Learning Contentment

Your world has fallen apart. Remembering Paul's words, "I have learned in whatever state I am therewith to be content" (Phil.4:11), you have tried to accept the situation. Being a faithful Christian, you believe that "Godliness with contentment is great gain" (1 Tim. 6:6). And now you feel even further discouraged. For somehow you do not feel any real contentment.

Usually we think of contentment merely as a passive state of willingness to "put up with" whatever state we are in. But is that the Biblical concept of contentment? Let us take a closer look.

First let us examine the definition. The word "contentment" used in 1 Timothy 6:6 comes from the Greek ward autarkeia which Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon defines as "a perfect condition of life, in which no aid or support is needed." The word originates from two words: autos meaning "self" and arkeo meaning "to be possessed of unfailing strength; to be strong, to suffice, to be enough (as against any danger: hence to defend, ward off)." But definitions do not heal wounds.

So, let us examine what it means to us. It means that we have within ourselves, BY GOD'S GRACE AND POWER, sufficiency to carry on "independently of external circumstances" as Thayer puts it. It means that we have sufficient strength, ability, power to do whatever needs to be done. We CAN face life with all its heartaches with courage and determination! We DO have what it takes! But how do we develop and use the power that is within us?

The first step in using this power is to analyze the situation and to pinpoint the real problem in YOUR life. If you could have altered the circumstances, you probably would have already done so. The real problem is no longer the situation itself but how you feel and react to it. For example, I was rejected and unloved for many years. I could not and cannot alter those circumstances. The real problem for me now is that any mention of the past may trigger old feelings of being rejected and unloved and cause me to feel that way again. Another example: someone you love may have left the faith. You did all within your power to prevent it. But now a real problem in your life may be that you feel that you have failed in some way and may have a guilt complex.

The next step is to plan your strategy and set a course of action. In my case I told one of our elders exactly what had been the circumstances and suggested a possible course of action which involved deliberately coming in contact with a person who reminded me of one who had mistreated me. For one who feels guilty because he blames himself for the failure of another, a possible course of action might involve reading some sound material on the limits of one's responsibility. No matter how badly you may have failed in YOUR responsibility, any person who has turned from God made his OWN decision to do that and you are not responsible for THAT failure.

Finally, put your plan into action! It is not enough to merely think of a way to overcome problems. You have to put your thoughts into action. I went into the same Bible class as the person who reminded me of the past. Since I made sure the elders knew of my psychological problem, it gave them the opportunity to take special care to make me feel accepted and loved in the family of God.

The one who has a guilt-complex because he feels that he is partly to blame for someone leaving the faith (or failing in any other way) needs to take whatever action is necessary to correct his own mistakes. For example, if you were not faithful in church attendance and you feel that others may be weak because they followed your example, set it right. But then follow Paul's example and admonition in Philippians 3:13, "Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press on toward the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." Put your plan into action! Get your mind right. Get your life right. Then get on with God's business.

In conclusion, contentment is a learned response. Because you have learned the promises of God and then have RESPONDED to those promises in faith, you have developed contentment. Paul said, "I have learned ...to be content." And the process of learning may be long and difficult. But the result: that "perfect condition of life in which no aid or support is needed" will be well worth the effort! This does not suggest or imply that one does not need aid or support from God, but only that GOD HAS ALREADY PROVIDED IT and what we need to do is to accept it! Because when one HAS CONTENTMENT -- "sufficient strength, ability, power to do whatever needs to be done" -- one may BE CONTENT -- "satisfied with his condition"!

Sandra F. Cobble

Published in The Old Paths Archive