Choosing Contentment

“Of course, there is great gain in godliness
combined with contentment.”
1 Timothy 1:6

Some sage has observed that all the world lives in two tents; content and discontent. It is clear from today’s scripture in which tent the apostle Paul wants his young friend Timothy to live.

Paul writes to Timothy, who is facing a difficult and discouraging assignment in Ephesus, and has asked Paul for permission to minister elsewhere. Timothy surely remembers the “rioting” against Christians in Ephesus and the “no little disturbance that broke out against followers of the Way” (Acts 19:23, 40). The “savage wolves” that Paul had warned would attack the flock (Acts 20:29-30) have struck, threatening the church’s existence (1 Timothy 1:6, 20; 6:21; 2 Timothy 2:18). Timothy must stay at his post.

It is not surprising that Timothy wants to go elsewhere as the mantle of leadership weighs heavily on him. What minister has not dreamed of greener pastures, or what person has not wanted for easier times? Yet, Paul asks Timothy to choose to live in contentment right where he is.

Ever aware of his culture, Paul counsels “contentment” (Greek: autarkeia) as it was the prized virtue of Greek philosophers in the harsh day-to-day existence of the first century. The word autarkeia, translated “contentment”, comes from autos = self + arkeo = to suffice, and signifies having a sufficiency in oneself apart from outward circumstances or news of the day. Contentment was thought to be ballast amidst the harsh vicissitudes of life. No matter the fluctuating price of wheat at the market, or what the emperor was doing, contentment was the inner disposition freeing persons from being hostage to outward things beyond their control.

But for Christians, contentment means even more. Contentment means “The acceptance of THE things as they are and as the wise and loving providence of a God who knows what is good for us, who so loves us as always to seek our good.” (Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary) Contentment is that calm, accepting peace of mind David experienced when he wrote, “The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing” (Psalm 23:1).

Contentment would mean for Timothy, and for us, the understanding that God has already provided us what we need for our present happiness. Far more than a pagan Greek philosopher, Christians understand that God has already given us what we need for our present happiness. With God on our side we have total sufficiency from outward circumstances or the latest breaking news.

The apostle Paul could write from a Roman prison, “I have learned to be content (autarkes) with whatever I have…I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11, 13). Paul had the confidence that he was ready for anything, as he focused not on what he did not have, but focused rather on all that he had.

I am inspired by the following words of the prolific hymnist Fanny Crosby, who was blind from six weeks of age:

O what a happy soul am I!
Although I cannot see,
I am resolved that in this world Contented I will be;
How many blessings I enjoy
That other people don’t!
To weep and sigh because I am blind, I cannot, and I won’t.

As our nation enters yet another week of pandemic, bitter political division, and uncertainty, we can know as David and Paul knew, that with God as our Shepherd, we lack for nothing. Our happiness as Christians is not prey to outward circumstances. We can choose to live in contentment.

A fellow traveler,
Tim

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