"But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows (1 Tim. 6:6-10)."
As a Singaporean living in a developed country (and the word "develop" does not refer to the country's morality, social graces or ethics), the verse that strikes me most this morning is 1 Timothy 6:7, "For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out." Singaporeans and many folks living comfortably out there in "First World" countries (first in terms of covetousness?) are not too concerned with the concept of death. Death does not seem imminent at the very least. Christians can debate on and on for years concerning the Parousia of Christ, and Dispensationalist would argue that His Second Coming is imminent. But the most troubling thing is that many Christians do not realize that Death, likewise, is imminent. Although Reformed and Dispensational theologians cannot agree upon the doctrine of Imminence (that is, the doctrine of the "any moment" coming of Christ), what we can all agree upon is the imminence of death. And it is with regard to this particular event called Death that Paul here says, "It is certain we can carry nothing out [of this world]."
John Piper relates an interesting parable - if I may so call it - in his book Desiring God. He wrote,
"Suppose someone passes empty-handed through the turnstiles at a big city art museum and begins to take the pictures off the wall and carry them importantly under his arm. You come up to him and say, "What are you doing?"
He answers, "I'm becoming an art collector."
"But they're not really yours," you say, "and besides, they won't let you take any of those out of here. You'll have to go out just like you came in."
But he answers again, "Sure, they're mine. I've got them under my arm. People in the halls look at me as an important dealer. And I don't bother myself with thoughts about leaving. Don't be a kill-joy." (John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Books, 1996), 161.)
Isn't it true that many of us read the Bible with selective amnesia, that is, we choose which portions of Scripture to remember, and we tend to forget parts that don't appeal to us? Paul told us that is it CERTAIN that we can take NOTHING out of this world. Yet, many of us are following the trends of this world in seeking out academic, financial or professional success. The Singaporean government is urging mothers to continue working and to contribute to the dynamism of the workforce. Old folks are encouraged to retrain themselves, retire later, and make themselves productive for the country's economy. Christian students are following the other rats in this economic race: be successful academically, or be successfully irrelevant to the country's economy. We laugh at the foolish man who take the pictures off the wall and carry them under his arm, but we fail to laugh at our own foolishness. Since it is certain that we cannot take anything out of this world, why are we so consumed with the things of this world?
It is sad to see fellow Christian colleagues obsessed with career advancement and with so-called academic upgrading. Many of the doctors I knew have not only "fallen out" of church, but also with God. Their Lord's Day is spent in the hospital wards on the pretext of "work of necessity," but the last time they worshipped God was half a decade ago. Then again - so they say - it is a work of necessity. It is necessary for career development and promotions.(1) Likewise, some Christian youths are so fixated upon academic pursuits that they have very little time for the work of the Kingdom. They are so busy putting undergraduate and post-graduate degrees under their arms that they have forgotten that these papers cannot be brought before the throne of God in death. Some Singaporean couples are sometimes so infatuated with their children that their children have probably become the little gods of their lives. Worse, some Christian parents encourage and even train their children to run after the things of this world. Have you ever wondered why the Lord proclaimed, "The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few (Matt. 9:27a)?" This is because those that ought to labor are not laboring for the kingdom of God, but for the kingdom of Self.
Dear friends, are we laboring for our own kingdom? Are we spending most of our time chasing after our dreams, or after those things that unbelievers seek after? If these were true, then how would you differentiate yourself from the non-Christian?
"Don't be silly, you can't bring any of those things out of this world. The academic degrees, the positions of honor, your children - these are not really yours."
But the Christian man answered, "They're mine as long as I've got them under my arm. People in the world look at me as someone important. And I don't bother myself with thoughts about death. Don't be a kill-joy."
(1) This is not to say that medical work is not a work of necessity. Medical officers bonded to the Singapore government most certainly have no choice but to work on most Sunday mornings. Some are able to do postings that do not require working on the Lord’s Day. What I am referring to are those who, out of personal ambition or gain, choose to work on Sundays. For example, Christian Family Physicians can certainly choose not to open their clinics on Sundays. Likewise, Christian doctors concerned with serving their church can choose career tracks that do not require work on most Sundays.