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 acquiring or gaining possession of something, such as money. Paul notes that the congregation’s troublemakers believe that they can profit materially from their supposed godliness, piety, and devotion (Strong #2150,106). But their striving for worldly “gain” sows the seeds of “envy, strife, reviling, and suspicion.” And these seeds produce constant bickering over doctrine. Thus, the false religiosity of the troublemakers in the congregation only reveals their pride which, Chrysostom says, is “engendered by ignorance.”
Contentment Added to Godliness
Note that 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). Accordingly contentment 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 to have it all there can be no rest 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. Porphyrios 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…” (Porphryios, 192).
The saint goes on, “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).
As our Nativity Fast comes to a close, our reading teaches us to exam ourselves to find if we are harboring some secret covetousness that tempts us to sin and leads us to spiritual ruin. Let us repent of any pursuit of worldly gain and grasp ahold of contentment. Then our hearts will be ready to receive the Lord when He comes to bring us more than all the riches that the world has to give.
Porphyrios, St. 2005. Wounded by Love: the Life and the Wisdom of Saint Porphyrios. Translated by John Raffan. Limni, Evia, Greece: Denise Harvey, Publisher