As Tom Hicks outlined in a recent post here, so unusual is contentment in a fallen human being, that Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs called it “a rare jewel.” Nothing exhibits Christian maturity like contentment in Christ and nothing unmasks our immaturity like discontentment, which I examined in part I of this series. Yet, contentment is elusive. The writer of Proverbs alludes to this in 27:20b, “. . . never satisfied are the eyes of man.”
What is contentment? Burroughs defines it this way: “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 . . . It is the inward submission of the heart.” Similarly, Michael Scott Horton asserts that “Being content with life means accepting the circumstances in which God’s providence has placed me.”
My own definition is brief, but strikes at the heart of the sin of discontentment: contentment is the opposite of covetousness. It is the opposite of covetousness because the coveting heart says, I deserve better than what God has given me, a better ministry position, a better job, a better spouse, better children, a better socioeconomic position. . . better. Discontentment runs at cross purposes with the tenth commandment. And fallen man is a discontented lot.
But there is good news for followers of Jesus Christ. In Philippians 4, Paul says he learned the secret of contentment in any and every circumstance. Paul, the great apostle, Paul the author of Romans and Galatians and Ephesians and much more, Paul, whom the Lord took up into the third heaven, who encountered Jesus tangibly on the road to Damascus, had to learn contentment. That fact alone encourages us with hope and reminds us that sanctification indeed progresses in fits and starts over the course of a life.
How did he do it? Paul cultivated contentment in his life by reaching a settled conclusion that Christ was enough for him. He was willing to say in fashion similar to Luther, “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also…” As I pointed out previously, that is at the heart of the meaning of Phil. 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” It’s not a promise that adding a little Jesus to my daily repertoire will push me to perform superhuman feats, but a promise that is far more expansive: I can find peace and joy in this life, no matter the intensity of the storm that swirls around me, when Christ is my pearl of great price.