More on Godliness with Contentment

If you’ve already listened to the audio I highlighted in the last post, then this post is redundant. But I’ve been wanting to write this out for the blog since I started studying it in January in preparation for the Grace and Truth Conference. So here goes. I apologize for the length.

I Tim. 6:6 But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.

What does the phrase godliness with contentment mean, and why is the gain of godliness so severely compromised without contentment? First, consider the term godliness. The Greek word is eusebia, which means simply devotion or piety. For most reading this, in an honest assessment of yourself, though you fail in many ways, you are devoted to God. You love Him and are ordering your life toward Him. You are godly.

But you can be godly—showing reverence, piety, and devotion to God and His things, loving Him from a sincere, pure heart—without being content. The one doesn’t imply the other. There are godly people, devoted to God, who are not content, and that is not particularly great gain.

It makes sense to me that godliness and contentment are distinct from each other. My problem isn’t that they are separate, but that they seem mutually exclusive. There are facets of devotion and piety toward God that seem completely incompatible with my idea of contentment. How do you be godly and content with this mess of a life?!

As pious, devoted believers, we’re called to pray that God’s kingdom come. Yet we live in a world where we are constantly faced with all the ways His kingdom is not yet fully realized – sickness, death, suffering, and sin. The kingdom of God is at hand, the gospels proclaim. Yet there is so much, according to Hebrews 2:8, that we still do not see subject to Him.

There are so many ways in which the kingdom of God is not yet fully realized in my life and your life. For some, it’s infertility or the loss of a child. You love God and desire to raise children for His glory. He Himself calls children a blessing. Yet this righteous kingdom desire is unfulfilled in your heart, and you ache as you process it.

Maybe you’re a wife who wants to honor God in your marriage, but your husband undermines and deflates you constantly. Your love of God draws you to raise your children to love Christ. Yet your husband is at best apathetic and often actually hostile to Christianity, maybe even exposing your children to the sin you are trying to teach them to avoid.

Maybe you’re a single women living in a state that God Himself says is “not good.” You have a piety and devotion toward God, yet daily experience a loneliness that is far from the perfect community for which He created us to enjoy.

Maybe you are a daughter whose parents are close to divorce or a parent whose grown children are separated. You long for these people you love to embrace God’s plan for their marriage, yet daily must watch them wound and sin against each other.

The examples could go on and on—conflict in the church, conflict in the world. “God how do I be content with THIS?! Really, You want me to be content in the midst of THIS sin? THIS suffering? THIS conflict? THIS thing that is not like You?”

It’s one thing to be content with your bank account or your clothing options. But how do you reconcile godliness with contentment when your parents divorce, your church splits, your husband leaves, or your child rebels? Godliness and contentment seem mutually exclusive in such situations.

Now, let’s consider the word contentment. The Greek word is autarkeia, which means a condition of life in which no further aid or support is needed, in which you have sufficient supplies for the needs of the moment. It is used one other place in the New Testament. There it is translated sufficiency.

2 Corinthians 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed;

Sufficiency – you have what you need. You have adequate provision, adequate supplies.

In a world of people and situations that consistently miss the mark of God’s perfection and all He intended us to be as His image bearers in Eden, we have adequate, sufficient supplies for this season. For this struggle. We have something that bridges the gap between what our piety and devotion to God calls us to long for and the reality of our experience at this very moment. We have a bridge between our godly longing and our fallen reality that sufficiently equips us to deal with each struggle.

It is the gospel.

The gospel is the bridge. God has done something through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ by which He is able to make “all grace abound to you.” He has done something through Christ that sufficiently equips you so that you are abundantly supplied for every good work He has called you to do, this kingdom living that stands in such stark contrast with our fallen earthly reality.

Gospel grace sufficiently supplies you to face your parent’s divorce or conflict in your church. Gospel grace sufficiently supplies you when your husband fails you, your children rebel, or your friend rejects you. Gospel grace sufficiently supplies us in our suffering over sickness and death. And it also sufficiently supplies us to face our suffering over sin—our sins and other’s sin against us.

However, the terms gospel, grace, gospel-centered, grace-based, and so forth are more often thrown out than accurately defined. I don’t want to use the gospel as a buzz word. I’ve written this out before, but it is so integral to the meaning of godliness with contentment, that I MUST write it out again here. Otherwise, this post is meaningless.

What is the gospel?

I grew up hearing the gospel in very conservative baptist churches. Looking back, I realize I learned only PART of the gospel. The presentations I heard focused on the universal nature of our debt (all have sinned and come short of the glory of God), and Christ’s payment of my sins on the cross. They focused on the value of Christ’s DEATH for me. But they didn’t focus on the value of His LIFE. I have come to understand that the good news of Christ is not just that, through Jesus, my debt to God is canceled. No—God did not JUST bring my account up to zero, but He also lavished positively His grace on me, crediting to my account Christ’s righteousness

2 Corinthians 5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Think of an inmate deserving the long sentence he received. Then, by the mercy of the judge and sacrifice of another, the inmate’s sentence is paid in full. He gets to walk out of jail a free man. Yet, he’s broke. Sure, he’s grateful that he no longer has a debt to society, but he faces a long, daunting road. He can’t even buy lunch. He can’t pay a taxi to take him home (if he even has one). If he doesn’t have someone outside who’s watching out for him, he can’t even pay for a hotel room for the night. He’s set up for failure. He’s set up to return to a life of crime. His only hope is to pull himself up from the bootstraps. But pitfalls surround him, and he has virtually no safety structure to keep him from utterly failing. And so is the very great difference between a view of the gospel that ends with penal substitution and one that also strongly embraces imputed righteousness.

