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Christian Living

Spiritual Life

The Path from Materialism to Contentment

How much money is enough? According to popular tradition, oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller’s answer was simple: “Just a little bit more.” If you want to know the secret of contentment, then you need to learn to want what you have. This is the one great overriding lesson the Bible teaches about money.

In 1 Timothy 6, the apostle Paul instructed Timothy about how to handle the delicate situation at that time between believing slaves and believing masters (vv. 1–2). His primary concern was that godliness dominate all relationships. With that in mind, Paul moved on to false teachers, who believed godliness was a means of financial gain (vv. 3–5). This same false doctrine is alive and well today in those who preach a gospel of wealth. In fact, Paul concluded this section without mincing words, calling them “men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (v. 5).

Then Paul observed, “Godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment” (v. 6).

Contentment—autharkeia in the Greek—is an unusual word because it points to a sense of self-sufficiency as opposed to a lack of desire for things. The Stoics often used autharkeia in their writings to imply that people need nothing outside of themselves. But that certainly wasn’t what Paul had in mind when he used autharkeia in 1 Timothy 6:6. Rather, Paul turned the Stoic idea on its head and declared that contentment, along with godliness, expressed a way of living that makes us independent of outward circumstances but not independent of God.

Our relationship with God isn’t transactional. God isn’t a benevolent grandfather waiting to indulge our every whim as long as we are good little boys and girls. Rather, He’s the Sovereign of the universe who knows and does what’s best for us, when it’s best. Coupled with contentment, godliness refocuses our glance away from all that glitters (the temporal) to all that glorifies (the eternal). It reminds us that God is sufficient to supply all that we need (Heb. 13:5–6). Therefore, Paul says, godliness isn’t about how to get more material stuff; godliness is about how to live a life of faith in Christ, content with whatever we possess.

As pastor of a large downtown church in Dallas, Texas, I’ve gotten to know my share of “movers and shakers”—the connected, the powerful, and the rich. I’ve been fortunate to meet wealthy people who are more concerned about their relationship with Christ than they are about their relationship with cash. Each of these individuals would agree that whether they had a lot of money or very little money, as long as they had Christ, they considered themselves rich. That’s the kind of godliness and contentment Paul was getting at.

Unfortunately, contentment isn’t passed down in our DNA; we have to learn it. Fortunately, we have a good teacher in Paul, who also had to learn contentment (Phil. 4:11).

Contentment comes when we adjust our perspective on life from the temporal to the eternal. Paul said, “For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either” (1 Tim. 6:7). We’ll quit striving for more and more when we view life through the lens of eternity. We entered the world empty-handed; we’ll leave the world empty-handed.

Or in the words of John Stott, “Possessions are only the traveling luggage of time.” And when our time is up, we put down our luggage and await a better possession—a glorified body and eternal life with the Lord.

Contentment comes when we learn to lead simple lives—more essentials, fewer extras. I know it’s popular these days to become a minimalist and get rid of everything that doesn’t “spark joy.” But that’s not what I’m talking about, and neither was Paul when he wrote, “If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content” (v. 8). The word “covering” includes the idea of both clothes and shelter. Paul’s point is this: be content with the necessities of life. This isn’t about poverty over riches but simplicity over complexity. Praise

God that in His great grace He “richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (v. 17).

When I think about 1 Timothy 6:8, I’m reminded of the Shaker hymn “’Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free.” Fewer things are more freeing than simplicity. In our materialistic and consumer-driven world, the temptation to possess more than we can afford has plunged many people into debt and financial slavery. If we want to learn contentment, we must simplify our lives.

Taken from Invincible © Copyright August 31, 2021, by Dr. Robert Jeffress. Published by Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

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