Godly Contentment

| 1 Timothy 6:6-19

Week of September 22, 2019

The Point:  Godliness with contentment is great gain.

The Good Fight of Faith: 1 Timothy 6:6-19.

[6] Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, [7] for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. [8] But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. [9] 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. [10] 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. [11] But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. [12] Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. [13] I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, [14] to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, [15] which he will display at the proper time–he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, [16] who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. [17] 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. [18] They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, [19] thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.  [ESV]

“Content with Christ [6:6-10]. Godliness is not the means to financial gain; godliness is the gain. Here the Bible turns a surprising phrase: although godliness is not a means of gain, there is great gain in godliness with contentment. By godliness is meant the knowledge of Jesus Christ in the mind and the heart that is worked out through the Christian life. Such godliness is not a means to something else more valuable; it is supremely valuable all by itself. Faith in Jesus Christ is the ultimate investment because it yields eternal life. Godliness is great gain, provided that we learn how to be content with our present circumstances. A Christian is not self-sufficient, but Christ-sufficient. Anyone who has Jesus Christ has everything he or she needs. The trouble is that we are not always content. Some of our discontent comes from the natural frustration of living in a fallen world; we are waiting for Jesus to make everything new. But a good deal of our discontent also comes from not being satisfied with Jesus Himself. We want something more or something else. The only way to make great gains is through godliness with contentment. There are three reasons for this, and the first is that we cannot take anything out of the world. These are the two undeniable, unchangeable truths about human possessions: nothing in, nothing out. The second reason to be content with what you have is that what you have is enough. If you come into the world with nothing, and leave with nothing, then what do you need in the meantime? Not much: if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. Every Christian ought to be content with the basic necessities of life. Discontent always wants something more or something else. It always thinks about what it lacks. Discontent comes from what a man is, not from what he doesn’t have. The secret of contentment is to be satisfied with Jesus Christ. The last reason to be content with what God has given you is that discontent leads to disaster. One thing leads to another. First, there is the desire to get rich, which seems harmless enough. Then there is some temptation to get rich by immoral means. But that is actually a snare of the devil which leads to more and more evil desires. Eventually the greedy man plunges into ruin and destruction. It is not people who are rich who fall into this trap, notice, but people who want to be richer than they already are. What the Bible condemns is people who live for money. Money itself is morally neutral. It can be used for many good and noble purposes. Greed is not rooted in money, therefore, but in the fallen nature of the human heart. The love of God and the love of money are incompatible. The Bible means what it says: the love of money leads to no end of evil, and ultimately to eternal death. The frightening thing, of course, is that so many of us have money-loving hearts. Our greed must be rooted out. Acquisitiveness must be replaced with godliness. The only thing to do is to repent for every covetous desire and ask God to fill us with love for Christ.

