A mark of our age is discontentment, boredom, and restlessness. We have never had it so good, yet we’re so unsatisfied. We are in a crisis of contentment.
We are perhaps the most comfortable generation of all time. Technology has certainly made life easier. There are endless numbers of tools and machines that make our life more accessible and faster, yet we find ourselves busier and busier. In a world that is becoming more and more socially connected, the more we are driven further apart. Travel has never been so accessible. We can move around the world, most of the time within a day. Yet, we are constantly complaining about transportation methods, wait times, and comfortableness. We have become a dissatisfied, disappointed, discontented, unsatisfied, and ungrateful. We are a generation with short attention spans with the constant need for excitement and adrenaline rushes, and a 24-hour a day entertainment need. Recent studies have found that the longer something is the less effective it becomes.
In 2013, a study from the US Library of Medicine found that the average person’s attention span in was 8 seconds. In 2000, around the time the mobile revolution began, the attention span was 12 seconds. We are trending in the wrong direction fast. What may be more alarming is that when we compare our attention span of 8 seconds to the attention span of a gold fish, the gold fish’s attention span is more attentive, with an attention span of 9 seconds. So even as I write right now, our attention span is less than that of a fish we can purchase for 50 cents. I hope that you’re still reading this…
We are also becoming more and more less possible to please. I think this is because of our insatiable and sinful desire to please self. We are becoming more and more entitled; we are spoiled, disrespectful, narcissistic and impatient. Biblically speaking, nothing in this world can satisfy or fill our greatest needs. Only a relationship with God can. G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “Meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain. Meaninglessness comes from being weary of pleasure.” This Advent season I want to encourage you to move away from your selfish desires to be more and have more— a sin that so easily entangles us— andjoin me in moving into a season of freedom and generosity where true contentment is found. To learn about this freedom and generosity I want to study the counsel of Paul to his protégé Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:6-11. This is a passage where Paul encourages Timothy to live differently to the false teachers of the time who found their identity in riches, popularity, and fame; false teachers who used their “godliness” for profit and status. Timothy was to be different….
I want to give you five steps toward contentment and freedom from a crisis dissatisfaction, disappointment, discontentedness, and ungratefulness.
First, I encourage you to redefine wealth.
There are four kinds of riches or wealth: There are riches in what you have. Riches in what you do. Riches in what you know. And riches in what you are - riches of character.
In 1 Timothy 6:6 Paul wrote, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” Godliness with contentment is the greatest form of wealth. He who is godly and content is rich. It’s not one to the exclusion of the other, but both-and. Great gain is only available to those who discover the secret of a life of godliness with contentment. It is true that godliness is great gain but only when accompanied by contentment. The assumption is that you can be godly, but unsatisfied, grumpy and bitter. That’s poor. Another assumption is that you can be godly but poor in perspective. Another way of putting it is to say that “poor is the man who is not content.” The word godliness is the Greek word εὐσέβεια eusebeia (yü-se'-bā-ä) meaning reverence, respect, and piety towards God. The word contentment comes from the Greek word αὐτάρκεια autarkeia (au-tä'r-kā-ä), which means “independence” or “self-sufficiency.” The implication is to be satisfied, not complaining, opposing or demanding more. The word for contentment is the Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary is defined as, freedom from anxiety or worry.
The apostle Paul used the word in a Christian sense to show that real satisfaction or sufficiency comes from God. Contentment is the idea of happiness or satisfaction found within itself. Contentment never comes from the possession of external things or perfect circumstances. 1 Timothy 6:6 says, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” The word Great is the Greek word μέγας megas (me'-gäs) use of intensity and its degrees: with great effort, violent, mighty, and strong. The word Gain is the Greek word πορισμός porismos (po-rē-smo's) meaning acquisition or gain… some translations use the riches or wealth. Gain is a noun, which signifies a means of livelihood a means of earning a living, a providing, a procuring, an acquisition. It describes a means of making money, of gaining a profit or of acquiring wealth (the sense intended by the false teachers Paul describes in 1Ti 6:5). So, godliness with contentment is the greatest form of wealth. He who is godly and content is truly rich.
To know you have enough is to be rich beyond measure. A Christian is one who does not need to consult his bank balance to see how wealthy he is. Contentment is not the fulfillment of what you want, but the realization of how much you already have. If you are not content today, there is nothing you can buy to change that. If you are not content today, there is no one who you can marry who can change that. True contentment only comes with an awareness of who we really are, and who God really is. Christian Hedonism is as Piper summarizes this philosophy of the Christian life as, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”
Contentment is tied to Generosity
Luke reminds us in Acts 20:35, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” The blessing comes in form of freedom from covetousness, and freedom from the nagging desire for more. In Luke 12:32-33, Jesus said, "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.”
