Where do you find contentment? If you listen to the advertisers it’s found in the stuff your wealth can buy you. If we just had a bigger home, a better car, M&S food, a pay rise, a holiday rather than a staycation (which by the way is a holiday even if it’s in Britain!!!!), the newest phone, a faster computer, the latest fashions, we’d be content. Or if we have enough money in the bank or the retirement pot then we’re secure. Stuff and savings are the key to contentment.
But have you noticed that although we live in a society that promises contentment it never delivers it in any lasting way, we’re chasing a rainbow, it’s always just beyond the horizon, another purchase or promotion or pay rise away.
Ephesus in the first century was no different and the believers were immersed in that same worldview. And false teachers in the church are teaching that godliness is the way to bigger bank balance(5). That’s appealing, because it fits Christianity to their normal worldview, just with a thin veneer of the gospel.
But Paul provides a radically different way of living for disciples “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” Godliness, a life lived knowing and enjoying God in Jesus, loving and following and becoming like him, brings contentment. Following Jesus isn’t the way to wealth but it is the way to contentment. Why? How?
Imagine that you and some others are locked in a room. On a table in the middle of the room is a huge pile of money and all the latest fashion and tech and other stuff. The rules are; you can take nothing into the room with you and you can bring nothing out of the room with you when you leave in 24 hours time. But whatever you can get whilst you are in the room is yours whilst you’re there. What would you be willing to do to get a bigger share of that stuff? What would you be willing to give? Would you destroy your relationships with others in the room just to get more? Would you lie, cheat, steal and fight just to get more?
No you wouldn’t because it’s ridiculous, you can’t take it with you. It’s just temporary, just for those 24 hours. That’s Paul’s point “godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” Disciples steward what they have now in the world for the short time we’re here in light of eternity. The gospel frees us from consuming, from believing that lie that we can find contentment in stuff. We’re made to know and enjoy God and that’s what we are given by grace in Jesus through faith and so everything else is put into perspective. It isn’t eternal.
Godliness echoes into eternity, money and possessions don’t. So pursue godliness. Isn’t that helpful, but isn’t it also hugely challenging? Maybe we should write out 1 Timothy 6v7 and stick it on top of our TV or laptop so that when we see the advert we keep it’s promises in perspective.
The gospel liberates us from the kingdom of consuming and into Christ’s kingdom of contentment. We don’t need to strive for wealth or status symbols to prove ourselves to ourselves or to others, or for meaning, or for self worth, because we’re given all those things in Jesus. And that fuels radical living (8)“But if we have food and clothing we will be content with that.” Isn’t that challenging? We’ve so much more than that and yet often we’re discontent. Why? Because we’re more influenced by the world’s siren voice and its promises than by the gospel.
Paul is blunt in warning about the dangers of that. In(9-10) he plants a big red danger sign in the road with flashing lights all round it. “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” The desire for wealth as an end in itself is dangerous, it leads to temptation and is a trap and leads to ruin and destruction. Why? “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” Love of money isn’t the only root of all kinds of evil, but it is one of them. Love of money leads people to do all sorts of things; to lie, to steal, to defraud, to enslave, to betray, to sacrifice family and friends and marriages. And Paul says we all know people who’ve wandered away from the faith because of it. Not deliberately setting out to abandon Jesus, but just gradually wandering away lured by their love of money and their hearts have grown cold towards Jesus.
Don’t just write this warning off as Paul being alarmist. Or as just for the Ephesians. Turn to Matthew 13v22. Jesus has told the parable of the sower and soils and he explains “The seed falling among the thorns refers to the one who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth chokes the word, making it unfruitful.” Or think of Jesus parable about the man who built bigger barns, or his warning that we can’t serve both God and mammon, or his teaching to the rich young ruler. Or of Achan’s avarice at Jericho, or Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5, or Judas and his 30 pieces of silver.
Love of money chokes off love for God. And it leads not to joy but to grief. This a loving warning from a good God.
Disciples are content not consumed. Isn’t that a huge challenge? We pursue godliness as our source of contentment and live simpler lives for it.
Are we contented or consumed? Think of your last bank or credit card statement, what does it reveal? Am I content with food and clothing – with the basics; the rent or mortgage paid, the taxes paid, gas and electric paid and food paid? Or does my spending reveal a desire to be rich, to have more? What does it reveal about my heart and what it’s focused on?
Are we living in light of eternity or as if this world is all there is? How would contentment in Christ enable us to simplify our living? To reduce what we consume?
The world shouts consume, Christ invites us to rest, contentment and simplicity. Whose invitation will we accept? Perhaps that’s where the challenge starts for you this morning, am I content in Christ or looking or that contentment in stuff? Am I living as if this world is all there is or as if it’s just temporary?Paul charges Timothy to flee love of stuff and pursue godliness(11-16). But there’s a danger in the way we hear his instruction. It’s that we jump to the wrong conclusion. That we see stuff as evil, the rich as ungodly, and think being a Christian is all about not having, not enjoying. But that’s equally wrong. Ephesus is a church of haves and have nots, master and slave, wealthy and poor. So what does the gospel mean for the rich?