So much of our agitation in this life is due to lack of contentment. Contentment is directly related to faith in God and trust that his specific providences in our lives are not only unavoidable because he is sovereign but also good because he is wise and loving. When life in the world unsettles us with fear and anxiety, we similarly fail to take seriously and apply personally that God is ruling over all, including evil men, and that he is working good through them for his people. We see, in these times especially, that practical atheism is not as far away from our souls as we would like.
The apostle speaks of “learning contentment” and “godliness with contentment being great gain.” In Philippians 4:11, the Holy Spirit through his servant says he has learned contentment “in whatsoever state I am.” Contentment is the heavenly grace whereby we adjust our desires to God’s wise governing of our present circumstances, so that we do run ahead in our desires beyond what God has been pleased to give or do for us. If we have much, we bless God for it, live thankfully, enjoy his gifts, and share with others. If we have little or are suffering or have a lifelong struggle in some area, we also bless God for giving us what he thinks best, live thankfully that he has promised not to forget us, and enjoy his lesser gifts in hope of everlasting life and fullness in Christ. Contentment is present when we trust God is working out his good will in all the details of our lives, always does what is best for us, and loves us without alteration or diminishment.
This “whatsoever state” reveals the ugly atheism of our nation. All the demand for more government money, state bailouts, reparations and all the rest are a distrust of God and anger at his providences in the past and present. Unbelief and contentment never go together. Discontent is hell’s agitation – fury that we cannot have what we want now, envy that others have more and better, and utter discontent with whatever one’s circumstances are. If God is not the portion of your life, your joy and peace, you will never, ever be happy and at peace.
Thus, the gospel is extremely pertinent for the salvation of man’s sanity. How else can we learn contentment unless we reverence God? This is Paul’s point in 1 Timothy 6:6 when he speaks of “godliness with contentment.” “Godliness” means reverence or respect. Godliness is reverence for God that leads us to trust his care, cleave unto him, and walk humbly before him. There is an inseparable connection between reverence for God and contentment. He has taken us to be his children and appointed our lot in life. We respect his right in this and want to learn to trust him. He gives one of his children a certain blessing, but from another he withholds it – he has a right to do this. He is working good for both his children, to the one by giving and to the other by withholding. This is the way we begin to learn contentment – by growing in reverence for God, especially in his specific providences in our lives, the callings he gives, the means he gives or withholds, the different standards of living, health, spiritual gifts, and opportunities his children have. For who makes us to differ? God does (1 Cor. 4:7).
Each believer must strive to learn contentment, for if we live agitated because we have set our heart upon something that the Lord has chosen not to give us, we do not make him our portion. We make God our portion when we establish our happiness in him, when having him as our God and his word as our treasure is more important to us than having all the good things in this world, a better marriage or children, or a better job. When God is our portion, we can learn contentment, for if we have him, we have everything. This is intensified by our union with Jesus Christ, for he said “in me you might have peace” (John 16:33). This is another way of saying, “In me, you can learn to be settled, contented, and have all you need.” God made us for himself, for his fellowship and pleasure, to find our life and purpose in knowing and serving him. Contentment is the fruit of believing and seeking him as life’s purpose and joy.
Many believers are discontented, as I have been in many seasons of life. Discontentment is easy, if painful, to identify. To the discontented, something is always wrong; nothing is ever good enough. Discontentment manifests itself in a negative outlook on life, constant discouragement over life’s setbacks, and despondency if personal desires are unfulfilled. It is often flighty, moving from one pleasure, person, or situation to the next looking for elusive happiness or satisfaction. Often it seeks escape, even if this means drugs, alcohol, or immorality. Discontentment does not turn to the Lord to seek its filling and life. It cannot turn to the Lord, for it is bowing before an idol of the heart. We must deal seriously with the discontent in our lives, for contentment is the fruit of making God our portion and our peace and our life. The more we trust him, the more we can sing upon our sick bed, be happy with little, rejoice when others have more than we do, and be settled because we have him as our God and Father. Truly, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” It may very well be one of the Christian’s greatest gains, for it is evidence of growing faith and humble walking with the Lord. Then, he gives more grace, more joy, and more opportunity to serve him.
As we can identify the fruits of discontent, so contentment produces clear fruits. Anyone can be outwardly contented when life does well, but if we make God our portion, we can be pleased even in difficult circumstances. Why is this? If our desires and will are adjusted to God’s providence in our lives, we see his hand bringing us low so that we may be strong in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 12:10). A contented soul is thus like a weaned child before God (Ps. 131) – not meddling in matters that are too high for him but settled and calm in his Father’s love. Contentment gives us a cheerful disposition so that we glory in tribulations, not that we do not feel the pinch of them, but that we rejoice that God is with us in them and that he will sanctify us through them (Rom. 5:3; James 1:2). One precious fruit of contentment is that it leads us to seek the Lord, to rest in him and wait upon him. It does not make us passive, as if we should expect life always to be hard and never work to improve our personal circumstances. But the contented soul pursues these positive changes in the strength and wisdom and guidance that come by waiting upon the Lord, hoping in his goodness, and trusting his wise government of our lives.
Since contentment is so beautiful and honors God by walking reverently before him, how can we learn to be contented? First, we must meditate upon God. We must think often that he has made us for himself, chose us in Christ, has given us everything in his Son, and is working good for us and for all his people, so that his glorious purposes respecting the covenant of grace and all of God’s elect will be fulfilled. He would not bring trouble into our lives were it not necessary for his glory and our good. Second, we must trust that he is our loving Father, which leads us directly to Jesus Christ as our Surety, Head, and Mediator. The reason we can trust God is our Father is because the Son of God has come down from heaven in our flesh and revealed the Father to us. He has reconciled us to God by his blood, cleansed us from all our sins, and given us unimpeachable righteousness. Think often and adoringly on the Father’s love and Christ’s fullness in us. God’s love and grace breeds deep contentment (Rom. 8:32).
Third, we must learn to be thankful in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18). One reason we fret is that we are not thankful; we think we deserve more, that life is unfair and too hard, or that if God really loved us, he would do better by us. Let us see Jesus and give God thanks. Let us remember that in ourselves we deserve nothing and that instead of judgment our God has given us his covenant of mercy, his love, and his Spirit, and let our first thought in the morning and our last in the evening be thankfulness to him. Cultivate a thankful spirit, and you will suffocate a discontented spirit. The more thankful you are, the quieter you will be in difficult circumstances. The world will lose its hold upon you; your fear and anxiety will be greatly lessened, for thankfulness to God binds our hearts to him so that we look to him as our constant helper, provider, and friend.
Fourth, live day by day. Commit each day’s need to the Lord; thank him for each day’s bread; cast each day’s burden upon him. Do not take the burdens of the world upon your shoulders, for the Lord has never given them to you. The government of the world rests upon Jesus, not upon saints, and we do ourselves great harm by minding the high things that only he can know and direct. Do not take the burdens of tomorrow upon your shoulders, for the Lord has promised that tomorrow will take care of itself. Instead, resolve to obey him each day and entrust your life, those you love, the church of our blessed Savior, and your future into his safekeeping. He will never leave or forsake us. This is the dynamic of contentment for us poor creatures. We are nothing, but our God is everything, has bound himself to us in covenant, is our life and portion, and will allow nothing to happen to us but what will work eternal good and happiness for us.