Why should God’s people pursue contentment? This article gives seven biblical reasons why we are to learn to be content in all life situations.

2009. 6 pages. Transcribed by Diana Bouwman. Transcription started at 5:25 and stopped at 32:45.

The Necessity of Contentment The Mystery of Contentment Series: Part 2

Read Philippians 4:4-9 and 1 Timothy 6:6-10

If you were to ask a friend or someone on the street, “Do you want more peace in your life?” very few of them would say, “No, I do not want more peace in my life.” Probably 99.9% of all of the people that you would ask this question would say, “Indeed, I need more peace.” All of us, at some level, are aware of the benefits of contentment. All humanity, at some level, is aware of the benefits of contentment. They want to be content.

But the question is: How do we pursue it? What standards do we use to attain it? What is our guide in the pursuit of contentment? Philosophers throughout history have said contentment is something important, and they have laid out steps for attaining it. Aesop said, “Be content with your lot; one cannot be first in everything,” Socrates said, “Contentment is natural wealth; luxury is artificial poverty.” Ben Franklin said, “Contentment makes poor men rich; discontent makes rich men poor.” None of these would claim to be Christians (or those prior to Christ: followers of the God of the Bible), and yet they recognize the importance of contentment. But none of them lay out biblical standards for how we achieve true Christian contentment. 

There are even modern examples and modern stories and modern illustrations that show the problem of discontent, the problem of wanting more, the problem of greed, the pressing on to get more. Many of you are familiar with this story. It has various manifestations with regard to different animals. In some stories it is a monkey; in others it is a raccoon going after a piece of shiny aluminium foil. But it all has to do with the animal putting its hand through a tight cage and grasping hold of something and then refusing to let go, but they cannot get their fist back out of the cage, and so they get trapped.

(Transcription of audio file from 08:14 to 08:24 omitted.)

We are aware of the problems of constantly wanting to grasp after more. All people are! And all know, at some level, the benefits. But secular reasons and worldly wisdom for the pursuit of contentment are not necessarily biblical reasons and godly wisdom in the pursuit of contentment. So it is important for us to stop and examine: Why should we, as God's people, pursue biblical contentment? In addition, the pursuit of contentment requires study. It requires hard work. It does not come naturally. And as we pursue it, and as we fall, and as we see ourselves struggling with a discontented spirit, what is our natural temptation? The natural temptation is to give up. So we need to focus on: Why do we do this? Why should God's people pursue contentment?

I am going to give you seven reasons, and we are going to look at a variety of passages as we explore this question of: Why pursue contentment? The Bible teaches us many things. I am going to point out seven today.

God Has Commanded Us to Be Content🔗

The first is this: God has commanded it. Why pursue contentment? God has commanded us to be content. In Hebrews 13:5 the writer to the Hebrews commands us: “Be content with what you have.” Or as we read this morning in Philippians 4, I think this actually fits into these commands, when the Bible says that we are to be joyful. As the Apostle Paul puts it in Philippians 4:4: to “rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” That is a command, and that is also a command to be content. Joy and contentment go hand in hand. Joy, as we saw last week, is that state of gladness knowing that God is in control. And the joyful heart recognizes and delights in God's sovereign control, no matter where God has put us at the time. So we are commanded to be content. We are commanded to be joyful. We are commanded not to covet, which again is closely tied up with finding contentment in what God has given us, and not coveting or desiring something more. The Bible commands contentment.

And of course, if we are followers of Jesus, we want to keep the commands of God. Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). We show our love for God, for Christ, by keeping His commandments. So first of all, why study contentment? The Bible has commanded it. Now, I could end right here. God said it; I believe it; that settles it. But I am going to go on a little bit farther. [I will give you] six other reasons, and I think they are biblical reasons. 

Contentment Is a Priceless Treasure🔗

The second reason is this: Contentment is a priceless treasure. Turn with me to 1 Timothy 6. Paul says there is great gain in godliness with contentment. “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (verse 6). It itself is the greatest form of gain. Godliness with contentment is one of the greatest treasures that we can find. It is a priceless treasure.

And notice what Paul goes on to teach us here in this passage. He teaches us that what matters ultimately are eternal things. Notice what he says in verse 7: “We brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.” We all know that at one level, right? We did not bring anything in. “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked will I return” (Job 1:21). We cannot take this stuff with us. But essentially what he is saying is: Then why be consumed with it? What matters is not the treasure of this world, which you cannot take with you, but what matters is an eternity with God! What matters are eternal things and the priceless treasure of a contented and quiet spirit. The key is not our outward estate, but it is our inward estate.

