Satisfaction with What We Have
Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,” so that we confidently say, “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What shall man do to me?” (13:5–6)
- H. Spurgeon said, “I’ve been in a lot of testimony meetings, and I’ve heard a lot of people share how they’ve sinned, and I’ve had people come to me and make confession of sin. But in all my life I’ve never had one person confess the sin of covetousness to me.” I have rarely had anyone confess covetousness to me, either.
A man once came into my office asking to confess a sin. He was obviously serious and quite broken up. He said his sin was gluttony. When I remarked that he did not look overweight, he replied, “I know. It is not that I eat too much but that I want to. I continually crave food. It’s an obsession.”
Covetousness is much like this man’s gluttony. You do not have to acquire a lot of things to be covetous. In fact you do not have to acquire anything at all. Covetousness is an attitude; it is wanting to acquire things, longing for them, setting our thoughts and attention on them—whether we ever possess them or not.
When John D. Rockefeller was a young man, a friend reportedly asked him how much money he wanted. “A million dollars,” he replied. After he had earned a million dollars, the friend asked him again how much money he wanted. The answer this time was, “Another million.” Covetousness and greed follow a principle of increasing desire and decreasing satisfaction, a form of the law of diminishing returns. “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income. This too is vanity” (Eccles. 5:10). The more you get the more you want. When we focus on material things, our having will never catch up with our wanting. It is one of God’s unbreakable laws.
Love of money is one of the most common forms of covetousness, partly because money can be used to secure so many other things that we want. Loving money is lusting after material riches, whatever the form is. A Christian should be free from such love of material things. Love of money is sin against God, a form of distrust. For He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” Among other things, loving money is trusting in uncertain riches rather than the living God (1 Tim. 6:17), looking for security in material things instead of in our heavenly Father. “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed,” Jesus warned, “for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).
Achan’s love of money cost Israel a defeat at Ai, the lives of at least thirty-six of his fellow countrymen, his own life, and the lives of his family and flocks (Josh. 7:1, 5, 25). After Naaman was cleansed of leprosy, following Elisha’s instruction to wash seven times in the Jordan, the prophet refused any payment. But Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, later ran back to Naaman and deceived him in order to profit from the grateful captain. After lying again, he was cursed by Elisha with Naaman’s leprosy (2 Kings 5:15–27). His greed led to lying, deceit, and leprosy. Judas was greedy as well as traitorous, willing to betray the Son of God for thirty pieces of silver. Ananias and Sapphira paid for their greed and attempted deceit with their lives (Acts 5:1–10). Greed is not a trifling sin before God. It has kept many unbelievers out of the kingdom, and it has caused many believers to lose the joy of the kingdom, or worse.
It is not wrong, of course, to earn or to have wealth. Abraham and Job were extremely wealthy. The New Testament mentions a number of faithful believers who had considerable wealth. It is love of money that “is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang” (1 Tim. 6:10). It is longing after it and trusting in it that is sinful. “If riches increase, do not set your heart upon them,” David counsels (Ps. 62:10). Job puts the principle clearly: “If I have put my confidence in gold, and called fine gold my trust, if I have gloated because my wealth was great, and because my hand had secured so much; … That too would have been an iniquity calling for judgment, for I would have denied God above” (Job 31:24–25, 28). Trust in money is distrust in God.
Some persons love money but never acquire it. Other persons’ love of money is in acquiring it. They live for the thrill of adding to their bank accounts, stock holdings, or conglomerates. For others, loving money is hoarding it. Misers are not so much interested in increasing their possessions as in simply holding on to them. They love money for its own sake. Still others are more interested in the things they can buy and display with their wealth. The conspicuous consumer is the big spender who flaunts his wealth. Whatever form love of money may take, the spiritual result is the same. It displeases God and separates us from Him. Nicer clothes, a bigger house, another car, a better vacation tempt all of us. But God tells us to be satisfied. Be content with what you have.
