We are talking about the secret of a happy life. We are going to learn that happiness is actually not something out there, someway, that you can get, if certain circumstances fall into place. But you’re going to learn that happiness is a choice.
I found something, we were doing a little work on our house, and this is a carbon monoxide monitor. And if you push it and test it, it beeps.
And what I want to talk about is a silent assassin. Thousands of people die every year because of carbon monoxide.
The reason so many people die is the symptoms are so normal. If you have a leak in your house someplace, usually it’s fatigue, nausea, it seems like the flu. People think nothing is really wrong.
If you’re sleeping and there’s a big leak of carbon monoxide, you breathe in carbon monoxide and what it does, it actually replaces the oxygen. So you continue to breathe like normal, and then instead of the cell getting oxygen, it gets carbon monoxide, and then it starves the cell, and then what it does, one by one, it shuts down your organs. You never know what you hit you. You cannot see it, you cannot taste it, you cannot smell it. It is completely silent.
If you have low grades of it, it will cause brain damage, it will cause cognitive damage, it will affect people’s memories, certain organ damage.
And so unless you have some sort of device to let you know that there is a leak, that there is some carbon monoxide, it will impact you and make you sick or kill you, and everything will seem exactly normal.
In fact, little leaks will be like, I’m just a little tired today, or all the research says, I just think I have the flu. Now, here is my point. What if there is something that is a silent assassin in our spiritual lives? What if there is something that seems so normal and you can’t taste it and you can’t smell it and you can’t see it, but it will do the same thing to your soul – it will destroy your family, it will destroy your marriage, it will destroy your soul, it will destroy your finances, it will destroy your relationships, it will absolutely ruin every area of your life, but it’s absolutely so normal and so common and so subtle that most people, including followers of Jesus, never recognize the silent assassin?
So what you need and what I need is the spiritual equivalent of one of these so a little light will go off.
And the apostle Paul gives us that in 1 Timothy chapter 6, verses 5 through 6. And he says there is a silent assassin. He says, “False teachers produce these men of corrupt minds, who have been robbed of the truth, who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” That’s the context.
This may be hard to believe, but even in Paul’s day, there were people preaching that walking with God, following God closely, that’s the way to get rich. “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” Literally, that’s our word. Happiness, purpose, self-sufficiency, peace. “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”
Literally the word for clothing is covering. If you have a covering for your body, it could be a tent, it could be a hut, it could be a mansion. But if you have a covering for you and clothes to wear, and food, the apostle Paul says, “The Spirit of God, in your relationship with Christ, you can be happy.”
And, believe me, I have been all around the world and I have seen that to be true.
And then he says, Here’s the silent assassin. “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation, and a trap, and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.” The reason, “For the love of money is,” and you might underline, a root. It’s not, the root. “…is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
So who is this silent assassin? Who is the foe? The technical name in the New Testament is philargyria.
The phrase, “for the love of money,” the phrase, “those who are eager to get rich,” that’s this word: philargyria. We would probably call it, “materialism.” The consumer mindset, I’ve got to have more, it’s got to be bigger, it’s got to be better.
It’s this moving horizon that the love of money, the desire, the passion, thinking wealth will deliver security and significance and purpose.
Well, how formidable is our foe? You might look at the word, circle the word plunge, circle the word ruin, circle the words a root of all kinds of evil, circle the word wandered, circle the word pierced, and circle the word griefs.
Those are strong. This false belief system that money can deliver.
What are the tactics? You can put a box around temptation, put a box around trap, put a box around foolish, and then put a box around harmful desires.
A temptation is: God says this is the path. A temptation is: No, take this path. It’s shorter and it’s easier.
The word for trap here, is a fishing word. It’s the picture of that glittering lure that is bright and shiny, and the fish comes up to it, and it grabs it, and once it grabs the shiny part, there’s a hook. And it gets caught deep in its mouth. And then as it pulls, it goes down in, and sucks it in. That’s this word.
He says, “The love of money is a temptation,” there is a shortcut. Peace is that way, prosperity is that way, fun is that way, purpose is that way, significance is that way, money will deliver. Just work harder, just get more, get the big deal. Major in this, even if you don’t like it, because that kind of job will bring you money, and money will bring success, and success will bring happiness.
