Rev. Eriks is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hudsonville, Michigan.
Contentment is the gift of God’s grace whereby we submit to and delight in God’s will for us. It is to accept joyfully God’s way with us. In His Word, God commands us to be content with what we have. Hebrews 13:5 says, “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” The apostle Paul reminds us of our calling to be content in I Timothy 6:6: “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” Paul himself was a faithful example of contentment, as we read inPhilippians 4:11: “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”
Frequently, the Word of God reminds us to be content because contentment is one of the great struggles of the Christian life for both young and old. Contentment is not some- thing that comes naturally. What does come naturally is complaining. We so easily complain about God’s way with us—about the spouse or the children God has provided; about the job, the employer, the employees, or the amount of money we have. Are we content with the life God has given to us?
The truth of contentment is so important to the Christian life because it causes us to face the question, “Whom do we serve?” In Scripture, contentment is often treated with its opposite, covetousness. When we covet, we crave what God has not given to us. If we lust after something other than God, then we serve that thing. This adversely affects our walk with God. When we are not focused on serving Him, we live for self, doing what is right in our own eyes. When we are truly content, we are fixed on God by faith. Because we know the blood of Jesus Christ has been shed for us, we must serve Him. We cannot serve Him unless we are content with God’s way with us. This is why contentment is so vital to the Christian life.
Because contentment and covetousness are opposites, to understand contentment we must understand covetousness. Before we can be content, we must extinguish all traces of covetousness in our lives. This is the meaning of Hebrews 13:5, which says, “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content….”
Covetousness is the sin of lusting for what God has not been pleased to give us. The object of lust can be anything. Scripture warns of the love of money (I Tim. 6:10). But lust can also be toward a person, a possession, or health. Anything in life has the possibility of being the object of our covetousness.
Coveting what God is not pleased to give is to disagree with God’s will for our lives. When we are covetous, we foolishly think that our lives would be better and happier if the circumstances were different. We think we know better than God! Would we dare to inform God face to face what He could do better to make our lives happier and better? This is what we do when we live covetously. If only I had…, then I would be so much better off.
Essentially, covetousness is idolatry. It is fixing our heart on something other than God. The burning desire and lust for something becomes supreme in our lives. The thing we crave for happiness becomes bigger than God. It becomes our Baal. The larger the object of our desires becomes, the smaller God becomes. The awful, naked truth of covetousness is that something other than God is at the center of our lives.
If something other than God is at the center of our lives, we will begin to serve that lust because whatever is supreme and most important in a man’s life is what he will serve. A man will do anything and give up anything to have that thing that is first on his mind and in his heart. If we lust after something other than God, we cannot expect to live unto Him in holiness. Such a desire will certainly lead to a life of selfish living, following the carnal desires of the flesh in sin.
Because contentment and covetousness are bitter enemies, we cannot be both simultaneously. Before we can even think about enjoying the grace of contentment, we must root out the evil of covetousness.
Grumbling and complaining because of dissatisfaction with God’s will is an indication that the festering sore of covetousness lives in our hearts. If covetousness reigns in our hearts and minds, we will not be happy with our lives. Instead we will harbor deep-seated anger and resentment against God. But when we are not happy with the circumstances of our lives, we look for someone to blame, deflecting the true reason for our discontentment. We cast the blame upon others: my boss, my spouse, or my children. Or we think that life would be so much better if it were easier. The blame is shifted to sickness or poverty. Really we are saying that the problem is God and what He has given or has not given. But none of these things is the problem. The problem is the covetousness and idolatry found in our hearts and minds.
The Word of God demands that our lives be completely free of covetousness. Especially in the materialistic, selfish age in which we live, we must beware of the idol of money, for “the love of money is the root of all evil” (I Tim. 6:10). Coveting money and possessions is a danger whether we have little or much. With the increases in the price of fuel, healthcare, food, and tuition, the cost of living may outpace increases of our wages. The danger is that we begin to think that life would be so much better if we only had more. But God says that we must erase all such thinking and desires from our minds and hearts. We will not experience the joy of contentment if we are harboring such covetousness.
The word contentment means “to be satisfied, to be sufficient.” Being content is to know that we lack nothing. An outstanding contentment confession is found in Psalm 23:1: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” To confess this from the heart joyfully is true contentment. Contentment is to confess, “I lack nothing. I have everything that I need. I have enough.” This is the contentment that we see with our eyes in a little child that has a clean diaper, warm clothes, and a full belly after being fed at its mother’s breast. That infant sighs, closes its eyes, and drifts off to sleep. We sing in Psalter #366, stanza two, “With childlike trust, O Lord, in Thee I calmly rest, contented as a little child upon its mother’s breast.”
