The FISHERS Magazine (Issue 227)

Godly Contentment

Christian Living

1 Timothy 6:6-10

When Paul wrote to his spiritual son Timothy, about the problem of the love of money within the church at Ephesus, he was not saying that being rich is a sin. Rather, he was condemning the love of money as the problem. This problem continues to plague many churches today because we live in a materialistic world. What was Paul’s intention when he gave this exhortation to Timothy about “godliness with contentment”? Paul was instructing Timothy to remind his congregation of the true meaning of that phrase.

Dangers from the False Teachers
The context of the exhortation to Timothy arose from the influence of false teachers within the church in Ephesus. These false teachers were teaching the Ephesian Christians that godliness was a means of getting rich.

Paul enumerates the characteristics of these false teachers (vv. 3-5). First was their refusal to submit to the teachings of Jesus. They refused to submit to sound doctrines. They were teaching a different doctrine.

The one who submits to Scriptures will manifest godliness. Refusing to submit to the Word of God makes a mockery of any claim to godliness. The piety manifested by the false teachers was only an external display for the sole purpose of getting rich.

There cannot be godliness without submitting to the authority of Scriptures. The Ephesian Christians were persuaded by the false teachers when they failed to discern doctrines contrary to Scriptures. Paul describes these false teachers as being puffed up with conceit while understanding nothing. They exhibited an unhealthy craving for controversies and argument, promoting quarrels and envy. Paul describes their teachings as useless wrangling coming from corrupt minds that were empty of truth. It doesn’t matter how eloquent or gifted the preachers were, if what they taught was not the truth, it was of no benefit.

The false teachers were exploiting the church for their own benefits. They didn’t care if they caused the church to split. Paul warned the Ephesian Christians not to be deceived by outward show of godliness of the false teachers whose sole objective was to get rich from the generosity of the Christians.

Godliness with Contentment is Great Gain
The false teachers had defined godliness as an adherence to a certain set of behaviours, using certain language, or perhaps involvement in certain ministries. Attending church, serving in particular ministries or speaking in religious language does not make a man godly, only pious. The pious man is faithful in performing his duties but godliness points to a man’s relationship with God beyond duty. Paul indicates that godliness must go hand in hand with submission to the Word of God and is not determined solely by outward behaviour (v.3). True godliness is when a man submits to the authority of Scriptures, manifests the fruit of the Spirit and has a healthy, loving and submissive relationship with God. The false teachers in Ephesus were merely good actors.

Contentment on the other hand does not mean being self-sufficient or having absolutely no craving for material blessings. It also does not mean that we must deliberately make ourselves poor or deprive ourselves of enjoying God’s material provision for us. Some Christians misinterpret Paul’s intention and conclude that we must never set aside money for emergencies and needs of the family and never pamper ourselves with a special meal or a special holiday. Living in poverty when we have the means to live comfortably does not lead to contentment. Contentment is not always proportional to the wealth because there are some rich Christians who are never content but always wanting more just as there are poor Christians who are quite content with what they have. It also does not mean the poor will never be discontent. Some Christians are bitter and angry with God and other Christians because of poverty. Contentment is not stoicism, denying our needs by putting up a brave front. Contentment is a state of heart-satisfaction.

The Bible dictionary defines contentment as being free from anxiety or worry. Some individuals are by nature carefree and not prone to worry but that is not contentment. Others are more stoic so they would grit their teeth and bear with deprivation. True Christian contentment arises from a confident trust in Christ, learning to rest in God’s provision. It is satisfaction in God Himself. It is an attitude of the mind and heart that is totally dependent upon God, and independent of external circumstances. A godless self-sufficiency even without anxiety or worry is not Biblical contentment. True contentment is really Christ-sufficiency. Contentment is a result of godliness. The author of Hebrews wrote, “Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper, I will not fear; what can man do to me?”” (Heb 13:5-6).

True contentment comes from our faith and trust in the Lord because we know He will never fail us, no matter what the situation may be. It does not mean that we will never be poor or suffer deprivation. When we suffer deprivation, we know it is for a good purpose as God is always sovereignly in control. Paul ties godliness with contentment because we must know the Scripture and God’s will and purpose for our lives to be truly content.

Pitfall of Loving Money
Paul warns about the danger of loving money (vv. 7-10). Paul is not condemning money itself, but the love of money. Why is it foolish for Christians to love money? Paul explains that we brought nothing into the world and it is certain that we will carry nothing out from this world. The richest man in the world as well as the poorest will both die and face God. When we all stand before God, our wealth or poverty counts for nothing.

Some Christians have the attitude that since their salvation is assured, they might as well make more money so that they can enjoy all the trappings of luxury. Since we cannot carry our riches to eternity, we might as well enjoy our riches in this world. Jesus warns these Christians, "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Mat 6:24).

