Take Hold of Contentment

Biblical Truth: When God gives a person an opportunity to lead, He also encourages and empowers the person to lead.

The Manifestation of Selfishness: 1 Timothy 6:3-5.

[3] If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, [4] he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, [5] and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.  [NASU]

Having given Timothy instructions about three groups in the church (widows, elders and slaves), Paul comes to a fourth (false teachers), whose baneful influence is at the back of his mind throughout this letter. There are two kinds of teacher seen in sharp antithesis to one another: the true and the false, the orthodox and the heterodox, Timothy teaching these things, which the apostle had taught, and his opponents teaching other or different things, which deviated from the apostle’s instruction. Paul evaluates the false teachers in relation to questions of truth, unity and motivation. His criticism of them is that they deviate from the faith, split the church, and love money. They are heterodox, divisive and covetous.

[3]  The if clause describes the shortcomings of the false teachers. They were not giving sound instruction. Once again Paul implies that there is a standard of Christian belief which in this chapter he calls the doctrine [1,3b], sound words [3], the truth [5], the faith [10,12,21], the commandment [14] and what has been entrusted [20]. Paul characterizes his healthy teaching in two ways. First, it consists of the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ. The second characteristic of sound instruction is that it is godly teaching [3b], literally, the teaching which accords with godliness. This conforming to godliness further explains Paul’s understanding of sound words. In the end there are only two possible responses to the Word of God. One is to humble ourselves and tremble at it; the other is to harden our hearts, stiffen our necks and reject it.

[4-5a]  The unhealthy teaching of the false teachers stood in contrast to the healthy instruction from Jesus’ teaching. Paul mentioned three unhealthy traits of the heretics, and he then designated the products of their impaired instruction. First, the false teachers were pompous or conceited, a term that describes a temptation facing the new convert in 3:6. Second, despite their arrogance, they lacked genuine spiritual knowledge. Third, they were ailing with the disease of controversy and word battles. The vividness of Paul’s description suggests that he was facing a concrete situation which aroused his indignant protest. Paul saw that a sense of real community had been destroyed. Petty quibbles and quarrels of this kind lead to a complete breakdown in human relationships. Five results are listed: envy (the resentment of other people’s gifts), strife (the spirit of competition and contention), malicious talk (abuse of rival teachers), evil suspicions (forgetting that fellowship is built on trust, not suspicion), and constant friction (the fruit of irritability). When people’s minds are twisted, all their relationships become twisted too.

[5b]  They have no interest in godliness itself, but only if it proves to be financially profitable. Looking back over verses 3-5 we note that Paul has given us three practical tests by which to evaluate all teaching. We might put them in the form of questions. Is it compatible with the apostolic faith, that is the New Testament? Does it tend to unite or divide the church? And does it promote godliness with contentment, or covetousness?

The Profit of Contentment: 1 Timothy 6:6-8.

[6] But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. [7] For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. [8] If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.   [NASU]

Godliness is gain, even great gain, providing you mean spiritual gain, not financial, and providing you add contentment. Christian contentment does not depend on external things. Genuine contentment is not self-sufficiency but Christ-sufficiency. This is why godliness plus contentment equals great spiritual gain. Paul’s equation prompts him to extol the virtue of contentment and expose the folly of covetousness. He contrasts two categories of Christian poor, the contented who have the necessities of life [7-8] and the covetous, who love money and want to get rich [9-10]. Why do godliness and contentment represent great gain? Paul’s for clause introduced an eschatological reason for this contentment. Material gain is irrelevant, and greed is irrational. Possessions are only the traveling luggage of time; they are not the stuff of eternity. It would be sensible therefore to travel light and, as Jesus himself commanded us, not to store up for ourselves (that is, to accumulate selfishly) treasures on earth. The second reason [8] is that we must be content when we possess life’s necessities. Paul referred to food and clothing as symbols of life’s necessities. His expression is a figure of speech known as synecdoche in which a part (food and clothing) refers to the whole.

The Trap of Greed: 1 Timothy 6:9-10.

[9]  But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. [10] For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.  [NASU]

The use of the adversative but suggests that Paul wanted to contrast the believer’s attitude to that of the greedy heretics. In verse 9 Paul painted three progressive pitfalls in which the willful wealth-seeker becomes entangled. First, wealth tempts like a lure and causes people to covet the wrong objects. Second, individuals become entangled like animals dangling in a trap. Third, the trapped ones drown in an almost personified wealth that becomes a personal monster, which plunges its victim into an ocean of complete destruction. The desires are foolish because instead of bringing gain, they only produce harm. Paul supported this warning about wealth with a contemporary proverb [10]. We can make three comments about the proverb. First, it does not condemn money but the love of money. Second, it does not state that all evil comes from the love of money, but such misplaced love can cause a great variety of evil. It is incorrect to say that the love of money causes all sins. Ambition and sexual lust, among others, are also fertile breeding grounds of sin. Third, the wandering elders from Ephesus who had sold out to greed were living proof of this maxim. There is a link between the faith of the gospel and the blessedness God promises to His people. The word pierced is a strong term use to describe the intensely painful idea of being lacerated by sharp thorns.

Summary. Conceit leads to a love for controversy. Those who think well of their opinions like to argue them with others. Materialism is a desire to possess things instead of a love for the God who made those things. Paul showed that materialism is foolish because it fails to make preparation for eternity and leads to great sorrow in this life.

The Basis of Real Life: 1 Timothy 6:11-12, 17-19.