Turn with me over to 1 Peter 3. Here Peter is referring to wives, but I think it is a passage that in some sense refers to all believers.

Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.1 Peter 3:3-4, ESV

Do you see that? “Let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit”—we saw that in Jeremiah Burroughs' definition of contentment last week. It includes having a “gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious.” It is imperishable. It means you have the quiet, beautiful spirit that is eternal and lasts into eternity. There is a famous line of commercials that says, “Diamonds are forever.” We know that that is a lie. What lasts forever is a beautiful spirit—the greatest form of riches—the inner beauty that comes from the peace and the contentment of knowing God. That is what we need to pursue. Contentment is a priceless treasure. 

A Murmuring Spirit is a Great Sin🔗

A third reason why we are to pursue contentment is that a murmuring spirit is great sin. A murmuring, discontented spirit is great sin. We are going to look at this next week. We are going to come back to the dangers of a murmuring, discontented spirit, as we go back to our focus for the series on Philippians. But in Philippians 2:14 the Apostle Paul tells the Philippians (and us as well) to do all things without murmuring or complaining.

The language that he uses there actually comes out of the Old Testament, where we see the Israelites constantly murmuring and complaining against God. Let's go back there and let's look at one example. Turn to Numbers 11. I want you to see from this passage why a murmuring, discontented spirit is great sin. Remember the wonderful things that God has done for His people. He led them out of slavery in Egypt. He constantly provided for them in the wilderness. And in Numbers 11 we read this:

And the people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes, and when the LORD heart it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp.Numbers 11:1, ESV

Well, first of all, there are danger signs. They murmured, and God destroyed some.

Then the people cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the LORD, and the fire died down. SO the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the LORD burned among them. Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at. Numbers 11:2-6, ESV

What happens when we complain? A couple of things. The first thing is when we are caught up with a murmuring, complaining, discontented spirit, it is because we have forgotten God's blessings. We forget the blessings of God. A second thing that often happens when we have this spirit is that we tend to exaggerate the past, the good old days, when things were so good. As we look back, things look better.

The Israelites here are in the wilderness, and they are longing for Egypt. “We remember what we ate! The fish! We did not have to pay for it! The leeks, the melons, the onions! Oh, we remember that city we used to live in and that restaurant that we used to love! Weren't those the good old days?” Well, remember the Israelites were groaning and crying out to God in that state, and God delivered, them, mercifully. But they exaggerated the past and saw it in a positive light.

But what is that one other thing that we do when we complain against God? Look ahead to verses 21-23. I think this whole passage basically includes it, but look at verses 21 and following. God says He is going to provide meat.

But Moses said, “The people among whom I am number six hundred thousand on foot, and you have said, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat a whole month!’ Shall flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, and be enough for them? Or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, and be enough for them?” And the LORD said to Moses, “Is the LORD’s hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not." Numbers 11:21-23, ESV

What is the third thing we do in our murmuring, discontented spirit? We do not trust God's provision. We do not believe that God is powerful enough to do what He has said He will do for us.

Ultimately, the Bible says a grumbling, complaining, discontented spirit is rebellion. It is rebellion! We are going to look at this more closely next week, but when Moses struck the rock the second time, he there committed a sin that caused him to be banished from the Promised Land, but Moses said to his people, “Hear now, you rebels” (Numbers 20:10). You who rebel against God. A discontented spirit is absolute rebellion.

Perhaps you have known or you can imagine a child who would say to his or her parents: “You just have not done enough for me. You have not treated me right. You have wronged me.” What do we say to someone like that? Well, we are first tempted to say, “You brat!” But at a deeper level what do we recognize? That is absolute rebellion and failure to honour a parent. But that is exactly what we do to God. We may not express it, but when we are discontent and murmuring against Him we are saying, “You, God, have not treated me right.” And that is rebellion. We need to confess and repent of that sin. 

