The way this argument progresses is intriguing. Paul starts by mentioning those who were apostatizing, preaching a false gospel, and rejecting what Christ had given the church in the gospel, yet he ends up speaking about contentment.
His thought is this: Those who argue against the doctrines of God and against the church are essentially discontent. They are at the initial stages of presumptuousness, or they may have already become fully presumptuous. They try to use their "godliness" to get some sort of advantage or gain for themselves. The motives on the surface may seem to be that they are trying to be godly, but underneath, the real motive is to get something for themselves.
We should not think of this "gain" as only money or goods. It could be respect, or favor with somebody. It could be notoriety or having people think that one is smart. It could be having authority of some kind - ordination or having a group of followers. It could be many things. What it comes down to is presumptuousness, because the person who does these things is reaching beyond his place.
God put the person in the body at a specific point, to do a certain job, and when he starts doing the types of things that Paul mentions - arguing against the doctrine, for instance - he is taking a job that he has not been given. Paul says the real gain comes when we behave in a godly manner and reckon that what we have is sufficient for us.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
These verses show how we can know—if we are honest with ourselves—when we are coveting: by the fruit produced! Lust "drown[s] men in destruction and perdition" and "pierces one through with many sorrows." When we want something so badly we are not happy without it, we are coveting. Coveting's emotional effect is sorrow, pain, remorse, guilt, restlessness, and dissatisfaction.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Tenth Commandment (1998)
The apostle Paul tells Timothy that "godliness with contentment is great gain" and that, instead of possessions, we should be pursuing righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. Paul learned to be content in whatever state he was in (Philippians 4:11). Jesus Christ set our primary goal as seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). The inevitable result of doing this will be wonderful blessings and eternal life.
Martin G. Collins
The Tenth Commandment
When we are thankful, it means that we have been impressed with a sense of kindness that has been expressed toward us, and we desire to acknowledge it. Essentially, it indicates that we are grateful. Thankfulness is the actual expression of our gratitude and acknowledgement of the kindness done to us. Thankfulness is also a state of mind, an attitude. It is a content and positive perspective, which does not focus on what one does not have, but rather values what one does have, no matter how basic.
Paul continues this thought in the following verses, explaining that greediness creates a great many problems, ultimately bringing upon us discontent and unhappiness. This is just the opposite of the thankfulness that real contentment generates.
Reading these verses on greed and considering the greedy state of man's mind, a popular bumper sticker from several years ago comes to mind: "He who dies with the most things . . . wins." Of course, it did not take long for those whose thinking ran counter to this to reply with their own that read, "He who dies with the most things . . . is dead." This is true; the pursuit of material gain to the exclusion of all else ends in death.
Being thankful is part of being content. Unfortunately, many people feel that being content means that they have to give up on their dreams and goals. It does not. Like thankfulness, contentment is a state of mind. God wants us to be content with and thankful for what we have been given. That does not mean that we cannot want better and work to make our situations better, but it does mean that we should not approach our proper desire for more with a greedy, covetous attitude.
Nor can we compare what others have and what we may not have from an attitude that we deserve the same or even better. Maybe we do deserve it, but right now God has chosen not to give it to us, and we must be content with that and thankful for what we have been given.
How thankful and content we are can be seen in the illustration of water in a glass. Is the glass half-full or half-empty? Our answer depends on and reveals our state of mind.