Comparative Commentary on 1 Timothy                             Return to Home 

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.  © 2020


All reproduction of text in paper, electronic, or computer

form both permitted and encouraged so long as authorial

credit is given and the text is not altered.




(Volume 4:  6:6-12)




The Need to Seek Out Contentment In Life



TCNT:  6 And a great source of gain religion is, when it brings contentment with it!  7 For we brought nothing into the world, because we cannot even carry anything out of it.  8 So, with food and shelter, we will be content.

9 Those who want to be rich fall into the snares of temptation, and become the prey of many foolish and harmful ambitions, which plunge people into Destruction and Ruin.  10 Love of money is a source of all kinds of evil; and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the Faith, and have been pierced to the heart by many a regret.



            A life reflecting moral restraint and happiness should be our goal:  Now godliness with contentment is great gain” (6:6).  All our alternates retain “godliness” and “contentment” within whatever other textual changes they make . . . with the exception of the GW which has the text teach the same thing but with different words, “A godly life . . . to people who are content with what they have.”  Of course there is unspoken “freight” between “godliness” and “with contentment” that we usually take for granted.  The NASB fleshes it out by adding, “when accompanied by contentment.”  NET provides the linkage by speaking of “godliness combined with contentment.”


The Greek word behind “contentment” can have one of two meanings.[1]  It can refer to something inward centered--that we have everything we need within ourselves and therefore are, so to speak, at peace with the world.  We know that we have the inner resources to handle whatever may happen.  It can also carry an external centered emphasis—we find our place in life, our situation in life, acceptable and as lacking any intolerable grievance.  The first might be labeled “contentment with ourselves” and the latter “contentment with the surrounding world or environment.” 


Oddly some have taken this principle of “godliness with contentment” as ruling out being “paid” for one’s preaching efforts.  The preceding verses (3-5) target those who believe that their doctrinal divisiveness is a tool to gain greater recognition and “salary:”  “They suppose that godliness is a means of gain.”  The same individual I read conceded that this wasn’t an absolute necessity but it should rouse suspicions:  “So those who claim pay for their teaching, beware.”[2]

  It is one thing to preach for free when one does so on an occasional basis rather than an ongoing one.  There is also a profound difference when one is intentionally sacrificing useful reimbursement so that resources can be utilized in other aspects of the spiritual field.  But there is a world of difference between these situations and the feeling that a congregation that has the resources to provide at least token assistance should look for a rationale not to do so.  After all, a preacher has the inherent right to support (1 Corinthians 9:3-7).

It is something different when support is sought or given for the wrong reason.  Those who are dedicated “heresy hunters” and who have established their reputation as such, run the danger of becoming so obsessed with it that nothing positive in the gospel ranks of equal importance in their personal study and writing.  Indeed their excess enthusiasm can easily create the feeling of obligation to support “lest the church be washed away in apostasy.”  Usually it isn’t!  Assuming even the highest of accuracy in their targets, knowing what not to believe is only half the battle.  Faithfulness also hinges on what we do believe.  


            “Great gain” remains popular (ESV, Holman, NIV, WEB), though, strangely, Weymouth drops the word “great” and the NASB expands the idea:  “actually is a means of great gain.”  Brings a “great profit” is preferred in two instances (ISV, NET) and an even more emphatic, “brings huge profits” by a third (GW).  We might not gain something financial from it, of course, but we gain a peace of mind and emotional calmness.  The disgruntlement and anxiety that can easily result from transferring our center of interest to worldly matters is removed.  


            In other words, Paul implicitly warns us that we can be both quite “godly” and yet racked with discontent.  That either gets inflicted on ourselves (think extreme worry and anxiety) or others (for discontent so easily turns to rage and the desire to take out our frustration on those around us).  Paul deals with this by his emphasis on how well off the faithful Christian—even a slave or poor free man—actually is.  

            Even if one is financially poor, that does not prohibit one from being spiritually rich and since our standing in the next world will be based upon that criteria, it makes us more than equal with the millionaire who has nothing (positive) to look forward to in eternity.  He or she has all the good things they will ever enjoy now, while our joys can only grow in size when we enter our new homeland in the resurrection.

            “Paul is not praising poverty here nor is he condemning those who have wealth.  ‘He is declaring that in contrast to the mercenary attitude of the false teachers, ‘godliness accompanied by contentment’ is greater riches than all the offerings collected by the false teachers.  Paul himself had learned such contentment (Philippians 4:11-13).  Godliness of the right kind, then, with no mercenary thought of its being used as a steppingstone to wealth or worldly acclaim, but coupled with a pure conscience and peace of soul, will furnish satisfaction far beyond anything this world can offer.  This is great gain.’ ”[3]


            Hebrews 13:5 presents the same sentiment of acceptance of what we have by noting that it has Old Testament precedent, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have.  For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ ”  The Psalmist refers to the qualitative difference between such a person and those willing to “get ahead” through dishonesty and the abuse of others, “A little that a righteous man has is better than the riches of many wicked” (Psalms 37:16).  Even in utilitarian rather than moral terms it is often the case, “Better is a little with the fear of the Lord, than great treasure with trouble [turmoil, Holman, NASB, NIV, etc]” (Proverbs 15:16).   


            Nothing else makes any real sense since one of the ultimate realities is that we will leave it all behind, no matter how much we may have gained:  For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out” (6:7).

            For we brought nothing into this world” is widely kept by alternate versions (ESV, Holman, NIV, WEB, Weymouth), with two adding “have brought” to the wording (NASB, NET).  ISV seems to strive for something sounding “sparser,” for lack of a better term:  “Nothing to this world we bring”—something like “poetic” rhythm to my ears at least.  The GW prefers something more colloquial, “We didn't bring anything into the world.”

            Modern language equivalents have been found in such expressions as “there are no pockets in a shroud” and “you do not see a U Haul truck following the hearse.”  The closest I ever heard of someone who attempted to do that was the man who was able to talk the graveyard into permitting him to be buried in his favorite car!  Alas, wherever he went in eternity, that car was still not going to be available to him for transportation.  


            We come into the world with nothing but ourselves.  No “tour guide,” no riches, and absolutely no guarantee of what the future will hold.  War, peace, tranquility, upheaval, disease, plague, you name it.  It could be any of these and, if you live long enough, probably several.  Birth is that moment of ultimate and total equality that every human being has in common.  What comes next is determined by hard work and good fortune and one is foolish to dismiss either from the equation.  The death in which life ends represents the same kind of absolute equality with which it began.


            Of the assertion that it is certain we can carry nothing out,” the word “certain” is dropped by all except for WEB, which alters the form of the term to, “we certainly can’t carry anything out.”  All the others—in their variations—simply assert the impossibility as fact (“we can carry nothing out”) rather than pounding the point home even more emphatically.  Either way the underlying reality remains the same.  No one has ever done it and no one ever will.  


            This is an old truth recognized in antiquity by the morally perceptive.  At the time of deep suffering Job poured out the eternal reminder, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there” (Job 1:21).  For our purposes this text is especially relevant.  A person might have an existence on a continuum ranging from terrible mistreatment or disease to widespread honor.  The pain and anguish Job was going through at the time he spoke these words put him deep into the suffering ending of the continuum.  Yet even there, there was a grim acknowledgement that such was—in a very real sense—inevitable:  we live and we die and we take nothing with us in either direction. 

            That doesn’t mean that, if you are wealthy, you have to like this.  (“After all that hard work and good fortune I have to leave it behind?”  Yes.)  But you do have to recognize it is the reality.  And that is true for those at both ends of the socio-economic totem pole.  Consider the disgruntled but realistic words about the rich spoken by that great realist-cynic who wrote Ecclesiastes:


13 There is a severe evil which I have seen under the sun:  Riches kept for their owner to his hurt.  14 But those riches perish through misfortune; when he begets a son, there is nothing in his hand.  15 As he came from his mother’s womb, naked shall he return, to go as he came; and he shall take nothing from his labor which he may carry away in his hand.

16 And this also is a severe evil—Just exactly as he came, so shall he go.  And what profit has he who has labored for the wind?  17 All his days he also eats in darkness, and he has much sorrow and sickness and anger.


            Hand-in-hand with this goes the reality that even if we gain an elevated economic status this is no guarantee that we can keep it even while alive--the fact that we have great possessions is no guarantee that we can retain them.  Ray Stedman recalls three times this has happened within my own life time and provides a fourth example where it could easily happen again:[4]  


            Riches can disappear overnight.  Many wealthy people in Vietnam had to flee just like the poor, and leave everything behind.  Many rich Iranians thought the Shah was going to preserve their way of life in Iran, then the revolution came and it all disappeared.  Many wealthy Americans in the State of Washington had beautiful cabins and property around the foot of Mt. St. Helen's, which are now buried under twenty feet of ashes.  If the San Andreas fault lets loose, we will see how many of us retain the good things we have been given.


