Godliness with Contentment is Great Gain <1 Ti 6:3-10; Prov 30:8-9>
Prelude: Recently, because of the pandemic, what we often hear in the news are updates on economic performance. The nation’s leaders continue to talk about things regarding GDP, employment rates, the use of reserves, helping employees to keep jobs, and planning for the future, etc. In fact, from these issues which are the concerns of many people, we will know that the hearts of people are concerned about “money”. In a developed country, people not only want to have three bowls of rice on their table, their greater ambition is to constantly achieve a higher standard of living and have greater spending power. Therefore, high educational qualifications, career achievements, outstanding performance, and comfortable lifestyle are constantly being pursued by people under the system of developed countries. “Contentment” may be a very abstract concept. Therefore, when this pandemic hits, the greatest struggle for every country (especially the developed countries) is, “Do we want to sacrifice people's lives? Or do we choose to let the economy decline?” If we ask around, most people are more anxious about the prospects of the economy than getting the virus itself. Therefore, when countries all started to lockdown, and trade enters a crisis, it is the ruling party who will rack its brains on how to support the economy. What people are most anxious about is also the problem of jobs and their livelihood. Therefore, it is not difficult to see that those in power want to gain the trust of its people from the stability of the economy. It seems as if “whoever can restore the economy, whoever will be elected as the person in power”. In fact, all these reflect how our entire society regards “money”. Why do students study if not for getting a better degree? Why do employees keep learning and training? Why do white-collar workers keep changing jobs? In the end, it’s all about money. So, do people have problem with making ends meet? Truthfully speaking, no. However, our spending power is threatened. This is because people have been pursuing a more comfortable life (for example: having a bigger house, a better car, higher quality goods, more frequent travels, etc.), and hence have the burden of many loans. Otherwise, it is the constant worry that there will not be enough for the future, so they want to save money now. But in fact, if we all along do not live an extravagant lifestyle, even with the economy declining or our work being affected, there is no issue with living a normal life. We will not be anxious and uneasy because of this pandemic. Many graduating college students are anxious because the job market is not optimistic. Some may be troubled and feel very unlucky. In fact, think about it, if a person can go to college and be equipped to learn, is it all just to get a well-paid job? Imagine if a student just uses his superior academic qualifications to earn more money, live a more comfortable life, and accumulate more wealth on earth, his studies is in vain if he does not know how to critically judge the reality of this world, the rights and wrongs in human affairs and he has no substantial contribution to society! In particular, if he is a Christian, he should place more emphasis on learning than on materialism. But if he sees his education as a means of earning more money, then he is a fool among those who study. But how many of such foolish people are there today? Too many! Who caused it? It is an influence that the system of this world has brought to people. This system seems to tell us, “Education is equated to wealth and status”. This is the ideology which the elitist system brings us. Why is it so easy for people to fall into this kind of thinking? Because the nature of sinful man is to have an insatiable heart. People have greed, discontentment and the fear of not having enough in the future. It is true that we will not be naturally content. Instead, we can only be content through prayers and the art of training, but greed, comparison, and discontentment very easily capture our hearts. Therefore, on our journey toward sanctification, one of the most difficult things to achieve is “contentment”. Some people always want to have money in their hands to spend and see that having more materially is good, but they do not realise that their “discontentment” causes them to face great obstacles in pursuing godliness and loving the Lord. Because of their discontentment, they often fall into needless sorrows. The joy that Christians should have is often taken away from their hearts. Therefore, we must truly understand why the apostle said, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.”
1. Financial gains which hinder godliness
1）Since the fall of man, humans have been bound by material gains
The control and influence of wealth cannot be neglected. Ever since man sinned, he not only does immoral things because of money, but financial gains also continue to replace the God in the human heart. After our ancestors Adam and Eve sinned, we see that they gave birth to two sons. The elder one was Cain while the younger one was Abel. We all know that Cain killed Abel out of jealousy with regard to their offerings. But before this incident, we see that Cain was already someone who centered on materials. The Bible says that Abel chose to be a shepherd. This was likely because he understood and valued the redemption God prepared for his parents through the sacrifice of a lamb <Gen 3:21>. However, Cain chose to work the soil after the ground had been cursed <Gen 3:17>, implying that he did not think much about his parents’ redemption. He only looked at the fertile soil at that time and saw that whatever was planted could reap a harvest, so his natural tendency was to focus on the gains before his eyes. Thus, he and his offering were not pleasing to God. This was because he did not value the sacrifice of blood which God desires, so in God’s eyes, he was merely just offering according to his own will. Therefore, no matter how much or how abundant his offering was, it could not please God. Actually, from this first offering, we see that materials were valued over sacrifice. During the time of Moses, we see that when the Israelites entered the wilderness, the first sin they committed was to build a golden calf for themselves. They used an image of a rich calf to replace the image of the Lord God <Ex 32:2-4>. When Saul was king, because he loved the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good, he did not obey Samuel’s instructions to destroy them completely. When Samuel came, he said to Saul, “Why did you not obey the Lord? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the Lord?” <1 Sam 15:9,19> Think about it, did not all these things expose the human heart which is easily controlled by materials? They valued materials more than they cherished God’s salvation, thus they also placed material gains before obedience to God’s instructions.
