I apologize for the length of this blog post, but I feel that it is warranted by the topic. May God bless you as you read.
We live in a society that breeds discontentment. All around us we hear voices telling us we need more, we need bigger, we need better! One of the units I teach deals with advertising and youth, and we examine just how much advertising is out there and how the advertisers work on branding for life. If we are honest with ourselves, we must acknowledge that this does not apply to youth alone. We all are subjected to this attempt at pushing us to get more, and we all fall for it in different ways if we aren’t careful. We cannot go anywhere without being bombarded with ads, whether they are on TV, radio, magazines, billboards, etc.
We have a perfectly nice house, but someone else (maybe it’s on TV or a friend or relative) has a bigger house. Our car gets us where we need to go, and it is paid off, but it just doesn’t look as nice as some of the newer ones. The list could go on. Clothes, shoes, fishing equipment, even (it pains me to say this) books. There is a constant pressure to get more.
Maybe it’s not the things themselves. Maybe it’s more money. You know, we need money to buy our necessities. We could feel less of a pinch each month if we just had a little more money. So rather than being content with our jobs, we dream of better jobs that will pay just a little bit more (or maybe a lot more).
Maybe it’s time. We all have the same 24 hours in a day. But rather than learning time management (saying “no” on occasion, figuring out what is really important in life, etc.), we grow increasingly discontent with all we have to do, wishing instead for some miraculous way to have more time added to our day.
But what does the Bible teach us to do? What is a biblical worldview regarding contentment?
Let’s start in 1 Timothy 6:6-10 (ESV). Paul writes,
“But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs”
The primary focus is godliness. Be godly. Know Christ and grow in grace in Him. If we are godly people, and if we are content in that, then Paul says we have “great gain.” I think that is interesting. We don’t have gain by getting more money or more things, we have gain by being godly and learning to be content. If we can learn to be content with what we have, we have more gain than if we had more money. After all, “we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.” It doesn’t matter what all you get, it is not going with you. When we die, the house, the stuff, the money, it all goes to someone else.
Paul continues that “if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” Most of us should be completely content then. Most of us at least have food and clothing. In reality, most of us have much, much more. If having the basics of food and clothing should make us content, then many of us should be rejoicing in our abundance! If we compare ourselves with the vast majority of the world, we truly are rich already.
What happens to those who keep desiring more, who desire to be rich? (And we can be rich in material things even if not in actual money.) They “fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” Notice money is not evil. If God has blessed you with a lot of money, then praise Him and figure out how to use it for His glory. It is the love of money that is bad. By constantly desiring to be rich (and I would argue this could apply for material things as well), we fall into temptation. Maybe it is temptation to covet. Maybe it is envy. Maybe it is pride as you gain more. Falling into this is falling into a snare, a trap, something meant to catch you and keep you from freedom. It leads to “senseless” desires (such as wishing for more time) and “harmful” desires, as mentioned above.
The scariest part about the passage above is what it leads to. Desire for riches (that is, discontentment) isn’t just unfortunate. It can lead to “ruin and destruction.” How many people have bankrupted themselves gambling away what little they have trying to get more? How many people become depressed and anxious over what they don’t have rather than being joyful and at peace in what they do have? The desire for riches has even led to the point that some “have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” I will leave it for readers to research whether that person was truly saved and is merely in broken fellowship with God (perhaps what the “many pangs” means), or whether it is someone who truly commits apostasy. Either way, there is no good result from this desire for riches according to Paul. Remember, if you are devoted to riches as your ultimate satisfaction, then according to Christ, you are not serving God (see Matthew 5:24).
But what about those who don’t have the basic necessities? Don’t they have a right not to be content? Not according to Paul. In Philippians 4:11-13 (ESV) Paul writes, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 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. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Paul learned to be content. It was a process. It wasn’t something that just happened to him. It was a mindset he had to achieve. And we need to achieve that mindset as well. When was Paul content? “In any and every circumstance.” Both when he had a lot and when he had nothing. The contentment came from being in Christ and knowing Him. If we are Christians, our true contentment should be found in God alone, regardless of what other blessings may or may not come our way. If you are not a Christian, I argue that you will never find true contentment until you repent of your sins and surrender your life to Christ to follow Him as Lord. That is where true contentment is ultimately found.
How do we learn to be content? First, find your ultimate contentment in Christ alone, as mentioned above. If we have Christ and nothing else, then we are already the richest people alive. Second, trust that God is looking out for us and will meet our basic needs (see Matthew 6:25-33). Finally, if you feel the need to store up treasures, be sure that they are treasures in Heaven (see Matthew 5:19-21); serve Christ, give freely, and look to Christ as your ultimate treasure.
May we learn (and may God teach us) to be content in all circumstances.