            If we have great temporal blessings let us thank God profusely for them and use them wisely.  But never let us fall into the delusion that there is an absolute guarantee for the indefinite future.  I recently glanced at the link to an article on how great it will be if the 2020s (which have just begun) are as great as the 1920s.  Pleasant thought though it is, I also remembered how it ended:  A hideous Depression that was only fully ended through a world war!  Who would have thought such a severe economic collapse could occur?  Who would have thought the world would erupt in a second world war less than 25 years after ending the first one?

            Those words about the 1920s were written only a month ago.  As I do the final revision in March 2020, America is economically closing many doors as disease sweeps over the country.  Will we have a relatively short economic crisis or a full scale Second Depression?  No one knows.  If we can’t even predict with accuracy the next month, how can we possibly cherish the delusion that we will inevitably retain the abundant blessings that we have even a year from now?  This is not a call for pessimism but one for joy over our blessings--now and forever long we may be blessed with them. 


            Having a baseline for happiness--consisting of having enough to get by--should be our goal:  And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content” (6:8).  In a context of other modifications, the combination of “food and clothing” is widely preserved (ESV, GW, Holman, ISV, NIV, WEB, Weymouth).  In the NASB we have the substitution, however, of “covering” (NASB) and in the NET the surprising reference to “food and shelter.” 

            Strictly speaking “covering” could logically include either clothes or shelter, but most folk would surely apply it to the former.  Even so it would technically be accurate and the Greek is translated that way by Luke T. Johnson to cover the ambiguity found in the underlying Greek—it being applied by ancient sources to both things.[5]  Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines it as “a covering, specifically, clothing.”  Thayer’s approach seems dominant:  It could apply to anything that covers us, but clothing seems the most germane. 

            Philip Schaff also believes that the meaning of the word “clothing” is broad enough to cover housing as well.  He reasons, “The Greek word, which is not found elsewhere in the New Testament, has the general sense of covering, and may therefore include ‘shelter’ as well.”[6]  W. Robertson Nicol makes the same argument in the Expositor’s Greek Testament.[7]

            In favor of the food and clothing combination is the fact that when Jesus speaks of the core essentials of life He speaks of these two things (Matthew 6:25)--not food and housing.  In my judgment that is most likely what Paul is doing as well because if you don’t have food and clothing, having a roof over our heads is an irrelevancy.  We are “doomed anyway.” 

            Another approach is this one:  It is not uncommon to denote the whole by a part, and as these are the principal things which we really need, and without which life could not be sustained, the apostle uses the phrase to denote all that is really necessary for us.”[8] 


            Whatever reading one adopts, the clear point is that we should be content if we have the minimums to get by.  We should never wait until all our dreams become reality to find contentment.  For one thing many of them won’t be fulfilled and we could well be worse off if they were.  We should make the most of every day rather than torment ourselves about things we have no control over.

            There are degrees of poverty in all societies.  There is poor and “gutter poor,” if you will.  The folk being described have at least access to food and clothing.  “Enough to keep body and soul together,” is the way an earlier generation of Americans might have described it.  They don’t have so much that they can brag about what they have; but they have enough to keep their heads above water.  Been there; lived that way (or not much above it) for the majority of my adult life.  Not the ideal, but certainly the adequate.  And when you’ve aware of how badly things can be, still a whole lot to be thankful for to the Lord!

            But some people can never be content:  for them life must always be a process of getting more.  If they don’t, they aren’t content.  Contentment always lives “just over the horizon.”  And, of course, you never reach it because the horizon never ends no matter where you are no earth.

            Paul does not claim that this is the most natural mind frame, but that it is the most desirable one.  A useful Pauline commentary is found in Philippians 4:11:  Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.”  In other words it does not always come naturally.  It is, if you will, a mind frame that is obtained through deliberate effort.   


            Of the reference to “we shall be content,” the last word is preserved in various of the different readings (ESV, Holman, NASB, NIV, WEB), though the ISV opts for the oddly sounding, “content we are in everything”--which is certainly not the way we would normally express the thought in English.  The others prefer to substitute “satisfied” for “content” (GW, NET, Weymouth).

            The certainty of this reaction is stressed by the emphasis on how we “will be” or its equivalent in the various versions but the GW has the strange substitution of, “we should be satisfied.”  It is tempting to say that for Paul what “should be” for the dedicated Christian would surely be what would be.  But a reading of 1 Corinthians surely warns us that he was well aware of the difference between “would” and “should” . . . not that he wished there to be a difference, but he was aware that it too often occurs.  We cover that possibility if the implicit point of Paul is “we shall be content if we are truly wise.”  Whether the apostle clearly intends that wording or not, it is hard to see any reason he would be upset with it. 

            Paul’s emphasis on the need to be content even with only modest resources emphatically echoes Jesus’ own teaching in the sermon on the Mount to cultivate that very attitude (Matthew 6):


25 “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?  26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?  27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?

28 “So why do you worry about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?   32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek.  For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.  34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.



            The desire to be rich inevitably creates the incentive for behavior that is morally and ethically self-destructive:  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition” (6:9).  Note that “it is not the possession of riches, but the love of them that leads men into temptation.”  The desire to be what they aren’t already.  The ability to hold our temporal success at a “certain mental distance” allows us to function in an ethical and moral manner whether we ever have such abundance or not. 

            The degree of preoccupation with such goals would be conveyed by the substitution of one word, “But those who are obsessed to be rich fall into temptation and a snare.”  A conceptual parallel to this verse is found in Proverbs 28:20:  “. . .  He who hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.”  [“Eager to get/be rich,” NIV, WEB; “in a hurry to get rich,” GW, ISV; “makes haste to be rich,” NASB.]  That calamity may take the form of losing it little by little (Proverbs 13:11) or losing it all and becoming destitute (Proverbs 28:22)


            As we study the wording those who desire to be rich,” the key difference to point out is in the word “desire.”  It is preserved only in the ESV, with most substituting “want to be” or “want to get rich” (GW, Holman, ISV, NASB, NIV).  “Long to be rich” (NET) won’t necessarily convey the intensity of real passion envolved in the goal, but “determined to be rich” (WEB, Weymouth) certainly does.

            At least as important to them as their religion--and often overshadowing it--is that search for financial betterment.  We need many things on this earth and many of those certainly require money.  But the recognition of this can easily evolve into acting as if the only thing we need is economic well being.  Rather than being part of a well balanced life, it becomes the pivot around which everything revolves. 

            The Psalmist’s wise counsel remains true today:  If riches increase, do not set your heart on them” (Psalms 62:10).  Do not become obsessed with them as if they were the only thing of importance in the world.  You may have obtained them, but you have no real certainty of who will ultimately have them (Psalms 39:6). 

            Jesus provided the same counsel.  Before giving His parable about the rich man who died and reaped Divine wrath while a poor beggar at his gate was received generously, the Lord gave this piece of wise counsel:  Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15).  The GNT renders it this way:  your true life is not made up of the things you own, no matter how rich you may be.”  The NASB speaks of how “not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.”  Useful, desirable--yes (at least usually), but never “all there is.”

            Furthermore, there is a “wealth” in Christ that dollars or euros or any other currency can’t buy.  Redemption.  Forgiveness of our sins if we humbly ask for it and labor our best to reform.  Strength in times or sorrow and distress.         


            Those defining success strictly in mainly or purely in temporal terms fall into temptation and a snare.”  Fall, stumble into it without recognizing the danger is there.  We don’t purposely set out to encounter dangerous temptations that are actually a trap (“snare”), but it is the inevitable result of our preoccupation.  And having fallen into it, the imagery is that we never get out of it . . . so uncommon is that experience.  Hence we ultimately “drown” in our snare says Paul.

            That word “fall” itself suggests the same point:  The word ‘fall’ is in the present tense, suggesting a continual falling.  This desire to be rich at all costs brings one temptation to compromise after another.  Thus they are tempted to sacrifice morality, principles, honesty, kindness and friendship to get ahead.”[9]  The real question is often whether there is anything they aren’t willing to sacrifice.                        


            The rendering of “a snare”--in fall into temptation and a snare”—remains far from uncommon (ESV, NASB, WEB, Weymouth), but slightly more popular is to refer to it being “a trap” (Holman, NET, NIV) or being “trapped” (GW, ISV).  Even more common is retaining “fall into temptation” (ESV, Holman, NASB, NIV, WEB, Weymouth).  Stumble into temptation” also expresses the thought quite well (NET).  The person who lives this way is hardly likely to do this only once; they are too driven by their “get rich” compulsion.  Hence both the GW (“keep falling into temptation”) and the ISV (“keep toppling into temptation”) bring out the continuing nature of life that one who is wealth obsessed is assured of having.  

            This is a person where temptation is always winning.  Mark Dunagan writes:[10]


                        All men are tempted, but this is the person who has fallen into a state of temptation, that is who is yielding to one temptation after another.  The term “snare” means a “trap”. The word “fall” is also in the present tense, suggesting a continual falling.  This desire to be rich at all costs brings one temptation to compromise after another.  Thus they are tempted to sacrifice morality, principles, honesty, kindness and friendship to get ahead . “When top priority is given to amassing riches, such things as honesty, generosity, and helpfulness have to take second place, or third or fourth place!” (Reese)


            But temptation does not have to be successful.  To live is to be tempted.  But Paul encouraged the Corinthians by writing “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). 

But it is our individual decision whether (1) to seek it out and (2) whether to actually use it.  To give in is inherently easier.  And to continually give in makes life style change a multitude more difficult.  Don’t get me wrong:  there is certainly nothing wrong in being rich.  What is wrong is to so seek it that we are blinded to all moral and ethical inhibitions that ought to govern our lives.  Then the frantic dream of success becomes like a poisoned trap (snare) destroying our souls--regardless of whether we ultimately obtain what we are after.       


            Hence Paul speaks of the result of such blindness, of how we inevitably fall “into many foolish and harmful lusts.”  That last word is not popular nowadays (rather like the word “fornication”) and is preserved only in the WEB.  Weymouth prefers “ways” and everyone else prefers “desires” as the substitute:  This generation may not know the meaning of “lust” (though widely enjoying it), but they surely understand the concept of “desires.”  Especially when it is accompanied by the description of it as “harmful desires”--the “harmful” being used by everyone but Weymouth who opts for “pernicious.”

            Robert G. Bratcher makes the reasonable suggestion that the reference to “harmful” desires may well carry the connotation of “dangerous,”[11] a wording which certainly intensifies the image of something being harmful and dangerous.

            We enter a far more varied landscape when we consider whether to continue describing these as “foolish” desires or something else.  (“Foolish” is preferred by Holman, NASB, NIV, WEB.)  “Unwise” (Weymouth) is a rather gentle way of describing how far afield one actually is in such cases.  “Senseless” describes the situation far better (ESV, NET), but my sentimental favorite is “many stupid and harmful desires” (GW, ISV).  They are like the “fool’s gold” of the pioneer western America which deluded men into believing that they had something invaluable when it was actually destitute of all value.

            The “harmful” image comes from the fact that the preoccupation does harm to our soul and its moral nature.  Even if we obtain the wealth we seek.  “The wealth acquired induces free gratification of appetites; luxuries, revelries, excesses, which call for [yet more] gain to sustain them.”[12]   

            The imagery of “foolish” applies because the attitude is so short sighted and does not take into consideration its impact on our long term moral character.  Nor the harm that it can easily produce in how we treat others.


            The result of an obsession with becoming rich at all costs is nothing short of personal disaster:  “Which drown men in destruction and perdition” (6:9).  It is pictured as nothing short of dying, of “drown[ing]” (GW, WEB).  Weymouth implies such by speaking of how they “sink mankind;” the result of being sunk in those days was normally being drowned, of course.  Indeed, the Greek here would convey the idea of “sinking” (if of a vessel) and “drowning” (if of a person).[13] 

Most, however, prefer a different rendering than either.  They speak of how this behavior “plunge[s]” folk into catastrophe (ESV, Holman, ISV, NASB, NET, NIV).  But if this does, indeed, result in both “ruin” as well as “destruction” (and all our alternative  translations use that language, though two put the “destruction” first [GW, ISV, Weymouth]), doesn’t the “drowning” image correctly portray the result both accurately and more vividly?  And the image of “sink[ing] mankind” only marginally less so?  


            Of course it isn’t literal water that you sink or drown in.  In the moral and ethical sense under discussion it is “destruction and perdition.”  All our surveyed versions substituted “ruin and destruction” (ESV, Holman, NASB, NET, NIV, WEB) though three reversed the word order (GW, ISV. Weymouth).  Both terms “are synonyms, both referring to violent and extensive destruction.[14]  By the repetition he is making the point doubly emphatic. 

The idea would be the same if we were to say “the roof is going to fall on you and the earth is going to collapse beneath your feet.”  Since the subject is the desire to get rich, perhaps it might be better to speak in terms of “going bankrupt and being thrown in jail for doing what caused you to go bankrupt.”  In other words, overwhelming, completely avoidable spiritual catastrophe. 


            Money is not inherently evil, but it can still warp us:  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (6:10).

            The precise phrase for the love of money” is still dominant (ESV, Holman, ISV, NASB, NET, NIV, WEB), with the GW arguably making it more emphatic by changing the first word to, “Certainly, the love of money” (GW).  The unspoken linkage between money love and its results (“evil”) is brought out by Weymouth who speaks of how “from love of money” this evil results.

            Two types of people fall under Paul’s condemnation.  There are those who will do anything to get money in order to lavish it on themselves and (maybe!) a few appreciated others.  They want to be “admired” for having so much that they can “do anything” that they want, whenever they want.  This mentality easily warps into doing “anything” even when it is blatantly excessive and evil.

            Then there are those who will do anything imaginable--and sometimes unimaginable!--to lay their hands on greater wealth from a strictly self-centered egotistical motive.  As one commentator argues the point, “The connotation in ‘the love of money’ (philaguria) is not the acquisition of wealth in order that it may be used in prodigal expenditure but rather the miserly accumulation and hoarding of money for the very love of it.  That which should be a means to support life is made the end of life itself.”[15] 

            The hoarding of money as an end in itself doubtlessly exists.  But at least in the contemporary world of the United States and Western Europe, it is hard to believe that there is much of it.  At least outside of the small fringe at the top of the economic totem pole.

            However the bulk of those who can be legitimately described as rich are likely to regard this as a secondary element of their lifestyle.  Living in societies where the concept of meaningful sin no longer exists, wealth will overwhelmingly be a tool to engage in extreme indulgence as well. 

            To the degree they have ethical concerns, their economic status is the moral antidote to any misbehavior.  Their very ability to gain and keep wealth proves God has no moral problem with them.  This is easily true even if brazen depravity is avoided.  It can still produce a delusionary state of spiritual well being and acceptability to God even if His standards are routinely ignored or compromised.



            The KJV’s classic claim that love of wealth “is the root of all evil” is typically replaced by the NKJV’s preference for “is a root of all kinds of evil.”  This properly changes the text to show that the idea is that every imaginable form of evil can grow out of the greed . . . not that money itself is the cause of all evil.  A very important distinction!                   

            The NKJV’s wording is widely upheld (Holman, ISV, NIV, WEB), though the NKJV conspicuously puts “all kinds” in italics, indicating a translators’ addition while precious few do that any longer.  Several who insert “all kinds” make very minor alterations, with the ESV simply putting “evil” in the plural, NASB and Weymouth substituting “sorts of evil” for “kind,” and GW substituting “the root” for “a root.”     

            Of our sampling, only NET opts to retain “the love of money is the root of all evils,” altering only the later word to the plural “evils” in place of the KJV’s singular.  Slipping outside our standard ten translation parallels, we do find a number maintaining the KJV-NKJV approach:  


            James Moffatt:  “For love of money is the root of all mischief.”

            Edgar J. Goodspeed:  “For love of money is the root of all the evils.”

            Revised Standard Version:  “The love of money is the root of all evil things.”

            New English Bible:  “The love of money is the root of all evil things.”

            Revised English Bible (intended to be the successor for the NEB):  “The love of money is the root of all evil.”

            Jerusalem Bible (Roman Catholic, placing it in quotation marks—as an indication they regard it as a proverbial statement adopted by the apostle?):  “ ‘The love of money is the root of all evils.’ ”

            New Jerusalem Bible (RC):  “ ‘The love of money is the root of all evils.’

            With the exception of the JB and NJB—with which most non-Catholic preachers of my age would be unlikely to have enough of an acquaintance with to have a firm judgment—these unquestionably are either modern speech translations and/or have a “liberal” religious tinge that very conservative folk like myself get skittish about.  (I suspect I was one of the minority among the churches of Christ who actually had a good opinion of the RSV and used it as my preaching and writing text for a number of years.  I speak of the New Testament section; the Old Testament had to be used with caution.)


            What is the case to be made for and against translation as a plural (“kinds of evil”) rather than the singular and more encompassing “all evil”?  NET’s translation notes defend the singular reading, “Many translations render this ‘of all kinds of evil,’ especially to allow for the translation ‘a root’ along with it.  But there is no parallel for taking a construction like this to mean ‘all kinds of’ or ‘every kind of.’  The normal sense is ‘all evils.’ ” 

            The meaning of “root” also comes into play however:  Is it “a root” or “the root” of evil?  The British and Foreign Bible Society’s own Translator’s New Testament provides this justification for a plural reading, “ ‘Root’ is a predicate, and predicative nouns need not have the article even when they are definite, so that grammatically, ‘a root’ or ‘the root’ is a justifiable translation . . .  The latter seems preferable.  The love of money is not the only source of all evils, but it certainly is one of the sources.”   

