Godliness with Contentment

After posting the top 5 posts with readers for 2011, I started thinking about the top posts for ME. Of all the lessons the Lord taught me last year, what most defined my year? What most changed me? Working through the idea of righteous anger and coming to the strong conviction that “righteous anger” is not a Biblical principle, was a big one for me. It’s changed how I respond to things. It doesn’t make me less resolved to stand against oppression, though. The Christian’s call to strong advocacy for the oppressed and marginalized in society was another important lesson in 2011 for me. Tim Keller’s Generous Justice helped me on this topic with it’s clear exposition of passage after passage on the Christian’s call to social justice from Scripture.

But of all the lessons from last year, without a doubt, the concept that has most changed me is the phrase godliness with contentment from I Tim. 6:6 and the subsequent study I did of it in preparation for a women’s conference on contentment last April.

I Tim. 6:6-8
6 But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. 7 For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. 8 If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.

At first, this just sounds like another obligation to add to the long list of obligations I already have. “Great—it’s not enough just that I be godly. Now I’ve got to be content too.” Is it an obligation? Is it something I need to do or be? What does the phrase godliness with contentment mean, and how is it even possible?

The Hebrew term for godliness, eusebia, means devotion or piety. Synonyms would be respect, veneration, or devotion.

You are devoted to God – you are aligned with Him, you keep a posture toward Him. You love Him. And most of us reading a blog on theology for women probably generally consider ourselves devoted to God. In an honest assessment of ourselves, we really do love Him. But you can be godly, showing reverence, piety, and devotion to God and His things, you can love 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 these are distinct. My problem isn’t that they are separate, but that they seem mutually exclusive. They seem completely incompatible. There are facets of devotion and piety toward God, i. e. godliness, that seem to fundamentally war with my idea of contentment. What godly person is going to be content with this life? As pious, godly, devoted believers, we’re called to pray that His 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. It’s the already, but not yet nature of the kingdom of God.

Hebrews 2:8 (of Jesus) …putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.

Everything is subject to Jesus, but we do not yet see everything subject to Him. That’s our reality. Where in your life is the kingdom of God not yet fully realized? Where in your life is there this disconnect between what God says is GOOD and desirable vs. your reality?

Many of you have experienced infertility or the loss of a child. You love God and desire to raise children for His glory. He himself calls them a blessing. Yet this righteous kingdom desire is unfulfilled, 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 maybe even actually hostile to Christianity.

Or maybe you are a single woman living in a state that God Himself in perfection says is “not good.” You have a piety and devotion toward God yet daily experience a loneliness that is far from the community for which He created us to enjoy in perfection.

Maybe you’re a daughter whose parents are close to divorce. You long for them to embrace God’s plan for their marriage yet daily watch the two people you most love in this world wound and sin against each other.

The examples could go on and on.

“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? Your child rebels? Or when none of them ever show up in your life in the first place?

Am I really supposed to be content in the midst of all these things in my life that do not yet reflect God’s kingdom and God’s goodness?

Godliness and contentment seem mutually exclusive in such situations.

The other word in this phrase is contentment. The Greek word autarkeia means a condition of life in which no further aid or support is needed, or a condition in life 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, you and I 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.

Gospel grace sufficiently supplies you when your husband fails you. Gospel grace sufficiently supplies you to face unreconciled conflict between Christians. Gospel grace sufficiently supplies you when your parents divorce, 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 sin and others’ sins against us.

Gospel grace is the bridge to contentment, or the gospel is the bridge to this confidence in His sufficient supply for us in this very moment—though there is a grand void between the Garden of Eden and our backyard as it stands right now. But the terms gospel, grace, gospel-centered, grace-based, and such phrases are more often thrown out than accurately defined. I don’t want to use the gospel as a buzz word. So I need to flesh out what I mean when I say the answer is the gospel.

I grew up in very conservative churches, learning short pithy sayings that “summed up” the gospel. I took evangelism classes so I could walk someone through the “Romans’ Road” and memorized 5 step flip charts at Christian camp. Now, looking back, I realize that I could only articulate a PART of the gospel. Each presentation focused on the universal nature of our debt (all have sinned and come short of the glory of God) and Christ’s payment of our 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. Over the years, I have come to understand that the good news of Christ is not just that, through Jesus, my debt to God is canceled. 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.

I had an infinite debt to God. I was by nature deserving of His wrath, Paul says in Ephesians 2, dead in my sins unable to save myself. I have benefitted greatly from Christ’s death, the penal substitution. But I can’t begin to articulate the benefits to me from His LIFE, this imputed righteousness. Christ’s righteousness is in my spiritual bank account now. And that is every bit as precious as the payment for my sin. 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 a home). 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. And he goes through them all, praying at the end of Ephesians 1 that we’d really 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.

God didn’t bring me just to dead even. But 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. And 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 a 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 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!

A few years ago, I walked with friends through a confluence of really ugly circumstances—things that seemed like the exact opposite of the kingdom of God coming. I remember sitting across from one of my friends on the sofa in her living room in the first week of a really ugly, painful abandonment by her husband, praying to God in desperation – “How do I reconcile this? How are You good in this? Where is the gospel in this?” In that moment, the word content sounded sounded profane. I couldn’t tell her to be content with this circumstance. Her husband just abandoned their children in the ugliest way possible. Be content with this thing that is so unlike God and what He tells us to long for?! It truly sounded profane to even suggest such a thing.

