Contentment! We find that word at the heart of our passage. Paul says in v.6, “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment”. To the Philippians he writes, “ ... I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” To be content means to be in a state of happiness or satisfaction. What a satisfying word that is, and yet, what an elusive word that is. Can you say with Paul, “... I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content”? An answer to this question would be multifaceted, as I have realized when in recent times I had made a study of the subject of contentment.
Here then is a further contribution to that investigation, and my further thought on the matter, as it arises from our text, is this: False teachers or false teaching are a major source of our discontentment, whereas the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ are the true source of real contentment! This text teaches me that there are thoughts and ideas promoted by false teaching that lead to discontentment and there are thoughts and ideas promoted by the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ that lead to godliness with contentment.
In our recent studies in Paul’s first letter to Timothy we have seen that Paul has stressed the importance of the maintenance of good relationships in the church. He does this in a number of interesting ways. In Chapter 5 we have seen how he counsels Timothy, pastor at Ephesus, to deal well and wisely with older men and women, and also with younger men and women in the church. In particular, he stresses the importance of looking after genuine widows in the church, whilst helping families also to take care of their widows. He counsels younger widows to remarry and so to become settled, and not restless and problematic in the church. He also counsels that the fulltime elders of the church, those that labour in preaching and teaching, should be well looked after. Too many pastoral families have had their relationships soured because the church did not obey this basic injunction which underlies the support of those who work for the church: Don’t muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain. Furthermore, Paul teaches that good relationships between Christian slaves and their masters (or between employees and employers) were needed to reflect the worthy name of God.
Nothing adds more to our discontentment than unstable relationships fostered by unstable teaching or emphases. Paul teaches us that it is important to promote stable relationships in the church at many levels through wise, biblical counselling that leads people to godliness with contentment.
And now Paul says: “Timothy, teach and urge these things”[6:2b]. These few things or matters that we have considered in chapter 5 and into chapter 6 are of course illustrative and not exhaustive, and it is in this context that Paul provides further counsel for maintaining sound and stable relationships.
Stable relationships must be built on sound, balanced doctrine. Balance means that biblical truths are taught in context and that these truths are weighted appropriately. Terms such as ‘law’ and ‘grace’, for instance, must be understood against the entire emphases of the Bible. Wrong emphases here can easily lead to lead to legalism (Galatians) or antinomianism (Corinthians). Furthermore, sound doctrine must not only be believed. It must be practised. Otherwise it becomes hypocrisy. Paul has already reminded Timothy (and us) in 4:16 to “keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching” (doctrine). It is not just doctrine (correct belief). It is also yourself, how you live out to that sound doctrine! There are people that are thoroughly orthodox in their beliefs, but they themselves live and behave in contradiction to the doctrine which they say they believe. This contradiction always produces conflict in the church, in the home and at work.
I needed to remind you of this as we now come to the next statement: “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness…”.
Let us stop there for a moment! Paul makes a contrast between different doctrine and the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ. What is the difference? The outcome is different:
(i) The different doctrine (Gr. heterodidaskaleō), in Paul’s own words leads to this: “he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant frictions among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” [6:4,5].
Three things are characteristic of false teachers: pride, ignorance, and preoccupation with obscure things. All you need to be a heretic is a little pride, and a little intelligence plus the gift of speaking, and you've got the perfect ingredient for heresy. But there’s more to be considered. In vv.9-10 Paul adds this : “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction, For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”
The outcome of ‘different doctrine’ is that it produces an unhealthy desire for financial gain. The false teacher thinks of godliness in a very different way than Christ had intended. For them “godliness is a means of gain”. And so we find that prosperity teachers have a very different goal in mind in their teaching. They redefine terms. Godliness to them means, being healthy , happy and wealthy. Thus they are successful because they give people what their depraved hearts want to hear (6:5) and in the process they get very rich from their conferences and books they sell. A visit to the local bookshop confirms this. The religious section carries by far more books by false teachers. The irony is that although these authors outwardly promote the pursuit of contentment, yet in very real terms they actually breed discontentment by replacing Christ with material emphases! If you were to turn on the television today or any day of the week, most of the so called Christian TV channels do exactly what Paul is speaking about here. They are turning Christianity into a means of gain. And they teach that that God wants you to be physically healthy and materially wealthy and that if you’re not, it's because you don't’ have enough faith or because you haven't yet bought the holy anointing oil or water, consecrated by the apostle from them. So, it was very common then, 2000 years ago. It is common now. . Paul makes it clear that that is not what Christianity is about. The gospel in fact does bring great gain ,though not the kind false teachers are looking for.