            A NET note on “root” argues, “This could be taken to mean a root,’ but the phrase ‘of all evils’ clearly makes it definite.  This seems to be not entirely true to life (some evils are unrelated to love of money), but it should be read as a case of hyperbole (exaggeration to make a point more strongly).”[16]

            Hyperbole, as NET and others rightly observe, is a quite possible and reasonable approach.[17]  Perhaps we can make it even more appealing by noting the context in which Paul speaks:


But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.


            Reading the two verses together one could quite reasonably argue that the point is that for the greedy person, money “is the root of all evil” for there is little or nothing that he’ll stop at to gain it.  The type of person Paul is describing would be one who, with only modest or moderate hyperbole, be rightly described as a man for whom money is the root of all evil.  In other words, he isn’t talking about for humans in general but for the money obsessed in particular.  Since the meaning of verse 10 nearly always lands up centering on the verse standing alone, this broader context easily gets overlooked.  This approach is unquestionably quite appealing even if one hesitates  to fully embrace it.      


            Others have sought different means to preserve the reference to “all evil.”  For example, it is argued that verbal precision is not Paul’s point, but a zealous determination to get across to his readers just how bad this fault actually is:  “It is, besides, unreasonable in the highest degree to expect that on the ground of his inspiration, St. Paul’s ethical statements in a letter should be expressed with the precision of a text book.  When one is dealing with a degrading vice of any kind, the interests of virtue are not served by qualified assertions.”[18]  The implied idiom being conveyed might well have been, “You have to hit them over the head with a [rhetorical] baseball bat to make them understand!”  This Paul does.


            William Ramsay points out that among Greek intellectuals it was recognized that money could easily become the root cause of pervasive sin.  They also speak in the broad  language Paul does in the traditional reading of “all evil.”[19]


                        Here is one of the most misquoted sayings in the Bible.  Scripture does not say that money is the root of all evil; it says that the love of money is the root of all evil.  This is a truth of which the great classical thinkers were as conscious as the Christian teachers.  “Love of money,” said Democritus, “is the metropolis of all evils.”  Seneca speaks of “the desire for that which does not belong to us, from which every evil of the mind springs.”  “The love of money,” said Phocylides, "is the mother of all evils.”  Philo spoke of “love of money which is the starting-place of the greatest transgressions of the Law.”  Athenaeus quotes a saying: “The belly’s pleasure is the beginning and root of all evil.”


            Paul laments the fixation on wealth not only because of it being wrong in itself, but also because of its spiritual consequences: “for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness” (6:10).  The “greediness” reference is retained only by one translation and that in the simpler form of “greed” (WEB).  The enthusiasm element that is inherent in the passionate search for “more” is brought out by “eager for money” (NIV) and even more so by “eagerness to get rich” (ISV).  In approximate order of how the alternatives increasingly stress that enthusiasm, we have “reaching for it” (NET), “longing for it” (NASB), “hankered after” (Weymouth), “set their hearts on” (GW), and “craving” it (ESV, Holman).


            The element about “strayed from the faith” being the result or accompaniment of the greed is kept by NET and is slightly modified to “led astray from the faith” by both WEB and Weymouth.  The common substitute for “strayed” is “wandered,” as in “wandered away from the faith” (ESV, Holman, ISV, NASB).  Others modify this slightly:  the NIV by dropping the word “away” and adding “Christian faith” (GW)
            Three times in this epistle, Paul criticizes those who have left behind the apostolic norms for belief and behavior.  Here it is a criticism of having “strayed from the faith” due to their greed and love for wealth.  In 5:8 he rebukes those who have “denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” for refusing to take care of needy parents.  Finally in 4:1, there is the rebuke of those who “depart from the faith” by insisting upon doctrines not revealed by God, “forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving” (4:3). 

In all three cases they claim to be genuine believers, but their behavior and actions give the lie to the claim.  They may wear the veneer, but the substance has dissipated.   

            If the religious consequence of greed is gutting in part or whole one’s faith, the direct psychological effect is to gut oneself emotionally:  pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (6:10).  Although the “pierced” description remains the majority word choice, there are three dissenters.  NET prefers the equivalent “stabbed themselves” and both GW and ISV, oddly, eliminate any form of the concept by merely speaking of how they “caused themselves” sorrow.  Both “pierced” and “stabbed” quite effectively explain why they would suffer sorrow; “caused” is far vaguer as to how great a pain they have endured.  Especially since the underlying Greek term “means literally to ‘impale or pierce something.’ ”[20] 

            The pain that resulted is described as “sorrows” only in two cases (WEB, Weymouth).  “Sorrows” is certainly not the word that most would mentally link to having “pierced—or stabbed—oneself.”  Far better on that score is “pain” in either the singular (ISV) or the plural (Holman, NET).  “Pangs” (ESV) doesn’t seem quite so clear cut though it is a synonym.

“Grief” either in the singular (GW) or plural (NASB, NIV) would normally carry the overtone that one is sorry that one did it.  But in regard to these kind of folk in particular, would it be “grief” that they did it at all or “grief” that it failed to work?  Although this objection could be made to the other alternatives, it seems particularly relevant to this particular translator option.

What is pictured here is a man—or woman—being emotionally destroyed by their worldly dreams of wealth . . . in whatever particular form they may seek it.  Hence Luke T. Johnson renders the text “as ‘tortured themselves with many agonies,’ understanding the point to be that a life driven by such constant craving is a form of self-torture.”[21]  Sadly, willingly and enthusiastically embraced.  They seek the glories of Las Vegas while dying in the desert sands trying to reach it.


Paul doesn’t probe the kind of sorrows a “money first” mentality can produce, but they are certainly numerous.  John Stott, in his commentary on the books of 1 Timothy and Titus throws together this powerful summary of a cross-section:[22] 


A long list could be given.  Avarice leads to selfishness, cheating, fraud, perjury and robbery, to envy, quarrelling and hatred, to violence and even murder.  Greed lies behind marriages of convenience, perversions of justice, drug-pushing, pornography sales, blackmail, the exploitation of the weak, the neglect of good causes, and the betrayal of friends.


            Greed becomes the One True God whose worship is the be all of existence.  Until death destroys the delusion.









Timothy’s Personal Obligation

to Adhere to Right Standards

Regardless of What Is Happening Around Him



TCNT:  11 But do you, Servant of God, avoid all this.  Aim at righteousness, piety, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.  12 Run the great race of the Faith, and win the Immortal Life.  It was for this that you received the Call, and, in the presence of many witnesses, made the great profession of Faith.

13 I urge you, as in the sight of God, the source of all life, and of Christ Jesus who before Pontius Pilate made the great profession of Faith— 14 I urge you to keep his Command free from stain or reproach, until the Appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.  15 This will be brought about in his own time by the one ever-blessed Potentate, the King of all kings and Lord of all lords, 16 who alone is possessed of immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen or ever can see—to whom be ascribed honour and power for ever. Amen.



            Timothy should persevere in the kind of spiritual quest that he had been engaged in and which many could bear witness to:  But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.  (12) Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (6:11-12).


            Timothy should actively avoid the evils Paul had condemned:  But you, O man of God, flee these things” (6:11).  He is a man of God, not merely a religious man; in other words, Timothy is one who is truly dedicated to Him in mind, body, and action.  This is specifically “as contrasted with the money-lovers just denounced.”[23]

            The description of Timothy as “man of God” is kept by all our alternatives, save NET, which provides the interesting alternative of “But you, as a person dedicated to God” (NET).


            That is a remarkable [description].  In the Old Testament this title was reserved for the prophets, but, in the New Testament, only Timothy is addressed this way.  It must have meant a great deal to him to have the Apostle Paul call him ‘a man of God.’  That title combines two remarkable concepts:  Man, in his weakness, confusion, blindness and failure, and God, in His majesty, His greatness and power.  To be ‘a man of God’ is the greatest title that could be bestowed upon Timothy.[24] 


            As we typically use the term today the usage is slightly broader:  it is also used of any person faithfully and reliably serving God and carrying out a mission on His behalf.  In other words they were prophets in the strict sense of the term, i.e., forthtellers / revealers of God’s will rather than in the common limitation to predicters of the future.  Some, of course, fulfilled both roles.  Think Moses (Deuteronomy 33:1) and David (Nehemiah 12:24).  In either case they were individuals commissioned for important service to the Lord.  Hence the application of the language to the evangelist represented high praise indeed.

            But it is an expression that can rightly be applied to any faithful Christian who conforms to the Divine revelation and shares it with others.  In fact Paul uses that language in writing to Timothy about the importance of scripture and does so in such a broad manner that it seems impossible to draw any other conclusion:  All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).                  

