3 Misconceptions Concerning Contentment
A young girl whose father was a chronic grumbler said to her mother, “I know what everybody in this family likes. Johnny likes hamburgers, Janie likes ice cream, Willie likes bananas, and Mommy likes chicken.” The father, irked because he hadn’t been included in the list, asked, “What about me? What do I like?” The innocent little one replied, “You like everything we haven’t got.” While we may laugh at this statement, if we are honest with ourselves, many of us—even as Christians resemble the father. This problem exists because there are many misconceptions regarding the issue of contentment. This post seeks to highlight 3 common misconceptions related to this subject and biblical responses to each of them.
Misconception # 1. Contentment is not such a big issue.
Generally, we tend to consider expressing dissatisfaction toward unpleasant things in life as normal human responses. After all, I’m human. I need to vent here and there.
Biblical Response: However, if God views discontentment as a “normal” response, why then does he give so many commands concerning the need to be content—commands such as “Be content with your pay” [Lk 3:14], “Be content with what you have” [Heb 13:5] and “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed” [Lk 12:15]? As Christians, we would acknowledge that failure to obey any of God’s commands is a sin. And since such is the case, should we not consider failure to pursue contentment a sin as well? So, pursuing contentment is a big issue—not one that we can sweep under the rug.
A more in-depth look reveals more clearly as to why God calls discontentment as sin. 2 reasons come to mind.
a. Discontentment strikes at the Sovereignty of God. Expressing dissatisfaction, over the situations in our lives, is a subtle form of questioning God’s right to do whatever he chooses to do with us. The creature questioning the Creator’s actions is always sinful.
b. Discontentment strikes at the Goodness of God. When we express dissatisfaction over the situations in our life, we are essentially saying [though not in words, but by attitude], “God, you are not good to me in this particular situation. If you are good and loving, why are you not giving what I want or removing what I do not need from my life?” While it is not sinful to cry out to God for deliverance from trials, it is sinful to question God’s goodness.
Note: It is good to be discontent with our spiritual life since we are not yet what we ought to be as God’s children. In other words, be content with what you have, never with where you are spiritually. It is also good to be discontent when we see rampant sin around us and how the name of Christ is being dishonored. Experiencing discontentment in these areas is not sinful and ought to be the natural response for the Christian.
Misconception # 2. Contentment is based on circumstances.
How often we think life would be so much better if only my present circumstances would change. If we are single, we wish to be married; If married, we wish we were still single. If we are childless, we want children; If we have children, we want one of each kind [male and female]. And when we get children, we want better ones. The list goes on. “Any condition would be better than the present condition I am in” seems to be the constant cry of the heart. An interesting quote expresses this truth well, “As a rule, man’s a fool. When it’s hot, he wants it cool. And when it’s cool, he wants it hot, always wanting what is not.” Does the description of this person sound familiar?
The story is told of a man that became envious of his friends because they had larger and more luxurious homes. So he listed his house with a real estate firm, planning to sell it and purchase a more impressive home. Shortly afterward, as he was reading the classified section of the newspaper, he saw an ad for a house that seemed just right. He promptly called the realtor and said, “A house described in today’s paper is exactly what I’m looking for. I want to go through it as soon as possible!” The agent asked him several questions about it and then replied, “But sir, that’s your house you are describing!”
Biblical Response: Remember Adam and Eve? They lived in the perfect circumstances imaginable and had everything in the universe at their disposal except one tree [Gen 1:28; 2:15-16]. God in love generously gave them so much to enjoy. Yet notice how Satan tempted them to be discontent, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” [Gen 3:1] The first question in the Bible that is recorded for us came from the lips of Satan and it was a question designed to doubt God’s word and cast doubt on his goodness.
Basically what Satan was implying was this: “So, you don’t really have it all in the universe, do you? Isn’t God very stingy? Isn’t he robbing you of more joy, pleasure, and fulfillment?” His goal—get their eyes off what they had [which was pretty much everything] and focus on what they did not have [which was fruit from just one tree]. That’s the root of all discontentment—focusing on what one does not have rather than on what one does have!
Sadly, both Adam and Eve succumbed to this lie that came from the lips of Satan—the lie that you will be happier if only your circumstances were to change! Result? Instead of joy, they found misery—just as God promised would happen—proving that God’s word will always prevail over the false promises offered by sin and Satan.
Let us learn this very important lesson—if Adam and Eve did not experience satisfaction despite having almost everything in this universe, beware of the thinking that falsely promises, “I will be satisfied if only I have that which I do not have at present.” That is why we should constantly ask the Lord, “Turn my eyes away from worthless things” [Psa 119:37].
We need to realize that true contentment does not come from external circumstances, but only from making godliness our priority and eternity our perspective. 1 Timothy 6:6 says, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” And all godliness starts a real relationship with God through Christ. So, if you have not done so yet, come to Christ in repentance and faith. Embrace him as your all-sufficiency.
Misconception # 3. Contentment comes naturally for the Christian.
