How to Be Content But Not Complacent

In a recent sermon I heard about money, the pastor tell his congregation, “You need to learn to be content.” But this command can actually encourage complacency instead of true biblical contentment.

Being content usually means you should be satisfied with your current situation. It is often supported by quotes from Scripture, like Philippians 4:11-13.

Does Paul mean you should not try to improve your current situation, find a better job, earn more money, or further your education? Are we supposed to passively sit back and watch life go by? What about our call to be “salt and light of the earth”?

So how can we be content without becoming complacent and lazy?

When Not to Be Content

Let’s look at an example of someone in the Bible who was satisfied with what he had when he shouldn’t have been. In the Parable of the Talents, found in Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus tells us:

For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.

Notice there are no instructions about what the servants are to do with the money the master has given them.

The servant who received one talent was content with what he had been given. But should he have been? He saw no reason to put that resource to work, despite the intent of his master. When the master returned, he rebuked the servant with the one talent.

We don’t want to end up like the servant who was content with his one talent. Instead, we need to be persistent and faithful even in the smallest things, because what we do now matters not just for today but also for eternity.

We Have Eternal Vision

When we live in the light of eternity, we will make decisions differently because we see life from a different perspective. Instead of just going into the office to put in our time, we start our work every day knowing that we are glorifying God in some unique way.

Think about it:

  • Computer scientists design systems and apps to make our lives more efficient.
  • Accountants ensure ethical dealings and help businesses and individuals know where their liabilities, assets, and equities are going.
  • Secretaries do important administrative work that is necessary to keep organizations running smoothly.

On their own, individuals in these professions cannot do much to represent the kingdom of God. But when they all work together and do their individual jobs to the best of their abilities, we see how God uses all of us to cultivate his creation.

For Christians in nonprofits, public service, or ministry, we seek to produce better ideas, serve others more meaningfully, or further our organization more effectively. For those with for-profit jobs, we offer high-quality goods and services that improve the lives of others.

When we do our utmost to create value and improve the creation by using the resources that God has given us, we are like the two-talent and five-talent servants who invested the money their master had given them. You have something to offer the world, and through your gifts and talents you can create something better than what you were born into. You have an eternal legacy to leave. These gifts and talents position you to contribute to the flourishing of the world. Whether you use your gifts to go into law, construction, or music, you have the opportunity to create something that can glorify God and improve other people’s lives.

Secret to Contentment

But if we pursue excellence as God’s servants, how are we supposed to be “content in any and every situation”? Is it possible to achieve that balance between making our jobs into idols and becoming lazy?

Paul tells the Philippians that he has learned “the secret” to being content in any and every situation. Paul’s secret is that he is always striving to do what God has called him to do. At the end of the day, he has done everything he could to be faithful to God’s call on his life. In this same letter he writes, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me . . . I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

This is Paul’s secret.

If we want to experience the contentment that Paul describes in Philippians, we need to use all the gifts and talents God has given us through our individual callings in order to bring the maximum return for the master. Real contentment is not being satisfied with what you have or where you are in life. It is working diligently to glorify God, serve the common good, and further the kingdom of God in everything we do.

The late basketball coach and committed Christian John Wooden once said that peace of mind “is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”

This is the kind of self-satisfaction Paul describes when he says that he is content whatever the circumstances. Paul is constantly striving to do what God has called him to, in whatever circumstances he finds himself.

There is no complacency in Paul’s contentment, and neither should there be in ours.