Yet, I knew IN THEORY there was something in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection that was supposed to speak into this. To transform this. That was in February. In May, my aunt was murdered after coming home from Sunday church. I can’t even begin to unpack here the wrestling between godliness and contentment in my heart provoked by that one act by a violent kid none of us knew. This was in conjunction with an intense conflict between Christian friends that resulted in what seemed like the exact opposite of God’s kingdom coming and His will being done on earth as it is in heaven. In the midst of all that, I was writing By His Wounds You Are Healed, my study of Ephesians, and I was becoming intimately acquainted with Paul’s presentation of the gospel (both Christ’s payment of our sins and the lavish grace applied to our account) and then his prayer at the end of Ephesians 1.

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 became my wrestling place. 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, the same power that raised Christ from the dead. God, these things are not like You. How do I love you and long for Your kingdom to come and be content with this? Am I supposed to encourage my friends to be content with this? And if by contentment I mean a passive acceptance, then NO, I’m not supposed to passively accept this. This is not God’s kingdom. It’s not OK. 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 me and you by lavishing on us a spiritual bank account with great equity to face this 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, then I understand why devotion to God coupled with that confidence is GREAT GAIN.

And that is my testimony. There was great gain to be had in all these struggles. It wasn’t immediately obvious. It was counterintuitive. And yet I can look back now on the worst of times and see how God gave us great gifts of Himself throughout. The gain may seem intangible to others, but it was real to me. And my friend that I mentioned would gladly give the same testimony.

Godliness with contentment does not mean pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. If that phrase fills you with guilt, you are missing the point. The gospel doesn’t obligate me to contentment; it equips me for contentment. The gospel equips you and I to do battle with sin and suffering with the very same power that raised Christ from the dead. We 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 us. And 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;

13 Responses to Godliness with Contentment

  1. Jessica January 8, 2012 at 6:57 pm #


  2. H.E.R. Impressions January 9, 2012 at 5:53 am #

    What a wonderful perspective. I've never heard this taught before: “The gospel doesn't obligate me to contentment; it equips me for contentment.”

  3. KColas January 9, 2012 at 7:56 am #

    Excellent explanation of how the Gospel is that bridge that we all need every single day of our Christian lives. What a glorious promise to cling to in 2 Cor. 9:8. Thank you for renewing my desire to meditate on the riches of my inheritance!

  4. Luma January 9, 2012 at 5:04 pm #

    Amen Wendy! I think the key to gaining contentment is understanding what contentment is and is not.

  5. connectingdotstogod January 10, 2012 at 1:11 am #

    “The gospel does not obligate me to contentment; it equips me for contentment.” An excellent thought – thank you.

  6. Sarah Guild January 10, 2012 at 1:55 am #

    The one for which I am most thankful in 2011 is “Where Else Would I Go?”. This year has been quite desertish around here and likewise for my dear parents. The imagery of God's face being what I seek in this season were/are such sweet words for me. Thank you!

  7. Pia January 10, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

    Thanks, Wendy. I run in circles where the phrase, “gospel-centered” is thrown around a lot and at times I wanted to scream, “What does that actually mean?” In the contexts I hear it used, it seems to mean, “Oh, I just sinned, and I'll sin again tomorrow, but it's okay, cuz I'm forgiven.” Thank you for fleshing it out much more deeply.
    I have been meditating on Colossians 2:10 on and off for a few years and I think your post helps me to understand what it means that, “…in Him you have been made complete,…”
    Lots to chew on in the post, I think I need to read and re-read…

  8. veronica January 11, 2012 at 7:13 pm #

    Incredible post. Wow, Thank you for sharing admist pain for His glory. This blessed me immensely in my perspective and life stage right now. Thank you.

  9. Dana January 12, 2012 at 11:27 pm #

    This is a very thought-provoking and encouraging post, Wendy. Thank you for these wise words!

  10. Anonymous January 14, 2012 at 5:52 am #

    I was at the conference in April when you spoke on this topic and was so challenged by this view of contentment. I have spent many years trying to pull myself up by my bootstraps and just will myself content. I am currently working through your Ephesians Study and have been stuck by how much I underestimate the power that is at work in me. This was a great reminder for me to tap into the power that is mine through my inheritance. Thank you!

  11. Kathy Floyd November 7, 2013 at 5:47 am #

    You are killing me. Just stumbled on your blog tonight and am supposed to be preparing to teach at a conference this weekend and I've been camped out here for 3 hours (Lord, please redeem the time!). I've clicked on multiple links and jumped from article to article and back again. I've been speed reading with plans to come back and chew on this stuff awhile. But your articles on the Proverbs 31 woman plus a comment above just wrapped up the whole thing . . . please allow me to combine the two . . . “the gospel doesn't obligate me to be the virtuous woman; it equips me to be the virtuous woman.” If that somehow contradicts anything else you've said, please say so, but I feel like I just got freed up somehow. I now like that woman! Before now, she has irritated the heck out of me! I'll be back. Thank you for your insight.

  12. Wendy November 7, 2013 at 3:55 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this, Kathy. Also, I wrote a lot of this out in detail in The Gospel-Centered Woman: Understanding Biblical Womanhood through the Lens of the Gospel.

  13. Guynell January 26, 2014 at 5:52 am #

    Wow! I received great revelation and understanding through this word. I won't be able to keep this to myself. I must share it. Godliness with contentment is great gain! I will meditate and chew on this all year, 2014!