For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.
Phil. 4:11 (ESV)
I think it would be agreed by all that the pursuit of contentment is an honorable pursuit. All speak of contentment as a virtue to be sought and cherished. Why are we then, so often, not content? Why are our hearts so restless? Why the constant need of something else? Why the constant need for a change?
William S. Plumer (1802-1880) was an American Presbyterian minister who said, “The difficulty is not so much in the want (lack) of good rules and strong reasons for guiding us into a state of contentment, but in the deep rooted aversion (feelings of intense dislike) of our hearts to a duty that requires our submission to the will of God. We know better than we do. Seeing the right, we pursue the wrong. We smile at the folly or frown at the wickedness of discontent in others and then follow their example.”
How true that is! We all know contentment is something we should pursue, but our sinful hearts by nature often do like what God gives. We think we deserve better or that God owes us something more. We rebel against what we know is right and in pride pursue that which can never fully satisfy.
Contentment is a disposition of the mind in which we are satisfied with the will of God respecting our temporal affairs – without hard thoughts or hard speeches concerning his allotments and without any sinful desire for a change. It submissively receives what it is given. It thankfully enjoys present mercies. It leaves the future in the hand of unerring wisdom. There is nothing in true contentment to make men satisfied with anything in the world or to make them happy to think of this world as a permanent abode. The most contented person, in other words, may yet long for the day when Christ comes. It is far better to be with Him.
One of the ways to understand more of what contentment is is to examine what it is not. Plumer mentions seven opposites. First, and most prominent, is envy. When a man’s heart grows sick over the worldly success of others and hates him for it, he is on a dangerous path. The second opposite is anxiety over worldly things. We need to settle in our minds that fretting about the cares of this world really is a sin and folly. It is no wonder we are called to “cast all our cares upon Him for He cares for us”, and “take no thought of your life, what you shall eat and what you shall drink. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” Thirdly, contentment is opposed to covetousness. Contentment does not hold on to what it has nor is it greedy for more. It is satisfied knowing that He will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5). Fourthly, contentment is the opposite of pride. John Mason wrote, “Humility is the mother of contentment. They that deserve nothing should be content with anything.” Fifthly, contentment is opposed to ungodly ambition. Those with a wicked ambition are content with nothing gained because they always want to push themselves even farther. They feel like there is something greater that must be achieved to reach the true state of contentment, but it never comes. In the sixth place, contentment is opposed to murmuring. Rather than displaying in their speech and attitude a heart of thanksgiving and submission, the discontent murmur. Be aware of those who make a habit of complaining. There is probably not much that will make them content. They will always find something else to complain about. Lastly, contentment is in opposition to distrust in God. Instead of waiting on the Lord and relying on him for strength, how frequently do we think that the world is simply going to cease. Our outlook is so pessimistic. Things will never get better. “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles. They shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31). “Trust in the Lord with all your heart,” says the Proverb. The Bible everywhere calls His people to trust!
Perhaps you are even now in the school of contentment. Are you learning anything? Am I learning anything? I want to say with Paul that, “In whatever situation I am, I have learned to be content.” Let us continually ask God to increase our faith. Until He returns let us run the race with joy, rest in the Lord and His steadfast, covenant love, waiting patiently for him and remembering that we brought nothing into this world and we can take nothing out it (1 Timothy 6:7). “Naked you came and naked you will return” (Job 1:21). There are no U-hauls behind a hearse! God bless you, dear friends.
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 William S. Plumer, What is Contentment? Reprinted in the Free Grace Broadcaster, Issue 213, Fall 2010.