The word “serve” can be translated as “be a slave to”. Enslavement to money means pledging allegiance to money, choosing wealth at the expense of serving the Lord. Jesus warns us that we either serve Him or money but cannot be both. Jesus also gives us a parable in Luke 12:16-21 about a rich man who accumulated wealth for his own enjoyment. God judged the rich man as being foolish because he had stored up treasure for himself but was not rich towards God. It is not money that is evil but the love of money.

There is a day coming when God will judge every single man and woman. On that day, none of your riches or gold will be able to save you from the wrath of God. Only by putting your trust in Jesus Christ will you be spared God’s wrath.

Paul said that we shall be content with having food and clothing. He does not deny the fact that all men need basic necessities to survive. However, when our basic needs are met, then we must learn to be content. The root word for clothing is also raiment which includes shelter since many of the tents used for shelter were made from skin or raiment. When we have food to eat, clothes to wear and a roof over our heads, we ought to be content.

Paul warns that those who desire to be rich fall into various temptations that lead many into ruin and destruction. The love for money will soon expand to include other vices such as lust for power, fame and recognition. The one who loves money will never get enough. After earning his first million, he will crave his second million and then more and more. With the money he has accumulated, he will then seek after power and recognition from society. Paul asserts that the love of money will cause the person to be willing to commit all kinds of sin to further his objective, including cheating, stealing, lying and other moral sins.

The True Test of Contentment
Is working hard to provide a comfortable life for your family wrong? It was not Paul’s intention for all Christians to live ascetic lives. He also did not want every Christian to give up their secular jobs to serve the Lord full time. What then is the relevance of Paul’s exhortation for Christians today?

There are some tests that we can apply as we examine the issue of godly contentment. First, in your secular job, what is your motive for working hard? If your motive is to gain recognition for a promotion and better pay, then you have been serving mammon. However, if your motive is for God’s Name to be glorified, then you are pleasing God in what you do. When we do a good job, we leave the outcome in God’s hands who will reward us for our faithfulness in His time. No Christian should have the reputation of being incompetent or lazy for this brings shame to the Lord’s Name. Though not chasing recognition, we should not stop training ourselves to be the best we can be. This attitude ought to apply also to those serving the Lord in full time Christian ministry.

Second, do we become envious when God blesses others more than us materially? Do we blame God for being unfair because we have been more faithful and diligent than other Christians? If we have such an attitude, it would indicate that we really believe that godliness is a means of great financial gain. In Matthew 20:1-14, Jesus gave us the parable of the landowner who went out to hire labourers for his vineyard. The labourers were hired at different times of the day. The landowner represents God and the labourers represent those who have been called into the kingdom of God to serve. Those who were hired in the first hour were upset when they received the same wage as those who were hired at the 11th hour. The landowner’s response to the labourers was that he had the prerogative to reward each one as he deemed fit. While the key lesson in this parable was about the grace of God in salvation – we are saved not because of works, but grace – this parable also gives us insight into the attributes of God and His dealings with us. Within the kingdom of God, some Christians appear to receive more material blessings than others, not necessarily because they were working harder, or more faithful or mature. God blesses each one as He deems fit. If we think that because we have been more faithful and served more diligently, therefore God must give us more material blessings, we are no different from the false teachers that Paul condemned. None of us deserve to receive any blessing from God. We must never resent God’s goodness to others.

Third, we need to ask if we are willing to break God’s Law in our earthly pursuits. If your bosses ask you to cheat on the accounts, give empty promises or sell goods that you know are defective or harmful, would you still do it? Are you prepared to lose your job, defy your bosses and lose out on promotions because you refuse to break God’s moral Law? I am not saying that making such decisions would be easy but the one we fear is whom we really serve. What about the way we use our leisure time? I know of Christians who would skip worship service to play golf on Sunday mornings. Others may take part in sporting events on Sunday mornings. Those who do so may argue that missing Sunday worship service is not breaking any of God’s moral Law. But I would argue that the person who gives priority to other activities above the worship of God does not understand what it means to love God and give Him first place in our hearts.

Finally, we need to ask if we see ourselves as stewards of money and wealth or as owners. If we see ourselves as owners of the riches, then we would be selfish and protective over how it is used. If we see ourselves only as stewards of God’s gifts, then we will be willing to part with our money when we see a need and will not be easily upset when our riches are removed from us unexpectedly. How fiercely we cling to our riches reflects our attitude on ownership.

Paul commands those who are rich not to be haughty, trusting in uncertain riches. Those with material and financial wealth are tempted to trust in riches rather than in God, the Provider. Paul reminds them to be rich in good works and be ready to share. If we think our wealth is the result of our own hard work or clever mind, then we are inclined to be proud and be condescending towards others. If we understand that we are only stewards of God’s gifts, then we would be willing to share with others what God has blessed us with.

Paul does not give us a list of things to avoid or do in order to be content. Instead he lays down the principle about contentment and says, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Phil 4:12). For what God has provided for him to enjoy, he gives thanks to God. What God has withheld from him, he does not crave. Let us learn that our sufficiency rests not in what we have but in Christ alone.

Tan Chee Eng
- Tan Chee Eng is an elder of The 'Fisherman of Christ' Fellowship.

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