William G. Bass was engaged in a meeting with a local church, working in the neighborhoods of a small town in southeastern Florida. He and I had been asked by someone (and my, how you never seem to know just who) to find time to visit a recent convert who had been worshipping with a digressive group in town, seeking perhaps an encouraging word.
Contentment, or all-sufficiency, toward possessions is repeatedly instructed to us in the scriptures. From the very beginning, God’s law demanded contentment. Along with not committing murder, not committing adultery, and not stealing, God also commanded in the ten commandments to not be covetous (Exodus 20:13-17).
“No one can serve of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and of money” (Matthew 6:24).
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. Now you, man of God, run from these things” (1 Timothy 6:10-11).
The desire for more causes us to do things that we would not normally do. On television we have these reality television shows where contestants can win one million dollars for performing various activities. Recently a”Christian” couple was on one of these programs. They are willing to lie and treat the other contestants terribly so they can win the one million dollars. Meanwhile, there was another couple who did not make any claim to Christianity, yet treated the other contestants far better than the supposed Christian couple. What is the root of the supposed Christian couple’s evil actions? Clearly,their desire to gain more wealth is the root of the problem, just as Paul said.
The psalmist used prayer to help keep himself focused on what was right.
“Turn my heart to Your decrees and not to material gain. Turn my eyes from looking at what is worthless; give me life in Your word” (Psalm 119:36-37).
We must see that eternal life is more important and more valuable than anything this world has to offer. Our possessions do not matter in the scheme of our lives. We can place such an emphasis on having certain things that we desire, yet no possession is truly important. God is more important and our families are more important. But we seem to forget this fact until tragedy strikes our lives. Suddenly we remember that our possessions are worthless and we would trade everything we had to spend more time with our beloved family members. Instead of making sacrifices for our families and for God, we are sacrificing our families and sacrificing God for more money and possessions. The things that matter most in this life are the very things we treat as worthless. Will our children thank us for spending time with them or for buying them toys? All of us have made the comment at some point that kids would rather play with the box than the toy inside. Yet we fail to understand that our children would rather be with us than with a bunch of possessions. We have to keep our head on straight and always remind ourselves about what is really important. Will possessions matter in 20-30 years or will our parents, children, and friends matter more? If we sacrifice our relationships now, we will not have any relationships in the future. If we sacrifice God now, we will not have a relationship with Him and He will not know us on the day of judgment. Many times the reason we work extra hours and make sacrifices of our family is because we simply want to have more for ourselves.
The parable of the talents reminds us that we will be accountable to God how we used the possessions we have. First century Christians were eager to sell their possessions to help other Christians who had need. We ought to be impressed by the Christians in Macedonia who were so poor themselves, but longed for the opportunity to give what they had to help others who had similar need. In every case we see the purpose of possessions was to give glory to God by helping others. We must always be willing and longing for the opportunity to be helpful to others with what we have. We must always remember that everything we have comes from the Lord. David was aware of this fact when he said,
“Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the splendor and the majesty, for everything in the heavens and on earth belongs to You. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom, and You are exalted as head over all. Riches and honor comes from You, and You are ruler of everything. In Your hand are power and might, and it is in Your hand to make great and to give strength to all” (1 Chronicles 29:11-12).
When we change our focus to the attitude that David expresses in this passage, we are more able to become content with what we have. It is easy to think that everything is ours, but we must remember that what we have is on loan from God. When we accept that nothing is mine to begin with, we can say the words of Job,
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Praise the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
Perhaps the most difficult place to be content is with our situation and circumstance in life. We almost always want things to be better. We are not happy with where we are in our lot in life. We may think we have been shortchanged. We may think we are being treated unfairly. Perhaps the greatest place we exercise discontentment is looking into the world and seeing evildoers in better circumstances than ourselves. We even have a song in our songbooks that express this very feeling. Consider the words to “Farther Along.” “Tempted and tried we’re oft made to wonder why it should be thus all the day long, while there are others living about us, never molested though in the wrong. When death has come and taken our loved ones, it leaves our home so lonely and drear; then do we wonder why others prosper, living so wicked year after year.” The encouragement of the song is to stay faithful to death and we will understand why later farther along. Asaph put it this way,
“This is what the wicked are likeÃ¢â‚¬”always carefree, they increase in wealth. Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence” (Psalm 73:12-13).
Yet later in the psalm he came to the realization that the wicked will receive the justice that is due to them. They will eventually come to ruin but the righteous will not.
How can we remain content when we are dealing with physical limitations, afflictions, trials, and persecutions? Philippians 4:11-13 shows how Paul dealt with the various circumstances in his life. Paul says he has learned to be content in any circumstance he is in. He knew how to have little and have to have a lot. In any and all circumstances he learned the secret of being content, whether he was hungry or well-fed, whether living in abundance or in need. What is the secret to being content? The secret is we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. How is this the secret to contentment? What did Paul mean by this? You can get through anything when God is with you. You can handle any circumstance when you have the strength of God to get you through. Paul says he has been at both end of the spectrum. He has been in abundance and he has been in need. He has been well-fed and he has been hungry. He has gone through the roller coaster of life. How do you get through? We get through these challenging times by knowing God is with us despite all we may be suffering. Know that farther along we can understand why. Without God, there is no understanding. How can we explain anything bad in life without God? Many try to suggest that since bad things happen to people that we ought to realize there is no God. But if we suffer these things and there is no God, then there is no point to our lives and our suffering. There is no hope because evil people get away with things and will never be brought to justice. But with God, we know that God is trying to help us conform to His image. How did Paul learn the secret of contentment? He learned the secret of contentment by going through these extremes of abundance and need. Our weaknesses are to help us depend upon God. If we did not lack anything in this life, then we would not see any need to seek after God. But it is through our turmoil and our tragedies that we are reminded to seek the Lord to get us through. We accept the hardships now to receive the glory of the Lord later. As Christ said to the church at Smyrna,
“be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
God has done more for us than we deserve. One secret to finding contentment is to realize that God has done more for us than we deserve. God does not have to be merciful and generous to the sinful. He does not have to provide us with possessions and standing in this life. We are all violators of God’s law and we are all deserving of God’s wrath for our actions. God, in His love, chooses to bless us and watch over us. We deserve God’s wrath. We have received God’s mercy and blessings. We are able to do all things through Him who strengthens us. God is able to get us through any difficulty we encounter. We may have bad times fall upon us. We may have a wonderful life. In any circumstance, God is there to help. God will not forsake us and will never leave us. Therefore, we know we can handle any challenge of life.
Focus on the truly important things in life. When we start looking at all that we have outside of our possessions, outside of our position, and outside of our circumstances, we can see that we have been given so much. We have been given a family. Though not perfect, they are people who love us and care about us. We have been given one another to help each other and to rely upon one another. We have relationships that cannot be broken because of our love of the Lord. Once we see these things and add the physical blessings of God, we can see that we have all we need. Let us see the sufficiency we have in Christ.