First Mennonite Church
May 27, 2018
Godliness and Contentment
Text: 1Timothy 6:6-19
Biblical passages regarding material possessions, wealth, and the management of these in light of Christian teaching often cause a certain feeling of uneasiness or even reprehension among some Christians. This feeling or attitude towards these parts of scripture regarding wealth is more common among Christians of the North Western hemisphere, who have a strong materialistic orientation. Wealth, success, and material abundance are often associated with personal happiness and fulfillment. It is also true, from a global perspective, that the North Western hemisphere is rich when compared to the rest of the world. In that context, addressing the issue of wealth can be an unsettling task, both for the preacher and for the audience. But Jesus was also blunt when speaking about wealth. “You cannot serve God and wealth!” Jesus said. (Matthew 6:24; see also Luke 16:9, 11, 13). The word Jesus used for wealth is the Greek word, mammonas, which is a transliteration of the Aramaic “earthly goods.” In that regard, Jesus was saying that his disciples cannot bow down in reverence to God and bow down before the false god of earthly goods. As readers of the New Testament, we know that Jesus showed an obvious preference for the poor. He befriended them, fed them, and in Luke, he blessed them (Luke 6:20). On the other hand, Jesus seemed critical towards the rich. Jesus said it would be hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 9:23). Jesus also said, “Woe to you who are rich, because you have already received your consolation” (Luke 6:24).
A very clear illustration of Paul’s words to Timothy is Jesus’ parable of the rich fool in Luke 12. There, Jesus begins his parable of the rich fool by saying, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” The man in Jesus’ parable sought security in the quantity of resources he had amassed for himself. The rich man set his confidence of enjoying his future life on the abundance of his reserves. But Jesus says that God came to the man and said, “Tonight, you are going to die. And the wealth you have stored up, whose is it going to be?”
Before we begin to dig into Paul’s words in our passage for today, we should look at verse five. Paul says that those who disagree with the teaching of Jesus Christ and according to godliness are “depraved in their minds and deprived from the truth, imagining that godliness is the means of gain.” In the church of Ephesus some most likely these were the false teachers) believed and were teaching that devotion towards God is a sure way to gain earthly riches. They believed devotion to God would bring them prosperity. For that reason, Paul starts by saying, “Of course there is great gain in godliness,” but he immediately adds, “and contentment.” Paul’s main concern here is not his or God’s aversion toward riches. Paul is not targeting the rich because of their earthly possessions or wealth. Paul’s primary purpose is to show the error of those in Ephesus who claimed that their devotion to God would secure them earthly gains. Earlier in chapter three, verse three, Paul says the bishop, or the overseer of the church, should not be “a lover of money.” So, what we find here is that Paul is extending the same principle he gives for church leaders to all the believers. Paul is emphasizing what should be the right Christian attitude towards material possessions and wealth. Paul is not against having wealth. Paul is not implying that having wealth is contradictory to being a follower of Jesus. Paul is challenging the attitude of the false teachers regarding the purpose of godliness. Devotion to God should not be perceived as a source of personal gain.
Godliness should be accompanied by contentment. The Greek word autarkeia ca be translated “contentment” or “self-sufficiency.” It is the attitude of cherishing simplicity and making do with what is at hand, whether one has abundance or only the basics. This is the same attitude Paul had when he says in Philippians 4:1-13,
“I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having
plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Thanksgiving is only possible if there is contentment in the heart. When our heart is filled with contentment, our prayers to God are of thanksgiving for what he has given us. We give thanks for the meal set before us, not for what is missing on the table. Contentment moves us to give thanks to God in prayer for what we have, not to pray for a bigger and better house or a better and faster car or cell phone. Contentment is the evidence of Christ’s strength in us to do all things. How often this verse is used for the wrong reasons!
Paul warns Timothy of the dangers of practicing a devotion to God for the mere purpose of gaining material profit. Faith and piety should not be taken as sources to make riches. There are countless examples of this type of practice in today’s Christian world. Many fine Christian men and women have succumbed to the temptation of using godliness for profit. Some of those people have also suffered much pain and caused much pain, not only to their families but also to the cause of the gospel and the Christian church.
Pursue these things
Instead of pursuing godliness for material gain, Timothy is instructed to pursue other things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
Besides righteousness, devotion to God and love for God and others, Timothy should also pursue endurance—patience and gentleness. Paul’s command, “fight the good fight,” has the meaning of, “competing to win the contest of what is good.” It does not flow nicely in English, but the idea was that Timothy should vie to win the “good contest.” The goal of winning the good contest is followed by seizing the eternal life to which Timothy had been called.
Taking from Paul’s words we can be warned of the dangers of having the wrong pursuits in life. Therefore, we should ask ourselves, what is my pursuit in life? Am I expecting God to reward my love for him with material goods? We should also remember that God is not against riches. Paul encourages those who have been blessed with wealth and material possessions to avoid the trap of being possessed by their wealth and possessions. Pride can overwhelm the heart of the one who has riches. A false sense of hope and security can be born out of having abundance of material possessions. To those who have material possessions, Paul encourages to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.
As for us, we are all reminded by Paul’s words that our devotion to God, our love for God in response to his love, should be accompanied by contentment. Contentment is not dependent on how much we have. Contentment is the attitude of doing with what God has already given us. We should not be worried about what we do not have. We should be thankful for every blessing we have been given.
This passage is also a reminder of our own mortality. When the end of life comes, everything we have accumulated will stay behind. Every time you see a sign or poster announcing the weekend estate sale, you can almost be sure that the belongings and material possessions of someone who recently died are being sold. He or she did not take along much, except the altered burial clothes, which they are made to wear only for the sake of the wake. Paul’s words, therefore, remind us of the futility of living a life with the only pursuit of getting more material possessions. However, if God has blessed us with abundance, let us open our hearts to those who need a helping hand. Paul calls us to be rich in good works, to be generous, and ready to share. Jesus said, “I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.” Jesus calls his disciples to use riches to make friends. The rich of the world often times use their riches to exploit others or to increase their wealth. But Jesus invites his disciples to use their riches to make friends in order to be welcomed into the eternal homes once these riches have gone.
This passage is also a reminder that eternal life is a gift from God. But we need to seize it and to hold fast to it. This we do as we strive to win the good contest. Holiness or sanctification, which is godliness, involves the way we live our daily lives and how we manage the material things God gives us. Godliness is only complete if accompanied with contentment. Let us learn the secret Paul also learned, to live with contentment. To live with contentment means being able to do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Amen.