Staying Free From the Love of Money
I once preached a message entitled ‘Holy Discontentment’ from Philippians 3:12-21. Today’s message I have entitled ‘Godly Contentment’. When you put the two titles together they seem to contradict each other. However if we look more closely at the contexts of both messages we see they actually complement each other. There is such a thing as godly contentment & holy discontentment & we need both of these in our lives if we are to excel in God & be happy in life. Often we are discontent when the bible tells us to be content & content when the bible tells us to be discontent. For example we should never be content with sin in our lives, but we should be content with the food, shelter & clothing God has provided for us. Likewise we should not be content with our knowledge & experienced of God but we should be content with the gifts & abilities he has given us... If we get this right then holy discontentment protects us from apathy in our spiritual lives & in Christ’s mission, while godly contentment protects us from things like jealousy & envy towards what others have compared to us.But before Paul gets to the subject of Godly Contentment he has a few other things he wants to address. In verses 1-2 he writes;
“Let all who are under a yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honour, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved.”
Some might think Paul is encouraging slavery in these verses, but he is not in any way encouraging the types of slavery we are more familiar with today... Culturally many slaves were better off than day labourers in the context Paul was writing since food, shelter and clothing was provided for them. The system of slavery served as an economic structure in the Roman world and in many ways the master-slave relationship closely parallels our contemporary employer-employee relationship. This is why Paul didn’t encourage slaves to leave their masters or masters to free their slaves in the NT. In most cases, especially if the master was Christian, the slaves were much better off than they would be otherwise...
So in reality these words speak more directly to employers & employees in our own day. Employees are to fully respect their bosses by working hard for them & doing their best for the business they are involved in. Paul’s reason is that the name of God & the teaching may not be shamed. Earlier in the letter Paul addressed the importance of a Christian’s behaviour in the house of God & in leadership. Now he is underlining the importance of a Christian’s behaviour in the workplace. How we behave in all of life matters. It matters because of God’s name & it matters for the sake of the teaching of the gospel. Whatever our work we are to do it as unto God. This is especially true when we work for other believers... Paul continues:
“Teach and urge these things. If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.”
These verses highlight three traits of a false teacher. Firstly false teachers teach things that contradict the Bible & even the very words of Jesus himself. Paul says such people are arrogant. In fact it is the height of arrogance to disagree with Jesus & his Word!
Secondly such people have an unhealthy desire to quibble over the meaning of words. I have noticed at times that people who are over obsessed with the meanings of words miss the obvious things God is saying in the verse, paragraph, chapter or book of the Bible the word is found in. They look so deeply into the meaning of a word they miss the main point of the story, letter or psalm etc. This is unhealthy & distracting & stirs up pointless arguments & speculation; which results in jealously, division tension & unnecessary controversy. False teaching often sneaks in the back door when people are distracted from the main point or when they miss the main point altogether!
The third trait of a false teacher is that godliness is not a produced by the things they teach. Rather things like greed and envy and evil suspicions are the fruit of their teaching. In fact the only type of godliness produced in such false teachers is a pretentious show of godliness for personal gain. This gain may be position or power, but in the context of Ephesus the gain was financial gain. As the NLT says; “To them, a show of godliness is just a way to become wealthy.” Paul then continues on to describe the nature of true godliness when he writes in verses 6-10;
“Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”
Many people give lip-service to the phrase, ‘money can’t buy happiness’, but many still live in the hope it might just. Almost every TV Advert encourages us to buy something it claims will enhance our lives. Many TV shows give of the vibe that money will change your life for the better. ‘Who Wants To Be a Millionaire’, ‘Family Fortunes’, Deal Or No Deal’... Money is something we all need in this life & it’s not evil in itself, but it is a very bad master. What’s the point of being financially rich if it robs you of peace, time and happiness? We all need some money but none of us need lots of it. Proverbs 23:4 NLT says; “Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich. Be wise enough to know when to quit.” N. T. Wright highlights the dangers of chasing riches when he says;
“If you make a lot of money, you might want to buy more houses & more wonderful things to put in them; whereupon you multiply the risk of burglary, so you get more expensive burglar alarms and insurance policies, and you end up employing people to look after you and your property. So you need to make more money again, and for that you will need to hire accountants, and probably lawyers too, not to mention investment advisors and stockbrokers. And meanwhile the monkey on your shoulder is whispering that maybe you should try this scheme to get a bit richer... and then this one... and now what about this... If you only had a bit more, you could relax and be content. But in fact the way to contentment is to sack the monkey and be content with what you have.”
On the other hand we need to be careful not to demonise money or wealthy people. It is not a sin to be wealthy or to be a gifted business person; it is a sin to love money & chase riches. It’s important to clarify that. The same Bible that tells us of Jesus challenging the rich young ruler about his love of money says; “The blessing of the LORD makes a person rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.” Some people just have issues with rich people simply because they have more money & stuff than them. The Bible calls that envy, jealousy, coveting or bitterness... We become discontent when we want what someone else has instead of being grateful for what we have. People are not doing anything wrong just because they are richer than you. The problem is not having money; the problem is when money has you. Sure enough the Bible has some challenging things to say to rich people and it encourages them to use their money in godly ways like caring for the poor. However the Bible also attributes wealth to hard work, wisdom, personal sacrifice, patience, perseverance, self control, wisdom & the favour of God. And it implies some people (not all people) lack simply because they are lazy or apathetic. The Bible warns us how to avoid poverty as it warns us about trusting riches & loving money. So we need to keep the balanced view of money & wealth the Bible gives us.