Many of those addressed in the book of Hebrews had lost most, or all, of their material possessions, because they knew they had “a better possession and an abiding one” (10:34). Some of them might have been longing to get back what they lost, thinking the cost was too high. They are told not to return to trust in material things. We confidently say, “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What shall man do to me?” If we have the Lord, we have it all. Loss of anything else can be no worse than a bad inconvenience, an inconvenience that, surrendered to the Lord, will always be for our good. Material possessions are temporary, anyway. We are going to lose them sooner or later. If the Lord decides we should lose them sooner, we should not worry. Proverbs 23:5 says “wealth certainly makes itself wings.”
Among the scriptural requirements for overseers, or bishops (also referred to as elders, Titus 1:5–7), is that of being “free from the love of money” (1 Tim. 3:3). No Christian can live effectively, much less lead effectively, who is longing after money. Love of money weakens our faith, weakens our testimony, and weakens our leadership. When we love money, our eye is on the wrong kind of gain. “Godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content” (1 Tim. 6:6–8). Discontentment is one of man’s greatest sins. Contentment is one of God’s greatest blessings.
How do we enjoy contentment? How do we become satisfied with what we have? First, we must realize God’s goodness. If we really believe that God is good, we know He will take care of us, His children. We know with Paul that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
Second, we should realize—not just acknowledge, but truly realize—that God is omniscient. He knows what we need long before we have a need or ask Him to meet it. Jesus assures us, “Your Father knows that you need these things” (Luke 12:30).
Third, we should think about what we deserve. What we want, or even need, is one thing; what we deserve is another. We should confess with Jacob, “I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which Thou hast shown to Thy servant” (Gen. 32:10). The smallest good thing we have is more than we deserve. The least-blessed of God’s saints are rich (see Matt. 19:27–29).
Fourth, we should recognize God’s supremacy, his sovereignty. God does not have the same plan for all of His children. What He lovingly gives to one, He just as lovingly may withhold from another. The Holy Spirit gives varieties of gifts, ministries, and effects, “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills” (1 Cor. 12:4–11). In regard to material blessings, we should listen to Hannah’s wisdom, “The Lord makes poor and rich” (1 Sam. 2:7). If He were to make us rich, we might be of outstanding service to Him. On the other hand, our becoming rich might be our spiritual undoing. The Lord knows what we need, and will provide us with no less.
Fifth, we should continually remind ourselves what true riches are. It is the worldly, including the wealthy worldly, who are poor, and it is believers, including poor ones, who are rich. Our treasure is in our homeland, in heaven, and we should set our minds “on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2).
Supremely, however, contentment comes from communion with God. The more we focus on Him the less we will be concerned about anything material. When you are near Jesus Christ, you are overwhelmed with the riches that you have in Him, and earthly possessions simply will not matter. Contentment is having confidence that the Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What shall man do to me?
5–6 Materialism and acquisitiveness are the enemies of the sort of caring love commended in vv. 1–3. The call to be content with what we have echoes the famous advice of 1 Timothy 6:6–10, where “godliness with contentment” is set over against “the love of money.” This would have had particular force for the readers if they were still, as previously (10:34), suffering material deprivation on account of their faith. The basis for this call is not the Stoic ideology of self-sufficiency but an active trust in God instead of in possessions.
The point is made by two OT quotations, which correspond to one another as promise and response. The first most closely echoes Moses’ farewell reassurance to Israel in LXX Deuteronomy 31:6, 8, though the first-person form reflects the similar reassurance issued by God himself to Joshua in Joshua 1:5 (and cf. the promise to Jacob in Ge 28:15; in all cases the “you” is singular, as here); the speaker is not identified in the Greek formula “he himself has said,” but as usual in Hebrews, the words of Scripture are understood to be the words of God. The second quotation comes from Psalm 118:6 in the LXX (which translates the Hebrew “with me” or “for me” more specifically as “my helper”), expressing the confidence of the psalmist, traditionally David, that results from his experience of God’s active deliverance from danger. For the person who knows God’s protective power, human opposition is put in perspective. What was true for these OT saints is equally true for all who trust God, and in that case there is no need to put material security before Christian generosity. Fear gives way to joyful confidence.