When we become Christians, we will immediately start hating the things of the world and find all our satisfaction in Christ. We will no longer yield to the cravings of the sinful flesh.
Biblical Response: How I wish this were true! Yes, becoming a believer does bring about a fundamental change in our disposition. However, to continually yield to the Holy Spirit and say ‘No’ to the cravings is a constant battle, isn’t it? Let’s take the example of the apostle Paul. Writing to the Philippians from being imprisoned in Rome, this is what he said, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” [Phil 4:11]. Did you catch that? Paul had to learn to be content. In fact, he repeats the same thought again in the next verse, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” [Phil 4:12]. Twice in two verses, he talks about learning to be content. In other words, contentment did not come naturally for him—despite his dramatic conversion!
This does give us some hope, doesn’t it? Contentment does not come naturally—but it is something that needs to be learned. It’s a process. And we too like Paul—as enabled by the Holy Spirit who uses God’s word and our diligent prayer—can put forth the necessary effort to learn the secret of being content.
The Greek word for “content” that Paul uses in Philippians 4:11 where he referred to how he “learned to be content” refers to being “self-sufficient” or “satisfied.” The secular world at that time used this word to describe an individual that calmly accepted all of life’s pressures, by solely appropriating his inner human strength, unaided by any external power. In contrast, Paul identifies his sufficiency as coming from Christ who provides all that is necessary for all believers to be content at all times.
If we were to ask Paul, “How did you learn this secret of being content no matter what circumstance you are facing?” his response would be something along these lines, “My sufficiency comes from Christ who provides with what I need to be content.” The next verse makes this clear.
Notice Paul’s words in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Some translations render it as, “I can do all things through Christ or him who strengthens me.” Unfortunately, this is one of those verses that has been grossly misinterpreted to mean one can do just about anything they set their mind to do if they exercise faith in Christ. That is not what this is teaching at all. The entire context of Philippians 4:10-19 is about contentment. Paul is saying that his secret to living in contentment no matter what circumstances was based on his sufficiency as coming from Christ who provides all things necessary for him [and us] to be content at all times.
Therefore, in the Christian sense, “To be content is to be completely satisfied because of having Christ.” That’s what we need to learn if we seek to be content. We have Christ—we have everything for this life and the life to come. We don’t have Christ—we’ve got nothing—even if we may abound in material things.
As Christians, we are often on our knees thanking God for saving unworthy sinners such as us who deserve nothing but hell and so forth. However, even before the prayer is over, we tell God how he needs to fix either this or that in our lives. And the minute something goes wrong in our lives, we tend to think, “How could this happen to me even though I have been faithful to God? Why do others more evil than I get all the good things and I end up with problems or unfulfilled dreams?” There can be a tendency to expect [even demand as a right] that certain privileges must be given even though we claim to be sinners unworthy to receive any good thing. Can we see the hypocrisy in us?
1 Timothy 6:8 says, “if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” Philippians 4:19 says, “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” We can conclude from these verses that God will always take care of all our needs [not our wants or demands]. Viewing life with the constant reminder that we deserve no good thing and yet God always provides for all our needs will help us be content. Such a view also helps in the crushing of our pride [which is always a good thing].
Dear Christian, perhaps you are physically afflicted and may never experience healing for the rest of your life; economically poor and may never live in abundance; not moving up in your career and may never move higher; single and may remain single for the rest of your life; the parent of a sick child and facing the possibility of life-long care for the child; in a difficult home where your spouse and kids may never love you. Despite all of that, are you willing to say: “Lord, I am willing to joyfully accept and be totally satisfied with whatever you have given or withheld from me. I don’t want to grieve you by being discontent. Please help me to bring glory to your name in every situation that you have lovingly placed me in.” That is the essence of true contentment!
Let us learn to joyfully accept our lot in life. Constant rehearsal of all the perceived negatives in our lives will only serve to fuel the fires of discontentment. Sometimes we are too busy adding up our troubles that we forget to count our blessings. One of the best ways, to kill the spirit of discontentment and cultivate a spirit of contentment, is to apply the principle of Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” The Christian that continually reflects on his relationship with Christ and on those things that the Bible defines as true, honorable, right, and pure, will experience not only true contentment but also the very presence of the God who grants peace to the soul [Phil 4:7, 9].
We need to remember God never does or allows anything in our lives for our downfall. It is always for his glory and our ultimate good. Yes, we do not often understand the mysteries of life and, in reality, we don’t need to—if we realize that our God is sovereign over all the affairs of our life and that he is a very good God. He knows what is best for us. We simply need to rest in him. If we wholeheartedly embrace these truths, imagine the state of our hearts—always resting with a sense of satisfaction.
Ephesians 1:3 says that we have been blessed “in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” Colossians 2:10 says, “in Christ [we] have been brought to fullness.” No matter what the world says about how we look or what we have or do not have, God says that we are super-blessed and complete as a result of our relationship with Christ. We lack nothing now and will lack nothing in the future. God promises, “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you” [Isa 46:4]. With such wonderful assurances, shouldn’t we always be able to joyfully say, “The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing” [Psa 23:1]?