Contentment is a rare attitude in a materialistic society. A “healthy” economy is driven by a lust to obtain and consume more and more. Unfortunately, it is far too easy for Christian’s in such a world to fall prey to this ungodly drive for more and better stuff. In this study we will examine the attitude of contentment. To be content is to be satisfied. It is the opposite of lust or covetousness. Look at Philippians 4:11-13 where we see the apostle Paul as a great example of contentment.
Philippians 4:11-13 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
If there is an attitude that is completely foreign to our present world it is the attitude of contentment. We are constantly bombarded with advertisements designed to shake us out of our contentment and to breed in us a sense of need, want, entitlement and discontentment. Driven by discontentment, we head out of our homes and into the shopping malls. Our economy is driven on the fuel of discontentment.
In a society where meaning and fulfillment are often derived from material goods, it can be difficult even for a Christian to live a contented life. To help us to have a continual attitude of contentment we should remember the following six principles:
1. Stuff Does Not Produce Satisfaction
Ecclesiastes 5:10 He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.
We are a relatively affluent people and as such, we rarely have pressing needs that cannot easily be met. We have quick access to everything we could ever want or need and we generally have the means to obtain those things whether we can afford them or not.
We are told continually that our success and self-worth is measured by how much stuff we have obtained. This world’s distorted view of contentment and material goods is in direct contradiction to what Jesus taught:
Luke 12:15 And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Contentment will not come as long as we have a distorted view of material things. This world’s continual quest for more and more stuff is really a perverted quest for meaning, fulfillment and satisfaction. What we must understand is that attempting to derive satisfaction and fulfillment from things is an effort in futility. To do so is to put an expectation on material goods that only God can satisfy.
In addition to the fact that stuff does not produce satisfaction, consider that wants are not needs.
2. Wants Are Not Needs
Many people are discontent because they have convinced themselves that their wants are actually needs.
Luke 12:22-28 And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!
1 Timothy 6:8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.
God has promised to provide for the needs of his children. But God’s measure of needs and our measure of needs are often very different. Whereas we might consider convenience and entertainment as necessities, God simply says “food and clothing.”
1 Timothy 6:7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.
All the things that we have worked so hard at accumulating in this life will ultimately be left behind and only those things done for the glory of God will remain (1 Cor 3:11-15; 1 Tim 6:7).
Matthew 6:31-34 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
A third truth which well help us to learn contentment is that all that we have comes from God.
3. All That We Have Comes From God
Oftentimes what leads us to a spirit of discontentment or covetousness is a feeling of injustice regarding our circumstances. We feel we deserve more or are “owed” more than what we have. We compare ourselves to others and decide that our standard of living ought to be higher than it is. This type of discontentment only comes when we first lose sight of the fact that God is in control and that He is our provider. We see an unfortunate example of this in Numbers chapter 11.
Numbers 11:1 And the people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes, and when the LORD heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp.
Numbers 11:4-6 Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. 6 But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”
These families became dissatisfied with the manna which God had provided for them and began to lust after the foods which they had in Egypt. It is not surprising that the ungodly mob which followed the Jews out of Egypt became discontented. But what is shameful is that God’s people, taking their cue from the “rabble”, also began to murmur and complain.
Numbers 11:6 But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”
God miraculously provided manna for Israel in the wilderness. This food was both flavorful and filling (Ex 16:18,31). It was enough to satisfy the needs of Israel, but not enough to satiate their lusts. They became discontented with God’s provision and began to crave the food from the godless nation of Egypt. Such discontentment is incredibly sinful because ultimately it reflects a discontentment with God himself.
When we adopt the world’s materialism and look to it to satisfy our lusts we are no better than the Israelites who were longing to return to Egypt. Like the Israelites, our lustful attitude has discontentment with God as its source.
Numbers 11:18 And say to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat, for you have wept in the hearing of the LORD, saying, “Who will give us meat to eat? For it was better for us in Egypt.” Therefore the LORD will give you meat, and you shall eat.
Exodus 3:7 Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings,
Israel complained in Egypt; they were delivered by God, and they complained some more. People who harbor an attitude of discontentment will never be satisfied in any circumstance.
Numbers 11:33 While the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD struck down the people with a very great plague.
God had already planned to execute judgment upon these discontent, unthankful complainers before he sent quail for them to eat. He had given them over to their lusts and allowed them to reach the unfortunate end of their murmuring. Instead of being content with a little and the Lord, they preferred an abundance without Him. They got their wish.
Proverbs 15:16 Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it.
Whether we have an abundance or whether we lack, we are in circumstances orchestrated by God. He is the sovereign of the universe and the provider of everything (Rom 8:28, James 1:17). Because God is sovereign, a complaint about our circumstances is a complaint against Him.
4. Needs are an Opportunity for God to Provide
Matthew 6:31-33 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
2 Corinthians 9:1-15 Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, 2 for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. 3 But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. 4 Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated–to say nothing of you–for being so confident. 5 So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction. 6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 9 As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” 10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. 13 By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, 14 while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. 15 Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!
In this passage Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to follow through with a commitment they had made to give financial relief to the Macedonian church.
When we have needs it is an opportunity to trust God to provide for us. 2 Cor 9:10-12 indicates that God’s provision is fourfold. He provides us with the substance to give to others; he replaces the necessities we may have sacrificed through our giving; he multiplies the effectiveness of our giving; and he uses our giving to bring forth righteousness and thanksgiving in his kingdom. This is the same truth found in Proverbs 11:24.
Proverbs 11:24 One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. (see also Prov 19:17, Luke 6:38)
Abundance – A Mixed Blessing
1 Timothy 6:17-18 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,
Whereas needs are an opportunity to trust and rely upon God’s provision, a lack of want often causes us to forget God and trust in our own riches.
Proverbs 30:8-9 Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, 9 lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.
In times of abundance we can be tempted to rely upon our stuff and not upon God. It is easy not to depend upon Him if we have no sense of need.
Considering the verse above, why might God choose to bring about times of difficulty or need in the lives of His Children? Have you experienced these times? How did you respond?
Revelation 3:16-17 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
Instead of being anxious about our needs being met and doing all we can to ensure that we never go without, we should look at trials and needs as opportunities to trust God and to see him work. Sometimes having a need ends up bringing a greater blessing than if we never went without.