“But godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Timothy 6:6)
All of us are familiar with the scenario. Your neighbor, John Doe, drives up one day in his new Volvo. We can’t help but notice. That old Ford Tempo he had been driving was a respectable, but modest car. It really made us feel comfortable. But a new Volvo is another story. This upscale car makes us feel uncomfortable. In fact, a new emotion seems to surface: Envy… Discontentment… It is the emotion known as “keeping up with the Joneses.”
What shall we do? Well, we resolve the problem a few days later by driving up in our driveway in a new Audi. Now we feel better.
Does this scenario seem familiar? If it does, it is because it is being played out everywhere across our nation. Our Western culture is geared to create these emotions in all of us. Notice the ads on the television. In general, they are saying, “Look at these people. They are having a great time. Look at what they have! If you had what they have, you would be happy too. Don’t you wish you had what they have? Go out and buy it today! Don’t have the cash? Charge it!”
The executives in charge of the advertising agencies seek to encourage discontentment. It is their job to create a desire in you for their product. To do that, they can get you dissatisfied with what you have. By doing so, they stand a better chance of selling you what they have. Whether you really need it or not, is immaterial. Their job is to get you to want it. That they have been successful is an understatement. Elements in our culture even applaud greed.
Deep down within all of us, however, we know that this is not quite right. In fact, the Bible teaches that covetousness is a sin. In the Tenth Commandment, the focus is a prohibition against covetousness. This Commandment of God clashes with the philosophy of our present age. It clashes also with the attitudes of our hearts.
Listen to what God’s says: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.” (Exodus 20:17)
The God who made us, who knows how we work, who loves us and wants the best for us – in His wisdom gave us this Commandment. Why? Because He knew the destructiveness of a covetous attitude. Covetousness, being the opposite of contentment, only leaves us feeling unfulfilled. But while we would like to live lives free of covetousness, it is easier said than done.
A teacher in Sunday School told the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. The Rich Man, you recall, went to Hell; while Lazarus went to Heaven. This Sunday School teacher asked her students which one they would like to be, the Rich Man or Lazarus. One young boy replied, reflecting the attitude of our age, “I’d like to be the Rich Man while I’m alive, and Lazarus when I die.” All Christians must deal with attitudes of envy and covetousness at some time or another.
The problem is that dealing with our attitudes is a much more difficult challenge than dealing with our actions.
It is easier not to murder than not to hate. It is easier not to commit adultery than not to lust. It is easier not to say an evil word than not to think an evil word. So, it is all the more important that we understand the truth of Paul’s statement in 1 Timothy 6:6: “But godliness with contentment is great gain.”
We do not lose when we choose to forsake covetousness. We gain. Living for Jesus with a contented heart brings us fulfillment and freedom. Let’s look more closely at the choices before us:
A Covetous Heart
A covetous heart is never satisfied. Covetousness, by definition, is a powerful desire to have. The emotion is so powerful that it captivates our minds. We see something, and we have to possess it. The problem is that this drive can consume our lives.
In a cemetery in England stands a grave marker with this inscription: She died for want of things. Alongside that marker is another marker which reads: He died trying to give them to her.
Advertising executives spend a billion dollars a year doing marketing research. They use fear, nostalgia, pride, sexual arousal, jealousy, and envy to produce the desired effect. Their goal is to temporarily suspend our self-control. They are creating a pattern of thinking, an attitude of discontent which will continue long after their product is forgotten.
The result is that they are creating dissatisfaction with life. Proverbs 27:20 says, “Hell and destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied.” The covetous heart is never satisfied, and dissatisfied people are miserable. Instead of gaining, we lose. We only develop a lifestyle of misery. You see, when we covet someone else’s job, spouse, income, house, or car, we are saying: “You’ve not been fair with me God. I deserve a nicer job, or a more lucrative income, or a bigger house, or a nicer wife or husband. You’ve short-changed me. You owe me something better, God!”
Now, you may not say those things directly. But a covetous heart is filled with those thoughts.
