Contentment

M. S. Staveley, Bradford on Avon

Contentment is rarely encounteki-d amongst men, even the kind of contentment which leaves God out. Few people are really satisfied with their present circumstances-their means, their health, their social position or their business achievements. How much rarer then is that contentment of which the apostle is speaking-'godliness (piety, jnd) with contentment is great gain', 1 Tim. 6. 6.

It cannot be assumed that all Christians, even those marked with a measure of godliness, or piety, are possessed of contentment. Yet it is an essential feature if we are to make spiritual progress and be fully at peace with God. Paul's references in the chapter in Timothy to the 'desire to be rich', 'many unwise and hurtful lusts' and 'the love of money', show the dangers to which not only people of the world but, as he would have in mind, true believers are exposed in this world. If these things were not practical and present dangers to us, Paul would not have written of them in this epistle which has become part of the canon of Scripture, having the edification of Christians of all epochs in view. It is one of the constant efforts of the devil to tempt believers into becoming discontented, and he often finds many plausible pretexts to present to use, to say nothing of feelings of envy, lust and covetous-ness, which are ever present in the flesh, the old nature, and ready to respond to Satan's working if we do not maintain self-judgement.

So Paul presents to us the positive advantage, as a present reality (not a hope for the future), of piety, or godliness, with contentment. How do we arrive at this. Vine. points out that the Greek word eusebeia translated 'godliness' in av and other versions contains the thought of what is well-pleasing to God, and this is very significant. 'Godliness' (a contraction of 'Godlikeness') is therefore an appropriate term, and it is a pity that it has dropped out of everyday usage and would be regarded by most people today as somewhat archaic (just as 'piety' and 'pious' are mostly used mockingly); because it is surely the leading feature in the passage cited, but linked with contentment. The context shows that is it is the material sphere with which we have to do in our day to day life that is in mind. The passage is preceded by a reference to those who hold gain to be the end (objective) of godliness, who do not value godliness for its own sake. The apostle was writing about 'men corrupted in mind and destitute of the truth'. No doubt such persons would not be true believers at all though found in the sphere of profession, and now possibly often in prominent ecclesiastical positions. But it behoves us not to rest simply on this application, but to take to ourselves the word against being governed in our thinking by purely material considerations. We know, if we arc honest with ourselves, how often we tend, or are tempted, to calculate in a material and unspiritual way. The only antidote to this is to value godliness for its own sake, as God's mind for men set out in Christ. It is spoken of strikingly in chapter 3 of this epistle, verse 16, and is indeed one of the epistle's main themes. Paul says, 'Confessedly the mystery of piety is great', and goes on to speak of its manifestation in the incarnation of the One Who is Himself 'over all, God blessed for ever', Rom. 9. 5.

The significance of 1 Tim. 3. 16 in this connection-or indeed in any connection-can hardly be over-estimated. The precise wording has given rise to much dispute, but allowing that the first word of the verse should read 'He' or {as in jnd's footnote) 'He Who', the sense of the verse is not affected by this change. With this change jnd's translation, the closest to the original text, reads, 'He Who has been manifested in flesh has been justified in the Spirit, has appeared to angels, has been preached among the nations, has been believed on in the world, has been received up in glory'. This collection of statements about the Lord Jesus-remarkable both in themselves and for the absence of any direct reference to His sacrificial death-imply that, for God and for us, all godliness originates with Him (Christ). Another passage states that 'He is the beginning', Col. 1. 18, and although that is related to His being 'the firstborn from the dead', and thus to Him as risen, it is equally true that Christ was ever in the mind of God as the perfect Man; so that if we want to learn what constitutes godliness or piety, in the sight of God, we have to apprehend it in Him as presented to us by the Holy Spirit in the word of God, particularly the four Gospels. We therefore need to be constantly maintained in, or brought back to, the realisation that the basis of all practical righteousness for the believer lies in the appreciation of the Lord Jesus Christ as Man. An appreciation of piety or godliness without an appreciation of Him is not acceptable to God: indeed, one might well question whether such is true piety. Outwardly a person's life may be without the grosser features of the flesh, and good works may be done towards man; but without the appreciation of Christ, what is there in that for God? It is the person himself or herself, not Christ, that is expressed; and very often in such cases there are special natural tendencies which give a semblance of piety. True godliness begins with the judgement of self and the appreciation of Christ: not merely what He has done for us, precious as that is, but what He is in Himself, that order of Man that is so delightful to God His Father. It is as we are occupied with Him, not by any efforts of our own, that the Holy Spirit effects that change in us which enabled the apostle to speak of 'the life of Jesus' being 'made manifest in our mortal flesh', 2 Cor. 4. II, 12, and even our being 'changed into the same image from glory to glory', 2 Cor. 3. 18. We may well feel how little we know of it as individual believers: but the remedy is not to redouble any efforts of our own, but to pray to God that we may be helped to appreciate Christ more. Where godliness flows from the appreciation of Christ, there will be contentment with it; and if we are conscious of not having this contentment we should ask ourselves whether our appreciation of Him is deficient. It is not too much to say that every deficiency in the soul will lead back to this point. John says, 'Hereby we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments', 1 John 2. 3. He presents our walk as dependent on our knowledge of Christ. In effect, that is impossible really to know Him and not to keep His commandments. The result of abiding in Him is to walk 'even as He walked'. This shows how practical a matter our individual relations with the Lord Jesus are.