He says it’s a silent assassin. It’s a temptation. It creates foolish and harmful desires. Desires that we all recognize like: If you get a new house today, three years from now, you’re looking at, That one is a little bit better. It’s like the new car smell. It just goes away quickly.
How many of us have multiple products from the same company? This one came out, and then they revised it and then they revised it and they revised it. I think I put some companies in business for a while.
It’s this belief system that more, bigger, better, much will bring security and significance and purpose.
Finally, it says, “What are the tactics?” And notice it’s through deception, through lies. It’s a root of all kinds of evil. Eager for money. They have wandered, pierced, and grieved. It is subtle. It’s deception.
The word wander here, it’s very interesting. It’s in what is called, “the passive tense.” It’s not like you wake up one day and say, “I think I’m going to make money and my job and my focus and all that I am about money, instead of the people who matter most.” No one wakes up and does that.
It’s a picture of two people being in a boat and talking and they pull up the oars and they don’t take notice of the current. And they want to be right in front of the dock here and they talk for three or four or five or ten minutes and then they both look up, and the current of the stream has them two miles from where they were.
When the love of money, when philargyria, when consumerism strangles you and strangles me, the last person to know it is us. By the way, it’s tasteless, it’s odorless. And since other people have the same disease, it seems normal. Stress seems normal, lots of debt seems normal, pressure seems normal, crazy hours seem normal, workaholism seems normal.
Jesus said, “It’s the deceitfulness of riches that choke out the truth of God’s Word and the power that brings about life and peace. And all the things that we thought it would deliver: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, relationships, self-control – all those qualities that make for great relationships, it begins to choke out.
If you want to be happy, I mean, really happy, content, at peace, settled in purpose, joy in your heart regardless of your circumstances being up or down, because you are human and the world is crazy, sometimes it’ll be up and sometimes it will be down, right?
The apostle Paul is going to teach us how you can make very specific choices to be happy.
Let’s look at what he says in terms of: How do we break the grip of greed in our lives? How do you break that? It’s powerful.
You’ll notice from our last time together in Philippians, the Philippians model this. By way of review, he is writing a “thank you” letter. They have given a financial gift to help him. It’s been about ten years. And they have helped him a number of times. And the book of Philippians is really a “thank you” note to a group of people who he loves, who he is super tight with.
And so he says, “I greatly rejoice in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I’m not saying this because I am in need,” and then notice, we studied this, “I have learned,” remember that? You can actually learn, he learned like riding a bike, learned.
I know how to do this. “I have learned to be content with whatever the circumstance. I know what it is to be in need, I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content,” or literally, “happy in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want, I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
Now, here’s the deal. He is going to tell us, like if you were learning to ride a bike, or if you are learning to use a software, or you are learning to do something, there are usually some skills and you practice these skills. And after you practice those skills over a period of time, you learn.
And he is going to give us, in this Philippian model, three very specific skills that you can learn, that you will start and take baby steps with, and then you will practice. And as you practice these, you can be happy.
You can be happy when your 401k skyrockets and your stocks go up. You can be happy when you are in a season that is just normal, but difficult, in your marriage. You can be happy single. You can be happy as a single parent. You can be happy when you lose your job. I’m not saying you’re excited about it, but you can have peace and purpose and direction.
And the world no longer can dictate to you the joy and the happiness in your life. But he says this is not automatic. And just because you know Christ personally, it’s not automatic.
Through the Philippian letter, he is going to give three specific skills. Skill number one is you have to develop personal compassion by putting others’ needs ahead of our wants.
You have to develop personal compassion. Compassion isn’t empathy. Empathy is: I feel for you. The word for compassion is splagchnon in the New Testament. It comes from down in the gut, or literally, the bowels. It is seeing another person’s need, and something visceral happens in you that you just can’t keep living the same way, unless you take some sort of step to meet that need.
We had compassion on a school. We didn’t feel bad for their bad facility, we didn’t talk to one another about how shabby it looked, we didn’t say, Someday, someway, someone ought to do something. We didn’t give them a few thousand dollars and say, “Good luck.” We had compassion. We spent time and energy, thousands of dollars. We have lots of wants that we could have probably improved around here, but instead, we met a need.