            Since Timothy is supposed to be such a servant of God; it is imperative that he act in a manner consistent with his status and avoid the swamp of evil that is found within the world.  How we act tells the world whether our claim is credible or not.  There are certain attitudes and behavior so antithetical to being a true follower that he should not only avoid them, he should, so to speak, “flee” from being anywhere near them. 

            In other words, there are many folk who want to avoid sin but they “edge up to it” as close as they can without technically--at least in their own eyes--crossing the line.  In contrast, Timothy was to “keep a distance” between himself and the evil.  Indeed the term “flee” would suggest a growing distance.  Timothy was to be a “maximizer” rather than a “minimizer” of the gap. 


            The language of “flee[ing]” from these things is retained, with varying additional wording, in two-thirds of the translations surveyed (ESV, ISV, NASB, NIV, WEB, Weymouth).  Holman inserts a conceptual parallel thought:  run from these things.”  Once again, they are a constant danger, so get out of their way! 

The other two avoid this active injunction of fleeing, preferring something more passive:  keep away from all that” (NET) and “must avoid these things” (GW).  The imagery conveyed by the previous translations is far more powerful and demanding.  And better attuned to the language actually used:  “The word “flee” is a present imperative and denotes continuous action.  ‘There is no safe distance at which one can stop fleeing’ (Reese).”[25]

            The evils to be avoided, of course, include those of the type Paul had mentioned earlier in the chapter.  Timothy was to be just as insistent that he himself act within those norms as he was to insist that others do so as well.  “Do as I say and not as I do” was not to be part of his repertoire. 


            Timothy is not merely to be a man who consciously avoids doing evil, he is to be one who embraces the positive virtues that build up human character:  pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness” (6:11). 

            When it is practical, interpreters naturally try to find a linkage between items in a list such as this.[26]  It adds a substructure, so to speak, that “unify” what would otherwise be an unlinked series of virtues—desirable, certainly, but with nothing tying them together.  In this passage, one strand of thought sees three sets of linked virtues:  righteousness / godliness, faith / love, and patience / gentleness.  One formulation could express the linkage in this manner:


            *  Having the character God wants naturally leads to behavior God wants (the duo “righteousness and godliness”). 

            *  Having respect for God naturally leads to the right attitude toward Him (the duo “faith and love”). 

            *  Recognizing the self-restraint God manifests toward us breeds similar restraint toward others (the duo “patience and gentleness”); we don’t expect all problems to be resolved immediately and act in a manner that reflects that mind frame. 


            Others prefer to divide the text into two lists:  the first three items concern matters related to God (righteousness, godliness, and faith) while the remaining three concern our relations with other people (love, patience, and gentleness). 


            The “pursue” language is kept by all but two; WEB replaces it with the weaker “follow after” while Weymouth retains the intensity of the endeavor by speaking of the need to “strive for” the following virtues.  “Pursue” and “strive” convey the persistence element.  These are not things to think about and say “that would be nice”—and then let them slide.  Rather they are character traits that one is to persistently practice and never to neglect—for then we start backsliding and where that will end no one can ever guess.

            “ ‘The verb pursue has the image of a hunter who pursues an animal with intensity of purpose, for if he fails to bag the game, he will go hungry.  That’s the kind of intensity the ‘man of God’ exhibits as he pursues the six qualities and virtues about to be enumerated (Reese).”[27]


            More than two-thirds of our survey keep the “righteousness” language (ESV, Holman, ISV, NASV, NET, NIV, WEB).  However much “righteousness” is Biblical language it really isn’t used very much in our heavily secular society.  “Strive for uprightness” (Weymouth) removes the directly Christian “feel” to the concept, but conveys the intent quite well.  GW’s “pursue what God approves of” does so as well.

“Ethically upstanding” or “morally upstanding” are perhaps the closest functional equivalents in our society’s “secularize” dialect.  We are of the “nature” God wants us to be.  Willam Barclay points out that the definition of righteousness is “ ‘giving both to men and to God their due.’  It is the most comprehensive of the virtues; the righteous man is he who does his duty to God and to his fellow-men.”[28]  Neither is neglected.

Sometimes we blind ourselves as to what our nature is—or has become due to lack of thought or consideration.  When Jesus’ disciples suggested fire be brought down on a village that did not offer them hospitality on the way to Jerusalem, “He turned and rebuked them.”  Then the traditional (not critical text) adds, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of” (Luke 9:55). They were not manifesting the kind of behavior/desires that would have flowed from the right inner attitudes and standards.  


            “Godliness” remains the choice of all versions except for GW, which prefers “a godly life.”  (Perhaps a more secular understood expression would be “God approved behavior”?)  The expression refers not only to the fact that we are religious—i.e., Christian—but that our behavior manifests that faith in actual practice.  In this context, consider James’ insistence that proper “works” (behavior) must accompany faith for faith to be truly alive (James 2).

            The expression “godliness” refers to the fact of “spirit, soul, and body being kept in good health.”  Good spiritual health.  Maintaining good physical health is fine but it is nothing short of folly not to keep ourselves in a good spiritual condition as well.  It includes “emotions that are brought under control so that they do not keep you off balance all the time, so subject to moods that no one knows whether you are going to be in a good or a bad mood.”  This benefits us psychologically and enables us to live at peace with others as well.  It is right living as manifested in actual behavior.[29]


            “Faith” is preserved by two-third of our alternatives (ESV, GW, Holman, NASB, NIV, WEB) while Weymouth prefers to add “good faith” and the ISV and NET substitute 

faithfulness.”    After all, “faithfulness” is the active manifestation of faith in life—it is the living of it.  It is the “fullness” of faith as found in actual behavior and fidelity to God:[30]  We prove that it exists and is alive and well by our behavior.  Some have suggested that the modern idiom “to have the courage of his convictions” conveys the point.[31] 


            “Love” as the preferred word is kept here by all nine comparison texts (ESV, GW, Holman, ISV, NASB, NET, NIV, WEB, Weymouth).  Love envolves both attitude and action:  Contempt and disrespect are removed; good will is manifested rather than destructiveness.  That does not mean that we delude ourselves or others that their evil is actually good, but that we do our best to further them in their good behaviors and to help them fight their destructive impulses and temptations as well.  This is the ultimate debt we owe to others:  “Owe no one anything except to love one another” (Romans 13:8).


            The wording of “patience” no longer has much support, being found only in the WEB.  The various alternatives suggest that the idea is of ongoing loyalty to Christ in spite of any obstacles that could arise, “endurance” being the preferred choice (Holman, GW, ISV, NET, NIV).  “Perseverance” (NASB) and “steadfastness” (ESV) communicate the same message.  The “fortitude” of Weymouth also conveys the idea of constructive “stubbornness” . . . in loyalty to the gospel. 

            Although the Greek word is translated “patience” in certain passages, “the focus here is the ability to hold on, to persevere in the faith, not to give up, but to be always full of hope even though all the signs indicate otherwise.”[32]  You are willing to “patiently endure” whatever life throws at you.  But there is more than that envolved as well.  It is getting the most out of life in spite of the obstacles.  “It is victorious endurance. . . .  It is the virtue which does not so much accept the experiences of life as conquers them.”[33] 


            Finally there is a plea for “gentleness,” a wording that is almost unanimously retained (ESV, GW, Holman, ISV, NASB, NET, NIV, WEB), with the one exception of Weymouth, who prefers “a forgiving temper.”  To me that sounds more like a result or consequence of gentleness rather than a conceptual synonym.

Unfortunately “gentleness” can be construed in our society as a sign of weakness rather than an expression of confident strength.  In light of that, perhaps Luke T. Johnson’s translation of “a generous temper” avoids that pitfall.[34]  The New Life Version (1969) suggests, “Have a kind heart.”

            Gentleness would inevitably involve both “a kind disposition” and “consideration for others” in how one talks and acts.[35]  It avoids both harshness and cruelty.[36]  One isn’t out to hurt, but to help.  The underlying Greek word is paupatheia and describes the emotionally well balanced individual.  It is a temperament that includes both the goal of restraint as well as the willingness to fight for self and especially for others when it is legitimately called for.[37]



            Successful Christianity is not passive:  Fight the good fight of faith” (6:12).  “The” is found in the underlying Greek text.[38]  Hence we read of “fight the good fight of the faith” (ESV, NIV) or “fight a/the good fight for the faith” (CEV; Holman).  GW expands this slightly to “the good fight for the Christian faith.”  Both NET and Weymouth attempt something of a modernization of the imagery.  NET goes with “compete well for the faith.”  Weymouth prefers “exert all your strength in the honorable struggle for the faith.”  Others persist in omitting “the” in front of faith (GNT, KJV, NASB, WEB)

When we are talking of faith as a body or system of doctrine, think of the admonition to Jude, “I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude, verse 3).  Note the permanency of the revelation:  “once for all.”  There was nothing more to be added centuries later.  All that would ever be needed was available in the first century for all time thereafter.

