Friday, June 1, 2012

Contentment & Competition (part 1 of 2)

In the sixth verse of the sixth chapter of first Timothy, we find “Now godliness combined with contentment brings great profit.  For we have brought nothing into this world and so we cannot take a single thing out either” (6:6-7).  If we were not able to operate with the understanding that Paul has dismissed and rejected the popular and prevailing philosophy of Stoicism (apathy), effectively countering its philosophical stance with the hope of the Resurrection (as embodied in Jesus), we may be tempted to hear a resonance of Stoic thought in these words.  We are better served, however, to hear Paul from within the honor and shame competition of the culture.  Though it would not necessarily be the case that honor was equated with wealth, this would largely hold true.  So here we find a way of thinking that militates against the valuation of honor, and the goods that become associated with an every-increasing cache of public honor, with a reminder of that which is truly valuable.  In the end, that would be working to increase the public honor of the one that was made to be Lord and Christ. 

Contentment, as opposed to Stoic apathy, runs contrary to the ceaseless competition for public honor; and as we know, godliness, in imitation of the Lord, not only causes one to become unconcerned with public honor, but it causes Jesus’ followers to seek out the places and people and situations and activities that will redound to the accrual of shame.  With shame being the equivalent of death, and generally to be avoided at all costs (as was the going concern of the culture), the believers’ going “down” into shame (though paradoxically it is an elevation in the eyes of God) can be looked upon as the equivalent of going down into death---going to the cross with Jesus and being crucified with Him.

Paul’s conclusion in regards to contentment and that which is truly valuable is “But if we have food and shelter, we will be satisfied with that” (6:8).  This is quite the contrast from the general attitude as reflected by the acquisitive human appetite.  It takes a genuine work of the Spirit of God to create such contentment.  This is true for all time, and stands in special and stringent opposition to Paul’s world, as it was largely defined, as we are well aware, by constructs of honor and shame.  In the end, this contentment with food and shelter leads to the removal of oneself from the always ongoing competition to increase one’s public honor and avoid shame.  For the citizen of the kingdom, it should be the case that a concern with kingdom priorities, as an animation of the Spirit of God, would rush in to fill the void of this ardent opposition to the ways of the world.  This contentment, realized against the backdrop in which contentment is never an option, but may simply be viewed as an accommodation and acquiescence to a perpetual and unalterable position of shame in the eyes of the culture, operates in a stark contrast with the alternative. 

Along these lines, Paul writes “Those who long to be rich,” which we can also hear as those that pursue honor (and if they do, they do so according to the rules and regulations of the world’s patron, that being Caesar, thereby serving to ultimately enhance his public honor rather than that of the world’s true patron and Lord), “however, stumble into temptation and a trap and many senseless and harmful desires that plunge into ruin and destruction” (6:9).  This is not a blanket condemnation of wealth, as wealth can certainly be used rightly and to the ongoing extension of the kingdom of God as a manifestation of the work of the Spirit, but of misplaced desire, especially on the part of denizens of the kingdom of God.  Understanding that, we hear it said that “the love of money is the root of all evils.  Some people in reaching for it have strayed from the faith and stabbed themselves with many pains” (6:10).  The associated warning is “But you, as a person dedicated to God,” as a member of His kingdom community, with a higher and more honorable calling than can possibly be imagined (serving the poor, the blind, the lame, the maimed, orphans, widows, etc…), “keep away from all that.  Instead pursue righteousness, godliness, faithfulness, love, endurance, and gentleness” (6:11).  Righteousness, rightly understood, is the status of having a place among God’s covenant people.  Godliness can be heard as an imitation of Christ, looking to His faithfulness in the midst of overwhelming shame.  Love, endurance, and gentleness were to be the hallmarks of the church.    

No comments:

Post a Comment