The first century Stoics viewed contentment as the state of being freely independent; self sustained and self contained without any external influences. Paul Christianized that thought, asserting that contentment was those same things in the context of a relationship with Jesus Christ. In Christ we find the strength to do what we need to do (Philippians 4:13) and we have the resources to have what we need to have (Philippians 4:19). So what is the value of finding contentment?
Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content (1 Timothy 6:6-8, NLT).
Paul’s words to Timothy are straight forward. Godliness + contentment = great wealth, or in the NIV, “great gain.” I understand godliness as a person’s desire to please Christ, glorify Christ, and obey all of the words that he commanded. When that is added to contentment, a person is indeed wealthy. There are two reasons why this is genuinely profitable.
The first reason is that we will take nothing material with us from the world at the time of death. The reality of death clarifies much for us. Death reminds us that material gain is irrelevant, and greed is irrational. It has been said that life is a journey lived between two states of nakedness. Job articulated that truth first, when he said “naked I came from the womb, and naked I will return” (Job 1:21).
I came across an anecdotal story about a minister who officiated the funeral service of an elderly woman. After the funeral a person approached the minister and asked, “How much did she leave behind?” The minister wisely replied, “She left it all.” So will we.
The second reason Paul offered to Timothy is that we should and can be content with the basic necessities of life. The phrase “food and clothing” was intense to be inclusive of all of life’s necessities. His words echo the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:25-34). If we have what we need, we are complete. That verse is special to me, because it is the verse from Scripture that encouraged me to pursue graduate work. I didn’t go to seminary until I was 33 years old. I was in a large full time position in St. Louis, and was financially stable. I had a wife and two small children. The financial security of that position made it hard for me to take that step of obedience, but God assured me that he would take care of me, and that I could be content with my basic needs because He would be with me and my family.
My friend Cliff always says, “Not everything that can be counted counts.” It’s true. Godliness mixed with contentment is great wealth.