The Secret of Contentment (Exodus 20:17, Philippians 4:10-20)
What would it take for us to be content? Maybe our neighbor’s house or yard? Our friend’s car, boat, or motorcycle? Our third line manager’s salary? How about our cousin’s perfect children? Somebody else’s spouse? Winning the lottery? We can all think of things that we imagine might make our lives better, especially when there’s strife in our home or trouble at work. If only we made more money. If only we had married someone else. If only our kids were better behaved. If only we had more. If only. Is it wrong to wish for a different life? To long for what might make us happier? That depends.
The tenth commandment prohibits coveting, which means desiring something with evil motivation. To be covetous is to be greedy or grasping. To place our own wants above everything else, regardless of the harm we might do to others or to ourselves. Wanting things and wishing our lives were different isn’t necessarily bad. But when we covet, we are blind to what we already have because we are so focused on what we lack. Covetousness and contentment cannot exist together in the same heart. The good news is that we get to choose which one we allow to take up residence in us.
Paul endured more than most of us will ever have to endure. He was lashed, beaten, and shipwrecked. He was hungry, cold, imprisoned, and persecuted. If he had coveted his neighbor’s warm bed or full pantry or security we could have understood. But he didn’t. “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Paul knew that contentment is not found in material possessions. We don’t earn it through our achievements or the achievements of our children. We don’t find contentment in the right wardrobe or car or house. More money doesn’t guarantee contentment.
The only source of contentment is Jesus. Earlier in his letter to the Philippians Paul wrote that our attitude should be like that of Jesus, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing . . . .” In his life here on earth, Jesus did not lord his Lordship over people, shaming them or making them feel small; instead, he became God’s obedient servant, sacrificing himself to save them and us. Paul put his faith completely in Jesus, not in money or power or influence. Not in himself. Only in Jesus.
Is it possible for us to be content? Our world is so dark and broken. The human race seems overwhelmed by sin. We long to make a difference, but we don’t know how. The problems feel too big and impossible for any one person to solve. The future seems bleak. When we think of the enormity of the world’s troubles, we feel ill equipped. Where do we even begin? If Paul were here today, working in missions, what would he say? No doubt the same thing he wrote to the church at Philippi: “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”