Learning to Be Content

Intro: Read Philippians 4:10-12–  I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 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, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (NIV)

Our focus topic is a prized commodity. You want it; I want it.  But one that is rarely acquired, even in a lifetime.  Contentment – a prized commodity that is elusive. We live in a culture of discontent.  Our quest is better and what is next. We want a better job, better pay, a better boss, better relationships,  a better car, a bigger boat, a better golf swing – We live for the next thing – next weekend, next vacation, next purchase, and the next experience. We are not satisfied or content, at least we do not feel that way for long.

Why is contentment so difficult for us?  In the course of our study will try to answer this question(at least in part). Two reasons are evident:

1) Like searching for diamonds on the beach, we are looking or it in all the wrong places.

2)  We would not recognize, even if we saw it. It is not what we think it is.

I. What Does the Bible Teach About Contentment? Interestingly, the Bible has much to say about contentment.

In Luke 3:24 John the Baptist, in a discussion of true repentance, told some soldiers to “Be content with your wages”.

Paul spoke about being “well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake” (2 Cor 12:10).

In an exhortation against greed, Paul wrote… 1 Tim 6:6-10 – Now godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 8 And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

The writer of Hebrews wrote, “Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have” (Heb 13:5).

The Bible not only identifies contentment as a virtue that contrasts the avarice of the world around us, it also prescribes it as a command to be obeyed.

A. Defining the Word: The Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs defined contentment like this: “Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition”.

1. The word does not occur in the OT, but the duty is implied in the Tenth Commandment (Ex 20:17you shall not covet…) – and the principle is voiced in the wisdom of Proverbs (Prov 17:1Better is a dry morsel with quietness, Than a house full of feasting with strife) and even presented in the context of the blessing of God’s people in the land of promise. Those who are faithful to God will live in contentment, even when life is rough. Hab 3:17-18 Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, And there be no herd in the stalls —  18 Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

2. As we mentioned, the word and concept does occur often In the NT. The word Paul uses in Phil. 4:11 is autarkes (ow-tar’-kace); which is translated as self-complacent, or contented.  Paul uses a different, but related word in 1 Timothy  6 and 2 Corinthians 12.  The word arkeo (ar-keh’-o) carries the idea of self-sufficiency or independence of everything outside oneself.To have enough. The Greeks used the term to depict one who made himself free from outside dependency- [a country that did not need to import its goods]  The apostle’s use was to present a different type of self-sufficiency – one that rested on the work and promises of God (“My grace is sufficient (arkei) for you”2 Cor 12:9).

B. Return to Paul’s words in Phil. 4:11-12: What does the apostles tells us about contentment here? In the words earlier Paul spoke of the peace of God, and the God of peace. He spoke of joy. He also presented himself as an example of one who put his mind on the those things and practiced those things that produced joy and peace in his life.  In this context of personal joy, Paul thanked the Christians at Philippi for supporting him financially in preaching the gospel (4:10, 14-16). But he did not want them to get the wrong idea. He was not thanking them because he wanted them to send more. He tells them he is full (v. 18)  and he has learned to be content.  What does he tell us about himself?

1. He had learned to be satisfied no matter what the circumstances. He learned this contentment through his own experience, but not the same experience.There were many times when Paul suffered great need. From the time of his conversion he was persecuted and suffered physical harm. There were other times when Paul’s needs were met and then some. There were times when he experienced great success in the mission and things went his way.  Despite these different circumstances, Paul kept his focus on the reality of God’s promises and protection and did not allow his attitude of life or faith to be driven by the circumstances.

a. The bad times did not make him insufficient, because GOD was working in His behalf. 2 Cor 4:16-18Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

b. The good times did make him feel self-sufficient because it was GOD was working in his behalf. His peace of mind or satisfaction was not based on the good things that had come his way (not even the money from Philippi), but rather His relationship with Christ (He could “do all things through Christ4:13 – See his sufficiency?)

