What does the Bible say about contentment?
I grew up as an MK (Missionary Kid) and spent my childhood partly in the U.S. and partly in the Philippines. The tidy, suburban houses and well-kept lawns posed a striking contrast to homes made out of rotted sticks and roofed with corrugated sheet metal that flaked with rust. I remember fourth-grade lunches in the PH where I enjoyed a small piece of bread and sipped orange juice through a tied plastic bag instead of a juice box. I didn’t want a large, packed lunch because I wanted to fit in. Being American was already embarrassing enough for me. I don’t have to look far to find reason to be content here. All I have to do is look out the window. I’ve often wondered how content I would be if I were a crippled beggar receiving alms with crooked fingers who’s looking up with a head permanently yanked to one side because of a massive goiter. I’ve also come to realize that relative contentment (“at least I’m not as bad off as that guy”) is a poor substitute for resting in the objective power and sovereignty of God.
Christian quotes about contentment
“This is the secret of being content: to learn and accept that we live daily by God’s unmerited favor given through Christ, and that we can respond to any and every situation by His divine enablement through the Holy Spirit.” Jerry Bridges
“It’s not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness.” Charles Spurgeon
“Real contentment must come from within. You and I cannot change or control the world around us, but we can change and control the world within us.” Warren Wiersbe
“Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.” Jeremiah Burroughs
“Contentment is an attitude that says, I will be satisfied with what God has given me.”
“This is God’s universal purpose for all Christian suffering: more contentment in God and less satisfaction in the world.” John Piper
“True contentment is a real, even an active, virtue – not only affirmative but creative. It is the power of getting out of any situation all there is in it.” G.K. Chesterton
What is the secret to contentment?
“For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:11-13 [English Standard Version]).
In all the various persecutions that Paul faced, he learned the secret of contentment when facing scarcity and abundance. The secret is found in verse 13: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Unfortunately, many people misuse this verse today. When isolated from its context, v. 13 seems to give power to enable you to do anything and succeed in any of your endeavors. Because of this verse, I can land that new job, win this game, lift this barbell, pay off my debts, jump to the moon, and shoot lasers out of my eyes. The last two were silly, but if we isolate v. 13 from its context, we remove all of its limitations. All means absolutely anything, unless you would dare say that God isn’t powerful enough to give you that new job or let you shoot lasers from your eyes! This kind of interpretation transforms a beautiful verse on contentment into a magic formula that promises to give me what I want.
Let’s iron out some of the confusion. Ralph Martin writes that “exegetical considerations, however, require that everything must be related to the foregoing verses 11–12.” The secret to Paul’s contentment that he writes about in vv. 11-12 is given in v. 13. It is not a secret for how you will accomplish your goal of 100 push-ups; it is a secret for contentment. Paul can be content in both scarcity and abundance because of Christ who strengthens him. Granted, this secret is based on the principle that God can strengthen someone to do anything, but Paul’s intention was not to promise a successful life encouraged by shallow words that shatter when things don’t go my way. Walter Hansen adds, “Any use of this verse [Phil. 4:13] to support a claim or goal of a triumphant, victorious Christian life without weaknesses or limitations conflicts with the immediate context and the wider teaching of Paul. The contextual meaning of all refers to the previous claim to be content whatever the circumstances (4:11).”
What makes the popular Phil. 4:13 misinterpretation tricky is that it’s based on a truth: God’s omnipotence. However, while it is true that God is omnipotent and can enable you to do all things, that is not what the verse is talking about or promising. What if your project fails or you lose the football game (or if players on both teams had Phil. 4:13 as their life verse)? Was God not strengthening you to accomplish those goals, or did He lose to circumstances and humans? Paul once attempted to go into Bithynia but couldn’t (Acts 16:7), does all things not include entering Bithynia? While affirming the omnipotence of God can be a wonderful endeavor, we must be careful not to import applications and truths into a verse that is talking about something else. We must also remember that God’s omnipotence is not at our beck and call. Contentment has to first accept the circumstances one is in and that entails submission to God’s will. Discontentment can be quick to use God as a cosmic genie or vending machine (with belief in His omnipotence as the quarters to get the drink you like).
Finally, it is important to note that this secret to contentment does not come from ourselves. It comes through Jesus Christ. Paul depended on Jesus Christ for everything from provision to salvation and even the strength to be content. While sitting there in prison, he knew that he could count on Christ for strength to not only endure his hardships, but to be content in them.
Philippians 4:11-13 (NASB) “Not that I speak from need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with little, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
Ephesians 5:18-20 (NIV) “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1. Colossians 3:17 (KJV) “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.”
2. 1 Timothy 4:4 “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.”
3. Colossians 3:15 “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, for to this you were called as members of one body. And be thankful.”
4. Psalm 34:10 (NIV) “The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.”
5. Psalm 23:1 “A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
6. Philippians 4:19 “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
7. 1 Timothy 6:6 “Of course, godliness with contentment is great gain.”
