1 Timothy 6 - IVP New Testament Commentaries
The Christian View of Money
It is clear from the transition at verse 6 that Paul has intended all along to teach a Christian view of money. The false teachers have provided a vivid contrast for instruction. If Paul felt his first readers needed to be taught concerning their outlook on material possessions and contentment, how much more do we modern servants of God need to gain his insight!
Paul tells us that the Christian's goal with respect to material things is godliness with contentment. Godliness in Paul's vocabulary means the genuine Christian life, a faith-relationship with God and a new way of life. Contentment is a Pauline word in the New Testament (2 Cor 9:8; compare Phil 4:11). It had a prominent place in Stoic philosophy, where it defined an attitude of "self-sufficiency," meaning detachment or independence from things or possessions. Contentment came from within. Paul approved of this idea but naturally supplied a Christian basis for it: "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. . . . I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Phil 4:11, 13). Thus for Paul the Christian goal is a genuine relationship with God, our source of contentment, and a healthy detachment from material things. This combination is great gain. In contrast to 6:5, gain here is measured according to spiritual rather than material value. Eternal benefits are surely promised, but the focus is on how the believer with this healthy perspective can avoid the many pitfalls of greed in the present life.
To ground his view of contentment, Paul draws on Old Testament wisdom. Both Job 1:21 and Ecclesiastes 5:15 expound the principle that material things belong only to this world. Things have no lasting value and provide no eternal advantage. Therefore one's contentment cannot stem from things. Human contact with the material world begins at birth and terminates at death. But Christian hope takes the believer beyond the material limit to a boundless eternity, and logically, then, eternal values must shape our view of temporal things. To put it simply, Job and Paul mean that "things," their value and usefulness, pertain to this world, which is but a temporary home (compare Heb 11:10).
This leads to a question: For the Christian how much is enough? Paul's principle implies a standard of material sufficiency that is minimal indeed. Food and clothing ought to be enough. While Paul may be quoting popular philosophy, it is far more likely that he is drawing from the model of Christ (Mt 6:25-34; Lk 12:16-21). He does not say anything negative about living above this minimum standard, though he will teach that life at a higher material level carries with it heavy obligations. But he does say that real contentment and material prosperity have nothing to do with one another. And acquisitiveness has nothing to do with godliness.
How can the Christian learn to be content with simple living? Certainly not by accepting the standards set by this world. Paul suggests that an eternal perspective and an attitude of detachment toward things are prerequisites. As an eternal perspective develops, dependence on things material will decline.