John Piper has often quoted Thomas Chalmers on “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” A false joy is driven out by a greater joy. In his most recent book, Living in the Light, soon to be released by our friends at the Good Book Company, Piper uses the metaphor of planets and orbits, darkness and light. The best way to drive away the darkness is by shining the light. The way to nullify the false glamour and sparkle of sin’s trinkets is by eclipsing them with the blazing brilliance of the sun. The way to get our lives and God’s gifts back into their proper orbit around their Creator is to refocus on his all-satisfying greatness. It’s classic Piper and immensely helpful for it. Here is a taster from Piper’s devotional based on the book.
9 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. 10 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 v 9-10
Over the years, it has struck me—in view of Jesus’ warning that riches make it hard for people to get into heaven (Matthew 19 v 23) and Paul’s warning that those who desire to be rich plunge into ruin and destruction—how strange it is how many Christian people still pursue wealth. It’s as though they either do not believe him, or they think they will be the exception to the rule, or they just don’t think God’s word could mean what it says.
But Paul means what he says—desiring to be rich is deadly. And there is more. The key that unlocks this text is in verse 6: “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” What is the protection against these deadly effects of money? Answer: a heart that is content in God. Are you deeply satisfied in God, so that this satisfaction, this contentment, doesn’t collapse when God ordains that you have much or little? Having little can destroy contentment in God by making us feel he is stingy or uncaring or powerless. And having much can destroy our contentment in God by making us feel that God is superfluous, or quite secondary as a helper and treasure.
It is no small thing to learn in life how not to lose our contentment in God. This is what life is for—living to show that God is all-glorious. And this is shown, among other ways, by how he is gloriously sufficient to give us contentment in himself in the best and worst of times. Paul said he had learned the secret of this contentment. “I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Philippians 4 v 12). What was the secret? I think he gives the secret in the previous chapter of Philippians: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (3 v 8).
In other words, to put it in modern terms, when the stock market goes up or he gets a bonus, he says, I find Jesus more precious and valuable and satisfying than my increasing money. And when the stock market goes down or he faces a pay cut, he says, I find Jesus more precious and valuable and satisfying than all that I have lost. The glory and beauty and worth and preciousness of Christ is the secret of contentment that keeps money from controlling him.
- Be honest: do you desire to be rich? (Or at least, a little bit richer than you are now?) What “evil” behaviors and painful “pangs” does that desire for money lead to in your life?
- “I find Jesus more precious and valuable and satisfying than my increasing money … I find Jesus more precious and valuable and satisfying than all that I have lost.” Is that a sentiment that you can echo? In what situations would that be most put to the test?
- The secret of contentment is “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”—so how could you seek to grow in contentment?
- Visit the Living in the Light website to sign up for these free devotionals, pre-order the book and watch video clips.
- See Issue 5 of Conversation Magazine for more on a missional perspective on money.