Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
Text: I Timothy 6:12
Old Testament: Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
New Testament: I Timothy 6:6-19
Charles Darwin describes the natural life of species as the survival of the fittest. In other words, life’s a jungle. Every day we compete to prove we’re brighter, stronger, faster, better than the person sitting next to us. Every day someone’s trying to take our job away from us.
But the world is changing. The survival of the fittest isn’t just about people competing against people. It’s about people competing against technology.
This past week Senate Majority Leader, George Mitchell, described the new battle of the fittest on Yahoo Finance. People are losing jobs to robots and time-saving technology. He said outsourcing jobs overseas isn’t the real issue. People are angry across America because the kind of labor-intensive jobs that used to be part of America’s opportunity are vanishing.
American labor isn’t needed as it once was. The kind of work today’s worker does is knowledge-based. The new labor force uses the mind more than its backs and hands. Today’s labor operates technology. It needs to learn how to operate it.
We’re in a labor revolution that’s knowledge based. Until we accept it, Americans will fall behind people from other countries who do get it. Unless our young people get it, they’ll get caught in conflict over declining prosperity.
Wealth will drain from labor to those with knowledge. Economic disparity will increase. It’s not a pretty picture for the parent or child who acts as if nothing has changed. I don’t need to go to school. I don’t need to master my homework. I just want to work without understanding.
I don’t need to do well academically. I don’t need to learn anything new. I don’t need to excel. I’ll just do enough to keep the people who love me happy.
This point of view doesn’t come from seeing life from a spiritual perspective. This kind of thinking comes from someone who either feels defeated by competition, or just doesn’t care.
This approach usually represents a person who is beaten down in life. They’ve lost hope. Their identity is primarily economic. They see themselves solely by what they have or don’t have. The only way that they can cope with falling behind is to pretend it doesn’t matter to them.
Except, they begin to make self-defeating decisions that doom them to greater despair. They can’t see themselves as a child God gave life as a blessing. Neither do they see themselves as having a spiritual purpose that God intends to be a blessing to others.
People who are spiritually motivated by God are self-directed to live each day to its fullest by their gratitude to God. People who are spiritually inspired don’t compare themselves with whatever others do or don’t have. They have spiritual tunnel vision that’s motivated to live each day as a gift from God.
Last Sunday, a young, single mother came into the narthex from the street. She was fed-up with being in a nine-year abusive relationship with her daughter’s father. She wasn’t married. She had left her abusive home nine years ago to fall into another abusive relationship with her boyfriend.
Here she was at 38. She had no education. Yet she was well-spoken. She was frustrated with herself and angry by what was happening to her life. Most of all, she was upset her daughter would get trapped in this terrible life and not be able to have a better life for herself.
I told her God had given her life as a blessing. She had great potential to live a better life because now, she understood that God didn’t mean for her to live like this. God had given her life to be a blessing to others. Her decision to leave was a blessing for her daughter and herself. For the first time, she saw a higher vision for her life. She was thinking spiritually.
She said at one time she had wanted to be a nurse. But she had thrown it away for her boy-friend. I told her it wasn’t too late to start. God was opening a new door for her and her daughter’s life.
You see friends, God always gives us opportunities to grow in life when we see our lives spiritually. This is what the Apostle Paul was writing to Timothy. He was reminding Timothy what it means to be a spiritual leader for his congregation. Timothy needed to give people God’s spiritual vision for their lives.
If all we see in life is that we’re not as wealthy as other people, we’ve lost the race. If all we see in life is we don’t have what other people have, we’ve lost the competition.
We’re defining ourselves by the wrong measurement. We’re defining ourselves by a survival of the fittest standard that’s never content. It can’t be resolved because competition never appears to end. This is the way the world is, or so we think. It only ends when you no longer participate in it with your mind.
Economic competition shouldn’t be the way we define ourselves. Our God-given identity is that we are God’s child who’s blessed by God’s love and compassion. God wants us to live an abundant life. An abundant life isn’t about the things we have. Abundant life is about the person we are.
Thinking about the abundant life God has given us extracts us from the world of competition. We no longer compete. We use His gifts to serve Him.
Paul writes to Timothy that a financial identity isn’t for Christ’s followers. “We brought nothing into this world. We take nothing out of it. Those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by senseless and harmful desires.”
Think about what Paul is saying. He’s extracting us from defining who we are by what we have. He’s emancipating us from seeing ourselves as owners. He’s freeing us to be givers of God’s blessings. He’s showing Timothy that a person’s spiritual welfare is all they need to live an abundant life.
You can’t take what you’ve earned or saved in this life with you to the Kingdom of God. It all stays behind. It has absolutely no influence on God’s view of who you are or whether you fulfilled His purpose for your life. Neither does what you’ve earned in life guarantee your children or your spouse a place at the heavenly banquet table of the redeemed.
What will get you to the banquet table of the redeemed in God’s kingdom is your spiritual life with Jesus Christ. Your spiritual welfare with Jesus ought to be your number one consideration. Understanding yourself as a spiritual person is your number one priority in life.
Paul encourages Timothy to teach himself the value of spiritual welfare. Spiritual welfare doesn’t measure life by earnings or possessions. Spiritual welfare measures life by the joy of living every day with God’s blessing.
Being a righteous person with spiritual integrity is the only worthy goal of life. Integrity separates the wheat from the chaff in Gods’ kingdom.
Spiritual integrity is the integration of your words and actions with the words and actions of Jesus Christ. When you integrate Christ’s life in your life, you have spiritual integrity. When you live like Christ; treat people like Christ treated people; live by Godly wisdom like Christ – you have spiritual integrity.
