may be denominated advantageous, but not virtuous; and actions which produce misery may be denominated disadvantageous, but not vicious.
III. MEN ARE GREATLY EXPOSED TO EMBRACE IT. This the apostle plainly intimates, by exhorting Timothy to withdraw himself from those who "supposed that gain is godliness."
1. From the resemblance which this error hears to the truth, though it be diametrically opposite to it. Those who maintain that virtue consists in utility, represent it under the alluring name of universal philanthropy, which is an imposing appellation. They pretend that happiness is the supreme good, and virtue solely consists in promoting it to the highest degree. They insinuate that this philanthropy directly tends to diffuse universal happiness, and to raise human nature to a state of perfection in this life.
2. The danger will appear greater if we consider by whom this pleasing and plausible error is disseminated. It is taught by grave divines, in their moral and religious treatises and public discourses. Law and Paley have been mentioned as placing the whole of virtue in utility. Dr. Brown, in his remarks upon the Earl of Shaftesbury's characteristics, maintains that virtue consists in its tendency to promote individual happiness.
3. There is a strong propensity in human nature to believe any other scheme of moral and religious sentiments, than that which is according to godliness. Men naturally love happiness, and as naturally hate holiness.
(N. Emmons, D. D.)
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