By Chris Martin
The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Timothy 6:6, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.”
When do you feel settled?
What is it that makes you feel most at peace?
All of us probably have different answers for those questions, but most of us definitely do not feel settled or at peace when our home is in disrepair, we’re overly busy at work, our kids are sick, or something else has us out of our comfort zone and off of our normal routine.
Susie and I moved to Nashville, TN in September of 2013, and I am ashamed to say I didn’t feel settled here or content with where we were until about September of 2015.
On the surface, my problem was that I always wanted to move back home to the Midwest, and I was simply not allowing myself to make Nashville feel like home. It took a volitional decision to adjust my perspective this past fall in order to find contentment.
Below the surface, though, more than just a change of mind and perspective had to take place. Below the surface, I was trying to find contentment in something that cannot provide true, sustained contentment. I was making an idol of my desired circumstances, and the idol was robbing me of my joy and my peace.
Christians and non-Christians alike try to find contentment in a variety of sources that simply are not created to provide contentment. Here are three common, false sources of contentment that will fail us every time:
1. Our Circumstances
We are never more attuned to how broken the world is than when we expect it to provide contentment and it doesn’t. You could be having the best weekend for as long as you can remember, but its wrecked when someone breaks into your car while you’re in the mall.
You could be packing for the first vacation you’ve taken in years and wake up hours before you’re supposed to leave with the worst case of food poisoning this side of Montezuma.
Sometimes stuff sneaks up on us and makes life hard. When we try to find contentment in our circumstances, we ride the emotional and spiritual “roller coaster” that really feels more like a demon-possessed tilt-a-whirl bent on throwing us into the abyss of depression and hard-heartedness.
Then, among young people, there is this sort of “wanderlust,” this lusting after “adventure” and “untraveled roads” and all things new. When we lust after the novel and places untraveled, we will not be content with the routine and the mundane. We must be content with the routine and the mundane, for it is in the daily blah in which the love of Christ is often most profound.
I’m all for adventure and travel and newness and fun, but when we hope fulfilling our wanderlust will fulfill our hopes and dreams, we’ll be sorely disappointed.
Life is full of surprises, both of the happy and horrifying variety, and to root our contentment in our circumstances is a sincere form of self-torture.
Our circumstances crumble under the weight of our desire to find contentment in them.
2. Our Stuff
Christmas morning rolls around, your family is tearing open presents, and it turns out, you got the _____________ you always wanted. Whatever it is, it probably gets old after a while. Even my all-time favorite Christmas gifts lose their luster after a number of years if not after a couple of minutes.
Your house will flood. Your car will break down, perhaps even crash. The rabbits will eat the tomatoes you’ve planted, or perhaps the squirrels, if you have picky rabbits. Your favorite shirt will stain, and your favorite coffee cup will crack.
Contentment never outlives that in which it is found.
So, we should find our contentment in something that never passes away.
Our stuff passes away before we do, so we’re always looking for something new. And when the day comes that your stuff outlives you, contentment won’t be a concern anymore.
3. Our Selves
Self-absorption is necessarily coupled with self-contentment. One who is absorbed with him- or herself likely finds contentment in him- or herself as well.
When you’re obsessed with who you are, you’re more likely to have trouble when who-you-are changes to who-you-don’t-want-to-be without consulting who-you-think-you-are first.
Vanity is fleeting, and health is temporary. You won’t always be the best at your job. You’ll fail at raising your kids, from time-to-time, at least. Your cooking skills will suffer when your hands start to fail. You’re probably not as cool as you think you are, and the chances are you’re not getting any cooler.
This shouldn’t be a downer, but it might be. Our value is found not in who we are as much as it is in who we look like. Everything about us that is worthy of recognition is ultimately a reflection of the One who possesses every desirable attribute in full.
Our feet and minds and knees and ears will all fail long before we think they should, and to find contentment in our speed or our sex appeal is ultimately a game we’re going to lose.
The True Source of Contentment…And the Problem
The true source of contentment is Jesus Christ, and the love he has shown us through the gospel—the good news that he lived a perfect life, died on the cross in our place, and rose from the dead in order to save us from our sins.
The problem with this, though, is that the gospel, as life-changing and glorious as it is, doesn’t have tangible effects on our circumstances, our stuff, or our selves as much as we would like it to. We long so dearly for the “not-yet” of the kingdom that we forget to be thankful for the “already” we enjoy today.
Ultimately, the problem isn’t with the source of contentment, but our expectations of what the gospel provides.
Joy and peace are counted among the cornucopious fruit of contentment. When we find our contentment in Christ, our joy and peace are rooted in an untouchable source—one that is not stolen away by broken down cars or debilitating sickness.
Obviously, Paul is right when he says godliness plus contentment leads to great gain, but we must not read verse six without reading verse seven. Together, they say, “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.”
Contentment in anything but Christ is a counterfeit contentment which will crush us before it encourages us.
Godliness with contentment is great gain, and contentment in anything but Christ is great loss.