By Rosie Moore
“Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it” (1 Tim 6:5)
Why do we only rest in peace? Why don’t we live in peace too?
I don’t know who said this, but it’s a good observation. It’s easy to blame our circumstances and other people for the lack of peace in our lives, but sometimes the underlying cause is the undiagnosed sin of discontentment.
This is what Elizabeth Elliot, the widow of murdered missionary Jim Elliot, wrote on the subject of a peaceful heart. I have pasted this quote above my desk so I can read it often.
“Restlessness and impatience change nothing except our peace and joy. Peace does not dwell in outward things, but in the heart prepared to wait trustfully and quietly on him who has all things safely in His hands.”
As hard as it is to admit, I am often frustrated and dissatisfied with life because fundamentally I don’t trust how God is taking care of me. I depend too much on outward things for my joy and peace.
At the core of a discontented heart is unbelief and rebellion against God’s rule in my life, which includes what I have, who I am, and the high and low points of my life.
A call to godliness and contentment.
And so, in convincing Timothy of the value of godliness and contentment, Paul rests his case on the basic assumption that we are utterly dependent on God for everything we receive:
“Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.
10 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. 11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. (1 Timothy 6:6-12)
Paul warns the young pastor to stay away from greedy people who want to make money from preaching and end up wandering far from the faith, “pierced with many griefs.” He describes the dangers and snares of a love for money. But it’s interesting that Paul identifies godliness with contentment as the antidote to all these things (1 Tim 6:6). Why does Paul choose to couple these two characteristics together?
Paul Mathole explains the link between godliness and contentment:
“A heart oriented towards God is one that rests in Him. With a view of our place in God’s eternity, it rests content in our present circumstances, even when they are tough.”
This made me think of Job, the first man who embodied godliness with contentment. Job had children, wealth, servants and livestock in abundance. Then, in a single day all these good things vanished. But despite all the calamities that befell him, Job’s first response to his situation was God-oriented:
Job fell to the ground in worship, saying,
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; May the name of the Lord be praised.”
God clearly approved of Job’s godly response: “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” (Job1:20-22). Job kept a clear conscience in all his suffering, because he worked out his struggles with God.
1 Timothy 6:6 expresses the simple but profound truth that God-oriented contentment is the key to spiritual growth and lasting joy. We should honour the LORD and centre our desires on Him, content with whatever He is doing in our lives.
Contentment is no small matter for a Christian, but we will only be contented people if we recognize and confess the sin of discontentment in our hearts, replacing it with a deep trust in God’s goodness and sufficiency. Sadly, discontent is often our default position.
Fruit of a poisoned tree.
Although Paul focuses on money in this text, discontent usually manifests in four areas: Money, work, our bodies and relationships. Once it takes hold, a discontented spirit poisons our lives and relationships from the inside out:
Because of a discontented heart, we become intoxicated by abundance and depressed by lack. Forever hurtling on a rollercoaster of fluctuating emotions, our joy and peace are triggered by comparisons and circumstances beyond our control. It’s not long before we break God’s tenth commandment—Do not covet.
And so, out of nowhere, a discontented spirit can lead us to feel bitter, jealous, greedy, anxious, frustrated, despondent, insecure, indignant, distracted, offended, sulky, disappointed, impatient or moody. Out of discontent we may feel we deserve more money, a better job, a healthier body and more supportive relatives.
When our hearts are discontented, we behave like puppets, controlled by the strings of prosperity and poverty; praise and criticism; success and failure; strength and weakness. No wonder a discontented heart breeds the many sins listed in the text, including conceit, envy, strife, malicious talk and evil suspicions (1 Tim 6:4-5).
Fuelled by discontent, we may begin to feel restless with our own life, coveting the accomplishments of old school friends and strangers on the internet. When we walk into a beautiful home that isn’t ours or notice the accolades earned by another, we feel no joy. Instead, we feel empty and inferior, wanting what other people have. We enter the dangerous territory of grumbling, grasping and ingratitude.
What I’ve sometimes discovered lurking beneath my own insecurities is a fundamental belief that I need something different from what God has given me. I think, “If only … then I would be content.” But if I probe deeper, I see that I’m just doubtful about how God is ordering my life.
