Society presents us with enormous temptations to gain material benefits – and wealth puts them all at our feet. It tantalises with the phantom that evils can be removed by a plentiful supply of money.

In every generation there have been ever among the saints the rich and the poor. In Proverbs 30, Agur, prudently observing that each case had its temptations (v9), prayed for “neither poverty nor riches; [but] feed me with food convenient for me [‘my daily bread’ tan]. Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is Yahweh? Or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.” Here was a man who understood that “godliness with contentment is great gain”.

Searching after ‘better’ and ‘higher’ standards of living so often erodes the quality of one’s life and robs us of the simple pleasures that are freely available. Did not the most precious thing we have come free, “without money and without price”? (Isa 55:1). Even in the necessities of life God has shown His generosity to each one of us, as the psalmist testified, “I have not seen the righteous forsaken nor his seed begging bread” (Psa 37:25). “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment, let us therewith be content” (1 Tim 6:6–8).

Is it as simple as that? Will God really provide all our needs? He is supreme in generosity: “God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work” (2 Cor 9:8). The same Greek word autarkeia is translated “contentment” and “sufficiency”, which Thayer defines as “a perfect condition of life, in which no aid or support is needed”. No wonder Paul can assure us: “My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19). In this case, God supplied all he needed through the love and generosity of the Philippian brethren.

Can we adopt Agur’s godly attitude and make these words into a reality in our lives? We certainly can. But it requires above all, an enduring faith and trust in God – a God Who is more real to us than the multitude of tangibles with which we are daily surrounded. “For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor 4:18 esv).

Godliness

Consistently throughout his first epistle to Timothy, the apostle Paul directs us to “godliness” (2:2; 3:16; 4:7,8; 5:4 “piety”; 6:3,5,6,11). It is the overarching theme of his letter. What is this “godliness” of which Paul speaks?

The Greek word eusebia is compounded of two words, eu meaning “well” and sebomai “to honour or worship”. The word eusebia therefore signifies right worship, the expression in our lives of the worship which is due to God. We might readily see a portrayal of the idea in the contrasting worship of Cain and Abel – clearly Abel responded from a right view of what was due to Almighty God, whereas Cain offered what was pleasing to himself.

As we contemplate the righteousness and holiness of God we feel compelled to emulate those qualities which we so admire in Him and have seen exemplified in the life of His Son. The better we get to know our heavenly Father, the more removed will our thinking be from the pleasures of this life and our worship will be more finely attuned to His wishes. A consciousness of His love and grace should induce such a response in the hearts of every disciple.

Here then is Paul’s objective – to impress us with the need to reveal God’s moral qualities in our life. None of us can achieve this naturally, for “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God” (1 Cor 2:14). The “man of God” has a new mind, a changed outlook, the outcome of a transformed disposition (Rom 12:2; 2:14–15). That is great gain.

Paul shows that energy and resolve are required, for godliness is more than a feeling of awe, though “fear of God” is its foundation (Prov1:7); it is a quality of life developed through discipline and personal training (4:7). We must first be convinced of the reality of the promised reward, as was Abraham who lived the life of a “stranger and a pilgrim”, not thinking back to the life of ease that might have been in Ur, but plainly declaring that he was seeking a “better country, that is, an heavenly” (Heb 11:13–15). Having made our decision at baptism, having repudiated the life that now is, we too must follow Abraham’s example and “set our affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col 3:2). In addition, the apostle counsels, “Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, be contented with mean things. Be not wise in your own conceits” (Rom 12:16 mrg).

“Godliness is profitable unto all things…”

“Godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Tim 4:7,8 esv). This is another of Paul’s “faithful sayings” deserving our full acceptance. But it is not merely a saying, for the apostle has put his heart into attaining godliness as a life goal. In the godly life there are things to be striven for and things we are warned to “have nothing to do with” (v7 nasb, esv). It is for this “life to come” that we “labour” and “suffer reproach” (“strive” nasb, esv; Grk agonizomai, descriptive of the agonising struggle put in by the athlete who desperately wants to gain the winner’s laurel). If pursued with the spirit Paul is urging, then real effort is involved, not just a burst of enthusiasm now and again. And why would we put in this effort? – “because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men” (v10–11). We need saving! Choosing our own way in life leads in one direction – to the oblivion of the grave.

This “trust in God” must be evidenced in the choices we make. Is it really apparent to all that we believe that God is the Supplier of all our needs? Can we really demonstrate our conviction that we cannot be God’s servant and a slave to Money (Matt 6:24)? We surely all find difficulty with keeping the clear instruction of the Lord not to follow the trends set by the Gentiles (v32). That is the test.

Learning the secret

Godliness gives us a true sense of values – and an acceptance that the sufficiency which God has provided is indeed great gain, for believers are rich in the riches of Christ. Paul had learned to be “content”. “In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Phil 4:12 esv). He had “learned the secret” (Grk mueomai) through his close relationship with Christ (v13). Through prayer and meditation he had found the key to success in godliness. Like Agur, he recognised the need to have the right perspective. When extremes presented themselves he was not deflected from his one goal, because to him “to live was Christ” (1:21).