Discontent as the Root of Much Sin🔗

Fourth, not only is discontent itself great sin, but it is at the root of much sin. We went over this when we discussed the tenth commandment. A spirit of longing for other things, a covetous spirit desiring what God has not given to us, leads to all kinds of sin. It leads to anger; it leads to murder; it leads to adultery. We saw in the story of David and Bathsheba that he saw Bathsheba and he longed for her. He was discontent. He wanted more. And it led to theft, taking her to be his wife. It led to adultery. It led to murder. And it led to breaking of other commandments as well. Discontent is at the root of much sin. 

Humble Submission to God’s Will🔗

Fifth, a contented spirit shows our humble submission to God's will. A discontented spirit says, “I am in control, and I am going to get what I want.” A discontented spirit is on the throne of his or her heart. A contented spirit says, “I will accept what God gives. I recognize God's sovereignty. I recognize that God ordains all things, and I rest in His control of my life.” We are going to look at this passage in the coming weeks, but in Philippians 1:12 the apostle Paul, writing from prison, says, “What has happened to me has [served] to advance the gospel.” “Just because I, the apostle, the evangelist, the missionary to the world, am in prison, that does not mean that the gospel is in chains! More of the brothers are being bold, and even now the imperial guard is hearing about Christ. God is in control! God is working His perfect purposes in my life and His purposes in carrying out His own will.” A contented spirit shows our humble submission to that will.

The Peace of God🔗

Sixth, without contentment we cannot experience the peace of God. Discontent and lack of peace go hand in hand. Paul tells us back in Philippians 4 how we are to achieve this contentment and this peace. He tells us that we are not to be anxious (vs. 6), which is at the root of so much discontent. Anxiety. We are fearful that something is not going to go right, or that God is not going to provide, or we are not going to be able to pay that bill, or we are not going to be able to support our family, or our business is not going to make it. “I am going to fail in this project”—whatever it might be. That anxiety leads to discontent. And what does Paul say? Pray. Pray!

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7, ESV

We are to pray. What else are we to do? Watch our thoughts! If you are like me, I can sit around thinking bad things. I sometimes do that when I wake up at night, in the middle of the night I cannot get back to sleep, because all kinds of anxious thoughts are going through my head. What does Paul say here?

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8, ESV

Control your thoughts. Pray for God's grace to think about what is good and lovely and pure. And all this, by the way, essentially sums up Christ Himself. Think about Christ. Focus on Christ. Martin Luther once wrote that “God does not dwell in Babylon but in Salem,” not in confusion but in peace. That is where God dwells. God dwells in the soul that finds rest in Him.

A Worshipful Spirit🔗

Seventh and finally, the contented spirit is the worshipful spirit. Contentment gives God the worship that is His due. Jeremiah Burroughs wrote in The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (2010): “Worship is not only doing what pleases God, but being pleased with what God does.” Can you say that? “I am pleased with what God has done.” Can you say, “Whatever my God ordains is right”? And not in a grim way. Can you say, “Whatever my God ordains is right, and I am delighted in it”? Do you delight in what God does and has done in your life?

We worship Him when we recognize His sovereignty and delight in Him, enjoying Him and accepting with joy what comes from His hand. If you are unsettled and restless, you are not truly delighting in God. You may be here to worship this morning but you are still unsettled and restless, and you are not at peace—I would call you to come to Christ, because it would not be clear to me that you have done that yet. God comes and God gives us peace, and God gives us joy, and God gives us true contentment.

And God, as we do this, makes us like His Son, Jesus, who said, “O God, if possible, take this cup from me” (Matthew 26:39). And there is nothing wrong with that prayer. There is nothing wrong with praying to God, “O God, this is a difficult situation. O God, if possible, take this from me.” There is nothing wrong with praying like the Apostle Paul did in 2 Corinthians three times: “O God, take this thorn in the flesh away from me.” “Take this difficulty out of my life. Take these troubles away. Lead me to greener pastures right now, out of the valley, out of the rocky places. O God, please do that.” But do not pray that prayer if that is all you pray, because it needs to be followed by the next words of our Lord Jesus, which are these: “But not my will, but your will be done.” And it pleased Christ to obey the Father. It pleased Christ to walk in His ways and to follow Him, even to death and to the bearing of His wrath.

We struggle with contentment. We struggle with it. We will not attain it perfectly in this life. We are going to fall from time to time. We can attain it, as Paul did, but we are going to fall. As we do that, look to Christ. Look to that One who humbly submitted Himself even unto death on the cross. Look to Him! Learn of Him. And in your discontent, run to Christ.

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