By Phil T. Arnold
Now 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 clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows (1 Tim. 6:6-10).
One of the most desired and yet elusive goals in life is contentment. Truly, contentment is one of the great treasures of life and he who has contentment is truly rich. The word Paul uses here in 1 Timothy 6:6 for contentment is autarkeia. This was one of the great watchwords of the Stoic philosophers of Greece. By autarkeia they meant a complete “self-sufficiency.” They meant a frame of mind that was completely independent of all outward things and which carried the secret of happiness within itself. He who had autarkeia (contentment) needed nothing else. The thought being that true contentment never comes from the possession of external things (material wealth) but from an inward attitude in life. A Greek philosopher named Epicurus was asked for the secret to happiness and reportedly replied, “Add not to a man’s possessions but take away from his desires.” It is not what a man possesses but what truly possesses him that produces contentment.
God has provided all that man needs to be happy. Yet, God brought us into the world without any possessions. Thus, possessions cannot be the root of happiness. They are transitory. There are no pockets in a shroud and “you can’t take it with you.” “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out” (1 Tim. 6:7). All we can take to God is ourselves and the history of the lives we have lived whether good or bad (2 Cor. 5:10).
It is not that Christianity pleads for poverty. There is no special virtue in being poor or in having a constant struggle to make ends meet. In the same sixth chapter in fact, Paul speaks of Christians who are rich and does not condemn them for their wealth. He does warn about trusting in “uncertain riches” and encourages them to be “rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share” (1 Tim. 6:17-19). It is not sinful to be rich nor righteous to be poor. But we must realize that it is never in the power of things to bring lasting happiness. Paul pleads instead for concentration upon the spiritual things which are permanent. For contentment can only come when we escape the servitude of things – “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Lk. 12:15). Contentment will be ours when we find that our wealth is in the love and fellowship of God which has been made possible through Jesus Christ. Truly, having God we have all things.
“But those who desire to be rich fall into temptations and a snare. . . For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:9,10). Again, money in itself is neither good or bad; but the love of it – the “desire to be rich” – leads to evil and “many foolish and harmful lusts. ” With money a man may selfishly serve his own desires or answer the needs of a fellow human being. With money a man may facilitate the path of wrongdoing or he can make it easier for someone else to serve God. No, money is not in itself an evil, but it is a great responsibility. It is a powerful tool that may be used for good or evil, and it brings with it special dangers if it is loved. If it is loved: (1) It tends to be a desire which is never satisfied (Eccl. 5:10); (2) It is founded upon an illusion that security is found in possessions (Lk. 12:1621); (3) It tends to make us selfish and proud (Lk. 16:19ff); (4) It promises security but tends to produce anxiety (Eccl. 5:12); and (5) It may even lead to dishonesty (Prov. 30:9).
To seek to be independent of financial reliance upon others and prudently provide for the future is a Christian duty (Eph. 4:28; 2 Thess. 3:10), but to make the love of money the driving force of life cannot ever be anything other than the most perilous of sins and will rob us of the “great gain the contentment that is found only in Christ.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 21, p. 642, 663
November 5, 1992