How Do You Spell "Contentment?"

Life That Really Is Life 

Philippians 4:8-13

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19

Actually, godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. If we have food and clothing, we’ll be content with that. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation. They are trapped by many stupid and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with a lot of pain because they made money their goal.

So tell people who are rich now not to be arrogant and not to put their hope in their finances, which are so uncertain. But they should put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in the good they do, to be generous and to share with others. When they do these things, they will save a treasure for themselves that is a good foundation for the future. Then they can take hold of the life that truly is life.

* * * * *

When I was in Chicago this week I spotted a book on my sister’s table. It’s called More Than Enough: Living Abundantly in a Culture of Excess, by Lee Hull Moses. I thought, this sounds like what we’ve been talking about all fall! So of course I stole it.

One January day last year Lee took her kids out sledding. Now, ‘sledding’ in Greensboro, North Carolina is not exactly like sledding here. It’s more like a slip-n-slide, only with ice. The owners of a local skating rink built a little six-foot rise with stairs going up to the top, with a long, iced-over gentle slope going down, and cheap plastic saucer sleds to ride down on. Even then, sledding is a rare and wonderful treat.

The problem was, there weren’t enough sleds, and it wasn’t clear how you were supposed to get one. Some people went down to the bottom to ask for a sled from the kid who just came down. Others waited at the bottom of the stairs till someone came with one. Others just stood around feeling anxious and confused. Things were getting tense, and a fun afternoon was turning ugly.

Then someone figured out the solution. There weren’t enough sleds for each person to have one, but nobody needed a sled until it was time to go down the hill. They just needed to pass the sleds up to the front of the line. And they needed to trust that when it was their turn, they would have a sled to ride down on.

It worked. Well, mostly it worked. Until new people showed up who didn’t get the process, and they got anxious and started grabbing sleds. They were “fearful they wouldn’t get a turn,” Lee says, “… hanging on for dear life to a sled that wasn’t going anywhere.”[i]

In his letter to Timothy, Paul offers a stark contrast. There are two basic ways of life, he says. There’s the love of money, and there’s the life that really is life. Two different ways, two different paths that lead us in very different directions. One traps us in stupid desires – ‘senseless’ is how some translate it, or ‘foolish’. The other path leads to something altogether different. Like not being anxious about having your own sled. Like trusting you will have enough. Like being willing and able to share.

Just to be clear, the Bible doesn’t say that money is the root of all evil. It says that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Money doesn’t cause evil, and there’s plenty of evil caused by things besides the love of money.

In fact, money can do a lot of good things. Money can buy tickets to OSU games. Or, say, the World Series. Money could buy me a plane ticket home to watch Game 7 with my Dad.

Money supports Veterans like my father, giving him benefits he badly needs, in thanks for the sacrifices he and so many people made so we can have the freedom to vote.

Money will pay poll workers on election day so we have the freedom to participate in fair and orderly elections, and that is no small blessing.

Money pays to keep the lights on in this place, and in our houses, and, because we give money to places like the Coalition ofCare, it keeps the lights on in other people’s houses, too, people we don’t even know. Money raised at the Holiday Fair supports ministries around the world. Money does a lot of good things.

But money can also buy undo influence. Money can buy so much in material goods that the planet’s resources are stretched to capacity. Money can buy privileges that allow us to ignore the needs of people around us.

Think back to the kids going sledding. What if the system was that for $50 more you could have your own sled and wouldn’t have to share with anyone – even if there were only 10 sleds, and only ten kids could go down that hill?

Love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.

When I read the passage from Timothy, I found myself thinking about the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. You probably know the premise. Thousands of years before, the Dark Lord Sauron forged a ring to rule the other rings of power and corrupt those who wore them. The Dark Lord was defeated, and the ring was lost.

It was found two thousand years later. But it was not held for long. Its power took hold of Smeagol, who murdered his friend to possess the ring. Smeagol was banished, but kept the ring, and over hundreds of years its power worked on him, and in him, and through him, until he was warped into a hideous creature called “Gollum.”

When Gollum loses the ring and Bilbo Baggins finds it, the saga begins – revolving around the power, and corrupting power, of that ring. Gollum will not stop until he possesses the ring again. Because the ring possesses him.[ii]

Do you remember what Gollum calls the ring? “Precious.”  

Precious.

What’s “precious” to you? What goal do you seek with every ounce of your life? How much of your soul are you willing to sell to have it?

If it’s money, or things money can buy, please reconsider. For the love of God, please.

There are two ways of life, Paul tells us. Two paths we can take. One is inward, focused on our hearts’ desires, what we think we must have. The other is outward, that sees others around us. One revolves around wanting, the other revolves around sharing. One focuses on ‘me, my and mine,’ the other on ‘we, us and ours.’ One leads to all kinds of pain; the other to all kinds of enjoyment. One trusts in money; the other way trusts in God.

But here’s the really important thing: it’s not simply a matter of deciding which path we will take. It’s not like choosing Door 1 or Door 2. It’s much deeper than that. Much, much deeper.

See, I think it has everything to do with what’s living inside us. What’s at our core. If the Spirit of God is alive in us, then we will be filled with the living presence of God. We won’t have to make choices so much as live out the flourishing that’s already within us. We’ll know what brings life, and what doesn’t.

But if it’s something else that is precious?

The love of money is idolatry. And if we keep worshiping that god, then the Spirit of the God of life will have no room to breathe, and we will become corrupt, hideous creatures, with the image of God barely visible in us. We’ll be hanging on for dear life to something that isn’t going anywhere.

God offers us a way of life that really is life. That ‘life’ is full of joy, generosity, patience… It doesn’t cling to possessions... It knows where to find contentment… and that is in living in the heart of God.

Paul knew what he was talking about. He had tasted hunger and he had known plenty. He had been wealthy and he had been poor. And he learned, he said, to be content with whatever he had.

In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

There is nothing ‘precious’ out there that will fill that need in you or in me. Nothing. There is only one thing, and we already have it.

In God we trust.

 

[i] Lee Hull Moses, More Than Enough: Living Abundantly in a Culture of Excess (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 9-11.

[ii][ii] The Lord of the Rings, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lord_of_the_Rings, accessed 11-4-2016.