“But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 8 And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. 9 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. 10 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. 11 But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness” ( 1 Timothy 6:6-11).
The pastoral epistles were written by Paul to instruct Timothy and others how to live out the principles of the Christian life. The problems that the early church faced, are in essence the problems that the church of the twenty-first century faces. Technology transfers civilization, but it cannot change the human heart. Cain, with his knife in hand lying in secret to cut the throat of his brother Abel, is no different than an Adolph Hitler, with his hand on the control of a military machine ready to murder hundreds upon thousands upon millions of men, women, and children.
The Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, may smile, and concede that Israel has a right to exist as a nation, due to political expediency, but few doubt that if the Arab terrorist leader had the opportunity to ignite a nuclear bomb, and wipe Israel off the face of the earth, he would do so without hesitation.
The heart of the Roman rulers was no different. The people of Palestine were troublesome, and if there could be found a way to kill all the Jews the Roman rulers would have done so. Several tried to some extent.
Besides hatred in the heart of man, the early church was challenged by a spirit of sexual immorality. Homosexuality was rampant. The leaders of the Roman senate were effeminate. They married women for children, and kept young boys for their perverted pleasures. Abortion was a common practice. Public nudity was without shame. Beautiful temples were built to the goddess of love, and kept by temple prostitutes.
Violence was also a problem faced by the early church. People would go to the public arena and watch men butcher each other. Today people watch wrestle mania and ice hockey for the same thrill. Today, the masses go to the movie theater to watch the most graphic display of violence. We are told that it is all play acting, but the statistical rise of rapes, murders, and beatings suggest that what people visualize they act out.
Drug abuse was also a prevailing problem that challenged the early church. Drunkenness in particular, was blight on society. The church at Corinth wrestled with people coming to the Lord’s Supper drunk. It happens today. The Catholic Church has a special home for a alcoholic priest to go to.
When I was in the Army during the 1970s, one of the saddest sights I saw was a priest staggering down the aisle to say mass and serve communion.
Hatred in the heart, public nudity, excessive attraction to, and the display of violence, drug abuse, and drunkenness, these are some of the problems that face the church in the twenty-first century, thereby diminishing the spiritual power of people who practice such things.
But we must not think we are somehow unique and alone living in the last days. The church two thousand years ago faced the very same types of problems and believed that they too were in the last days of time.
I bring together the similarities of the present day, and the past, in order to establish the point that when the word of God speaks, it is not a message for a certain culture. The Word of God lives and abides. It transcends cultures, and crosses the centuries to speak to human needs of all times.
It is essential to understand this point in order to address another concern of Christians. Paul was concerned about it in his day. We should be concerned about it today.
I hesitate to label the problem because, as soon as it is identified, there is a mad rush to defend the sin, or explain it away. The sin is discontentment, but the source of the problem is an obsession with materialism.
Materialism is the focusing of one’s time, energy, and emotion on the acquisition of material objects.
To begin, two obvious comments need to be said in order to set the thoughts aside.
First, certain things in life are good and proper, and one of general concern. Food and clothing and shelter fall into this category.
Second, a certain striving to excel in life is not sin. In America, our generation excels beyond that of the last. One reason is that parents tend to help out their children and give them a better life than what they had. That is not necessarily wrong.
We all enjoy a greater measure of excellence in our standard of living, and benefit by the creative comforts and are glad for others as well. However, there is a philosophy which should always guard the heart of the Christian, and that philosophy is characterized by thankfulness and contentment. Our passage teaches us that, “godliness with contentment is great gain.”
To be godly is to be like god. To be like God does not mean that a person is God, or in some way becomes a god. The Mormons teach such things, but it is wrong to think that somehow man can become a God in his own right.
But there is a way in which people are commanded to be like God, and when there is a moral and ethical conformity to divine standards there is godliness. When a person, as a follower of Jesus Christ, expresses goodness, truth, love, joy, peace, gentleness, meekness, and self-control, there is godliness. To be holy, to be like Christ who is God manifested in the flesh, is great spiritual gain.
Spiritual enrichment is enhanced when, alongside of the fruit of the Spirit, there is contentment. Satan does not want Christians to be content. He never has. When Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, it was Satan who suggested that maybe there was still something more to life, and the seed of discontent was planted. It brought death and ruin then, and the same bitter end results today in the hearts of people who are discontent.
The Bible issues a solemn warning that discontentment leads to an abnormal desire for material prosperity.
There was a television program by Dr. Joseph Parker, founder of Gateway Industry, which provides humanitarian aid for the war-torn communities and populations of Armenia. In a very impressive one-hour show, Dr. Parker promised people that his techniques could change their lives. His formula for success involved visualization, subliminal suggestion, relaxation, and mind talk
What was most interesting was the constant repetition of fantastic promises. His tried and proven methods would guarantee the generating power of attracting money, power, prestige, lasting relationships, creativity, improvement of memory, behavioral change in personality so that a person is self-confident and lovable.
