“…for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” (Philippians 4:11)
Our culture is anything but content. A victim mentality, constant comparison via social media, and the worship of comfort and material possessions rob us of contentment. Even true Christ followers can be tempted to be chronic complainers. It is ironic that for over the last 250 years advances in science, industry, and medicine have greatly reduced the physical suffering that has been common since the fall of man. Labor saving devices, advances in transportation, indoor plumbing, and heating and air-conditioning has surrounded us with a constant level of comfort. Now, don’t feel guilty as you enjoy these advances. They are not sinful…they are blessings from God! However, notice what happens in your heart when those things are taken away. Our sinful hearts do not naturally move toward an attitude of contentment. We become irritated and, at times, even explode in anger. I was recently ministering in the Dominican Republic and the place where I was staying had spotty internet service. I had much work to do that depended on a stable connection, and I got frustrated. But why would I not? My agenda had been interrupted, my plans had been delayed, and my comfort had been taken away. What a difficult trial, right? The work had to get done, but I found that there were other ways to accomplish the task that weren’t quite as fast, but the job got done.
Is contentment really that important? Should we really work hard at developing a culture of contentment in our hearts and homes? According to Scripture, Christ calls us, like Paul, to put forth great effort in learning to be content in all circumstances. But how can we actually begin to develop a culture of contentment in our hearts and homes?
- Defining contentment.
Puritan writer Jeremiah Burroughs describes contentment this way:
“Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.”
In his book, The Power of Christian Contentment, Andrew Davis gives this perspective on contentment:
“Christian contentment is finding delight in God’s wise plan for my life and humbly allowing him to direct me in it. The goal is that we will more consistently display Christian contentment so that, in the end, God will be glorified in our daily lives, we will be more joyful, we will be sources of inspiration, and those watching us will seek the Savior…”
In order to truly define contentment, it is also helpful to differentiate between contentment and thankfulness. A quick search in Vines Expository dictionary reveals this important distinction:
Gratitude is being thankful for what God has given you. Contentment is being satisfied with what God has given you.
Gratitude is being thankful for God’s love for me. Contentment is being satisfied in God’s love for me.
Gratitude is being thankful for my giftings and abilities from the Lord. Contentment is being satisfied with how God made me.
Gratitude is being thankful for my spouse and children that God has given me. Contentment is being satisfied with how God made them.
Gratitude is being thankful for the material possessions that God has given me. Contentment is being satisfied with what I have.
Sure, there are relational and personal issues that must be dealt with biblically and there are godly ways to resolve those differences. We should always be striving to become more like Christ and contentment is not complacency. But we must allow our union with Christ to define us and direct our responses in difficult circumstances.
“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.” (Heb. 13:5)
- Why is learning contentment so important?
Throughout Scripture, we are commanded to praise the Lord for His goodness and His faithful character. The Children of Israel constantly complained and did not obey the Lord. Therefore, many of them were not able to enter into the “rest” that had been planned for them because they refused to trust God. (Heb. 3:19)
Learning contentment is of great value because discontentment is where most sins begin. A discontented heart is anxious and restless most of the time because it is focused on self and circumstances. A discontented heart is envious of others, is in constant rivalry with others and cannot be satisfied in his/her union with Christ. When we are always thinking about what we would like to change in our circumstances, Satan will tempt us to take the things that God hasn’t given us (James 4:1–2).
“From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.” (James 4:1–2)
If we learn to be satisfied with what God has given, we will not give Satan an opportunity in our hearts.
Discontentment and complaining about circumstances is universal. In every culture where I have ministered, grumbling about the weather, taxes, traffic, the government, the price of gas, the boss, the husband, the wife, the children, and the preacher is how many conversations begin and end. Finding a contented person is rare.
When we are in Christ and truly satisfied in Him, that radically changes everything. We don’t allow ourselves to be dragged down into the type of conversation that focuses on ourselves and the trouble that is in the world. We can stop complaining because bringing glory to Christ is our highest goal!
“Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;” (Philippians 2:14–15)
Allowing our hearts to often be in a state of dissatisfaction with Christ and what He has provided for us is more sinful than we think. We talk about the goodness of God, but our constant complaining is a glaring contradiction of what we say we believe.
As we move through the thanksgiving season, let’s ask the Lord to reveal how often we are grumbling and pray for Him to begin to change our heart. Consider taking some time to read through Rev. 19:1–8. When we learn to rejoice in Christ instead of complaining, we are joining in with the heavenly multitude in giving glory to God. This is our calling in this life, and it will be our privilege for all eternity.