What is contentment?

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When you think of the word contentment, what comes to mind? Is contentment sunbathing on the California beaches for you? Is it when you have all the family over for a big meal and you sit enjoying their presence with a big smile? Is it when you have accomplished something on the list that was always eating away at you? I too enjoy each of these things, but do these really capture the essence of contentment? Though we have these experiences of some form of contentment, they ultimately don’t reach the whole picture of it. The one who does fill the picture of contentment, and makes it spillover, is God Himself. The Bible depicts God as one who is fully satisfied, who needs nothing in Himself, who cannot ascend to higher heights, who is not lacking in one degree, who is unchanging and full of perfect contentment.

When we think of contentment, our minds should directly ascend towards God’s nature. There are a few places in Scripture that really display God’s contentment well and most of them refer to His redemptive work towards us. The first is found in the book of Ephesians. In this book, there is an acknowledgment of God as one who is “rich.” He is rich in grace and He is rich in glory. Ephesians 1:7-8 says, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished on us.” We read that the Triune God has poured out. Grace has overflowed. The riches of grace have been displayed through Christ's work on the cross. We know how much sin devastates humanity. We know how much sin has robbed and destroyed our own lives and those close to us. We know how depleted sin has left this world and what is lacking seems like it could never be filled again. Yet, Christ accomplished a complete restoration of all that was broken, empty, shattered and destitute because of His richness of grace. Romans 5:20 says, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” This points to the fulness that God is. When He dealt with sin, unlike any other in the human race could, He was not depleted. Our rescue did not take away anything from Him inherently and essentially. When Christ came, “full of grace and truth,” all of His life, work and death did not cause Him to be less full of grace (John 1:14).

In Ephesians 3:16, Paul draws from the “riches of [God’s] glory” to be the source for his fellow believers “to be strengthened with power by the Holy Spirit” so that they may be able to love one another. God is rich in glory, which is a glory that gives us power to live godly lives in loving one another. When He gives out of His glory, His glory never diminishes, but remains a constant shining beam. Even though we acknowledge that the Son of God gave His life, Christ Himself says that no one takes His life, but He lays it down of His own doing and has the authority “to take it up again” (John 10:18). Even with what it costs God, the life of His Son, He is also the author of life, who raised Himself up again from the dead. The resurrection is a clear picture of the riches of His glory. God, being rich in grace and in glory is synonymous with Him being fully content. His contentment is what saved us. He never has a need in Himself, but only gives generously, and when He gives Himself, there is never loss, but always a continual fountain of goodness which overcomes evil and resurrection life. His contentment brought our complete and sufficient redemption.

The second passage is Hebrews 13:8 where it states, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” This sentence comes at the end of a book that is showing the superiority of Christ. It shows the superiority of Christ to angels, to the old covenant, to the temple practices and confirms one thing, that Jesus is God. For this reason, Jesus is Himself unchangeable as the Father and the Spirit. He is always the same, and yet we know His “sameness” is not static and lifeless. For God to be fully content does not mean He stays where He is in heaven and does nothing or that He is ever affected by anything. What it means, is that He is the same being and has the same character despite whatever situation is happening around Him. For example, nothing can sway Him to be deceptive when things don’t seem to work out for Him because all things work for His good. He is sovereign over all and nothing can thwart His nature or plans. Therefore, there is no need to be something other than who He always is. This is a beautiful thing to know because men like Paul have then sought to learn that integrity and contentment. This is a reason Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Paul can be content in prosperity or trial, much or little, because He has Christ. Christ is unchanging and therefore Paul can be unchanging and have that same contentment with whatever he faces. His situations don’t determine who he is, just as is the same for God. This is Paul participating in the contentment of God. He has learned to be "unchanging" or content in all things, because He learned it through Christ who is the all-content, unchanging One.

The last passage is very similar to the one we just observed. It is found in Isaiah 26:3. This says, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” This is only possible for the one who trusts God, because God is perfect peace. Perfect peace is contentment. When our minds are on the one whom Isaiah previously called the Prince of Peace, then we have peace ourselves (Isaiah 9:6). Have you ever been in a situation where you could have panicked, and yet someone beside you was at peace? Because they were at peace, you were able to have some peace. This is similar to the attributes of God. For example, “we love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). He is the source of our love. There is no other way we could truly love except we first draw from God’s love as our source and example. This is also true of our joy, gentleness, faithfulness, etc. When we know God who is the fullness of peace and we trust Him continually, we will have peace like His. When we abide in Him like this, we participate in that Divine contentment.

Once again, this contentment is not determined by our situations or feelings or even our own persons, but is solely grounded in the nature of God. At the garden of Gethsemane, Christ displays a type of anxiety that is sinless and amidst that anxiety He is fully content there. He is so content, that it leads Him to pray that the Father’s will be done. This contentment that we share with Christ in, allows for difficult situations and anxieties. Yet in those places, we can still have a peace like a river “though sea billows roll.”

Now that we see some characteristics about contentment and the source of contentment, how does that relate to us? We have touched on a few points throughout the article already, but maybe you are still wondering how it is possible to have that contentment that God does. The first thing I must clarify is that we creatures will never be able to have the contentment that God does or else we would be God ourselves! The only contentment we can have is one that participates in His contentment as the source of it all. There is no peace outside of God.

So then, how do we participate in God’s contentment? The first step to this is something all sincere Christians have done: have an initial faith and trust in Christ Jesus. It is through this instrument of faith that we are united to the Prince of Peace and He begins to restore all that is ruined by sin until He brings perfect restoration as He promised. The second step is to keep a continual trust in Christ Jesus. This type of faith ebbs and flows. It is grown and bolstered up by various dynamics such as prayer, communion with the saints, hearing the Word of God proclaimed, practicing the ordinances, trials and suffering, meditation on God’s Word and obedience to it. This is what Christ would call abiding in Him in John 15. The more we see the face of Christ, the God of perfect peace, the more we are conformed to Him and have that contentment ourselves in every situation.

This is something we can all grow in, as Peter urges in 2 Peter 1:3-12, to grow in various character qualities and increase in them. Maybe you have not thought of it this way, but to grow in this type of contentment is to grow in holiness. This is a holy contentment. Maybe thinking about it this way will give you a new joy and vigor in pursuing after God so that you may be holy and content as He is in prosperity and trial alike. So now, I encourage you, whenever you think about contentment think about God's nature. Then seek to be like Him in holy contentment!

Written by Alex Schubert, pastoral intern at Immanuel Bible Church