6 Now godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 8 And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. 11 But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. (NKJV)
I had two things on my mind, when reading these verses. These following thoughts may appear disparate, but I think that both will assist is in bringing the topic for today into context. First is the overall picture of how we should be living. The key word used in verse six is godliness. My thoughts here moved to my struggle with weight gain, or the inverse, weight loss. The body only requires a set number of calories to sustain itself. Any more, and fat is added, all bad. To overeat is not the analogy, but the food itself. Stuff that we love, the most tempting, is highly likely to be the baddest foods of all. Often our lives are like that. Stuff we like to do, is often the least godly of them all. Once I achieve my ideal weight, I will need to be very careful as to what goes into my mouth. Being a Christian means ensuring that what goes into the mind, is the right stuff, the stuff that enhances godliness, and the stuff that is foolish and harmful is kept out. For someone like myself, doing either, that is, ensuring the right foods go in to maintain a healthy body, or ensuring the mind is being fed the right spiritual food takes a huge amount of discipline, prayer and study, without foolishness.
The other analogy that I would like to observe, that is not quite so linked as the above observation is that of eternity. OK, eternity is not mentioned in the verses, but the verses demonstrate that we are on this earth for a limited period, and no matter what we achieve and accomplish here, specifically material wealth, it is, if quoting Paul, all rubbish. I was reading the other day a reason why we, the average human has no idea about eternity. God is timeless, and lives in a time free zone. I suspect God invented time so people like us have markers with which to organise our lives. To understand God, we need to understand that He comes from a no time dimension. We tend to put our 70 years or so into perspective, when talking eternity, by saying that it is a small dot on the scale of everlasting life, or eternity. But it isn't. In a time free world, there can be no dot, no matter how small, because God has no timeline on which to place it. He has a timeline for this world though, and the timeframe He has here is so concise that He could get Daniel to document the exact day Jesus would ride into Jerusalem. So where is this taking us? Our lives here, in the scale of things, and the material wealth that we can accumulate, in the scale of things - if we could scale it, and we can't, is so insignificant, that it would make the smallest fraction possible here on earth look MEGA! Get that! What we consider big, is actually so small it makes the smallest thing look big. So the question we need to ask ourselves is this, if this is the context in which we now live, and the eternity that is on offer, why do we slide past verse six, into verses nine and ten of these passages? Life really is just a speck, so with the little we have, we need to make the most of it - that is, in God's ways, His godliness. That is what these passages appear to be really all about, though has a tough message imbedded.
Let us return to food. Why do I eat too much? Because my personal discipline is bad, I see short term gain - the joy of eating that food, without considering the long term effects. I was humming along nicely until I saw an ultrasound of my liver - fatty! So fatty, that it was not functioning as well as it could. Sin is like this. Humming along having a nice life, without really seeing what ones spiritual life is doing, until one day, hopefully, it will come into focus, but as with my liver, that focus will be ugly, a spiritual life that maybe all but non-existent. Paul is warning us about these things in these verses, he does not want us to need that ultrasound and see the ungodly fat invading our spiritual lives.
Paul begins by giving us two instructions, and we need to heed both. The first, as mentioned is godliness, the second is contentment. We must have both, otherwise we will be undoing the good of the first, with the gnawing of discontent, until the godliness evaporates into the frustrated man. How do we be content? This is the Western World's hardest lesson to learn. A world of ones own home, one, two, three cars, maybe a boat, a caravan, the 104 cm high definition TV, (now, that won't help the godliness part much), and so on and so forth. The simple life is a dream, no longer lived. Let us see the Biblical perspective on contentment:
Psalm 16:5 O Lord, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You maintain my lot. 6 The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Yes, I have a good inheritance.
Proverbs 16:8 Better is a little with righteousness, Than vast revenues without justice.
Ecclesiastes 5:12 The sleep of a labouring man is sweet, Whether he eats little or much; But the abundance of the rich will not permit him to sleep.
Ecclesiastes 9:7 Go, eat your bread with joy, And drink your wine with a merry heart; For God has already accepted your works. 8 Let your garments always be white, And let your head lack no oil. 9 Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life which He has given you under the sun, all your days of vanity; for that is your portion in life, and in the labour which you perform under the sun. 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; (fascinating perspective that one from Solomon, the man of many wives!)
Philippians 4:11 ".I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Each verse here, both Old and New Testament gives great insight into contentment, and I see a familiar theme running through them. Contentment can be present whether rich or poor. It is easier to be content when poor, than when rich, in fact King Solomon thinks that being rich will inhibit contentment. One must be accepting of what God provides, and the only way to get there is through Christ in our lives. Contentment is enjoying that which God gives us, no matter how much. And last but not least, one cannot be idle, and be content, so also doing what He gives us to do, will lead us into contentment.
