Applying the Character Quality of Contentment

Contentment vs. Covetousness

4 min

Contentment is realizing that God has already provided everything I need for my present and future happiness.

The Hebrew word ya’al means “to be willing, show willingness; … to undertake” and “to yield.” This word is used to describe a person who is resolved to do something or let something be, such as the Levite who agreed to dwell with Micah. “Micah said unto him, Dwell with me. … And the Levite was content to dwell with the man” (Judges 17:10–11).

In the New Testament, the words content and contentment are translated from arkeo, which means “to be possessed of unfailing strength”; autarkes, which means “strong enough or possessing enough to need no aid or support”; and autarkeia, which means “a perfect condition of life in which no aid or support is needed; sufficiency of the necessities of life.”

Contentment comes as we realize that God is all we really need and that He will never leave us. We can be satisfied in Him, knowing that He is the Supplier of all our physical and spiritual needs. “Be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5).

Contentment comes as we realize that God is all we really need and that He will never leave us.

Contentment Begins by Knowing the Purpose of Life

“Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism).

Man was created with an internal void that only God can fill. The Apostle Paul’s ultimate aim was to “know him [Christ], and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death” (Philippians 3:10).

Contentment Requires Distinguishing Between Needs and Wants

There are few things in life that are really necessary. In fact, God identified just two: food and clothing. “And having food and raiment let us be therewith content” (I Timothy 6:8). If we are not content with the basics of food and clothing, we will never be content, no matter how many things we obtain.

God has promised to provide for our needs; however, He has not assured us that we will get all our wants. We have a tendency to spend our resources on wants and then worry about our needs. Jesus warned about such concern. “Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? … But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:31–33).

Discontentment Begins by Desiring Self-Sufficiency

When either partner in a marriage becomes self-sufficient, the love relationship is damaged, because joy and grace come from giving and receiving. The temptation of Adam and Eve was not simply to taste some forbidden fruit, but they were tempted to be self-sufficient and no longer need God. The subtle serpent told them that if they ate the fruit, they would “be as gods” and be able to decide for themselves good and evil. (See Genesis 3:1–6.)

Covetousness Is Idolatry

If we desire what God has not given to us but what He has given to others, we are guilty of coveting. This is a violation of the Tenth Commandment, which says, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s” (Exodus 20:17).

When we expect from possessions or people what only God can give, we turn them into idols and become guilty of idolatry. For example, if we expect security from money, we make money an idol, because only God can give security. Likewise, if we expect fulfillment from wealth or expensive possessions, we make them idols. The same is true if we look to food or diets alone for health.

When we expect from possessions or people what only God can give, we turn them into idols and become guilty of idolatry.

Contentment Is Achieved by Exchanging “Things” for More of Christ

Someone has wisely observed that Jesus is all we need, but we will not know it until He is all we have. Paul understood this truth by exchanging “things” for more of Christ. “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (Philippians 3:8).

In one sense, life is a continual exchange. We exchange time on the job for money. We then exchange money for food, and we exchange food for strength. A wise person will exchange things of lesser value for things of greater value. It has been said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Personal Evaluation

  • In what specific ways do you enjoy the presence of the Lord?
  • Have you set your affections on getting things that you think will make your life happier?
  • Do you become bitter when your possessions are damaged or stolen?
  • When damage comes to your life, possessions, or family, do you have the response of Job? “The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).
  • Do you rejoice in the wealth of things that money cannot buy—such as health, freedom, a good name, a clear conscience, and eternal salvation—more than temporal possessions?
  • Do you believe that God has given you all you need?
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