One of the texts the pastor used in the Sabbath morning sermon set me thinking. In Luke 3:14 John the Baptist instructed the soldiers who were questioning him, "Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages."
As I considered the text I began to wonder about that word content. How was it used, and how many times was it used in the Bible? Turning to the concordance, I found it was referred to ten times in the Old Testament, in connection with one's dwelling place or satisfaction in something accomplished. In the New Testament it is used five times, the first being in the pastor's text, Luke 3:14.
It is interesting to note that the other references in the New Testament are found in the epistles of Paul. No one could speak more authoritatively on this than Paul, who had nothing of this world's goods; who worked with his hands for his daily bread; who five times had received stripes at the hands of the Jews, three times was beaten with the rod, once stoned; and who endured many other privations as mentioned in 2 Corinthians 11.
There are not many today who, passing through such experiences, could say with Paul, "I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content" (Phil. 4:11). Again, in his letter to Timothy, he says, "having food and raiment let us be therewith content" (1 Tim. 6:8), In Hebrews 13:5 he repeats, "Be content with such things as ye have."
The only text using the word "contentment" is 1 Timothy 6:5; "But godliness with contentment is great gain."
Causes of Discontent
Consider for a moment some things that will not bring contentment.
First, things. Those who have had the experience of being evacuated from their homes, leaving behind everything they have accumulated through the years, testify to the truth that things have no value when lives are at stake. Contentment is a state of mind, and has little to do with things or possessions. Many times the wealthiest are the most unhappy and discontented.
Second, worldly pleasure. A look at the faces of those who are seeking for peace and happiness by a wild round of pleasure, so called, convinces that they are most miserable.
Third, criticism, looking at the faults of others. One criticizes another because that individual's ways of sinning are different from his own. Everyone is able to find something to criticize in every other one if he cares to. There is a story about a little old lady who never had an unkind word to say about anyone. In exasperation one day a gossipy friend said, "I do believe you would find some good thing to say about the very devil himself." "Well," the little old lady replied, "you do have to admire his persistence."
Fourth, selfishness, living for one's self, sensitiveness. David tells us, "Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them" (Ps. 119:165). One commentary says, "They have peace in their conscience" and nothing will cause them to "stumble, or put them out of the way."
Being too sensitive is a form of selfishness. The oversensitive are unhappy, for they evaluate everything as pertaining to themselves.
Fifth, a guilty conscience. One author has aptly described it:
"A guilty conscience can rob a man of all peace and rest, and it can prod and annoy him day and night. .. . From one guilty deed a thousand haunting thoughts can come forth. . . Unconfessed sins haunt us like ghosts at every turn of the road. The conscience is a sentinel, always on the alert, always ready to strike."—ArthurL. BIETZ, Pulling Life Together, p. 113.
Sixth, worry. Actually, worry is a lack of trust in God. Sister White says of one dear, sensitive woman that she worried herself out of the Saviour's arms. (Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 319.) She also writes that "continual worry is wearing out the life forces. . . . Let us be hopeful and courageous. Despondency in God's service is sinful and unreasonable."—The Ministry of Healing, p. 481.
Seventh, lack of self-discipline. Arthur L. Bietz describes the results of this lack in one's life:
"These individuals [those who suffer from a lack of self-discipline] have a desire to accomplish many things, but they lack the self-discipline to make their wishes come true. Those suffering from this type of weakness are usually self-centered and demanding in their behavior. Their capacity to endure adversity is small. . . . Fighting against authority and refusing to accept it is common among those who lack the ability to make themselves do what should be done. Routine bores such persons and they are constantly looking for something novel and different. They cannot take orders or carry through a long, monotonous task. . . .
"Procrastination is a common weakness among the undisciplined. . . Such people always have to be prodded from without. These find it difficult to work on their own. . . . The undisciplined are often very religious when they are bolstered by a religious environment. . . . But if they move into a large city where they can do what they please without being noticed, they often throw restraint to the winds. . . . New environments do not make them evil, but the removal of old controls shows up their lack of inner discipline.
"If any person is to live well, he must have inner self-control."—Pulling Life Together, pp. 95-97.
It can be truthfully said that an undisciplined person is a discontented person.
First, shun covetousness. Coming back to Paul's advice in Hebrews 13:5, "Be content with such things as ye have." Desire nothing more than that which God has given you; especially, do not covet something Divine Providence has given another. In other words, do not feel it necessary to keep up with the Joneses. The Lord has probably given us all that He can trust us with.
In 1 Timothy 6:8 Paul tells us, "Having food and raiment let us be therewith content." Clarke in his commentary gives us this insight into Paul's meaning, "Having food and raiment, let us consider this a competency." He says, however, that the word raiment in the Greek has the meaning of covering in general, and here means house, or lodging, as well as clothing.
In verse 6 of this same chapter Paul says that "godliness with contentent is great gain." So if we have the love of God in our souls and just a sufficiency of food, raiment, and shelter to preserve, but not burden, life, we have what God considers great gain or an abundant portion. The time may be coming very soon when we will have to look at life as Paul did with regard to possessions. Do possessions, perhaps, loom too large upon our scene of living?