Rules of Engagement [6:11-16]. God has given His church rules of engagement, some of which are listed at the close of Paul’s first letter to Timothy. These rules not only have personal application to Timothy as a minister, but they also help every Christian know how to fight the good fight of the faith. The first thing a soldier needs to know is what dangers to avoid. Good soldiers do not knowingly and carelessly walk into minefields. So Timothy’s first rule of engagement is an order to make a tactical withdrawal: But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. But you are a standard refrain in the Pastoral Epistles. Each time they appear, they follow a description of the kind of pastorate that Paul hoped that Timothy would avoid, and thus they are used to show the absolute contrast between the true and the false ministry of the gospel. There are many false teachers in the world. There always have been, and there always will be. But a minister like Timothy must have nothing to do with them. When others are false, he must remain true. When others take ministry as a professional career, he must receive it as a sacred calling. When others teach the wisdom of the world, he must teach the wisdom of God revealed in Holy Scripture. When others preach themselves, he will preach Christ crucified and risen from the dead. What makes Timothy different is that he is a man of God. This may be the highest commendation that Paul ever gave young Timothy. The title man of God is used but rarely in the Old Testament, where it is reserved almost exclusively for great heroes of the faith. Like those great men before him, Timothy had been given a message from God. Like them, he must remain true to God in the face of danger. If he remains faithful at his post, then he, too, will be called a man of God. What the man of God is told to do is to flee these things. By these things, Paul clearly means the things he has just been warning about in verses 3 through 10. Timothy is to run away from the love of money and its bitter fruits: discontent, foolish desire, dissension, and false doctrine. Ministers must not be greedy. When it comes to money they should follow the example of the apostle Paul, who knew when to run. Paul recognized, of course, that ministers need their daily bread. He even defended their right to draw a salary. But he himself was not in the ministry for the money. When it comes to the love of money and its associated dangers, it is not enough to walk away. The only thing to do is run for dear life. There is more to avoiding sin, however, than simply beating a hasty retreat. If all we do is run away from one sin, we will run right into the arms of another. This is why Paul tells Timothy to do more than retreat. He also gives him a rule for pursuit: Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. The Christian needs to know what to run after as well as when to run. Here the Bible gives the man of God six things to pursue. These are not the only things to pursue, of course, but they are all essential character traits of the Christin life. Righteousness has to do with conduct before other human beings. It means to be upright, to handle one’s responsibilities at home, at work, at church, and everywhere else with complete integrity. Godliness, which has to do with piety before God, has turned out to be virtually Paul’s favorite word in this epistle. One of the main messages of the entire letter is train yourself for godliness [4:7]. Faith and love are included whenever Paul lists the cardinal virtues of the Christian life. Steadfastness or ‘endurance’ is the ability to persevere in difficult times. It is the staying power that is necessary for the kind of military campaign in which Timothy is engaged. At the same time, the young minister must be gentle. Gentleness is not usually considered a desirable quality in a soldier. But gentleness has great value in the church, and never more so than when dealing with doctrinal error. Even though Timothy must stand up to the false teachers, he must not be harsh. So far Paul has given Timothy two rules of engagement: one for flight and one for pursuit. Next, he gives him one for actual combat: fight the good fight of the faith. This command has to do with doctrine. What the Christian fights for is the faith, meaning orthodox Christianity, which Paul has previously described as the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ [6:3]. The faith is the body of doctrine about salvation in Christ that was taught by the apostles and is recorded in the pages of the New Testament. Here the Bible brings together two things that never can be separated. Verse 12 is about Christian doctrine, whereas the previous verse was about the Christian life. Life and doctrine: you cannot have one without the other. Doctrine without life is dead orthodoxy; life without doctrine is reckless faith. But put life together with doctrine – add the ethical to the theological – and you get the light and the heat of authentic Christianity. Sound doctrine does not preserve itself, however. It must be defended. What this rule means, rather obviously, is that there are times when Christians will have to fight for it. Not that they are belligerent, of course. But there is a fight to be fought, and every loyal soldier in Christ’s army must fight it. It is never pleasant to fight, of course, but there are some things worth fighting for. What makes a fight good is a good cause, and the Christian has the best of all causes: the honor and glory of God displayed in the truth of Jesus Christ. A gospel minister must defend the faith. He must fight for the infallibility, inerrancy, and sufficiency of Holy Scripture, maintaining that the Bible is the Word of God, written. He must fight for the deity of Jesus Christ, maintaining that Jesus is fully God as well as fully human. He must fight for the depravity of humanity, maintaining that all mankind are born in sin and misery. He must fight for the holiness of God, maintaining that God will judge the world in righteousness. He must fight for the efficacy of the substitutionary atonement, maintaining that Christ died on the cross in the place of sinners. He must fight for the bodily resurrection, maintaining that Jesus Christ is the risen Lord. From beginning to end, he must fight for the sovereignty of God’s grace, maintaining that salvation is the choice and the gift of God, to the praise of His glory. The fight for such truths is the good fight of the faith. No sooner has Paul drawn the battle lines, than he looks forward to the end of the war entirely: Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called. This provides a fourth rule of engagement: reach for the victory, here described as eternal life. Timothy received eternal life when he first came to Jesus Christ in faith. Every Christian does. But Timothy still needed to take hold in the sense that he needed to appropriate it, to grasp it and hang on to it for all he was worth. Eternal life is for now as well as later; it is both a present possession and a future hope. Timothy had the hope of eternal life because he was called to receive it by God’s own Spirit. This is known as the doctrine of effectual calling, which simply means that God’s call is effective. It has an irresistible, saving influence on God’s chosen people. Timothy answered God’s call when he made his good confession in the presence of many witnesses, probably referring to Timothy’s baptism. But then Paul gives Timothy an even more solemn charge [6:13-14]. Paul may be Timothy’s commanding officer, but ultimately his orders come from his Commander-in-Chief, who is the creator and sustainer of all life. What did Paul mean by the commandment? Probably it refers to the whole law of Christ, the rule of faith and life enjoined by the gospel, to which Timothy has pledged himself at his baptism. In case he needs any further encouragement, Paul reminds Timothy how Jesus Christ made good on His own confession made before Pontius Pilate, where Jesus confessed Himself to be Lord. The fifth and final rule of engagement encompasses all the others: keep fighting until the end. Reinforcements are coming; help is on the way. So although Timothy must follow his rules of engagement, he will not have to follow them forever. They will remain in force only until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time. This short, simple sentence summarizes virtually everything anyone needs to know about the second coming of Jesus Christ. First, the return of Jesus Christ is definite: God will display the “appearing,” or epiphany of our Lord Jesus Christ. The personal, visible, triumphant return of Jesus Christ has been a certainty since the day He left this earth and ascended to His Father in heaven [Acts 1:11]. Second, the time of His coming is known only to God. God will bring it about at the proper time. God always has perfect timing, and when it comes to the glorious return of Jesus Christ, He is holding strictly to His own timetable. His return will bring total triumph for the people of God. In the meantime, every soldier in God’s army must keep fighting, blamelessly, the good fight of the faith. Certain of this victory, Paul ends his letter with a short victory song [6:15-16]. Paul’s concluding doxology emphasizes God’s transcendence. God is far, far above and beyond everyone and everything else. He is invincible, the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. God is the absolute potentate over all that is, all that was, and all that will be. He is the only sovereign being inside or outside the entire universe. All powers and dominions are subject to Him. God is to be praised for the invincibility of His power. God is also immortal. Only God is immortal of His very nature. Every other creature depends upon God for its existence. God is to be praised for the immortality of His existence. Finally, God is invisible. He dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. Here the Bible speaks of the blinding, luminescent radiance that streams from the glory of God. Yet God Himself remains invisible. God is to be praised for the invisibility of His essence.

