Contentment was a mindset that directed the early days of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, quoted originally from Amy Carmichael’s poem entitled “In Acceptance Lieth Peace.” This is truly a discipline of the mind that blesses the heart and soul with peace in whatever situation is faced. Paul speaks of this in Philippians 4 and 1 Timothy 6 using the words “content” and “contentment.”
The Contextual Setting
The Philippian church had regularly provided financial assistance to Paul. For some unspecified time period, they could not send a gift. But things changed and now they are able once again to send support by Epaphroditus (v. 18). Paul doesn’t want them to feel bad about their lack of support, so he shares with them his confidence in them and his contentment in his present state, being in prison.
In the context of chapter four, Paul exhorted the saints to have a healthy mind (4:8-9). He now moves on in the following verses (4:10-13) to the subject of keeping a contented spirit. These verses are connected, in that our ability to be content in all things is in direct response to our practice of thinking biblically. Contentment is the fruit of a disciplined God honoring mind.
The subject of contentment is very broad. It’s use in the New Testament focuses on the sufficiency of material things, such as food, clothing, and money. It is dealt with in the context of wealth, riches, and the lack thereof. However, the principles that support this teaching are of great value and application to our present-day situations and pressures of life. First, let’s define the terms “content” and “contentment” as used in Scripture.
The Word Study
According to Vine’s Dictionary, these words are seen as a verb, adjective or noun. The primary verses used are Luke 3:14, Phil. 4:10-13, 1 Tim. 6:6-8, Heb. 13:5, and 3 John 10. We will focus our attention in this article on Philippians 4. The Greek text from which our English words, “content” and “contentment” are translated express the following meanings: to be sufficient in strength; to be enough for a certain thing; to defend, set up a barricade against covetousness; to be satisfied; to be sufficient in one self; and to be independent, adequate, needing no assistance.
Using Kenneth Wuest’s Expanded Translation, consider again Phil. 4:11-13 and 1 Tim. 6:6, 8: “It is not that I speak as regards a need, for, so far as I am concerned, I have come to learn in the circumstances in which I am placed, to be independent of these and self-sufficient. I know in fact how to discipline myself in lowly circumstances. I know in fact how to conduct myself when I have more than enough. In everything and in all things, I have learned the secret, both to be satiated and to be hungry, to have more than enough and to lack. I am strong for all things in the One who constantly infuses strength in me” (Phil. 4:11-13). “But godly piety associated with an inward self-sufficiency which is its natural accompaniment is great gain. And having food and clothing, by these we shall be fortified sufficiently” (1 Tim. 6:6, 8).
Christ’s Teaching on Contentment
Jesus first used the term “content” when responding to the soldiers in Luke 3:14; He told them to be content with their wages. This is still good advice for us all today. This set a pattern for His teaching on contentment, dealing with money, food, and clothing. In Matthew 6:25-32 Christ calls us to a life of contentment assuring us that He is in complete control, providing us the basic essentials of life here on earth. All creation is an example of His divine provisions. Furthermore, the Lord reveals in verse 33 that a life of contentment opens the door to spiritual growth by trusting in Him: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” Paul reminds us, “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6). In Luke 12:15 Jesus responded to a man seeking a material inheritance and said unto him “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things he possesseth.” Christ identifies the opposite of contentment, it is covetousness, which is sin. Therefore, “discontentment” is really a sin against God, as it is He who has promised us His divine care to meet all our needs.
This subject of contentment is very broad, far-reaching into all the closets of our life (no pun intended). For most of us in a developed culture, application to lack of food, clothing, and shelter is normally not our primary concern. However, we may not be satisfied with the quality or quantity that is served on the table or is hung in our wardrobe. More and better seem to haunt our desires in an affluent society. Materialism competes with Christianity for the love and devotion of our hearts for Christ. Believers find themselves in the race of “keeping up with the Jones.”
Dissatisfaction leads to discontentment.
But contentment can be tested in many other areas of life: job satisfaction; higher education; social acceptance; just to name a few. A common struggle for contentment emerges over marital status, singleness, infertility, loneliness, and loss of a spouse. Believers may become discontent with their local assembly fellowship, declaring that the needs of the family are not being met. Discontentment is one of the early tools of Satan used within a family or Church fellowship. This leads to discouragement, division, and ultimate devastation. For this reason, we cannot emphasize enough the importance of contentment, not only materially but also spiritually. True satisfaction can be found only in Christ, resting in His promises and living in accordance with His principles in Scripture.
Signs of Contentment from Philippians 4:10-13
The following is a brief outline from this passage as Paul speaks of his own experience with contentment. At this point it would be good for us to take personal inventory. Are these indicators of a contented spirit present in our life?
v. 10 A willingness to wait on the Lord’s provision
v. 10 Allowing our joy to remain within material shortages
v. 10 Accepting the “good faith” of other weaker supporters
v. 11 Recognizing “wants” as different from “needs”
v. 11 Embracing contentment is a virtue that must be learned
v. 11 Exercising contentment in all areas of life
v. 11 Understanding that our needs in life are Divine appointments of God’s provisions
v. 12 Realizing that in the extremes of life contentment is tested
v. 12 Times of abundance call for contentment just the same as times of lack
v. 13 The term “content” involves personal discipline that avoids unnecessary dependence on others, resting in our personal God appointed sufficiency in the every-day trials and testings’ of life, and above all, abiding in the faithfulness of God’s promises, trusting in the Lord’s providential care.
v. 13 Our contentment in all things, at all times, can only be strengthened by God’s all-powerful strength and wisdom infused in us by His Spirit
Closing Thoughts from the Old Testament
Our study of contentment has been drawn largely from the New Testament. However, the Old Testament has ample material to further study this subject. In the Hebrew, the most common synonym for “contentment” is the word “satisfied, or satisfaction.” Can we say with the hymnwriter of old “Satisfied with Thee, Lord Jesus, I am blessed.” The Psalmist David could say, “Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causeth to approach unto Thee, that he may dwell in Thy courts: we shall be satisfied with the goodness of Thy house, even Thy holy temple” (Ps. 65:4).
In Acceptance Lieth Peace I will accept the breaking sorrow Which God tomorrow will to His son explain. Then did the turmoil deep within me cease. Not vain, the word, not vain; For in acceptance lieth peace. Amy Carmichael