By Roland W. Keith
Contentment for the non-Christian and the Christian may be the same in some ways, but in many ways it is different. We may find contentment in life because we are not overly ambitious and are satisfied with our lot in life or because we simply don’t need much to be happy. However, in our society such acceptance of our condition is hard to achieve for many since we are taught to be ambitious and to want more in life. In fact, the striving for worldly gain is an age-old ambition of man. Solomon wrote, “Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, and never satisfied are the eyes of man” (Proverbs 27:20). Throughout history the gaining of wealth, power, fame, and prestige have been honored and expected goals. To be satisfied with less or contented with our position in life is frowned upon as lacking ambition or motivation. True, to be the best we can be should be a goal for all of us. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we have to strive to have all we can have or gain all we can gain. In the Christian sense it means to be the best we can be, the most Christ-like we can be, in every situation. It also means distinguishing between spiritual gain and that which is temporal.
These two things — the temporal and the spiritual— are not mutually exclusive, but they are more often than not at odds with one another. It is a difficult balancing act, since in almost every case a person who is drawn toward the one is pulled away from the other. As Paul wrote, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:1-8).
The apostle Paul was born into a prominent family, wealthy and influential enough to have their son seated at the feet of the nation’s foremost teacher and member of the Great Sanhedrin, Gamaliel. He was known by members of that council and trusted enough to receive letters of commission from them to round up Christians, against whom he cast his vote in capital cases when they were put to death. This means he may well have been a member of one of the lesser Sanhedrin’s, a rising star in their political/religious world. When you put all these things together Paul had a lot to lose in becoming a Christian. Yet, he did give everything up, separating himself to such an extent that years later when he himself was brought before the council he did not even recognize the current high priest (Acts 23:2-5).
With regard to what he had given up Paul told the Philippians, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8). What would make a young man of prominence turn his back on all that he knew and had? Paul looked forward to the spiritual and heavenly promises of the Lord and traded all he had in the world for those things, telling the Romans, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). From the time of his conversion onward in his life Paul found contentment in his service to the Lord, without regard for the worldly comforts he was used to, writing, “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).
He learned to discipline his mind and body and to accept his circumstances as a temporary condition on his way to a place of love and perfection (I Corinthians 9:25-27; II Corinthians 5:2; II Timothy 4:18; Hebrews 12:22). In his mind he cultivated the wisdom of Christ, taking his concerns to the LORD in prayer (Philippians 4:4-7), and he passed that wisdom on, writing, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9). Paul’s words and actions reflected the teachings of Jesus: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
Jesus also taught, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?... But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:25-27, 33-34). God will provide; whether it is feast or famine, God will give us what we need for our spiritual well-being. What He gives you may not be what He gives me because we all have different needs, but He will be there for us if we have faith. However, it is important to understand that our spiritual growth and accomplishments always come before that which is physical, as Paul noted, writing, “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world” (I Timothy 6:6-7).
Paul had learned to focus on what was important— his spiritual wealth— and to avoid the temptations of the world, particularly the lure of money (I Timothy 6:8-10). He looked ahead to his inheritance as a child of God (Romans 8:16-17), knowing that no matter what his fate was in this life all was according to the will of God and worked in life for his good (Romans 8:27-28). We too can find the contentment Paul had if we trust in the Lord. If we put our faith in Him our sufficiency in life will come from Him (II Corinthians 3:4-5). The Psalmist wrote, “The LORD is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His works. The LORD is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth” (Psalm 145:17-18).
True contentment comes to those who call on the Lord, trust in Him to guide their path in this life, put spiritual health and wealth ahead of the physical world, take responsibility for their own lives, living it according to the Lord’s word, and are willing to set aside worldly treasure hunting for the true treasure that is in Christ Jesus.
Hi! I'm Roland. I began writing after retiring from the Navy in 2015. I believe that we each should strive to learn from one another, by sharing our thoughts and ideas. As a writer my goal is to help other seekers of truth to find and grow in Christ.