The immediate application to Timothy is quickly obvious.  Paul “is referring to the particular doctrines that are part and parcel of the Gospel which he preached.  So, when he tells Timothy in other places to guard ‘the faith’--he is saying that he wants him to hold on to and carefully transmit the truths that Paul had taught him.”[39]


The image of successful discipleship as a “fight”--like in competing in an athletic event . . . something which envolves building up one’s strength, preserving it, and skillfully utilizing it . . . is an image Paul develops at greater length in 1 Corinthians 9: 


24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may obtain it.  25 And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things.  Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.  26 Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty.  Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.  27 But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.


            The “prize” the spiritual athlete gains in 1 Timothy 4 is “eternal life,” a crown of victory that is “imperishable,” unlike earthly ones.  The allusion to athletic competitions would fit well in the context of a man like Timothy living and working in first century Ephesus.  As the Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges puts it:  “The metaphor of life as a gymnastic contest was one which naturally suggested itself to those who had witnessed the Olympian or Isthmian games which played, even as late as the Apostolic age, so important a part in Greek national life.  [The Egyptian Jewish writer] Philo uses the illustration again and again.”  

            A parallel between athletic contests and life as a faithful Christian--both of which require personal development and persistence--makes good sense but need not be the point however.  It also makes perfectly fine sense in a different context as a goodly number of commentators point out:  It may be referring to the fact that Christians are envolved in spiritual warfare against evil in its varied form.  Just as Paul embraced the idea of believers being engaged in an athletic style competition (1 Corinthians 9 above), he unquestionably also believed we are engaged in an ongoing war to preserve and protect our faith and character.  He speaks of the need to “put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12) and “the armor of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 6:7).  He describes at length what this armor needs to consist of in Ephesians 6:10-18.      


            Paul was well aware that not all “fights” are honorable or desirable, but the spiritual battle to defend and spread Christianity was one that fully deserved the epithet “good.”  This concept of Christianity envolving a battle—a “good fight”—has had an ongoing sermonic appeal to preachers.  So let us consider a concise explanation that fits that mode of presentation.  Specifically why it is a good fight.  An unidentified speaker once spoke from this effective outline:[40]


1. The Christian’s fight is good because fought under the best of generals.  The Leader and Commander of all believers is our Divine Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ--a Saviour of perfect wisdom, infinite love, and almighty power.  The Captain of our salvation never fails to lead His soldiers to victory.

2. The Christian’s fight is good, because fought with the best of helps.  Weak as each believer is in himself, the Holy Spirit dwells in him, and his body is a temple of the Holy Ghost.

3. The Christian fight is a good fight, because fought with the best of promises.

4. The Christian’s fight is a good fight, because fought with the best of issues and results.

5. The Christian’s fight is good, because it does good to the soul of him that fights it. All other wars have a bad, lowering, and demoralizing tendency.  They call forth the worst passions of the human mind.  They harden the conscience, and sap the foundations of religion and morality.  The Christian warfare alone tends to call forth the best things that are left in man.  It promotes humility and charity, it lessens selfishness and worldliness, it induces men to set their affections on things above.

6. The Christian’s fight is a good fight, because it does good to the world.  All other wars have a devastating, ravaging, and injurious effect. . . .

7. Finally, the Christian’s fight is good, because it ends in a glorious reward for all who fight it


            The “battle front” can be quite varied, going far beyond efforts to directly promote the acceptance of Christianity:  The battles include overcoming the obstacles we as individuals face and which could crush our faith unless vigorously opposed.  For example:  Family problems, marital problems, employment difficulties, unbelieving and immorality promoting propaganda, the attitude of spiritual unconcern by the world at large, temptations, personal afflictions, sin, disease, the threat of death and the reality that it comes to one and all.  The list goes on and on and how major a problem these will be will vary from person to person and occasion to occasion.  But that they will sporadically occur is as inevitable as anything in life can possibly be. 


            Hence Paul certainly was an advocate both of “keeping faith” and “keeping the faith.”  Stay loyal to both; never abandon either.  Truth be told, for the committed Bible believing Christian, neglecting either cripples “faith” in both senses.  “Keeping faith” implies our personal loyalty to the truth; “keeping the faith” reminds us that it is a system of faith that we are loyal to as well. 


            It requires behavior that holds on to the salvation that has been granted:  lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called” (6:12).  In a way this seems strange language to be addressing to Timothy since he had been a Christian for a good while and was counted so reliable that he was given the responsible and challenging work of helping the Ephesian congregation to get its affairs in order.  John Stott sees the explanation in the difference between having something and fully appreciating what one has:[41]


Then why did Paul tell him to lay hold of what he already possessed?  The probable answer is that it is possible to possess something without embracing and enjoying it.  Epilambanomai means “take hold of, grasp . . . sometimes with violence” and to “take hold of, in order to make one’s own” (Walter Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon).  The ‘violence” is seen in Jesus catching Peter when he was beginning to sink (Matthew 14:31), in the soldiers seizing Simon of Cyrene (Luke 23:26), in the crowd seizing Paul (Acts 21:30), and in the tribune arresting him (Acts 21:33).  Just so, although Timothy had already received eternal life, Paul urged him to seize it, grasp it, lay hold of it, make it completely his own, enjoy it and live it to the full. 


            Or to develop the same concept a bit differently:  Grab onto that eternal life you possess, cling to it, joyfully and jubilantly.  It is the most precious thing in the world and most folk—no matter how rich or important—simply do not possess it.  You have something millionaires lack.  You have something rulers lack. 


“Eternal life” remains the description everywhere except GW’s “everlasting life” and Weymouth’s eccentric, “Life of the Ages” (capitalized by him).  This is our salvation, our redemption, nor just in the current world but also in the one to come if . . . .

“Take hold” (ESV, GW, Holman, NASB, NIV) or “lay hold” (NET, WEB, Weymouth) are the two paths chosen for the preceding words.  The exception, that prefers to emphasize that the holding is an ongoing process, is the ISV--which refers to “keep holding on to eternal life.”   

God doesn’t make you be saved.  He generously offers you the opportunity.

He doesn’t make you stay saved either.  But He generously wants you to in spite of your lapses and failures.

It is a conscious decision to do so on your part.  Hence Timothy is addressed in terms of continuing to lay hold on eternal life. 


            After all, this destiny of “eternal life” is one to which you were also called.” The “also” is dropped from seven of our nine ongoing resources (ESV, GW, ISV, NASB, NIV, WEB, Weymouth).  Holman rewords a bit, making it say, “that you were called to” this destiny.  NET makes the interesting substitution that “you were called for” this outcome.  With or without the “also,” it is obvious that a similar opportunity is offered to all humankind.  The inclusion of “also” simply emphasizes that the opportunity given to others is the same as that given to Timothy.  And vice versa.  Unlike so many, Timothy both heard that call and answered it.[42]


            His commitment to Christ had been demonstrated before many people:  have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (6:12).  However common “the good confession” remains (it is found in seven cases:  ESV, GW, Holman, NASB, NET, NIV, WEB), one modifies it to a “noble profession” (Weymouth) and another to “a good testimony” (ISV).  The superior quality of this “confession” when compared to all others is retained by all the renditions. 


            This he had done “in the presence of many witnesses.”  That precise wording is kept in five cases (ESV, Holman, NASB, NET, NIV).  It is modified slightly in the remaining ones:  to “before many witnesses” (Weymouth), “in the sight of many witnesses” (WEB), and “in front of many witnesses” (GW, ISV).


            For many, the allusion is to Timothy’s baptismal confession of Christ.  This is a very common interpretation[43] and is the dominant one.[44]  However, there is a profound difference between such a confession being routinely expected from a convert and that being what Paul has specifically in his mind when he pens these words.

As to the broader issue of the scripturality of a pre-baptism confession, the best text for a personal and individual confession remains the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch.  Under direct angelic instruction, Philip caught up with the Ethiopian during a traveling rest stop: 


34 So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?”  35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.  36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water.  What hinders me from being baptized?”

37 Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.”  And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still.  And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.  39 Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing.  40 But Philip was found at Azotus.  And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.  (Acts 8)


            The first problem here is that “critical texts” omit the confession and therefore it is typically relegated to a footnote.  On the other hand, having received a direct, verbal question expressing the eunuch’s desire to be baptized (verse 36), what else could have happened next?  Does anyone seriously believe that both Philip and the eunuch stood there quietly and neither said a word . . . and that Philip magically knew—or was told by inspiration of God--that the Ethiopian was ready?  The text cries out for a verbal exchange:  If not these specific words, then something equivalent in intent and meaning!

