Are you content? Content right now, at this very moment, in your current situation as you read this article? Are you content with your government and its leaders, with your church and its members and officers, with your life and its circumstances? Are you content with your health and appearance, abilities and personality, possessions and home, station and calling, marriage and spouse, family and friends? And content even with any lack of these things? We should be.
Our gracious, kind, and beneficent Lord Jesus says that, having food and raiment, let us therewith be content (). Surely we have eaten and put on clothes today. In fact, we are not even to think about food and clothes, for our heavenly Father knows we need them and He faithfully provides them daily in response to our prayers ( ). So we must be content with them. And not only with them, but with whatever else our great King is pleased to give us. Be content, says Lord Jesus, with such things as ye have ( ).
Contentment is basically a state, feeling, or attitude of satisfaction. The main Greek word is a compound word consisting of the word for “self” plus a word meaning “to be full, sufficed, or have enough” (; ). Contentment, therefore, is literally to be self-sufficient. In other words, it is the ability to be satisfied with what one is or one has, to say I am full, that what I am and what I have is enough, and thus to live independent of, aloof to, and unaffected mentally, psychologically, or spiritually by anything outside of one’s self.
The outstanding biblical picture of contentment is a nursing infant. We sing of this in Psalter #366, “In Thee I calmly rest, contented as a little child upon its mother’s breast” (). Oblivious to its surroundings, not having yet learned all the world has to offer, lovingly cared for and being filled with mother’s milk, the newborn is completely satisfied and happy. But this does not imply that contentment is natural or innate. Contentment must be acquired and practiced. I have learned, Paul said, to be content in whatsoever state I am ( ).
We learn contentment, first, by learning not to covet, or as Paul puts it, having our conversation be without covetousness (). In all of us, even as newborns, is the seed of covetousness, the sinful desire to have more and more. And, therefore, covetousness always produces discontentment with what we have. Like the empty grave, barren womb, earth in drought, and burning fire, the covetous heart never says, “It is enough” ( ). And so, as a wise man once said, a Christian learns contentment by subtraction, not addition; it comes not by adding to what we have, but rather by subtracting from what we desire.
Secondly, we learn contentment by being satisfied with God alone. Contentment is not merely the suppression of desires as Buddhists teach, or satisfaction in self as the Stoics taught, or even absolute self-sufficiency as the word itself indicates. Rather, true Christian contentment is to be satisfied with having God as our God. He is the only self-sufficient one. And all things are His. So we not only depend upon Him, but He is our strength, beauty, wisdom, riches, and life. Contentment, therefore, comes by learning that by faith in Him I have all things (). It is acquired by trusting that His grace is sufficient for me ( ), and believing my life is Christ and not the abundance of things I possess, as covetousness supposes (I Tim. 6:6).
Calvin once wrote: “We have sufficient cause for being contented, since He who has in Himself an absolute fullness of all good has given Himself to be enjoyed by us. In this way, we will experience our condition to be always pleasant; for He who has God as His portion is destitute of nothing which is requisite to constitute a happy life” (commentary on Psalm 16). And Lord Jesus said, “Be content with such things as ye have, for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (). Truly, having brought nothing into this world, and it being certain we can carry nothing out, “godliness with contentment is great gain” ( ).