‘But godliness with contentment is great gain’, 1 Tim. 6. 6.
There were people in Paul’s day who took up a form of godliness because they thought it might be a paying concern, 1 Tim. 6. 5, and Bunyan in his Pilgrim’s Progress tells us of those who in his time believed in religion only when she walked in ‘silver slippers’. So today when an agnostic materialism is the real though unspoken creed of multitudes, the great mass of people have little use for what cannot be measured in terms of pounds, shillings and pence. But when a man accepts the Lord Jesus Christ his view of the nature and value of things is utterly transformed. Life for such a man can never be the same again. With a spirit quickened from its sleep of death and gifted with a new power of perception, he now perceives that the matters of supreme moment are not the things which arc seen, but the things which are unseen, things spiritual and eternal. Then it is that he begins to appreciate the apostle’s words, ‘But godliness with contentment is great gain’. It is unnecessary here to attempt any definition of godliness; every regenerate person knows what it is, and desires more of it. It is such an acknowledgment of the Lord Jesus in all our ways as to produce an habitually God-pleasing life.
GODLINESS MAY OR MAY NOT BE ACCOMPANIED BY MATERIAL PROSPERITY
In Old Testament times the righteous man looked for material prosperity, and was painfully bewildered if he did not obtain it; witness the complaints of Job and the writer of the seventy-third Psalm. Even in the Christian dispensation godliness has ‘the promise of the life that now is’. God is the preserver of all men, especially of them that believe, and a godly life, in the ordinary course of cause and effect, makes for such things as health, restfulness and a trusted character. On the other hand, godliness may not be accompanied by material pros-perity; especially is this true in lands where Christianity has little influence. Even in some European countries today Christians have had to make a very grave choice between the claims of Christ and the claims of a brutal state-idol. In such countries they ‘that will live godly in Christ Jesus’ very often ‘suffer persecution’, and in so-called Christian lands believers may and do suffer loss in business and material prosperity through loyalty to Christ and honesty. Loss of health also may be incurred through devotion to the Lord’s interests and service. A high standard of living and robust good health are not necessarily ‘the outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace!’ Our truest wealth is inalienable; that is, it cannot be transferred or lost. It is bound up with our inner life, and we will take it with us into the unseen and eternal world. It never impoverishes anyone else; it never weakens but always strengthens the soul. It consists of such things as peace with God, capacity to know and enjoy Him, and real inward character that pleases Him. Thus to win Christ is the greatest gain.
GODLINESS PRODUCES TRUE CONTENTMENT
There is, of course, a false contentment, such as a self-complacent satisfaction in our perfect standing, or in a scriptural church position and regular attendance at the meetings. We may also, through a wrong idea of submission, be content with conditions which are evil, conditions that we should do well to try to remove. It was not this kind of contentment that enabled Paul to say, ‘For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content’. He was not content with the state of things, but rather he was so taken up with the surpassing wealth that was his in Christ that he was little concerned about outward circumstances, and the idea of envying those whose standard of life was higher than his own never entered his mind. Many hymns express this sentiment. Such hymns were doubtless composed when the author was in an exalted spiritual mood, and sincerity can hardly claim that they always express our feelings at all times. Still, they represent an ideal which we would do well to reach after in a day when carnally minded Christians are apt to look with a measure of contempt upon godliness that is unaccompanied by outward signs of prosperity.