Godliness with Contentment
Author: Andy Robbins
After my last few posts, I had intended to go in a totally different direction with this and subsequent posts. However, something tells me we are not quite done hashing out this issue on the Biblical principles of abundance. Perhaps some of you may be wishing that I would go in a different direction, but as Laurie and Sherry said, it’s my blog and I can do what I want. So there.
Now, to the issue at hand.
If you are a critical thinker, and I hope you are, because that’s what this blog is devoted to, you might be asking some important questions about focusing on God’s desire for His children to be abundantly blessed. “Shouldn’t we be content with what we have?” “Don’t the scriptures teach that godliness with contentment is great gain?” “Didn’t the apostle Paul write that some who want to get rich fall into sin and pierce themselves with many sorrows?” Yes, yes, and yes.
Let’s begin with the latter question.
Paul, in writing to the young pastor Timothy, was addressing the issue of greed. Some false teachers of that time were using the preaching of the gospel to siphon contributions from gullible people, just like some televangelists we’ve heard of. And so they were preaching simply as a way to make money, and no other reason. So the issue at hand was greed and dishonest gain.
Regarding being content, yes, the Bible does teach that to be content is a sign of godliness, and that in itself is valuable. But what does contentment look like? Perhaps I should answer that question by explaining what it is not.
Just before my wedding date, the little wood shop I worked in as a finish man folded. I walked down the aisle unemployed, and spent the next several weeks in that same condition. Now, I could have pseudo-spiritualized my situation by saying, “Well, godliness with contentment is great gain, so I guess I need to learn how to be content being unemployed.” I think you would agree that that would be nonsense. But that’s what many Christians do all the time.
A lot of people have a very hard time just making it from paycheck to paycheck. They rationalize their situation by saying to themselves, “I guess it must be God’s will for me to be poor all my life, so I should learn to be content with that.” Well, that SOUNDS spiritual and all, but that is simply misguided religious gobbly-gook. That’s NOT what the Bible teaches.
The Bible teaches that we should be content in whatever stage of life we find ourselves on our way to the next stage of growth. If you have a big family crammed into a tiny house, for example, you should indeed find a way to be content, being thankful that you at least have a roof over your head. But it wouldn’t be a sin to want something bigger and work toward that end. Growth and progress is, in fact, what God has in mind for you.
Let’s take the issue of spiritual growth as an example. Wouldn’t it be ridiculous if I said to myself, “I must be destined to struggle with this sin all my life, so I guess I’ll just have to learn how to be content being a chronic liar (or thief, or adulterer, or whatever your specific area of greatest temptation is). That’s foolish, isn’t it? God wants us to move past the elementary stages of spiritual infancy to adulthood. Spiritual growth and progress is an elementary Biblical concept. But it’s not just growth in the area of godly character that God has in mind, but in EVERY area of life.
You might find it interesting that the Hebrew greeting, Shalom, means blessing in every area of life. So when a Jew greeted a person by saying, “Shalom”, he was saying, “May you be blessed in your health, in your income, in your children, spiritually, and may you ever be increasing.” The word bless means, “the beneficial enduement of the power of God to produce well-being in every area of a person’s life.” Consequently, “bless” contains four provisions: health, prosperity, well-being for your family, and salvation for your soul.
So while God does want us to be content in our present circumstances, contentment doesn’t mean accepting anything and calling that spiritual. If your kids were on drugs, how spiritual would it be for you to say, “’Well, I’ll just not address this situation because I know God wants me to be content.” No, you want it changed NOW! Yes, you can find a degree of peace in knowing that God is in control and you trust His sovereignty, but that doesn’t stop you from bombarding the gates of heaven with your prayers night and day!! Contentment is simply an issue of trust knowing that God is in control and that He is mightier than any circumstance. It does not mean sitting back and accepting any negative situation that life hands you without some sort of action. That’s not spiritual. That’s stupid. But countless Christians have been duped into believing that it IS spiritual.
Let me give you an example of true contentment from scripture.
When David was living out in the wilderness being pursued by the murderous King Saul, twice David had opportunities to kill Saul and thus end his existence as a fugitive. God even seemed to orchestrate the unique situations where David could have easily killed Saul. But David wouldn’t do it. Why? Because he was content knowing that the throne had already been promised to him by an edict of God, and he knew that he didn’t have to take matters into his own hands to bring it about. He knew God was in control, and he didn’t want King Saul’s blood on his hands. Was he content being a fugitive? Absolutely not! Just read the many agonized prayers of David in the Psalms, and you’ll see how badly he wanted his situation to change. He placed his trust in God for his protection and provision, but he had no intention of staying a fugitive. He did take reasonable action, such as attempting to talk some sense into King Saul. So he didn’t sit back and just accept whatever fate might befall him. He petitioned God, and he petitioned his pursuer. He DID do something, but his doing was within the guidelines of his godly convictions. He combined faith with appropriate action, and was also able to find a place of peace in his present situation while he prayed for a better one.
Again, if you are not living in enough abundance to have all your needs met and some left over to be a source of blessing to others, then it is not a sin for you to want more, to ask for and more, to work toward more, and to anticipate more. However, if you’re primary heart’s desire is to heap up monetary goods for your own materialistic pleasure and you have no compassion on the poor or desire to see people saved, then yes, THAT is sinful. That’s called greed, and that is explicitly condemned in scripture as one of the most heinous sins there is. But it’s not a sin for you to want more simply as a means of blessing to your family and to other people.
If your income is barely meeting your needs, it is not a sin to ask for a better paying job. If you only have enough money to eat beans twice a day, it’s not a sin for you to ask God for more. And even if your own needs are met, but you cannot help the people you know who are in need, it’s not a sin to ask God for more in order to be His hands and feet of blessing. But religious tradition would suggest that barely-getting-by is somehow holy. See what I mean? Religious thought can get twisted in the perversion of the human mind – a mind that actually takes pride in its pseudo-humility. “Look how humbly I live. I must be a real Christian.” That’s reeks of self-satisfaction just as much as the rich man who thinks that his Porsche makes him something special. Pride stinks in whatever form it takes, even if it is disguised in religious trappings – perhaps especially so.
The bottom line is that God is a good Father whose desire to bless His children is stronger than your and my desire to bless our own children. “If your son asks for a piece of bread, will you give him a stone,” asked Jesus. His point was that it’s not wrong to ask your Father for something so long as your reason for asking is pure. And if we, being parents who are tainted with sin, know how to give good things to our kids, how much more will God do at least as much for His devoted ones who ask?!
I believe God wants us to enlarge our thinking, and enlarge our capacity to receive from Him. I pray all the time now, “Father, please enlarge my capacity to understand You and to receive from You.” And you know what? He is doing it. My previous mentality of lack is being replaced by an abundance mentality. My God is supplying all my needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus! (Philippians 4:19) But you have to believe that in order to receive it, because faith is the substance of the unseen (Hebrews 11:1), and without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), and those who vacillate in their faith can’t expect to receive anything from God (James 1:6-7). But lest I get ahead of myself, faith is the subject of my next post.