by Mike Ratliff
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:10-13 ESV)
I heard a rhetorical question the other day in an interview with R.C. Sproul. He wondered aloud why so many liberal theologians entered “the ministry” when all they were about was denying the veracity of Sacred Scripture and, therefore, the deity of Christ. As I pondered this I thought of all those liberals who profess to be Christians using their “ministries” to effect social change. I also thought of those in their very public ministries perverting the Grace of God in order to become rich. Paul describes both groups of people succinctly in 1 Timothy 6:3-5.
If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. (1 Timothy 6:3-5 ESV)
In this post, I deeply desire to focus on the opposite of this. I tire of continually pointing out the false and why it is so. Let us take this Sunday post and look at true contentment, its proper focus, and what it brings to each Christian who obtains it.
Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. (1 Timothy 6:6-7 ESV)
6εστιν δε πορισμος μεγας η ευσεβεια μετα αυταρκειας 7ουδεν γαρ εισηνεγκαμεν εις τον κοσμον οτι ουδε εξενεγκειν τι δυναμεθα (1 Timothy 6:6-7 WHNU)
Is but means of gain great the holiness with contentedness; nothing for we brought into into the world, that but not to bring out some are we able; (1 Timothy 6:6-7 word-for-word translation from Koine Greek to English)
The word translated in v6 as “godliness” is ευσεβεια. This word describes godliness or the whole of true religion, so named because piety toward God is the foundation and principal part of it. Oh, there are plenty of religiosity and Churchianity substitutes for this out there, but their focus is on seeking a form of piety that replaces ευσεβεια with a devotion to being religious or a member of a certain church or the follower of a certain preacher. There is often a very fine line for Christians here in which a man of God is used by Him to preach the truth and this draws believers to follow him, but then the focus becomes the preacher instead of the true shepherd of our souls. The crossing of this fine line also cancels out our true contentment for this only comes from true godliness or holiness, which is only devoted to the Lord, never a religious system or a preacher or a denomination. What is this true contentment?
But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. (1 Timothy 6:8 ESV)
8εχοντες δε διατροφας και σκεπασματα τουτοις αρκεσθησομεθα (1 Timothy 6:8 WHNU)
The word content in 1 Timothy 6:8 is the Greek word αρκεσθησομεθα, which literally means ‘it will be enough.’ My brethren, this contentment is not something that is natural for us. As Paul stated in Philippians 4:10-13 (at the top of this post), being content in every circumstance comes only to those strengthened by God to do so. This is supernatural.
In case you have not picked up on this by now, I am one who “experiences” the things I write about. I go through the tests, trials, frustrations, then the recovery, cleansing, and healing by God so I can teach those willing to hear the truth that God has taught me. My experience with contentment is that I am very content when I am filled with the joy of the Lord. I see things from an eternal perspective and sin has no appeal to me. I walk in repentance and can easily turn away from the world’s temptations. I pray continually and learn what it means to be a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1) and one who having his mind continually renewed (Romans 12:2). This is a wonderful place and while in it I can take abuse from people. I can be accused falsely. I can be belittled by those controlled by their flesh. I can look at my health and circumstances and rejoice in the Lord anyway because I know in whom I have believed and that He is preserving me forever.
However, there are also times when it as if God takes His hand away and the enemy comes hard after me and I crumple very quickly. It reminds me of Job and how the Lord allowed our enemy to attack him, taking all he had including his health. Job did not deny the Lord through it all. However, when I am in these fires, it is as if self-focus is all there is. What my flesh desires, craves, or thinks I deserve becomes all I can focus on. I am no longer content and the joy of the Lord is only a memory. This is when God teaches me the truth about what I am really like outside of His grace. It also opens my mind to the truth and like seeds growing in fertile ground, God grows knowledge and wisdom in me and I know that I must teach what I learn at the first opportunity to all who will hear. Carefully read vv5-6 from Psalm 16 below.
The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. (Psalms 16:5-6 ESV)
The ‘lines’ that David was writing of here were the boundary markers of the land allotment in Israel. When we operate in our fleshly nature, outside of God’s grace, we will never be content or satisfied with our lot in life. Someone will always have a better life than we have, at least that is what we believe. We want what others have. If only we could have x,y, and z like those other people then we would be content. However, when David wrote Psalm 16 he was being persecuted by King Saul. He was on the run. He looked at his life and he could say that he was content where God had him no matter what his circumstances. Why? The Lord was his chosen portion and his cup. The Lord was his all. Paul was expressing this very same thing to the Philippians and to Timothy. This is godliness with contentment that comes to those strengthened to do so by the Lord. Whom does God strengthen this way? It comes to those who seek only to live for God’s glory. On the other hand, what happens to those who live for any other purpose?
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)
How do we not fall into these temptations, into these snares of senseless and harmful desires?
But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. (1 Timothy 6:11 ESV)
11συ δε ω ανθρωπε θεου ταυτα φευγε διωκε δε δικαιοσυνην ευσεβειαν πιστιν αγαπην υπομονην πραυπαθιαν (1 Timothy 6:11 WHNU)
You but, O man of God, these flee; pursue but righteousness, reverence, trust, love, patience, gentle passion. (1 Timothy 6:11 word-for-word translation from Koine Greek to English)
This calls for us to monitor our hearts. We must watch our focus. Are we craving the things of this world or are we viewing the world through spiritually mature eyes of one who is waiting for the return of the Lord? This means that we must prayerfully examine our hearts to detect the work of our flesh in its attempts to be fed through the things we are told here to flee from. The word translated here as ‘flee” is φευγε. This word implies a shunning of things in order to escape them. In other words, if our flesh demands us to do things we know are sinful, then we should rejoice if we have become aware of this because this is our way of escape. We must take it. This is resisting temptation the right way. I like to turn to Christ here and worship Him from a grateful heart. It is impossible for me to indulge my flesh and worship my Lord at the same time. If we do not do this then we will soon find ourselves in that bleak and sorry state of spiritual blindness that comes to those who are worshipping at some altar constructed in our hearts to an idol. When God brings us to our senses here, we must also do some demolition and tear the sorry mess down, grinding it to dust and allocating it to the dung heap. When we are cleansed and forgiven and walking with our Lord again we will look at what had captured us as nothing more than dung for the best the world has to offer that causes us to construct idols to it is just that.
However, when we are living for the glory of God and walk in true contentment, we really can enjoy this life through God’s common grace without idolizing anyone or anything. What a wonderful thing it is to be able to turn from what others are enslaved to, as we are content in our Lord alone.
Soli Deo Gloria!