The Indian philosopher Nagarjuna, once said, ‘Contentment is the greatest form of wealth.’ Benjamin Franklin argued, ‘Contentment makes poor men rich.’ Lao Tzu was even more emphatic, teaching, “Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realise there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”
In a world that never ceases chasing the next thing, it would be easy to think being content is the ultimate virtue. Even in Christian circles, we prize contentment. We think it is right to be happy with what we have, but when Paul wrote to Timothy, he was careful to say contentment by itself is not what we aim for. 1 Timothy 6:6 says, ‘Godliness with contentment is great gain.’
Contentment without godliness is a terrible thing!
We see a startling example of this in Genesis 33:9-11. Jacob and Esau were very different men. Both had flaws, but the big thing separating them was that Jacob had a relationship with God and Esau didn’t. (Malachi 1:2, Romans 9:13)
Although only Jacob knew God, in Genesis 33, both Jacob and Esau say, ‘I have enough.’
Esau didn’t have God, but he had enough. Esau had a reputation for anger and violence. He was impetuous and made rash decisions. When his brother cheated him, he was ready to commit murder. But just because a person struggles with one sin, doesn’t mean they struggle with all sins. There’s a lot you could say about Esau, but he wasn’t covetous or greedy. He had a lot, but he was happy with it. He could say, ‘I’ve got enough.’
That’s an admirable statement. Even some of the most obscenely rich people work tirelessly to get richer, to just have that little bit more. But Esau, a millionaire in his time, wasn’t desperate to get his hands on the generous gifts his brother offered him. He could look at them dispassionately and say, ‘I have enough.’
However, Esau didn’t have God. Satisfaction when all you’ve got is stuff is a worrying thing.
I always think there’s something wrong about a bird in a tiny cage, or a lion performing at the circus. Birds, by nature, are free. Seeing them limited insults their nature. Lions are the kings of the animal kingdom. Watching them obey the orders of clowns feels unworthy of what they are.
We are made by God for God. We’re designed for an intimate relationship with our creator. If, like Esau, we can say, ‘I have enough’, when we don’t have God, we’ve got a big problem.
Contentment by itself, contentment with worldliness rather than godliness is a killer. If contentment with godliness is great gain, contentment without it, satisfaction without the soul satisfying saviour is catastrophic loss.
Esau was starving for God, but believed he had enough. The same can be true of us. Before the Lord Jesus found and rescued me, I thought I was happy in the world. What a terrible position I was in! To think I was happy while separated from the source of all happiness.
It can also be true of us as Christians. We think life is going well. We are comfortable, busy, surrounded by the people and things we love. We are content. But our sin has grieved the Holy Spirit and driven the Lord Jesus away. We haven’t known His closeness. We haven’t seen His smile for months, but think we are content.
It can be true of a church. There will always be a temptation to be content with what we can see, and our enemy knows just how to encourage us to prioritise those things. We become content with numbers, ministries, activity, budgets. But the health of the church is not determined by any worldly measurement system. There are many churches with packed services, full bank accounts and diaries, but nothing of God.
We must never allow ourselves to settle for that. We’ve got no right to be content unless we’re convinced God is with us. If He’s not, our contentment is a curse, numbing us to our need of repentance and seeking Him.
In recent weeks of sermon preparation, I have become more and more aware of the deceitfulness of my heart and the need of God’s people to pray for soft spirits that hear and obey His word.
One of the bright lights in the dark ages was the Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux. He wrote the hymn Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts. We sang it recently in Wyndham and it beautifully describes the kind of heart all God’s people must cultivate. A heart that is not content without godliness. A heart that itches, squirms and refuses to settle until it lays hold of Jesus with both hands and refuses to let Him go.
Jesus, Thou joy of loving hearts,
True source of life, and light of men:
From the best bliss that earth imparts
We turn unfilled to You again.
We taste of You, the living bread,
And long to feast upon You still;
We drink from You, the fountain-head,
Our thirsty souls from You we fill.
Our restless spirits long for you,
Whichever way our lot is cast,
Glad when Your gracious smile we view,
Blessed when our faith can hold You fast.
This article was contributed by Geoff Lloyd. Pastor at Wyndham Evangelical Church.