Character Traits of the Spiritual Life: Contentment
Do you find yourself being constantly dissatisfied? Are you discontent with your situation and blame God for your deficiencies and lack? Are you constantly complaining of your life and everything in it? Do people know that this discontented and complaining attitude fills your speech? Or, on the other hand, do people know that you are contented with Gods provision of Himself? Contentment is the very opposite of covetousness or greed. This pertains to a desire for more and more, a discontent with what God has given.
Would we be content if we had everything the way we want it? Someone has said, We long for a better environment in which to live, assuming that with it we will achieve contentment. Yet Adam and Eve had the perfect environment, and they were not content in it. They had perfect health, a perfect marriage, a perfect garden, and daily fellowship with God Himself, yet they soon believed the lie that God had not provided everything they needed for their present and future happiness.[i] Our first parents reached out to gain more, but this plunged them to destruction. This demonstrates that having everything material cannot bring true pleasure. We need to learn contentment with God Himself.
The verb arkeo or content, signifies to be sufficient, to be possessed of sufficient strength, to be strong, to be enough for a thing. In the middle voice, it means to be satisfied, contented with. The adjective autarkes means sufficient in oneself . . . self-sufficient, adequate, needing no assistance.[ii] It is not simply that something is in sufficient supply. It is that we have an attitude that lets us be satisfied with whatever is available.[iii]
We all know that Paul endured countless sufferings in his work for the Lord Jesus (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:23-29). This included dangers on the sea and land, beatings from the Jews, beatings from the Gentiles, at least two shipwrecks, dangers from robbers, and even dangers from false brothers. Yet in the midst of all of these sufferings, Paul could say, I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christs sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong (12:10). Would we be content in the midst all these tribulations and troubles? With Gods help we can have this kind of contentment.
Paul was able to encounter the many vicissitudes of life with an inner calm and contentment. He affirmed, I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am (Philippians 4:11). He was content with little when this is what God would provide: Godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content (1 Timothy 6:6-8). Would we be content with food and covering [clothing]? The key here is verse 7, which shows that we should have a heavenly focus. An eternal perspective (v. 7) helps believers to avoid the allure of greed, with the result that they are content with what God has given them, even if it consists of only food and clothing.[iv]
Someone has wisely observed that Jesus is all we need, but we will not know it until He is all we have.[v] Paul was willing to give up everything in order to have Jesus: Whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:7-8). Paul discovered that though he had lost all things on earth, he had what was most importanta personal knowledge of Christ! And in this he was utterly content.
One of the keys to a contented spirit is enjoying a rich relationship with God. The Hebrew writer makes this connection: Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you (13:5). If we realize that God the Father has given us everything we need for our present joy and satisfaction, we will be able to endure negative and adverse circumstances with grace. If we have God, we will be content with our lot in life. Not only is this true in regard to money, but it would include our physical limitations, our appearance, our age, our popularity, our job, and every other element of our life. This does not mean that we should not try to change circumstances that are not good. If we can lose weight when we are overweight, we should do so. If we can gain health through exercise and diet, let us eagerly do this. If we can move to a different location, or have a different house, or increase our education, these changes may be positive and right. But lets make sure that this doesnt manifest a discontent that blames God for our negative circumstances.
We know that there needs to be a balance here. If one is lost in sin and his life is falling apart, he should be discontent with his situation in life. This could lead to repentance. But if a faithful lover of God must endure adverse circumstances for Christs sake, he needs to develop contentment until God chooses to change the circumstances. Godly contentment may be combined with a holy ambition. The Christian may have a zeal and ambition to grow in holiness, to learn more, to worship more, and to serve more fervently. This doesnt mean that he is discontent with material blessings, but he wishes to see his life change for the glory of God and the advancement of His kingdom. In this sense, the godly person may be discontentednot in a sinful way but rather for the cause of Christ.
[i] The Power for True Success, p. 53.
[ii] W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary.
[iii] Richards, Expository Dictionary, p. 189.
[iv] ESV Study Bible note.
[v] The Power for True Success, p. 55.