“But godliness with contentment is great gain.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
We live in a culture that all but demands that we give ourselves to whatever is going to help us get ahead. Ahead of what, you ask? Whatever or whomever is currently ahead of us. We are called to work harder, spend more, limit ourselves less, and so on and so forth. The trick to all of this, of course, is that none of this does the trick. None of it helps us achieve our goals. Even more than that, none of it is the kind of gain that we really need. In fact, we only think it’s the kind of gain we want until we actually get it and realize it isn’t. In his letter to his protege Timothy, Paul told us how we can find what we are seeking.
The culture we live in wants us to be many things – wealthy, happy, healthy, skinny, busy, in charge, well-liked, and so on. But the one thing it does not want us to be is content. So much of our culture thrives on our feeling a sense of need. Need for what exactly depends on the situation we are in, but if we don’t feel it, we aren’t going to be looking to consume something to address it. And in a deeply consumeristic culture, someone who isn’t constantly looking to consume something is a problem.
Used to be, when a company offered some good or service, while they were certainly looking to meet a need among the population surrounding them, they weren’t necessarily looking to create a need. An enterprising entrepreneur took careful note of where there was a lack of some easy-to-access good or service, and created a business designed to address that lack. Then, he would work to spread word that if you encountered this particular need, his business was there to help. But again, he didn’t try to artificially create the need in order to expand his business.
We have long since left behind those days. In 2019 U.S. companies spent a combined $240 billion on advertising. That’s nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars dedicated to convincing you that you needed whatever it was they were selling. Just to give some perspective on what that says about our culture, that dollar amount is roughly triple what was spent in the same year in China, the second largest consumer market in the world. We have been so wealthy for so long that the idea of simply being content with what we have is almost unheard of.
And the effects of all of this need-creation are reverberating throughout our culture. We are overworked, overwhelmed, overburdened, and often just over it. We are never happy. We are turning to various things to manage our discontent including, tragically, drugs which are killing our people at an alarming rate. And make no mistake: our geopolitical enemies are fully aware of our drug problem and are doing everything they can to encourage and worsen it. The newest drug sweeping the nation is fentanyl laced with xylazine, a flesh-eating sedative.
Our culture is silently screaming for something only the church can offer. Only the Gospel provides the hope and help we need given the crisis of discontentment we are facing. But the godliness that comes from pursuing the path of Christ with faithfulness and diligence is not enough on its own. A pursuit of godliness can itself become just another burden we try to bear. In his instructions to Timothy on how to help rich people get better at being rich, Paul says that the great gain we are all seeking is to be found in godliness with contentment. Contentment is the key. If you are going to be good at being rich, developing a discipline of contentment is going to be absolutely essential.
Okay, so, how do we manage to do that? Well, there’s not a great secret here. There’s no easy-to-package, seven-step approach to bringing more contentment to your life. Not that you can’t find a book or twenty promising to give you that. The pursuit of contentment can itself become something else that feeds into our gnawing sense of discontentment.
Developing a discipline of contentment starts with a discipline of pursuing godliness. What does that mean? It means committing ourselves to reflecting the character of God more fully in our lives. This means doing things like working for justice for the vulnerable and exploited. It means being more intentional to love our neighbors as ourselves. It means making kindness and compassion and gentleness our first responses to the situations we are facing. It means focusing more of our attention on serving the people around us than worrying about our wants and desires. It means being sacrificially generous with the resources at our disposal. When we do all of these things and more like them, and not simply for the purposes of pursuing contentment, it will nonetheless be an easier mark to hit.
From there, we begin eliminating the access we give to our hearts and minds to voices around us that encourage a disposition of discontentment. Take an inventory of the media and people you interact with on a regular basis. Which ones consistently leave you feeling worse about yourself and more driven to try to be like someone else? Is it a particular group of people? Is it a TV show? Is it a particular social media site? Is it social media in general? When you start to clarify which ones are causing you the most trouble, take steps to limit their access to you. Get off of social media except for when you absolutely must use it. Switch to a different TV show to follow. Make some new friends. If it is family member causing you the most trouble, consider meeting with a solid, Christian counselor to put together a plan for how to have the hard conversations you need to have in order to stem the tide of discontentment they are causing in you.
Godliness with contentment is great gain. That’s probably an idea you should commit to memory. It is the antidote to much of what our culture proclaims to us these days. The next time you feel tempted to pursue some path of gain you heard about from the world around you, just remember Paul’s admonition here. If you want real gain in your life, godliness with contentment is the way to go.