Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Godliness with Contentment

I realize it may seem harsh to post an entry on contentment just days after the most materialistic day in America, but I promise it was not intentional. As I am blogging through 1 Timothy when I find time, we have come to this section.

We are all rich in contrast to most of the rest of the world. There is no mistaking that we in America are rich. Yet we all want more. This year, government officials in Washington were once again arguing about the right process to raise our national debt ceiling. As I write, the national debt stands at approximately the $15.1 trillion mark. Why did they need to raise the debt ceiling? So that more money, that we don’t have, can be spent.

Even though in 1 Timothy 6.3-10, and 6.17-19 Paul turns his attention to address the rich and the greedy of Ephesus in their day, we have to realize that there are a few ways their context fits our present cultural context. How do we also grow towards godliness with contentment, and what will it accomplish in and through us?

Godliness with contentment is promoted by sound teaching. (1 Timothy 6.3-8)

Paul teaches here that the one who strays from and promotes teaching that is inconsistent with the teaching of Jesus ultimately is proven to be greedy, and only concerned about himself. This type of person actually thinks that a public speaking ministry is a way to get rich. They are shown however, to have a fake form of so-called godliness for the sake of material gain. On the contrary, genuine godliness is great gain when it is accompanied by contentment. We entered this world with nothing, and we will leave it with nothing.

Perhaps the most challenging and compelling point of Paul’s thought is how he defines what should make us content. He says that with food and clothing, we should be content.

Godliness with contentment prevents evil greed. (vv. 9-10)

When people are not content with the basics that God provides, and desire to be rich, Paul says that kind of discontent is like a snare or trap, and will plunge them into destruction. Then in his explanation comes an often-misquoted verse of Scripture. He does not say that money is root of evil. He says that the love of money, that is, greed, is a root of all kinds of evil, since it will produce in us all kinds of self-centered actions. Ultimately, unrepentant greed will lead you away from faith in Christ. To prevent that, God’s word says to be content, and keep trusting in Jesus.

Godliness with contentment provides for sharing and investing. (vv. 17-19)

In these final verses, directed toward the rich, it is important to note that he does not criticize them for being rich. Again, as with verses 9-10, the issue is not money itself, it is the love of money, in our hearts. He reminds them not to become conceited or arrogant, and not to place their faith in money. Paul simply teaches them the right way to handle their money: Be good stewards of it.

He says that the rich can do good works with their cash. They can help others; they can share. In so doing, they are investing in the future—not just the future lives of those around them, but even storing up eternal treasures in heaven, awaiting the real life that the new age will bring.

One other interesting note that these sections bring to light is that Paul addresses these groups differently. Those who are rich are not necessarily greedy, and conversely, those who are greedy are not always rich. Greed is a state of mind, or rather, of the heart. It’s not that God doesn’t care about our finances—He does. But God really cares about our hearts.

Our hope should never be in the things of this life. We should quickly learn that relying on money is futile. Our hope and help comes from the Lord.

[This is part of a larger series on 1 Timothy called The Community of Truth.]