[11] But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. [12] Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. [17] Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. [18] Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, [19] storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.   [NASU]

[11]  Timothy is to flee the love of money and all the many evils associated with it, together with the wayward passions of youth, and everything else which is incompatible with the wholesome will of God. Instead he is to pursue six qualities, which seem to be listed in pairs, and which are particularly appropriate as an alternative to covetousness. First, he must pursue righteousness (perhaps here meaning justice and fair dealing with people) and godliness (for God not mammon is the right object of human worship). Next, the man of God must pursue faith and love. These two qualities reflect trust in God and benevolence and goodwill towards others [see 2 Thess. 1:3]. Then Timothy’s third goal is endurance, which is patience in difficult circumstances, and gentleness, which is patience with difficult people. What is specially noteworthy is that this ethical appeal has both a negative and a positive aspect, which are complementary. Negatively, we are to flee from evil, to take constant evasive action, to run from it as far as we can and as fast as we can. Positively, we are to go in hot pursuit of goodness. We have to give our mind, time and energy to both flight and pursuit. Once we see evil as the evil it is, we will want to flee from it, and once we see goodness as the good it is, we will want to pursue it.

[12]  Timothy’s duty will involve fight as well as flight, standing as well as running. It is striking that just as evil and goodness have been contrasted so now are truth and error. Ethically, we are to flee evil and pursue goodness. Doctrinally, we are to avoid error and contend for the truth. Truth is precious, even sacred. Being truth comes from God, we cannot neglect it without affronting Him. It is also essential for the health and growth of the church. So whenever truth is imperiled by false teachers, to defend it is a painful necessity. Even the gentleness we are to pursue is not incompatible with fighting the good fight of the faith. Eternal life means the life of the age to come, the new age which Jesus inaugurated. The emphasis is not on its duration, but on its quality. Paul defined its life in terms of knowing the Father. Why did Paul tell Timothy to lay hold of what he already possessed? The probable answer is that it is possible to possess something without embracing and enjoying it. Just so, although Timothy had already received eternal life, Paul urged him to seize it, grasp it, lay hold of it, make it completely his own, enjoy it and live it to the full. Timothy made his good confession at his public profession of faith through baptism. Paul frequently used the term called to show God’s initiative in salvation and service. It suggests that eternal life is more of a goal toward which Timothy was to orient his efforts rather than a prize that God would give him as a reward for that effort. The fact that God had called him was an incentive for his response.

It is essential to note that 1 Timothy 6 contains two complementary paragraphs (6-10 and 17-19), which both handle the same theme of money, but are addressed to different groups in the church. First Paul addressed himself to the Christian poor, and in particular those among them who want to get rich. Then Paul addresses the Christian rich, those who are rich in this present world. The first thing to notice about this paragraph is that Paul does not direct the rich to divest themselves of their riches. Instead, he gives negative and positive instruction, first warning the rich of the dangers of wealth, and then laying down their obligations. He did not condemn wealth, but he showed the added temptations the wealthy face. He was vitally concerned that Christians have the right attitude toward their wealth and make the proper use of it.

[17]  In this verse Paul contrasted right and wrong responses to the possession of wealth. A wrong response involves an arrogant attitude and the making of wealth as the hope of one’s life. As a deterrent to trusting in riches, Paul mentioned the transitory, uncertain nature of wealth. The right response is to hope in a God who lavishes on His people all their needs. The statement implies that God does not give wealth to promote pride but that we might use and enjoy it in His will. Paul’s sound advice walks the straight line between a world-denying asceticism and a self-centered indulgence. We can express Paul’s theology of wealth with the words: “God supplies everything, His purpose is beneficent, and it entails obligation.”

[18]  Paul mentioned four ways to use wealth wisely. To do good involves using wealth in a positive way instead of letting it feed a life of personal luxury. To be rich in good works pointed the wealthy in the direction in which they were to be truly rich, in the doing of good deeds. These two verbs probably include more than benevolence. The need for benevolence is emphasized in the next pair of terms. To be generous demands a liberal sharing of wealth with others. One who is ready to share shows that the generous act of giving is to spring from internal generosity. Paul was suggesting that genuine wealth is found in what we give, not what we have.

[19]  Paul outlined the outcome of such generosity by stressing two truths. First, he stressed that giving generously to the needy stores for the giver a future treasure. Paul was not advocating that the giver could earn salvation or favors from God. Good works are not the cause of our salvation, but the solid evidence of salvation and assure us that we have eternal life. The godless, on the other hand, lay up treasures for themselves of a different kind. Second, Paul stressed that generous actions allow the giver to lay hold of eternal life in the here and now. Taking hold of eternal life is a goal of the unselfish giving he had commanded. Christians who enter the life of love by unselfish behavior will enter gloriously into God’s presence in the life to come.

Summary.  Looking over both the paragraphs about money, the apostle’s balanced wisdom becomes apparent. Against materialism (an obsession with material possessions) he sets simplicity of lifestyle. Against asceticism (the repudiation of the material order) he sets gratitude for God’s creation. Against covetousness (the lust for more possessions) he sets contentment with what we have. Against selfishness (the accumulation of goods for ourselves) he sets generosity in imitation of God. Simplicity, gratitude, contentment and generosity constitute a healthy quadrilateral of Christian living.

Questions for Discussion:

1.    List the three characteristics Paul uses to describe someone who teaches false doctrines and who does not agree to sound instruction [4]. What are the five consequences that Paul says will result from false teaching?

2.    Why does Paul list godliness and contentment as the contrast to these five consequences? How does godliness with contentment protect us from envy, strife, etc.?

3.    Why did Paul tell Timothy to lay hold of what he already possessed?

4.    Paul gives two negative commands and five positive commands to the rich in 6:17-18. Why do you think Paul focused on these commands? How will obeying these commands protect the “rich” from the “love of money”?


1 Timothy, Thomas Lea, NAC, Broadman.

The Message of 1 Timothy, John Stott, InterVarsity Press.

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