Part II -- Living in Plenty
These days, contentment is hard to come by. We live in a world of discontent, now more than ever. Few people seem satisfied with what they have or where they are in life. But among the masses are a handful who have discovered a secret. Somehow, they have learned to be content
. . . though they live in plenty.
* * *
Writing from prison, Paul wrote to the believers of his contentment. Though clearly a time of "want," Paul could still recall times of plenty. And though his circumstances had changed for the worse, he was nevertheless content. To the Philippians, Paul's words must have been a tremendous encouragement:
I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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. (Philippians 4:10-13)
To be content in "any and every situation" is indeed a worthy goal that any of us would do well to pursue. But contentment is not an end in itself. Paul would later write to Timothy:
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:6-12)
It's sad but true that many godly people today lack contentment. Sin, worry, or circumstances have left them despondent about life and robbed of joy. For others, contentment might be a way of life, but godliness is somehow missing. Paul reminds his young protege that contentment with godliness is great gain. Contentment without godliness can offer a deceptive serenity to those who practice it:
Then he [Jesus] said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.' "Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry."' "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God." (Luke 12:15-21)
Jesus issues a powerful warning to those who would trust in their own possessions, a warning that is perhaps more relevant now than ever before. Today we enjoy a standard of living unparalleled in human history. Indeed, for most of us, contentment is about learning to say "enough!"
A few months back I got to talking with a friend of mine who was working in a high-tech job for an employer that paid rather mediocre wages. I knew of several others who had worked in the same position and left for better paying jobs elsewhere. "What about you?" I asked him, "How much longer are you going to stick around?" His answer surprised me. "Probably forever." He went on to explain that he had basically reached the point in his life where he decided he could be satisfied with where he was in his career and the amount of money he was making. Though better paying opportunities were available, he earned enough to support his family, buy the things he needed, and keep his (used) car running. For him, that was enough.
Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. (Ecclesiastes 5:10)
Those who have learned the secret of contentment acquire the ability to be satisfied with what they have. Those who love money, or the things that money can buy, will never know true contentment.
I used to think that contentment and ambition were mutually exclusive ideals. Indeed, they seem to be at opposite ends of the spectrum. For many of us, our greatest achievements have come as a result of discontentment motivating us to change for the better--a life of contentment seems to conjure up images of lethargy and complacency. But this was certainly not the case for Paul, who was both satisfied and driven, content and ambitious. It would seem there are two paths to contentment. For the world, contentment is seen as a destination, reached only by hard work and determination. For the people of God, contentment is a part of the journey--indeed, our ambition should not be motived by a desire to obtain contentment, but rather, because we possess it!
Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Cor 15:58)
There is a secret to being content in times of plenty. We learn this secret as we come to know and understand the God who has given us "immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine" (Ephesians 3:20). As we do, we begin to see that the riches of earth pale in comparison to the riches of Heaven (Luke 12:32-34). In times of plenty we should be generous in our giving (2 Corinthians 9:6-7, cf. Luke 16:9), but the secret to contentment is not found in our giving--it's found in our Giver!
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?" (Hebrews 13:5-6)
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Copyright © 1998 Tim A. Krell. All rights reserved. Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version (NIV), Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
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