Contentment: What It Is and Is Not

Man Sitting on Dock

Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am” (Philippians 4:11).

The Bible stresses the importance of contentment in the lives of God’s people. Like Paul’s example in the passage above, we should be content in every circumstance in which we find ourselves.

However, we need to be sure we understand what contentment is. Many might claim to be content; but in reality their condition may be better described as immaturity, disobedience, cowardice, laziness, or apathy. So in this article, we are going to consider what the Bible says about contentment – what it is and what it is not.

What Contentment Is Not

Contentment is not an excuse not to grow or mature – God expects us to grow and mature in the faith. Peter wrote, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). The Hebrew writer rebuked those brethren because of their failure to grow. By that point they “ought to be teachers,” but instead needed to be taught again the “elementary principles of the oracles of God” (Hebrews 5:11-12). Yet many are like these Hebrew brethren and remain in a state of immaturity – unable to teach, serve, lead, etc. – and are comfortable in this position. This is NOT contentment.

Contentment is not an excuse to remain in sin – As Christians, we are to remove sin from our lives. We must “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us” (Hebrews 12:1). Paul condemned the idea that some in Rome had adopted that they could “continue in sin so that grace may increase” (Romans 6:1-2). Yet many Christians assume that certain struggles they have with temptation and sin will always be there and have accepted that. This is NOT contentment.

Contentment is not an excuse to tolerate sin and error – Sin and error are to be dealt with, not ignored. The church in Corinth was ignoring the sin of a man who had “his father’s wife” (1 Corinthians 5:1); yet Paul told them, “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves” (1 Corinthians 5:13). John warned that if anyone came bringing a teaching that was not the doctrine of Christ, they were not to be welcomed into fellowship (2 John 10-11). Yet many claim to be exercising “patience” or “tolerance” instead of addressing such problems. This is NOT contentment.

Contentment is not an excuse not to work hard – We are to be hardworking, both physically (“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…” – Ecclesiastes 9:10) and spiritually (“Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest…” – Hebrews 4:11). Yet many are lazy and are willing to accept the consequences of refusing to work hard. This is NOT contentment.

Contentment is not an excuse not to practice good stewardship – As God has blessed us, we are to be good stewards of the gifts He has provided. Peter wrote, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10). We all have opportunities and resources we can use to do good. Yet many are apathetic about their blessings and squander what God has given, leaving them unable to do the good they could have done. This is NOT contentment.

What Contentment Is

Contentment is humbly submitting to the will of God – We must be content to remain within the bounds of God’s word. John wrote, “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9). We are not to look for something new or different. As John said, if we go beyond this, we lose our fellowship with God. Paul explained that if we follow after a “different gospel,” we are “deserting” Christ (Galatians 1:6). We must recognize that God’s way is best because His thoughts and ways are infinitely higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). Even “the foolishness of God is wiser than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25). Therefore, we need to humbly submit to His will. “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17). We must be content to do the will of God.

Contentment is patiently dealing with circumstances beyond our control – We cannot control everything. The wise man wrote, “No man has authority to restrain the wind with the wind, or authority over the day of death” (Ecclesiastes 8:8). Therefore, Jesus said we are not to “worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself” (Matthew 6:34). We are not to “fix [our] hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). We can and should plan for the future (James 4:13-16), but we must accept whatever happens. The wise man noted, “Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord will stand” (Proverbs 19:21). Our circumstances may not be what we intended, but we can be content in the Lord.

Contentment is graciously accepting whatever blessings God provides – Paul “learned to be content in whatever circumstances” he found himself – both with “humble means” and in “prosperity” (Philippians 4:11-12). We ought to have the same contentment. The wise man described it this way: “The sleep of the working man is pleasant, whether he eats little or much” (Ecclesiastes 5:12). Paul wrote, “If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content” (1 Timothy 6:8). Being content, regardless of our circumstances, depends on us having gratitude. Paul told the brethren in Thessalonica, “In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Every good thing we have is from God (James 1:17) and He will never forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Understanding this, we can be content.

Contentment is willingly accepting whatever consequences come for doing what is right – In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul wrote, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). As Christians, we will face persecution in some form. Paul told Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Therefore, we should “not be surprised” when this happens (1 Peter 4:12). If we “suffer for the sake of righteousness, [we] are blessed” (1 Peter 3:14). We are “not to be ashamed” in this, but content to keep our trust in God (1 Peter 4:16, 19).

What a Content Christian Will Do

A content Christian will continue to obey the Lord – Jesus told the church in Smyrna, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. […] Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). Following God may lead to trouble in this life. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10). When we suffer, we must not give up our faith in the Lord. Instead, we must have “endurance, so that when [we] have done the will of God, [we] may receive what was promised” (Hebrews 10:36).

A content Christian will maintain a regular habit of prayer – Paul wrote, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Praying to God leads to us obtaining “the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension” (Philippians 4:6-7). This peace allows us “to be content in whatever circumstances” we find ourselves (Philippians 4:11-12).

A content Christian will refrain from grumbling and complaining – Paul told the brethren in Philippi, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing” (Philippians 2:14). Whatever we might complain about is only “momentary, light affliction” in light of the “eternal weight of glory” we are hoping for after this life (2 Corinthians 4:17). We need the perspective described by Paul: “For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1).

A content Christian will keep focused on the goal of heaven – Paul wrote, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). We need to have this same goal. Focusing on the “worries and riches and pleasures of this life” will choke out the word and leave us unfruitful (Luke 8:14). Instead, we need to focus on heaven. Paul admonished the brethren in Colossae: “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:1-2). We need to have this mentality as well.

Conclusion

As Christians, we must be content – by the Biblical definition that we have seen. This is not about laziness, apathy, immaturity, or any of the other negative characteristics we discussed; this is about humble submission and trust in God.

Godliness and contentment leads to “great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). This reward is eternal life. Let us learn to be content as we serve God here in this life.


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