In this fourth part of our series, Simplicity: Finding Contentment in a Busy Life, we get practical. What does it actually look like to live with the simplicity and contentment found only in Christ in some specific situations that everyone faces? We start this week with a situation that is powerful tempting for just about everyone to seek their contentment somewhere other than Jesus. Keep reading to find out where.
Use It Well
By a show of hands, how many of you have heard of Benny Hinn? The televangelist is a longtime peddler of the Prosperity Gospel. The Prosperity Gospel is a uniquely American heresy (that we have unfortunately exported around the world) which holds that God rewards faithfulness with material blessings, that worldly success is an obvious sign of God’s favor. It holds that the contrary is true as well: Poor health and financial loss and the like are signs of faithlessness on our part. If we aren’t seeing the life outcomes we want to see, it is because we don’t believe strongly enough. Hinn’s specialty is healing. His services are filled with him waving a hand in someone’s direction and that person falling over backwards as she is “slain by the Spirit.” In practice it’s pretty wild stuff.
Now, Hinn has been in the news recently because he has supposedly rejected the Prosperity Gospel with its selling of God’s blessings, healings, and miracles. He promised to no longer do things like asking people to give $1,000 to his ministry with the guarantee that such gifts will be met with material gain far outstripping their gift to him. On the more negative side, Kenneth Copeland, another Prosperity Gospel peddler, told his viewers that the Spirit had told him they needed to give him enough money to buy another—yes, another—private jet so he can travel around preaching the word without having to rub elbows with the riff-raff on the way. Creflo Dollar is infamous for doing the same kind of thing. Joel Osteen isn’t quite that overt, but he’s doing pretty well for himself all the same.
What is it that draws charismatic individuals like these guys to become purveyors of this false doctrine? What attracts people to this nonsense? One word: Money. They put on a grand show of piety and faithfulness, promising followers who far too easily lap up the snake oil they are selling, that if they’ll give, God will absolutely give back to them and more. What winds up happening is that a whole bunch of followers are financially poorer while the preacher becomes phenomenally wealthy. Who wouldn’t want a job like that? You put on a slick show, promise all kinds of good things to people—none of which you have to give them since they are supposed to be coming from God—and rake in the dough they send you. What’s more, it has a built-in escape clause: If the people giving don’t receive the blessings promised, it’s because they didn’t believe strongly enough for God to be able to give to them; thus it is their fault, not yours.
More than the preachers themselves, what is it that draws in the huge followings these men and women have? It’s not just that these folks are all peddling nonsense, it’s that they are peddling nonsense that enormous groups of people are lapping up like thirsty dogs and giving money they often don’t have in order to receive financial windfalls that never come. How does this happen? Again: Money. There’s something about money, about stuff, that offers us a promise of contentment that is just nearly irresistible for just nearly everybody. As followers of Jesus who are ourselves looking for contentment and simplicity in our own lives, what do we do with this?
This morning finds us in the fourth part of our series, Simplicity: Finding Contentment in a Busy Life. The whole idea for this journey is that we are all on a search for a life that is simple and content. Everywhere we look we are offered pathways to finding it, but none of those pathways ever quite deliver on what they promise so we keep looking. Along the way, things like worry and the storms of life generally work to keep us from ever finding it. But, as we talked about last week, the guy who wrote more of the New Testament than anybody else—the apostle Paul—shared with us the secret to finding it. Through his encouraging words to the Philippian believers, Paul helped us see that the secret to contentment is Jesus. True contentment comes through Christ alone.
Now, that sounds really good. We want that. But, it’s pretty abstract. What does it actually look like to live a life grounded in a Christ-fueled contentment? In these last three weeks of our journey, we are going to get practical together. We are going to look at some specific situations in which we all struggle with contentment and see how we can experience it even there. Next week, we’ll talk about finding contentment with our time, and the following week we’ll talk about being content in our relationships, but this morning we are going to start with the area that is perhaps the most potent in terms of tempting us away from finding our contentment in Christ alone: Our stuff.
Jesus had a lot to say about stuff. In fact, with the exception of Hell, how His followers should relate to their stuff was something He talked about more than just about anything else. We’re not actually going to look at what Jesus had to say about our stuff this morning, but I did want to set one idea before you that Jesus gave us. Just a bit earlier in the Sermon on the Mount than we started a few weeks ago when talking about worry, Jesus said this: “No one can serve two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other; or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” The King James word, “Mammon,” from the Greek for “stuff,” is probably a better translation of the original Greek than “money” because Jesus was talking about more than just our money here, but the idea should be clear all the same. If we try and serve both God and stuff, we’re going to wind up doing both poorly.
Just because it is a bad idea, though, doesn’t mean we don’t still try. Come back with me to some words from the apostle Paul. In his first letter to his young protégé, Timothy, Paul encouraged the young pastor to stand firm on the truth of the Gospel no matter what anyone around him started teaching. In 1 Timothy 6:3, Paul said this: “If anyone teaches false doctrine and does not agree with the sound teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the teaching that promotes godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing, but has an unhealthy interest in disputes and arguments over words. From these come envy, quarreling, slander, evil suspicions, and constant disagreement among people whose minds are depraved and deprived of the truth…[and here’s the key part]…who imagine that godliness is a way to material gain.”
You see, as much as we might “know” we can’t serve both God and stuff—that we can’t serve two masters generally—that doesn’t stop us from trying. I should note here that Paul is talking specifically about folks within the church. He’s talking about folks who are active in the church, but whose doctrine isn’t good. Like the Prosperity Gospel preachers of our day, these folks Paul had in his sight, were using the church for their own benefit. They were proclaiming truths that weren’t actually true in order to attract their own following and the financial windfall that generally came from that. They did indeed consider godliness to be a means of material gain.
