Craving Contentment

The book of Proverbs is undoubtedly a book for our time. Proverbs is full of wisdom and practical guidance so often lost in the midst of our society’s cravings. Our Old Testament reading for today comes from Chapter 30:5-9:

“Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
Do not add to his words, or else he will rebuke you, and you will be found a liar.
Two things I ask of you; do not deny them to me before I die:
Remove far from me falsehood and lying;(and) give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that I need,
(lest) I shall be full, and deny you, and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
or I shall be poor, and steal, and (thus) profane the name of my God.”

Paul to Timothy, his child in faith
Slavery context
Be content and not disrespectful
Tim in general. Much worth hearing and following. Could be tempted to be offended by a few verses burdened by first century culture and throw out whole letter, or all of Paul, or, as some have done, all of Holy Scripture

Godliness with contentment is great gain.
Eternal perspective
We brought nothing into this life, will bring nothing out.

Context of Timothy:

  • Who
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • Why

From the New Testament we continue with our series on I and II Timothy, I Timothy 6, verses 6-21. Again, hear the word of God.

“Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment. For we brought nothing into the world so we can take nothing out of it. If we have food and clothing we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. In their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

But, as for you man of God, shun all this. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and to which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God who gives life to all things and of Christ Jesus who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time. He, who is the blessed and only Sovereign, King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see, to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches but rather on God who richly provides for us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous and ready to share thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.”

Kristian Bush, formerly of the band Sugarland, and father to DPC’s beloved Tucker and Camille,
has a song on his new album called “Trailer Hitch”. The lyrics go like this:

“Started my day
Giving away
All of my baseball cards
It felt so good by the afternoon
I gave some guy my car
It ain’t about what you’re driving
Or about the gold you’re piling
The less I have to worry about
The more time I got for smiling

I don’t know why, know why
Everybody wanna die rich
Diamonds, champagne,
Work your way down that list.
We try, everybody tries
Tries to fit into that ditch
You can’t take it with you when you go
Never seen a hearse with a trailer hitch”

Those who desire to be rich
Senseless and Harmful desires that ruin lives
Love of money is root of all kinds of evil
This craving has led many away from faith and they have “pierced themselves with many pangs”
Paul is speaking truth here, not making this up or trying to scare people into being good.
Paul has not led a sheltered life; he has seen things he would just as soon forget.
He has observed the world around him. He has travelled all over the Mediterranean world.
He has participated in commerce, made business transactions.
He has seen behind the veil of temple leadership in Jerusalem.
Paul has witnessed that craving for money leads people away from faith,
and leads people away from love of neighbor.

Paul has a pastor’s heart. This is why he grieves over ruined lives.
This is why he grieves over those who have pierced themselves with many pains.
This is why many pastors cannot appreciate reality television shows or enjoy a casino.
Anyone who has spent time in a casino can bear witness to the pains that come with craving for money.
Casinos are not likely to be full of people having a grand time with friends;
they are more likely to be full of those who have lost their friends and families
because of their addictions, who have lost far more than they ever gained from their cravings.

Craving for money, whether the “easy money” of a bet made on a horse or a football team,
or the hard-earned money of another dollar earned, can lead a person away from trust, trust in God.
This is not to say that one should never play a game of Texas Hold ’em.
Nor am I saying that one should quit their honest job and just trust in God to provide.
What Paul is saying to the church in the first century,
and what still needs to be proclaimed from pulpits in the 21st-century,
is that craving after money and material possessions will lead a human being away
from trusting in God and from loving their neighbor.
This can also be said for craving after the next “experience”.
The accumulation of “experiences” is as much or more of a problem
for current generations than the accumulation of things. think movie?

The more we accumulate, whether materially or experientially, the less we are able to give.
The more we collect unto ourselves, the less our neighbors will have to eat.
The more time we spend following our cravings for things or experiences,
the less time we will have to serve.

