By Bobby Witherington
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 (1 Tim. 6:6-8).
We live in a world in which the population in general is interested in obtaining “great gain.” Throughout the history of man “get-rich-quick” schemes have always attracted great interest. Even today, in our so-called enlightened age, virtually anyone is assured of a large following if he can only convince the public that his “new and novel” idea will produce large revenues.
The faithful child of God is also concerned about “great gain.” However, the faithful Christian is aware that there are two kinds of gain physical and spiritual. While great physical gain is not inherently sinful, its possession often comes at tremendous risk to spirituality. On the one hand, with the increase of material wealth, there is the accompanying danger that the possessor thereof might become “high-minded,” and prone to “trust in uncertain riches” in-stead of “in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:7). On the other hand, we often multiply our earthly cares as we in-crease our material wealth (Eccl. 5:10-12). Then, too, as a materially wealthy person nears the sunset of earthly life his tangible possessions may become a source of great concern as he begins to contemplate the hands into which they will fall; will the next owner “be a wise man or a fool” (Eccl. 2:19)? Also earthly riches are inherently “uncertain,” for there is always the possibility that they will be corrupted by “moth” or “rust,” or thieves might “break through and steal” (Matt. 6:19). Indeed, the pages of history are filled with the biographies of multi-millionaires who died penniless and friendless. Notwithstanding the fact that multitudes live their lives chasing the proverbial “goose that laid the golden egg,” real happiness and great riches are seldom joined together. Perhaps with regards to material wealth we would do well to develop the attitude of Agur who petitioned God, saying, “Two things I request of You (Deprive me not before I die): Remove falsehood and lies from me; Give me neither poverty nor riches . . . Lest I be full and deny You, and say, `Who is the Lord?’ Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God” (Prov. 30:7-9).
In view of the hidden dangers associated with earthly riches Paul warned against men “of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth” who suppose that “gain is godliness” (1 Tim. 6:5). He stated that those whose goal is to be rich “fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition” (1 Tim. 6:9). He affirmed that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10). And he gave instructions to those “that are rich in this world” to trust in God, and to use their possessions to “do good.” It is one things to be possessed by your possessions and quite another to faithfully manage those possessions entrusted to you as a wise, God-fearing steward!
In a real sense, with respect to earthly wealth, 1 Timothy 6:5-19 speak of two distinct groups of people. Verses 5-10 address those who intend to be rich. Verses 17-19 address those who are rich.
Mindful of the unseen dangers facing both groups Paul gave practical instructions to those in each category. And it was with these factors in mind that Paul revealed the secret of true riches; he said “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6). You will please observe that inspiration joined together both godliness and contentment. It is one thing to have “godliness with contentment,” and something else to have godliness without contentment! Mindful that most readers of this paper are affected by their culture, and are therefore interested in “great gain,” we shall in this issue discuss each unit of the “great gain” formula, beginning with:
In a real sense “godliness” is “great gain” within itself. That this is true is indicated in 1 Timothy 4:8 wherein Paul said “godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.” “But what,” we ask, “is godliness?”
Godliness (Greek, eusebeia) “denotes that piety which, characterized by a Godward attitude, does that which is well-pleasing to him” (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, by W.E. Vine). Other Scriptures penned by Paul which stress the necessity of godliness are 1 Timothy 2:2; 3:16; 4:7, 8; 6:3, 5, 6, 11; 2 Timothy 3:5; Titus 1:1.
Godliness is one of the “Christian graces” which a Christian must continually develop in his effort to make his “calling and election sure” (2 Pet. 1:5-10). Godliness and “holy con-duct” should characterize responsible people as they contemplate the ultimate dissolution of the created universe (2 Pet. 3:11). The truth we acknowledge “is according to godliness” (Tit. 1:1).
Godliness is basic to a proper relationship with God. This is the character quality which enables one to say “hallowed be thy Name” (Matt. 6:9) with meaning and true reverence. This is the attitude which prompts a feeling of dependence on God, an attitude of reverence toward God, and a willingness to submit to the instructions of God. The godly know that God is indeed “in His holy temple,” and they are disposed to “keep silence before Him” (Hab. 2: 20), always mindful of their smallness and his greatness.
The godly are so mindful of the awe-inspiring majesty of the Father of spirits (Heb. 12:9) that they dare not use God’s holy name as a byword, or make jokes about things sacred. Their feeling of awe in the greatness of him who is the “Almighty” (Gen. 17:1), and infinitely “holy” God (Isa. 6:3), make it unthinkable for them to joke about heaven or hell, or to question the wisdom and integrity of God on any issue.
Contentment (Greek, autarkeia) “means sufficient in oneself, self-sufficient, adequate, needing no assistance; hence, content” (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, by W.E. Vine). This same word is translated “sufficiency” in 2 Corinthians 9:8 wherein to certain generous, cheerful givers Paul said, “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, having all sufficiency in all things, have an abundance for every good work.”
The “sufficiency” of real contentment is not determined by the size of one’s bank account, but by the size of his trust in God. It may be likened to the unworried confidence of a small child who, though he may possess nothing of his own, is care free care free because he knows his parents won’t forsake him, nor ignore his material and emotional needs. Wasn’t that the secret behind the contentment of the apostle Paul who, while a prisoner in chains, wrote, saying, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be con-tent” (Phil. 4:11)?
Ironically, many materially rich people are never con-tent, whereas others (much poorer in purse), like the Corinthians unto whom God’s grace abounded, have “all sufficiency in all things.” When all is said and done, contentment is not based upon what a person has, nor is it determined by where he lives. Rather, contentment is based upon what a person is, and it is determined by his awareness of the nearness of a merciful and beneficent heavenly Father who exhorts his children, saying, “Let your conduct be without covetousness, and be content with such things as you have, For . . . I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5; cf. Josh. 1:5).
As long as we spend ourselves poor trying to “keep up with the Jones’s,” and run ourselves ragged trying to catch that elusive goose that lays the golden eggs we will be deprived of the truly “great gain” that accompanies “godliness with contentment.” We must cease looking outward with envy, and start looking upward with gratitude.
If you get a well-deserved job promotion which does not interfere with your service to God, I’m glad. If you inherit a fortune and are able to maintain your spiritual equilibrium, I’m glad. If you are able to operate a successful business, while continuing to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33), I’m glad. But remember that these items are not where real happiness lies. Real happiness is determined by what you are and by whether or not you are an heir of God and a joint heir with Christ (Rom. 8:17). If you must make a choice between pleasure with prosperity, and “godliness with contentment,” then choose the latter, for therein is the real basis for “great gain.” Consider ye well!
Guardian of Truth XLI: 18 p. 6-7
September 18, 1997