Paul teaches this view of the gospel in Ephesians. He starts off with a bang – in Christ, you are blessed with EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING. He then goes through them all, praying at the end of Ephesians 1 that we’d come to understand this inheritance in our accounts and power at work on our behalf. Then he gets into the fact that we were dead in our sins, by nature deserving of God’s wrath, alienated from God. I think Paul understands, under the Spirit’s inspiration, that we need to know our bank account is full and that we have resources.

Just being spared death does not prepare you for life. Now, in Christ, I have an abundant surplus in my account because God sees me wearing Christ’s robe of righteousness. I AM RIGHTEOUS! And not by works of my own. God has lavished this righteousness to my account fully by His mercy and grace, and I can REST in it. This is the gospel.

Now re-read 2 Cor. 9:8 in that context.

2 Corinthians 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed;

So here you are in this moment where your godliness, your devotion to God and desire for His kingdom to come, seems at war with your reality. God says, “No, you can rest. You are sufficiently supplied by My grace. I have blessed you with EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING there is. You have a spiritual bank account that is full. You are now equipped to face this struggle head on. You have an abundance to draw from for the good deeds that I am calling you to.”

Now, in Christ, I am the inmate set free from my well-deserved sentence who has the bank account and resources of the child of the king. I have RESOURCES for every spiritual need that comes my way. When I am provoked to anger with my children, I have spiritual resources. When I am sinned against by a friend, I have spiritual resources. When I am tempted with gluttony, lust, selfishness, or gossip, I am fully equipped for battle. When my church has conflicts, I am equipped. When my parents sin, I am equipped. When my husband fails me, I am equipped. When loved ones suffer, I am equipped. When loved ones sin against me, I am equipped. Paul says that the same power that raised Christ from the dead is the power at work in me!

Paul’s prayer at the end of Ephesians 1 has become ground zero in my heart as I struggle to understand what this looks like in my life.

18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places,

This is my wrestling place. “God, open my eyes to my hope in the gospel. Open my eyes to the riches in my account. Open my eyes to the power at work in me, the same power that raised Christ from the dead. God, these things are not anything like you. They aren’t what I’m supposed to long for when I say, ‘Your kingdom come.’ How do I be godly and content with this?” God is always faithful to meet us in that place of wrestling with the grace and mercy He promises in Hebrews 4.

Am I supposed to encourage my friends and myself to be content with this mess of a life? Well, if by contentment I mean passive acceptance, then NO, I’m not supposed to passively accept all the ways this life does not reflect King Jesus. But if by contentment I mean that I have faith that God has adequately supplied me and you through Christ’s life and death and resurrection; that He has sufficiently equipped us by lavishing on us a spiritual bank account with great equity to face this struggle head on; that the same power that rose Christ from the dead is now the power supernaturally at work in us, equipping us to deal with these struggles – if THAT’s contentment, now I understand why devotion to God coupled with that confidence is GREAT GAIN.

Godliness with contentment is great gain in deep, hurtful circumstances. But it’s also GREAT GAIN in the daily, humdrum muck of life. Godliness with contentment does not mean pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. If the phrase fills you with guilt, you are missing the point. The gospel doesn’t obligate me to contentment, it equips me for contentment. That battle with your sin, the temptation to gossip, anger with your children, church conflict, failing marriages—the gospel equips you to do battle with sin and suffering with the very same power that raised Christ from the dead. You have a lavish spiritual bank account, and this is integral to the very good news of all Christ’s life and death has accomplished for you. Devotion to God coupled with this confidence in His sufficient supply is GREAT GAIN.

2 Corinthians 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed;

6 Responses to More on Godliness with Contentment

  1. michellemabell May 11, 2011 at 2:30 am #

    Thank you so much for posting this. It had me in tears. God is so amazing and so very very good.
    I haven't been able to listen to the audio on the previous post yet, but for sure after reading this post I will make the time.


  2. Christena May 11, 2011 at 12:21 pm #

    I found your blog from your article at Desiring God. What a blessing your writing has been to me this morning! I struggle tremendously in making God's grace a reality in my life…sometimes I'm not really sure what it even means, practically speaking. But when I read a comment of yours from your posts at Desiring God – about how at the end of the day you think of ways you might have blessed your family & friends and realize that it was only in Christ you were able to do so…it clicked. I have read countless books and articles on this subject and your analogy was the one that I finally “got.” For the first time, was able to make the connection between theology & real life. And then I link to this post and it is great as well. So thank you. Thank you.

  3. Natalie May 11, 2011 at 2:36 pm #

    Thank you so much for this post! I have felt guilt at times over struggling with contentment during a difficult season of life that my family is going through. Your post reminded me that God does not ask me to be okay with the effects of sin. He's not okay with them either, and one day there will be no more pain or sorrow. Thank you for reminding me that His abundant grace equips us to live amidst the tension of already and not yet.

  4. Anonymous May 11, 2011 at 5:48 pm #

    I also found this through Desiring God. A timely word as it gives me words to identify my struggle and frustration over the last few months and had been in a kind of “spiritual depression”. I thought I was going crazy:) Much needed oxygen for my soul. Thank you!

  5. Faith May 11, 2011 at 7:07 pm #

    This seriously made me tear up for the incredible amount of love, joy and peace I felt only possible through Jesus- in Him I have hope that we can do all things thru Christ who strengthens us and has given us all the resources we need that is in His Holy Word (put on the full armor of faith). Thank you for this post!

  6. Anonymous May 14, 2011 at 1:28 pm #

    Contentment too for me is having the power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ(Eph 3:18)even into,thru,and out of every single thing,trusting that those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction.He is wooing you from the jaws of distress to a spacious place free from restriction, to the comfort of your table laden with choice food.(Job 36:15-16)