Over and over and over again, incredible promises were made. And then, a number of people were interviewed. They had submitted themselves to the program and behold, here were men and women healthy, wealthy, and wise. Here were people who proclaimed they could do anything they set their mind to doing.
I tell you, there is a difference between the world’s philosophy, and the Biblical philosophy of life. There is a clear distinction.
The world says, ‘Get all you can get.”
The Bible says, “Give all you can give.”
The world says, “Assert yourself. Be full of self-confidence. Control others.”
The Bible says, “In lowliness of mind serve one another.”
The world says, “What the mind of man can conceive, the ability of man can achieve.”
The Bible teaches that the sufficiency of the Christian is not in self but in the Savior. “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13).
Unfortunately, the philosophy of the world has taken root in fertile soil in the Church. Today, there is a health and wealth gospel being proclaimed. The emphasis of the message in the pulpit of many is not self-denial, but self-esteem. There is no death to greed encouraged. Rather, Christians are being told that it is alright to want to be rich, famous, wealthy, and powerful. Napoleon Hill invites readers to Think and Grow Rich.
While it is the natural condition of the fallen heart to be discontent, and strive for more, and more, out of life, it is characteristic of the redeemed heart to be content. “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Phil. 4:11).
When the apostle Paul wrote these words, he was in a vile, smelly pit. He was in a Roman prison.
How can a Christian reach such maturity? It can only be by the careful guarding of the heart so that discontentment does not set in.
The odious sin of discontentment breeds several vile children.
First, there is the child called, overextension. The temptation comes to overextend one’s physical and financial resources. Remember that the temptation to over-reach is especially set for the children of God. Satan wants to snare the saints, individually, and collectively.
Many a Christian has been ensnared by discontentment. The result, an over extension in a vain effort to be rich in this world. Not being content with food and raiment, there is the desire for more, and easy credit terms ensnare the soul.
Religious organizations are not innocent. Thousands of dollars are mismanaged, and squandered by overreaching ministries, and then the pressure is on to survive.
Each month, I listened to appeals from more places I care to remember. Every week, mail crosses my desk with appeals for money. The requests come from seminaries, denominational headquarters, and organizations few have ever heard of.
Somewhere, somehow, the people of God must return to a fundamental principle of learning to be content with what they have, enjoy being where they are, and then trust the Lord for the future.
When the bills come due, and there is more month than money, it is time to pray, and watch the deliverance of the Lord who has taught us to pray, “Give us this day, our daily bread.”
Then second, discontent is designed by Satan to replace holy motives. Churches that once wept for souls to be saved can find themselves no longer weeping for the lost and only consumed with concern over the material aspect of the work of the Lord.
It is a real danger against which the heart must be guarded. It has been said that, “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s blessing.”
It is absolutely essential that motives be pure before God. Man looks on the outward appearance to see what is being done. God examines the heart to see why something is done. Paul, who had the equivalent of a doctor’s degree and more, put away all of his education and rich heritage to be a vagabond for Christ.
Offer Paul riches and honor and fame, and then listen as he says, “Those things that were gain to me, these I counted loss for Christ.”
Paul could have had it all. The opportunities of the first century were just as real as they are today. But Paul wanted only to be where Christ wanted him to be, and with that, the apostle was content.
There is a third result of discontentment, and that is blame shifting. People who mismanage money do not humble themselves, as a rule. They fault others. Others are guilty.
In the home, spouses point fingers at each other. In churches? Well, someone else can usually be blamed besides the leadership.
Over extension, impure motives, blame shifting, these are just some of the temptations and snares that come upon people, individually or collectively, who do not learn to be content.
Learning to be content is a challenge in our society, as it was a challenge to the early church.
But, if a Christian is serious about learning to be content, several things must be done.
First, the Christian must recognize God is wiser than the world, and His Word is to be obeyed. There is no real need to continue a mad pursuit of wanting more and more. “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.”
I do not know how much is enough for any particular Christian, but the Lord does. As each Christian submits their heart, and possessions to the Lord, the principle of greed is arrested.
Second, the Christian must believe the love of money is the root of all evil. Those who covet after it err from the faith. People who become so enamored with anything that they have no time for Sunday school, church, prayer meeting, soul winning, and Christian fellowship, they err from the faith.
Jesus said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and then these things shall be added unto you.” Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. It is God’s day.
Finally, the Christian must flee from the temptation to covet and to love money in an inordinate way.
It is not right to appeal to the fallen desire of man to be discontent. It is right to appeal to believers to be content.
“Are you content?”
“Do you want more out of life than the Lord permits?”
“Do you flee from covetousness and follow after godliness?”
The honest answer to these questions will determine your spirituality.
Christians are to be grateful for all the gifts and mercies of God.
Christians are to be content.
“Are you a contented person?”