The unholy desire for wealth, the craving to be rich pervades our society.
Whether it is the person who can barely afford to pay their bills spend far too much on lottery tickets that’s in upper-middle-class kids to college, or the high-stakes business person who cuts the big deal, while also cutting some corners that indirectly yet definitely hurts people,
the desire to be rich eventually causes pain and anxiety, for both the one craving wealth and the one whose limited resources are negatively affected.

Saint Augustine described the irony that one who quote “by lusting after something more, is made less.” Some crave for the security of wealth, others purely for the power, others for the carnal enjoyment, all the while ignoring the neighbor in need and sometimes ignoring the ones closest to their heart, their family and friends.

I once knew a young father who collected automobile memorabilia. He had a large outbuilding behind his house literally full of expensive collectibles while his wife shopped at the secondhand store for her clothes and the clothes of their son.

Chrysostom wrote: “Take away there for the love of money, and you put an end to war.” It is often been said that our entry into Iraq and Afghanistan had something to do with the war machine, that those who stood to profit from the machinations of war were behind the scenes, encouraging. The wars in the Middle East have had at least something to do with the availability of cheap gas – something that this week we were reminded should not be taken for granted!

It should be said that the evil is not in itself money or riches, but the Eager desire of them. The inordinate love of money what comes the root of all evil’s. Wealth, in and of itself, is not bad. The moral problem is more subtle. It is the craving of money and wealth that causes one to wander away from trusting God, that causes a person to pierce their heart with many pangs.

Tithing is an ancient biblical tradition worthy of serious 21st century reflection. Will Willimon once called tithing his radical protest against a consumerist culture. To give 10% off the top requires radical trust, trust that your family will have enough, enough to eat, decent housing, adequate clothing, healthcare. and radical protest, protest against every other message in our culture that tells you to consume, and to hoard, and to experience, and that to have is to be.

Paul warns us to flee from an overbearing concern about money and possessions. Run the other way! Move in the opposite direction! Put some distance between you and all those whose lives are caught up in unholy craving.

Instead, crave contentment. To be content is to be well. To be content is to rest in God’s grace. To be content is neither to be weighed down by riches nor be drowned in poverty. To be content is to discover the life that really is life. Paul suggests that we discover this contentment by pursuing faith and the fruits of the Spirit, by fight the good fight, daily, by flee from that which is harmful, putting distance between you and whatever is tempting. And instead pursuing actively that which is good and righteous and helpful. To the wealthy, Paul writes, do good, be rich in good works, generous and ready to share.

How do the values of your friends impact your cravings? Are they craving more things, more experiences, or craving contentment. How do your weekend plans over the coming months impact your cravings? Are you seeking righteousness, faith, love? Are you seeking to become rich in good works? Or are other cravings driving your schedule? How about your family or personal budget? How do your expenditures reflect your true cravings?

No matter what happens in history, in this life, Paul reminds us to:

“look toward that which is beyond history to vindicate this present commitment,
holding faithfully to it until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,
which will be made manifest at the proper time.”

How much does the love of money or perhaps more appropriately the security of white privilege have to do with current racial tensions? When you look at individuals and their perspectives, it may not seem to be very related. But when you look across the country and at the systems of injustice and continued oppression, I fear that we are not being honest with ourselves. I once heard that so long as a minority is less than 10% in a school or a community or economy, then the majority will not be upset. Once the minority begins to grow and begins to take on a larger percent of the population or the community power or the economy, then the majority will become nervous and begin subtly and sometimes unconsciously to suppress the opportunity of the minority. We have heard the statistics that United States of America will be a majority minority country by 2050. The state of Georgia is now the most diverse state in the Southeast. No wonder the rhetoric of fear and vision and “protect our own” has become so popular.

Notice that the fruit of godliness is not prosperity, no matter what that smiling preacher on TV from Texas says. The fruit of godliness is contentment, spiritual contentment. Contentment with what one has, with who one is as a beloved and forgiven child of God. The human heart will ultimately only be satisfied by resting in God, not in worldly accumulations. Contentment and security does not rest and piling up more and more and more. Contentment and real security rest in being nourished day by day with what is sufficient for the day.