8. Hebrews 13:5 “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, for God has said: “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.”
The power of gratitude
Discontentment and ingratitude are closely related. Discontentment can lead to ingratitude and vice versa. The same holds true for contentment and gratitude. Gratitude is the state quality of being thankful. As Paul writes, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:18). This is a tall order. Some may say even it’s impossible. However, there are two truths that will help us give thanks in all circumstances.
First is the negative. Whatever ills, despair, weaknesses, and dangers we are going through on earth, we deserve far worse. Simply recalling the Gospel is more than enough to realize this. Christ’s mission on earth was to pay for and secure a salvation that saved believers from what they deserved for their sins—eternal torment. Erik Raymond stresses this truth in relation to contentment and gratitude: “The truth is, we deserve hell and we got mercy! Certainly you can see how this would inform our understanding of contentment. When you deserve hell, anything else is cause for celebration!” This is the perspective that grounds giving thanks in all circumstances.
The second truth is positive. Not only do we suffer on Earth for less than we deserve, the suffering that Christians do experience is constructive discipline from our heavenly Father (Rom. 5:3-5; Jas. 1:2-4; cf. Heb. 12:6-8; Prov. 13:24). The first two passages exhort us to rejoice even in our sufferings because they produce godly character. We are also reminded that when we suffer, it is not that God has left us. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. A believer’s suffering is actually discipline because it is meant to be constructive and corrective—even if it doesn’t feel that way (no discipline is “fun”). Hebrews 12:6-8 tells us the opposite of what we often feel when disciplined: “‘For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’ It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.”
When we practice gratitude with the two truths above in mind, we understand that God is not absent or powerless and we understand that His goal is not to inflict pain on us as an abusive father. Instead, He deals with us mercifully and uses the sufferings that may come upon us due to our rejecting His full, perfect protection because of our rebellion and favoring of a broken world.
Habitually expressing our gratitude to God in prayer, our every thought, and in our hearts sets us radically apart from the world. Gone will be the complaining from our minds. Gone will be the anxiety and oppression in our hearts. These will be replaced with a genuine gratitude that can rejoice in suffering. If our minds and hearts are consumed with gratitude, we will be able to “do all things without grumbling or disputing” (Phil. 2:14).
9. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NLT) “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”
10. Ephesians 5:20 “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
11. Psalm 75:1 “We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near. We recount your wondrous deeds.”
12. Colossians 2:6 “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”
13. 1 Corinthians 15:57 (NKJV) “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
14. 2 Corinthians 2:14 “But thanks be to God, who always leads us triumphantly as captives in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him.”
15. Colossians 3:15 “And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.”
16. Psalm 105:1 “Give thanks to the LORD, call upon His name; make known His deeds among the nations.”
17. Colossians 3:15 “For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.”
18. Psalm 118:24 “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
19. 2 Corinthians 9:15 “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”
20. 2 Corinthians 4:15 “All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.”
21. 1 Timothy 1:14 “And the grace of our Lord overflowed to me, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”
22. Philippians 2:14 (ESV) “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.”
23. Psalm 136:1 “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.”
24. Psalm 95:1-3 “Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. 2 Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. 3 For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods.”
25. Revelation 7:12 “Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.”
Contentment vs Happiness
Usually, when we think of happiness we think of a pleasurable, enjoyable state that arises from favorable circumstances. This kind of happiness could even be characterized by a relative contentment (it’s certainly easy to be content when everything is going well). The issue is that when those circumstances change, so does one’s happiness. Layoffs, bills, unexpected illnesses, miscarriages, hormone levels, and persecution can all destroy someone’s happiness and relative contentment. But what can remain is objective contentment. Our circumstances change all the time, but God remains the same. If our contentment is objectively based in God, then it will not be shaken though the world would fall apart around us.
26. Ecclesiastes 1:8 “All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.”
27. Luke 12:15 “Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
28. Psalm 119:36 “Turn my heart to Your testimonies and not to covetous gain.”
29. Zephaniah 3:17 “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
30. Galatians 5:22 (ESV) “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.”
31. Ecclesiastes 5:19 “And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life—this is indeed a gift from God.”
32. Proverbs 27:20 “Hell and destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied.”
33. Philippians 4:4 “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”
34. 1 John 2:16-17 “For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”
35. James 1:2-4 “Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Finding contentment in tough situations
It’s easy for me to sit here with all my amenities and write about contentment in difficult situations. And if you’re not currently going through trials, you can easily nod your head to godly contentment. The difficulty, of course, is in walking the walk.
