The Riches of Godliness with Contentment The Mystery of Contentment Series: Part 11
Read 1 Timothy 6:3-10
Blaise Pascal once wrote, “Happiness can be found neither in ourselves nor in external things, but in God and in ourselves as united to him.” And I think that is an apt summary of the theme of Christian contentment in Scripture. It is an apt summary, in fact, of what we have been doing over the last few months in this sermon series. Human beings were created with a soul thirst for God, and nothing but God can satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart. So our happiness is not found in ourselves and it is not found in external things, but in God and in ourselves as we are united to him.
But it is those external things that I want to focus our attention on, because this last passage in our series deals with these external things—the things of this world. The apostle Paul says here in verse 6, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” In fact, in the Bible I think we would be right to see godliness and contentment as being completely tied to one another. What does godliness consist of? It consists of the single-minded pursuit of God. That is essentially what it is. It means mortifying sin within, it means keeping ourselves from the sin of this world, but ultimately it means the pursuit of God. A single minded pursuit of God. And that is precisely what contentment is. That is where contentment lies: Pursuing God and delighting in him and him alone. So I think we can say that contentment is essential to godliness, and true biblical contentment is, in a sense, godliness. But it is great gain. It is the best form of riches. That contentment in the riches of the heart. The riches of being content in God and God alone.
Now, to have this contentment, we have seen a number of ways to pursue it, we have seen in a number of ways what it means for the Christian, but it also means having a proper biblical perspective on the things of this world. I want us to see three things in particular about a proper biblical perspective on the material things of this world.
The Things of the World Are Good
The first is: They are good. It is important to see that. The things that God has created in this world are good. Let's look at our passage in 1 Timothy 6 and let's set it in context. Of course, verse 6 and following deal with this theme of Christian contentment, but it is set in the context of false teachers, and we encounter them in verses 3-5. Now, what did these false teachers teach? Well, a number of different things, but some things Paul makes clear to us back in 1 Timothy 4:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. 1 Timothy 4:1-5, ESV
What is one small thing that we see that these false teachers were teaching? We see it in verse 3: They forbid marriage and require abstinence from certain foods. In other words, they seem to have taught a strict (what I might call) asceticism—a negative view of the body. Any desire is evil. We do not indulge the body at all. We abstain from certain foods and drinks (that God has created as good, Paul says). We are to see the things of this world created by God as good. Certainly we can refer to some manmade creations that are not so good, but what God has created is good. It is to be received with thanksgiving. The teaching of the false teachers was, “No, abstain from that and put that aside.”
And indeed, this kind of strict lifestyle has the appearance of godliness. In fact, when Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:5 that they are “imagining that godliness is a means of gain,” what he means here is the appearance of godliness, because from the description they are anything but truly godly! But as Paul says to the Colossians in Colossians 2 teaching that says, “Do not touch, Do not taste, Do not handle” has the appearance of godliness. There are many religions in the world that are attracting followers because of the strictness of their teaching. People think that is attractive. “That must be right. I have to get my life in order.” So they are attracted to this kind of strict self-denial. They have the appearance of godliness.
But as we see in 1 Timothy 6, their lives show otherwise. Paul says here in verse 4 that they are “puffed up with conceit.” They are arrogant. Contrary to popular opinion, arrogance is not believing you are right. In the Bible arrogance is setting yourself up over against the Word of God, or [setting] human teaching over against God's teaching. That is arrogance! It is not having convictions or believing you are right on certain things; it is setting your opinion over against God's opinion. That is arrogance. Humility means submitting to God's Word.
We see of these false teachers that they have a craving for controversy and for quarrels. They produce envy and slander. Verse 5: There was constant friction among these false teachers. The Church is filled with people like this in many ways, isn't it? Those who have the appearance of godliness—maybe through their rigorous devotion or their strict lifestyle—but where they go causes constant friction among God's people! These false teachers teach strict denial, but they are teeming with desire. And it shows up in controversy and in their desire for gain. They teach strict self-denial, but there is a desire for gain. Look at verse 6: “Imagining that godliness is a means of gain.”
In other words, there is no contentment. There is a longing after more. There is no peace in the heart of these false teachers. Why? First, there can be no contentment and peace for those who reject God's Word and for those who reject God's teaching. There can be no contentment and peace for those who set up human standards over God's standards. That is simply not going to happen.
But secondly, I think it comes from misunderstanding God's teaching on the world. All that God has created is good. Look ahead in 1 Timothy 6:
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 1 Timothy 6:17, ESV
God has given the things of this world for us to enjoy. Having things is not sinful! But we need to recognize their proper place. And the first thing that Paul says here is that they are given for our enjoyment. Isn't it interesting that Paul, who wants us to find our contentment and our delight and our joy in God alone, also wants us to enjoy the material things of this world that God has provided? Those two things could potentially seem to be at odds. But Paul says, “No, what God has created is good and is given for your enjoyment.”
Why Should We Enjoy Worldly Things?
Now, why? I think there are two primary reasons for this. Actually, we could say three. The first is: They are gifts of God. And if God is given them, then we are to enjoy them and take delight in God's provision.
But next, we can also say that the enjoyment of our good gifts is a type of our enjoyment of God himself. As we enjoy the gifts, it is a type of enjoying the Giver. It reminds us of our greater joy and delight in God alone. There is a lot of language in Scripture of eating and drinking. Eating and drinking is all over the Bible. Jesus came and he ate and he drank, and he seemed to live it up a little bit! He made wine at the wedding of Cana in Galilee. He is called by the Jewish leaders a drunkard and a friend of sinners. Jesus went to some fine meals and banquets. The Bible describes banquets, meals, eating and drinking. And what do these ultimately do?
