“Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). First Timothy is a letter from the apostle Paul to his young protégé, Timothy, to encourage him in his new role as a church leader. Chapter 6 begins with a description of true godliness. He warns Timothy about those who “think that godliness is a means to financial gain” (verse 5). He describes corrupt teachers who will divert believers from true faith in Christ by arguing over words, creating trivial controversies, and pursuing get-rich schemes. Paul clarifies the meaning of godliness and emphasizes that it is the opposite of what these trouble-makers portray it to be.
The heretical teaching that infiltrated the church in Timothy’s day is still prevalent in modern Christianity. We commonly hear of preachers and Christian figureheads using their positions of influence to amass unimaginable wealth so that they can live opulent lifestyles. They then teach that their success is the norm and a worthy goal that every believer in Christ should seek. They take God’s promises of blessing (Deuteronomy 28:2; Psalm 21:6; 128:2) and create a religion out of them. In some instances, Jesus is portrayed as a means to achieve all our hopes and dreams. Yet this is the very mindset we are warned against in 1 Timothy 6:9–10: “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. . . . Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
Rather than consider amassing wealth as great gain, Paul states that “godliness with contentment is great gain.” Christ-followers should focus their effort on pursuing holiness in conduct, attitude, and thought. They should choose to be content in whatever circumstances God has given them, just as Paul himself had done while in prison (Philippians 4:11–12). We are told to “flee from all this [eagerness to get rich], and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11). Contrary to what many popular health-and-wealth proponents would have us believe, the Bible warns us against pursuing riches (Proverbs 23:4; Matthew 6:19). It is impossible to be content when our hearts are set on gaining more. We will not remain godly for long if we are not content with what God has given us. A desire for godliness is quickly eroded by a greedy, covetous spirit.
The Bible never says that it is a sin to be rich. There are examples in Scripture of God blessing His servants with tremendous material wealth (Genesis 39:2; 1 Samuel 18:14; 2 Chronicles 1:11–12). But 1 Timothy 6:17 instructs the wealthy this way: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” The difference is in the heart. Both greed and contentment are states of the heart. When we choose to be content with the riches of Christ (Colossians 1:27; Ephesians 3:8) rather than pursue material riches, our lives will be more in line with God’s desire for us, because “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21).