When the rich become rich in good works, rich in loving neighbor, not storing up treasures on earth, but storing up treasures in heaven, by being generous and ready to share, then they are able to take hold of the life that really is life. I love that phrase – “take hold of the life that really is life.” Reality TV shows are not real life. Casino gambling is not real life.

Real life is wiping snotty noses and changing dirty diapers. Real life is fighting the daily battles at the dinner table to teach your kids manners
and ways of getting along. Real-life is being at the bedside of a loved one in the hospice room. Real life is feeding the mothers and children of Hagar’s house. Real life is educating refugee girls who have escaped from warfare and destitute poverty. Real life is crossing social boundaries to have genuine dialogue and conversation with someone who is different than yourself.

I have been reading Thomas Merton’s contemplative prayer this past week. Merton’s book is written to monks about the monastic life, but his words are relevant to all who seek spiritual contentment in this world. The heart of prayer is surrender. When we surrender to God’s will, when we trust God to guide and lead us in our daily decisions, and in our major life decisions, then craving after wealth falls to the side. Inordinate craving over anything other than to seek and find and live God’s will falls to the side.

The apostle Paul does not condemn the rich, but he does make us aware of the peculiar dangers to which wealth exposes persons. Wealth may grant some measure of power or give one a sense of security. But this type of power and security are merely fleeting, for a limited period of time. Being rich in this world will not create any advantages with God. Rather than placing our hope on uncertain riches, earthly material things that will last, we place our hope in God, laying up for ourselves treasures in heaven.

Luke Timothy Johnson and his commentary on I Timothy writes “we need to reflect a bit over what it means to be a lover of money in the sense Paul means. It is a compulsion which derives from the tragic identification of “being “of human identity and worth with “having”.
A person becomes more by having more. But this is an itch which grows greater the more it is scratched, for in fact no amount of “having “can ever make a person “be” more, not in the sense of what Paul calls real life, for that comes only as a gift from God, and it is the only true establisher of our identity and worth.”

The love of money distorts both the object desired and the one who desires, “for idols can only exist by devouring their worshipers.”

Are you content with how much money you make? Broad surveys have determined that a large percentage of people think that they would be content if only they made 20% more than they currently make. And the statistics run from the lower middle-class to the upper class. As Johnson writes, to be content is to adopt a different measure of one’s identity and worth. “Human worth and dignity do not rely on the accidents of possession or social status. The person who is wealthy has no more “mean “of been the one who is poor; the master has no advantage over the servant. And as we have seen elsewhere, would you has no advantage of the Gentile or the mail or the female.… Paul touch the connection between the human condition and human worth.”

Holmes Rolston in 1963 wrote: The love of money is not the root of all evil. Evil roots in the rebellious wills of men; in the uncontrolled lusts of men. It roots in man’s refusal to find the center of his being in obedience to the will of his Creator. But the love of money can become a root of almost every kind of evil. The love of money is a major root of most of our social evils.”

The man or woman of God is to fight the good fight of faith, but notice that he or she is to do so gently. Gentleness is one of the virtues to pursue.

Timothy’s mentor, Paul, encourages Timothy not to be controlled by the desire to be rich. It seems that some who were able to teach the Christian faith well in the first century became motivated by the desire for gain, motivated by the desire to make money doing so. Whether the first entry or the 21st century, those temptations are still present. Anytime you see a Christian preacher teacher who makes an inordinate amount of money. Instead, Paul encourages Timothy to give himself without reserve to the cause of Jesus Christ.

Paul’s words to the rich is simple yet profound. Imagine the profound influence on our civilization if the rich did not set there hope on certain gain, but on God. Imagine if the rich were to become rich in good works, to seek first to do good deeds, to accumulate treasures in heaven,
rather than back accounts in Switzerland.

The real challenge for the average white American is not about how much we are accumulating in Swiss banks. The challenge is that many feel threatened. Many feel genuinely afraid. Many feel like they are losing their position in society. Many hold to a view of scarcity and they are convinced that there’s not enough to go around, so I had better hold on to my own and gather as much more as I can, regardless of the impact on others. But if you live with an abundance mentality, that there really is enough to go around. There is enough food produced each year to feed the whole world, if we would only work harder at more equitable ways of distribution. There are enough resources to end extreme poverty, if we would only make that our goal.