The Ultimate Investment [6:17-19]. This word for the wealthy comes in the postscript Paul added to his first letter to Timothy. The main body of the epistle ended with the doxology of verse 16. This word to the wealthy obviously assumes that some Christians will be rich in this life. In the providence of God, some Christians live in comfortable circumstances. And Christians who are blessed with such material prosperity do not need to feel guilty about it; nor do they need to divest themselves of their wealth. They are even allowed to enjoy themselves. For everything we own comes from God Himself, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. Earthly pleasures can give no lasting joy. The only real and lasting joy is God Himself, but anyone who finds joy in the Giver will also enjoy His gifts. Although there is nothing wrong with our money in and of itself, the Scripture hastens to say that it is not to be trusted: As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches. This verse mentions two sinful attitudes that are common among the rich – a false sense of importance and a false sense of security. First, wealthy people often have a false sense of importance. Some rich people are proud of what they can accumulate, and this makes them rather arrogant. In the church, they think they are entitled to influence simply because they are wealthy. Paul charged Timothy to tell the rich people in his congregation not to think too highly of themselves. He must remind them that the only reason they are prosperous is that God has made them prosper. Another common attitude among the wealthy is a false sense of security. Instead of relying on God, they depend on their financial instincts and trust in their own resources. The only safe place to put our trust is in God Himself. All prosperity comes from Him. One of the best ways to learn how to trust God rather than money is to give our money away, which is what Paul wants Timothy to tell the wealthy people in his congregation to do [18]. Rich Christians are to be good and generous: rich in good works. What God demands first is active service. Every Christian is called to active, personal involvement in deeds of mercy. Another way that wealthy Christians can glorify God is through the wise use of their money: generous and ready to share. By living this kind of lifestyle, they are storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future. The treasure Paul has in mind is eternal life. One thing money cannot buy is life itself. Earthly riches have no life-giving power. But a man who gives his possessions away for the sake of Jesus Christ has begun to take hold of that which is truly life.” [Ryken, pp. 254-286].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. The Scripture is full of verses about the value and necessity of contentment. What does Paul mean by godliness? Why does he connect godliness and contentment? How are we to exercise contentment? What is the secret for true and lasting contentment?
  2. What is Timothy commanded to avoid in verse 11? What does Paul say he should pursue instead? List and discuss each of the six elements.
  3. When you think of the Christian life as a “fight,” what comes to mind? What elements of such a fight can you identify? What weapons do we have to fight with? Who or what is the enemy we fight? What are we fighting for; what is our goal? What kind of strategies must we use to be victorious? Why must we always hold together life and doctrine in our fight?
  4. Paul gives two negative commands and five positive commands to the rich in 6:17-18. List and discuss each one. What is the result of obeying the positive commands [19]? How does your life measure up to these commands?

References:

1,2 Timothy, Thomas Lea, NAC, Broadman Press.

1 Timothy, Philip Ryken, REC, P & R Publishing.

The Message of 1 Timothy & Titus, John Stott, Inter Varsity.