loving money ignores the true gain
But godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment. (6:6)
This verse is closely connected with verse 5. De (but) could also be translated “indeed.” In that case, Paul would be saying in response to the false teachers who saw their religious activity as a way to get rich, “Indeed, godliness does provide great gain.” The NASB translation reflects an adversative sense of the word. Paul’s meaning then is “But as over against the false understanding of godliness displayed by the false teachers, true godliness does result in great gain.” The apostle’s point is that true godliness is profitable, but not as some think.
Godliness translates eusebeia, a familiar term in the Pastoral Epistles. It means “piety,” “reverence,” or “likeness to God,” and here even “religion,” in the true sense. As such, it describes true holiness, spirituality, and virtue. When accompanied by contentment, such religion or godliness is a means of great gain. Autarkēia (contentment) means “self-sufficiency,” and was used by the Cynic and Stoic philosophers to describe the person who was unflappable, unmoved by outside circumstances, and who properly reacted to his environment (cf. Geoffrey B. Wilson, The Pastoral Epistles [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1982], 85). To be content means to be satisfied and sufficient, and to seek nothing more than what one has.
For the Christian, unlike the Greek philosophers, contentment derives from God. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 3:5, “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.” In 2 Corinthians 9:8 he adds, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.” The apostle gave testimony to his own contentment in Philippians 4:11–13:
I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 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, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
In verse 19 of the same chapter he adds, “My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” For the believer, then, contentment is more than a mere noble human virtue. It is based on the sufficiency provided by God the Father and Jesus Christ. Loving money deprives one of that contentment, thus ignoring the true gain provided by true godliness.
True godliness produces contentment and spiritual riches. People are truly rich when they are content with what they have. The richest person is the one who doesn’t need anything else. When asked the secret of contentment, the Greek philosopher Epicurus replied, “Add not to a man’s possessions but take away from his desires” (cited in William Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975], 129). He is richest who desires the least. Proverbs 30:8–9 puts it this way: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is my portion, lest I be full and deny Thee and say, “Who is the Lord?” Or lest I be in want and steal, and profane the name of my God.”
A godly person is motivated not by the love of money but by the love of God. He seeks the true riches of spiritual contentment that come from complete trust in an all-sufficient God. David said in Psalm 63:1–5,
O God, Thou art my God; I shall seek Thee earnestly; my soul thirsts for Thee, my flesh yearns for Thee, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. Thus I have beheld Thee in the sanctuary, to see Thy power and Thy glory. Because Thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips will praise Thee. So I will bless Thee as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Thy name. My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth offers praises with joyful lips (cf. Ps. 107:9; Isa. 55:2; 58:11).
No amount of money will make up for a lack of contentment. John D. Rockefeller once said, “I have made many millions, but they have brought me no happiness.” Cornelius Vanderbilt added, “The care of millions is too great a load … there is no pleasure in it.” Millionaire John Jacob Astor described himself as “the most miserable man on earth.” Despite his wealth, Henry Ford once remarked, “I was happier doing mechanic’s work.” And John D. Rockefeller commented, “The poorest man I know is the man who has nothing but money.”
Love of money and contentment are mutually exclusive. As a Roman proverb put it, money is like sea water, the more you drink the thirstier you get (Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, 132). Ecclesiastes 5:10 sums it up, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money.”
6 In the first saying, Paul asserts that the true sign of “godliness” (eusebeia, GK 2354; see comments at 2:2) is “contentment” (autarkeia, GK 894; see 2 Co 9:8; Php 4:11; cf. Ps 34:10); such contented godliness is truly profitable (NIV, “gain,” porismos). Contentment, defined as “self-sufficiency,” was considered a virtue in Greek (Cynic-Stoic) philosophy. Paul, however, did not advocate that version of contentment. Rather, “putting new wine in old wineskins” (cf. Frederick E. Brenk, “Old Wineskins Recycled: Autarkeia in 1 Timothy 6.5–10,” Filologia neotestamentaria 3 [May 1990]:39–52), he “ ‘turned the tables’on the Stoics by declaring that genuine autarkeia is not self-sufficiency but Christ-sufficiency” (Fee, 143). Such true contentment is set in contrast to the greed of always wanting more,which leads to the exploitation of others.
In essence, “godliness” is not an avenue for material gain; as a spiritual virtue, it is “gain” in and of itself. This message has strong countercultural implications in the increasingly materialistic cultures of Western society. Even Christians are frequently drawn into a pattern of excessive debt, consumer spending, and status-consciousness based on material possessions (see “Consumerism,” “Debt,” and “Economics,” in Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions, ed. A. S. Moreau [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000], 224–25, 262–63, 297–99).
6:6 / This verse stands in immediate contrast to the last words in verse 5, with a striking play on terms. They think godliness “is a way to become rich.” They are partly right. There is great gain (or profit, now used metaphorically) in eusebeia, provided it is accompanied by contentment, that is, if one is satisfied with what one has and does not seek material gain.
The word autarkeia (contentment) expresses the favorite virtue of Stoic and Cynic philosophers, for whom it meant “self-sufficiency,” or the ability to rely on one’s own inner resources. There are some (D-C, Hanson, Brox, et al.) who see that philosophical tradition as lying behind all of verses 6–8, and they translate “if it is coupled with self-sufficiency” (D-C; cf. neb, “whose resources are within him”). But Paul has already used this word in an analogous context in Philippians 4:11; there he “turned the tables” on the Stoics by declaring that genuine autarkeia is not self-sufficiency but Christ-sufficiency. For Paul, therefore, the word means contentment, the empowering Christ gives to live above both want and plenty (Phil. 4:13). Moreover, there is no hint in 1 Timothy that its author considered anything like self-sufficiency to be a virtue. Life for him is all of grace and dependent on God’s mercies (1:12–17), and his ministry comes from Christ who appointed and empowered him for it (1:12).
Paul’s point, of course, is to combat the greed of the false teachers and, incidentally, of any others who might be tempted to lean in that direction.
6:6. Paul had just shown how the false teachers equated gain, success, and personal well-being with money. They promoted a form of outer godliness and intricate academic systems in order to draw people into their influence and so secure their financial support. Religion brought them prestige and profits.
But … This little qualifier is an important word. Paul negated the premise and goal of the false teachers. Success and personal well-being have nothing to do with rules, crowd adoration, or material prosperity: it is godliness with contentment [that] is great gain.
For Paul, godliness was the entire scope of the faith—correct doctrine combined with new life, truth measured by right living. The spiritual goals and disciplines necessary to progress in Christlikeness are to be the consuming passion of all his followers. This has nothing to do with material wealth or poverty. Material possessions are irrelevant. The human soul was not created to find contentment in the accumulation of stuff. This is a phantom that too many people chase. Personal peace is found in intimate relationship with God—this is great gain.
6:6 Just as the previous verse gave a false definition of gain, so this verse gives the true meaning of the word. The combination of godliness with contentment is great gain. Godliness without contentment would give a one-sided testimony. Contentment without godliness would not be distinctively Christian at all. But to have real godliness and at the same time to be satisfied with one’s personal circumstances is more than money can buy.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (pp. 250–252). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Köstenberger, A. (2006). 1 Timothy. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 553–554). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Fee, G. D. (2011). 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (p. 143). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Larson, K. (2000). I & II Thessalonians, I & II Timothy, Titus, Philemon (Vol. 9, p. 243). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2100). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.