People don’t understand contentment today. In our materialistic, stuff-driven society, where bigger is better and faster is master, it can seem impossible to actually find contentment. To slow down and say, “I’m content with the car I have, the house I own, and the job I love.” That doesn’t mean we should stop setting goals and working toward them. Instead, it’s a spiritual exercise to stop in the middle of our go-go, frenetic culture and just . . . breathe.
The Bible says it this way: “Now godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6, NKJV). Whenever I see a phrase in Scripture like “great gain,” I view it through the spiritual lens, but I also view it through a financial lens. I think this is a financial principle. It’s not about piling up stuff for the sake of stuff. It’s not a prosperity message; it’s a responsibility message. Our ability to build wealth, use wealth for the kingdom, and enjoy the wealth God gives us all boils down to whether or not we can keep that wealth in perspective. And that’s a matter of contentment.
The problem is, we often get confused about what contentment means. Sometimes I’ll hear people in the church say, “Well, if you were a content Christian, you’d be happy to just sit at home and pray all day. You wouldn’t worry so much about working hard and making money. You’d just trust God to show up and take care of all your needs.” That would make you a spiritual jellyfish, a blob just floating around with no backbone and no direction.
That attitude comes from a total misunderstanding of what contentment really is. Nowhere in Scripture do we get the idea that contentment means apathy or a lack of ambition. I see that “godliness with contentment is great gain,” but I also see that I’m called to “do [my] work heartily, as for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23, NASB).
A contented spirit is never an excuse for idleness. Just look at the apostle Paul. This guy lived life wide open before he met Jesus, and he certainly didn’t slow down after he met Jesus. This man had things to do, places to go, and people to see! He was moving. He never took his foot off the pedal no matter what he had gone through or what he was heading into. Instead, he said, “forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13–14, NKJV).
Content, But Still Pressing Forward
Paul was always pressing. He was always moving forward. He was always going somewhere, always preaching, always ministering, and always setting huge goals for new things to do. But isn’t this the same guy who said, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11, NIV)? Sure it is. Paul didn’t see a conflict between being content with what he had and still pressing forward. His contentment was not an excuse to sit around and do nothing. He knew God had big plans for his life and ministry, and those plans involved a whole lot of action. But Paul didn’t need those plans to work out in order to maintain a peaceful spirit. In his heart, he was grateful for what he had, and that gratitude and contentment made him more excited—not less—to keep pushing forward into whatever God had in store for him.
If you step back and look at Philippians 4:11–12 together, what Paul is saying here is even more incredible: “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 love that last part: “whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” By the way, Paul wrote that while he was sitting in prison! Even in prison, Paul’s contentment wasn’t based on his circumstances. He knew that God is not necessarily concerned with shaping your circumstances; He’s concerned with shaping your character. And God does that throughout the journey, in the good times and the bad, when you’re doing well financially and when you’re flat broke, when the church fellowship is at an all-time high and when people are struggling to get along.
Contentment doesn’t mean you’re not going to set goals and try to reach them; it doesn’t mean you’re going to sit back and relax and stop working at your wealth building, relationships, ministry, and kingdom work. But it does mean that you’re not going to be torn up inside with a lust for stuff while you’re working. You can be content, but you can still push forward .