The Lord's Day Morning
November 1, 2009
1 Timothy 6:6-8
“Godliness with Contentment is Great Gain”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
This morning we will look at 1 Timothy chapter 6, verses 6 to 8 this morning. This is the passage that our deacon-stewardship committee has chosen as the theme, or to draw the theme, of our stewardship season this year — “Godliness with Contentment is Great Gain” — so we're going to consider this passage. Now, T Dale gave us an exhortation from this passage last week and I've read it a couple of times since then. You can read it in the First Epistle or you can look at it on the church website. I would in fact encourage you to do that. He draws five particular points of exposition and three points of application, very specific application, out of this passage that I would commend to you, because I think most of us are going to have to think about some of these things long and hard if we are going to get to the level of fighting some of the spiritual fights that need to be fought in our hearts in the area of stewardship. And so I commend those five expositions and those three applications that T gave us last week.
I'm not going to repeat those today as tempting as it was for me to do that. I want to focus your attention on one thing in this passage. This passage is about contentment and specifically it is about the source of our contentment. It is the question of, “What is your contentment based on?” That is one of the, if not the most important questions that you can ask and answer about contentment. If your contentment is based on the wrong thing, then you will not have the kind of contentment that God intends His people to have. You will not have the kind of satisfaction, the kind of joy, the kind of peace, the kind of confidence, the kind of assurance of security that God intends His children to have if your contentment is based on the wrong thing.
And if you will notice, especially in verse 7, Paul is trying to draw our attention to the question of something that our contentment is often misplaced upon — and that is either what we don't have in this life but that which we are seeking to acquire, or what we have in this life but which we are liable to lose. And either of those things are false hopes, uncertain foundations, quicksand for the Christian life. If our hope, if our confidence, if our contentment are based on those things, then we will not have contentment. And so Paul is getting at that issue. Now that issue is a stewardship issue because those whose contentment is placed in the right place, are positioned to serve God as stewards in a way in which those whose contentment is placed in the wrong place are not, and that's the connection between this section of Scripture and the pursuit of stewardship that we want to see in our congregation. So let's look to God in prayer before we read His Word in this great passage.
Heavenly Father, most of us would give a right answer to the Bible's teaching about where our contentment ought to be based if we were asked today, but the rub would be in actually placing our hope and our contentment in the right place. We can give the right answer, but where it gets hard is in actually living out the right answer. And sometimes Lord, we're not even aware that our confidence is in the wrong place. So even as we read the Word of God today, my prayer is not only that we would understand it, understand it so well that we can teach it in the Sunday School class, but that we would believe it and live it out to the extent that, one, we would see where in our own heart we are not acting on what we say we believe, and two, that we would actually live the truth out practically in our lives. Do this by Your Holy Spirit, even as we read the Word. We pray it in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is God's Word:
“Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.”
Amen and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Less than a month ago I had one of the most encouraging conversations that I had had in a long time. Back in April, at the Gospel Coalition Conference in Chicago, I was introduced to a young man who was an African American pastor in a small congregation just across the Mississippi River in Louisiana but who lives here in Mississippi. And we met and spoke briefly and he said, “Would it be okay if we had a cup of coffee or shared a meal sometime?” And I said, “I would love that. We don't have to go to Chicago to get to know one another. We should do this.” And so a few months later, Missye Rhee set up an appointment for me and this man to have a meal together. I won't mention his name because I don't want to embarrass him and it's very likely that members of his congregation may well see this service broadcast on television. Well, that meeting happened a month or so ago and during the course of that meeting he told me how he had come to embrace the doctrines of grace and the sovereignty of God in salvation and how life transforming it had been. I have never heard a story like his.
He grew up in the home of a Word of Faith pastor. His father is a bi-vocational pastor out of the Word of Faith1 tradition. Now if you know Word of Faith, that means what we call “prosperity gospel” — if you’re a Christian and you trust God and there's not un-confessed sin in your life, then you’re supposed to be healthy and wealthy and there aren't supposed to be problems in your life and you’re supposed to be happy all the time because God wants you to be blessed. He wants you to be happy. He wants you to be healthy. He wants you to have money. He wants you to have the best things in this world. Well, this young man grew up in that tradition and when he went to MississippiState he became the president of the campus ministry that is committed to that kind of theology. But while he was at MississippiState his younger sister, who he loved deeply, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Now he and his father took her around to crusade after crusade of Word of Faith preachers. Now let me just identify for you, that's Benny Hinn, that's Joyce Meyers, that Marilyn Hickey, that's Kenneth Copeland, that's Kenneth Hagin — fill in the blank. Most of what you see on television is this kind of teaching. To crusade and crusade and crusade and no one could heal her. And then finally when she was 23 she died.