Notice what the apostle Paul says to the Philippian church. He says, “Yet, it was good of you to share in my trouble. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, I set out for Macedonia,” that was where Philippi was, “and not one church shared,” or, “partnered with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you.”
You might put a little underline where it says, “where it was good,” literally the word, “it was beautiful.” He said it was beautiful, it was noble, it was winsome. You koinonia’d. That’s the word. You shared, we connected, “with my trouble.”
And the word trouble here is a technical word in the New Testament for the affliction or the difficulty that can come on a person’s life for sharing the gospel. And Paul is saying, It was a beautiful thing. Your generosity, in the midst of these prisons, in the midst of getting beaten up, in the midst of all that I have gone through, of all the other churches, you’re the only church that said, “You know what, Paul? We want to financially support you so you don’t have to make quite so many tents,” because that was his day job, “so that you could preach the gospel and make disciples.”
And so he says to them, “You helped me.” They put his need ahead of their wants. And, honestly, it was a church that was really poor. And, yet, they did it sacrificially.
When you talk about generosity, I think most of us have thoughts like this, You know what? If I ever had a lot of money, I would be generous. I would love to be generous. I would like to really help people. But I really can’t right now, but someday, someway. Right now, I’m just doing what I can.
My journey of generosity started with a bricklayer and his family. I watched them in their time and their energy. I ate with them, I watched them give money they didn’t have to help people and help students. And then when I got to seminary, I had an interesting experience. We were living on under one thousand dollars a month for a family of five. And I know a thousand dollars went a little farther, but believe me, that’s not a lot of money.
And so I was working full-time, going to school full-time, and we probably had meat maybe twice or three times a month. We could put fifteen dollars in a co-op and we would go downtown to the farmer’s market, and we were with about twelve other couples. And we would get three or four big bags of fruits and vegetables. And Theresa would bake bread, and I had a peanut butter and honey sandwich on whole wheat bread that she made every, single day, for four years, as did my kids. And they had water in their thermoses.
So we didn’t have anything. And so this guy comes to a chapel at seminary, and I think he was from Compassion or World Vision. And he shows all the stories of all these kids and my heart is going out to them. And I’m tearing up. And I’m sitting there thinking, I really wish I could help them, but I can’t make it here.
And then he said something really crazy. He said, “You know something? A lot of you are wondering why I would come to a seminary.” There were about a thousand students in the chapel. And he said, “Why would I come to a place like this? Most of you don’t have any money, you’re trying to get through school, you have kids, you’re working two jobs.” And then he showed a couple of pictures. And then he said, “How many of you, even as poor as you are, could go out to dinner, even somewhere? Even if it’s Burger King or McDonalds, only eighteen or twenty bucks. How many of you do that at least once or maybe twice a month?” Ninety percent of the hands go up.
And then he put a picture up. He said, “Here’s all I’m saying. Would you be willing to eat McDonalds or Burger King or wherever you go one less time to feed that kid for a month and give him an education and him hear the gospel?”
And I thought, Yes, I would do that. I’ll never forget, I remember bringing that little kid’s picture home and explaining to Theresa how we are going to renegotiate our budget. Now, it was only, like, eighteen dollars a month. But we didn’t have eighteen dollars a month.
And I’m not sure we necessarily did it, we just put it in our budget. But it was one of the early times of saying, “I’m going to put someone else’s needs ahead of my wants. And I am going to trust God that He is going to take care of me.”
And all I can tell you, that was a baby step. It may not be a big deal, but maybe some of you have never done something like that. Those are the steps. Well, thirty years later, I remember realizing my heart was sort of… I was reading the passages about orphans. And I realized my heart wasn’t very, I wasn’t concerned about the poor. I said I was, and our church helped people, but personally, I wasn’t doing much.
And so I knew a guy who was helping, and so Theresa and I gave a couple hundred dollars to this ministry in Africa. And he was a close friend, I knew where it went. And then I was down there doing some other ministry a few years later, and so I went and I visited all these orphans.
And another year or so later, we started giving several hundred dollars a month to orphans. I look back and I realize, you know where that started? That started with a little baby step of giving eighteen dollars I didn’t have, thinking we might miss a few Happy Meals.