I’ve heard all the sermons on being content. “Be content with what you have.” “Be content with who you are.” “Be content with where you are.” Those are the three main points of any sermon on contentment. But too often, we as Christians are too content.
Granted, I could be saying that because contentment is hard for me. By nature, I am not a content person. I want the latest gadgets and the newest toys. In the name of authenticity I will put my man-card at risk and say, I often look in my closet and hate all my clothes. Except two pairs of jeans. They’re cool and always will be cool…until their not. At which point I will hate them and be discontented and covet a new pair jeans.
Contentment is straight up hard for me.
But recently, I have been wondering if we as Christians should be content.
When I began looking at contentment, it surprised me to find that the Bible only talks about contentment 9 times. Once in Joshua when the Israelites got beat in a battle and grumbled, “We should have just been content to stay in the desert.” To which God said, “No.”
The book of Proverbs mentions that those who delight in God will be content. That occurs twice.
And then six times – in Ecclesiastes, Luke, Philippians,1 Timothy, and Hebrews – contentment is talked about in reference to money and material things. The Bible is very clear that pursuing money and pursuing God are often at odds with one another. Not always, but often. Learning to be content with what we have, like jeans, is an important spiritual practice.
And that’s all the Bible says about contentment.
I believe, contentment as we understand it, is more a Stoic philosophy than a Christian spirituality. For the Stoic, contentment was the virtue of virtues. The Greek word was autarkes which means, “resourceful, self-sufficient, satisfied or content.” What this means is, by your resourcefulness and wisdom, you would be independent of all things and all people. The doctrine was that a person should be sufficient unto themselves for all things, and able, by the power of their own will, to resist the force of circumstances.
The master Stoic, the one who arrived, was the one who could be virtuous and content without want – regardless of the circumstances. No matter what happens the Stoic isn’t phased. I’ve got food. Great, that doesn’t make me happy. I don’t have food. Fine, that doesn’t make me happy either. Friends, they’re nice but I don’t need them. Got a house. Wonderful, but not important.
The master stoic is able to sit in rush hour traffic at 5:00 in the afternoon, get rear-ended on the off-ramp, get home to find their sump pump has failed leaving an inch of water in the basement and all that is in the refrigerator to eat is ketchup and be just fine. Or they could get to work and find out they got a raise, come home to their kid have mowed the lawn and are making dinner without being asked and find out the government owes them money and not get overly excited.
Stoic philosophy has snuck in and perverted our sense of contentment so that this seems right.
A spirituality that is unaffected by the world is not a Biblical spirituality. In fact, I think Christians need to embrace the spiritual discipline of practicing discontentment.
I can’t help but wonder if, in our attempt to be content with in this world, we have’t actually become resigned to simply accept things the way they are. Maybe it is just good old fashioned individualism at work, but there seems a little holy discontent from the church might just be what the world needs.
If Christianity is about the restoration of the world and putting all things to right; if following Jesus is about bringing God’s justice; if being a disciple is about the shalom of God on earth, should we be content with the way things are? Should we look out at the world and say, “I am unaffected by what is happening around me?” No! That’s Stoicism. Biblical contentment is rooted in shalom and justice. Learning to need and want less is about learning to want more for others. So it isn’t just that I don’t need another pair of jeans, it is that those resources can go to bringing God’s justice. My contentment is rooted in a desire to the see the will of God on earth as it is in heaven.
My contentment is rooted in a discontentment that things aren’t the way they are supposed to be.
To say it another way, maybe we would be a little more content with our material possessions if we exhibited a little more holy discontent with the brokenness of the world.
I think this is what Paul was getting at when he wrote the most well known verses on contentment in the Bible.
10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:10-13
Yes, Paul is content with what he has. His physical needs are met. No, circumstance does not determine his contentment. But you cannot read Paul and tell me the man is content with the world as it is. He longs to know Christ more. To see Christ more clearly. To give more of himself. To see the gospel spread. To see the restoration of all things.
And I wonder, have we become too content?
Discontentment is often linked to a lack of faith or a desire for other things than Jesus. Honestly, I think that’s garbage. The moment contentment begins to creep into our faith, our faith becomes impotent. I’m not contentment with my faith. I want to see Jesus more clearly. I want to understand him more. I want to experience deeper depths of grace. I am not content with church the way that it is. There are a whole lot of things that, when it comes to following Jesus, I am not content with. The minute I become content with them, I stop caring. My biggest issue with those in the church is that they are content and they don’t desire for more. “As the deer pants for water, so my soul longs for you.” You know who wasn’t content? The deer. She was panting for more.
The church could use a few more panting deer.
Please do not tell me to be content when it come to my faith. Do not tell me to be content when it comes to the world I see around me. Because I see a world crying out for the shalom of God to stop being fashionable idea and start being a tangible reality. Christians should not be content as we work for heaven’s will to be done on earth.
So we should ask ourselves:
Are we content with the world as it is?
Are we content with our marriage being good when our neighbors is not?
Are we content with our kids doing well in school when other kids are not?
Are we content with our community thriving when the one over is not?
Are we content with our experience of community?
Are we content with the role of church in the world?
Are we content with how clearly we see Jesus?
Are we really content?
Because I’m not so sure we should be.