This strange year—2020—has been an unsettling one for many. Between a worldwide pandemic, civil unrest, and a tumultuous election season, we have all experienced uncertainty and change.
Christians, of course, live in the same physical world as everybody else. The job losses, travel restrictions, health concerns, and political upheaval impact our daily lives in much the same way as they do others. God gives no blanket protection to Christians—no pass on difficulty or heartache. In fact, 2 Timothy 3:12 tells us we will encounter an added difficulty simply because we are Christians: “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”
It is times like these that reveal how rooted our faith is and how deep our commitment to Christ runs. Do we readily receive the strength and grace He gives through tough times, or do we wilt under the pressure? Do we turn to the God of all comfort when we find ourselves in tribulation, or do we turn to the idol of relief?Do we turn to the God of all comfort when we find ourselves in tribulation, or do we turn to the idol of relief? Click To Tweet
In too many instances, these unsettling times have made Christians unsettled. These days of uncertainty should reveal that Christians have a more solid anchor, a deeper foundation. Too often, however, they have revealed an unrootedness as Christians—just as quickly as those who do not know the Lord—make snap judgments and quick, life-altering decisions to avoid difficulty or pressure. These may include an obviously-wrong choice such as leaving a marriage over issues of frustration (after all, let’s face it—Covid has placed an unusual strain on families not used to having two parents working at home while homeschooling their children) to a less-clear choice such as uprooting and relocating in the middle of a crisis.
We might be likely to think this is just a matter of Bible knowledge on one hand (people need to hold onto God’s promises to get through) and opportunity on the other (why not switch to an easier route?). But I believe there is something deeper revealed in an unstable response to uncertain times. It is a sin we probably don’t discuss as much as we should—discontentment.
What is it that makes us unwilling or unable to stay put during challenging situations? What is it that makes us quick to assume that change is the right course of action, rather than prayerfully seeking God’s will? What is it that creates within us the idea that we shouldn’t need to endure? Discontentment.
The good new is that discontentment is not new to 2020. As far back as the 1600s, Puritan pastor Jeremiah Burroughs wrote a book titled The Rare Jewell of Christian Contentment. It seems that even in the seventeenth century, contentment was rare.
The Apostle Paul also addressed contentment often in his epistles. The references we first think of are Philippians 4:11 (“I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”) and 1 Timothy 6:6 (“But godliness with contentment is great gain.”)
The word contentment in 1 Timothy 6:6 gets to the heart of our trouble with unsettledness. It is from the Greek word autarkeia and means “a condition of life in which no aid or support is needed; sufficiency of the necessities of life.”
We could summarize the verse this way: a godly life will be content with the sufficiencies that God provides.
But how does that happen? How do we reach the point where we are so settled in God’s sufficiency that we feel no need to grasp for security outside of His will? How do we, to borrow Paul’s verbiage from Philippians 4, learn this kind of contentment?
I believe it boils down to two points of focus:
A contented Christian focuses on the eternal over the temporal.
The larger passage of 1 Timothy 6 makes this clear, especially verse 7: “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.”
Colossians 3:1–2 puts it in positive terms: “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.”
Could it be that we struggle with contentment because we struggle with our affections? We love things of this earth too much, and we love things above too little.
A few verses later in Colossians 3, Paul specifically calls covetousness (which is the actual opposite of contentment) idolatry: “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”
Covetousness is idolatry because it revels that we love something that we want—possessions, position, people, prestige—more than we love God.Covetousness is idolatry because it revels that we love something that we want more than we love God. Click To Tweet
The cure to covetousness is to mortify it—to put it to death—and to focus our affections on what is eternal.
If you’re determining where you stand in this learning of contentment, ask yourself, Are my strongest desires focused on the eternal or the temporal?
A contented Christian focuses on the faithfulness of God.
In other words, he trusts in the Lord. In terms of learning contentment, the godly Christian is growing in His trust relationship with God.
This is the idea of 1 Timothy 6:8: “And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.” God has provided our basic necessities today, so we can trust Him to meet our needs tomorrow.
Indeed, “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Learning contentment is really the process of learning to trust God. It is learning to walk by faith and be satisfied in what God gives and how God guides.Learning contentment is really the process of learning to trust God. It is learning to walk by faith and be satisfied in what God gives and how God guides. Click To Tweet
In his commentary on Philippians 4, author Kent Hughes said, “Contentment is not self-sufficiency, as the Greeks understood it, but Christ-sufficiency, as he [Paul] so memorably stated to the Phillipians.”
Yes, we live in uncertain times. But we walk through them with a faithful God!
Do you believe contentment is gain?
If you could walk out of 2020 with just one gain—one thing that you have more of than you entered the year with—would you wish for more contentment?
God doesn’t ask us to make this choice, but He does assure us that contentment is a worthwhile pursuit: “But godliness with contentment is great gain.”
It’s worth learning. It’s worth pursuing. It’s worth gaining.
The discontented Christian feels he can’t progress—materially or spiritually—without some kind of change in his surroundings. But the godly Christian who has learned contentment can confidently say, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13).