Contentment, not Covetousness (Stott)

Sometimes the commentaries I read aren’t overly helpful. It’s not that I’m brilliant, it’s just that some commentaries state obvious things. Other commentaries discuss matters not overly pertinent to the interpretation or application of the text. But typically I appreciate John Stott’s commentaries. They are clear and concise. They are thought-provoking. And they explain the text well in an applicable way. Here’s a section of Stott’s commentary on 1 Timothy & Titus I read this afternoon while studying 1 Timothy 6:6-8. You can read those verses and then the following comments for a devotional reading for the day:

How then does the apostle argue the Christian case for contentment and against covetousness? He reminds us of a fundamental (though often ignored) fact of our human experience, relating to our birth and death. It is that we brought nothing into the world (‘absolutely nothing’, as JBP expresses the emphasis), and we can take nothing out of it (v7, ‘absolutely nothing’, JBP repeats). It seems probable that Paul is alluding to a salutary truth on which Israel’s wise men reflected. Here is Job’s version of it: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall depart.’ That is, we are born naked and penniless, and when we die and are buried we are naked and penniless again. In respect of earthly possessions, our entry and our exit are identical. So our life on earth is a brief pilgrimage between two moments of nakedness. We brought nothing with us, and can take nothing away with us. As the officiating minister said at the funeral of a wealthy lady, when asked by the curious how much she had left, ‘She left everything.’ It is a perspective which should influence our economic lifestyle. For possessions are only the travelling luggage of time; they are not the stuff of eternity. It would be sensible therefore to travel light and, as Jesus himself commanded us, not to store up for ourselves (that is, to accumulate selfishly) treasures on earth.

What, then, should be our attitude to material things? Paul replies: But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that (v8, or perhaps it is an exhortation, ‘let us rest content’, REB). He thus reverts to the topic of Christian contentment. Luxuries are not essential to it; but necessities are. These he calls food and clothing, the ‘what to eat’ and ‘what to wear’ which Jesus forbade us to worry about, because he promised that our heavenly Father would give them to us. Paul’s word for ‘clothing’ is skepasma (literally, a ‘covering’), which means ‘chiefly clothing … but also house’ (BAGD). So probably the couplet ‘food and clothing’ should be extended to include shelter, for these three are clearly essential for our journey.

Is this all? Probably not, for what Paul is defining is not the maximum that is permitted to the believer, but the minimum that is compatible with contentment. This is clear because he has already portrayed God as the good Creator, whose gifts we are to receive with thanksgiving (4:3ff.), and he will soon add that God ‘richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment’ (6:17). So he is not advocating austerity or asceticism, but contentment in place of materialism and covetousness.

John Stott, 1 Timothy & Titus in The Bible Speaks Today commentary series.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015