Does the word “contentment” leave a bad taste in your mouth? Many view contentment as a reluctant resolve to accept an unpleasant or unwanted situation. To them, contentment is a burden.
But the biblical view of contentment is freedom; freedom to trust God to provide for and sustain us whatever the circumstances. This godly contentment brings peace and is truly desirable.
In Philippians 4:11, the apostle Paul wrote, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” When he penned those words he was confined in a Roman prison chained to a guard!
What is contentment?
Contentment is a choice, not based on circumstances. Contentment is a state of trust and satisfaction in the Lord and what He has provided. Contentment is a matter of focus. Will we focus on stuff, money, circumstances, or on the Lord?
Paul wrote, “I have learned to be content….” The word “learn” here means to learn by experience, use, or practice. What this means is that we learn contentment by being exposed to situations that require it. Often our immediate reaction to unfavorable circumstances is to extract ourselves or change the circumstances. But when we do this, we not only lose out on learning contentment, but we also make dumb, knee-jerk decisions.
Contentment is not just about money but can apply to a job, a location, a relationship, our belongings, and even who we are, what we look like, our skills, and education, etc. But in every case, contentment is a matter of choosing whether to focus on our situation or on the Lord and His all-sufficiency.
Also, we must not equate contentment with laziness. Contentment is not anti-ambitious, anti-industrious, or against improving one’s situation. But there’s a difference between being diligent and being obsessed with the need for more or something better.
Lack of contentment or discontent exposes our mistrust of God and is especially destructive when we vocalize it to others. We see a classic example of discontent in Numbers 11:4-6, 10, 18-20:
The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”
Moses heard the people of every family wailing at the entrance to their tents. The Lord became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled.
“Tell the people: ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow, when you will eat meat. The Lord heard you when you wailed, “If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the Lord will give you meat, and you will eat it. You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it—because you have rejected the Lord, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?”’”
This passage offers insight into what it means to be discontented. They were ungrateful, complaining, grumbling, and regretted having left Egypt. They belittled God and questioned His goodness and love and even loathed His provision. They didn’t trust Him and despised Him for bringing them out of Egypt into this wasteland. In their discontent, they were rejecting God Himself! (vs.20)
In Philippians 4:12, Paul continued his discussion of contentment saying, “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.” We can understand why we need to be content when we’re experiencing lack. But why do we need to be content when we have plenty? And what is this secret that Paul is talking about?
In Ecclesiastes 2:4-11, King Solomon conducted a fantastic experiment in which he denied himself no pleasure or extravagance. And he had the power and resources with which to pull off this experiment. But in the end he concluded, “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2:11)
Striving after earthly pleasures is ultimately very unfulfilling and unsatisfying. Whether we have plenty or little, our joy and contentment must always be in the Lord and not in our stuff or lack of it.
What is Paul’s secret for being content in any and every situation? “I can do all this through Him who strengthens me.” (vs. 13) We place our confidence in Christ and find our joy and our strength in Him. He is our prize. He fulfills the longings of our hearts and minds.
Psalm 107:9 declares, “For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness.” The Secret to contentment is this: With Christ in us we are free to be content because nothing else begins to compare with knowing Christ. Like the Psalmist cried out in Psalm 73:25, “Whom have I in heaven but You; and earth has nothing I desire beside You.” That is true contentment.