In my Wednesday night class recently we came to 1 Timothy 6:6-8. Our study focused on contentment. It is interesting how this subject provoked enough discussion to allow us to spend two weeks dealing with it. The main idea of the text we were studying (1 Timothy 6:6-8) is contentment. The familiar things in scripture need to be read more closely, given more thought. This is true with Bible words – “Contentment” is a Bible word.
The idea of contentment intimidates us a little. We accuse preachers of not preaching on it. We accuse teachers of not teaching on it. We may feel that true contentment is always evasive; just a little out there beyond our ability to get there ever really. We don’t know what to do with it. We like to tell ourselves that we are content, whether we are or not.
What is contentment?
Contentment is the condition of being satisfied or sufficient in any situation. The Greek word is rendered “sufficiency” in 2 Corinthians 9:8. The cognate occurs only in Philippians 4:11. It means to be sufficient; possessed of sufficient strength; to be satisfied. Contentment touches every phase of life (not just our money). In Paul’s day there was worldly contentment. Some expositors (William Barclay, Wayne Jackson, David L. Roper, William D. Mounce) will highlight the Stoics and Cynics of Paul’s day. This leaves us basically unmoved since they are far removed from us today. If we understand that secularization is a frame of mind entirely divorced from all things divine, we find an easy application for our times.
If there is such a thing as contentment with godliness its opposite is also a reality. That is there is contentment with ungodliness. Those who believe in human self-sufficiency without God are ungodly. The story of Ahab and Naboth’s vineyard is a class case-in-point (1 Kgs. 21:1-16). It shows what happens when one becomes a slave to greed. When you allow things to control your mind the outcome is predictable.
Are discontentment and restlessness at all related? Progress of any kind requires a sense of dissatisfaction with the status quo. Church and spiritual growth occur when we are dissatisfied with merely holding our own. In things spiritual it is only when people are discontent with a life of sin that they want something better. A study of contentment spills over into other related areas of thought:
1. Is contentment the same as simplicity and should we pursue the latter? And if we do what does simplicity look like? Amish and Mennonite groups stress simplicity. Should we?
2. Contentment is related to blessedness. Do we ever consider our real blessings in life?
3. Does contentment counteract the drive to succeed? Ambition?
4. If you want to improve yourself economically (get a better paying job) does that mean you are not content with what you have?
Why does contentment matter?
Sometimes we need to see the reverse side of something to understand why it matters. Jesus encountered a discontented man who asked him to address his brother about a financial matter of personal concern (Lk. 12:13). “But he said to him, ‘Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?’ And he said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions’” (Vss. 14-15). This is followed by a parable of a wealthy, but discontented farmer (Vss. 16-21). The opposite of contentment is dissatisfaction, insecurity and an unsettled mind. Here are some lessons we might take home from this:
1. One who is discontent is wrapped up in himself (Vs. 13).
2. One who is discontent thinks that life consists in the abundance of things (Vs. 15).
3. One who is discontent is restless for material and/or secular improvement (Vs. 17).
4. One who is discontent will often leave God out of the picture (Vss. 20-21).
5. If there were no danger in this there would be no warning (Vs. 15).
How do you find contentment?
Paul said he learned contentment (Phil. 4:11). He also teaches contentment. How do we learn it? How do we teach it? Preachers can preach on contentment. Teachers can teach it. Will we learn it? How many listen and actually learn, or does it just go over their heads? Some things cannot be taught, but can be learned (riding a bicycle). Some spiritual things cannot be taught, but can be learned (Matt. 9:13). We can learn these things and in so doing teach them. Contentment is a choice; not a set of ideal conditions. Contentment is not something you sit around and wait for. It is something you activate in your will/heart.
How can you lose contentment?
1. Contentment cannot coexist with comparisons. When the Pharisee compared himself with the tax collector there was a glaring difference (Lk. 18:11). Comparing your house, car, hunting equipment, golf clubs with others (“The Jones’s”) is always a losing proposition. We are all equal in this: We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we will carry nothing out (Vs. 7). Comparisons stir up jealousy and envy. They cause us to lose eternal perspectives. Comparisons will prompt us to buy things we can’t afford; with money we don’t have to try to impress people we don’t even like. The poor man would give anything to have the rich man’s gold. The rich man would give all his gold to have the poor man’s good health.
2. Contentment cannot coexist with greed/covetousness. Have we sincerely thanked God for the basics of life? Greed will not allow us to appreciate what we do have, but will only focus on what we do not have.
3. Love of money will cause us to lose contentment if we ever have it.
The contentment challenge:
1. Establish a reasonable standard of living. At whatever level we find ourselves, the challenge is to live within our means. If you live humbly in this world, use it well!
2. Establish a habit of giving (Eph. 4:28).
3. Establish priorities – put God first in all you do (Col. 3:1-3).
4. Establish a thankful attitude.