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Contentment vs. Covetousness

By Mark R. Rushdoony
January 01, 1999
But godliness with contentment is great gain
For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
And having food and raiment, let us be therewith content.
But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.
For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
(1 Timothy 6:6-10)

Paul had just warned servants to honor their masters and believers to withdraw from false teachers. One of the characteristics of the false teachers they were to shun was that they supposed "gain is godliness."

The false teachers had it backwards, Paul here says. Godliness is itself "great gain" (v. 6). God's judgments are described several times in Scripture by a parenthetical expression — "which if a man do, he shall live in them" (Lev. 18:5; Neh. 9:29; Ex. 20:11,13; Eze. 20:21; Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:12). This is not talking about justification by the works of the law as antinomians have suggested; if it were so used, Paul would not have quoted it to refute that doctrine in Galatians 3:12. The phrase conveyed the idea that the benefits of living in God's law were their own reward. God's law was not given to spoil man's joy or as a punishment for sin; it was given to man so that he might know what God expected in the real world — the world of creatures accountable to their Creator. It is a blessing to be able to know God's will and it is a blessing to live in terms of that will. Now knowledge of God's law or even living under it does not make us God's children; that comes from the adoption that comes of faith. That is why Paul would quote this phrase from the Scripture in condemning justification by the law to the Galatians. When he said, "And the law is not of faith; but The man that doeth them shall live in them" (3:12), he was merely saying the law is something other than faith; it is however, a blessing to those who live in terms of it. This was the essence of Paul's statement to Timothy, "Godliness . . . is great gain."

More is required of us, however, than merely understanding the value of godliness, for it is that virtue with contentment that Paul speaks of. Remember that he had just spoken at the beginning of the chapter of slaves honoring their masters. If a slave must be content with his estate so must we, though free, be content with ours. Contentment is an important element in considering what Scripture says about wealth because avarice is as much a problem with the poor as it is with the rich. Hence the poor are often the ones who must be on guard. Thus, we must be reminded that it is better to have a "little" with righteousness:

... than the riches of many wicked (Ps. 37:16),... than great treasure and trouble therewith" (Pr. 15:16), or
... than great revenues without right (Pr. 16:8).

One must "be content with such things as ye have; for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee" (Heb. 13:5). Contentment is understanding that you are truly blessed by God, and that his goodness to us is itself of immeasurable value.

Paul quotes Job 1:21 when he says we brought nothing into the world and will carry nothing out. We are told in Psalm 49 of the tendency of wealthy men to accumulate wealth that passes to others when they die. "Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling places to all generations." Nevertheless, they perish. Still, their children repeat the same folly — "their posterity approve their sayings" (vv. 10-13).

Men tend to want to repeat the first sin. They want to "be as gods, knowing good and evil" (Gen. 3:5). Sinners want to declare their independence from God; wealth is a mechanism men see as conveying independence and power. With wealth man thinks he can be self-sufficient, first of all economically, then spiritually. The power that comes from wealth gives man a false confidence that blinds him to his own condition and need. Men, who tend to trust what is tangible, see wealth as a source of safety, and genuine needs can then become covetous.

Paul names only food and clothing as conditions necessary for contentment. After fleeing Esau's wrath and seeing the vision of the ladder at Bethel, Jacob promised to serve God, asking just food, raiment, and a return to his father's house (Gen. 28:22).

Those who seek wealth fall into "temptation and a snare." We must be careful to note it is how one regards wealth or why one desires it that is the real issue. Covetousness is the immoral desire for wealth by unlawful means. The desire for wealth can become all-consuming. The poor are as inclined to be consumed by a desire for wealth as the rich:

As sick men used to love health better than those that never felt the want of it; so it is too common with poor men to love riches better than the rich that never needed. And yet, poor souls, they deceive themselves, and cry out against the rich, as if they were the only lovers of the world, when they love it more themselves though they cannot get it.1

For the rich, wealth can be a false sense of power and security;

Christ telleth us, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of heaven." Our Savior, indeed, doth not speak of impossibility, but of the difficulty of it and the rareness of it. Job unfolded the riddle, and got through the needle's eye with three thousand camels. But it is hard to be wealthy, and not wanton.2

Those who desire desperately to be rich are often carried away by their own recklessness, perhaps to financial ruin, or perhaps to "many foolish and hurtful lusts."

We all know the warning of verse ten, "For the love of money is the root of all evil." Calvin felt it was to miss the point to try to comprehend every vice under covetousness. He merely took this as meaning that the love of money produces all sorts of evil and crime. He listed "frauds, falsehoods, perjury, cheating, robbery, cruelty, judicial corruption, quarrels, hatred, poisonings, murders, and nearly every other kind of crime."3 Evils do spring from avarice, just as they spring from adultery, envy, and slothfulness. Every sin has evil consequences, and a pattern of covetousness will display a wide-ranging array of effects.

Covetousness can lead men even to apostasy (v. 10). Because such men do not have Jesus Christ and his kingdom as their priority, they "pierce" themselves with sorrows. Their own selfishness and materialistic desires cause them to drown in their own self-made torments. Where there is covetousness, there can be no contentment.

Notes

1. I. D. E. Thomas, The Golden Treasury of Puritan Quotations (Chicago, 1975), 250.

2. Ibid., 249.

3. Torrance and Torrance, eds. Calvin's Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI, 1980), 10:275.


Topics: Epistles, The

Mark R. Rushdoony

Mark R. Rushdoony graduated from Los Angeles Baptist College (now The Master’s College) with a B.A. in history in 1975 and was ordained to the ministry in 1995.

He taught junior and senior high classes in history, Bible, civics and economics at a Christian school in Virginia for three years before joining the staff of Chalcedon in 1978. He was the Director of Chalcedon Christian School for 14 years while teaching full time. He also helped tutor all of his children through high school.

In 1998, he became the President of Chalcedon and Ross House Books, and, more recently another publishing arm, Storehouse Press. Chalcedon and its subsidiaries publish many titles plus CDs, mp3s, and an extensive online archive at www.chalcedon.edu.

He has written scores of articles for Chalcedon’s publications, both the Chalcedon Report and Faith for all of Life. He was a contributing author to The Great Christian Revolution (1991). He has spoken at numerous conferences and churches in the U.S. and abroad.

Mark Rushdoony lives in Vallecito, California, his home of 43 years with his wife of 45 years and his youngest son. He has three married children and nine grandchildren.

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