A few passages in the New Testament imply that the early church dealt with the problem of false teachers aiming to enrich themselves. Peter’s instructions to the elders warn against using the ministry “for shameful gain” (1 Peter 5:1–2). Acts 8:9–25 records the story of one Simon Magus who sought to buy the power of the Holy Spirit, presumably to get people to pay to see his own wonderworking abilities. The church fathers say that Simon was one of the founders of the Gnosticism that threatened God’s people in the second century AD.
In Ephesus, Timothy confronted heretics who sold their falsehoods for the sake of worldly wealth. These men mingled error with the teachings of godliness to earn money, and so Paul rightly warned Timothy against those who use godliness as a means for gain (1 Tim. 6:5). Yet even though some desire godliness only to steal from the church, the apostle does not disagree that there is great gain in godliness, but the gain of which he speaks is not financial (v. 6). Instead, the gain from godly living is its promise “for the present life and also for the life to come” (4:8). With godliness comes the confidence that God will indeed take care of His holy people (Ps. 37:25) and confirmation that the new life in Christ wrought in us by the Spirit now will endure forever in a new heavens and earth (Eph. 1:11–14; 2 Peter 3:13). John Calvin comments, “Godliness is a very great gain to us, because, by means of it, we obtain the benefit, not only of being heirs of the world, but likewise of enjoying Christ and all his riches.”
Godliness also bears the fruit of contentment in our lives (1 Tim. 6:6). In light of eternity we understand that the material possessions we have now are worthless compared with the glories of the age to come. We brought nothing with us when we were born and we will take nothing with us when we go. Therefore, we can be content with the basic necessities of life (vv. 7–8). Of course, we may gratefully receive and enjoy whatever gifts go beyond food, clothing, and shelter, all of which is subsumed under the Greek word for “clothing” in verse 8. Nevertheless, any such extras are not necessary, and we should never demand them from the Lord or covet those luxuries that He gives to other people.
One commentator says, “Godliness is not about acquiring better and more material things; it is instead an active life of faith, a living out of covenant faithfulness in relation to God, that finds sufficiency and contentment in Christ alone whatever one’s outward circumstances might be.” One way we can measure our godliness is to see if we are content with our lives. If we are discontent, we still have much to learn about the meaning of godliness.