What would it take, really take, to make you content? . . . to make you happy? . . . to make you satisfied?
A fancy pickup truck, stocked with all the options, passed me on US Interstate 95 in Connecticut. My ancient mini‑truck was dwarfed by its size and flamboyance. I had a sense of feeling cheated. There I was, put‑putting along in my multicolored, very used ‘74 Chevy Luv. And, there was this guy, flashing by me in his shiny new behemoth. As he passed I noticed a bumper sticker neatly pasted to the thick and bright, shinny chrome rear bumper.
He who dies with the most toys wins
As far as the world with its toy-ish passionate pursuits was concerned, I was the obvious loser.
But, I, in my aging pickup, knew something that fellow didn’t. Perhaps I should say I knew Someone he didn’t. When life consists of items of purchase and the fulfillment of temporal pleasures, the result is meaninglessness. The writer of Ecclesiastes cautions us to be careful where we look for contentment:
So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless (Eccl 2:20–23).
I am amazed at the attitudes of my contemporaries. I am even more aghast because so many among the community of faith have been seduced by similar attitudes. Whether it is instant success, material affluence, or bigger and better churches, we believers can be accused of exchanging the Christ‑life for life as the world defines it.
I am not a fan of Christian designer tee shirts. Much of what is plastered on them comes close to sacrilege. But I was pleasantly surprised by one shirt that mocked the boastful arrogance of that trucker’s life verse. It read: He who dies with the most toys still dies.
A Vital Truth
That slogan catches the essence of a vital truth. Christians, of all people, ought to know that this world and the things of this world are passing away (1 Cor 7:31; 1 John 2:15–17; Matt 7:24–29). Yet we have fashioned our criteria for meaningful spirituality and meaningful church life from the world’s models. Affluence and the American ideas of success and freedom are what count. But death, the common denominator, will expose our vanity in striving for the wind—striving for a world‑given, culture‑driven contentment.
I ask the question again. What will it take to make you content?
Perhaps our problem is rooted in how we become content. We have reduced contentment to its lowest common denominator—items we buy and feelings of comfort. Paul’s final words to the church at Philippi raise the Christian idea of contentment to its proper sphere. True contentment flows from a commitment to something worthy, something eternal, something beyond us. True contentment flows from a commitment to the gospel.
We have come to the exhortative section of this letter in Philippians 4:1–20. The last half of it (4:10ff) is highly informative regarding Christian contentment. Before this the apostle exhorted his readers to imitate his life (3:17; 2:17–18; 3:4–14). He says it again in 4:9: “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice” (Gordon Fee). There is no doubt that in this closing section, Paul continues to suggest that he has modeled the authentic Christian life, the deeper life.
Restless Christians struggling to find contentment give rise to a self‑interest mentality within church communities. That, in turn, results in ill health for the Body of Christ. In 4:10–19, however, we discover a strong and dynamic connection between Christians’ level of contentment and their commitment to the gospel--and, as Philippians has been emphasizing, their commitment to church.
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.