Do you see the horrible destructive potential of these attitudes? They destroy us, and they destroy those around us. They place us in bondage and rule our lives.
A Contented Heart
But there is an alternative to covetousness – contentment. A Contented Heart. Yes, the alternative is contentment, which is the key to fulfillment, freedom, and security. Whereas a covetous heart is never satisfied, a contented heart is always secure. Now you may be saying, “You must be kidding! If I live like that I’ll never get anywhere. I don’t want to be like a lazy old cow, lying on her belly and chewing her cud. I have ambition, drive, motivation! I am not going to let the world pass me by.”
While you may be thinking these kinds of thoughts, you should know that this is not the picture of contentedness painted by Scripture. To be content is not the absence of ambition.
A person can be extremely well motivated, with a great personal drive, and still be contented. Contentment, you see, is a state of mind.
The Apostle Paul, in Philippians 4:11-12, says:
“Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”
How did Paul do this? The secret is found in the next verse, Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
The contented person, like Paul, knows that he has everything that he needs, and more than he deserves. In whatever circumstances he finds himself, he learns to praise God for the provision He has given. Christ is his Strength. Christ is his Provision. The contented person is secure in his Lord.
Just look at what God has already done for you. The Lord has given you life. He gives you the air you breathe, the food you eat, the health you enjoy. He has blessed you with His forgiveness, salvation, and the promise of eternal life. He has given you your family, your friends, and so many other things that we all take for granted.
Now look at your life. What have you given Him? Have you always been faithful? Have you always given all? Do you want to shake your fist at God, claiming that He has been unfair with you? Look around you at others – not at others better off than you, but at others who suffer lack. It’s so easy to look at others who have more. It’s easy to ask why we do not have what they have. But look again at your own heart. Do you deserve even what you do have? Look at those who are less fortunate. Are you any better than they?
Look at Job. The story of Job is an illustration given to us by God of a man who trusted in God, not for what God would give him, but simply because God was God. Listen to what Job says in Job 1:21, “ And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”
Now, Satan thought that Job just served God for what God had given Job. He accused Job before God saying, “ Doth Job fear God for nought?” He goes on to say in Job 1:10-11, “ Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.”
Then God allowed Satan to take away everything that Job had. Job lost it all. Job 1:22 says, “ In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.” The moral of the story is that Job did trust God for nothing. He did not trust God because of what God gave him, he trusted God for who God is. Like Job, we must learn to trust God. We must learn to find our fulfillment in Jesus.
This world, and the things in this world, will never fulfill us. God wants us to find our fulfillment in Him. God wants people who will place themselves in His arms. He wants people who are secure in His provision, trusting in Him to provide what they need according to His wisdom. God does not want grasping people, coveting people, people who are threatened by someone else’s possessions or position. He wants people with open hands, open hearts, and open arms. He wants people who will rejoice when others are blessed, not when others suffer loss. He wants safe people.
A contented person is a safe person for God to use. Are you a safe person?
The true path to real satisfaction in life is to live for Jesus with a contented heart. But godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment. We must come to see that having contentment will make us satisfied with life. The real key to contentment is focusing on what you have, instead of what you do not have. I hear so many people complain about the things they don’t have, when they have been blessed with so many wonderful things which they take for granted.
What is there within us that makes us blind to the manifold blessings of God?
Perhaps it is the Cain Syndrome — the attitude of not being content with one’s own good fortune; but being envious of another’s. Whatever it is, it is not the attitude that helps us be secure in God.
The word for contentment in our text could also be translated as self-sufficient. It does not mean that we are self-sufficient in our own power, but rather that we are self-sufficient in God’s provision.
It implies that God is our Source and Resource. We need nothing outside of Him. What a state of grace!
- To be secure in Him alone.
- To be content in Him alone.
- To be satisfied in Him alone.
The allure of the world cannot penetrate the armor of contentment. If you are contented with a thing, you are not tempted to change. If we are content with God, then we will be satisfied and secure.
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.” (Psalms 23:1-6)