How Much Is Enough?

 

Week of June 19, 2011

 

Bible Verses:  Philippians 4:10-20; 1 Timothy 6:6-12.

 

Lesson Focus:  This lesson examines how to find real contentment.  

 

Godliness – Companion of Contentment:  1 Timothy 6:6-8.

 

[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.  [ESV]

 

Paul commended the benefits of godliness with contentment in verse 6. Paul used the word contentment to refer to an attitude of mind independent of externals and dependent only on God. He was not advocating godless self-sufficiency as a source of contentment. Paul believed that true sufficiency is Christ-sufficiency. Paul was affirming that those who felt that godliness leads to gain were indeed correct, for there is great (spiritual) profit in a brand of godliness that possesses a contentment in the realm of its material possessions. True godliness is a means of much gain, for it promises benefits for this life and the next. Adding contentment to this godliness would promote gratitude for God’s gracious gifts in this life. Why do godliness and contentment represent great gain? Paul’s for clause [7] introduced an eschatological reason for this contentment. Since after a brief stay we shall depart this life as we came in, it is sheer folly to concern ourselves with earthly matters. Material gain is irrelevant, and greed is irrational. The second reason [8] is that we must be content when we possess life’s necessities. The use of the adversative but suggests that Paul wanted to contrast the believer’s attitude to that of the greedy heretics. Paul’s words reflect the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 6:25-34. Paul referred to food and clothing as symbols of life’s necessities. His expression is a figure of speech known as synecdoche in which a part (food and clothing) refers to the whole (necessities of life). What is actually a necessity will vary somewhat in different societies. However, all of us face the temptation of greedily coveting more than we need. We will be content contains an imperative idea directing Christians to practice contentment once they have life’s necessities. In these verses Paul warned that godliness is not a trait from which to make material profit [5]. True godliness has contentment for its companion [6]. Since we cannot take life’s luxuries into God’s presence, we should be content with life’s necessities [7-8]. Greed can find no place in an attitude like this.

 

Greed – Enemy of Contentment:  1 Timothy 6:9-12.

 

[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.  [ESV]

 

Paul now traces the downfall of the covetous. First, they fall into temptation and a trap. And the trap they fall into is surely the devil’s, for through their greed he ensnares them in materialism and moral compromise; they become ready to sacrifice duty and conscience to the pursuit of wealth. Secondly, covetous people fall into many foolish and harmful desires. Money is a drug, and covetousness a drug addiction. The more you have, the more you want. As the third and final stage in the downfall of the covetous, their wrong desires plunge them into ruin and destruction. The irony is that those who set their hearts on gain end in total loss, the loss of their integrity and indeed of themselves. Paul concentrates on only two evils which spring from covetousness. First, wandering from the faith. It is not possible to pursue truth and money simultaneously. Secondly, they have pierced themselves with many griefs. Two clarifications of Paul’s teaching need to be made. First, the poverty he is writing about is not destitution, which is destructive of humanness, but a simplicity of lifestyle which is entirely compatible with human dignity. With the latter we should be content, but not with the former. Secondly, the contentment Paul is writing about is not acquiescence in social injustice. On the contrary we are called to combine personal contentment with the quest for justice, especially if it is justice for other people that we are fighting for. Paul is not for poverty against wealth, but for contentment against covetousness. Timothy is to flee the love of money and all the many evils associated with it, together with the wayward passions of youth, and everything else which is incompatible with the wholesome will of God. Instead he is to pursue six qualities, which seem to be listed in pairs, and which are particularly appropriate as an alternative to covetousness. First, he must pursue righteousness (perhaps here meaning justice and fair dealing with people) and godliness (for God not riches is the right object of human worship). Next, the man of God must pursue faith and love. Then Timothy’s third goal is to be endurance, which is patience in difficult circumstances, and gentleness, which is patience with difficult people. What is especially noteworthy is that this ethical appeal has both a negative and a positive aspect, which are complementary. Negatively, we are to flee from evil, to take constant evasive action, to run from it as far as we can and as fast as we can. Positively, we are to go in hot pursuit of goodness. We have to give our mind, time and energy to both flight and pursuit. Once we see evil as the evil it is, we will want to flee from it, and once we see goodness as the good it is, we will want to pursue it. Timothy’s duty will involve fight as well as flight, standing as well as running. It is striking that just as evil and goodness have been contrasted so now are truth and error. Ethically, we are to flee evil and pursue goodness. Doctrinally, we are to avoid error and contend for the truth. Truth is precious, even sacred. Being truth from God, we cannot neglect it without affronting Him. It is also essential for the health and growth of the church. So whenever truth is imperiled by false teachers, to defend it is a painful necessity. Even the gentleness we are to pursue is not incompatible with fighting the good fight of the faith. The emphasis is not on its duration, but on its quality. Eternal life means the life of the age to come, the new age which Jesus inaugurated. He defined its life in terms of knowing him and knowing the Father. Why did Paul tell Timothy to lay hold of what he already possessed? The probable answer is that it is possible to possess something without embracing and enjoying it. Just so, although Timothy had already received eternal life, Paul urged him to seize it, grasp it, lay hold of it, make it completely his own, enjoy it and live it to the full.