Note also that these verses in no way encourage people to be content with poverty... Paul says; “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” The Greek word for clothing means covering so it likely includes the idea of shelter as well. So this contentment Paul talks of assumes a person’s basic needs are met. If we have our basic needs met this passage teaches us we should be content. Paul also gives us three simple truths here that will help us to stay content in this life.
YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU
Firstly Paul says; “For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.” What would be the point in spending our whole lives chasing something we cannot keep? Every person who has ever lived enters & exits the world the same way! All material belongings must be checked in at the graveside. It’s like the old story about the millionaire. When he died, everyone wanted to know what was in his will. So they whispered to the minister, “How much did he leave behind?” “Everything!” the minister said. “He had to leave it all behind!” 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.” This is true for rich and poor alike. Proverbs 11:4 NLT reminds us “Riches won’t help on the day of judgment, but right living can save you from death.” John Stott advises us; “possessions are only the travelling luggage of time; they are not the stuff of eternity. It would be sensible therefore to travel light.”This is why Paul says that “there is great gain in godliness with contentment.” There is a greater & more lasting gain in godliness than there is in material wealth. So we should invest in godly living for it brings blessing in this life & the next.
YOU ALREADY HAVE ENOUGH
The second reason we should be content with what we need is because we already have enough (more than enough!). If we come into the world with nothing, and leave with nothing, then what do we need in the meantime? Not much perhaps. Paul says; “But with food and clothing, with these we will be content.” But so few people are satisfied with such a statement, they want more, in some cases much more. And no matter how much a person gets they are still not content or satisfied & still want more. A very rich man was once asked how much he reckoned he needed to live comfortably, he replied, ‘A little bit more than I get.’ Ecclesiastes 5:10 says; “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.”
This because what the human heart really craves is not gold, but God. Only he can be enough! Anyone who comes to God through Jesus finds meaning, purpose, joy and satisfaction with life. These are things no amount of money can buy! For this reason Jesus is the only treasure that can be enough. Matthew 13:44-46 NLT says; “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field. “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!” Jesus is the treasure that is worth selling everything for & Jesus is the pearl of great value & the astounding things is Jesus is God’s gift to us! We can all be satisfied and content today, no matter what our bank balance is, because Jesus is enough! Jesus makes us rich in ways money cannot make us rich. Jesus will still be valuable when money has lost its value (there will be no money in heaven you know). Jesus’ value does not go up & down like the property market etc... He value remains at infinite forever...
Paul discovered that Jesus was enough. In Philippians 3:8 NLT he says; “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.” In Philippians 4:11-13 he writes; “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” If Paul had Jesus he had more than enough! For this reason a few verses down (19) he could confidently say to the Philippians; “And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.” He was saying to the church, “if you have Jesus you have more than enough, Jesus is more than enough for all of us!”
This is the foundation of contentment in the Christian life: Knowing that if God gave you nothing else he has already given you more than enough in his precious & priceless Son. Hebrews 13:5 says; “Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” At the end of the day if we were to lose all else, or have nothing else, his presence is still enough. C. S. Lewis summed it up like this; “He who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God only.”
DON’T FALL IN LOVE WITH MONEY
Don’t fall in love with what you cannot keep, fall in love with what you cannot lose. Don’t fall in love with money, fall in love with Jesus. Paul finishes the paragraph by warning; “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”
Note the strong language in these verses... Riches should not be our desire; Jesus should be our desire... Love of money will cause us to fall into temptation; love for Jesus will lead us out of temptation. Love of money is a snare; love for Jesus sets us free. Love of money makes us do senseless & harmful things that ruin us; love for Jesus makes us wise & saves us from ruin & destruction. Love of money is a root of all kinds of evils; love for Jesus is the root of all kinds of good. Love for money will keep us discontent; love for Jesus will fill our lives with godly contentment. As Jesus plainly said in Matthew 6:24 NLT: “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Let's conclude by turning to a prayer recorded in Proverbs 30:7-9 NKJV:
“Two things I request of You (Deprive me not before I die): Remove falsehood and lies far from me; Give me neither poverty nor riches—Feed me with the food allotted to me; Lest I be full and deny You, and say, Who is the LORD?” Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God.”
This is a prayer of true wisdom in the area of money and contentment. He seeks all he needs in God and he seeks to avoid the dangers posed by the extremes of poverty or wealth. If he has too much, he could cease depending on God & if he has too little he could turn from trusting God. So he simply asks God to provide him with what is allotted for him, trusting that God knows what he needs & what he can handle. This is the prayer of godly contentment. May God give us all such a heart.