After studying about the erroneous teachings and teachers the Bible predicts will come in the last days and Paul’s warnings to Timothy, I began to question whether or not something I had been saying for years was scriptural. Often times, I have said that “godliness is gain,” or simply put, “It pays to serve God.” I know that to be true from my own experience, but when I read here in Timothy that we are to “withdraw” from preachers who suppose that “gain is godliness” (1 Tim. 6:5), I began to question. Paul admonishes further of the benefit of “godliness with contentment” (1 Tim. 6:6) and how that we should be content with food and clothing (1 Tim. 6:8). Then he warns of how those that be rich fall into temptations and how the “love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Tim. 6:10). Not only did they fall into temptation, but Paul warned that “some” who “coveted after” money have even “erred from the faith.” We know that God has said in no uncertain term, “Thou shalt not covet.” So certainly coveting after money would be a no-no. But was I wrong for saying, “It pays to serve God”?
You can find plenty of preachers and commentaries that would take the above reasoning and preach against those “prosperity preachers.” But in all fairness, there are a couple of problems with the above logic (my own). First of all, there is a huge difference in “gain is godliness” and “godliness is profitable,” or godliness is value (or gain), which is what God said; not me (1 Tim 4:8). We will discuss that more in just a minute. The second problem, is with taking the erroneous phrase, “gain is godliness,” to say that Paul was warning against prosperity preachers would be taking it way out of context. We are talking about preachers to avoid in the first place here, and the phrase doesn’t really align with what Paul has said thus far in preceding 5 chapters of the epistle.
Just a word on that before we talk about the context. We should never equate gain to godliness; the two are not equal. Godliness is an important word throughout the Bible but somewhat broad in its meaning. It is best defined as pious, dutiful, devout, or simply godly. Given the range of meaning, I add serving God because that would be included in your devotion to God or stem from it. As far as equating gain to godliness, don’t be so shocked. Although hopefully not intentional, it is implied far too often, and nothing could be further from the truth.
For example, a lost person could come in to our services and hear all the testimonies about how God has blessed us so, and they could then easily mistake that what we were saying is that the (material) blessings equal godliness. Or some may interpret that to mean if you aren’t getting blessed (materially), then you don’t have faith. We know from the life of Abraham that the prosperity he enjoyed was a result of the blessing of God and not the other way around. The blessing was not the stuff he possessed, but the truth that he was justified before God and that he was a “friend of God.” Once you have established a relationship with God and a life of obedience, the benefits or rewards of that obedience will follow. If you don’t have your relationship, or righteousness, firmly established, you will go around doubting that you are saved if you don’t get a check-in-the-mail on a regular basis.
Now, let’s get back to the issue with the context. Why would the Word of God tell us to withdraw from preachers who suppose “gain is godliness”? It definitely would be wrong teaching as we have just discussed, but would a strong warning against prosperity fit Paul’s discussion so far in 1 Timothy? Looking at a few other translations here will help to shed some light on the subject. We are to withdraw from preachers “who suppose that godliness is a means of gain (1 Tim. 6:5 NASB).” We are to withdraw from those preachers who suppose “a show of godliness is just a way to become wealthy (1 Tim. 6:5 NLT).” That is also in keeping with what Peter and Jude said about those false teachers who follow the way of Balaam. The Bible says Balaam “loved the wages of unrighteousness” (1 Peter 2:15, Jude 11). Peter calls it the “way of Balaam” and Jude calls it the “error of Balaam.” Either way, he was prophesying for dollars or the highest bidder! He only had one bidder, but he sure followed the money! I think any preacher who goes into the ministry as “a means of gain” or “a way to get wealthy” needs to have their head examined! The only reason you go into ministry is that God called you into it, period!
As I struggled with the passage here, I went back two chapters and began reading there. After all, that is what we should always do to get broader context. Paul had already said (not Kent) on the subject of godliness: “For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come (1 Tim. 4:8).” You don’t even need the Amplified Version to get that godliness is profitable, not only in the life to come, but in this one too. In other words, it pays to serve God now right now as well as in the life to come or after you die. So I don’t think that in chapter 6, Paul would do an about face and squash every ember of hope that we may have had that God would remember and reward us for all of our faithful service to him (Heb. 6:10). I am sure, however, that he is telling us to avoid the pit falls of coveting after money by being content with what we have and not losing heart in our present circumstances. Continue to faithfully serve God and give him the praise because you know you will reap a harvest of righteousness in due season if you stay in the race and keep the faith (Gal. 6:9).
So we are to avoid preachers who suppose “gain is godliness,” and it goes without saying that we should avoid sending them an offering in the mail. If you are a member of such a preacher’s church you should leave now! But by no means is there anything wrong with the message of “godliness is gain” because we are assured by the Word of God that it is profitable in all things. So be faithful in whole-heartedly serving God wherever he has called you to serve, and never let anyone cause you to doubt that it pays to serve God, in this life was well as the life to come!