Contentment Is the True Measure of Godliness

This Black Friday, it’s worth reminding ourselves that we are living in an era when we have more material possessions than any generation before us. Compared to Americans living in the 1950s, we have countless more conveniences, including big-screen TVs, microwaves, online shopping, smartphones, and twice as many cars. It’s easy to assume our purchases will automatically lead to greater contentment.

But will they? Dr. David G. Myers claims that this generation is actually less content than generations before it. “Compared with their grandparents, today’s young adults have grown up with much more affluence, slightly less happiness and much greater risk of depression and assorted social pathology.”

The false idea that prosperity brings contentment is nothing new. Paul warned Timothy and the church at Ephesus about false teachers—first-century equivalents to modern prosperity theology proponents—who were “depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Timothy 6:5).

Like the Pharisees, these false teachers were religious braggarts, and most of what Scripture says about the one group applies to the other. Jesus put it this way: “Everything they do is just to show off in front of others” (Matthew 23:5, CEV). They impressed people with their clever interpretations and personality-driven communication. Instead of faithfully teaching God’s Word, they misused their platform to perform and make money. We know from historical documents that some prominent religious teachers in that time charged exorbitant speaker fees. Like their counterparts today, they embraced the secular culture’s materialistic values while baptizing them with verses taken out of context.

Many people believed such preachers were wealthy because God approved of them. But He didn’t then, and He doesn’t today.

After describing the false teachers as “imagining that godliness is a means of gain,” Paul immediately followed with “but godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6).

Like the Pharisees, the false teachers used superficial, outward godliness as a means to the ends of popularity, power, and wealth. Paul, however, wasn’t talking about a show of godliness. He was referring to genuine, inward godliness centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ. This is a humble godliness that manifests itself as a natural outflow, never as a calculated performance.

The New Living Translation renders 1 Timothy 6:5-6 this way: “To them, a show of godliness is just a way to become wealthy. Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth” (emphasis added). When it comes to lasting gain, true godliness definitely pays off! But the measure of such godliness is our contentment, not our bank balance. And that is the great gain.

Excerpted from Randy's book Giving Is the Good Life. Also see more resources on money and giving. 

Photo by Simona Sergi on Unsplash

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries