Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say: “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:05-06, NKJV).
The root word in Greek for being content has a surprising etiology: it comes from an emphatic action verb that conveys the idea of “raising a barrier, behind which one is able to defend against, or ward off threats, to keep possession of unfailing strength, and thus, to be satisfied.”
First and foremost then, the formula for contented godly living is founded on security, rather than possessions. As Christians, this makes absolute sense since our security is in an all-powerful, faithful, eternal and good Person. It is NOT in anything we devise or achieve, but in what we have been given through Christ, which makes the barrier raised around us impenetrable and invulnerable. Therefore the rhetorical question that follows, What can man do to me? is answered with a resounding and unshakeable, NOTHING.
Contented living is a byproduct of faith. It is not an attitude of apathy or indifference, as often mischaracterized by the modern world, and it does not stem from material riches, but, paradoxically from poverty of spirit. The engine that powers it is thankfulness engendered by the humble realization of who and what we really are (miserable sinners), in contrast to what we are destined for in following Christ (inconceivable and utterly undeserved eternal blessing).
Too frequently the concept of “miserable sinners” falls blithely from our mouths as mere sounds signifying nothing. To be fully content, again paradoxically, requires hard-bitten introspection, coming face to face with what we were before Christ. This is not easy and the difficulty largely results from two handicaps.
The first, for those who came to Christ later in life, stems from the pain of viewing our past actions in the full light of Christ's glory. Even our most altruistic achievements were inevitably and ultimately motivated by fallen human pride, and the more we understand the Lord's purity and moral beauty, the uglier we become.
And our worst behaviors, however dark and evil they may have been, take on an unmitigated pall straight from the pit of Hell itself. We smell of death and decay, an endless noxious bog of depravity, selfishness, and murderous intent.
If you think this hyperbole, take note of Jesus' Sermon on the mount, where He condemns not only the outward actions but the inward intent, and summarizes each and every one of us by saying, if you being evil...
It is not that our past life was utterly devoid of benign, or at least morally neutral, misbehavior, it is that the heart behind every action, word and thought was incurably and desperately wicked.
Ironically, one advantage for conversion late in life is that we fall into the category of those who are forgiven much, love much.
The second difficulty arises for those who came to Christ earlier in life, and, by so doing, were mercifully prevented from committing the more obviously egregious sins. While equally hard-bitten introspection is also required, the concrete and tangible data points, the blood trail, so to speak, is harder to see. And the temptation to a false sense of spiritual superiority is that much greater.
This, incidentally, is why legalism is deadly – it overlooks the root cause, like a lovely house built upon shifting sands destined for collapse. Christianity is as far from an outward facade of righteousness as Heaven is from Hell. Without doubt, it is the inward that matters most – the thoughts and intent of the heart.
However hard then, contentment can only come from accurate self-perception in comparison to a doctrinally sound and correct view of our Savior. With Christ as the standard, we are all, indeed, the most miserable of sinners.
That realization must then be followed by a full comprehension of these facts: we are forgiven; and we have been made new.
Forgiveness is sometimes easier to give than to receive, but for us to be truly grateful we must first truly receive that which has been extended to us by the death of Christ on the Cross. If we don't, we can neither be content, nor can we fully rest in Him.
In turn, this lack leads to anemic witness and a life energized by either delusional pride, or enervated by the sense that we are not, in fact, forgiven.
The former leads to unforgiveness of others, and the second to unforgiveness of ourselves. Neither outcome is what the Lord desires for His children, hence the repeated New Testament exhortations to be content.
Again, contentment is not complacence or self-satisfaction. It is an active gratitude for the strength and security that is forever ours through Jesus.
It is living based on the certainty that “The LORD is my helper [companion, protector, reward]; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”
Finally, note again the emphasis on the absurdity of what mere man can do to us in light of our security in the Lord. The mention of man includes us, ourselves, individually. If we are fully cognizant of the forgiveness we have obtained through faith in Christ, we are fully immune to condemnation from whatever the source; the world, Satan, and ourselves.
The emphatic statement in Romans 8, There is therefore now no condemnation most assuredly, and perhaps especially, applies to self-condemnation.
Yes, spiritual pride is a definite temptation, but so is false spiritual poverty based on the lie that while Christ can and has forgiven all others, there is something special about our evil that makes it beyond His reach.
Beware, for that is blasphemy of the highest order.