Christian spiritual integrity resembles Jesus Christ. It isn’t irritable or rude. It doesn’t insist on its own way. It rejoices in God’s purpose – the right purpose – of spiritual living.
Christian spiritual integrity lives each day with godliness. You live to build others up, not to achieve at the expense of your co-workers. Spiritual integrity defines each day as a prayer to celebrate God’s love for you and your neighbor. Live your life as a thankful prayer. Celebrate God’s love for you and your neighbor. That’s Christian integrity.
Christian spiritual integrity lives each day by faith in God. Spiritual integrity doesn’t look for short-term solutions to bring instant gratification. Short-term solutions are usually solutions that come from impatience.
Impatience drives us to want quick fixes. Most quick fixes violate our worth as a Christian. Often quick fixes violate someone else’s value and worth as one of God’s children.
Spiritual integrity doesn’t look for short-term achievements at the expense of others. Spiritual integrity looks at the big picture every day. The big picture is eternal life. You want to see things from the perspective of eternal life.
Spiritual integrity doesn’t want to jeopardize your opportunity for eternal life. Spiritual integrity wants to show others the path to eternal life through the quality of the spiritual decisions you make as a Christian. One of those decisions is to accept the competitive world as an eternal life learning opportunity.
Eternal life’s value is taught us incrementally through life-long experiences. Every experience you have, good or bad, teaches you a little more about the blessing of eternal life. They build up your faith reservoir. You learn to trust God and not demand answers that lead to nothing that lasts.
Spiritual integrity lives life by faith that accepts small incremental improvements as signs of God’s blessing. God is leading you to eternal life through little and great experiences you have that build up your faith in God.
Christian spiritual integrity lives with love that overcomes anger and fear. Spiritual integrity does not succumb to fear that you won’t succeed. With God, all things are possible. Your love for God doesn’t let you get angry that you’re being left behind in this world. Love for God draws you out of the competitive world of the survival of the fittest. It opens the door for you to live with peace.
Your love for God shows you a better direction to get ahead that you can’t see when loving God isn’t your priority. That better direction doesn’t need competition to improve your future. God’s better direction leads you around the world’s conflicts with joy! Live your life each day with joy!
Don’t put on a mask. You know when your smile can be only a mask. You know when you really don’t know if God loves you. You know when you love yourself more than God because you don’t have confidence in God. You know when you love the things of this world more than the plan God has for your life.
When you live with genuine God-given joy, there is no mask. Your smile is real. You know it. Others know it. It has integrity because God-given joy defines who you are and where you are going! God-given joy is the fruit of Christ’s spirit.
Christian spiritual integrity never gives up. Christian spiritual integrity has remarkable resilience that doesn’t take no for an answer. Christian spiritual integrity knows when God is blessing the future, you don’t need to do anything more than live by His spirit.
God is taking care of the future. You will get where He is taking you. Where you will be is where you are meant to be when you are meant to be there! That’s good enough. Don’t expect more.
Finally, Christian spiritual integrity lives into the future without internal strain or exertion. Spiritual integrity lives into God’s future with gentleness and kindness. It does not need strength of determination. It needs the spirit of willingness – willingness to allow Christ to lead you into His plan for your life.
When you live with spiritual integrity – your motives, thoughts, plans, decisions, actions are one with Christ. You consult with Him each day for your spiritual direction. You seek answers from Him about where to go, what to do, and how to get there. Spiritual integrity isn’t lone wolf religiosity. Spiritual integrity is walking hand in hand with Christ, seeing the world from His perspective, seeing your life from His perspective, and letting Him be your Savior.
I once had a successful accountant lose his job when his company could no longer compete in the steel market. Foreign steel was selling products at below manufacturing cost to get into the American market.
My church member had been a happy husband, loving father, and faithful worshipper, prior to losing his job. He sank into a deep depression. Anger consumed him. He didn’t think what had happened to him was fair.
He threw up his hands in anger at his employer. He was angry with his wife. His anger affected his children. He was angry at life. He felt betrayed by God. He stopped coming to church.
Then his beautiful young wife was stricken with a brain tumor. He could still only think of himself. No matter how much I tried to shepherd him along a spiritual renewal path, he resisted.
He could only see himself as a financial failure. He was fast becoming a failure as a husband and father as well. This wasn’t God’s plan for his life.
This man isn’t the only person I’ve met who became disillusioned with life by the world of economic competition. It’s the real world. It takes real dollars to take care of a family. But money should not define who we are. And, we should not permit money to be the savior of our family’s welfare.
Our lives begin with our spiritual welfare. Our lives are fulfilled when we live spiritually. Spiritual living overcomes the inevitable obstacles we face in life. None of us are exempted from life’s tests.
Each test is given us by God to measure just how deep is our spiritual integrity. Do we live with godly righteousness or self-righteousness? Do we live with faith in God or faith in ourselves to overcome the obstacles in life? Do we live with love for God or self-love? Do we have the endurance that comes from faith or are we paper tigers? Is our gentleness genuine, or a mask?
Spiritual welfare doesn’t measure our integration of God’s will and our will be worldly standards of economic prosperity. We rise above the struggles of this world by God’s presence who gave us life. Jesus Christ is our inspiration. He rose above worldly fear to give a good confession of faith in God’s righteousness.
You promote not only your spiritual welfare but others spiritual welfare when you give a good confession of faith in God’s love regardless of the challenges we experience to your faith. You will show the maturity of spiritual integrity that is available when God lifts you above the world of competition!