Contentment is a Work of Grace

hand sand losing

I am taking up the topic of contentment in a few articles here on the blog. In a previous post I began writing about what contentment is. This second article continues to focus on the nature of contentment and how we go about learning it.

Contentment is Spiritual

We are staying on track if we stick with our definition of contentment: Contentment is the inward, quiet spirit that joyfully submits to God’s providence.

It is the key for us to understand that contentment is spiritual. Through the gospel, God is working a change in his people. Part of this change that he is working is a change in how we value things.

In Romans 1 we see the ugly pattern of sin. Tragically, we appraise created things as more valuable than God himself. We believe the hollow and hissing promises of the tempter, and like our first parents, exchange God’s truth for a lie, and worship and serve creation instead of God.

What does the gospel do? It unfastens us from finding our meaning, purpose, and identity in created things and enables us to find it in God himself. Remember, this is the way creation was designed to work prior to sin entering the world.

Adam and Eve were discontent with God and his word. Their circumstances did not match their desires. They were not permitted to eat of the tree that they wanted to eat from. And they caved to their desires and plunged to ruin.

Now, it is important to understand this. We can define and express what sin is in a lot of ways. Sin is rebellion against God, sin is lawbreaking, sin is treason, sin is self-worship, sin is idolatry. You can nuance the language of sin to explain different facets of it. However, I wonder if you ever thought of sin in this way: sin is discontentment. Sin is discontentment with God. It is a discontentment with God himself, his word and his gifts to us.

This is why Philippians 4:13 is so powerful: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

This is a very popular verse but it often gets hijacked from its context and quite abused. One writer noted that, “It’s often used, is used as a blank-check promise for whatever is desired. But in context, it is a verse is about contentment. It’s not about your dreams coming true or your goals being met. Rather it’s about being joyful, satisfied, and steadfast even when life is hard and your circumstances seem impossible.

You see, this verse is not about winning the football game; it’s about how you respond when you lose the football game, or get injured for the season, or fail to make the team altogether. It’s not about getting that new job, that new house, or that new outfit; it’s about finding your satisfaction in the job you already have, in the house you already own, and in the wardrobe already hanging in your closet.

This is not a verse about being empowered to change your circumstances; rather, it is a verse about relying on God’s power in order to be content in the midst of circumstances you can’t change.”

The verse is saying that we can be content—in any and every circumstances—through Christ who strengthens us! And, this is such good news.

Christ not only paid the penalty for our discontentment but he provides the power to make us truly content.

We are a people who struggle with contentment, but thanks be to God that he does not leave us there! Christ comes to save people from their sin—including discontentment. What’s more, Christ not only paid the penalty for our discontentment but he provides the power to make us truly content!

“I find a sufficiency of satisfaction in my own heart, through the grace of Christ that is in me. Though, I have not outward comforts and world conveniences to supply my necessities, yet I have a sufficient portion between Christ and my soul abundantly to satisfy me in every condition.” Jeremiah Burroughs,The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment

Contentment is Learned

How did Paul get here?

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” (Philippians 4:11)

He learned contentment. Where did he learn it? He did not learn it in his rabbinical training from the great Gamaliel. He learned it by the Spirit, in the furnace of affliction, at the University of Jesus. This is the same gospel, with the same power to transform that we have.

The fundamental lesson of the gospel is that I am nothing and I deserve nothing but God has given himself for me and to me, and now I have everything!

Think about this for a second. We are nothing (What is man that you are mindful of him? (Ps. 8:4) and deserve nothing (except wrath and hell for sin, For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23)but God has given himself for me (He..“loved me and gave himself up for me…(Gal. 2:21) even as he gave himself for me (For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son…(John 3:16) and now I am blessed immeasurably with the infinite riches of Christ (we are blessed “in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…(Eph. 1:3).

This is sufficient fodder for us as Christians to strive after this precious posture of grace.

Soul, then know thy full salvation

Rise o’er sin and fear and care

Joy to find in every station,

Something still to do or bear.

Think what Spirit dwells within thee,

Think what Father’s smiles are thine,

Think that Jesus died to win thee,

Child of heaven, canst thou repine.

(Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken)