True Contentment

“In Christ, not only do we have everything we could ever need, but we are given freedom from the desire to be rich, we are given freedom from the love of money, and we are empowered to truly be content.”

In the past three posts we’ve touched briefly on a number of different aspects of how we handle our money. We’ve touched on stewardship and budgeting, how to choose a lifestyle and spending habits, as well as saving and debt. But underlying all of these is one biblical principle that fuels them all. This biblical principle brings our saving, spending, giving, and overall stewardship all into line with each other and produces consistency in our life. That principle is Contentment.

Paul writes to Timothy specifically regarding contentment:

But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:6-10)

“If we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” Think about that for a second. How much of the discontentment in your life springs forth from areas beyond those two basic necessities? Why is that? Paul this kind of discontentment, very plainly, a “desire to be rich.”  For too many of us a typical “middle class” lifestyle has become a justifiable goal and desire.  Whether that lifestyle is represented by a certain kind of car, fashionable clothes, a house, or a European vacation, Paul labels our discontentment in not having those things, “a desire to be rich.” He refers to it as “the love of money.”  

Discontentment manifests itself in two different ways. First, when we have less than we would like discontentment manifests itself in want.  We want what we don’t have.  It’s this want that is the target of every advertisement you see. It’s this want that drives us into debt and robs us of our savings. It’s this want that causes the jealousy and bitterness in the pit of our stomach when we see someone who has what we wish we could have, or does what we wish we could do.

But, discontentment can also manifests itself when we do have what we want.  When we have attained the lifestyle we desire, this same discontentment changes gears and begins to manifest itself as worry. We worry that we won’t be able to hang onto what we have. We worry that if situations change we may not be able to keep living in our neighborhood or keep our kids in the same school. We worry about whether or not we’ll be able to maintain our desired lifestyle all the way until the very day we die, regardless of how long we live, and so we stockpile savings (sometimes even more than we need) just to make extra sure we’ll never run out.

We all seem to be pretty good at excusing this kind of want and worry.  It’s normal, right? Everyone does it. It’s just a part of living in twenty-first century America. But, what we call normal, Paul warns strenuously about.

Why does Paul label this type of want and worry as strikingly as “a desire to be rich” and “the love of money”? The reason is because want and worry aren’t innocent or harmless, in fact they are poisonous to our souls. It’s through this kind of want and worry that people “fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” Paul concludes asserting just how dangerous want and worry are to our very spiritual lives: “It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”

You may not be trying to keep up with the Jones’ or the Kardashians, but chances are you’re trying to keep up with somebody, even if it’s just your own (or your parents) expectations. Don’t be fooled, this type of discontentment isn’t “normal” or “innocent,” it’s deadly to your heart. And, ultimately, it’s your heart that God is after.

Thankfully, we haven’t been left alone in our discontentment. Just like every other area of deeply-rooted sin our lives, Christ’s sacrifice pays it all, grants us forgiveness, and frees us from the slavery that would otherwise entangle us. True contentment apart from Christ is impossible. But, in Christ, not only do we have everything we could ever need, but we are given freedom from the desire to be rich, we are given freedom from the love of money, and we are empowered to truly be content.

In his letter to the Philippian church, Paul wrote what is now one of the most famous lines in all of Scripture: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” But the original context of this passage was not the athletic competition, or project deadline, or goal achievement, or missionary exploit context that it is so often used in today. When Paul wrote that he could do anything through Christ’s strength, it was the radical call of contentment that was foremost in his mind.

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13)

God’s miraculous provision of strength in Paul’s life produced a deep contentment that was present regardless of the external circumstances. And God’s miraculous provision of strength in your life and my life can do the same thing. It may seem impossible to be content in the face of so much want and worry in your life. It may seem strange and foreign to even consider being content enough to live significantly below your means. It may seem crazy to lay aside the priorities of the world around you and sacrifice what God has entrusted you with for the sake of his kingdom. But, make no mistake, you can do all things through him who strengthens you.

You see, when you’re content, truly content, you are all of a sudden freed to obey and follow so many more of Christ’s commands regarding money. The instructions and examples given in Scripture about money seem impossible to the ear of the discontent. They seem unrealistic, crazy, and impossible. But to the ear of the content, the instructions of Scripture are life-giving, joyful opportunities.

In 2 Corinthians we find multiple principles regarding money and finances. In chapter 9, Paul reminds us that our giving and our generosity are not to be done reluctantly, but cheerfully. This is something that’s only possible from a heart of contentment.

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:6-7)

Earlier, in chapter 8, Paul lifts up the Macedonian churches as an exemplary example of what content living looks like. The Macedonians weren’t rich, and they weren’t even middle class, but even in their poverty they insisted on generously giving of what they had for the good others. Their contentment overflowed in them giving not only according to what their means, but beyond their means.

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.  For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will,  (2 Corinthians 8:1-3)

Giving demonstrates where our hope and contentment lies. When we give generously and consistently to the work of the kingdom of God (first through the local church, but also in other ways), we store up for ourselves treasures in heaven and we demonstrate that that is where our hope and contentment ultimately lie.  When we hold onto what we have and close our hand our what we have been given to steward as though we are its ultimate owners, we demonstrate that our heart is seeking to find its hope and contentment in the fleeting realities of this life.

God is jealous for you. He wants your love, your hope, and your contentment to be found only in him. When you mingle in lesser loves his heart breaks for you because he knows how much heartache, discouragement, and pain is found when you love anything more than him.

God is after your heart.  And since your money is so closely tied your heart, he’s after your money.  Or maybe I should say he’s after his money.  After all, as we saw back in the very beginning of this series, it was never truly yours to begin with.

Scott Mehl

Scott serves the church by overseeing leadership, development, global ministries, and counseling/discipleship.

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