Contentment

FROM HIS pauper’s birth in a stable in Bethlehem, to his criminal’s death on the cross outside Jerusalem, Jesus lived his life in poverty. He once said, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20).

His was a voluntary poverty. It’s very clear that someone with his gifts could have made themselves very comfortable, but instead he chose the life of a wandering teacher. In the Gospel records we get hints of how he and his band of disciples lived in the three years of their ministry: they travelled systematically through the land of Judea (Luke 4:43), accepting offers of hospitality when they were made (Luke 19:5), and there was a network of women who made it their business to see they were looked after (Luke 8:3). Jesus and his followers had a communal purse and it seems they never had much money because he was in the habit of giving any surplus away

(John 13:29).

Teaching of Jesus

In his teaching Jesus said much about money, and the right attitude to it. For example Matthew chapter 6 is part of a wide-ranging lesson on everyday life which is sometimes known as the ‘sermon on the mount’. Money is one of the central themes of the chapter. He explains how to get life into perspective: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (vs. 19–21). He compares money to a master who wants to rule your life—you can’t serve God and money (v. 24).

Senior gentleman smiling gently at the camera

And he urges us to get our priorities right: “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’… For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (vs. 31–33).

Teaching of Paul

There’s a saying, “Money is the root of all evil”. Like many sayings we use, it comes from the Bible. Actually it’s not quite accurate—it’s a quote from the Apostle Paul’s letter to Timothy, and what he says is “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil”. It’s not that money is intrinsically evil. Like the Lord Jesus, Paul is stressing the importance of priorities. This is the quote in context:

Now 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 clothing, with these we shall be content. 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 (1 Timothy 6:6–10).

Human Nature

For many people in the world life is a struggle. Greed is not an issue, they’re simply focused on getting enough to get by. But it’s a fact of life that the desire to have more does not cease—even when we have enough. In fact it can be that the more we have, the more we want.

This is a hideous indictment of our human nature. Most of us know deep down that the size of our wallet does not correspond with the quality of our life. In fact, most of us will appreciate the truth of the Bible proverb: “The sleep of a labouring man is sweet, whether he eats little or much; but the abundance of the rich will not permit him to sleep” (Ecclesiastes 5:12).

But somehow, knowing the principle does not stop us from telling ourselves that however much we have, it’s not quite enough—we just need a bit more…

So what is the key to contentment? Let’s return to those words of the Lord Jesus. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth… lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven… For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” If our heart is set on our devices, our home, our bank balance, whatever else constitutes ‘treasure on earth’—we will never be content because they always come with worry. Will they be stolen, will they break, will they go out of date, has someone else got more than me?

The antidote to this worry is to cultivate treasure in heaven—a true relationship with God, and the anticipation of eternal life in His Kingdom. These do not bring worry, they bring peace of mind. This is “godliness with contentment”.