Today’s Chocolate: Green & Black’s Organic Milk Chocolate with Almonds
Today’s Passage: Hebrews 13:5, 1 Timothy 6:6-10, Philippians 4:11-12
Today’s verse from God’s Little Instruction Book is a single simple imperative sentence from Hebrews. As he’s wrapping up his letter, the author writes, “Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have” (Hebrews 13:5). If we zoom out and survey the rest of Hebrews 13 for context, we won’t find any additional insights into the struggle between greed and contentment. The verse in question is situated among commands to stay faithful to your spouse and to be kind to strangers and prisoners, and the meat of chapter 13 is encouragement for the Jewish Christians who’ve earned the disdain of their fellow Jews for following a crucified Messiah. Verse five is the only verse about not making your bank account your best bud! So, what we’re going to do instead is zoom out even further and consider the contrast between greed and contentment in the New Testament epistles.
Look, this isn’t your first rodeo. You know it’s an open question in Biblical scholarship whether Paul wrote Hebrews or not. Even those who propose answers to the question of Hebrews’ authorship don’t take it for granted. But even if whoever wrote Hebrews was not Paul, he sure has a similar view on contentment and material possessions. Take, for instance, the conclusion of his first letter to Timothy, or the conclusion of his letter to the Philippian church.
Paul’s sign-off to Timothy is rife with instructions on contentment. It’s the source of the oft-misquoted adage “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil” (just one root, not the root! 1 Timothy 6:10). The consensus is clear: you want to grow some evil in your character, plant it with the seeds of the love of money. On the other hand, Paul advises, “If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content” (1 Timothy 6:8). That’s a pretty easy bar to reach! I’m not naked, and I’ve eaten like twelve taquitos tonight. Now, being satisfied with that isn’t quite so easy, especially if you have ever played video games, but it’s possible. And when God teaches you how to be satisfied with food and covering, everything else is just icing on the cake.
Paul approaches the topic from a different angle as he wraps up his letter to the Philippians. He draws on his own travels and missionary experience, explaining, ” I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am” (Philippians 4:11). He elaborates: “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry” (Philippians 4:12). Think about that for a second. “Humble means” means “going hungry.” And what is prosperity? Being filled. Not having no food. You thought the bar for the preconditions of contentment was low in 1 Timothy? Check out Paul’s outro in Philippians. You are materially well-off if, when you need to eat something, you have something to eat.
I’d submit that Paul and the author of Hebrews (whether they are the same person or not) are drawing on the book of Proverbs for their principles of contentment. If you run a word search for “content” in Proverbs, hilariously, all it brings back is verses about contention. But if you search for synonyms and related words, you’ll find proverbs like this one: “The righteous has enough to satisfy his appetite, but the stomach of the wicked is in need” (Proverbs 13:25). And I think this one’s broader than just food, because obviously in the history of the world there have been starving righteous people and more-than-enough-food-having evil people. The stomach of the wicked is in need because he doesn’t know how to be content. He doesn’t know how to stop wanting.
But how do you stop wanting? I’ll admit this post has flirted with “just do it” territory, and honestly, so have Paul and the author of Hebrews. But I’ll offer what I believe are two practical tips. First, contentment is a discipline; you don’t develop it overnight. And second, if you try to develop contentment without depending on God to get to work on your character, without cultivating gratitude for the things he’s given you…well, you’re gonna have a rough time.