Man lives in a world of discontent. Whatever he has, he never has enough. This should not surprise us because only God can give real contentment: “For he hath satisfied the longing soul and filled the hungry soul with good” (Ps. 107: 9). This dissatisfaction finds its fullest expression in the affluent West, where almost everybody, from the taxi–driver on the street, to the company director in this air–conditioned office, is obsessed with accumulating more. Bigger houses, better cars, more far–flung holidays—the list is endless. Even when man has more than sufficient , greed drives him on in the relentless quest to add more and more. “This will I do: I will take away my granaries and build greater …” (Luke 12: 18). Such behaviour we expect of a godless world. Sadly, however, the same spirit has, like a poisonous vapour invaded that which professes the name of Christ, and even those who ought to recognise the riches they have in Christ, have been led away to pursue the transient attractions of material prosperity. We are living, without question, in Laodicean times.
“Piety with contentment” said the apostle Paul “is great gain” (1 Tim. 6: 6), but a good many Christians are not content. They work harder and they work longer so that they can have more. For the believer the result is ruinous. Material gain is achieved, as it must be, at the expense of spiritual prosperity. If, at the beginning of the dispensation, “not one said that anything of what he possessed was his own, but all things were common to them” (Acts 4: 32), the end of the dispensation is marked by keeping up with the neighbours and out–doing our companions. The standard is no longer the money–less Nazarene but the fashions and fads of the same world that crucified Him. We may not desire to be rich as such, but we must keep up with our peers—we must be comfortable; Is it any wonder with the bulk or our time devoted to “getting on in life” that we know so little of eternal life? Is it any wonder when we are so obsessed with being comfortable in this world that we are so unacquainted with the next? Is it any wonder that we do not know our Bibles as we ought to, that our testimony is so ineffective, and our worship so desultory? Indeed, if we are honest, we will admit that we really do not know the Lord Himself very well at all! We can either lay up treasure in heaven or on earth (see Matt. 6: 20), get on in the world or get on in divine things.
It is no use excusing ourselves by saying that once we have achieved financial security we will devote time to the Lord’s things. If I have not got the heart now, why should I imagine that I shall have a heart then? “For where thy treasure is, there will be also thy heart” (Matt. 6: 21). If your life’s object has been material prosperity, it is not merely a question of finding time when you retire. You will need to change your heart.
You call Jesus Lord? Why then do you put your comfort first, and His interests second? Isn’t the word “seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6: 330? Should you be seeking a soft pillow for your head when the Son of man had no place at all for His (see Luke 9: 58)? Scripture tells us to be “satisfied with [your] present circumstances” (Heb. 13: 5)—whatever those circumstances may be. The point is not improvement of circumstances, but satisfaction in them.
In the first epistle to Timothy, Paul makes the teaching even more testing: “But having sustenance and covering, we will be content with these” (1 Tim. 6: 8). How high the standard is not! Food and clothing! This goes beyond satisfaction with my present circumstances—this is being content even if I have only food and clothing. Where would you and I stand here? Would we be like Paul who had learnt in “those circumstances” he was in “to be satisfied” (Phil. 4: 11)? How many of us indeed know what it is to “be hungry” or “to suffer privation” (Phil. 4: 12)? Is it not more likely that such a drastic reduction in our living standard would cause us, if not to “curse God and die” (Job 2: 9), at the very least to descend into a pit of bitterness and resentment? Are we able to accept “with joy” (Heb. 10: 34) the plunder of our goods? If we do not, then it is perfectly legitimate to raise a question as to whether we really have a “better substance, and an abiding one” (Heb. 10: 34). If we were honest we would admit that we fall far short of the Scriptural standard in these things.
There are few today who can honestly bear the title “man of God”. Most Christians have taken up the same materialistic attitude as their worldly neighbours, and are avidly pursuing their dreams of material contentment and financial security. They cannot be characterised as godly, for their lives mark them out as taken up with this world rather than God’s. How different is he who walks with God: “But thou, O man of God, flee these things” (1 Tim. 6: 11). What they pursue, he is to flee! Of course, many will argue that they do no “desire to be rich” (v9), but the “desire to be comfortably well–off” comes very close. Indeed the apostle virtually implies that to desire anything beyond food and clothing, is to be classes as a desire to be rich. Again, few will admit a “love of money” (v10) but if the emphasis of a life is on financial security rather than spiritual prosperity, then it is dangerously near to approaching it. We ought to face the fact that in the apostle’s eyes, most or us in the Western world are rich, and that being so, we need to be very watchful, and to trust in God rather than “the uncertainty of riches” (v17). We shall demonstrate a godly attitude not by taken gifts to the needy but by being “liberal in distributing” (v18), and instead of being taken up with the comforts of the present moment, will lay by for ourselves “a good foundation for the future” (v19). Brethren in Christ, let us lay these things to heart for the danger is very real.