Rev. Kleyn is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Edgerton, Minnesota.
Contentment is a Christian virtue that needs our careful attention. Since it is often mentioned in the Word of God, it ought to occupy a prominent place in our lives.
Contentment is a spiritual virtue that governs the attitude we have toward everything earthly. To be content is to be satisfied within, with regard to all the outward circumstances of one’s life. But contentment is more than that. It is an inner satisfaction with regard to all the outward circumstances of life that is not dependent upon or affected by those outward circumstances.
This is contrary to how we usually think about contentment. We are inclined to say that it is determined by such things as money, health, and family happiness. If we are feeling dissatisfied, we imagine to ourselves that if only certain things were different in our lives, then we could and would be content. But that is not the case. One who is truly content is so regardless of what he has (or does not have) or is experiencing (or not experiencing). His contentment is not affected by these things. In whatever state he is in, he is satisfied and content.
The opposite of contentment is covetousness.
Covetousness is the sin of wanting what we do not have. Either we want more of the same, or we want something different.
In I Timothy 6:6-10 we learn that those are covetous who “will be rich”—that is, who “want” to be rich. The passage also mentions that the covetous “love money.”
This is not to say that richesare sinful and that money is evil. Nor does it mean that it is sinful to work hard or to seek a promotion in order to be better able to support our families and the causes of God’s kingdom. What it means is that it is sin to seek or to set one’s heart upon having more. It is sin to be dissatisfied with what we have. It is sin to want what others have. It is sin to want more.
This is not merely a sin with regard to riches. One can also covet his neighbor’s spouse, or children, or job, or happiness. Doing these things, as the tenth commandment clearly states, is also sin.
Covetousness, as with all sins, is a foolish sin. It is foolish because just as we entered this world with nothing, so we will also leave the world the same way—naked and empty handed. One may amass to himself a great abundance, but it is impossible for him to take it along when he dies. His possessions may provide him some momentary joys and pleasures on earth, but they do not and cannot do this in eternity.
It is foolish, therefore, to pursue earthly things as ends in themselves. Those things are given as means to an end, namely, to enable us to serve and glorify God. Whatever we do with whatever we have is to be done to God’s glory. However, none of our earthly “stuff” will be of any use once we die and appear before God our Judge.
Covetousness is a serious sin. It is so because it is sin against God. But it is also serious because it is a dangerous sin. Those who are driven by the desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare. They are ensnared by the constant pursuit of more riches. They lust after more wealth. And they imagine that the more they have the happier they will be. They wrongly believe that contentment is proportional to the amount they possess.
But, warns the Scripture, such covetousness is very dangerous. Those who want to be rich and who love money err from the faith. They pierce themselves through with many sorrows. They are drowned in destruction and perdition (I Tim. 6:9, 10).
Realizing, therefore, that it is sinful, foolish, and dangerous to love money and to want to be rich, the child of God strives not to covet. Instead, he strives to be content.
Contentment applies to two areas of life.
As just indicated, it applies first of all to earthly possessions. One is to be content with his financial situation, with his job, and with his income. He is to be content whether he has a lot or a little. Even if his lot in life is far from ideal, so that he is poor, struggles to pay the bills, and finds he can barely make it through, he is to be content. He may not complain. He may not want more. He may not desire to have what others have. He must be of the opinion that what he has, even if it is very little, is enough.
In connection with this, I Timothy 6:8 states: “Having food and raiment let us be therewith content.” Food and raiment are the basic necessities of earthly life. If we have these, we have all that we need to be able to survive. Even if it is only enough for one day, God has answered our request for daily bread. We are to be content with that, content with the bare minimum.
This is to be reflected in our prayers. A farmer does not pray, “Lord, give me a bumper crop!” A businessman does not pray, “Lord, prosper my work so that I can put away extra for retirement!” An employee does not pray, “Lord, may I have a pay increase so that I am able to overcome my debts and enjoy some of life’s luxuries!” Such prayers are carnal and show that one is dissatisfied and covetous. The prayer of the contented child of God is, “Lord, be pleased to provide me this day with my daily bread. Give me simply what I need in order to serve Thee.”