And when she died, all of his confidence in this kind of teaching came crashing down around his ears. He couldn't believe it anymore. And in the wake of that tragedy, as he was listening to rap music — yes you heard that right — Hip-Hop2, Christian Hip-Hop, you know, groups like Cross Movement, he began to hear a theology of suffering and trial that he had never ever heard in the Word of Faith movement and he wondered where this was coming from and so he looked at the liner notes of the CDs that he bought of this music that he was listening to and it directed him to Christian teachers like John MacArthur and John Piper, who then directed him to the teachings of R.C. Sproul and to the RTS virtual campus. He has listened to every course on the RTS virtual campus and is pursuing a degree through Reformed Theological Seminary right now and he has come to embrace, fully, the doctrines of grace and to turn his back on the teaching of the “prosperity gospel” and his father has now embraced this too, and they together are seeing their congregation transformed with this new teaching.
Now why do I tell you this story? Because I think if I were to ask virtually anyone in this room, “Is the confidence of Word of Faith theology and the prosperity gospel misplaced?” you would immediately and instinctively say, “Yes, that theology places our confidence, in the midst of trials, in the wrong place.” It basically says if you've got trials in your life it results from one of three things — (A) You’re not a Christian, because if you were a Christian God would want you to be blessed, or (B) If you are a Christian, you don't have enough faith, and if you just had enough faith you wouldn't be sick and you would have everything you want and you wouldn't have trials in your life, or (C) There's un-confessed sin in your life, and if you would just confess that sin and get right with God and then the blessings would start to flow.
And my friend could look into his sister's eyes, who was a godly woman, in fact in her death she had a very strong testimony of trust in God that witnessed to many around her and he knew that the problem was not that this woman didn't have enough faith. It certainly wasn't that she wasn't a Christian and he could not conceive of any un-confessed sin in her life. She was so open in her relationship with the Lord. He knew that that theology utterly failed the test of the right placement of confidence in this life.
And I think just about anyone in this room would say that. We would recognize that that theology is not only not biblical, but it's not capable of answering the greatest challenges of life when trouble comes. But, you knew that was coming; we have the same struggles. We have the same struggles in locating the place of our contentment. Because the fact of the matter is, most of us rock along either enjoying the circumstances that we have now and our contentment is inextricably linked to them, or we think that if our circumstances could just get a little bit better then we would find contentment.
I know how it is, you’re young, you’re just starting out, and you think, “Just two hundred and fifty dollars a month, Lord, and I'd be content. My income would match my outgo and things would be better.” — Or five hundred or seven hundred fifty or whatever it is. We think, “If I could get just a little bit more of what I have now, but more than I have now, then I would be okay.” But you see, either of those places, either finding our contentment in what we have now, or finding our contentment in what we don't have now but what we think we could acquire, is locating our contentment in the wrong place.
And by the way, it's not just money and stuff. It's not just money and stuff. Oh, there's a tremendous challenge when it comes to money and stuff and contentment because it does give you such a false sense of security to have much and we lived in a land of plenty and we are a people who are affluent — the least of us is more affluent than most of the people who have ever lived in the world — and it can breed a false sense of security. And striving just after a little bit more can also offer a false solution to the dilemma of contentment.
But it's not just money, it can be relationships. “If I could only have him I'd be content. If I could only have her I'd be content. Or if I could only have this status, if I could only have this success, if I could only have this popularity, if I could only have this prominence, if I could only have this power.” It can be all sorts of things other than just material possessions. Yes it can be material possessions. Money — “If I could just have a little more house, Lord. If I could just have a little more country club, Lord. If I could just have a little more condo, Lord. If I could have just a little more hunting club, Lord. If I could just have a little more golf course, Lord I'd be content.” It can be that, but it can also be other things.