13:5 / The love of money is a danger to be avoided by those who would live by faith. It brings further evil with it (1 Tim. 6:9f.) and reflects an improper attachment to this transitory world. In the past the readers had exhibited the proper attitude when they endured the loss of their property gladly “because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions” (10:34). The readers are therefore to be content with what they have. This is again a common theme in the nt (cf. 1 Tim. 6:6ff., where Christians are exhorted to remain content with the bare necessities of life). As is true of so much of the ethical teaching of the early church, this emphasis also derives from the teaching of Jesus (cf. Matt. 6:24–34; Luke 12:15). The readers, however, are to go beyond simple contentment with what they have. They are to find their security totally in God. The quotation introduced with the words God (lit., “he himself”) has said is from Deuteronomy 31:6 (and again in v. 8). Our author, however, has altered the third person of the original (“he will”) to the more vivid first person (“I will”). The same promise, but with slightly different wording, is made in the first person in Joshua 1:5 (cf. also Gen. 28:15; 1 Chron. 28:20). Whereas material possessions are by their nature subject to loss and thus unworthy of ultimate commitment, God and his saving purpose are unchanging.
Be content (13:5–6)
A highly materialistic society like our own, with all the pressures of godless secularism, needs the exhortation of this early Christian writer that we should keep our lives free from love of money and be content with the possessions we already have. Covetousness, either of another man’s wife, or someone else’s property, is a perilous snare. The Christian believes that in his providential goodness the Lord will give him what is good for him. He will work hard, be generous with his possessions, and leave the rest with God.10 He certainly does not spend his precious time fretting about how he can collect more money, or acquire more valuable things. This is the way the godless behave. The believer is grateful for those material necessities he already possesses and rejoices in far more satisfying spiritual possessions. His heart is set on those riches,12 not on the perishable things which have no value beyond death. Covetousness is born of doubt; contentment is the child of faith. It does not come suddenly; it is a habit of mind and can best be acquired by constantly reminding ourselves of God’s fatherly provision and his generous promises. Once more, Old Testament Scripture is used to support the argument. God says something generously to us so that we can say something confidently to others; for he has said, ‘I will never fail you nor forsake you.’ Hence we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper.’ Ultimately, contentment becomes vocal. It is given an opportunity to explain the reason for its astonishing calm, trust and satisfaction.
Possibly there is a hint here not only of the fear of poverty but also of the fear of persecution. The writer recall not only the reassurance given to Joshua but also the peace which came to the afflicted psalmist. He quotes Psalm 118:6: I will not be afraid; what can man do to me? It is possible to covet popularity and be prepared to make almost any sacrifice to acquire it. Believers know that the fear of man is just as enslaving as the love of money. When the Lord is their helper they are released from such tyranny. Pleasure (13:4), possessions (13:5) and popularity (13:6) are all under the sovereign control of their holy, generous and loving God.
The appeal for ‘contentment’ in the New Testament is not intended to convey the idea that ambition of every kind is contrary to God’s purpose. Every believer ought to bring his best to his job or profession, recognizing that whatever he does in life ought to be of such quality that it can be presented as a sacrificial offering to Christ. He does his utmost to be a first-rate worker, but he does not lust fretfully after promotion for its own sake. He is content to leave that in the hands of a providential God who knows what is best for him. Self-regarding ambition can be the most destructive force in the world. Dominated by greed, it pays little attention to the needs of others, the will of God, or even personal health. In a selfishly ambitious society Christian contentment is a quality of great evangelistic worth. It reminds others that there is more to life than transitory success.
