“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can early nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.”
Important it is, first of all, to note how it is that the apostle was moved to express himself as he does in this portion of holy writ.
It was not his intention to set forth an axiom, a mere truism, a guiding principle for Timothy and the church of Christ to follow—though it is certainly true that the blanket statement, “Godliness with contentment is great gain,” may be considered such a truism and guiding principle.
Rather, as the text clearly indicates, what the apostle says here stands in direct contrast to and is occasioned by a false conception of some whoimagined that godliness is a way to get gain. The apostle is militating against those who teach a different doctrine than he taught. Those, so he says, who do not consent to doctrine which is according to godliness, pervert the truth when they teach that it pays off in material gain to manifest godliness. From such a doctrine the church of Christ must withdraw itself.
In sharp contrast to this false conception, the apostle sets forth in the text the true doctrine. This sharp contrast is not only indicated with that conjunctive word “but,” but in the original text it is still more pronounced. There the apostle writes: “But great gain is godliness with contentment.” He means to say: if you really want to know what is profitable for you in this present world, then you must understand that what is profitable is not mere dollars and cents, nor is it godliness that eventually adds to your material possessions; but this, and this only is profitable: godliness with contentment. And that means that you may be as poor as the Lazarus who desired to eat the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table, and yet be very rich. Enriched you are with the grace of godliness with contentment.
Godliness with contentment!
Two graces set by the Scriptures in their proper order! Related they are as cause and effect. It is the order of doctrine and life.
But what is their significance? And just how are they related?
No fewer than eight times the apostle uses this word in this epistle. The Word of God would have us live a peaceable life in all godliness and honesty, rather than to be in rebellion against those who are in authority (I Tim. 2:1, 2). In I Tim. 3:16 the apostle presents the heart of the truth as far as godliness is concerned, when he defines the mystery of godliness as consisting in this: God manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. In I Tim. 4:7, 8, he exhorts Timothy to exercise himself rather unto godliness, which is profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. And in our chapter no fewer than four times he mentions this gracious concept (I Tim. 6:3, 5, 6, 11).
The English word is undoubtedly a contraction of God-like-ness, meaning simply, to be like unto God. While the Greek word implies reverential piety, and devotion unto God.
It should be quite apparent that we do not possess this virtue naturally. Though our first father Adam was created in the very image of God, and therefore in a creaturely way was capable of reflecting that image; though he was God-like and, in the state of righteousness, was devoted unto his God; he did not remain that way. When he fell, through the temptation of the devil, he lost that image. He took on the very image of the father of lies. His whole being was set in rebellion against God instead of being in devotion to Him. And we received our nature from him. Consequently the course of our nature is in reverse. We by nature emulate Satan, and like him stand in opposition to the living God. Godliness!
By grace, however, all this is radically changed in principal. Accordingly godliness is related to the mystery of godliness, concerning which the apostle writes in the third chapter (I Tim. 3:16). God became incarnate, He came to dwell in the flesh. In the Person of His Son, Emmanuel, He was born of the Spirit from the womb of the virgin. In-that flesh He assumed our sin and guilt, the sinless One became sin for us; and in that nature He bore the curse that was due to us, even unto the accursed death of the cross. In His death and resurrection He justified us. And having been received up into glory, He received the Spirit without measure, and power to give that Spirit unto us, whereby we are renewed in heart, and enabled once more to reflect in principle the image of God. In one word, to be God-like once more, and consequently to be devoted to God. Such is, indeed, the source of, and the nature of the grace of godliness which we now possess.
Beautiful concept, indeed! For it implies that the one who possesses this grace in this world is as close to God and like unto Him as he can be. It implies that he who partakes of godliness is recreated in the very image of God, and is able to reflect in a creaturely way that image.
Like godliness, it also is grace!
And he who possesses this grace is satisfied with his lot in life. There is a certain harmony between one’s lot and the understanding of his heart. Only he who has the Spirit of Christ within him possesses this grace.
The natural man cannot boast of this virtue. Never is he content with his lot in life. He may put on a show, and like the stoic, he may steel his nerves when he is in pain, and want you to believe he does not hurt. He may in his poverty lie down like the pig which appears to be content to wallow in his own dirt, and want you to believe he is satisfied with his lot. But the natural man cannot be content, because he has no grace. In his need, he grumbles and complains. If he is rich and has all that heart could wish of this world’s goods, he is greedy, and by hook or crook he will seek more of these riches. But he can never be happy and satisfied with his lot in life.
Only he who has received the grace of contentment is perfectly reconciled to the will of God for his life. His sanctified heart and mind move him to say with the apostle: “I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”
And mark well, these two, godliness and contentment, are so related that the latter is impossible without the former. Only as one stands in a right relation to God can he possibly stand in a right relation to the circumstances surrounding his life in this world.
