… useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself. 6 Now godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
1Timothy 6: 5-7 NKJV
I think it’s interesting that, as Timothy is discussing those who dispute and create friction within the church, he segues over to the fact that we should not desire more worldly goods than we have. It is worth considering, then, that perhaps much controversy between believers is more about things than ideas. We may we couch our arguments in theological clothing, but often we are really striving for advantage. Maybe it’s not actual physical stuff we’re coveting, but power or influence. I think it’s often true that we’d rather be right than righteous. It’s easy to forget that it is far more important to have God’s approval than the praise of men.
It’s so important to let go of the right things, to know which things I should let go of. What about my ambitions and desires for recognition? Am I content or contentious? Those were the two options that Jesus talked to the soldiers about.
Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?” So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.”
Simple directives: Don’t bully, do your job, and don’t steal from people just because you have the power. It’s easy to become a little smug, thinking, well, I wouldn’t be mean or try to cheat anyone or take their money—I’m not contentious!
So does that make me content? Am I content with, not only the things I have, but the position I have? Am I happy to serve without extra reward or praise? Am I careful not to misuse any power or privilege that is given to me?
John gives a glimpse of how power can be misused, even within the church.
I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. 10 Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church.
11 Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but[d] he who does evil has not seen God.
3 John verses 9-11
John says that Diotrephes “loves to have the preeminence.” He coveted recognition, wanted the glory for himself, so he refused to recognize John, the elder who was actually an eyewitness and friend of Jesus Christ. He was not content to simply serve, but desired power, and John calls it evil.
Contentment, then, is more than just being comfortable with your financial position. It is more than living a simple life. It is a matter of humility, of esteeming others better than yourself. It’s being satisfied by God, rather than needing the recognition of men.