William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

The Crown Of Content (1 Timothy 6:6-8)

6:6-8 And in truth godliness with contentment is great gain. We brought nothing into the world, and it is quite clear that we cannot take anything out of it either; but if we have food and shelter, we shall be content with them.

The word here used for contentment is autarkeia (0841). This was one of the great watchwords of the Stoic philosophers. By it they meant a complete self-sufficiency. They meant a frame of mind which was completely independent of all outward things, and which carried the secret of happiness within itself.

Contentment never comes from the possession of external things. As George Herbert wrote:

"For he that needs five thousand pounds to live

Is full as poor as he that needs but five."

Contentment comes from an inward attitude to life. In the Third part of Henry the Sixth, Shakespeare draws a picture of the king wandering in the country places unknown. He meets two gamekeepers and tells them that he is a king. One of them asks him:

"But, if thou be a king, where is thy crown?" And the king gives a great answer:

"My crown is in my heart, not on my head;

Not deck'd with diamonds and Indian stones,

Nor to be seen; my crown is call'd content--

A crown it is that seldom kings enjoy."

Long ago the Greek philosophers had gripped the right end of the matter. Epicurus said of himself: "To whom little is not enough nothing is enough. Give me a barley cake and a glass of water and I am ready to rival Zeus for happiness." And when someone asked him for the secret of happiness, his answer was: "Add not to a man's possessions but take away from his desires."

The great men have always been content with little. One of the sayings of the Jewish Rabbis was: "Who is rich? He that is contented with his lot." Walter Lock quotes the kind of training on which a Jewish Rabbi engaged and the kind of life he lived: "This is the path of the Law. A morsel with salt shalt thou eat, thou shalt drink also water by measure, and shalt sleep upon the ground and live a life of trouble while thou toilest in the Law. If thou doest this, happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee --, happy shalt thou be in this world and it shall be well with thee in the world to come." The Rabbi had to learn to be content with enough. E. F. Brown quotes a passage from the great preacher Lacordaire: "The rock of our present day is that no one knows how to live upon little. The great men of antiquity were generally poor.... It always seems to me that the retrenchment of useless expenditure, the laying aside of what one may call the relatively necessary, is the high road to Christian disentanglement of heart, just as it was to that of ancient vigour. The mind that has learned to appreciate the moral beauty of life, both as regards God and men, can scarcely be greatly moved by any outward reverse of fortune; and what our age wants most is the sight of a man, who might possess everything, being yet willingly contented with little. For my own part, humanly speaking, I wish for nothing. A great soul in a small house is the idea which has touched me more than any other."

It is not that Christianity pleads for poverty. There is no special virtue in being poor, or in having a constant struggle to make ends meet. But it does plead for two things.

It pleads for the realization that it is never in the power of things to bring happiness. E. K. Simpson says: "Many a millionaire, after choking his soul with gold-dust, has died from melancholia." Happiness always comes from personal relationships. All the things in the world will not make a man happy if he knows neither friendship nor love. The Christian knows that the secret of happiness lies, not in things, but in people.

It pleads for concentration upon the things which are permanent. We brought nothing into the world and we cannot take anything out of it. The wise men of every age and faith have known this. "You cannot," said Seneca, "take anything more out of the world than you brought into it." The poet of the Greek anthology had it: "Naked I set foot on the earth; naked I shall go below the earth." The Spanish proverb grimly puts it: "There are no pockets in a shroud." E. K. Simpson comments: "Whatever a man amasses by the way is in the nature of luggage, no part of his truest personality, but something he leaves behind at the toll-bar of death."

Two things alone a man can take to God. He can, and must, take himself; and therefore his great task is to build up a self he can take without shame to God. He can, and must, take that relationship with God into which he has entered in the days of his life. We have already seen that the secret of happiness lies in personal relationships, and the greatest of all personal relationships is the relationship to God. And the supreme thing that a man can take with him is the utter conviction that he goes to One who is the friend and lover of his soul.

Content comes when we escape the servitude to things, when we find our wealth in the love and the fellowship of men, and when we realize that our most precious possession is our friendship with God, made possible through Jesus Christ.

- William Barclay's Daily Study Bible