Today’s prosperous American Christianity is confused about contentment.
Our view of contentment is being satisfied, pleased with what we have or with what is going on around us. If you aren’t content, do something to add to your surroundings so you are content. Buy some more stuff, get a different, less stupid husband, move to greener pastures, or focus on “finding yourself.” A life focused on me seems to be the best way I can be content! I get what I want when I want it. Sweet!
Biblical contentment has nothing to do with physical satisfaction. Here are the most popular New Testament usages of contentment:
Philippians 4:11–I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.
1 Timothy 6:6–godliness with contentment is great gain.
1 Timothy 6:8–having food and raiment let us be therewith content.
Hebrews 13:5–be content with such things as ye have
In each case, a single Greek word is at play. It’s a word that literally means self-sufficient.
So, what’s the difference between Biblical self-sufficiency and worldly fleshly-satisfaction?
Fleshly satisfaction needs stuff outside of self to keep the self happy. It needs its appetites fed, its lusts fulfilled, and its desires granted.
Biblical self-sufficiency needs nothing, it is independent of external circumstance. Self-sufficiency is based on something inside you, something that no physical thing can fulfill nor steal.
If you break the Greek word in two, you get the two halves self and sufficient. The word sufficient is used by Paul in another context (2 Corinthians 12), a context where he is asking God to remove his thorn in the flesh. In other words, something was happening physically that was destroying Paul’s comfort–remove it please!
God did not. Instead God said, “My grace is sufficient for you.” There’s our word sufficient.
Because we have been given all things that pertain to life and godliness. Because we have all spiritual blessings in heavenly places, nothing physical should destroy our sufficiency. We have been given everything we need by God’s grace to be self-sufficient.
Contentment has little to do with physical things. If you have food and clothes, be content, be self-sufficient. God has you. He takes care of His people.
Worldly comfort that makes you satisfied has nothing to do with biblical contentment.
This whole concept is easier said than done. But this only shows the degree to which our priorities are out of whack with God’s. I imagine having proper expectations about contentment is a good place to start though.