The battle for contentment

One of the great battles in the human heart is for contentment. The desire for more or for something different never lurks far away. Satan wants us to feel that what we have now, where we are at present, who we’re with today, is not enough. There are things we ought to possess, experiences we should surely enjoy, knowledge we must have.

The desire for more or for something different is not wrong. It has its proper goal. God himself provides its satisfaction. Heaven fills the heart with truest longing.

But such a desire must be accompanied by patience. The requirement to have it, know it, change it up now, forces the desire into wrong channels. Like Israel that cannot wait for the promised land, it looks back to Egypt, to what was lost, or casts about for that Something that is missing and immediately required.

Against that impulse to move or change, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 7. He braces an entire discussion of the subject with these words:

“Nevertheless, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each person, so must he live. I give this sort of direction in all the churches. … In whatever situation someone was called, brothers and sisters, let him remain in it with God” vv. 17, 24.

This instruction is not against spiritual growth, nor against advances in service, nor against forward movement with the gospel message. Paul swats directly against the urge to be somewhere else, to change circumstances, to swap out situations, to be who we are not.

The Greek word for contentment is autarkeia, found only twice in the New Testament, in 2 Corinthians 9.8 and 1 Timothy 6.6. The big Greek dictionary everybody quotes sees the two occurrences as external, “the state of having what is adequate, sufficiency, a competence,” in the former passage, and internal in the latter, theconte “state of being content w. one’s circumstances, contentment, self-sufficiency” (BDAG).

Other words for adjectives and verbs can be found, but these provide a good idea. The Christian has “enough of everything” (BDAG), because God provides all we need, 2 Peter 1.3. Scripture, to cite one resource at our fingertips, is useful for every requirement of spiritual knowledge and training, so that “the person who serves God will be ready and will have everything he needs to do every good work” 2 Timothy 3.17 ICB.

That sufficiency, acquired in the experience of life’s demands and bringing a confidence for future challenges, inspires a settling-down of the heart and an ever-growing focus on the overflowing riches that a saint possesses. God’s gifts satisfy completely.

The battle to be content can be won, even in a consumer society, even when friends, family, and neighbors tout the latest gadget, even when the hope of heaven seems far away.

Everything turns upon our recognition of the goodness and generosity of God, of which there is no doubt. “Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things?” Romans 8.32.

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