Well first of all, they ultimately look forward to some great banquet at the end of the age called the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. In fact, Jesus himself says at the Last Supper with final cup, “I will not drink of this cup again until I drink it with you anew in the kingdom” (Matthew 26:29). Evidently there is going to be some kind of feast when Christ comes again. That seems to be biblical teaching. It may simply be metaphorical, but I think it refers to a literal feast there.
But the Bible also uses eating language about our relationship with God. Listen to the language Scripture uses: “Taste and see that God is good” (Psalm 34:8). Jesus says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, is thirsty let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37). “The one who comes to me will not hunger, and the one who believes in me will not thirst” (John 6:35). The psalmist in Psalm 36:8 says of those who take refuge under the shadow of God's wings: “They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.” We are to enjoy what God has given. It looks forward and is a type of our enjoyment of God himself.
I love holiday meals. I love Thanksgiving. I love gathering together with family and I love eating that wonderful meal that my wife cooks every year. One of my favourite movie is a movie called Babette's Feast. It shows this gourmet cook who enters into a little country town. It is a town is filled with angry people with their schisms and their squabbles. She invites all the people of the town to this big meal, and she puts on this elaborate feast for them. The people of this little village come together. They are not really sure they want to be there, they are not sure what is going on or what this food is. There is friction and there is tension. They do not want to be with those that they are eating with. But it is a wonderful portrayal. As the meal goes on, things begin to change and relationships change. It may be a little farfetched, but there is joy and delight in a meal and eating together, and things change sometimes when we do that. But ultimately, it is what God has given to us, and it points to our delight in him.
But also, as we partake and as we enjoy what God has given, we are to enjoy God himself. Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:4 that we are to receive with thanksgiving. The food is itself “made holy,” set apart “by the word of God and prayer” (verse 5). So we enjoy God, and part of our enjoyment of God is the enjoyment of his good gifts. Enjoy the good things that God has given you. They point to our enjoyment of him. We enjoy him in them as we partake. Find delight in what God has given!
But the fact that they point us to God is also a caution against the unbridled pursuit of the things of this world, because we are not to pursue the gifts ultimately, but we are to pursue the Giver. And that leads us to our two final points.
The Things of the World Are Transitory
The second point about the things of this world is that they are transitory.
But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 1 Timothy 6:6-7, ESV
You have bought nothing in, and you cannot take anything with you. This reminds us of a number of things. The transitory, temporary nature of this world reminds us that we are pilgrims who are just passing through. This world is not our home. When we go to a foreign country, we do not have many of the comforts of home, and it is uncomfortable. It takes some adjustment. But eventually, hopefully, if you are going to stay there you learn to adjust your expectations. So we need to adjust our expectations to life in this world. This world is not our home. We are just passing through.
These verses (verse 7 in particular) also teach us that the things of this world are of no ultimate spiritual value. Yes, we enjoy God in them as we enjoy the things that God has given to us, but ultimately the things of this world cannot lead us to God. They cannot produce in us godliness and contentment. The things of this world do not satisfy us. Many of you are familiar with The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which laments, “Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” The salty water of the sea cannot quench the thirst of the thirsty man. And so the things that are all around us cannot quench our spiritual thirst. They cannot satisfy the soul’s deepest longing.
So along with the recognition of the goodness of creation, there also needs to be a balance of godly self-denial. Not the strict, ascetic, extra-biblical self-denial of the false teachers, but there is a godly self-denial. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). If you are not willing to deny self, you cannot be a follower of Jesus.
Jeremiah Burrough’s points out that Jesus, who denied himself, was the most contented man who ever lived. And he writes:
There was never any man or woman so contented as a self-denying man or woman….A discontented heart is troubled because it has no more comfort, but a self-denying man rather wonders that he has as much as he has. The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, 2010
Paul says here verse 8 that we are to be content with the basic necessities of life. Why? Because we seek first the kingdom and its righteousness. We seek first God, the Giver, and not the gift. So things of this world are good, but secondly, they are transitory.
The Things of the World Are Dangerous
Third, they can be downright dangerous. They are dangerous as we let our heart get swept away by the things of this world.
But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 1 Timothy 6:9-10, ESV
Notice again that Paul does not say riches are evil; he says those who desire to be rich fall into temptation. Notice he does not say money is a root of all kinds of evil; he says the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. The problem comes in this restless pursuit and in the love of the things of this world. And Paul describes here a downward spiral that leads to spiritual ruin. Look at verse 9: “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” Those who have this craving “have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” Troubles in this life and troubles in the life to come. Destruction is their end; spiritual ruin is the result.
That is why Jesus said how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Though the material things of this world were created by God and are good, they can easily become a snare to us. So we here—who are wealthy compared to the rest of the world—need to watch our hearts. We need to guard against this. There is no satisfaction in the things of this world.
Jack Higgins, the bestselling author and multimillionaire, was once asked, “What is one thing that you wish someone had told you when you were just starting out?” Jack Higgins responded, “I wish someone had told me that when you get to the top, there is nothing there.” There is nothing there! The unbridled pursuit of the things of this world is empty. There is emptiness in the pursuit of gain for gains sake. Whether that gain be money, whether that gain be power, whether that gain be prestige, or whether that gain be status, it is empty.
The Word of God here in 1 Timothy 6 tells us that we are to pursue the greatest riches: Godliness with contentment. Enjoy God. Delight and rest in him. That brings us joy; it brings us happiness; it brings us peace. Those are good things! Ultimately, why? Because they bring glory to God. I believe that John Piper is right when he reminds us that “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in him.” As we find our satisfaction and our contentment in God, God is glorified in our lives. May we pursue him.