The Secret to Contentment

Remember when you looked at that guy and thought, “Man, he’s got it so good! I wish I had what he has.” Sure you do – I do every time I see my brother in law’s I-Pad2! And when you add marketing to the mix, it can fan this flame into a raging fire.  It did with the lady arrested for firing pepper spray into a crowd at a Wal-mart in California just to clear a path to a crate of Xbox’s on Black Friday.[i]  What really scares me isn’t the pepper spray; it’s how prevalent this kind of thinking is in the American church! Prevalent? Yes! Statistically speaking at least, she probably went to church on Sunday too. I just hope nobody sat in her pew!

It’s sad mostly though, because I do the same things. OK, maybe not with actual pepper spray and X-boxes, but certainly with my thoughts about other things. Do you? If so, please read this article. I’ve tried to study what God has to say about this subject. It has been quite a challenging effort – His ideas and mine were very different.

In Exodus 20:17 God tells us, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”  This is the Tenth Commandment.

So basically it says “don’t covet.” To covet means “to want ardently; to long for with envy” with particular reference to something that is not ours. [ii]  The Westminster Larger Catechism teaches that the sins forbidden in the tenth commandment are, discontentment with our own estate, envying, and grieving at the good of our neighbor, together with all inordinate motions and affections to anything that is his.”[iii]

Coveting includes discontentment:

Ahab coveted Naboth’s vineyard which was beside his palace in Samaria. Even though Ahab already had nice vineyards, he wanted his neighbor’s desperately.  He offered Naboth a better vineyard for it, or if he preferred, cash. When Naboth refused, saying it was his family’s heritage, Ahab was so upset that “he lay down on his bed and turned away his face and ate no food.” In short, he threw a temper tantrum so severe that his wife Jezebel hatched a plot to murder Naboth and hand the vineyard over to Ahab. [iv]

Haman was discontent on account of Mordecai. God had given Haman a family, a powerful position, many royal privileges, and the highest honors in the Babylonian court. And yet he said, “all of this does not satisfy me every time I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate.” [v] And so his discontentment became his demise.

Lot’s desire for better pastures led him to Sodom, and cost him his wife, his sons-in law, and his estate.

A godly man once said, “A spirit of discontentment is sinful because it involves dissatisfaction with God’s providence. The discontented person really feels that God is not treating him right. Thus discontent amounts to finding fault with God. Therefore discontent is really a form of irreverence, and unbelief in the goodness and love of God.”[vi]

And this discontentment leads to coveting, jealousy, and envy, which in turn lead to strife, bitterness and misery. In short, if you want to make your life miserable, let it be discontent.

In reality the Tenth Commandment says a lot more than “don’t covet.” By implication it “forbids discontentment with our own estate, envying, and grieving at the good of our neighbor, together with all inordinate motions and affections to anything that is his.”[vii] It also “requires such a full contentment with our own condition , and such a charitable frame of the whole soul toward our neighbor, as that all our inward motions and affections touching him, tend unto, and further all that good which is his.”[viii]

J.G. Vos describes it this way: “Contentment means willingness to accept that condition in which God’s providence has placed us, without murmuring or complaining, or being envious at the blessings or prosperity of others.”[ix]

Most American Christians would agree with this conceptually, but at the same time, if we are honest, many of us sigh in frustration. We sometimes feel like God requires us to do something impossible. We think, “How can I make myself be content when I feel so envious?”

Well, that’s the question – Can a person who is greedy, discontent, jealous, or envious simply change their attitudes toward money, relationships, power, and prestige by willpower and become content? No. It’s impossible that way. But it is possible another way, if you know the secret.

In Philippians 4:11-12 Paul alludes to “a secret of contentment,” “…for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

In Hebrews13:5 the writer told us exactly what the secret of being content is. In the context of: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have,” he wrote: “ because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”And we see that this is what Paul meant too because he said in the next verse, ““I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:13) You see, the secret to overcoming discontent and coveting is learning to trust God to the point where we can honestly say, “I know that God is with me, and will never forsake me.” This kind of trust leads to true heart obedience in this area, and should be our goal in repentance.

