The boss has just told you that you will receive an immediate 5 per cent pay increase. Would you be content with that? In these days when the average increase is more like 1-2 per cent, you might be very pleased, and as a Christian thank God for it. At least, I hope you would!
But supposing the boss said the company is finding it impossible to compete with cheap imports from China and, unless everyone is willing to accept a 10 per cent pay cut, the company will have to close down. Would you be content with that?
Most of us would be discontent, if not downright angry. But, ultimately, who is in control of the situation? Certainly, it would not be wrong to point out the hardships the cut might bring. It might also be reasonable to ask to see some figures to prove the boss’s statement. But, in the last analysis, you should be willing to accept the decrease as well as an increase, because both come from the hand of God.
Contentment must be learned
The apostle Paul is a wonderful example of contentment (read Philippians 4:10-13). When he writes his letter to the Philippian church, he is not sitting on the veranda of his Mediterranean villa; he is in prison, yet he is content.
As he says, he has learned the secret of contentment. That suggests that he was not always perfectly content, he had to learn that. Like any other Christian, the apostle had to learn many things. God justifies the ungodly (Romans 4:5), but then we need his forgiveness each day (Matthew 6:12).
Even after our conversion we sin, so from that moment we have many things to learn. Contentment is one of them. Paul has learned to be content. By God’s grace, he was happy to have plenty, but also happy to be hard up (Philippians 4:12). He would be delighted to be free to preach the gospel anywhere, but he was also content in prison, for that was where the Lord had put him.
The apostle had just received a gift from the Philippians. He is grateful to them for the gift, but also sees the hand of the Lord in it (Philippians 4:10). Likewise, with his imprisonment, he knows that both the Jewish and Roman authorities have combined to put him in jail, but he also knows he is there by the will of God.
Ultimately, there are no second causes; God is sovereign in all that happens. We need to see that, otherwise we shall become very discontent with life and its circumstances.
Discontent is widespread
We are a discontent society: discontent with our government, our job, the salary, the weather, our health. The list is endless.
Discontent is also present in our churches. Christians become discontent with their churches and with fellow-believers. They also become discontent with their pastors. These days, it is a simple matter to hear excellent preachers through the internet. That way it is easy to become discontent with your own pastor.
Of course, his preaching is not as good as the big names. But it puts pastors in a difficult position. They have the gifts that the Lord has given them, yet they are expected to have greater gifts, to match the others who people listen to.
Pastors also become discontent with their churches. The average pastorate lasts but a few years, and many are brief indeed. ‘If only’ is the watchword of discontent: if only I had a better job, or a bigger salary, or a nicer house. If only I had a better preacher or a more caring pastor. So these things become an idol.
Actually, we are told in Colossians 3:5 that covetousness is idolatry. When we are discontent, we always want something better or at least different. We set our hearts on it and it becomes an idol. It dominates our life. The grass over the fence always seems greener.
It seems that true contentment is a rare thing. Jeremiah Burroughs titles his classic book, The rare jewel of Christian contentment. That just about hits the nail on the head.
Discontent is sin
Failure to rejoice and anxiety are both sin (Philippians 4:4,6), and discontent is sin. What makes all these things so? Very simply, they are all forbidden (or commanded) by the Lord.
In Philippians 2:14 we are told to do all things without grumbling. To go contrary to the Lord’s directives, whether by failing to do what he commands (such as rejoicing) or by doing what he forbids (such as worrying or grumbling), is sin.
To be discontent is sinful, yet which of us is not guilty at times? It is so easy to categorise sin as consisting in ‘big’ offences, like killing or stealing, or breaking another of the Ten Commandments, but everything contrary to the will of God is sin and should be confessed as such. When did you last confess your discontent to the Lord as sin?
Discontent has a cure
It is easy to blame people for our problems — the boss, a neighbour or a family member. We might blame the devil for a painful situation. We could even show some humility and confess that our own sin has brought it about, and that may be true to some extent — our health problems might be the result of poor eating habits or lack of exercise; unemployment may be the result of foolishly quitting our job.
Our sin needs to be confessed. It may be that some situations can be rectified by taking the necessary steps, but that is not always possible. A foolish mistake in marriage might result in much unhappiness, but there is no escape from that unless there are biblical grounds for divorce.
Ultimately though, our sovereign Lord has ordered our circumstances for his glory and for our good. If we see that, we are much more likely to be content. Indeed, failure to see God’s sovereign hand in our lives and circumstances will cause much frustration.
We who love the doctrines of God’s sovereign grace can so easily confine them to the plan of salvation, but a much more basic understanding of what it means for God to be sovereign is simply that our heavenly Father does what he wants, when he wants, and how he wants.
We need to apply these truths to the practical areas of life, as well as to God’s working in salvation. The writer to the Hebrews says, ‘Be content with what you have’ (Hebrews 13:5). We have much, even if we don’t have as much as we would like. With the promise of the Lord’s continuing presence in that same verse, we should be content.
Discontent is a symptom
We have what the Lord thinks is sufficient for us. After all, if we are honest, to have all we want would not be good for us. Are you content with your lot? Are you satisfied with what the Lord has given you, or do you feel that he has cheated you? Discontent can make life miserable, but by God’s grace we can overcome.
One more thought: it is possible that you are blaming God for your situation, when really you need to submit to his will? Maybe, for some readers, the first step is to seek his salvation. We will certainly not be content unless we know Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord of our lives.
God in his love and grace sent his Son into this world to be the Saviour of sinners. Do you still need to see yourself as a rebel against God and come to Jesus for forgiveness and salvation? Then you will begin to be content, even if it takes a while to thoroughly learn the lesson.