At Work & Theology 101

What Is the Secret of Contentment?

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I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

– Philippians 4:11-13

In a recent sermon about money, I heard a pastor tell his congregation, “You need to learn to be content.” There is a real problem with this statement.

This statement usually means you should be satisfied with your current situation. It is often supported by quotes from Scripture, like the one above where the Apostle Paul says, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”

Does this mean you should not try to improve your current situation, find a better job, earn more money, or further your education?

When Not To Be Content

Let’s look at an example of someone in the Bible who was satisfied with what he had. In the Parable of  the Talents, found in Matthew 25:14-30, we read:

For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.

Notice there are no instructions about what the servants are to do with this money the master has given them.

The servant who received one talent was content with what he had been given. He saw no reason to put that resource to work. When the master returned, he rebuked the servant with the one talent:

You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

We don’t want to end up like the servant who was content with his one talent!

The Secret of Contentment

Paul tells the Philippians that he has learned “the secret” of being content in any and every situation. Paul’s secret is that he is always striving to do what God has called him to do. At the end of the day, he has done everything he could do to be faithful to God’s call on his life.

In this same letter he writes,

I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me…I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

This is his secret.

If we want to experience the contentment that Paul describes in Philippians, we need use all the gifts and talents God has given us through our individual callings in order to bring the maximum return for the master. Real contentment is not being satisfied with what you have or where you are in life. It is working diligently to glorify God, serve the common good, and further the kingdom of God in everything we do.

The late basketball coach John Wooden is someone that I admire. A committed Christian, he once said peace of mind,

…is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.

This self-satisfaction is what Paul is describing when he says that he is content whatever the circumstances. Paul is constantly striving to do what it is God has called him to to, in whatever circumstances he finds himself.

There is no complacency in Paul’s contentment, and neither should there be in ours.

What does contentment mean to you? Leave your comments here.

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  • While it is certainly true that there are things with which we should never be content, (injustice for example) it seems to me that there are times when we should indeed be satisified with what we have, and with where we are in life. It is discontent that is the source of envy, greed, debt and much exploitation and overconsumption. We are bombarded daily with messages telling us to be discontent with what we have and to desire more, even though our basic needs are already met many times over. Happiness comes from contentment.
    It seems to me that the writer of Hebrews has it correct: “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have.”
    Likewise the writer of Ecclesiastes:
    Whoever loves money never has enough;
    whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
    This too is meaningless.

    As goods increase,
    so do those who consume them.
    And what benefit are they to the owners
    except to feast their eyes on them?

    The sleep of a laborer is sweet,
    whether they eat little or much,
    but as for the rich, their abundance
    permits them no sleep.

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