The command to give away what we have is a test of discipleship, and it is a tool to train us as disciples. It points to giving as an antidote or cure to covetousness. Find Contentment in Generosity. One of the best ways to refute covetousness is to cultivate an attitude of giving. Jesus encouraged the freedom to give without fearing that we will become the loser in our giving. He wanted to set us free from the fear of giving too much. In Luke 6:38 Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
Secondly, keep an eternal perspective.
Many Christians find it difficult to be content because they typically focus not on what they have but on what they lack. Perhaps you’ve seen a bumper sticker that reads, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” I saw one that said, “He who dies with the most toys still dies.” I believe that many of us have bought the idea that life consists in how much we have. Every person is bombarded with an average of one hour of advertisements every day. Advertising is on our streets and highways; in restaurants, shops, movies, and magazines; at concerts and sports event; in our schools and museums; and even in our homes and on our clothes.
In contrast, listen to what Paul writes, 1 Timothy 6:7 says, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” The first part of the verse is easy for us to understand because we witness it every time a baby is born, but it’s the second part of the verse that we tend to forget. Paul is reminding us that we will leave this earth with the same suit we wore when we came into it— our birthday suit! Paul’s point is that just like we bring nothing into this world, we take nothing out of it. A baby is born without money and without pockets. When a cadaver is laid to rest, their hands are clutched tight holding on to thin air! It doesn’t matter how nice we dress a dead person; they no longer have the breath of life in this world, and no luggage is allowed in the next.
Contentment vs. Happiness
An earthly perspective seeks happiness in temporal things; an eternal perspective seeks contentment in God. C.H. Spurgeon said, “If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled.” We can only find contentment when our hearts are rooted in eternal things; and contentment is essential because it shows we are living with an eternal perspective. A heart of contentment sees material possessions and resources from an eternal perspective. The definitions from the Merriam Webster dictionary for happiness and contentment are interchangeable, but biblically they are not the same concept. Happiness can be defined as pleasure or satisfaction based on experience. Contentment in contrast is the state of being satisfied regardless of the experience or circumstance. Happiness is an emotion in which one experiences feelings. Contentment is a virtue that guides and direct feeling to their appropriate state of being. Earthly experiences and material objects cause Happiness. Spiritual and selfless experiences cause Contentment. Happiness is an outward expression of elation. Contentment is inward peace. Happiness is temporary, based on outward circumstances. Contentment is lasting, based on inward truths. Happiness is the realization of pleasure. Therefore, happiness is the weakest of all emotions, because at the first sight of strife or problems, happiness hides and cowards. The more you chase happiness, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to contentment it will appear softly and swiftly. Happiness requires perfection. Contentment requires coming to terms with challenges. Happiness is selfish; contentment is freedom from self-gratification. Joy is the realization of contentment. Joy can be present at all times regardless of the circumstances or situations of life. Contentment does not come from someone or something, it is the product of a live in relationship with God.
Ultimately, Contentment only comes from God.
Many find themselves in the “grass is greener” trap, with singles wishing they were married and married people wishing they were single. Instead of thinking that you can or will be happy when your station changes, walk for the Lord in the place you are at right now and contentment will follow. Richard D. Phillips and Sharon L. Phillips wrote, “If you cannot be contented in singleness, you will not be contented in marriage…No one person can be the source of your contentment. Contentment comes only from God, and the sooner we start seeking it in Him, the better off we will be.” The antidote to “the grass is greener” is to maintain your own grass.
Thirdly, rejoice in the simple things of life.
After redefining wealth, and keeping an eternal perspective, a heart of contentment must have a humble heart— a heart that can be content with simple things such as food and clothing. In 1 Timothy 6:8 it says, “But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” Asceticism renounces possessions; contentment sets possessions in proper perspective. Contentment does not mean getting rid of all your possessions, but rather integrating them into your life’s purpose. It is to be grateful for things we may consider small. The big things have a way of blinding us from the little things. Contentment is freedom, it brings joy, and it brings balance. Contentment puts the important things of life in perspective. Contentment is an inward reality that results in an outward life-style. To attempt to arrange an outward life-style of contentment without the inward reality leads to deadly legalism. To experience the inward reality of contentment liberates us outwardly. Contemporary culture lacks both the inward reality and outward life-style of contentment.
In a recent survey, 93% of teenage girls named shopping as their favorite thing to do. 90% of boys like to go to the malls and watch the girls shop. By the time an American is three years old most children are making specific requests for brand-name products. Every day you are being told that unless you buy this product or eat at this restaurant then you’re not really happy. We’ve grown up in a culture that says having more means being happier. The mass media have convinced us that to be out of step with fashion is to be out of step with reality.