And you understand what Paul is saying in this passage is that the kind of contentment God offers in the Gospel is never found in those places, never found in those places. Listen to what he says in verse 7 — “We brought nothing into the world and we cannot take anything out of the world.” What is Paul saying? If your contentment is founded on, is based on, anything that you didn't bring into this world and that you can't take out of this world, then your contentment is founded on the wrong place. You know one Christian has said, “There are no U-HAULS behind hearses.” And if your contentment is in either what you have but which you could lose now and cannot take with you, or if your contentment is in the pursuit of what you don't have now but what you think you can acquire but you can't take with you, then your contentment is in the wrong place and you will never ever know true peace and contentment.
John Piper asked this question — “If you dropped dead right now, would you take with you a payload of pleasure in God or would you stand before Him with a spiritual cavity where covetousness used to be? Covetousness lets you down just when you need help the most.”
And you understand that's what this passage is about. The word covetousness, or coveting, is never used here, but this passage is about a battle between contentment and covetousness, and covetousness will locate for us our hope in either what we have now but which we could lose and which we cannot take with us, or it will locate for us our contentment and hope in what we don't have now but which we think we could acquire but which we can't take with us, and either of those places will let you down. All you have to do is lose what you have now that gives you your security to find out that that kind of security can't outlive what you have now. And all you have to do is obtain that which you thought was going to give you contentment in this life to find out that it won't be able to give you contentment because God has made you so that you will never ever be able to be content until He is your greatest treasure and you prefer Him to anything and everything else in this world and you locate and base your contentment on the fact that you have Him because no one and nothing can take Him away from you.
And that's what Paul is talking about in this passage. There appears to be something like a health and wealth teaching going on in Corinth because somebody's teaching them that there is great gain in godliness, and Paul is responding, “Well actually there is great gain in godliness, but it's not the kind of gain that you think. It's not, ‘Believe in Jesus and you’ll get rich. Believe in Jesus and you’ll always be healthy. Believe in Jesus and you’ll have no problems.’ It's, ‘Once you put your faith in Jesus, you find that He is your greatest treasure and therefore your contentment is no longer based on what you can get or keep hold of in this world.’” And he sets the bar pretty low in verse 8. Look at what he says — “If we have food and clothing” — not even shelter, just food and clothing — “with these we will be content.”
Why? Because when your faith is in Jesus Christ, your faith perceives Christ as your treasure, and when He is your treasure your contentment is located on a foundation that cannot be moved, it cannot be taken away, it cannot be rebuked, it cannot be impaired in any way. It will not be outlasted by the new heavens and the new earth. It will go on forever.
John Piper paints this vivid picture of the challenge that is before us in regard to contentment. He says, “Picture two hundred sixty-nine people entering eternity in a plane crash. Before the crash, there is noted on this plane, a politician, a millionaire, a corporate executive, a playboy and his playmate, and a missionary kid on the way back from visiting his grandparents. And then after the crash they stand before God utterly stripped of every MasterCard, every checkbook, every credit line, every image, all the clothes, all the success, all the books, all the Hilton reservations — the politician, the executive, the playboy, and the missionary kid on level ground with absolutely nothing in their hands but what they brought with them in their hearts. Oh, how absurd and tragic the lover of money will seem on that day.”
Like a man who spends his whole life collecting train tickets and in the end is so weighed down by the collection that he misses the last train. We brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out of it.
Now does that mean that the missionary kid is saved because of something that he has done that makes him better that those other people?
No, it just means this: when you put your faith in Jesus Christ, you realize however dimly at first, however inconsistently at first, that He is your treasure and everyone who truly trusts in Christ in some measure knows Him as your treasure. And those who do not put their faith in Christ try to fill up the void in them with anything else they can get their hands on and stuff in there. And when they pass into the new heavens and the new earth, there will be nothing left.
So here's what Paul is saying, Christians, precisely because we perceive Christ to be our greatest treasure, ought to realize that there is a gain in godliness, there is a gain in trusting Christ — our contentment can never ever be taken away from us because it's not based on something that can be taken away from us.