2）Financial gains continue to invade the pulpit of God
Thus, it is not surprising when Paul said, “Many who have been robbed of the truth think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” <1 Ti 6:5> Today, if we look carefully at the motives of many preachers who serve, their subtle concerns are on material gains. Thus, their messages are slowly influenced by numbers and those who give offerings. Some even get into competition with their co-workers in order to fight for a position in the church. In many small churches, we also see that the family members of preachers hold tightly to the right to manage the church finances. This draws much comments from many brothers and sisters. Slowly, a culture will emerge in the church in which the one in control of finances has authority, such that even preachers have to listen to him. Think about it, what kind of messages will be passed down from the pulpit of such a church? The messages will not only lack the righteousness and love brought by Christ’s precious blood, but instead, they will be like the “golden calf shaped by human hands”. The pulpit of such a church will slowly lose spiritual authority. The church will gradually move toward using people’s earthly accomplishments and wealth to measure the success or failure of their faith. Thus, many sheep of the Lord will also be hurt and leave as a result.
2. The blessing and virtue of godliness with contentment
1）Godliness with contentment is great gain
Actually, no one is willing to suffer loss, the natural tendency of man is to gain. Just as a person reaps whatever he sows, a person works diligently and is rewarded for that; this is natural principle. If we have been long in the church, we will surely see that those who are both godly and contented will naturally receive God’s material rewards as well. They will not suddenly lose many years of savings just because of the economic downturn or the fall of share prices. But man’s heart of discontentment always brings troubles. Godliness is a heart which fears God because of knowing God’s truth, so it finds it worthy and satisfying to obey God. A godly person will obey the Lord in his ways, and not let himself be embroiled in all kinds of worldly and meaningless competitions. Thus, when Paul instructed Timothy to train to be godly, he said, “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly <1 Ti 4:7>. After that, Paul also continued telling Timothy the practical expressions of godly living, which is to set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity, and to be devoted to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching <1 Ti 4:12-13>. Thus, the entire concern of a godly person is to be on matters relating to God and human lives. However, in <1 Ti 6:6>, when Paul talked about money matters, he took the opportunity to bring out a very important truth relating to godliness, which is godliness must come with contentment. Perhaps, some people have served very long in the church, they know how to read the scriptures, pray, serve, care for others, etc., before men. However, they must confirm whether they have a “heart of contentment”. Because true godliness cannot be separated from a heart of contentment. The contentment mentioned here refers to being completely self-sufficient, meaning a person can be content with his current status, and does not need to have more in terms of his accommodation, food, drink and clothing. In fact, in a developed country, this is a concept which most people lack. Because when the country keeps seeking prosperity, people’s living standards keep rising, and they long to have higher spending power.
2）What is a heart of contentment?
Paul said, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” Honestly speaking, in our world today, many people look down on a simple life. The ideology given us by an elitist society is that we study in order to lead a more comfortable life; we work hard on a job in order to be promoted; if we possess and use high-class materials (clothes, bags, handphones, cars, houses, etc.), it brings out our status. Up to a point, in what we eat, drink, wear and use, we only know what is high-class and branded, but we do not sense what is extravagance. Gradually, we have no much conviction when we read this verse. Some parents only want their children to wear branded stuff. Some sisters cannot wear the same clothes more than twice. Some families only decorate and furnish their homes with superior stuff. When living conditions are slightly better, the household expenses will continue to increase. Thus, some families cannot afford to only have either one of husband or wife working, or if either of them loses the job, the entire household expenses cannot be sustained. Some husbands wish to switch jobs for better pay, so that the whole family expenses can enter into a “only can go up but not down” standard. Yet, as all these living standards improve, the thanksgiving offerings they give to God never increase, but they become stingier toward God and men instead. In this way, we will become more and more like the “rich fool”. One day, he will hear the Lord say, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ <Lk 12:20> Think about it, how much of what we earn in this life is used for the kingdom of God? How much is used to bless those in need? If you only earn to spend for yourself, and you are troubled when you yourself have lesser and raise your living standards when you have more, then your conscience itself will accuse you, “You are a selfish person”. At that time, even if you do not have God’s revelation, you will also know that you are someone who falls short in financial matters. If that is the case, a godly person will surely be concerned about whether his conscience is clear in matters of earning and using money.
3）Why can’t a person have a contented heart concerning materials?
