Let me tell you right up front that you don’t want to hear this. You really don’t. It’s not the way the world thinks about things. It’s not the way we want to think about things. But when we study God’s Word, there is no avoiding it.
The apostle Paul wrote in1 Timothy: “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:6-7). Paul writes about the blessing of contentment – of being satisfied and thankful for what God has given to us. He notes that we bring nothing into the world and cannot take anything out of it. So rather than focusing on all of the other things in the world which we could obtain, the apostle says that if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.
Paul focuses on the basic essentials needed to sustain life: food and clothing. When he does so, he is echoing the teaching of our Lord Jesus. In the Sermon on the Mount he said, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25). Jesus then went on to say:
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:26-33)
Jesus also mentions food and clothing. He says that our heavenly Father knows that we need them. He urges, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (6:33). Yet when he does so he is referring only to the food and clothing he has just been discussing.
It is sobering to realize that God has only promised food and clothing – the bare essentials needed to support life. We all know of people who have experienced a great financial crisis caused by one reason or another. Perhaps you yourself have experienced this. Such an experience often leads to a drastic revision of the way a person lives. From our point of view, such an event is a tragedy because so much is lost. Yet if a person continues to have food and clothing, God has not ceased to be true to his Word. The fact of the matter is that God has not promised us anything that goes beyond this.
Instead, Scripture describes the things of life that go beyond food and clothing as a spiritual danger. St. Paul went on to say to Timothy: “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:9-10).
Certainly Paul presents the desire to be rich, caused by a love of many, as a spiritual danger. In our great material comfort we like to say things like, “It’s not money, but instead the love of money that is a problem.” However, our Lord Jesus pushes beyond this when he says, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:23-24). Jesus says that wealth presents an inherent spiritual challenge.
It’s really not hard to understand why this is the case. We become used to a certain lifestyle that goes far beyond food and clothing. Once you are used to having wifi wherever you go, a setting where there is no signal for your smart phone seems like a real hardship. These expectations become ruling forces in our lives. They drive our behavior, and in doing so they usurp the position God is to have.
We may, perhaps, attempt to deflect this evaluation by claiming that we are not in fact rich. Yet when you compare our lives to the bare essentials of food and clothing promised by God; when you compare our lives to that of the vast majority of 7.6 billion people who live on this plant, you find that we each are in fact very rich.
This recognition should lead us to give thanks to God. After all, he has abundantly blessed us with far more than just daily bread. It prompts us to recognize that times of material loss do not in any way suggest that God has ceased to care for us. In fact, he never promised anything more than food and clothing. And it leads us to view our wealth and material blessings in new ways. Rather than focusing on what we have and allowing it to define our life, God’s Word leads us to consider how that wealth can be used to support the work of his Church and the care for others.