“But godliness with contentment is great gain…”
(1 Timothy 6:6)
I have a confession to make. I really struggle with Paul’s teaching on contentment.
It is not that I am filled with avarice, a greedy desire for wealth, success, and all the materialistic worldliness around me. In many ways I am content in life; I have been blessed with a wonderful family and some very good friends, I am never forced to go hungry, I have a safe, spacious, and beautiful home, I have a good job doing something I love that supports my family – who could ask for more. The Apostle says, “if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” I can agree with that. I have everything I need. God has richly blessed me. Who could ask for more?
I find myself asking for more. No, not more stuff. Not more in a sense of quantity. If I am discontented, it is perhaps a discontent in quality, a discontent in character.
I get frustrated with myself, and am dissatisfied in who I am. I struggle with the same old sins, day in and day out. Just when I think I’ve got them licked, I find myself neck deep. Anger, pride, jealousy… they disguise themselves so well in false-righteousness. “I’m angry, but I’ve got good reason to be angry…” Shouldn’t I have a handle on these things yet?
I long for my life to be the kind of life that points others to the life of Christ. I want John the Baptist’s words to be mine, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). I long for that kind of transparency, where others see Christ, his goodness, his love, his mercy, in me. I want to be able to preach the gospel, and then have my life so consistent with, and dependent on, that gospel that I do not disqualify myself from the ministry. So yeah, as long as I struggle with sin, I’m guessing I will always be discontented with myself.
Here’s the thing. None of us has arrived yet. None of us has attained perfection. Each of us is still under the sanctifying and transforming grace of God’s Spirit. When we have walked with Christ, we are different than what we were when we started, but none of us has become what we shall be. The Spirit teaches us in 1 John 3:2, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” We are becoming like Christ, we’re not there yet, and we won’t be there until he appears. God, who began a good work in you, is faithful to complete it in the day of Christ (Phil 1:6), and until then, He is still working in you.
I think that means that there is a sense in which a little divine discontent is appropriate for the Christian life. I want more of God and less of me in my life. I want to be transformed by His glory, not conformed to this world. You can be content, whatever you face, with the blessings that God has given you, especially the blessing in of knowing that he will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb. 13:5). And at the same time, while walking through this pilgrimage, you can hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt 5:6) and long for your heavenly dwelling (2 Cor 5:2).
Stay hungry. Keep growing. And give God thanks in all things.