If we are to find true contentment, my thesis is that such can only be found outside of ourselves through a relationship with the Almighty God of the Bible. Hence we have to ask ‘Is GOD content in himself?’ Looking at the Scriptures and history of the Early Church, there has emerged a teaching called God’s ‘Perichoresis’ or ‘divine dance’ (cf. symbol above) (smile, born with two left feet, I’ve always had an aversion to dancing). Perichoresis refers to the mystical, perfect and intriguing inter-relationship within the Trinity. It is a cyclical movement, capturing reciprocity and inter-penetration. I.o.w. all three Persons occupy the same divine, inter-acting ‘space’ shared by Father, Son and Holy Spirit (cf. early Church Fathers and the Nicene Creed). A vital point here is that God is sufficient in himself, independent of anything/anyone outside of himself – this has been called his ‘aseity.’ I conclude that God is totally content within himself, that ultimately he does not need our company, though in outrageous mercy and grace he has chosen our poor company and included us in his creative and saving dance on earth!
The question I’ve had to pose myself is, am I truly content with God alone and who I am in and through his Son? You might here want to ask yourself if you’re content, and if so, how contented you are in this world, and whether that contentment is in the Lord God alone?? Two things inspired me to ask the question of myself. The first was following five years of serious ill-health. The second was the recent two-week visit of our youngest daughter who with her family had emigrated to New Zealand some years ago. Lyndall shared our cramped retirement cottage, bedding down on a mattress on the lounge floor, happily, contentedly, blessing us as parents with her sunny disposition and the presence of God himself! I need to explain that in New Zealand folk generally are not as competitive as we are in our country, few feel the need to ‘prove’ anything, their houses on the whole are much simpler and functional than ours, etc. Our daughter’s siblings here in South Africa, God be praised, like Lyndall are all minimalists given to simplicity of attitude and life. What a ball they had!
Turning to Scripture, our local house church recently took an in-depth look at 1 Tim. 6:3-10, where the Apostle Paul gives guidelines to his pastoral supervisors Timothy and Titus concerning the matter of believers’ contentment within a surprisingly materialistic context. He wrote against the backdrop of false believers who were infiltrating their midst and teaching that godliness is actually a means to financial gain: ‘There is constant bickering between people whose minds are ruined and who have been robbed of the truth. They think that godliness is a way to make money!’ (v. 5/CEB).
This of course we recognize today in the worldwide ‘prosperity gospel’ heresy especially in the West but also rife in our poverty-dominated continent of Africa! This has seduced many ‘Christian’ leaders and congregants alike. Generally it’s evidenced in an obsession with power, control, money, earthly comforts, passing pleasures and personal happiness – all this in a world where 80% of the population is poor and young. It can poison the most unlikely persons including Christian celebrities. We S. Africans recall the personal tragedy of the renowned ‘Christian’ Proteas cricket captain, Hansie Cronje. After much media hype he tearfully admitted in a law court to accepting monetary bribes from different cricketing power groups to ‘lose’ certain pivotal matches. Apparently he had a reputation for stinginess among the players, a millionaire who never offered to buy his compatriots the traditional after-match drink or such-like. Tragically he was killed in a cargo plane crash in the Southern Cape, leaving a devastated family and nation. In recent years I’ve personally had to deal with other issues, like academic achievements (a cherished PhD), personal and kingdom ambitions, unfulfilled future plans amid frail health, physical and material comforts with a hopelessly inadequate pension fund, etc. All/some of these can easily lead to a spirit of discontent even as a committed Christian. Maybe you can relate to at least some of these subtler temptations? It was Henri Nouwen who said that God turns some of our ‘wishes’ into ‘waitings.’ That’s not so easy!
Paul’s main conclusion in our text passage is that the secret of contentment is ‘godliness:‘ ‘Actually, godliness is a great source of profit when it is combined with being happy with what you already have’ (6:6). Elsewhere (2 Tim. 3:1ff) he had warned his readers that ‘the last days will be dangerous times. People will be selfish and love money. They will be the kind of people who brag and who are proud. They will slander others, and they will be disobedient to their parents. They will ungrateful, unholy, unloving, contrary and critical. They will be without self control and brutal, and they won’t love what is good. They will be people who are disloyal, reckless and conceited. They will love pleasure instead of loving God. They will look like they are religious but deny God’s power. Avoid people like this…’ Ouch! Note it’s not money that’s the problem, but the love of it: 6:9-10, ‘But people who are trying to get rich fall into temptation. They are trapped by many stupid and harmful passions that plunge people into ruin and destruction. The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some have wandered away from the faith and have impaled themselves with a lot of pain because they made money their goal.’
The apostle’s overall conclusion is that the secret of contentment is godliness (Christ-likeness). V. 6, ‘Actually, godliness is a great source of profit when it is combined with being happy (content) with what you already have.’ To clarify and apply, we can isolate four critically important matters for every believer/faith community:
- The importance of a simple life. As grandparents we pray daily for our children and six grandsons – the latter, particularly, are being bombarded (as you well know) by daily media given to materialism, hedonism and instant gratification. We can’t police them as parents or grandparents, but we can live Christ-like and ever prayerful lives as an attractive alternative.
- The importance of good teaching. Paul has already referred to poor doctrine in 1 Tim. 6:3ff and 2 Tim. 3:1ff and the destructive consequences. Here prayerful listening and intelligent Bible-reading is vital.
- The importance of humility. V. 7-8/NRSV, ‘For we brought nothing into this world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing we will be content with these.’ The NRSV underlines the importance of humility in our stance toward God our Creator and Father!
- The importance of life-long learning. I.e. in all the up’s and down’s of the Christian life. Cf. Paul’s personal testimony in Phil. 4:10ff, ‘I was very glad in the Lord because now at last you have shown concern for me again. (Of course you were always concerned but had no way to show it). I’m not saying this because I need anything, for I have learned to be content in any circumstance. I know the experience of being in need and of having more than enough; I have learned the secret to being content in any and every circumstance, whether full or hungry or whether having plenty or being poor. I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength…’ Imagine the powerful and winsome combined witness in the world of tens of thousands of contented communities!
At the end of the day, contentment/happiness is a choice! You know the story of the puppy who chased his tail endlessly, until he realized that if he just got on with the job of growing up to be a healthy and mature doggy, happiness would follow him everywhere he went! (1)
(1) Over many years I was able to use as counseling tool Christian psychiatrists Dr.’s Minirth and Meier’s ‘Happiness Is A Choice.’ If you can find a copy somewhere, it’s a worthwhile companion.