Though godliness and contentment may be and should be clearly distinguished, they nevertheless belong together in such a way that the latter is the fruit of the former. When godliness sets our eyes on that which is divine and heavenly, it is bound to have a heavenly effect on our lives in this world, where we are confronted with the circumstances of riches and poverty, health and sickness, life and death. Then no matter in which circumstances we may find ourselves, we will be heavenly minded, and perfectly satisfied. In the deep sense of the word, contentment is the manifestation of godliness as it is applied to our present circumstances.
These two, godliness with contentment, when they are experienced in their proper order, are profitable indeed!
As already pointed out, the apostle stresses in the text their profitableness. The great gain of which the apostle speaks is not to be reckoned in a material sense. According to verse five, there were evidently some who held to this view. They believed that godliness was a way to get gain, to obtain material possessions. This the apostle denies. Rather he means to say, godliness when it is applied to earthly circumstances brings contentment, and that, indeed, has great spiritual benefit in our lives.
It is apparent from the rest of the text that he is not thinking of material prosperity at all. Says he, “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” When he wrote this, he may very well have had in his mind the saying of Job, “Naked came I from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither” (Job 1:21).
And isn’t it striking, that when Adam was brought into the world, all that was in the world was already prepared for him? He did not help prepare it, nor did he add anything to it; and when he left it, he carried none of it with him.
No different is it with us. When we come naked out of our mother’s womb, there was nothing we brought with us into this world. We came into a world that was all prepared for us. And when we shall leave presently, there is nothing we shall carry with us. No doubt when we make our departure we will be wearing a suit or a dress to cover our nakedness, but that is all. You will not be carrying your bank books, or the silver and gold you have stashed away for the proverbial rainy day. Your houses and land, all your horded gain, you leave behind. Really, you go out of this world precisely as you came in—stark naked. That is also what the apostle is saying, and it is clear that the great gain of which he speaks cannot refer to material wealth. As far as material possessions are concerned, we are no richer when we leave this world than we were when we came into it.
Simple but humiliating truth!
Yet, somehow, so difficult for us to learn!
For seventy, perhaps eighty years, we may struggle to get gain. Meticulously we guard our earthly possessions, and even seek to increase them. And when they multiply, it is not difficult at all to act the part of the fool, who imagined he would stay here forever. He made plans for bigger facilities wherein to store his horded gain, not realizing that at less than a moment’s notice his life in the world would be taken from him, and nothing of that which he had gathered could be carried with him. What we should learn from all this is the fact that there was no godliness and therefore no contentment to be found in all his thoughts and actions.
But great gain it is to live out of the faith that God is our God, and by His grace we have been recreated like unto Him. Great gain it is to know without a doubt that we possess a God Who possesses us. And most profitable it is to believe that when that great God provides us daily with food and raiment, there is nothing else that we really need. Then we experience quite profitably also the grace of contentment. And this is precisely the way the Lord Jesus would have us to live in this present world. Did He not teach us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread”?
So the apostle exhorts us: “And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.”
Impossible! you say. No one can live in the present world with only food and raiment. That may be true of someone who is cast on a lonely island, and cut off from our sophisticated and highly developed world. You may complain that the world in which you live makes it mandatory that you become involved in worldly things. From morning to night, and every day the facts are dinned into your ears that when you are sixty years of age you must retire. So by all means you must make arrangements for your retirement. And because of inflation it is becoming more and more apparent that social security cannot take care of you when you are old. In fact it is quite possible that social security may not be able to take care of you at all—the fund may even run dry. You should therefore make provision with other means and insurances that will take care of you when you are old. Besides, when one is old he may have to go into a home for the aged. And who does not know how soon the expenses there can eat up the little nest egg he had salted away? So you can go on and on to prove that it is the point of wisdom even to make preparations to take care of yourself when the time comes that you need it most.
But look back now over all this argument, and ask yourself: Where is the godliness in it? And where is the contentment I should have?
The only answer is: there is none of these. Really these are the arguments and machinations of an ungodly, worldly man. It certainly is not the language of faith. And he who talks this way may very well want to scratch out the word of God in our text from Scripture.
We must be reminded, according to the Word of God in our text, that not the man of the world has great gain, even if he has amassed his millions. He is exceeding poor and wretched and miserable; and if he has nothing more, he will be miserable unto all eternity.
Only he has great possession who is graced with godliness, and who by grace possesses the virtue of contentment. That great gain will tide him over all the vicissitudes of life, and remove from him all earthly care. Such an one can lay himself down in peace and sleep, with a confidence that all is well, even when all things appear to be against him. And when he lays his head down on the pillow of death, he will not feel that he has been robbed of all his earthly goods, but he will consciously enter the state of heavenly bliss, completely transformed into the very image of God. The ungodly millionaire has nothing, while the child of God, though he be a pauper, is exceeding rich. He has his God. The ungodly, as the Scriptures teach, are like the troubled sea that cannot rest; but the child of God, though he be tossed upon the billows, possesses the calm of contentedness. He has a peace that surpasses all understanding.
Indeed, great gain is it to possess godliness with contentment!
He who possesses these virtues shall never be ashamed!