One of the great problems for a 21st-century Christian in a highly materialistic society is the issue of contentment. We are bombarded daily with seductive offers and attractions — better jobs, flashy cars, new kitchens, health club memberships, fashionable clothes and so on.
How can the believer overcome the temptation to seek more and more temporal possessions? Paul’s answer is contentment. A believer must learn to be content in a world of selfish discontent.
The apostle explains: ‘Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need’ (Philippians 4:11-12).
Paul rejoiced in whatever God provided for him. As a Jewish scholar, he possessed very little for a man of his calibre.
But God — sovereignly and providentially — supplied his every need, so that he could say: ‘my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:13,19).
Here is a test of our theology. Do we really believe and trust God for all our provisions? Are we truly willing to be satisfied with whatever we have or do not have?
In Matthew 6:21,33 our Lord Jesus says: ‘For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also’ and adds: ‘seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you’.
We need to recognise and submit to the sovereignty of God, putting our confidence solely in his providential care (Hebrews 13:5).
Fallen man has insatiable desires. How do you satisfy a gambler in a casino? How much sea water will quench the thirst of a castaway? There is never enough.
Christians need a spirit of contentment with whatever God provides. Like the apostle, I must not complain of ‘want’ but rather learn ‘in whatsoever state I am … to be content’.
We are warned that ‘the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows’ (1 Timothy 6:10).
Will you be happy if Christ is your only possession? Psalm 23:1 says, ‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want’.
Are not the presence and provision of God more than sufficient for us, and more valuable than any temporal gain?
The pull of the world
The world seduces many unawares. Though seeming to escape, Lot’s wife left her heart in Sodom and Gomorrah — and perished (Genesis 19:26).
Demas ‘loved this present world’ and abandoned the gospel (2 Timothy 4:10).
What have you been obsessed with lately? What saturates your mind and heart? Matthew 6:21 says, ‘For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also’.
Is your focus on worldly pleasures and pursuits — or on eternal and spiritual concerns that bring eternal benefit to men and glory to God?
John warns, ‘Love not the world … If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
‘For all that is in the world — the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — is not of the Father, but is of the world’ (1 John 2:15-16).
Are you thankful for what you have and do not have today? Or are you subtly murmuring against God, comparing yourself with others who seem more prosperous or popular?
The curse of covetousness
Breaking the tenth commandment — ‘Thou shalt not covet’ — is both a curse and a sin.
It cost Achan and his family their lives when he coveted the Babylonian gold and garment (Joshua 7:21).
It gave Gehazi leprosy, when he was not content, but coveted a reward from Naaman (2 King 5).
Jeremiah counselled his scribe, Baruch: ‘Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not: for … I will bring evil upon all flesh, saith the Lord: but thy life will I give unto thee for a prey in all places whither thou goest’ (Jeremiah 45:5).
Paul reminds us to mortify our old nature, including covetousness (Colossians 3:5): ‘For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?’ (Mark 8:36).
A covetous spirit is an affront to the sovereignty of God. It is a complaint against heaven, a revolt against the will of God.
As redeemed people, let us instead cultivate gratitude and a contented spirit, rejoicing each day in the manifold mercies of God.
Even if God takes things from us, he has his sovereign and loving reason for doing so. Horatio Spafford lost four daughters in a marine disaster, but could still write the hymn ‘It is well with my soul’.
Martin Reinhart, a German pastor who buried 4,000 people during the 30-year war (1618-48), afterward penned the hymn, ‘Now thank we all our God’.
Let us remember to give thanks in all things and apply 1 Timothy 6:6: ‘But godliness with contentment is great gain’.
Are you thankful for what you have and do not have today? A holy contempt for the world, and a trusting contentment with God, are desperately needed today.