            The problem in our current context is not the propriety of a pre-baptismal confession of Christ.  Instead our problem lies in the fact that the confession Paul is discussing in 1 Timothy 6 is “the good confession [made] in the presence of many witnesses.”  A baptismal confession occurred when the requester was ready for it.  In the case of the Ethiopian the only witnesses were apparently Philip himself and the chariot driver (his presence is implied in the Ethiopian “command[ing] the chariot to stand still,” verse 38).       

            Except on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) it is hard to imagine many--perhaps even any situation described in Acts--in which the witnesses to the confession were much more than a modest number.  The closest is likely Cornelius who “had called together his relatives and close friends” (Acts 10:24).  A half dozen?  A dozen? 

            “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word” (verse 44).  This surely argues that by this point they believed in Jesus.  Hence the logic of what comes next:  “And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.  Then they asked him to stay a few days” (verse 48).  Whatever number this would be, the onlookers were also the same ones who were baptized and not a separate group.  Actually this was probably the same thing that occurred in Acts 2.  Do we really anticipate anyone accompanying the new believers to the baptismal site?  Why would they?

            Certainly “many witnesses” would have been outright unusual.  Unlike the later custom of baptism being delayed for weeks or months—where one might easily be baptized in the presence of a goodly number—the New Testament emphasis is on immediate and prompt baptism, as soon as one has embraced Jesus as Savior.  By the very nature of this kind of situation, the baptism was far more likely to be in front of a “few” rather “many witnesses.” 


            In contrast, Timothy’s ongoing confession of Christ throughout his preaching ministry would inevitably envolve making it “in the presence of many witnesses”—cumulatively as the years went by.  Perhaps even on specific occasions as well.  In short, there is an obvious and inevitable valid application of the language to Timothy’s ministerial service, while the reference to those present at his baptism must be purely speculative. 

One source has speculated that two decades elapsed between Timothy’s conversion and Paul writing him these words.  Whether one embraces this or a shorter duration, it would be hard to avoid the conclusion that a lengthy period of time had passed by. 

That same source argues that 1 Timothy 6:12 is an allusion to just how important and vital that baptismal confession had been in Timothy’s life that a reference should be made to it after so long.[45]  That extended duration strikes me, however, as far stronger evidence that Timothy’s ongoing, persistent, and faithful confession of Jesus as Lord and Messiah is in mind:   since that unquestionably would inevitably envolve a very large number of “witnesses.”   We have to guess at how many saw him baptized, but there was no way humanly possible that he could have preached for twenty years without the number being substantial.


To repeat ourselves:  Useful and needed as a pre-baptism confession is, it is far more likely that 1 Timothy 1:12 refers to Timothy’s ongoing confession of Christ through the work of his public ministry.  Perhaps a useful parallel:  1 Corinthians 10 could apply to the pre-baptism act of belief as well, but it would make at least equal sense as applicable to a Christian’s ongoing confession of Christ throughout his or her discipleship:


But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach):  that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.  11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”  12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him.  13 For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”0


            Is saving belief an ongoing belief or simply just the belief preceding baptism?  If faith stops then salvation stops, so it must be the former. 

Philippians 2 can also be invoked in this context:


Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father


In Philippians there is no hint at a conversion context for confessing the Lord.  It gives every indication of a lifestyle that is supposed to continue as long as one is alive.  Just as we interpret 1 Timothy 6:12 as meaning.


This in no way denies the fact that there had been an initial confession before baptism regardless of whether that is the specific frame of reference for Paul’s words.  We have stressed the overwhelming probability that such a confession must have occurred.  Even if an explicit textual allusion is omitted--as the advocates of the “critical text” insist--that in no way affects that fact.

However the fact that the propriety of the practice is often assumed rather than argued, makes it appropriate for us to approach the subject in more detail.  We’ll go with J. W. McGarvey’s original version of his work on Acts from the 1860s and not the revised version written after he became “more respectable” to outsiders.  (It’s also a lot more interesting because of the digressions that are present and which later got cut out.)  Accept or reject his reasoning, it is still a fascinating presentation.



J. W. McGarvey

Commentary on Acts:[46]

The Confessions of Timothy and

the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8)


By almost universal consent of recent critics, the whole of this verse [Acts 8:37] is excluded from the original text, and should be from all versions. . . .  This verse has been used chiefly for the purpose of determining the confession which was made originally by candidates for immersion.  The fact that this is an interpolation must modify the argument on this subject, but does not invalidate it.  The fact that such a confession as is here put in the mouth of the eunuch was uniformly required by the apostles, is evident from other passages of Scripture.  It is quite certain that it was confessed by Timothy. Paul says to him:  “Fight the good fight of faith; lay hold on eternal life, into which you were called, and did confess the good confession before many witnesses” [1 Timothy 6:12.]  The terms omologeo, and omologia, should be uniformly rendered confess and confession.  This confession was made at the beginning of his religious career; for it is connected with his call to eternal life.

It is the same confession which is attributed to the eunuch; for Paul immediately adds:  “I charge thee before God, who gives life to all things, and Jesus Christ, who bore testimony under Pontius Pilate, to the good confession,” etc.  Now, what is here called “the good confession” is certainly the confession that he was the Christ, made before the Sanhedrim, under Pontius Pilate.  But this is identified, by the terms employed, with the confession which Timothy had made, which is also “the good confession.”  Timothy, then, made the confession that Jesus is the Christ, the same attributed to the eunuch.  Moreover, this confession was so conspicuous, at the time of Paul's writing, that it was known as the confession, and so highly esteemed as to be styled the good confession.

That Timothy was not alone in making this confession is evident from the following statement of Paul:  “The word is nigh thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart; that is, the word of faith which we preach, that if thou wilt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thy heart that God has raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” [Romans 10:8-9.]  From this it appears that one item in “the word of faith” which the apostles preached, was the confession of the Lord Jesus with the mouth.  Paul assumes that this word was in the mouths and hearts of the brethren in Rome, whom he had never seen, and with whose conversion he had nothing, personally, to do. 

This assumption can be justified only on the ground that it belonged to “the word of faith” everywhere preached.  He argued, from the universal practice of the apostles, to a particular conclusion in reference to their converts in Rome.  We have, therefore, both his premises and his conclusion, to sustain us in deciding that this confession was universal in the primitive Church, as a part of the apostolic ritual.

We here have use for the interpolated verse now under consideration.  The fact that it is interpolated does not prove that the eunuch did not make the confession.  On the contrary, when rightly considered, it establishes the presumption that the passage, as it now reads, is a faithful account of the event.  The interpolation is easily accounted for.  The text read: “The eunuch said, See, here is water; what hinders me to be immersed?  And he commanded the chariot to stand still, and they went down both into the water.”  Now, the object of the interpolator was to fill up what appeared to be a historic blank, so that Philip should not appear to have led the man into the water too abruptly. 

In doing so, he, of course, inserted what he supposed to be the apostolic custom; and the fact that he inserted this confession shows that he believed that the apostles required candidates for immersion to make the confession.  Furthermore, the interpolator would naturally be guided by the prevailing custom of his own day, so that his amendment might be received by his cotemporaries.  In whatever age, therefore, the interpolation was made, it indicates both the custom of that age and the opinion then prevalent as to the apostolic custom.  Whether these considerations have any force or not, depends upon the proximity of the age in question to the apostolic period.  But this interpolation was known to Irenæus, A. D. 170, and this proves that the confession which the Scriptures show to have been universal in the days of the apostles was perpetuated into the latter part of the second century.

Both the custom of confessing Christ, and the formula employed, originated in the most natural way, and without any positive precept.  Jesus appeared in Galilee and Judea, proclaiming himself the Christ and the Son of God.  As men became convinced of his claims, they would say, “I believe that he is the Christ.”  Others would say, “I believe that he is a prophet, but I deny that he is the Christ.”  Thus the confession or denial of this proposition was the first mark of distinction between believers and unbelievers.  The Pharisees, therefore, “agreed that if any man did confess that he was the Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue” [John 9:22.]

The confession was, then, all that was necessary to identify one as a disciple of Jesus.  Hence, with special reference to this state of things, Jesus said, “He that confesses me before men, him will I confess before my Father in heaven; but he that denies me before men, him will I deny before my Father in heaven.”  After the commission was given, enjoining the immersion of all believers, the confession was still perpetuated, and immersion naturally took position immediately after it. . . .

The kingdom of Christ is not limited to earth, but was designed to bind together, in one harmonious whole, God, angels, and men. . . .  Like men on earth, the angels in heaven passed into the privileges of the kingdom of God, by making this same confession.  When Jesus ascended up on high, the Father said to him, “Sit on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool” [Hebrews 1:13]  Then he “sat down at the right hand of the throne of God,” [12:2] and God said, “Let all the angels of God worship him” [1:6]. 

