THE PRINCIPLE OF CONTENTMENT

1Timothy 6:6: ‘godliness with contentment is great gain’.

We do not read much about contentment in the Bible. However we do read about the opposite of contentment and of God’s hatred of this opposite: discontentment, which expresses itself in grumbling and complaining.

The choice between contentment and discontentment runs right through the Bible and has its underlying source in the choice between faith and unbelief, between obedience and disobedience, between trust and doubt, between submission to God and rebellion against God.

In the Genesis 3 narrative there is a very strong element of discontentment. This discontentment is generated by Satan's very clear, but deceptive, inference that God was withholding something - that there was something more that humans could be, in addition to what they already were: 'you will be like God, knowing good and evil'. Satan's lies generated disbelief in God's goodness towards them. Out of this disbelief came discontentment. Out of this discontentment, this grasping for more, came disobedience.

Exodus 16:1-8 records the discontent of the recently redeemed Israelites. Here the Israelites' discontentment stemmed from lack faith in God's goodness and God's ability to provide for them. Despite what God miraculously did for them in bringing them safely out of Egypt and across the Red Sea they grumbled and complained against Moses and Aaron, fearing that they would die in the desert. They would rather have been back in Egypt in slavery where they knew where the next meal was coming from. Moses saw clearly that such discontentment was actually ingratitude towards God and lack of faith in God: 'You are not grumbling against us, but against the LORD.' Similarly, Exodus 17:2. God's strong response to this discontent and the associated disbelief is described in Numbers 11:1-3; 14:1-12 and Psalm 106:24-27.

The command in Exodus 20:17 - 'You shall not covet ...' is a clear command to be content with what we have.

In Philippians 2:14-15 we are given an explicit command: 'Do everything without complaining or arguing'. Such contentedness, Paul says, should characterize us as children of God. This contentedness should distinguish believers from the 'crooked and depraved generation' in which we live.

In Philippians 4:11-13 Paul gives us a brief personal testimony: that he has 'learned to be content whatever the circumstances' - whether those circumstances are 'to be in need' or 'to have plenty' he had 'learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want'. It is in this context that he made the statement 'I can to everything through him who gives me strength.' He is not talking about being enabled to perform amazing, miraculous feats. He is speaking of being enabled by God to be content, regardless of circumstance or situation. This contentment did not come naturally to him. It was something he learned. Something God taught and enabled him to be.

James 4:1-6 identifies inner discontentment as the source of inter-personal fights and quarrels. He also identifies this inner discontentment, that expresses itself in covetousness and envy, as failure both in discernment and in humble dependence on God.

In 1Timothy 6:6 Paul points us to a further, deeper aspect of contentment, that takes us right back to the original expression of discontent in Genesis 3: that we are to be contented with the truth that God has revealed, contented with Jesus Christ and the salvation he gives us, not lured away from the truth by an unhealthy interest in the deceptions thrown at us by the evil one.

May we all set ourselves to pursue contentment. The opposite is discontentment and lack of trust in the goodness of our God.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2016