(ii) The sound words of our Lord Jesus, by way of contrast, “accords with godliness”(v.3) or “godliness with contentment”(v.6). This is the sound doctrine that Paul and the other apostles taught. It is true apostolic teaching. It is Jesus’ teaching . The apostles were literally the messenger boys (Gr. apostellō) of Jesus. They had nothing new or novel to say. They spoke the balanced truth and in the tone that Jesus taught them. This teaching leads to godliness with true contentment, and it applies whether you are rich or poor, healthy or sick, happy or in emotional turmoil. The sound words of our Lord Jesus transform your life so that the truth is lived out in godliness. It leads to a life of true holiness, in commitment to God in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. And it leads to contentment.
I remind you again that the NT epistles constantly warn us to be on the watch against false teachers – those who would rob us of our true peace and contentment in the Lord Jesus. Paul, in his three so-called “pastoral epistles” has a lot to say about false teachers and teaching and the outcome of their teaching. And its’s all focused on stuff that Jesus never focused on: “myths, endless genealogies which promote speculations… certain persons … have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law without understanding either what they are saying, or the things about which they make confident assertions” [1 Tim 1:4-7]. They are led by “deceitful spirits and teachings of demons…” [1 Tim 4:1]. They are focused on material gain [1 Tim 6:9,10,17] and engage in irreverent babble and quarrel about words in the name of wisdom and godliness. They are fixated on controversial questions and disputes about words. This was the problem of the Pharisees. Jesus said that they would strain out a gnat and swallow a camel. They get fixated on some aspect of truth and make that secondary or tertiary aspect a major aspect of their teaching. One man tells the story of how he was once introduced to someone in the congregation and as he struck out his hand to greet him the man said, not “Hi, Hello, I'm Peter...” but, “What do you think about the little horn of Daniel?” There are people who fail to read the moment. They have an unhealthy interest in the obscure. But mostly, they oppose true, sound doctrine [2 Tim 3:8]. Paul says: “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works “ [ Tit. 1:16]
Sound doctrine is plain. Its results are plain. It leads to godliness with contentment.
False doctrine leads to personal ungodliness and discontentment at many levels: home, work and church. Please note that whereas sound doctrine is plain and straightforward in appearance, this different doctrine has many ugly tentacles and faces (see vv. 4,5)
Now, we are not suggesting that sound doctrine is easy to grasp. Many struggle with it, and we must struggle. We are fallen beings. The gospel is contrary to our sinful nature and therefore contrary to our natural thinking. Sin must be unlearned, and replaced with biblical gospel thinking. That takes time, and it takes repeated reminders and sitting under the teaching of the sound gospel as long as we live. And how do we know that we have it? When sound doctrine leads to sound living.
Our fundamental concern must be that the truth as it is in Jesus should lead us to transformed lives [see Romans 12:1,2] characterized by love for God, and by loving service for one another and by loving service to a lost world.
True godliness may be firm and bold, because it believes the truth as it is in Jesus, but is not contentious for the sake of being contentious. It is not quarrelsome. It is kind and gracious and patient. One way to guard against sliding into false doctrine is to consistently check whether the truth produces more Christ-likeness in us , leading us to more godliness and true contentedness. The gospel does bring great gain, but it's not the kind of gain that the false teachers are talking about.
May the Holy Spirit be pleased to deeply embed the truth in our hearts , to make us able to discern different doctrine from the sound words of our Lord Jesus. Amen !