Biblical Contentment in an Age of Dissatisfaction
We are living in an age of discontentment in 21st century America. However, you could argue this should not be so. America is one of the wealthiest countries in the history of the world. We are living in a time where access to information and knowledge is unlimited. In addition, we are the most socially connected generation ever. If 21st century Americans have the money, the knowledge, and the relationships, then why are they so dissatisfied? The problem of discontentment is as old as humanity, and the solution is an ancient one.
The First Discontented Human
The first record of human discontentment is found in the hearts of the very first humans. After being created, Adam and Eve enjoyed a sweet and rich relationship with their Creator. While in the garden, the first couple had everything thing they needed. They had a place to live, food to eat, and a spouse to love and cherish. Most of all, they had God, Himself. They were truly content.
Then, disruption slithered into paradise. Satan tempted Eve to disobey the command of God by eating the forbidden fruit. What was so tempting about the fruit that led to Eve’s discontentment? It was not so much the fruit, but the so-called reward of eating it. Satan promised her if she ate of it, she would then have her eyes opened and become like God. In a short matter of time, Eve went from complete contentment to sheer discontentment.
The Opposite of Contentment
What caused this great shift in Eve’s heart? To answer this question, we must ask another question. What is the opposite of contentment? You may answer, “Discontentment.” Though there is truth in that response, there is a better answer. The answer is found in God’s moral law, the Ten Commandments. More specifically, the answer is found in the 10th commandment: You shall not covet. What is the relationship between contentment and the 10th commandment? The Baptist Catechism is of aid to us here. The Baptist Catechism Q 85: Asks “What is required of the 10th commandment? It requires full contentment with our own condition.” The 10th commandment could read: You shall be content.
The opposite of contentment is covetousness. Covetousness is the desire to want what one does not have. It may include money, possessions, popularity, romantic relationships, and prestige. To covet is to focus on one’s circumstances, and primarily on what one does not have.
In the garden, Eve coveted the thought of being like God. She became discontent because she believed God was holding her back from true joy. Discontentment began with believing the lie of Satan. It began by doubting the truthfulness of God’s word and the trustworthiness of God, Himself. In her desire to eat the forbidden fruit, Eve transgressed God’s moral law by coveting.
Though it is helpful to know the opposite of contentment, it is even better to know the definition of contentment. It is difficult to improve upon the definition written by the Puritan, Jeremiah Burroughs, from his book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment: “Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition” (19). Jeremiah Burroughs’ definition of contentment is rooted in the Scriptures.
At the heart of true contentment is trusting and resting in God’s providence. True contentment is inward because it is not focused on our external circumstances. Jesus’ disciples struggled with contentment by being anxious and by worrying. Worrying about the future led them to being discontent. Jesus responded by teaching them, “For the gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:32-33). True contentment is when our eyes are on God and the inward work of his Spirit rather than our external circumstances.
True contentment is quiet. It is a quietness of the heart that leads to a quietness of the tongue. Murmuring and complaining about the present circumstances of life lead to discontentment. One of the saddest stories of God’s people in the Old Testament is that of the wandering Israelites in the wilderness. They had just experienced the miraculous deliverance by God from bondage to the Egyptians which included the parting of the Red Sea. They grumbled and complained because they were bitter about not being in the Promised Land yet. They believed they deserved better than the wilderness. True contentment is a quiet spirit which acknowledges your neediness rather that what you deserve.
The Only Completely Contented Person
Biblical contentment can only truly be found in the Contented One, in Christ Jesus. Unlike Eve, Jesus trusts in God’s Word. Unlike Eve, Jesus obeys God’s law. Unlike Eve, Jesus is content. Of all people, Jesus had the best reason to be discontent. His external circumstances were an unjust death of crucifixion on the Roman cross. He is the only person who actually did not deserve what he received, God’s wrath for sin. He lived the perfect life (including keeping the 10th commandment), died the death deserved for us, and rose from the grave defeating death, sin, and Satan. True contentment is only found in Christ through faith. The way Christians can battle the sin of covetousness is by joyfully resting and delighting in God’s providence by the means of joyfully trusting and treasuring Christ’s sacrificial provision.