Two Sides of Contentment

18th Nov 2022

I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. Philippians 4:11 (NLT)

Contentment can be elusive. Despite the tenth commandment, or maybe because of it, contentment can be challenging to achieve. Even if we are content right now, we will soon be put to the test. Contentment is not natural. Paul said that he learned how to be content.

Discontent is a prevalent human trait, but if that weren’t enough, there are forces at work to ensure that we do not stay content for very long. Capitalism and the free market may have many benefits, but instilling contentment is not among them. The primary purpose of advertising is to foment discontent. If we believe what the advertisers tell us, we are not complete unless we have the latest phone, car, or just about anything else under the sun.

Learning to Be Content

Twice, Paul emphasized that he learned contentment. He said he was content with whatever he had but also learned the secret of living in every situation (Philippians 4:11-12). The implication of what he said possibly means that we may have to experience both abundance and lack to learn contentment.

There is danger in experiencing the extremes of poverty or riches. In the Proverbs, we have this request:

Two things I ask of you; don’t keep them from me before I die: Fraud and lies— keep far from me! Don’t give me either poverty or wealth; give me just the food I need. Or I’ll be full and deny you, and say, “Who is the Lord?” Or I’ll be poor and steal, and dishonor my God’s name. Proverbs 30:7–9 (CEB)

We may experience the extremes of poverty or wealth, and we must learn to be content despite circumstances. When we want to learn something, and contentment is no exception, we must look to someone who is an expert in the field. There was never a more content man than Jesus. He could rest peacefully right in the middle of the storm. He could stand silently before his accusers, demonstrating a level of contentment that has never seen an equal.

If contentment is your goal, find someone who is contented and spend time in their presence. Learn from them and observe how they react when they do not receive the praise or recognition they deserve.

Practice Makes Perfect

Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:9 (NLT)

Contentment is a discipline that requires practice. We see that Paul urged the Philippians to practice what they learned and received from him. He modeled contentment for them. It is one thing to know about contentment, but we must act upon it when we have an example. Learning without putting what we have learned into action is useless.

It can be hard to be content, and does not come naturally. Contentment requires putting others and their concerns above our own needs. A servant-like attitude is a perfect complement to a contented heart. Jesus demonstrated a servant’s heart by washing the feet of the disciples. Then he said this:

I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them. John 13:15–17 (NLT)

Contentment by serving others may seem counterintuitive, but Jesus said that if we know and understand these things, God will bless us. Put another way: If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it—and live a blessed life. John 13:17 (MSG)

Contentment Brings Peace

After we have learned and practiced contentment, we find another benefit. At the end of Philippians 4:9, we see the result: Then the God of peace will be with you. Peace is a vital outcome of contentment. Peace and contentment are complementary: “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. John 14:27 (NLT)

The Other Side

Now that we have decided to be content, we will slam on the brakes and declare that there are at least two things with which we should never be completely satisfied. The first is our desire to be like Jesus, growing ever closer to him, and the second is the advancement of his kingdom.

Jesus said that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness would be satisfied. David exemplified this ongoing thirst: God—you’re my God! I can’t get enough of you! I’ve worked up such hunger and thirst for God, traveling across dry and weary deserts. Psalm 63:1 (MSG)

The Apostle Paul had many accomplishments but insisted they were all worthless compared to knowing Jesus Christ as his Lord. In fact, they were only fit for the garbage pile. He never presumed that he had arrived but says that he forgets what lay behind and presses on to know Christ.

Additionally, we must not be content that while we have experienced the love of God, others have yet to hear the good news of the Gospel. If God is not willing that anyone should perish, how can we be content until the whole world knows? Our appetite for seeing the kingdom of God advance must never be satisfied.

Don’t Mix Them Up

Contentment, as we previously wrote, can be elusive. We must be content with our circumstances and possessions. As we learn contentment, God will bring peace into our lives. Conversely, we should never become complacent or satisfied in our upward pursuit of God and the advancement of his kingdom.

If we mix them up and become content in our spiritual lives, it is likely that we will never find contentment in earthly possessions or recognition. As the hymn writer said: Turn your eyes upon Jesus; look full in his wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.

Steve Ekeroth

Photo by Tom Fisk:

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