USAID is daily working toward the goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030. Their website reports that in 1980, 1 of 2 people in the world lived in extreme poverty. By 2010, that number was cut in half. In 2015, the number living in extreme poverty, now defined as living on less than $1.90 per day, or less than $700 per year, had dropped to nearly 10% of the world’s population. By 2030, the goal and desire is to end extreme poverty, and ours would be the first generation to do so.

In April 2013, the Board of Governors of the World Bank Group endorsed two goals:

  1. To end extreme poverty by 2030, and
  2. To boost shared prosperity by raising the incomes of the bottom 40 percent of populations.

The major reductions in poverty were due to strong growth rates in developing countries, due to investments in people’s education, health, and social safety nets that were helping people from falling back into poverty. However, with slowing global economic growth, and with many of the world’s remaining poor people living in fragile and conflict-affected states, and the considerable depth and breadth of poverty, the goal to end extreme poverty remained a highly ambitious target.

Last week it was reported that columnist Ben Stein had written his final column in a series called “Monday Night at Mortons”. I don’t know much about Ben Stein but I was intrigued by his story. For years he has written a bi-weekly column called from that famous restaurant in Hollywood that is frequented by the stars. He is now terminating that column to move on to different things. He said that he “no longer thinks that Hollywood stars are terribly important.” He says that “they are uniformly pleasant, friendly people who have treated him better than he deserved” but a man or woman who makes a tremendous wage for memorizing lines and reciting them in front of a camera is no longer his idea of a shining star that our society should look up to. Real stars are not riding around in the back of limousines or in Porsches. They can be interesting people, he says, but they are heroes to me no longer. He says, “I am no longer comfortable with the system that places such value on these people and I do not want to perpetuate those values” by pretending that who eats at Mortons and what they wear and what they do is a big subject. There are plenty of other heroes out there, policemen and women who go out on patrol and are not sure they will return alive, paramedics who bring people into the hospital after a terrible accident, teachers who throw their whole spirit into the caring for autistic children, kind men and women who work with Hospice and in cancer wards. That’s his idea now of real heroes. He says he has come to realize that “a life lived to help others is the only one that matters and that it is his duty in return for the lavish life that God devolved upon him to help others that God has placed in his path.” He says that this is “my highest and best use as a human being.” Ben Stein, someone who wrote for years about the Hollywood stars and what they wore and with whom they dined, has realized that the highest and best use of the human life is to serve other people.

There is a tragic identification in our society of being with having. He formerly thought that a person becomes more by having more. If you have more money or you have more pleasure or more glory then you are more. At least that is what he thought. He has now realized that no amount of having can help a person be more of a person, not in the sense of what Paul calls “real life”. Real life comes only as a gift of God as we respond to God in service to others. Paul told Timothy that some in the early church, the church that Timothy served, had “missed the mark regarding the faith. You might even say that they were aiming at the wrong target! Some in Timothy’s church were setting their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, thinking that if they became rich, they would be more and be okay and be secure and be happy. They wanted to become rich; they focused their lives, not on the highest and best use of the human life, but on having more things. Paul says to Timothy, avoid that! Shun that idea! Shun that idea that having is more important than being a servant of Christ. Our human worth and dignity do not come from having, they do not come from having possessions or social status or even status in the church or community; our dignity and worth comes from being a child of God and responding to that gift in service to others.

Paul tells Timothy that “real life”, life that God intends us to live, life God wants us to live, the life that brings us that eternal light and joy, is life engaged in service – whether that be in the work you do Monday through Friday, whether that be the service you offer at home to family members, to aging parents, to neighbors, at the church, or some form of helping ministry to the poor. Real life is life engaged in serving others.

Many of us who are children of the greatest generation or the silents can claim learning this faithful stewardship from their parents. How many in the younger generations can claim this now?

Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
Decatur, GA
September 25, 2016