Over Christmas I heard the following, and it was quite an eye opener for me. Imagine Joseph and Mary arriving at the inn and there was room inside? We think of nice motel style rooms, but that is probably not how it would have been. Communal living, crowded with people, men and women segregated. How would have Joseph seen his son's birth, how would have the shepherds managed to visit? And, the commentator pointed out, imagine the noise, the constant movement, the kids running around. No, God gave them a quiet, out of the crowd place, not the most comfortable place, but in its own context, the very place the couple needed to give birth to a child, and to enable the shepherds to come and worship. God knew their needs better than they did. Paul gives us a reason to be content with whatever God blesses us with. Paul notes in our passage today, and as we find in Job 1:21, Psalm 49:17 and Ecclesiastes 5:15, nothing material we have here on earth goes with us.
It should be joyous to note however, that whatever we have gained spiritually through living in godliness and contentment, we will take with us. We read this in 1 Corinthians 3:11:
For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. 14 If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
So, if we go back to the speck of time, that is really no time at all, and all we have to gain during this period on earth, which is infinitesimally small, is what is gained spiritually, and only the gold, silver and precious stones of that spirituality, and the rest is lost forever, what is the point of any other life? Easier said than done I may add.
Let us move to the next verses that read:
9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
Within these verses is one of the most misquoted verses, the verse stating that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. These verses are directed point blank at the capitalist, materialistic Western World of today where money and the love of money appears to rule.
Did you know that here in Australia we owe a staggering $1.232 trillion, which if every cent of the money earned in Australia goes towards paying the debt, we would not pay it off in a year, the first time this has happened. So is being in debt the problem. Well, yes and no. No, because the verses are not talking about this, yes, because other verses do, such as Romans 13:8 springs to mind - "Owe no one anything except to love one another", but, what is interesting in this context, is that there are many verses that tells us to lend, but not expect a return. There is a vast difference between borrowing the maximum one can borrow and being a giver to the needy. As God told the Israelites in Deuteronomy 15:7 "If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, 8 "but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs."
So what does the Bible teach us about the love of money? We studied chapter 3 verse 5 and 6 of Timothy, when concentrating on reading how the Bishops needed to act, but maybe did not see the little addition that was there then, and Paul repeats it in stronger terms now. In those verses Paul said: "2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; 3 not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money". Paul wrote this to the Colossians in chapter 3:5 "Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry." Here the word covetousness is used, and God defines this for us in Luke 12:15 And He said to them, "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses." Note the familiar ring? Luke continues with a story that Paul in this text has condensed into the couple of verse we have just read. Jesus told this parable, and in doing so defines the problem with a LOVE of money, and how it may destroy the soul. So in still in Luke 12, Jesus continues with:
"The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. 17 "And he thought within himself, saying, `What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?' 18 "So he said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. 19 `And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry."' 20 "But God said to him, `Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?' 21 "So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." 22 Then He said to His disciples, "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on.23 "Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. 24 "Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds? 25 "And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? 26 "If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest? 27 "Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28 "If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith? 29 "And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. 30 "For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. 31 "But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you. 32 "Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 "Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. 34 "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Having all these goods was not the problem here. Surrendering to the life style was the problem! The verses we touched on earlier spoke of giving. The man was not giving, he was relying on his fortune to sustain a lifestyle of entertainment and early retirement. He forgot that contentment requires a person to work, or kept busy, as we read earlier. Jesus did not stop at one parable. He also gave a life demonstration with a follower. We see this in Mark chapter 10, the story of the rich young man. Again, it was not the wealth that was the problem, but his reluctance to give it away. So since God gives us the script to understanding his Word, we might as well go to His Word rather than me write stuff.
Mark 10: 17 "Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, "Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" 18 So Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. 19 "You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not bear false witness,' 'Do not defraud,' 'Honor your father and your mother.'" 20 And he answered and said to Him, "Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth." 21 Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me." 22 But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 23 Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, "How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!" 24 And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, "Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! 25 "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
Paul in Timothy is emphasising that strong point Jesus is pointing out. Paul wrote (back in Timothy) But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition" See the similarities between the two scriptural examples used so far and the text, the condemnation of those who love their wealth?
I want to touch here on a different perspective, as in Matthew 5:28: "But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. The connection between these verses are found in 1 John 2:15,16 " Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--is not of the Father but is of the world."
