"But godliness with contentment is great gain." 1 Timothy 6:6I'm insistently confronted by this precept. Where is my contentedness found? I've seen the harsh reality in my life that I often hold earthly things with a closed fist rather than an open hand. In opposition, I tend to hold heavenly things with an open hand that I should hold with a closed fist. I clench my fingers around financial stability, familial promise, and job security. I hold tightly to the promise of a future free of disease, dismay, and despair. Though they shouldn't be, I often find these things to be my objects of contentment, the sources of my security. But the Christian life is diametrically opposed to this folly. When Paul tells Timothy that godliness with contentment is great gain, he is speaking from the position of immanent death. Paul knows his race is about to end in this life, that he will soon taste the presence of the Lord in Heaven. Death is real to him, it's looming around the corner. And he speaks of contentment, not sorrow. He exhorts the sufficiency of Christ, not the comforts of the world. True contentedness, contentedness that satisfies, is only ever found in God. But entire industries are based off of telling us a different story. Our contentment is found in fashion. Or exercise. Or food. Or education. Or marriage. However, none of these things bring joy that lasts or hope that endures. Only Jesus Christ can do that. The Apostle Paul speaks frequently to the subject of contentment and the supremacy that Christ should hold in believers' lives. And he speaks with great authority on the matter; we can trust what he says to be unadulteratedly true. Not only because of the role of the Holy Spirit in the inspiration of Scripture. Not only because he held apostolic wisdom. In addition to these things, he was a man who beheld many sorrows. Imprisoned. Threatened. Wanted dead by governments and empires. He seems like the least likely individual to speak on the importance of contentment. By earthly standards he should have been full of volatility because of his circumstances. Instead, his experiences fixated him even more on God. He learned contentedness by virtue of earthly sorrows.
"For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:10Paul acknowledges that difficulties will come, insults will be hurled, and weaknesses will choke us. But for the sake of Christ he chooses contentment over groaning. The temporary discomforts in this life are far outweighed by the glories of Jesus Christ. So, we muster-up strength amid distress because our weaknesses display His strength, because godliness with contentment is great gain. Contentment is something we choose to partake in. Should we decide to live our lives as only contented when good things come our way, we are surely setting ourselves up for misery and destitution. Should we decide that contentment is attainted by loving this world and the things in it, we set ourselves up to be needy and poor. We can look under every rock on earth and dredge every sea and still not find that which gives lasting happiness. To find contentment, we must look up to the Heaven, to the God who reigns on the throne.
"Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 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." Philippians 4:11-12Paul speaks again to the art of contentment in his letter to the Philippians. Not only is contentment something we have to choose, but it is something we have to learn. Paul was imprisoned during his writing of this letter to the Philippian church. Contentment is something he chose to invest himself in, and God faithfully taught him how to do so. Whether Paul experience gain or loss, abundance or deficiency, he knew how to be happy. He remained content because he intimately knew the fount of joy. He excelled in happiness despite his circumstances because his face was set to the things of Heaven, not of earth. We can only be instructed in contentment when we are intimately acquainted with our Savior. If our hope and joy is found in heavenly things (which it is) and if we know God by knowing His Word (which we do) then we have more than enough reason to invest ourselves diligently in the Word of God. We cannot know contentment without knowing the source from whence it comes. Contentment that works in tandem with godliness is great gain. When we pursue godly character and actively invest ourselves in righteousness, peace, love, and authenticity we do so out of the overflow of our love for God. Likewise, when we pursue contentment we do so out of the overflow of our love for God. Both of these things are achieved when our minds and hearts are actively engaged with the Word of God. This is the great gain that Paul is speaking of–there is abundance of happiness in relying on the promise of Heaven and setting our face on the Kingdom of God. Instead of running to the contentment of the world, pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness. Contentment is learned by the pursuit of these tenants. With this knowledge we must confront ourselves with the questons: What do we count as gain and what do we count as loss? Does our expression of loving the world attest that the cost of contentment in Christ is valuable and worth it? Sarah Morrison is a staff writer for The Daily Grace Co.