There’s a little verse tucked away in 1 Timothy that, to be honest, rubs me the wrong way: “But godliness with contentment is great gain” (6:6). I mean, isn’t refraining from doing ungodly, sinful things and pursuing righteousness enough? So now I have to be completely content with my I-can’t-chase-the-world way of life? But those who seem to find such a godly lifestyle difficult — namely, the teens who watch and scrutinize us daily — are not attracted by a grudging, unhappy, it-will-be-worth-it-when-we-get-to-Heaven kind of obedience. Instead, we ought to give of ourselves just as we give in the offering: “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).
Empowerment for Contentment
The secret to true, lasting contentment is not found in a pill, a set of circumstances, or the achievement of a life-long goal; just read through Ecclesiastes or look around for examples of unhappy but “successful” people. Philippians 4 seems to hold the secret, since verse 11 clarifies the author’s situation: “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” Verses 6-8 detail a few basic principles Paul exemplified:
- Replacing worry with prayer and giving thanks to God
- Embracing the peace that God can give, allowing our hearts and minds to remain calm
- Focusing on the positive aspects of life, regardless of our present circumstances
- Imitating the godly behavior Paul has instructed and modeled throughout his life
If we know anything about Paul’s life, we know that his was not an easy one. The source of contentment is certainly not in circumstances, but in a faith-filled response to whatever comes our way.
Motivation for Contentment
Continuing in Philippians 4, we see in verse 14 that Paul relied on Christ for the strength that He promises, empowering him to persevere. Hebrews 13:5 gives us an explanation of what should fuel our contentment: “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” (emphasis mine). That focus on God, in tandem with a realization that He is truly all we need, flies in the face of the twin enemies of contentment: selfishness and greed. Of course, selfish, greedy people aren’t really godly, so it seems that perhaps true godliness cannot exist without contentment tagging along.
Purpose in Contentment
As much as we gain in life when we are satisfied with God and all the good things we’ve received by His grace, the ultimate purpose behind any virtue is not toward us, but about God. Pastor John Piper puts it this way: “Obedience is the irrepressible ‘public relations’ efforts of those who have tasted and seen that the Lord is good.” Ultimately, our happy obedience, or contented godliness, glorifies God by attracting others to Him. Of course, a frowning, or discontented obedience would do nothing of the sort.