The word of the day is “contentment.” In our reading of 1 Timothy 5:22-6:11, St. Paul continues to instruct the young Bishop Timothy on establishing order in his congregation. Paul especially denounces the troublemakers who think they can earn material benefit from their godliness. Paul says that indeed, “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (vs. 6:5). But it is not the profit that the agitators in Ephesus think it is.
The word “gain” in the original Greek comes from the thought of providing for oneself. (Strong’s #4200). Thus, it refers to the means of acquiring or gaining possession of something, such as money. Paul charges that the congregation’s troublemakers believe that they can profit from their godliness, supposed piety, and devotion (Strong #2150,106). This complete misunderstanding of the teachings of Christ and right doctrine arises from their constant bickering over words. Paul observes that their arguments sow the seeds of “envy, strife, reviling, and suspicions” (vs. 4). St. John Chrysostom comments, “Observe what evils are produced by ‘strifes’ [arguments over] of words. The love of gain, ignorance, and pride; for pride is engendered by ignorance” (NfPf1 13).
Contentment Added to Godliness
Paul does not disparage “godliness.” He suggests we should add something to it that guarantees its goodness. Contentment turns godliness into true gain, not material profit but spiritual benefit (vs. 6). The word “contentment” combines two Greek words that together mean “self-sufficiency” (Strong’s #842, 47). It refers to a state where nothing else is needed. Paul teaches this attitude when he says, “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8).
The opposite of contentment is covetousness, which is greed gone on a rampage. Those who covet are possessed of an insatiable desire for possession, especially things that belong to someone else. They can never have enough but want it all. The Deuterocanonical book of Sirach says, “The covetous man’s eye is not satisfied with a portion” (Sirach 14:9). From such overweening desire, there can be no rest, fulfillment, or satisfaction.
Drowning in the Desire for Riches
Paul teaches that the desire for riches subjects one to temptations (trials), and snares (traps), and lusts (passionate longings) (Strong’s #3986, #3803, #1939). These “drown men in destruction,” that is, their ruin (Strong’s #3639, 177), “and perdition,” that is, loss of well-being (Strong’s #684, 40).
The danger of hankering after riches is so great that Paul says that “The love of money is the root of all evil” (vs. 10). Note that the Greek text reads “of all evil.” The addition of “all kinds of evil” is an editorial insertion. Like a flood, Paul says that the greed for money has swept many away from the faith and “pierced them with many sorrows” (vs. 9). Literally, it has plunged them into the depths (Strong’s #1036, 57) of ruin and destruction (vs. 9).
The Serenity of Contentment
In contrast, imagine the serenity and peace of contentment. Contentment is a form of faith. It trusts that the Providence of God will not fail us. From the moments of our conception and birth to our passing from this life to the next, the source of everything we have is God. And if we do not let our desires surpass our needs, we will have enough. We will possess all that is sufficient for the fulfillment of God’s good will for us. Such faith is fundamental to the Gospel of Christ. He promised, “Therefore do not worry saying ‘what shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your Heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” (Matthew 6:31-32).
St. Porpyrios wrote, “We should hope in God’s providence, and since we believe that God is watching over us, we should take courage and throw ourselves into His love, and then we will see Him constantly beside us…”
All things are under God’s providence. How many pine needles have each pine tree? Can you count them? God, however, knows them, and without His will, not one falls to the ground. Just as with the hairs of our head, for they are all numbered. He provides for the smallest details of our life; He loves to protect us” (Porphyrios 2005, 192-93).
In this Nativity Fast, let us fast from the greed and covetousness that tempt us to sin and spiritual ruin. And let us grasp ahold of contentment that it will go hand in hand with the devotion of this season.
Works Cited: Porphyrios, St. 2005. Wounded by Love: the Life and the Wisdom of Saint Porphyrios. Translated by John Raffan. Limni, Evia, Greece: Denise Harvey, Publisher