One of the characteristics of our day is the lack of contentment. It is more than our American culture that influences us to be discontented. Our carnal nature is restless and discontented. We desire to be someone we are not and seek to acquire things we do not have. How can we be happy in spite of the deficiencies of life?
Contentment is the state of being satisfied and at peace despite the possibility of obtaining something better. John the Baptist told the soldiers to be content with their wages (Luke 3:14). Many men struggle with feeling they are worth a little more than they are getting. If they are not worth more, they believe they should still be getting more. One sign of a repentant spirit is contentment.
Jesus told a story recorded in Matthew 20 about another group of men who were discontented with their wages. At the beginning of the day, these unemployed men gladly took the opportunity to earn some money. Apart from some work and the resulting income, the day would have been unprofitable. The employer decided to pay each worker a penny for the day. Each worker seemed to be satisfied with his anticipated earnings. At the end of the day, however, the workers who worked the greater part of the day became discontented with the established wages. They discredited their personal agreement with the employer when they compared their pay with the pay of those who worked less time. Had they not known what others received, each laborer would have gone home happy for the penny in their pocket.
In the natural and spiritual realm of life, discontentment can become an issue when we compare our lot in life with others. Do all the issues of life need to be fair for us to be content? Does the knowledge of another man’s pay rob us of our contentment? At the end of life, every faithful servant of God will find equal acceptance and entrance into Heaven. It will not matter if we have labored one year or many years. We will be content because we will have had a personal opportunity to be saved and to serve our Lord. Thank God salvation and Heaven are not only for the one who served the longest!
We also express Christian contentment in the way we relate to our “needs” of life. Maybe it would be more accurate to say in the way we relate to our “wants” of life. Paul said in Philippians 4:11, “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” This noble declaration can only be claimed by those who have right views and proper attitudes toward their needs and wants.
Maybe we need to first consider our attitude toward God. Is it fair that God has only given us what we need and not what others have? God has varied our abilities and gifts. He has not given us equal opportunities. Contentment comes when we realize that God has given us the tools that we need to accomplish His purposes. Does this mean we should never seek to improve our lot in life? No, but seeking improvements in life must be within the Lord’s will. If God does not allow us to make the desired improvements, we must retain our satisfaction and peace with the limitations of life. Contentment is not found in the ability to make desired improvements but contentment is found in maintaining peace when living with less than we desired.
The lack of time, finances and opportunities will limit our ability to accomplish our desires. Limited time will not allow us to do everything we would desire to do. The promise in Ecclesiastes 3:17 “...for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work,” needs to be understood as only the time allotted for every purpose and work God desires us to do. We can rest in the fact that God will judge us based on what we did with the time allotted to us, not in what we were unable to do because of the limitations of time. The same thing is true with other limitations of life. We can be content with our limited accomplishments in life if we faithfully make use of our opportunities. If our ways are found in the ways of God and we are at rest with our limitations, then we possess the contentment that most people are looking for. “But godliness with contentment is great gain” (1Ti 6:6).
Our desire for an improved lifestyle needs the wisdom of 1 Timothy 6:8: “And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.” Having the basic food and clothing needs met fills the basic needs of man. In a society where a lot more than food and clothing is available, we tend to seek a lot more than what is needed. Contentment is found in our basic needs being met, not in the realization of our extra desires.
Our walk and talk of life reveal our contentment or the lack of it. Hebrews 13:5 says, “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” The word covetousness in this verse means “greedy of filthy lucre.” Our covetous heart desires the stuff of this world that we will leave behind when we leave this life.
Achan is an example of this vice. He coveted things he had no right to have. He used unrighteous means to acquire what he desired. When judgment fell, he lost his possessions and his physical life. Every person in hell is there in the absence of the things of life he pursued.
Another area of life that reveals our level of contentment is our acceptance of the abilities of others. Contentment not only allows us to accept the limitation of our abilities, but also allows us to accept people with abilities we do not possess. The opposite is also true; discontentment is a dissatisfaction with our limitations and a jealousy toward others who have greater abilities than we do. Diotrephes seemed to have a problem with discontentment. “Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church” (3Jo 1:10). He had a carnal heart that affected his relationships with others. He mistreated others with his malicious words and actions. Even if he had been able to cast out all others from his church, he would not have been a man of contentment. He had serious heart problems.
Contented people are happy people. Life may not seem to give them the best turn, but they are content and happy with what they have. Matthew 5 indicates that people in unpleasant circumstances can experience joy and contentment. In verse five, those who are mourning found a comfort (peace) in their disappointments of life. In verse ten, the Christians who are persecuted for the cause of Christ have a contentment of being identified with an eternal kingdom of peace. Those who are reviled and falsely accused (v.11) have a peace and contentment because their brethren and their Lord were also spoken against. Hence, these martyrs could go to the stake with the anticipation of a future joy set before them. They were happy because their future life was more than this life had to offer.
If we would make our wish list, what would be the first ten items? Would they bring us any deeper satisfaction than we have today? How many items are restricted to this earthly life? How many things will help us accomplish the mission God has for us in time? Do the items relate to riches or relationships? How many would have Christ desired in this life?
The peace and contentment God gives is based on values and experiences He can bless. Only as we see the issues and things of life from His perspective can we find the basis for contentment. “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Php 4:11). When our life is in the center of His will and our heart is after His values, we can be content in any earthly state of experience. May this be our testimony to a discontented world.