Throughout Scripture, there seems to be a clear theme regarding contentment in tough situations and even all situations. The theme is reliance on God. This was seen already in Phil. 4:11b-13 regarding the secret of contentment. Another extreme instance was Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane: “And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done’” (Lk. 22:41-42). Rather than being discontent with the circumstances (and they were certainly extreme), Jesus chose to be content with the circumstances if the Father would not change them. Likewise, the Psalms are rife with dependence on God. It is likely that whatever Psalm you can think of (e.g., Ps. 22; 23; 51; 119), you will find it displaying dependence on God. Contentment is only found in God. Pray to Him, submit to Him, cry out to Him to give you contentment and a deeper trust in Him. And be prepared to be content enough to lose your life for Christ like He did for us. There’s an infinitely great life waiting just around the corner.
36. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
37. Psalm 43:4 “Then I will go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.”
38. Deuteronomy 7:8 “But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”
39. Ecclesiastes 7:14 “When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, no one can discover anything about their future.”
40. Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
41. 1 Peter 1:6-9 “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
42. James 1:12 (ESV) “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”
43. John 15:11 “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
44. Romans 5:3-5 (NKJV) “And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
45. Romans 12:12 (HCSB) “Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer.”
46. James 5:13 “Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone cheerful? He should sing praises.”
47. 1 Peter 4:13 “but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that at the revelation of His glory you may also rejoice and be overjoyed.”
Contentment in the good times
Surprisingly, the same secret of contentment applies to the good times also, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Phil. 4:12). The good times bring their own slew of issues though. Self-dependence, complacency, and acclimating to a higher standard are some of those issues. It is easy to forget about God when there is nothing that someone needs. A constant stream of thanksgiving will help someone remember that it is all from God. It is also easy to get complacent rather than content when everything is fine. Contentment without progress or contentment with fatalism is complacency. The good times are great to focus on God without the distractions of suffering. I would highly recommend Donald Whitney’s book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Finally, it is easy to get used to a higher standard of living such that the tiniest inconveniences become a big deal. One of the best remedies for this is to remember the sufferings of our Lord, the persecutions of Paul, and martyrs such as those in the early church and even those today.
48. Ecclesiastes 7:14 “When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, no one can discover anything about their future.”
49. Psalm 99:3 (ESV) “Let them praise your great and awesome name! Holy is he!”
50. Psalm 106:1 (NASB) “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His mercy is everlasting.”
51. Philippians 4:12 “I know how to get along with little, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.”
52. Deuteronomy 8:18 “But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.”
53. Deuteronomy 6:12 “then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
Benefits of contentment in the Bible
“And constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world” (1 Tim. 6:5-7). Men who are depraved in mind and deprived of truth think that godliness is a means of gain. As Robert Yarbrough writes, “Wherever people think that the gospel message is primarily about better quality of life, personal well-being, or gain as measured in a materialist human consumer society, they run afoul of Paul’s strictures here.” This is an important message that rebukes the Prosperity Gospel theology today. It is worth reading the next few verses here for he warns against those who wish to get rich and this passage contains the popular verse about how money is the root of all sorts of evil (1 Tim. 6:9-10).
However, if godliness is paired with contentment, great gain can be had. The godliness has great gain because the Christian can be content with anything that comes his way (1 Tim. 4:4-5), even if he merely has food and clothes (1 Tim. 6:8). That alone is gain for he brought nothing into the world (1 Tim. 6:7). Furthermore, the primary gain is heavenly. Use 1 Tim. 4:8
54. 1 Timothy 6:5-7 “and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. 6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.”
55. Philippians 4:6-7 New International Version 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Praying for contentment
Prayer is an excellent way to both be content and become more content by God’s grace. Prayer is inherently an act of submission to God (Mt. 6:10). Asking God for things is an acknowledgement that we cannot get it or bring it about ourselves and must depend on Him. Although there isn’t a prayer in the Bible that explicitly asks for contentment, every prayer that rests in God’s Sovereignty and submits to His will is a prayer of contentment. One way to pray for contentment is to simply ask for it. Another way is to pray that you will accept whatever God’s will is. This doesn’t mean that you can’t ask or petition for things, but it means that your requests should never be demands. They should stay as requests and defer to God’s wisdom and plan.
56. Proverbs 30:7-9 (NIV) “Two things I ask of you, LORD; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.”
57. Isaiah 55:2 (NKJV) “Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance.”
58. Psalm 107:9 “For He satisfies the longing soul, And fills the hungry soul with goodness.”
59. Matthew 6:31-33 New International Version 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
60. Matthew 6:10 “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Gas prices and costs have been steadily rising. The Coronavirus and lockdowns have multiplied inconveniences. Afghanistan was taken over by the Taliban. Russia has been invading Ukraine. Gender and sexuality agendas have been pushed in even elementary schools. And it has become vogue to think of race as one of the major defining characteristics of an individual and prefer to see only the stereotypes of the groups that the individual is a part of instead of the individual himself. And much of this is on top of everything that you are experiencing in your personal life. If you know the secret of contentment though, you are in a much better position to handle these things through reliance on God. That doesn’t mean it will be easy though. But the harder that things get, may we cry out to God and lean on Him all the more.