 

Faith – Key to Contentment:  Philippians 4:10-20.

 

[10]  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. [11]  Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. [12]  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. [13]  I can do all things through him who strengthens me. [14]  Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. [15]  And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. [16]  Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. [17]  Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. [18]  I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. [19]  And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. [20]  To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. [ESV]

 

Here indeed is Christian contentment. As Paul testifies to his contentedness, he shows that three factors helped him to master his variable circumstances.

1.  Christian generosity. Paul had enough because other Christians contributed to his need, and he was glad to acknowledge his indebtedness. He thus enunciates a principle: one Christian has enough because another Christian is generous. The Lord uses generous Christians to help needy Christians. The Philippians’ generosity to Paul was an ever present sentiment: you were indeed concerned for me. They maintained their concern even when they could not act on it. As soon as an opportunity opened up they were swift to grasp it. A spirit of generosity, a truly Christian spirit, prevailed among them. As Paul saw it, such a generous sentiment was inseparable from Christian relationships. It was, in fact, a means of Christian fellowship, and he commends and approves of it as such. His need was not a remote thing to them. They felt it themselves. It touched them at the point of fellowship and they responded. This generosity lays up treasure in heaven. Paul was always sensitive about receiving monetary help from the churches which he founded, in case anyone should say that he was motivated by self-advantage [17]. But, even though Paul did not seek their gifts, he did seek the fruit that increases to their credit. Paul seems to suggest that this is a proper motive for Christians to cultivate: they should seek out opportunities to expend their generosity upon the needy, because by selling what they have in order to give to those in need, they were storing up treasure in heaven [see Luke 12:33]. It is on this note that Paul ends his incidental teaching on Christian generosity. It is a work acceptable to God, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God [18]. The burnt offering expresses obedient consecration to God, and God delights in His people dedicated to Himself. Paul teaches here that when Christians take note of Christian needs and generously sacrifice to meet them, it is, for God, a fragrant offering and He delights to accept it.

2.  Christian discipline. The first factor, then, which makes for Christian contentment is the generosity of others, as the Lord uses the resources of one to meet the necessities of somebody else. But the second factor in producing contentment is a Christian’s own attitude towards circumstances. As Christians we may start complaining when times are hard; or we may discipline ourselves to be content, reckoning that we have enough, no matter what. There is a discipline of self whereby one does not need more than one has. First of all we must decide not to covet. Because Paul had freed himself from the covetous spirit, he was able to endure every sort of circumstance [11-12]. Circumstances no longer had power to touch him, for he was content. Second, this contentment was something which he learned [11]. Thus contentment is the mark of a mature believer, and an objective to be cultivated by all believers who want to grow in Christ. Paul had learned the lesson. Bit by bit, test by test, circumstance by circumstance, he persevered through the various trials of life. Contentment did not come easily. Paul purchased it at the price of exacting discipline. But he found God’s grace in it, for his heart, weaned away from the things of the world, was wholly and solely God’s.

3.  Christian trustfulness. Paul, the contented Christian, gives the sole glory to God. Verse 20 expresses such familiar ideas that we might easily fail to see the wonder of it. What is he giving glory to God about? The times when the Philippians could not help him [10], the times of hunger and of plenty [12], the churches who neglected him and those who remembered him [15] – he accepted all his circumstances as from God, and glorified God in them all. Paul was contented because God was trustworthy and to be glorified even when (by worldly standards) he seemed not to be. The apostle had learned to be content because he had learned to trust. He expresses this in two ways. First, in terms of personal experience: I can do all things through him who strengthens me [13]. No circumstance could ever arise which would be too much for Paul’s God, and therefore no circumstance could ever beat Paul. Here is vigorous faith. The verse refers to two sorts of power. On the one hand there is the power which Paul experiences in concrete situations of life. Here is the power which goes out to meet specific circumstances and subdue them. It is the power of victory over the demands of every day. But it arises from another sort of power, not inherent in Paul but derivative from elsewhere. Paul has this daily strength for daily needs because of One who gives him this strength. God infuses power into His apostle, and when the need arises it is ready for use. But the keyword is through (or in). Paul is able only when he receives this power through him who strengthens Paul. What does this mean? Paul was in Christ – and so are we – by living daily under His sheltering blood and feeding daily upon His flesh [see John 6:51-56], that is to say, by preserving a living relationship with the Lamb Himself, our once crucified and now risen Lord, and by living in the good of the benefits which He has purchased for us. This relationship of being in Christ, however, is something which we enjoy by consciously attending to it.  We are in Christ by fleeing to Him, and pressing close to Him, covering ourselves in Him, hiding in Him, by seeing the danger and taking shelter in Him. Paul’s experience of the trustworthiness of God can therefore be ours. We too can find ability to do all things (meet all circumstances with contentment) through Him who infuses us with dynamic power. Power arises by constantly and restfully enjoying the benefits of the atonement, constantly and deliberately taking refuge in His proffered security. This sort of trust produces that sort of victory. Lest, however, we should feel that what Paul expresses in terms of personal experience must be peculiar to him and cannot be our experience as well, he also states the trustworthiness of God as a Christian doctrine: my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus [19]. Nothing will prove beyond the capacity of this God whom Paul knows well enough to call my God. He will meet your need to the full. In so doing, His supply will not be limited to the size of your need, but rather according to his riches. And as if this were not reassurance enough to carry with us into the future, Paul adds the words in glory. But the key to all is in Christ Jesus. He mediates to us all the benefits and blessings of God. More than that, He is Himself the sum of all the blessings, for the preposition is not ‘through’ but ‘in’. He is not a channel along which they flow, but a place in which they are deposited. It is finally because of Christ that Paul is contented, and it is Christ whom he offers to us as the means and guarantee of our contentment. For Paul, the person who possesses Christ possesses all.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.         Why does Paul connect contentment with godliness? Why do godliness and contentment represent great gain?

 

2.         In 1 Timothy 6:11-12, Paul uses four verbs – flee, pursue, fight, take hold – as instruction for Timothy. What was Timothy to flee; to pursue; to fight; to take hold? What does this tell you about the nature of our battle for contentment?

 

3.         What three factors helped Paul to master his circumstances and experience Christian contentment? How can you use these factors in your own battle for contentment? Why is faith, in the sense of trusting God, the key to contentment? How can you increase your trust in Him?

 

References:

The Message of Philippians, J. A. Motyer, Inter Varsity.

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

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