Freedom is to have our goods available to others and being able to share because we know God will take care of us and provides all of our needs. When we live and act without contentment, we are trying to fill needs in our lives— a need to be “somebody,” a need to feel secure or cared for, a need to have excitement and newness in our lives - most people try to fulfill these needs with material things, but they can only really be met by a spiritual relationship with the God who made us. Contentment is freedom from finding our identity in possessions or people.When you don’t care anymore about what anyone thinks of you, you have reached dangerous levels of freedom.
The penultimate step toward contentment and freedom is to eradicate covetousness.
1 Timothy 6:9-10 says, “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” Over the past 20 years researchers have studied the relationship between money and happiness. They have concluded that money can buy pleasure but not happiness. What’s the difference? Pleasure is temporary release. The ability to take a Florida vacation, buy a better car, a membership at the country club. We can buy temporary feel goods, and we can often do it for years at a time. But, true contentment comes from your experiences in which you enjoy investing your mental and emotional energies on others. Contentment comes from investing in your passion and investing in people.
Ask most people today if money buys happiness and they’ll say no. But ask those same people if a little more money will make us a little happier and most will agree. The Roper Organization asked Americans who make $15,000-$30,000 how much more they needed to fulfill all their dreams. The largest group said they’d need $50,000-$60,000. Yet when that same question was put to people earning over $50,000, the largest group in that segment said they’d need at least $125,000 a year, if not more. Someone asked millionaire Bernard Baruch, “How much money does it take for a rich man to be satisfied?” Baruch answered, “Just a million more than he has.” The desire for money can be far more dangerous than money itself.
Money is amoral
The desire for money can be far more dangerous than money itself. Poor does not mean godly and rich ungodly; nor is it true the other way around. There were many remarkably godly men in the Bible who were almost unbelievably rich, such as Abraham, David, and Solomon. But the godly rich have the heart like the Psalmist in Psalm 62:10: “If riches increase, do not set your heart on them.” This desire for riches tempts our heart away from eternal riches, and ensnares us in a trap few can escape— always dreaming of riches, and always setting one's heart on them. The desire to be rich can really only be satisfied in Jesus Christ, and satisfied with spiritual riches rather than material ones. Everything else falls short.
"Covetousness is therefore, a sin with a very wide range. If it is the desire for money, it leads to theft. If it is the desire for prestige, it leads to evil ambition. If it is the desire for power, it leads to sadistic tyranny. If it is the desire for a person, it leads to sexual sin.” - William Barclay
Covetousness is the 10th and final commandment
Exodus 20:17 gives us the 10th commandment, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
All the first nine commands focus more on things we do; the tenth deals straight with the heart and its desires. Covetousness is the evil desire for something belonging to another and is one of the most deeply rooted emotions in the human heart. Covetousness can be expressed towards all sorts of things; it is the itch to have and to possess what someone else has. It speaks of a dissatisfaction with what we have, and a jealously towards those who have something “better.”
Finally, pursue righteousness.
Paul writes in 1 Timothy 6:11, “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” This challenge to leave some things and follow hard after some other things isn’t just directed to Timothy, but to everyone who would be a man or woman of God. Timothy was commanded to be different from those who lived for riches and material wealth. Instead of pride and riches, Timothy was to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. These are things, which are often not valued in our present age, but are very valuable to God.
The challenge with these values is that they can end up contradicting one another and creating issues in your personal, professional, and spiritual life. The answer to that dilemma is found in this verse. Ambition must be practiced within the realm of righteousness. Contentment is not the absence of godly ambition. Ambition and contentment are key values for godly success. Philippians 2:3-4 provides clear instruction on which type of ambition should be incorporated into your life. It reads, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
So, we can be content, and our contentment can coexist with ambition. But it must be a selfless ambition. 1 Thessalonians 4:10-12 says that you should “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands…So that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” Contentment doesn’t mean that we never want to see change or improvement. It means that we can be happy with who we are and will do our best to do make the most we what we have. Contentment doesn’t mean you can’t have godly ambition. Godly ambition is to have drive and initiative. Contentment doesn’t mean you don’t strive for more, it simply means that it is not your aim. God does want us to have a sustainable future but not at the cost of our souls.
Steve lives in Lake Forest, CA with the love of his life Diane, his daughter Alexi Grace, and his son Nathan Canaan. Steve is the associate Pastor of Faro Church, a multicultural and bilingual fellowship he and his brother planted in the heart of Orange County. He functions as adjunct professor at LABI College. His primary areas of teaching are Christian Oratory, Discipleship Making, Marriage and Family, Apologetics, and Youth Ministry. Steve is a scholastic member of the Sigma Chi Pi Honor Society of the Assemblies of God Commission on Christian Higher Education and a Magna Cum Laude graduate of LABI College. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Ministerial and Pastoral Studies from Vanguard University and a Master of Arts in Theological Studies degree from Liberty University Theological Seminary. Steve enjoys playing soccer every Sunday night and beating the young adults of his congregation in Fantasy Football.