But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. 1 Timothy 6:6 (NASB)
How do we become or remain content at heart in a world that is calling us to have more, do more, be more every waking minute? And in a world that tells us that what we have and who we are is somehow inferior?
How can we have contented hearts?
I meditate on this quite a bit and I thought I would share with you what I have learned. In 1 Tim 6:6 Paul said, “godliness with contentment is great gain.” It is Gods desire that we are content where He placed us. In Phil 4:11 Paul says, “I have learned to be content…” Contentment is acquired or learned over time.
Discontentment is a heart issue. The heart contains the thoughts, emotions, desires, will, mind, soul, feelings, beliefs and desires. The heart (inner man) is where we become discontent with things in life. The heart is the seat of grumblings and complaining. Contentment is developed in the heart.
If your heart is filled with "self" your desires will be focused on yourself and you will think thoughts such as: "I want (blank), "Someone should give me (blank), "Why can’t I have/be (blank)?"
The result of thinking those kinds of thoughts will be anger, frustration, irritation, sorrow, self-pity, greed, idolatry, covetousness, jealousy and… discontent.
The apostle Paul said this: "Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need." Philippians 4:11-12
You are perhaps very familiar with this passage of Scripture and its context. Paul was in prison while he penned these words to the church at Philippi. He was nearing the end of his life and had experienced many horrible things at the hands of both Jews and Gentiles.
Paul says in 2 Cor. 11:23-28 that as a result of the gospel he has been “in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.”
And yet he says he has learned how to be content.
Something really struck me about verse 12: “in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.”
The Strongs version says this: “every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” Can you say that today?
Albert Barnes, in his commentary on this passage says: "A contented mind is an invaluable blessing, and is one of the fruits of religion in the soul. It arises from the belief that God is right in all his ways. Why should we be impatient, restless, discontented? What evil will be remedied by it? What want supplied? What calamity removed? “The cheerful heart has a continual feast.” Prov. 15:15; One of the secrets of happiness is to have a mind satisfied with all the allotments of Providence."
Paul learned contentment through trials. He learned the secret of being filled and having abundance despite going hungry and suffering need. If we look closely at how Paul did this we learn the following important things:
Paul learned one aspect of contentment is thankfulness. This is perhaps the most important thing in life and also the most neglected I think. "…in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thess. 5:18).
We see that in Phil 4:6 Paul touches on both giving thanks to God and trusting Him. We are to be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let our requests be made known to God.
Of course, you know this does not mean that God will provide everything you want like a genie in the bottle, or cosmic Santa Claus. God promises to provide what you need and because He is all knowing He knows what we genuinely need better than we do!
You will have to learn how to trust God. I am still learning how to trust Him, but the difficult events of my life have made it easier. I have learned that in spite of how impossible and terrible things may look God is always in control of the events of my life.
God is completely sovereign and He is directing the universe and the events of our lives with wise and gracious care. We know that nothing takes place outside of the scope of His sovereignty. We know that God is aware, God has a plan and God is in charge.
God has determined before the foundations of the world were set in place that we would be conformed to the image and likeness of Christ. We be confident and trust that He uses our trials to accomplish our transformation. If we truly know God, we can rest and trust in Him. We can be content even as we struggle or suffer because we believe that what we are in the midst of has a purpose and reason beyond what we can see today. Our hearts can be satisfied in knowing and believing God is at work in them. That despite how grim our present circumstances are or appear to be that God is sovereign.
Lean to be satisfied with little. In our world of excessive, super sized American culture the idea of having “less” is so looked down on. We shake our heads at families who have only 1 car, or live cheaply when they may not have to. The prevailing attitude seems to be well sure you could live with less, but why would you want to? Again, revealing the desires of the heart.
Do you know that greed is considered idolatry in the Bible and how little it takes to be considered greedy? Paul understood that covetousness and contentment are mutually exclusive. In 1 Timothy 6:6 he told Timothy: “Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.”
Paul learned to make the choice to be satisfied with little, and he knew it was important for others to learn to make that same choice. Satisfaction is a heart issue and contentment is a heart issue. It is something everyone must choose for themselves. We must come to the place where we believe that He is enough. That even if all of life should fall away we would still be content with Him, with who we are in Him.
Our God is completely aware of what we have and don’t have. We have to make a choice if we are going to slap at His provisions with a thankless heart or graciously accept what He provides with gratitude.
Too often I meet women who are so unhappy with their lives. They have placed the focus on things and people not performing to their expectations or desires. Husbands that don’t pay them enough attention, or children that are difficult to raise. Perhaps they have a physical problem that causes them to live in pain or a relationship problem that brings heartache. To be content in such circumstances is difficult but not impossible.
We will experience contentment as we learn to live above life’s circumstances.
The heart that makes its goal the glorification of God is going to manifest contentment in the midst of difficult storms. This person will be able to focus on something other than the circumstances of life. This person make it their goal to please Him and to do what 1 Cor. 10:31-11:1 says,
“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved. Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.”
Just as Paul did, we can trust the promises of God, and we can overcome by the power and strength of Christ. Like Paul, we can learn to rely on Christ’s promise, that “He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man”
The promise comes from Him, the strength and power to succeed come from Him, and all of this is for glory. Contentment flows out of this kind of heart out of these attitudes of the heart and the glory goes back to God.
Even in the midst of the trials and problems of days that are so prone to revive our discontent we can find refuge for our souls- we can find the contentment we so long for. We can and will find it in hearts that are satisfied in Him and Him alone.