The parable of the rich man (Luke 12) provides a cogent warning for this generation perhaps more than for any other. Here was a man obsessed – his crops never failed; riches fell into his lap, not without hard work, no doubt, but in themselves they presented just one problem, which he would address; he would build larger barns. He enjoyed his success, seeing it as an open door to luxury and self-indulgence. He planned for a future that did not eventuate – God foreknew how swiftly he would be cut off. He was indeed a “fool”, for he acted as one who believes there is no God (Psa 14:1). He was self-absorbed, his head empty of any thought save the pleasure he was deriving from the things he had accumulated. For all that, “when he dieth he shall carry nothing away; his glory shall not descend after him” (Psa 49:17). The Lord’s comment echoes the words of Psalm 39:6: “he heapeth up riches and knoweth not who shall gather them.” If we have ears to hear this parable, we may well need to correct the direction our life is taking. Wisdom should warn us of the brevity of life and the need to be “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21).

It is interesting that our Lord bridges his comments to the man who disputed with his brother about their inheritance (v13,14) and this particular parable with the words, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (v15). “Be on you guard” against “covetousness”; the Greek word is pleonexia, a desire to have more. Isn’t this what the world shouts at us every day? “what you have is not enough; you need more; you deserve more; there is something new still to experience, still to choose”. It must be true to say that there has never been a generation like this one, so absorbed with self.

The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil

Like the Lord, Paul warns against riches. His focus is not on rich men but on those who desire to be rich. Many have been helped by brethren of means who have a generous spirit; Barnabas was such an example. But “those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, and into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (6:9 esv). The Lord identified it as a cause of moral poverty in the Pharisees (Luke 16:14); so we cannot afford to gloss over it. It is that characteristic (philarguros, lit ‘lover of silver’) which is so in evidence today, one of those sad features of the “last days” (2 Tim 3:2). Brother Roberts so wisely noted: “The lust of possession is a snare. It catches the heart and deadens it to other and higher considerations which ought to be supreme.”

In the closing words of his epistle to the Hebrews, the apostle warns: “Let your conversation [‘your turn of mind’ rv mrg] be without covetousness [‘free from love of money’, esv]; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” Like Moses to Joshua (Deut 31:8), and David to Solomon (1 Chron 28:20), Paul draws our minds to Yahweh’s abiding promise. This is where the focus of our mind must be. This is our confidence (Heb 13:5–8).

The spirit of our Age is to reach after more, well beyond ‘making ends meet’—where the ends are much further than “food and raiment” (v8). The world uses every means at its disposal to entice us to do so. But “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” It can be found at the bottom of many a disaster.

Paul observed that some have “erred” (‘been seduced’ mrg) from the Truth. So often they have “pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (6:10).

When Achan’s eyes fell upon a beautiful cloak from Shinar and a small treasure of silver and gold, his impulsive action had dire consequences for his family as well as himself (Josh 7). How often this can be the case.

Gehazi coveted Syrian robes and lined his pockets with silver, but Elisha perceived this was but the beginning of plans for setting himself up. Again, terrible consequences were suffered by his family (2 Kings 5).

Ananias and Sapphira had their own private plans, but wanted a godly public image. “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof”, they lost all, both present gain and the future reward.

Though these are ancient examples, the climate is right for the same disasters to befall the unwitting today on the very eve of the Lord’s return. The call is for us to make a personal assessment of our lives by comparison with God’s declared values and not by comparison with our neighbour.

Such is the deceitfulness of riches (Matt 13:22) that the Word in us can be choked and faith can actually die. The only antidote is to keep the Word alive within us every day, that our minds might be in the heavenlies in Christ.

If we find ourselves “coveting” (Grk oregomenoi, stretching out to grasp, hankering after), then take stock! It is an honest and wise disciple who does so.

The first thing is to recognise the temptation and then to take immediate action to escape – “flee these things” (1 Tim 6:11). There must be, however, no spiritual vacuum – hence, “follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness”. The person who pursues these positive virtues will find that his tastes and love for wealth will be displaced by an appreciation of the riches of Christ. It is a matter of choice.

Life in Christ is a warfare, a continuous daily struggle, not a single battle. We know that from Romans 7. There must be a striving against that which is evil and for that which is good (1 Tim 1:18). Paul fought this fight right to the end – “I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7). He nevertheless saw his service as a joy, for he appreciated the good hand of his God in every aspect of his warfare.

Godliness with contentment

We live in a discontented age, an age that is artificial and deceptive. Life can be so busy and anxious that we may not stop to consider the truth of the words, “we brought nothing into this world and it is certain we can carry nothing out” (6:7).

In contrast to material things, Paul says true gain may only be found in “godliness” that delivers us from the anxiety and cares of life. But godliness will only grow if it is fed by constant meditation on the greatness and goodness of God.

Rather than surrender our soul for a morsel of bread, let us “endure hardness” and pursue true riches in Christ. Let the consciousness and love of God’s love and mercy dwell with us constantly, so that in the godliness of our lives we may truly worship Him.