We live in a discontented world, and it is all too easy for the Christian to share its spirit of murmuring and complaint. The Bible is the only book that remedies this spiritual disease in practical and effective ways.
I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content, writes Paul in Philippians 4:11. Here is a cordial to revive the drooping spirits of the saints in these depressing times. This gospel text encapsulates the life and soul of practical divinity. Contentment is the most powerful testimony to the truth of our Christian profession, for it expresses the glorious truth of the sovereignty of God – his rule over everything including ourselves and our circumstances.
Genuine faith will lead to a life of contentment in the Lord – lived out before your children, your family and friends, and the world at large. It is the strongest witness you could ever give of your trust in Christ.
Mother of all graces
Contentment seals our confession. Our attitude to our level of income, to our house and the things in it, and to our looks – the way we react to setbacks and disappointments – all these things and more tell others what we really believe.
Contentment demonstrates that we believe that we are in the hands of God and that we praise him for it. It shows that we believe in his power, benevolence and grace. To say, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ is to echo the words of Asaph in Psalm 73:25 – ‘Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee’. Having Christ we have everything we could desire.
David agrees: ‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want’. I lack nothing, he declares, for ‘you are my portion, O Lord’ (Psalm 23:1; 119:57).
To be truly content in belonging to the living God is to be truly happy. Contentment is the mother of all graces, for out of her womb is born thankfulness, joyfulness, love and usefulness in our Christian walk.
Do we possess the grace of Christian contentment – of peace and a satisfaction in our soul? Do we believe that God will meet all our needs and has met our greatest need in Christ? That our heavenly Father works all things together for our good?
Or do we live a life of discontentment? Are we dissatisfied with our income, our spouse, our single or married condition, our church or elders, our fellow believers, ourselves, or even with God?
Contentment is an important word in Scripture. If depression is life in darkness, contentment is life in the sunshine of God’s countenance. Contentment is the crown of the Christian life.
The word ‘contented’ means ‘sufficient’ or ‘full’. God himself is the complete and sufficient One. Contentment, therefore, reflects the character of God and can be found only when, by his grace, we know the God of the Bible.
Philippians 4:11 says, ‘Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content’. Again we read in 1 Timothy 6:6-8 that ‘godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content’.
In Hebrews 13:5 we are exhorted to live ‘without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he [God] hath said, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee”.’
We also find the same word (contentment) in the Scripture translated ‘sufficiency’, for instance, in 2 Corinthians 9:8: ‘And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work’. And again, 2 Corinthians 12:9, God’s word to the apostle Paul concerning his thorn in the flesh is: ‘My grace is sufficient for thee’.
Contentment, then, is faith’s confidence in the sufficiency of God’s provision for all our needs – physical, material, psychological and spiritual. It is confidence in the sufficiency of God’s grace for every circumstance.
The fruit of contentment is to experience the peace of God and be able to say, ‘Have thine own way’, not with resignation but with joy. The contented person has what the discontented are looking for and never find – satisfaction and rest for his soul in God.
To know what Christian contentment is, we must distinguish it from its counterfeits. We must know what it is not. Christian contentment is placid, relaxed and matter-of-fact. But we must not confuse an easy-going personality or temperament with the grace of contentment. Contentment is not simply about our personal tolerance level.
Neither is Christian contentment the same as indifference or complacency. Those who are naturally easy-going over setbacks and complacent about problems may also be easy-going over sin and complacent about God. Contentment is a spiritual and transforming grace resulting from God’s Spirit working in our hearts. When God gives us the grace of Christian contentment it does not mean that we stop striving to do our best.
Nor is contentment self-satisfaction – of the kind exhibited by the Pharisees who felt no guilt or sense of failure before the holy God. Such false equanimity is rooted in the conceit of self. It is blindness, spiritual ignorance and folly before the thrice holy God, who calls us to be holy and to serve him with wholehearted obedience.
Finally, Christian contentment is not inner repression, which occurs when all our desires and ambitions are firmly suppressed. It is a gracious work in the heart, a trustful handing-over of all things to God, believing that what he does he does well.
A present possession
Contentment transcends the physical and the material. Paul said, ‘I am content in whatsoever state I am’. That is the difference between being content with the world and being content in the world. We may be content in the world but our contentment is not due to our possessions or circumstances, but rather to what God gives us while we are in this world. Ultimately, of course, what gives us contentment is not the physical or material but God himself.
Christian contentment is a present possession, not something based on hoped-for acquisitions. So often we say, ‘Well, when I get to this certain point and when I have this and that in my life, then I will be contented’. But that is present discontentment, covetousness in action.
The Word of God teaches here-and-now contentment (1 Timothy 6:6). The psalmist says, ‘I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou Lord only makest me dwell in safety’ (Psalm 4:8). It is present because we possess Christ now. It is the present understanding by faith that God rules over all. Contentment is a present possession, not just a future hope.
Be alert and fight against every obstacle to Christian contentment. There is always the temptation and danger of covetousness. The Lord warned, ‘Beware of covetousness. A man’s life consists not in the abundance of the things that he possesses’ (Luke 12:15). ‘Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust corrupt and where thieves break through and steal’ (Matthew 6:21-33).
Remember that it is harder for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of heaven. Let the grace of God transform our attitudes towards money and worldly possessions. We must be aware of the ‘deceitfulness of riches’ of which Christ speaks in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13).
Happiness, personal worth and success are not found in one’s possessions or achievements. That is paganism in action. True religion is a complete trust in God. Covetousness dulls our spiritual senses, debases our thoughts and turns our minds to physical pleasure and personal gain.
Joy and satisfaction
Contentment involves sharing God’s value-judgements concerning what constitutes true wealth – a clear conscience before God and a joy in serving God with whatever he has given us (Acts 23:1; 24:16). True richness is to have fellowship with the living God through faith in Jesus Christ. True riches are the peace of God in my heart and the assurance that I am accepted in the beloved Son of God.
So learn to be content in the Lord and avoid avarice or covetousness which is rebellion against the will of God. If we do not so learn, discontentment will do two things. It will make us blind to the many gifts that God has given us because we are too obsessed with what we do not have. And, secondly, it will make you unable to appreciate God himself and you will complain against him as did Israel in the wilderness (Numbers 11:1-10).
Discontentment is ultimately discontentment with God – a failure to understand or embrace the truth of his sovereignty and gracious care.
Contentment, on the other hand, gives us peace and strength and an eagerness to serve Christ. Having this inner calm by the grace of God, we become devoted workers together with him. We become energetic unto every good work.
Moreover, the contented person has spiritual sensitivity. Believing that God is with him, he is content to persevere in obedience. Hear the word of God: ‘Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee’ (Isaiah 26:3). Let us trust in the Lord Jehovah, for in the Lord is everlasting strength.
Let us dare to believe and trust in the promises of God’s word. We are able to do all things in him who gives us strength constantly. Our life does not consist in the abundance of things that we possess but in our vital union with Jesus Christ – who can cause us to be content always.
Therefore, let us not be anxious over anything (Philippians 4:6). He is with us, and he will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). He will be with us, strengthening us, even in the hour of our death when we shall enter the very presence of God.
He who has started his wonderful saving work in our souls will continue it till the very end and thereafter make us victorious and glorious at Christ’s return. That is our glorious hope and greatest contentment.