If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. 1 Timothy 6:8
“If we do value “mammon” as normal people seem to think we should, our fate is fixed. Our fate is anxiety. It is worry. It is frustration. The words anxious and worry both have reference to strangling or being choked. Certainly that is how we feel when we are anxious. Things and events have us by the throat and seem to be cutting off our life. We are being harmed, or we fear what will come upon us, and all our efforts are insufficient to do anything about it.
Because we have the option, in reliance upon Jesus, of having abundant treasures in the realm of the heavens, Jesus gives us another of His “therefores.” “Therefore don’t be anxious for your physical existence, concerning what you will have to eat or drink, or how you will clothe your body” (Matt. 6:25). Life is not about food, He continues to say, nor the body about clothes. It is about a place in God’s immortal kingdom now. Eternity is, in part, what we are now living.
Jesus reminds us to look at living things around us in nature. In particular He refers us to birds and wildflowers. What is most relevant about the birds is that they do not “lay up treasures upon earth.” They receive from their world, under God, daily food for daily needs. When we watch them we are reminded of the phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us today the food we need for today.”
And as for the birds, it is not so much that birds do not work. They are among the busiest citizens of our world. Some, such as domestic chickens, are observed to work very hard. We too should work, and sometimes work hard. But our feathered friends do not seem to worry about the physical supports of their life, such as food and water and shelter. They simply seek it as they need it and take what they find. And that is how we should be. Having our treasures in heaven frees us to live simply in the present so far as our vital needs are concerned. We work hard, of course, and we care for our loved ones. But we do not worry — not even about them. Having food and clothing and God, we can be content (1 Tim. 6:8)…
People who are ignorant of God — the ethne, or “nations,” who also pray, we have seen, with mechanical meaninglessness — live to eat and drink and dress. “For such things the ‘Gentiles’ seek” — and their lives are filled with corresponding anxiety and anger and depression about how they will look and how they will fare.
By contrast, those who understand Jesus and His Father know that provision has been made for them. Their confidence has been confirmed by their experience. Though they work, they do not worry about things “on earth.” Instead, they are always “seeking first the kingdom.” That is, they “place top priority on identifying and involving themselves in what God is doing and in the kind of rightness [dikaiosune] He has. All else needed is provided” (6:33). They soon enough have a track record to prove it…
The “Western” segment of the church today lives in a bubble of historical illusion about the meaning of discipleship and the gospel. We are dominated by the essentially Enlightenment values that rule American culture: pursuit of happiness, unrestricted freedom of choice, disdain of authority. The prosperity gospels, the gospels of liberation, and the comfortable sense of “what life is all about” that fills the minds of most devout Christians in our circles are the result. How different is the gritty realization of James: “Friends of the world (kosmou) are enemies of God” (James 4:4) And John: “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (2 John 2:15).
If we do not treasure earthly goods we must be prepared to be treated as more or less crazy. This is also true if we escape the delusions of respectability and so are not governable by the opinions of those around us, even though we respect them in love…”
Dallas Willard (1935-2013) in Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God (New York: HarperCollins, 1998) 209-14. Click the link to download and read this modern-day classic.
As I just read a chapter of it, I felt like Dallas was reading it to me, because I was reminded of a conversation with him about ten years ago at a conference in Long Beach, California. I asked, “How important is it to teach stewardship and generosity to seminary students?” After a long pause, he said, “It’s absolutely vital to share those truths because our world is filled with lies.” He continued. “On my drive here from my home today to this hotel, I read various billboards and most all of them told lies about who I am and what I need. People need to know the truth about those matters, and pastors must teach them, otherwise their focus will be consumed by the things of this world.”
It was one of those conversations I will never forget. And sure this is a long post, but nothing like the book, which is 466 pages. Don’t miss this point of my sharing of this excerpt.
If we follow the world’s wisdom, our focus becomes fixed on mammon. We will are consumed by what we eat, drink, what we wear, and where we live. The world’s messages bombard us with discontentment which breeds “anxiety” and hinders generosity! If, alternatively, we go against the flow and follow Jesus, people will treat us like we are “more or less crazy” but regardless, we take hold of life in the kingdom now, and we are positioned to be generous because we have found that we have everything we need in Christ so we can be content with basic food, clothing, and shelter.
In an increasingly consumeristic global economy, I am becoming convinced that our greatest everyday witness as followers of Jesus may be our contentment with basic needs. Are you?