2. Simply put, Paul’s contentment was being satisfied with what God provides. The providence of God is at the heart of this command. Discontent is not sinful because it makes us unhappy, but because it is an affront to the divine provision. It is indicative of a lack of faith.

3. If we seek peace, or contentment in the pursuit of physical things, or the good life, we are looking in the wrong place. Jesus spoke of laying up treasure in heaven, and not on the earth where those treasures could be spoiled or destroyed.

C. What contentment is not: We often describe attitudes or circumstances to contentment that have nothing to do with it.

1. Contentment is not resignation or a denial of one’s feelings. It isn’t pretending that everything is alright when it is not. It is a peace that exists in a full recognition of suffering, evil or want. It is knowing the God is bigger than our problems.

2. Contentment is not a lack of ambition to do better. Paul often called on Christians to be dissatisfied with their spiritual status. He buffeted his own body to bring it into subjection.

3. Contentment is not Comfort. Was Paul content because everything was comfortable for him? We sit in our easy chair and our wide screen TV and claim solidarity with Paul as he says, I am content”. Read 1 Cor 4:9-13 9 For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. 10 We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! 11 To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world. (NIV)  Later in 2 Cor 11:23-28  23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. (NIV)

II. The Dynamics of Discontent: Our dissatisfaction with our circumstances often changes as the circumstances change. This is not to suggest that true contentment can be achieved through having more, or things go our way.  But in order to learn how to be content we need to see how circumstances can increase the threat of discontent.  Consider this illustration of our predicament: two lines that never meet… parallel

A. The line of all there is to have (no one achieves this) compared with the line of what I have now (this is the reality). There is a gap between the two lines (even if you are in the 1%).  Two things can happen here that will increase the threat of discontent.

1. The top line can go up – there is more to possess (even more opportunity for me to have these things). There used to be, as late as the 1990s, 7,000 items in a grocery store, and now it’s 40,000 to 50,000.Think of the products and services that did not exist just 20 years ago. Camera phone; smart phone, iPad, Bluetooth devices, Hybrid cars, educational opportunities, careers that did not exist before… The line is going up – which makes that gap grow larger. Prosperity threatens our contentment.

2. The bottom line can move down – we lose what we have or have less to live on. Things do not go our way. This also widens the gap of discontent and challenges us.  Can we be satisfied with less?  Paul had learned to be content in both circumstances.

III. The Face of Contentment:  What does contentment look like? We make some assumptions about contentment that are not true. Some would assume the line between content and discontent would fall upon economic lines or age differentials or any number of sociological variables. But that does not appear to be true.  We are just as likely to find contentment among the severely poor, and discontent among those that are rich (Luis in Venezuela).  We intellectually recognize this disconnect, but still expect to find contentment and satisfaction with life among the prosperous and famous achievers.

A. The face of contentment is faith, or trust in Jesus. Being satisfied with life is not just a matter of overcoming the negative emotions or feelings. Real contentment is rooted in my dependency on God in everything.  IT is certainly connected my faith in Jesus that provides salvation. But it is the fruit of living by faith day by day, in every circumstance.


A man once went to a minister for counseling. He was in the midst of a financial collapse. “I’ve lost everything,” he bemoaned. “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve lost your faith.’ “No,” the man corrected him, “I haven’t lost my faith. “Well, then I’m sad to hear that you’ve lost your character. “I didn’t say that,” he corrected. “I still have my character. “I’m sorry to hear that you’ve lost your salvation. “That’s not what I said,” the man objected. “I haven’t lost my salvation. “You have your faith, your character, your salvation. Seems to me,” the minister observed, “that you’ve lost none of the things that really matter.”

“Contentment is not the fulfillment of what you want but the realization of how much you already have.” What do you have?

You and I could pray like the Puritan. He sat down to a meal of bread and water. He bowed his head and declared, “All this and Jesus too?”You have Jesus. He is enough.

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