Contentment and Covetousness

By Lasserre Bradley, Jr.

Covetousness is the exact opposite of contentment. The Cambridge Dictionary says, “It is a strong desire to have something, especially something that belongs to someone else.” Sadly, it is a trait of fallen human nature to be greedy and want what belongs to someone else, whether their position or their possessions.

The sin  of covetousness is clearly confronted in the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17).

In contrast, contentment is a state of peaceful satisfaction and happiness. The Apostle Paul addresses this contrast in I Timothy:

Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows (I Timothy 6:5-10).

What a difference! Godliness with contentment is great gain, but those that purpose to be rich fall into a snare and experience many sorrows. The scriptures do not teach that it is wrong to be rich. But it is wrong to pursue riches with a greedy spirit. Jesus said, “Take heed and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” (Luke 12:15).

One of the dangers of covetousness is that we fail to recognize our blessings and be thankful for them as we ought. As with all sin, covetousness is deceitful and can sneak into our heart without us recognizing it. Soon, envy and jealousy are embedded deeply within. As these secret sins are harbored, fellowship with the Lord is disrupted and our relationship with others is marred.

So the question may be asked, “How can I learn to be content when the temptation to love money and pursue riches is all around me?” Contentment starts with a thankful heart. If you can say with Jacob, “I am not worthy of the least of thy mercies” (Genesis 32:10), you will be continually thankful for every mercy, every blessing the Lord has given you.

The importance of giving thanks is emphasized throughout the Bible. “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him and bless his name. For the Lord is good, his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations” (Psalm 100:4-5). “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endureth forever” (Psalm 107:1).

The admonition in Colossians 3:15 is very clear and easy to understand, “Be ye thankful.” If we are not thankful it is because we do not have the right view of God as the sovereign ruler over all, or of ourselves as unworthy sinners. If indeed we know that we deserve nothing, we will be always thankful for every blessing given us by our heavenly Father.

When we recognize God’s sovereignty in our lives, we can learn to be content as did the Apostle Paul. “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Philippians 4:11). You may say, “I am too weak, I just can’t do that.” But don’t forget what else Paul said: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13). You cannot learn contentment on your own, but through Christ you can. By His help there are four things we can focus on: maintaining a thankful heart, recognizing God’s sovereignty, attending to the needs of others, and remembering the words of the Apostle in II Corinthians 4:18, “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are  seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” Of course there are some temporal things we must look at to fulfill our obligations in life, but the thought is we are not making those things our focus.

What are you looking at? Do you get frustrated and discontent because the things you are looking at are not working out as you would like? Remember what God has promised to the believer: “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). Look by faith to that inheritance which is incorruptible and fadeth not away. Look to that day when you will be at home with the Lord and all tears are wiped away. The way may be rough right now but when you have reason to believe the best is yet to come, you have reason to be thankful and content.

Lasserre Bradley, Jr. is the Director of the Baptist Bible Hour and is one of the pastors at Cincinnati Primitive Baptist Church, Cincinnati, OH.