13:5. Another threat to family stability is materialism. Obeying two features could control materialism. First, renounce love of money. Do not make the possession of money an end in itself. Second, be content with what you have. The presence of God in all of life encourages such contentment. Knowing the Lord will not abandon us gives us the stability to enjoy what he gives us (Deut. 31:6, 8). Enjoying his unfailing presence is better than coveting glistening bullions of gold.
5a. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have.
The next commandments in the Decalogue are “You shall not steal” and “You shall not covet” (Exod. 20:15, 17; Deut. 5:19, 21). In a sense the commandments to which the author alludes are closely related; they uncover man’s desire for someone’s wife, possessions, and property. The Christian must uproot “the love of money,” because it leads to all kinds of evil (1 Tim. 6:10). Paul counsels Timothy in these pithy words, “But godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6). And he himself confesses: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content” (Phil. 4:11–12). Certainly Scripture does not teach that the Christian ought to seek a life of poverty. God told Adam to fill the earth and subdue it (Gen. 1:28), but he warns man against the love of money, for that attitude leads to greed, and greed is idolatry (Col. 3:5).
5b. Because God has said,
“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”
The choice is simple: either love the Lord your God or love money. “You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matt. 6:24; Luke 16:13). Instead of worshiping that which is created (money), Christians are exhorted to worship the Creator and to put their trust in him.
Introducing an Old Testament quotation with the words God has said, the author is true to form. For him God is the author of Scripture, and the voice that speaks is the voice of God. To find the exact wording of the quotation in the Old Testament, however, is not easy. Rather, the text itself appears in varying form in many places, and always signals God’s faithfulness and assurance. Jacob fled from his brother Esau and in a dream heard God say to him, “I am with you … I will not leave you” (Gen. 28:15). Near the end of his life, Moses encouraged the Israelites and said, “For the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deut. 31:6, 8). When Joshua began his work as leader of the Israelites, God said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Josh. 1:5). And last, when David instructed Solomon to build the temple, he encouraged him with these words, “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you” (1 Chron. 28:20).
I conclude that because of its frequent usage the quotation had become proverbial. In all probability, the words were part of the liturgy in the ancient synagogue and early church. The people, then, were quite familiar with this text.
13:5 The sixth virtue to cultivate is contentment. Remember that the adherents of Judaism were continually saying, “We have the tabernacle. We have the priesthood. We have the offerings. We have the beautiful ritual. What do you have?” Here the writer quietly says to the Christians: Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. I should say so! What the Christian has is so infinitely greater than the best of Judaism—why shouldn’t he be content? He has Christ; that is enough.
The love of silver can be a tremendous hindrance to the believer. Just as a small silver coin held before the eye comes between it and the sun, so covetousness breaks fellowship with God and hinders spiritual progress.
The greatest riches a person can have lie in possessing Him who promises, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” In Greek, strong negation is expressed by using two or more negatives. (This is the opposite of English structure in which a double negative makes a positive assertion.) In this verse the construction is very emphatic: it combines five negatives to indicate the impossibility of Christ deserting his own!
13:5, 6 Covetousness is addressed in the last of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:17). This attitude destroys a person’s inheritance in the Kingdom (1 Cor. 6:9, 10). I will never leave you nor forsake you: This quotation is one of the most emphatic statements in the NT. In Greek it contains two double negatives, similar to saying in English, “I will never, ever, ever forsake you.” Jesus uses the same technique to express the certainty of eternal life for believers (John 10:28).
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Hebrews (pp. 432–435). Chicago: Moody Press.
 France, R. T. (2006). Hebrews. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 184–185). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Hagner, D. A. (2011). Hebrews (p. 237). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Brown, R. (1988). The message of Hebrews: Christ above all (pp. 253–255). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Lea, T. D. (1999). Hebrews, James (Vol. 10, p. 237). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of Hebrews (Vol. 15, pp. 410–411). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2208). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 1659). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.