In his letter to the Philippians the apostle Paul wrote, ‘I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content in it… I have learned the secret’(Philippians 4:11-12). Here he mentions that same secret and its root in godliness. This is a misunderstood concept we’d do well to grasp, like the proverbial ‘“pearl of great price”’(Matthew 13:46), rather than chasing after real pearls etc. – in this passage ‘money’(1 Timothy 6:10), or any equivalent ‘chasing after wind’(Ecclesiastes 2:11). The secret to contentment in this world and to a fulfilling role within it, is godliness.
The root of godliness is an ever deeper communion with our eternal source, from whom all our blessed contentment and fulfilment flows – a deep, solid connection to God Himself. From the Christian (New Testament) perspective this includes fellowship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It involves an ongoing dialogue with ‘“‘Our Father in heaven…’”’(Matthew 6:9), being aware of Jesus’ presence with us ‘“always, even to the end of the age”’(Matthew 28:20), and ‘praying at all times in the Spirit’(Ephesians 6:18), as we ‘live by the Spirit… walk by the Spirit’(Galatians 5:25). Thus Godliness is a constant awareness of and focus on God, in worship, in dependence and for guidance.
Godliness also involves a right awareness of our temporary location in this world, knowing that we’re journeying onwards to this ‘end of the age’(Matthew 28:20), that ‘our citizenship is in heaven’(Philippians 3:20), and that we’re ‘strangers and pilgrims on the earth’(Hebrews 11:13).
This focus on God and our eternal home has a profound effect on our sense of identity, security and purpose – sure of ourselves in God. It’s this that leads to a deep contentment independent of worldly circumstance, and a healthy disinterest in worldly riches or other eternally fruitless pursuits. It’s what Paul was taking about a few verses later when he encouraged Timothy instead to, ‘Lay hold of the eternal life to which you were called’(1 Timothy 6:12). Being in fellowship with God, on a mission from God, doing everything under His loving gracious eye, by His direction, and ultimately for Him, liberates us from the need for mere worldly goals, comforts or approval. It’s what was going on when Paul said elsewhere that he wasn’t bothered by worldly hardships, rather all that mattered to him was to ‘“finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord”’(Acts 20:24), and even approval or disapproval from any church he considered a ‘very small thing’(1 Corinthians 4:3). God knows and understands the mission He has given us. We’re to rest secure, serving that agenda – dependant on His grace!
Note the focus of godliness is on God, not on a particular institution or social clique – it’s not ‘churchliness’ in that sense, our identity is in Christ. It is of course important to ‘provoke one another to love and good works, not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as you see the Day approaching’(Hebrews 10:24-25), and ‘with all lowliness and humility, with patience, bearing with one another in love; being eager to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’(Ephesians 4:2-3), but that’s to be done as a Christian, in relationship with God, not as a ‘churchian’. The difference is subtle but important. We should always be looking to ‘him, who is the head, Christ’(Ephesians 4:15) of this ‘one body, and one Spirit’(Ephesians 4:4) of which we are part, fulfilling a function within it, contributing to the ‘work of serving’(Ephesians 4:12) of the whole; but this is a nebulous, universal, spiritual body that will not be boxed. The Spirit ‘“blows where it wants”’(John 3:8), and we must travel by that wind, not allowing ourselves to be blown by ‘every wind of doctrine’(Ephesians 4:14), in this passage that which ‘doesn’t consent to sound words, the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness’(1 Timothy 6:3). Such will often ‘“arise”’(Acts 20:30) in boxes, a repeated pattern in history, showing us that the Holy Spirit will not be institutionalised. Jesus can be left outside of a group or institution saying ‘“Behold, I stand at the door and knock”’(Revelation 3:20) – a message originally to a church, even a New Testament congregation!
So true deep satisfaction, fulfilment and contentment comes from having our spiritual channels wide open to our eternal source, with an eye to the wonder of our eternal destiny and home, enjoying the refreshing flow of God’s truth, grace and love into and through us, and out to a needy world.