Why can’t he be content simply because he has food and clothing? Basically, there are two reasons. First, because of fear; second, because of greed. For many people, it is not that they have problems now even with basic living, but they fear that they do not have enough in future, so they keep having a heart of lack now. To these people, the money they earn is never enough. Because they always worry about tomorrow <Mt 6:34>. Worries will truly make a person lose the heart of godliness, such that he cannot follow the Lord today because he is worried about tomorrow. Perhaps today, there is someone whom God wants us to bless, or there are things to offer, or some appropriate household expenses to spend on, but because we are worried about tomorrow, we do not spend what we need to spend today, then we fall short in matters of money. Next, it is greed. In fact, most people fall into the trap of “wanting to be rich” <1 Ti 6:9>. Thus, a political party can win the votes of people mainly because it can make people rich. Actually, based on biblical principles, values and morals are above wealth, this is also what we should focus on. However, those who are not rich will naturally incline toward the temptation of money. Paul said, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” <1 Ti 6:10> It can make you leave God, or abandon some principles of treating people and matters, or become very short-sighted, only caring about the gains before your eyes but not thinking carefully. In this era, it is not hard for us to see that many preachers compromise the truth they should be preaching, in order to gain more church members and offerings. They slowly abandon the pure gospel which can illuminate human spirits, and lean toward preaching a gospel which can be accepted by the masses. Such preachers are the dregs in the church. Their preaching forms the culture of the church, and that culture shapes the thinking of brethren. Eventually, because of money, the church will be divided and will fail terribly.
3. Believers living in the modern comfortable society must set a few critical principles concerning money management
1）Must reject the heart of wanting to be rich
In our prosperous society today, what can tempt us most easily is the heart of wanting to be rich due to comparison with others. As the potential and channels to be rich are many, people are not willing to remain in simple living, or to lead a down-to-earth life in a proper order. Especially when they see the higher living standards of people around them or others having some avenues of wealth (such as: investing in shares or properties), they will be tempted. Actually, when people want to get rich, they do not understand that in fact the amount of wealth in one’s hands are determined by God. How much wealth God gives a person is not only related to him and the people around him, but also related to his lifetime mission. Because some people have a huge mission, God does not want them to be too concerned about money matters so that they do not need to manage it too; they should thank the Lord for it. Some people receive more wealth, but if they are not careful, this wealth may make their next generation unwise or not diligent, then the wealth becomes a form of harm. Some people do not have much wealth, but when they need it urgently, some others will offer them timely help, and in the midst of this, they build relationships more precious than materials. However, if a person only wishes to become rich, he cannot see the God who is above wealth and who controls human destiny. His lifetime dignity will be trampled by money. When he is penniless, he cannot lift his head up; when he is wealthy, he looks down on people.
2）Seek the wisdom to use money
Money is not about spending more when you have more, but it is about how you use it wisely and in a worthwhile manner. Some people spend money like water, so they always have money in the beginning of the month but no more money at the end of the month; or, they always feel they do not have enough no matter how much they earn. If we are like that, it proves that we are someone without wisdom in our hearts. That may be shown in how we use money without self-control, or when we shop, we do not have the value-for-money concept. Some people especially like to buy branded stuff, and they would not wear it if their clothes and shoes are not branded. Such people only recognize external value, but do not appreciate the virtues in the heart. It has been reported that the usual cost price of a piece of branded clothing is only 8%. The remaining costs are spent on commercial fees or other means to promote the brand. Actually, God places wisdom in human hearts, so that men can apply wisdom when using the money that comes under them. Because with wisdom, the value of money is not about having more, but how one uses it. What is considered a good building? That is a most magnificent building constructed with the simplest materials. What is deemed as a good engine? That is one which can let the car run the longest distance with the least fuel. Thus, if we only use money to resolve any problem we encounter, how can we display the wisdom and virtues of using money? In the growing up process of a child, if every time the family faces problems, he says to the parents, “Just use money to settle!”, then after he grows up, he will surely become a wastrel. Of course, sometimes, appropriate money should be spent, but if money is used to solve problems without much thought, that is certainly not being a good steward. On top of this, we must remember the Lord’s words, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Money which is not given out to bless people will “rot”, no matter how much one has. In fact, when a person’s wealth has increased to a certain extent, no matter how much he possesses, it cannot bring him any satisfaction and meaning.
3）Must cultivate the virtues of diligence and saving
In a developed country, people usually have a proper job. Such a country itself will have excess, thus its people will also have excess. If a family spends all the money it earns and does not have the concept of saving, then this family needs to reflect on its perspective on money usage. When God puts more and more money into our hands, we absolutely have the responsibility to manage it well. John Wesley who influenced the whole of England and America in the 18th century concluded three very thought-provoking rules about financial issues. They are: Gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can. This has also become one of the main ideologies of the Americans when they built their country. How is this different from the modern people’s idea of wealth? Nowadays, many people do not want to put in efforts, but only wish to gain without labour. Then they just spend as much as they can, sometimes buying something whether they need it or not, only to realise in the end that they are left with no money to give offering or to help others.
4）Certainly must not steal the money belonging to God or others
The Bible tells us clearly that a tenth of what we have belongs to God. That is directly related to the maintenance of a church, the raising of workers and the saving of souls. The main purpose of God giving money to people is to use it to proclaim salvation. If this world only has money but not the gospel mission brought by the church and saints’ prayers, this world will perish soon due to people biting and devouring each other. Therefore, if we even rob God of tithes, we need not mention about being good and wise stewards, because we have already failed with regard to spiritual principles. Furthermore, we must be blameless in financial matters relating to the country and other people. Some people evade taxes, or are dishonest in managing money, thus their hearts cannot be confident. Lord Jesus said, ““Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” <Mk 12:17> If we are blameless in this, then we are worthy to receive the great gain brought by godliness and contentment!