Second, enjoy "pleasures for evermore." David spoke of the joys to be found in righteous living, "In thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore" (Ps. 16:11). There is deep happiness to be found in fellowship with Christ and in fulfillment of righteousness. We may take pleasure in things that make us more like Jesus. Sister White, in a birthday letter to her son, writes, "Let every purpose you form, every work in which you engage, and every pleasure you enjoy, be to the glory of God."—Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 162. (Italics supplied.)
Third, avoid criticism. Criticism should never be indulged in unless it is constructively given in tenderness to the one believed to be at fault.
An otherwise good man had the distressing habit of discussing critically the leadership of our work and the way matters were conducted. Worst of all, he did it before his children. As a result his oldest son has never become a church member because he says that he has no faith in the leadership as a result of the criticism he heard in his childhood and youth. Oh, that parents would take this lesson to heart. Criticism is "making infidels of their children" and inciting them to rebellion. (Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 195.)
Sister White compares criticism to cannibalism. Those who criticize are likened to those feasting on the quivering flesh of their victims. (Education, p. 235.)
"Evil-speaking is a twofold curse, falling more heavily upon the speaker than upon the hearer," —The Ministry of Healing, p. 492.
Paul advises, "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there by any praise, think on these things" (Phil. 4:8). If we follow this counsel, we will have found the cure for unkind criticism.
Fourth, be unselfish. This is the foundation principle of Christianity. It creates joy and provides spiritual sunshine. In a balanced, contented life this is as necessary as is daily food. A Christian should continually practice cheerfulness, happiness, and generosity.
One wise mother used to say often to her small daughter, "Think of others." It might have seemed that she overdid it. The child couldn't open a box of candy, bring out her toys, or pick up her tennis racket, without hearing that low-voiced admonition. And the girl, often perfunctorily because she was a normal child, would offer the children some candy, her toys, or first chance on the tennis court.
One day a friend met this girl, a teen-ager now, with a group of girls her age. The friend proposed taking them to some entertainment. All began suggesting one thing and another, but this young girl asked, "What would you like to do?"
Thinking of others had become completely automatic to this teen-ager as a result of her early training. This mother had done more to assure success for her daughter than if she had left her a million dollars. Often, it seems, children are taught to be selfish by being permitted to be the center of attention and favor. To be happy and contented, children, as well as adults, must be unselfish.
Fifth, have a clear conscience. God has made ample provision that we need not suffer from a guilty conscience. Let us keep all our sins confessed so we can live, "forgetting those things which are behind," "without offence till the day of Christ" (Phil. 3:13; 1:10).
Sixth, develop trust. The Bible is a book of promise. There is no human need, no matter how desperate, that cannot meet assurance in the Scriptures. With our Father there are no broken promises. He waits for us to seek out the treasure and lay claim upon it in humble faith, in order that He may pour out His goodness to us. We need never worry about the future, for our times are in our Father's hands.
" 'My times are in thy hand:'
My God, I wish them there;
My life, my friends, my all I leave
Entirely to thy care,
"'My times are in thy hand:'
Why should I doubt or fear?
My Father's hand will never cause
His child a needless tear.
"'My times are in thy hand:'
I'll always trust in thee,
Till I possess the Promised Land,
And all thy glory see."
—WILLIAM F. LLOYD,
Seventh, practice self-discipline. This is the directive force in life, a must for contentment. "For the shepherdess it is essential. It might mean the difference between success and failure for her husband; it may have direct influence on eternal gain or loss for her children. We are given this instruction:
"Her [the mother's] appetites and passions are to be controlled by principle. . . . If the mother unswervingly adheres to right principles, if she is temperate and self-denying, if she is kind, gentle, and unselfish, she may give her child these same precious traits of character. . . . By the command of God Himself she is placed under the most solemn obligation to exercise self-control."--The Ministry of Healing, pp. 372, 373.
Without the determining power of an effective will, little can be accomplished. Through God's power, however, a weak will can be strengthened—if it is a yielded will. It is not impossible even now to attain a great degree of self-discipline. Sister White again tells us:
"They [workers for God] must acquire mental discipline, by putting into exercise their God-given ability, bringing the whole heart and mind to the task of acquiring knowledge."—Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 205.
"Everything depends on the right action of the will. . . . Through the right exercise of the will, an entire change may be made in the life. By yielding up the will to Christ, we ally ourselves with divine power. We receive strength from above to hold us steadfast. A pure and noble life, a life of victory over appetite and lust, is possible to everyone who will unite his weak, wavering human will to the omnipotent, unwavering will of God."—The Ministry of Healing, p. 176.
One of the marvels of true conversion is that the Lord can change all the bad habit paths in the brain and form new paths for habits of self-discipline. But we must yield our will to Him and permit Him to make of us just what He wants us to be. Having surrendered, we may gather courage in the words, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Phil. 4:13), and go forward to enjoy the victorious life.
As workers for the Lord it is our Christian duty, as well as our joyous privilege, to be cheerful and serene. There should be in our hearts that "godliness with contentment" that Paul describes as "great gain."