Now how is that connected to stewardship? Well, a hundred ways, but here's the way I want to draw the line for you — those who are content with Christ are not spending their lives trying to fill up an empty hole in themselves and stuffing more and more stuff in there to try to find contentment. And consequently, they live for bigger things. They live for a greater agenda, for a greater cause, than simply trying to find personal fulfillment, satisfaction, and contentment, and they perceive that what they have been given ought to be used for God's glory as much as possible.
But here's the problem — you've perhaps been reading the stewardship statistics like I have. They’re pretty grim. American Christians spend more on dog food than they do on missions. Now that's pretty hard for a dog lover to say. American Christians today give less, even with adjusted figures, give less to the church than our fathers and grandfathers did during the Great Depression — half or less than what they gave during the Great Depression.
Now what does that say?
I think it says this — that we have forgotten where our contentment lies and we have been captured by the spirit of covetousness. I think it's easy to understand why. We live in an affluent culture, we are bombarded by advertisements our whole waking hour — used to, you had to be in front of a radio or television, but now, now the advertisements coxing you to covetousness come right to your iPhone. You don't have to go anywhere. They come to you, to your laptop. You can't even look at your Twitter page without something being advertised to you. And what does it teach you? It teaches us that we are consumers. That's what we are. We are consumers, and what do consumers do? They buy stuff and consume it. And so what does life consist of? Buying stuff and consuming it — “I buy, therefore I am.” It's the new Cartesianism.3 And that tempts even Christians to think about their possessions in a way that we ought not to.
What can change that? Only the truth that Paul has stated here — that there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into this world and we can take nothing out of it. It's Paul's way of expounding something that his Lord and Savior once said, “You cannot worship God and stuff. You’ll either hate one and love the other, or you’ll love the one and hate the other. You can't do both.” And it is those who have learned contentment in God through the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ who are most ready to give away what God has given to them because even His bounty, even the bounty that He gives to us, is not the source of our contentment.
And in the end, we have a new evaluation system — an iPod for me, or money invested in ministry and missions that leads to someone coming to faith in Christ? So that when you stand before the throne in the Last Day and you’re having the great wrestling match – that person's everlasting joy or my iPod – it looks kind of stupid, doesn't it? And that's the freedom that contentment in God brings and it's the freedom that makes stewards out of Christians because they care about bigger things because God's already taken care of their contentment.
1. Word of Faith. The doctrine of Word Faith, sometimes referred to as Word of Faith, is a teaching promoted by some of the more radical elements of the Charismatic movement. The term implies that Christians not only need faith in God, but that they need to have faith in the power of the words they speak. If they use the “word of faith,” according to a number of formulas which such teachers believe they have found in the Bible, they need only search the Bible to find what they consider “unconditional promises” of God, and then merely “confess” with their mouth -using the word of faith- that the blessings they seek are theirs, and they shall have those blessings. Such blessings would include health and prosperity. One of the typical sayings Word Faith adherents are supposed to internalize is “What I confess, I possess.” A related catch phrase used in many Word Faith books is “confession brings possession.”
2. Hip-Hop. Hip-hop began in the 1970s in the Bronx in New York City. It is considered an African-American innovation. Hip-hop usually consists of DJs who manipulate sounds and beats on turntables. Other features often include break dancing and the performance of skilled rhyming using a combination of spoken word and scat singing, known as rapping. Rooted in African-American jazz and poetry, the genre originated as a subculture wherein artists spoke out against their meager socio-economic circumstances.
3. Cartesianism. The philosophical theses of Cartesianism have their origins in the thought of René Descartes (1596—1650), who sought to replace the dominant Aristotelian philosophy with a new philosophy that would liberate society from obedience to authority, prejudice, and philosophical (and maybe even theological) dogma and contribute to scientific and social progress. The most prominent and perhaps defining thesis of the Cartesian philosophy is what has come to be called “mind-body dualism.” Descartes insisted on the real distinction between mind and matter. Mind (or soul) and matter (or body) are, according to Descartes, two essentially and radically different kinds of substance. His philosophical starting-point is dangerous to faith. Descartes began by trusting in reason to the exclusion of revelation (both natural and special). One of his better known propositions reflecting this dualism was “I think therefore I am.” The simple meaning of the phrase is that if someone is wondering whether or not they exist, that is in and of itself proof that they do exist (because, at the very least, there is an “I” who is doing the thinking)