The problem with discontentment is that it’s not just a neutral emotion. Because it’s invisible and encouraged by our culture, we often don’t recognize it as a poisoned tree that bears rotten fruit. Discontentment needs to be regularly identified and uprooted if we hope to live a joyful life of perseverance in the faith.
Solomon used a striking image when he wrote: “A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.” (Prov 14:30).
Envy is the fruit of a poisoned tree. The tree is discontentment.
The lasting rewards of contentment.
Conversely, Paul says that the discipline of contentment will bring us “great gain” in the Christian life. Contentment is an enduring happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens. Its rewards are lasting rather than fluctuating.
In The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (1648), Jeremiah Burroughs identifies the benefits of nurturing contentment in the Christian life. Here are just three of the lasting fruits of contentment that Borroughs describes:
- Contentment prepares us to worship God, publicly and privately. It is only a contented heart that can honestly acknowledge God alone as sovereign, and us as his humble creatures who owe Him our very selves. A contented heart will see that the LORD is God who does all things well. He is our Father who never leaves or forsakes his children.
- Contentment opens our eyes to God’s grace and allows others to see God’s glory in us. Grumbling, complaining, worrying and demanding come naturally to human beings, so contentment is a great testimony of God’s supernatural work in our lives. A calm, secure and cheerful Christian is a great witness, especially in adverse circumstances.
- Contentment frees us from many sins, including envy, greed and bitterness, replacing them with peace, gratitude and a willingness to serve others. Contentment safeguards us against an array of grievances and grumblings. Those who are focused on their circumstances will always obsess about what’s wrong; the things we lack; the things others have, and the things we wish were different. But a contented heart focuses on Christ and is confident in the Lord’s goodness.
The secret of contentment
But contentment doesn’t descend on us automatically like a dove when we become Christians. Paul says that contentment is a secret to be learned through the ups and downs of life (Phil 4:11-13). As Christians, we are engaged in a constant struggle against the sin of discontentment. That’s why, directly after Paul instructs Timothy to pursue godliness with contentment, he concludes, “Fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Tim 6:12).
If we do not fight the good fight, our hearts will default to discontent. As sinners, we are bent on ingratitude and idolatry, because by nature we neither glorify the LORD as God nor give thanks to him (Rom 1:21-23). We also live in a covetous culture which invites us to crave what God has not given us to enjoy.
So unless we learn the secret of contentment, we will live as functional atheists, wondering where God is and why we are not seeing Him perform in the ways we see fit.
Contentment is a secret that every Christ follower must learn through the school of life and God’s Word, which directs our hearts and minds back to full trust in the LORD. We also have Christ’s example and His strength to help us nurture godliness with contentment. Best of all, we’ve been given the Holy Spirit to enable us to expose and uproot the poisoned tree of discontentment. That is why Paul can conclude one of the greatest texts on God-centred contentment with these words of victory: “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength” (Phil 4:13).
Join us for the next few weeks as we ask God’s Word to train our hearts and minds in the secret of contentment.
Father, give us eyes to see the seeds of discontentment in our own hearts. Show us the sinful source of our grumbling and worrying, while giving us the will to submit our desires to you. Help us to trust afresh in your finished work on the cross and ongoing work in our lives, so we will be filled with peace, joy and gratitude in every circumstance. Help us to humbly receive all things from your loving hand, not just the comfortable things. Teach us to wait trustfully and quietly on you, because you have all things safely in your hands. Amen.
I have found the following books useful in helping to nurture contentment in my own heart and to prepare to write these devotions. You can get most of them on Kindle, Takealot or Loot.
Lydia Brownback, Contentment—A Godly Woman’s Adornment. Crossway, 2008.
Jones, Robert, Contentment—Joy that Lasts. P&R Publishing, 2019.
Hill, Megan, Contentment—Seeing God’s Goodness. P&R Publishing, 2018.
Burroughs, Jeremiah, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (1648). Banner of Truth Trust, reprinted, 2000 .
Ash, Christopher, Discovering the Joy of a Clear Conscience. Intervarsity Press, 2012.
Kruger, Melissa, The Envy of Eve: Finding Contentment in a Covetous World. Christian Focus Publications, 2012.