At the heart of our coveting is a fear that we can’t trust God’s goodness and love to us in our particular situation.  Maybe this stems from forgetting the promises of God to always be with us, provide for us, and cause all things to work together for our good. But do we ever really forget that? Not really. I think that what really happens is we subconscious think to ourselves:

“I know God is love and He loves the world; but I doubt whether God truly loves me. I know my evil, my guilt, my failure, my shame – how could God possibly love me? Surely He can’t – so I need to trust in myself, or some other thing like fortune, fame, power or pleasure.”

And so we assume we can’t trust God, and we work hard to obtain these idols that our hearts have created to trust in as substitutes, and we pursue them at all costs, even to the point of pepper spraying other people for them. We forget that the heart of the Gospel is this message:

“God loves me and He will never stop loving me; He is with me and He will never leave me.”

I’m reminded of verses like: “Even while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” and “We love God because He first loved us” and “No one who comes to me will I ever drive away.” God’s love towards me never has, and never will depend on my righteousness. It depends only on the righteousness of Jesus Christ, my self-sacrificing GOD.

When we come to trust in God this way, we begin to pray, “Thank you LORD God! Thank you for loving me, a sinner. Thank you for giving me this indescribable gift!” And just like that, God has turned our covetous idolatry into thankful contentment with our True Obsession and the New Desire of our hearts.

In place of discontentment and coveting God gives us gratitude as Elizabeth Barrett Browning writes:

Because thou hast the power and own’st the grace
To look through and behind this mask of me
(Against which years have beat thus blanchingly
With their rains), and behold my soul’s true face,
The dim and weary witness of life’s race,—
Because thou hast the faith and love to see,
Through that same soul’s distracting lethargy,
The patient angel waiting for a place
In the new Heavens,—because nor sin nor woe,
Nor God’s infliction, nor death’s neighbourhood,
Nor all which others viewing, turn to go,
Nor all which makes me tired of all, self-viewed,—
Nothing repels thee, . . . Dearest, teach me so
To pour out gratitude, as thou dost, good!

1 Tim 6:6 describes the Christian duty of contentment. It is a duty because a large part of loving God is to trust Him. Particularly trusting in His love for you no matter what the situation He providentially places you in. Trusting that He loves you and ultimately intends and causes good to you, no matter what it looks like, feels like, or what other people tell you it looks like or feels like at the time. Trust Him no matter what your marriage looks like, no matter what your health looks like, no matter how you’ve failed Him and others. I call that stubborn trust.

It was that kind of trust that broke out into thanksgiving and praise when Paul rose up in the midst of his prison cell, bruised and beaten. It was that kind of stubborn trust that kept Joseph in slavery, and prison. He knew that God can use even sin sin-lessly. It was that kind of stubborn trust that allowed Jesus to say to God, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Will you trust Him like this today?

[ii] Webster’s New World Dictionary of American English, Victoria Neufeldt, Ed. (Cleveland: Simon &Shuster, Inc; 1988), 320

[iii] The Westminster Larger Catechism Question #120

[iv] 1Kings 21:4

[v] Esther 5:13

[vi] The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary by Johannes G. Vos, GI Williamson, ed.(Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2002), 402-406.

[vii] Westminster Larger Catechism Question #148

[viii] Westminster Larger Catechism Question #147

[ix] J.G. Vos, WLC Commentary, p. 405


About Gary Stiltner
The LORD Jesus is the foundation, focus and purpose of my life. My God has truly blessed me, and done great things for me! I am loved by a wonderful wife, Elisabeth, and we have four beautiful children. Even though I'm a very sinful and weak person, His blood has washed me whiter than snow, and his love has made me filled with eternal happiness! I want to share His grace and truth with every person I that come into contact with. I received my BS (Molecular Biology) at Louisiana Tech University, and my M.Div at RTS in Charlotte, NC. I've had the privilege of serving as an outreach and evangelism pastor, a church planter and now as a teacher. I teach worldviews and apologetics, chemistry and physics to high school seniors. I also enjoy preaching at various churches as the LORD gives opportunity.

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