So what is God revealing to us in these verses? He says, those who desire, those who look, those who have intent in the heart. Friends, we need not be rich, we need not be having affairs, we need not be living in the world, or even a worldly life, it is the intent. God does not want us to have the intent - one can hanker after money whilst poor, the bad love is there, because following close on the heels of intent is the deed, then the drowning of men and women in destruction and perdition. Did you note the use of the word perdition following the word destruction. I looked that one up just to ensure I was getting the picture, and note that Paul is emphasising what he just said, destruction, and total eternal destruction, the loss of the soul to Hell. Pretty powerful stuff. God uses every word in His Word purposefully.
It has become more and more evident as I wrote this lesson about how scathing God is about the love of money and what misdirected love will do. There are heaps of example, so let us take a principle example that cannot stay unspoken when having a discourse on this subject - James chapter 5. These are verses I won't say we may know well, as we (if we are like me) tend to avoid such texts! These verses encompass the love of money, the drowning of men, the destruction, the futility, and leads us into the last verse of this lesson of today.
James 5:1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! 2 Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days. 4 Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. 5 You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.
7 Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. 8 You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9 Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door! 10 My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. 11 Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord--that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.
See how God explains his book, using various authors, with different emphasis, but the underlying thread just bounding through it. Here in James, words and phrases like weep and howl, miseries, corrosion, eating your flesh like fire, condemned, murderer, and judged. Why do we even think about thinking about going there? This whole lifestyle is pure misery and torment - if we look at the BIG picture, not just our own state of affairs.
Satan is pretty good at his own game. He portrays wealth, riches, and that lifestyle like living the dream. Satan dresses it all up in luxury spa's where you may be pampered, resorts where all is at the fingertips, homes where the temperature is controlled, cars that get you to and fro in pure decadence. Satan knows our attraction to attractiveness. He makes us forget the vanity of it all, and the state of the worker who may have made that item you covert. God reminds us in the James verses: "Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out;. You have condemned, you have murdered the just" God says that we are murderers, not because we killed anyone, but the goods and lifestyle desires are killing people all over the world in poverty and mistreatment. This is the ugliness of life. So I take you back to the beginning, and the statement about eternity, does a few years of comfortable living (beyond that which is really necessary) equate to what eternity will bring us, if we listen to God, and turn our backs on the temptations of the Devil?
So let us end today where God through Paul ended these verses. Again we can read the last verse of this section to remind ourselves of what is said:
11 But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.
Note the active language here. The word is flee. Not, turn away, not, take a backwards step, nor even, think about something else, distract yourself. NO, the word is flee, run, make haste to the fastest speed you can in the opposite direction, GET OUT OF THERE! The next word is also active, and also balances the previous statement. The word here is pursue. God says that thinking about acquiring wealth is evil, so how does one stop evil thoughts. One has to fill one mind with other things. If you are absorbed with a subject, other subjects are hard to get a mention. Take the avid football fan, where are their thoughts during a game, after the game, on Monday morning, even Sunday in the churches? These people are pursuing an interest, to the detriment of all else, including a spiritual life. So what are we to pursue. God never puts words into His book without reason. So let us look at each one.
Righteousness: things that are right with God. Nothing else is righteous. It may be good, but we must learn to differentiate between good and righteous. One has God in it. Romans 9:30 ...Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith. Faith the key word here, see two down, in just a second!
Godliness: Spurgeon gave us a few words on the topic: "Godliness is the power which brings a man to God and binds him to Him. Godliness is that which creates repentance towards God and faith in Him. Godliness is the result of a great change of heart in reference to God and His Character. Godliness looks towards God and mourns its distance from Him. godliness hastens to draw near and rests not till it is at home with God.
Godliness makes a man like God. Godliness leads a man to love God and to serve God. It brings the fear of God before his eyes and the love of God into his heart. Godliness leads to consecration, to sanctification, to concentration. The godly man seeks first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and expects other things to be added to him. Godliness makes a man commune with God and gives him a partnership with God in His glorious designs. And so it prepares him to dwell with God forever."
Faith: We can't go past Hebrews here: 11:1 "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2 For by it the elders obtained a good testimony." Without faith in Jesus Christ we cannot have righteousness.
Love: How should we love, well again, God supplies the perfect example, you can quote with me John 3:16 - "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." How does our sacrificial love stack up?
Patience: Maybe Romans 5 can help us here: 3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Perseverance cannot be without patience.
Gentleness: Someone wrote this: "Gentleness, what is it? Submitted strength, power under control, gentleness is love touching." An example given were these words from Psalm 103 - love touching:
10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor punished us according to our iniquities. 11 For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; 12 As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. 13 As a father pities his children, So the LORD pities those who fear Him. 14 For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. 15 As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. 16 For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, And its place remembers it no more. 17 But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting On those who fear Him, And His righteousness to children's children" I think that this is a good place to end. Let us pray.