The heart of contentment

Prof. Erick Aseka, is the Senior Pastor at Divine Grace Ecclesia,Nairobi

“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. 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.”1Timothy 6:7-9

Beloved, this passage of Scripture is largely about the heart of contentment. The apostle Paul is clear that we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we should be content.

By the argument that “we brought nothing into this world”, this reminds us of how a baby is born not only penniless, but without even a pocket to put pennies in. Just as certainly, we can carry nothing out, the things that make a man rich in this world mean nothing in the world to come. It is certain we can carry nothing out. A heart of contentment begins with seeing our material possessions and resources in an eternal perspective.

It has been wisely observed that a moving trailer never follows a hearse. Everything one might take with them to the world beyond is left behind. Gold is a precious commodity on earth. In heaven God uses it to pave the streets. Jesus once told a parable that has troubled some people. In Luke 16:1-14, He spoke of a dishonest manager, who was about to be called to account. Knowing he will be fired, he began to settle accounts with his master’s debtors at terms favourable to the debtors, so they would treat him kindly when the master fired him. The master ended up complimenting the manager for his shrewd tactics (presumably before he fired him). The manager was praiseworthy for two reasons. First, he knew he would be called to account for his life and he took it seriously. Secondly, he took advantage of his present position to arrange a comfortable future. We can use our material resources right now for eternal good, even though we cannot bring them with us.

We can carry nothing out but we can send ahead eternal blessing and reward through wise use of our resources right now. Having food and clothing. After an eternal perspective, a heart of contentment will be humble, a heart that can be content with simple things.

Beloved, most of us become faded over the years, and our over-stimulated culture is effective at producing this in us. Things that used to satisfy us are no longer good enough. The constant hunger for more and more, for more and better, for new and improved, all work against real contentment. We need to be warned of the folly of the greedy heart. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. “Those who desire to be rich” expresses the idea that the desire for riches is far more dangerous than the riches themselves, and it isn’t only the poor who desire to be rich, it is also the rich who want more riches.

Beloved, poor does not mean godly and rich ungodly; nor is it true the other way around. There were many remarkably godly men in the Bible who were almost unbelievably rich, such as Abraham, David, and Solomon. But the godly rich have the heart like the Psalmist in Psalm 62:10: “If riches increase, do not set your heart on them”. Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare: This desire for riches tempts our heart away from eternal riches and ensnares us in a trap few can escape in the sense that they are always dreaming of riches, and always setting their hearts on them.

The desire to be rich can really only be satisfied in Jesus Christ and it can be satisfied with spiritual riches rather than material ones. Everything else falls short. The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil: The love of money can motivate any evil on this earth. There is no sin that cannot be committed for the sake of money. Those who love money pierce themselves through with many sorrows: This is the fate of those who live in the love of money. They are not satisfied. We sometimes want the opportunity to find out if riches can satisfy, but we should trust the Word of God and the experience of many.

Verse 7 says: “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it”. This verse again connects with Old Testament teachings. Job 1:21 records Job’s words: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord”. In talking of a rich owner, Ecclesiastes 5:15 says: “As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand”. The idea of bringing nothing into the world was self-evident for Timothy. A greater contrast to false religious ideas is the claim that none of our material wealth can be taken with us into the afterlife. Accumulating wealth and material goods, especially for the sake of the goods themselves, is pointless. All of those things will be left behind when we die. The Bible emphasizes the transitory nature of money and physical possessions (Matthew 6:19). Believers are to be content regardless of their economic level or increase or decrease in worldly belongings. This does not mean we should view wealth as evil, or avoid prosperity. However, our true joy comes from knowing God and not through an obsession with wealth or success.

Verse 8 says: “But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that”. Here the apostle Paul continues his teaching on contentment. This verse, therefore speaks of the most basic, necessary aspects of survival. These essentials were provided to highlight the contrast between essentials and wealth. Or, in a more common modern phrasing, the difference between “needs” and “wants”. In this case, especially, Paul speaks from a position of personal experience. In fact, this ability to endure a lack of “wants” and even a scarcity of “needs” is the kind of trial for which Paul declares the Christian uniquely empowered (Philippians 4:10-13).

We should notice that the next verse highlights the danger of being overly obsessed with obtaining desires, as opposed to simply meeting our needs. Those who desire wealth or love money fall in to temptation. As believers, our goal should be to focus on having daily essentials and living for God, not wealth and luxury. Jesus personally modeled this kind of simplicity in His years of ministry with His disciples. Rather than seeking power and fortune for His teachings, He depended on the financial support of others, even living without a home at times (Matthew 8:20).

This perspective cannot be separated from the teaching of verse 7. Nothing we “own” in this life is ours forever. We begin and end life with no material possessions. God neither owes nor promises us worldly success. Even as we give our best efforts to grow what God has entrusted to us, we need to be satisfied with what we have.

Verse 9 says: “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”. This verse describes three things that happen to those whose desire is wealth. First, although every person is tempted in some way, those who desire wealth “fall” to temptation. The urge to “get rich”, or to seek material prosperity at all costs, leads to disaster. In contrast, believers are to resist temptation and live for Christ.

Second, those who desire to be rich fall “into a snare.” The Greek word Paul uses here is pagida: an animal trap, usually set with a rope or net, used to capture an animal lured in by bait. In a similar way, those who desired riches followed temptation until it led to doom. This is another hallmark of Christian teaching on sin and morality: Satan will often use temptations to “lure” us away from what we should be doing, in order to trap us in the consequences of our own sin (Psalm 119:110; 2 Timothy 2:26).

The third point is closely related to the second. Longing for riches amplifies the strength of other temptations. Though not explicitly listed here, some of these could include the urge to cheat, steal, or lie in order to increase one’s income. History is filled with examples of people who used dishonesty, crime, or deception in an effort to become rich. This also repeats a character flaw Paul associated with false teachers (1 Timothy 6:4–6).

These temptations “plunge people into ruin and destruction”. Desiring wealth can both ruin a person’s life and in some cases lead to a premature death. Greed can lead to the destruction of one’s personal relationships, physical health, and spiritual health. It can lead to more immediate, serious consequences. These include involvement in crime, pains and suffering for our friends and family, and even the revenge of other greedy people.

Prof. Erick Aseka, is the Senior Pastor at Divine Grace Ecclesia, Nairobi.


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