Contentment also applies to all the circumstances of life. One is to be content in every affliction, even if it causes much pain and sorrow. He is to be content whether married or single, whether he has many children, a few children, or no children. He is to be content with his looks and physical build. He must be satisfied with regard to every circumstance of life and say, “No matter what state I am in, I am content.”
It is difficult to be content. What makes it so is the fact that we have a sinful nature and are very easily dissatisfied with what we have. We are by nature covetous. Even if we are wealthy (which so many of us are today), often the more we have the more we want.
What adds to the struggle with contentment is the kind of world in which we live. The world knows nothing at all about contentment. The ungodly do away with this virtue and are driven by a lust after things. Constantly we are bombarded by this, for the world says: “You need more and bigger and better. You deserve it. Treat yourself to something special. Don’t be satisfied with just a little!”
These are strong temptations. And even if we do not give in to them, we are nevertheless affected. What the world thinks and says breeds dissatisfaction in us.
But the child of God is able to be content. The possibility lies in godliness, for “godliness” and “contentment” belong together (I Tim. 6:6).
To be ungodly is to deny God and to go through life ignoring Him. To be godly, however, is to be conscious of God and to think of Him. One who is godly is very much aware of God and of God’s involvement in his life and in this world. He knows that this is God’s world in which God is Lord and King.
Godliness is characterized by believing and confessing certain truths concerning God.
First of all, we must confess that God is the God of providence. That truth is beautifully set forth in Lord’s Day 10 of the Heidelberg Catechism. The Lord’s Day plainly states that God is the one who sends rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, and riches and poverty. All things are in His hands. Absolutely all things come from Him.
Secondly, we must confess that God is our Father. Through the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ, God has become our Father. On account of the saving work of Christ, we are valuable and precious to God. And remember, God our Father excels all earthly fathers. His fatherly love is perfect. His fatherly care is perfect. His fatherly protection is perfect. What a beautiful and wonderful relationship we have to God!
Thirdly, we must confess that God is a wise and good Father. God provides us with what He knows we need, that is, with what He knows is for our eternal good. God has planned our lives. He has planned every step of the way we are to walk from birth unto death. As the psalmist states in Psalm 73:24, we are guided by God’s counsel in order afterward to be received into glory. This means that God has determined all our circumstances in life. He has determined whether we are rich or poor, healthy or sick, single or married. And He gives what He does with a view to what we need in order to be led to spend eternity with Him.
Believing contentment is tied to such godliness, and confessing these truths concerning God and His work, we are able, by His grace, to be content.
But we also know ourselves to be at times weak in faith and all too often forgetful of these truths. Therefore we pray: “Lord, give me the grace to know and to remember these truths concerning Thee. Help me to confess that Thou art God, my heavenly Father, who is wise and good. May I never forget that whatever I receive (much or little) is from Thy loving hand. It is the portion Thou hast determined for me. It is exactly what I need for my saving good.”
The need for us to pray this lies in the fact that contentment is a gift of grace. We sometimes speak of the “grace of contentment.” We need that grace. It is the only possibility of contentment. We can be content only if God works in our hearts by His Spirit to overcome our greed, our covetousness, our love of money, and our desire to be rich. And we need the Spirit to assure us of forgiveness for our failures to be content. We need to pray for grace.
Receiving this, we will be blessed. For godliness with contentment is “great gain” (I Tim. 6:6).
It is great gain in this life. It is gain when we are kept from the sinful, dangerous, and foolish way of covetousness. And it is gain when, regardless of life’s way, we are confident it is God’s way for us. Then we can be free from worry and at peace.
But there is also great blessing in the life to come. God promises us all the riches of the new creation. In light of that, the earthly does not really matter much. Eternity is what really counts. And God, through all He gives and does, is leading His people there.
Let us be godly and thus content children of God.