Paul’s young disciple Timothy had his hands full in Ephesus. The apostle had left Timothy in that city to oversee the organization of the church. Timothy was to provide consistent teaching, help the church choose leaders, and model personal integrity as a leader.
Paul’s first letter to Timothy contains both direction and encouragement for Timothy. Among his memorable objectives Paul included the following: “Now godliness with contentment is great gain” (6:6). Obviously, the absence of both godliness and contentment would indicate great loss, especially in the Christian life. Godliness without contentment would be a joyless and legalistic righteousness. Contentment without godliness describes a person sadly disconnected from God’s truth.
What kind of life was Paul describing when he speaks of godly contentment? Paul describes such a person as having a firm understanding of the passing nature of life. The things of this world are here when we arrive and are left behind when we leave. Neither godliness nor contentment can be found in accumulating them. Things beyond God’s provision of our basic needs (“food and clothing,” 6:8) can be enjoyed without becoming a necessity. Paul understood that if godliness (our desire to see God’s character reproduced in us) and contentment (our acceptance of God’s will in our lives) depend on our environment or circumstances, both will always be unstable.
Elsewhere, Paul indicates that godly contentment must be a learned response (see Phil. 4:11–13). Developing godly contentment lies well beyond our abilities. That is why along with Paul we must appeal to the right source for such a character trait: “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).
Earl D. Radmacher, Ronald Barclay Allen, and H. Wayne House, The Nelson Study Bible: New King James Version (Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers, 1997), 1 Ti 6:5.
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