Then were fulfilled the words of Paul, “God hath highly exalted him, and given him a name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  The angels all confessed the good confession, receiving Jesus as their Lord, and rendering thus their first act of worship to the Son of Mary.  The one identical confession, therefore, has brought together, in one harmonious whole, God, angels, and men; the latter being pledged by it to eternal worship, and the former pledged forever to accept their grateful homage through Christ. . . .

The most popular argument against the present sufficiency of the good confession is this:  that the immense multiplicity of doctrinal errors now prevalent requires a severer test of soundness in the faith than was used by the apostles before these errors had an existence.  Unfortunately, however, its historic assumption is . . .  baseless. . . .  For not only were the Churches surrounded with most pernicious errors in doctrine, but were sickened by the poison of those errors within their own bosoms.  Pharisees in Jerusalem crept in to spy out the liberty of the new covenant, and bring the brethren back into bondage to the law [Galatians 2:4] and there were Sadducees in the Church at Corinth who denied the resurrection [1 Corinthians 15:12].  There were philosophers, such as “Hymeneus and Philetus, who concerning the faith have erred, saying that the resurrection is already past, and overthrow the faith of some” [2 Timothy 2:17-18] and there were transcendentalists, who denied that “Jesus Christ had come in the flesh” [1 John 4:1-3] having speculated his bodily existence into the essence of . . . something . . . unreal.  James had to warn some against being deceived into worship of the heavenly bodies, by assuring them that “every good gift comes down from the Father of lights,” and not from the lights themselves; while Paul fights many a hard battle against brethren who were disposed to openly countenance fornication, incest, and the sacrificial banquets of heathen worship [in 1 Corinthians].  Under the pressure of all this influx of falsehood and iniquity [they still never required more than the simple good confession given by Timothy and the Ethiopian.  Therefore we don’t need more either.]  



            Others prefer to apply the confession to his appointment to be a minister.  Partial evidence for this is sometimes found in 1 Timothy 1:18, “This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare.”  Paul is pleading that Timothy continue to reject the attitude and actions of men like Hymenaeus and Alexander, who had shipwrecked their faith (verses 18-20). 

            But the clear point in 1:18 is that “prophecies” (note the plural) had been made about Timothy, presumably in his presence.  Not a word is mentioned about anything Timothy himself had confessed.  Nor is there any particular reason to assume that the prophecies were made at the time of his commissioning--yet another major omission.

For that matter, did the prophecies even require or compel a personal response at all?  Don’t we normally think of prophecies as requiring internal acceptance or rejection rather an outward verbal response?   


One could also attempt to uphold the application of 1 Timothy 1:18, by shifting the meaning of the “good confession” Timothy is to continue to uphold.  Instead of being a personal one it becomes his adhering to the “good confession” (1 Timothy 6:12) that had been made about him by others when he was commissioned to be a minister.   He would continue to fulfill what had been said. 

Robert Aubrey argues that is what happened, “Timothy received prophetic words when hands were laid on him.  He agreed with them as he heard them, and they became his.  Paul reminded him to use that powerful confession in his good fight:  the fight of faith.”[47] 

The allusion to the fact that Jesus is also identified as having made the “good confession” (1 Timothy 6:13) creates a major problem.  In the case of Jesus, Jesus Himself makes it; in the case of Timothy it becomes a confession about him made by others that is upheld by Timothy’s conduct.  But by this point aren’t we really bending words terribly out of shape in our effort to squeeze the interpretation into the text?


1 Timothy 4:14 is also referred to as a reference to this commissioning to be a minister:  Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership.”  Laying on of hands would suggest the acceptance and endorsement of his becoming such by “the eldership.”  If “the gift that is in you” is not a “personification” (so to speak) of the appointment itself (i.e., you are now formally “authorized to preach”), then “the gift” is likely some miraculous power given by apostolic participation in the ceremony.

This does not advance the situation at all:  No hint is even given about a confession by or about Timothy having been made.


            A final possibility is that the text refers to Timothy’s confession of faith about Christ before a civil trial.  This way one would have a distinct parallel to Jesus’ own confession, with both taking place before a Roman judge and both professing Jesus as Messiah.  To me, this is the most appealing of the non-faithful preaching of the gospel scenarios.  Unfortunately even here there is a total lack of evidence that any such event occurred,[48] though, of course, it is far from impossible. 

Perhaps easier to imagine is the equivalent of his being “kicked out of synagogue membership” for allegiance to the Lord.  That would also envolve a “trial” and a personal “confession” of Jesus and embracing of His claims in the face of bitter opposition.  But it also assumes that he intentionally retained any formal synagogue affiliation at all—something that would have become increasingly difficult as years went by. 

            Some substitute a broader context than a specifically judicial one:  “apparently a public avowal of faith in God before hostile witnesses,” parallel to Jesus’ confession before Pilate because that, also, was before hostile witnesses.  “That sort of unwavering fidelity demonstrates the sort of character that does not put mundane anxieties ahead of pursuing righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.”[49] 




[1] Arichea and Hatton, 146.       


[2] S. Lewis Johnson, “The Temptations of Riches and the Contentment of the Godly (1 Timothy 6:1-21),”  at:  (Accessed January 2020.)   


[3] Reese, 273, as quoted by Mark Dunagan, Commentary, internet.


[4] Ray Stedman, “The Cost of Riches” (1 Timothy 6:6-19),” at:  (Preached November 22, 1981; accessed January 2020.)


[5] Luke T. Johnson, Letters, 294-295.


[6] Phillip Schaff, Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament:  First Timothy, at:  (Accessed March 2020.)


[7] Newport J. D. White, “First and Second,” internet.  


[8] Stanley Derickson, 1 Timothy, internet.


[9] Mark Dunagan, Commentary, internet. 


[10] Ibid.    


[11] Robert G. Bratcher, 59.


[12] Daniel Whedon, Commentary, internet.


[13] Arichea and Hatton, 149.     


[14] Arichea and Hatton, 149.


[15] Hierbert (no first name provided), as quoted by Thomas Constable, Expository, internet. 


[16] These two quotations come from Net Bible:  New English Translation--New Testament with 15,130 Translators’ Notes, 1999.  I expect this particular print edition is uncommon.


[17] James B. Coffman, 1 Timothy, internet.


[18] Newport J. D. White, “First and Second,” on 6:10, online.


[19] William Barclay, 1 Timothy, internet.  


[20] Luke T. Johnson, Letters, 296.


[21] Ibid.


[22] John Stott, Guard, 153.


[23] James B. Coffman, 1 Timothy, internet.  


[24] Ray Stedman, “O Man of God!  (1 Timothy 6:11-21),” at: /timothy/o-man-of-god.  (Preached November 29, 1981; accessed January 2020.)


[25] Mark Dunagan, Commentary, internet.


[26] For a short mention of the two list scenario option, see Arichea and Hatton, 152.


[27] Mark Dunagan, Commentary, internet. 


[28] William Barclay, 1 Timothy, internet.  


[29] The quotations in this paragraph come from Ray Stedman, “Man of God,” internet. 


[30] Ibid. 


[31] Don DeWelt, Timothy and Titus, 120. 


[32] Arichea and Hatton, 152.


[33] William Barclay, 1 Timothy, internet.


[34] Luke T. Johnson, Letters, 306. 


[35] Robert G. Bratcher, 60.


[36] Arichea and Hatton, 153.


[37] Based on the definition of [accidentally omitted].


[38] Arichea and Hatton, 153.


[39] Scott Lindsay, “1 Timothy 6:11-12,” at:  (Dated December 2009; accessed January 2020.)     


[40] Unidentified speaker on 6:12, in Joseph S. Exell, Illustrator, internet.


[41] John Stott, Guard, 157.


[42] James B. Coffman, 1 Timothy, internet.


[43] Of many that could be given:  Phillip J. Long, “A Timothy 6:12-16:  Fight the Good Fight,” at:  (Dated June 25, 2013; accessed:  January 2016.)  “An obvious reference to Timothy’s baptism” argues James B. Coffman, 1 Timothy, internet.


[44] Harold H. Buls, Exegetical Notes, Series C Epistle Texts, Sundays After Pentecost (Wayne Indiana:  Concordia Theological Seminary Press, 1985), as reprinted and adapted to an internet format at:  (Accessed January 2015.) 


[45] Ethan R. Longhenry, “The Good Confession,” at:  (Dated November 28, 2011; accessed:  January 2013.)  


[46] J. W. McGarvey, Acts, internet. 


[47] Robert Aubrey, Circle of Life ([N.p.]:  Xulon Press, 2007), 74. 


[48] Phillip J. Long, “Good Fight,” internet. 


[49] A. K. M. Adam, “Commentary on 1 Timothy 6:16-19,  at:  (Dated September 26, 2010; accessed January 2016.)