The Lord's words in the well-known parable of the sower, see especially Matthew 13. 22 and Luke 8. 14, have a direct bearing on this subject. In Matthew's account He speaks of the word being 'choked' by the care of this world ('the anxious care of this life', jnd) and in Luke by 'cares and riches and pleasures of this life'. It is these things that Satan uses to prevent us enjoying the peace of contentment in the circumstances in which Cod has placed us. The seed {the word) did not fail to germinate, that is, potentially to produce fruit. This part of the parable is therefore particularly challenging For believers. In the present day most of us enjoy a higher standard of living than even our parents or grandparents did, let alone earlier generations. While this is a cause for thanksgiving to God, it carries with it its dangers in a society which is increasingly governed by what is material. Hence these dangers to which our Lord called attention in His parable of the sower are that much more real for us than perhaps they were for our forbears, as being liable to hinder spiritual life and fruit-bearing.

It was remarked at the outset of this article that many in the world are discontented despite all that the world can offer. But one must also recognise that there are those who at least profess contentment, and may even appear to have it, without any faith or thought of God. A solemn example is given in the Lord's parable of the 'rich fool' in Luke 12. 16 to 21. The man is presented as being quite untroubled by conscience or any concern about his relations with God. He is not said to have been marked by any gross sins. He was apparently completely at ease and contented with his way of life; but, applying it to the present day, he was totally lacking in appreciation of Christ and thus in that 'godliness with contentment' which Paul tells us is 'great gain'. Here again, the parable is intended to have a voice to believers, for the Lord immediately went on to say to His disciples, 'Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat' (the material things of life) . . . 'But rather seek ye the kingdom of God', jnd's translation of verse 15 of the same chapter {'it is not because a man is in abundance that his life is in his possessions') gives the Lord's words the meaning that covetousness is a danger to which all arc exposed, irrespective of material circumstances. It is certainly something that we all have to judge continually in ourselves if we are to possess the blessing of contentment with godliness, and to be able to say with Paul, 'I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content', Phil. 4. 11.

Finally, it is perhaps salutary to be reminded that contentment, if not accompanied by self-judgement, can easily become complacency, and lead us away from God. It is so easy to take for granted the mercies which our heavenly Father so bountifully bestows, and even our spiritual blessings, and to lose the sense of complete dependence on Him. This so completely characterised our Lord Himself in His earthly pathway, and is for us our only preservative from the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil. John, in writing to the 'young men', those of some maturity in the faith, whom he recognises as being strong, and having overcome the wicked one, exhorts them, 'Love not the world, nor the things in the world', I John 2.15, 16, while our Lord's words to His disciples in what is called the 'Lord's prayer', '. . . lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil' (or 'the evil one'), Matt. 6. 13, show the importance of this vital matter of dependence. Here again, we arc brought back to our Lord as the Pattern, as Peter expresses it, 'leaving us an example (or "model") that we should follow His steps', I Pet. 2. 21. If He needed to be dependent on His God, how much more we?