And…the truth is that it can be. Think back to those Prosperity Gospel preachers. They live lives that are ostensibly godly and it has been a means to incredible material gain. Creflo Dollar has a net worth of $27 million. Osteen is $40 million. Benny Hinn is worth $42 million. Knocking people over with the “Spirit” is good for the bottom line. Remember Kenneth Copeland? He’s got them all beat at $760 million. He’s the loudest voice amen-ing the “truth” of his message. Godliness is a means of material gain. I’m not going to try and deny that. But that material gain, as convenient as it might be, won’t bring the contentment we seek.
Do you know what is really a great gain for us? To have that godliness and to simply be content with that. Listen to more from Paul starting in v. 6 now: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out. If we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.”
Are you with him? You see, the real challenge with stuff and our seeking contentment from it is that it’s sneakily deceptive. Let’s say you’re feeling a sense of discontentment because you want some thing you do not have. Now, from the standpoint of the Scriptures, you have an idol problem, but all you recognize in the moment is that you are discontent. Well, if you get that thing, you’ll be content, right? I’m not talking long term right now. In the short term, if you are discontent because you want something, when you get that thing, you will feel content. Thus, stuff can make us content.
But, the thing about stuff making us content is that it has a tendency to go away on us. Whether from fire, flood, storm, data crash, economic bust, bank failure, theft, or whatever other form of destruction you can imagine, stuff is temporary. It can truly be here today and gone tomorrow. And if our contentment is dependent upon our stuff, that will be gone too. Or even if we don’t lose our stuff, over time it loses its luster. It gets old. It gets boring. And we need new stuff to be content. We may have enough money to live comfortably, but if we just had a little bit more, we could be even more comfortable. Discontentment all over again, right?
When we seek out our contentment in our stuff, we are setting ourselves up for a mess. Or, as Paul put it, “…those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith, and pieced themselves with many griefs.” Have you experienced what he’s talking about here? Have you done something you later regretted to get something you didn’t really want? Have you spent money that you did not have to buy things you did not need to impress people you don’t even like? It’s a mess.
Yet our problem is not the stuff itself. It is with our attitude toward it; it is with the mindset with which we approach it. Or perhaps to put that another way, our being rich isn’t the problem in and of itself. The problem is that we aren’t any good at being rich. Because the problem is that we aren’t good at being rich, the solution is not necessarily to figure out how to have less stuff (although that may be something Jesus calls you to do—that’s between you and Him), the solution is to get some training on how to be good at being rich. The solution is to get some training on how to be content with our stuff.
Paul understood this, and so after calling Timothy to remain firmly rooted in the truth, he told him to teach rich people how to be good at being rich. Listen to this now from v. 17: “Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God who richly provides us with all things to enjoy.” Isn’t that cool? Part of the secret to being good at being rich is to not rest our lives on our stuff, but to keep trusting in God no matter how much stuff we have. It all came from Him and—get this—He provides it for us to enjoy it. In other words, if you have a lot of stuff and you aren’t enjoying it, you aren’t doing it right. If you have a lot of toys and you aren’t enjoying them, you aren’t doing it right.
Okay, but how do we enjoy them? Verse 18: “Instruct them to do what is good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and willing to share, storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of what is truly life.” The folly of trusting or placing any faith in our stuff is that it won’t last. Even if it lasts until we die, it won’t go beyond that as far as we are concerned. Why not invest more heavily in the coming age? What’s that? The eternal kingdom of God beginning after this life is over. That is, our stuff won’t make it to the next life, but the investments we make in the kingdom of God will. And how do we make those? By being rich in good works…just like our God.
You see, that’s the real secret to finding contentment in our stuff. We use it like God would. It’s all His in the first place anyway, so the more thoroughly we prioritize using it the way He wants for it to be used, the better off we’ll be. Why? For the same reason you’re going to trust an investment company that consistently handles your money the way you want it to be handled more than you will a company that doesn’t. You’ll keep giving it more money. But here, instead of the benefit going to God, it comes to us. When we use our stuff—which is really His stuff—like He wants for it to be used, we’ll be able to enjoy it like it was designed to be enjoyed. And when we are enjoying our stuff like it was designed to be enjoyed, we won’t be able to help being content with it. If you want to be content with your stuff, use it like God would. If you want to be content with your stuff, use it like God would.
That sounds good, but how do we do that? Well, we take that idea and turn it into a question. How would God use this stuff? Then, we take that question and apply it to everything we have. All of it. Every time we encounter some of our stuff, we think: How can I leverage this for the advancement of the kingdom of God? We think that about the advantages we have: How can I leverage this for the advancement of the kingdom of God? If you want to be content with your stuff, use it like God would.
Again, that’s fine, but how? When it comes to your money, make sure you are practicing a lifestyle of sacrificial generosity with it. Look at each meal you eat as an opportunity to engage with someone else about the life of Christ and how it could be expanded in both your life and theirs. Make your home a place where the least, last, and lost are welcomed and given an opportunity to experience the welcoming hospitality of the kingdom of God. Regularly look for chances to use your vehicle to help someone who has trouble getting around make it to where they need to be. When you have extra stuff you don’t need anymore (and don’t go looking for reasons to justify “needing” it), actively donate it to places like West Stanly Christian Ministries where others can make use of it. Bottom line: Use your stuff like God would. If you want to be content with your stuff, use it like God would. I guarantee you, you’ll be glad you did. Next time we’ll talk about how to be content with our schedule. You won’t want to miss that.