This sufficiency has nothing to do with how much or how little of the things of this earth we have (Phil. 4:11). Confessing this has nothing to do with the circumstances of life. The large Christian family living in a tiny, old house can make the confession “I lack nothing.” The child of God who lives month to month so that he and his family just barely scrape by can confess this. The Christian writhing in pain in a hospital bed can confess this. No matter what the circumstances of life may be, the child of God can and must confess, “I lack nothing.” Strikingly, Paul confesses God’s sufficiency inPhilippians 4:11 while he is imprisoned in Rome, not knowing what the outcome of his trial before Caesar will be. Paul learned contentment with the thorn in the flesh God gave to him and would not take away (II Cor. 12:7-9). God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” Paul did not need the thorn removed. He needed God’s grace. God says the same to us, “My grace is sufficient for thee.”
Being content with the present circumstances of life means knowing that we possess everything we need in Jesus Christ. What do we truly need? Do we need to be popular? Do we need the approval and love of other people? Do we need health and an easy life? Do we need much money and much of the things of this life? No, we don’t need any of these things. What we truly need is the forgiveness of our sins in Jesus Christ. We need His righteousness. The Word of God declares to us that our sufficiency is found in Jesus Christ, for He is the Bread of Life. Everything we need is found in the blood of Jesus Christ because He fully satisfied for all our sins. The cross is the evidence of God’s unconditional, perfect love for us. Therefore, we know that God’s will for our lives is good for us. We are satisfied with God’s sovereign control because He is doing all things to glorify Himself. Contentment is the gift of God’s grace in our lives that causes us to look to Him with true faith and to find in Him everything we need. Knowing God and His Son Jesus Christ is enough! What more do we need?
The basis of this contentment is the unfailing promises of God. Hebrews 13:5 reminds us of this when it says, “be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” The basis for contentment is what “he hath said.” This reminds us not to look at ourselves or our lives or anything else to find contentment, because it is impossible to find contentment there. Neither can the word of man calm our worries or anxieties. When we struggle, others may try to encourage us with their own words of advice. But the words of man cannot bring contentment. The Word of God calms our worries and anxieties. In the Word of God you will find the basis for contentment because it is God’s Word! What God says in His Word is certain because it is the Word of Almighty God. We don’t respond to God’s Word by saying, “Well, maybe this is true, but I don’t know.” Because God has said it, we know it to be true and faithful—the Bible tells us so.
The promise found in Hebrews 13:5, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee,” is frequently repeated in the Old Testament. God spoke these words to Solomon when he began to rule over Israel. God spoke these words to Joshua to encourage him when God called him to be the successor to Moses, to lead the people of Israel across the Jordan River into the land of Canaan. He would lead the unskilled and untested army of Israel against the physically superior armies of the Canaanites. Jehovah promised, “I will be with thee.” Therefore, Joshua had nothing to fear. God speaks the same promise to us in Hebrews 13:5. This promise is stated very strongly in the passage, so that it actually means, “I will not at any time leave you. I will not at any moment forsake.” The idea is that God would never under any circumstances abandon us. This is the reason for being content with all things.
This promise is Jehovah’s covenant promise to be with us. When He promises that He will never abandon us, Jehovah promises to be present always with us. God certainly knows everything that happens to us, because He has determined it. He sees everything that happens to us, because He is everywhere present. That God is present with us means He is our help and strength and refuge. Jehovah is present always with His power and grace. His grace will always be sufficient for us. He does not promise to lessen the hardships of life, but He does promise to give sufficient grace so that we will not be destroyed spiritually.
We have the assurance of this covenant promise of God because it was fulfilled by Immanuel, which means, “God with us.” Jehovah did not leave us in our sin, but sent the Son of His love to pay for our sins on the cross of Calvary. Christ did not abandon us when He ascended into heaven, but sent another Comforter, His Spirit. Through the work of the Holy Spirit God is with us in His power and grace.
This promise of God obliterates all fear, doubt, and worry. Not only does complaining come naturally to us, but also worrying comes naturally to us. We worry about making ends meet to feed our families, to pay the tuition, and to have something left to give to the church. We worry about our covenant children. We worry that our worst fears will come true. We worry because we like to be in control of our lives.
The promise of God is personal. It is to all those who are His children by sovereign grace. What great hardships we face in this life. But God speaks to each one of His children personally and says, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” When we hear God say this, there is a peace and calm that fills our hearts. All our fears and anxieties are put to rest. In this we are content.
The truth of contentment reminds us what is the focus of our lives: God! In Him we trust. God is the One whom we serve. We trust Him and serve Him because He bought us with the price of Christ’s blood. In contrast to covetousness, which leads to a life of unrighteousness, contentment is manifest in a life of trusting and obeying. This is because when the Spirit works this grace in us, our focus is upon God and His promises. When our focus is on God, covetousness will be far from us.
All men are searching for the treasure of happiness. They think they have found it in pleasing themselves with all that the world has to offer. But there is no happiness found in the world. Where the grace of contentment is found, true spiritual joy is found. A life of covetousness will not bring such joy. But a life of contentment on the basis of God’s sure promises will result in such spiritual joy and happiness. Joy is not found in things, but in knowing the sufficiency of God’s love in Jesus Christ.