This is a guest post from John Piper, courtesy of the Good Book Company and the man himself.
Over the years, it has struck me how strange it is how many Christian people pursue wealth. Jesus warns that riches make it hard for people to get into heaven (Matthew 19 v 23) and Paul warns that those who desire to be rich plunge into ruin and destruction (1 Timothy 6 v 9-10). It’s as though we either do not believe it, or we think we will be the exception to the rule, or we just don’t think God’s word could mean what it says.
But Paul means what he says—desiring to be rich is deadly. And there is more. The key that unlocks this section of 1 Timothy 6 is in verse 6: “Godliness with contentment is great gain.”
What is the protection against these deadly effects of money?
Answer: a heart that is content in God.
Are you deeply satisfied in God, so that this satisfaction, this contentment, doesn’t collapse when God ordains that you have much or little? Having little can destroy contentment in God by making us feel he is stingy or uncaring or powerless. And having much can destroy our contentment in God by making us feel that God is superfluous, or quite secondary as a helper and treasure.
What’s the secret?
It is no small thing to learn in life how not to lose our contentment in God. This is what life is for—living to show that God is all-glorious. And this is shown, among other ways, by how he is gloriously sufficient to give us contentment in himself in the best and worst of times. Paul had learned the secret of how to do that:
11 I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4 v 11-13)
Paul had learned “to be content.” This is the key to the right use of money in 1 Timothy 6 v 5-10. Paul said he had learned the secret of this contentment. “I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Philippians 4 v 12). What was the secret? I think he gives the secret in the previous chapter of Philippians: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (3 v 8).
In other words, to put it in modern terms, when the stock market goes up or he gets a bonus, he says, I find Jesus more precious and valuable and satisfying than my increasing money. And when the stock market goes down or he faces a pay cut, he says, I find Jesus more precious and valuable and satisfying than all that I have lost. The glory and beauty and worth and preciousness of Christ is the secret of contentment that keeps money from controlling him.
Money does not satisfy. Really.
Money does not satisfy: “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 5 v 10). I know many will say, “Oh yes it does. My money is a good friend. It does not let me down. I have a great house, and two cars, and a fine private school for my kids, and a boat, and a cabin, and lots of life insurance, and pensions and annuities. It may not go with me to the other world—if there is another world—but it definitely has not let me down here!”
I will place my bet with the Preacher of Ecclesiastes. You were made for satisfaction with God, and your money is blinding you to that. There are deep longings that you have. They rise up in the night. They creep up on you when you are alone and discouraged. If you are honest, you know the stuff you have surrounded yourself with cannot touch the deepest longings of your heart. You were not made to be satisfied with stuff. And none of that stuff can still the fears, and the onrush, of aging and death. No, you are kidding yourself. The word is true: “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money.”
George Macdonald penetrated to the reason that our elusive quest to find happiness in having stuff does not work:
The heart of man cannot hoard. His brain or his hand may gather into its box and hoard, but the moment the thing has passed into the box, the heart has lost it and is hungry again. If a man would have, it is the Giver he must have … Therefore all that he makes must be free to come and go through the heart of his child; he can enjoy it only as it passes, can enjoy only its life, its soul, its vision, its meaning, not itself.
There is no link between having much money and knowing much happiness in this life—or the next. When the biblical wise man says, “Better is…” he means, “More deep contentment is…”
“Better is the little that the righteous has than the abundance of many wicked.” (Psalm 37 v 16)
“Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it.” (Proverbs 15 v 16)
“Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it.” (Proverbs 15 v 17)
In other words, the key to happiness in this life is not wealth. You cannot find happiness in something that blinds you to the true source of happiness. Jesus repeatedly portrayed himself and his promises and his kingdom—now and forever—as a relationship and a hope and a place of supreme happiness.
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary. He is author of more than 50 books.
This is an extract adapted from John Piper’s new book, Living in the Light: Money, Sex, and Power (The Good Book Company, 2016). Find out more at www.livinginthelight-book.com or www.thegoodbook.co.uk/light
My own review of the book can be found here