I don’t know many rich indigenous Majority World missionaries, pastors, seminary students or even seminary presidents. In fact, most I know are struggling everyday to meet needs, both personal and those of their mission. Interesting enough, even when they get enough they tend to give it away to help other’s needs before their own. Making disciples is not usually financially profitable when done in humility and strictly for the glory of God. So how do these dedicated men and women cope with the struggle? Many that I know have found a contentment that can only come from God. As one Algerian pastor exclaimed, “I came to realize I don’t need all the money of this world, but the world needs my testimony of Jesus.”
Paul writes in 1 Timothy 6:6-8:
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.
What does it mean to be godly?
The Greek word for godliness is eusebia which also means wholeness. As mentioned in my last blog, wholeness concerns both physical and spiritual development. James 2:22 says, “You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.” I have known some folks that might appear to be godly, but are still not content in their lives, and hope that their projected godliness will lead to personal wealth or recognition. Unfortunately there are those that preach this kind of false teaching by teaching only half-truth or misinterpreted truth in the form of prosperity preaching. Paul actually alludes to this in the previous verse when he speaks of men “who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” This is why I think Paul specifies godliness, only when combined with contentment, is a great gain.
Which brings us to the question “what is contentment?”
Ray Steadman defined contentment: “Contentment is not having all that you want. True contentment is wanting only what you have.”
G.K. Chesterton said, “There are two ways to get enough. One is to accumulate more; the other is to desire less.”
Contentment is a right relationship with God; and even if we have nothing else but food and clothing, we have everything needed for a life that is fulfilling and satisfying. Jesus said that: “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15b). Yet it is astonishing how many of us read that verse and think “that does not apply to me!” That verse also leads us to the understanding that acquired things cannot make us eternally happy. There is more to life than what we have accumulated. If we put our value into our treasures on earth, we will miss our Treasure in heaven.
In Philippians 4 Paul addresses the idea of contentment again…
I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:10-13
To elaborate fully on Paul’s words to the Philippians would take pages of blog to explore the applications to our lives today. So to shorten, let me share a brief outline that you can maybe use to help uncover how contentment might be relevant to your life.*
- I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.
- Contentment must be learned.
- It does not depend on outside circumstances.
- It is not a natural response. We are not born content
- The world tells you to get more, keep more and want more. Contentment means satisfaction with what God provides.
- This does not stifle the desire to better oneself, but doing so one must recognize that everything we have comes by the grace of God.
- Phil. 2:5: Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.
- I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.
- Be joyful for what you have and not angry for what you do not have.
- Poverty and wealth are equally regarded as trials.
- When in need we often grow close to God.
- When we have plenty, we often become prideful and insensitive.
- God does not give us plenty to spend on ourselves, but to use for His kingdom.
- 2 Corinthians 9:11: You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
- I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
- God is sovereign – God is God and we are not.
- God is in control in any and every situation.
- God has a plan for individuals and His people.
- Romans 8:28: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
- I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
- We can’t change our hearts from being complainers to become contented people. But we can see our problem and pray to God to change us.
- It’s not so much about what we can do, but what God can do through us.
- “Do everything” could be substituted with “be content”; “I can be content in every situation because of Christ who strengthens me.”
- We need to submit to complete reliance upon the will and power of God. Submission to God gives Him glory.
- 2 Peter 1:3: His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.
*Some of these thoughts are from a sermon by my friend Rev. Buck Oliphant,
with my personal thoughts intertwined.