Back to Basics
But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.1 Timothy 6:8
Sometimes people think that the gospel promotes the possession of private property and that any idea of state ownership is to be rejected out of hand. To be sure, historically the state ownership philosophy has been tied to atheism. However, this does not mean that the philosophy of private ownership is founded on the gospel. While the Bible allows the ownership of properly, it never speaks of it – or any possession – as a fundamental right. In fact, Paul's message to Timothy has quite a different flavour. It takes us back to basics, and tells us to be content with the food, clothing, and shelter.
Paul gives this command in the context of a warning against greed, avarice, and the desire to be rich. The one who desires riches or lives in greed will never have enough. His desire becomes insatiable. As Solomon says:
All day long the wicked covets greedily, but the righteous gives and does not hold back.Proverbs 21:26
In opposition to this insatiable attitude, the apostle enjoins the laborers in the gospel to be content with little. This is not a mystical or quietistic contentment grounded in man's own strength. It is not a principle of stoic self-sufficiency by which one becomes absolutely indifferent to the things around him. Paul harbors no grudge against goods and possessions as such. He also does not champion absolute independence and total indifference to one's circumstances. Rather, he seeks to have all things placed in the service of the gospel. And the laborer in the gospel should be content with what he needs to carry on his task and fulfill the requirements of his office. This is also the warning Paul gives to the elders and deacons earlier in his letter, 1 Timothy 3:3, 8. Here Paul touches a theme that goes back to the fathers of the faith. Abraham was rich in cattle, goods, and possessions, yet he remained a stranger and sojourner in the land. He spent his life dwelling in tents, looking forward to the city, which has foundations, whose builder and maker was God, Hebrews. 11:10. Jacob leaves for Haran with only a staff in his hand and makes a vow to God:
If God will be with me, and will keep me in the way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father's house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God.Genesis 28:20
He is concerned about the basic necessities, and nothing more.
In the days when He lived on earth, the Lord Jesus walked in the same faith. He warned the well-to-do, would-be followers:
Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests: but the Son of man has nowhere to lay His head.Matthew 8:20
In the warning against the service of mammon, Jesus also focuses solely on the two basic necessities in life, food and clothing:
Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?Matthew 6:25
The complete earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus is characterized by being limited to the basic needs compare, Luke.8:3. So Paul says of Him:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich.2 Corinthians.8:9
For the apostles, life was essentially the same. Peter lived with Simon, a tanner, and Paul lived at the home of Aquila and Priscilla, Acts18:3. In order to be secure shelter was an important aspect of their basic needs, but even here, the apostles reflect contentment with the basic minimum, living as lodgers rather than landowners. Paul asks only for that which he needs to do his work. In all things he learned how to be content, Philippians 4:11 he takes pride not in his own strength or human freedom, but in the grace of God, as God has said to him:
My grace is sufficient for you.2 Corinthians12:9
Ownership of property is not inherently based on the gospel. If God grants these gifts, they may be received with thanksgiving. However, what applies to the labourer in the gospel also applies to the whole church. A Christian must be prepared to lose all in order to gain all. For with all we have we are simply stewards of God's gifts. Therefore, we are instructed by God to use all that He gives us for His kingdom, placing it in the service of His Name.
Today we are called to imitate the faith of the fathers. In addition, the temptations are as great today as they were in their days, if not greater. The true contentment required by the gospel demands that we are satisfied with the basic necessities: the things we need to carry on our work in the gospel, and our office in God's church. For these needs we can always count on God's help.
Those who live close to the Word will not put their hope or expend all their efforts in the acquisition of property or worldly possessions. In fact, they will be watchful for dangers and temptations. For us, the gospel and the call of God must take precedence over the need or desire for property and goods. To obey is better than have! Therefore: stick to the basics! In this way, we may thankfully place all our gifts before His throne.