Thursday, May 9, 2013

Godliness Is Great Gain – 1 Tim 6:6-8

Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. (NKJV)
Success
One of the definitions of success in the world is impressive achievement, especially the attainment of fame, wealth, or power.[1] When people think of great gain, it is usually in one or all three of these areas. As a result, Christians who want to be godly often shy away from all kinds of success. However, success is simply the achievement of something planned or attempted.[2] When we think of godliness bringing great gain, we can be successful as long as we are planning and attempting gain which pleases God. Paul has a lot to say about success and it has more to do with contentment than anything else.
The world thinks that having abundance will provide contentment. I was asked to publish a children’s book about the fairy of abundance that would come to children who wanted to live in the land of abundance. The fairy taught them the first rule of gold so that they could achieve their goals of abundance and all would be glorious and happy ever after if they followed the rule. The author couldn’t understand my refusal to publish the book.
Christians are not commanded to seek abundance and the Bible is full of warnings about what happens when we measure success in terms of material wealth. Most often, material wealth is associated with wicked people even though some of God’s people in the Old Testament were very wealthy.
A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked. (Ps 37:16 KJV)
Better is little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble therewith. (Prov 15:16 KJV)
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matt 6:33 KJV)
Jesus taught that we will have the things we need (not necessarily want) when we seek to enter His kingdom and have godly lives. Modern preachers, eager to tell people what they want to hear (2 Tim 4:3) so that they will have a successful church jump on the fact that Jesus used money often when teaching. They then erroneously conclude that Jesus’ primary objective was teaching about money and they miss the lessons of godliness and consequences of ungodly lives.
Matt 25:14-30 is the example most often used. In this parable three servants are entrusted with money while the master is away. The first two servants double the amount while the master is away and the third buries his in fear that he would lose it. Those that claim this is all about money focus on being good financial stewards. If we are good stewards, we will be blessed and increase. However, this is not the primary reason Jesus told the parable. This and the previous two parables in this series are about the kingdom of heaven. The first parable is at the end of chapter 24 and is used to emphasize doing God’s will until Jesus returns. The second is about ten virgins that are waiting for the bridegroom. The lesson is being spiritually prepared for Jesus’ return. The third is about being good stewards, but, as a parable, it isn’t primarily about money, it is about using our spiritual gifts. We know this because each of these parables ends the same way, with people going to hell.
Do you really think that God will throw someone in hell because he didn’t double his money? No, this is about a relationship with Jesus and living godly lives. The servants who are thrown into outer darkness are called wicked. The five virgins that didn’t enter with the bridegroom are foolish. Christians who are don’t dramatically multiply their resources are not called wicked or fools. Look at the attitude of the wicked people. Jesus was teaching something much greater than good stewardship.
Contentment
Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. (Phil 4:11-12 NLT)
What do you think about when you read these verses? I look at this whole concept of being content with whatever I have and want to be like Paul. It didn’t come naturally to him. He had learned the secret of living and being content. It didn’t depend on abundance or learning the first rule of gold. In fact, Paul will share with us what the first rule of gold really is in 1 Timothy 6:9-10. In Philippians, however, he does reveal the secret of being content.
I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. (Phil 4:13 KJV)
The secret is being able to trust in Jesus so much that it gets you through the tough times. Learning this wasn’t easy for Paul. His letters to the Corinthians were loaded with examples of the trials and suffering he encountered in his life serving the Lord. He speaks of being hungry, thirsty, homeless, (1 Cor 4:11-13) emotionally drained, (2 Cor 6:10) beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, toiling, sleepless, cold and much more (2 Cor 11:21-29). Paul was in prison when he wrote to the Philippians yet his joy is evident in the letter.
Contrary to the wealth and prosperity preachers, true contentment in Jesus comes not from getting everything in life that we want, but it comes from hardships that drive us to trust in Jesus. Not everyone goes through the same problems that Paul faced, but we all have trials in our lives. Some people have few trials while others have many. Which ones are blessed, the ones with many or few? It is those who learn to trust in Jesus through them regardless of how many there are.
We don’t need to look for them in order to feel blessed; neither should we feel blessed if we don’t have many. Contentment can be learned quickly or it may take a long time. It can even be learned before major trials. Paul pointed back to the Exodus as an example when he warned the Corinthians about idolatry and other sins.
Now these things happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come. (1 Cor 10:11 RSV)
This is a very reassuring verse that tells me that we can study God’s Word and learn from it. We don’t have to go through the same struggles as those in the Bible. If we learn from Scripture to be dependent upon God, we can be content without actually having been beaten, starved, or have other terrible things happen to us. If these things do occur, we will still trust in Him and not go over the deep end of self-pity or abandoning our faith. However, if we are really trusting Him and letting Him strengthen us, we won’t be seeking the same things as the world. As we use our resources – lives, money, talents, or whatever – for Him, He may very well bless us materially – or not. He may test us so that we will know if our contentment is based on our trust in Him or He may not because He knows where our trust lies. We can’t second-guess God because that isn’t trusting Him.
Needs versus Wants
Psychology 101 classes often explain basic human needs. Wikipedia zeros in on Manfred Max-Neef’s classification of fundamental human needs with this list: subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, leisure, creation, identity, and freedom. Each of these classifications are then broken down into categories for each classification. They are: being (qualities), having (things), doing (actions), and interacting (settings). For subsistence these categories are:  being = physical and mental health; having = food, shelter, work; doing = feed, clothe, rest, work; interacting = living environment, social setting. By the time you examine all of the categories and classifications, you end up with whole bunch of needs that range from food to passion with daydreams and “intimate spaces” in between.[3] No wonder we are so confused and unsatisfied. We have more needs than we knew about!
Now add to those needs our wants. The Wikipedia article also says that while our needs are finite and classifiable, our wants are infinite and insatiable. They got that right and that is the basic problem with needs and wants. Needs can be satisfied and wants are seldom satisfied since a new one pops up right after the last one is satisfied.
If we accept this list of needs we are going to be gravely disappointed in life. The Bible doesn’t list most of these things as our needs. Paul clearly identifies food and clothing as two basic needs.
Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matt 6:31-32 KJV)
Paul probably got his list from Jesus. Even more important is the attitude we should have toward these needs. We shouldn’t even be focused on them. Instead we should focus on God’s kingdom and righteousness – godliness. Paul emphasizes the eternal nature of or real need when he reminds us that we came into the world with nothing and we can’t take any material things with us when we die.
When we really stop to think about the list that the world provides and even the list that God provides, the real need that each person has is to know God and be reconciled to Him through Jesus Christ. If this doesn’t happen in our lives, then eternity will be spent in hell with unimaginable torture and pain. Is salvation a real need? It certainly looks like it to me. It is the starting point to contentment and godliness.

[1] Success [Def. 2]. (n.d.). In Microsoft Encarta Dictionary- MS Word Retrieved May 3, 2013
[2] Ibid [Def. 1]
[3] "Fundamental Human Needs." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Apr. 2013. Web. 08 May 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamental_human_needs>.

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