This is an important message to hear anytime something doesn’t go as we expect. How should we respond when we are unable to get what we want? How do we cope with suffering and loss? The world offers many coping mechanisms that are dangerously misguided. Buddhism and new age meditation teach us that life is suffering caused by craving. Therefore, the goal of Eastern meditation is to learn to eliminate craving altogether. To reach Nirvana is to no longer crave anything.
Today that might sound something like, “Accept defeat!” Stop striving after something that is beyond your reach. But, that would be like telling a struggling married couple to stop craving a deeper, more affectionate marriage. “If you want a happy marriage, stop trying so hard. Just give up. Remove all expectations and your spouse will always live up to them!”
God has created us with capacities to experience deep emotion. To cut yourself off from that experience might save you some pain, but it will also prevent you from experiencing the deepest of joys. Those who go through traumatic experiences build barriers so they won’t go through it again, but they end up missing out on the experience of genuine and healthy fellowship.
Does that sound like a good strategy? Of course not. Learning to be content does not mean that we no longer fight and strive for what is good and right and true in life. In fact, I would say, those who know contentment are more inclined to strive for the good of others.
This commandment is related to all of the commandments in the second table. It is the internal desire that motivates us to commit sins against our neighbor. As we have been doing, we will look at the positive side today (contentment) and the negative side next week (coveting).
Read Exodus 20:17
The original audience frequently admired the security and prosperity of their foreign neighbors. They were tempted to explore and adopt the ways they lived, including their worship of false gods. Their desires revealed a lack of contentment with God.
Instead of coveting your neighbor’s house you must learn to be content with your own living arrangement. That does not mean you never seek to improve your living conditions. It is not wrong to desire to improve your financial status, but you should do so from a place of satisfaction rather than desperation.
Instead of coveting your neighbor’s wife you must learn to be content with your own spouse, or singleness. Wayward eyes, whether on the street or online, are a hint that you lack an appropriate contentment. This is an inward problem that we oftentimes justify due to some perceived wrong from our spouse. “He/she made me do this… If he/she were more aware of my needs, I would not be looking elsewhere for my happiness…”
The possession of male and female servants were a sign of wealth. The ox and the donkey represent a neighbor’s wealth. It is unclear, for this wilderness generation, how many of these families possessed servants and who owned the livestock. It would seem to represent a minority. However, the desire for servants might have been universal. Coveting other’s animals would be equivalent to coveting our neighbor’s job or income.
This is a universal problem. When Nelson Rockefeller was asked how much money is takes to be happy, he replied, “Just a little bit more.” Are you content with your resources or are you constantly seeking just a little bit more? The love of money is not only a problem for the rich, it is an equally destructive problem among the poor.
We can possess true contentment regardless of our financial circumstances. Writing from prison, Paul encouraged the Christians in Philippi with these words:
Philippians 4:11-13 Not that I am speaking of being in need, 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.
Notice the lack of universalization in Paul’s call to action. He doesn’t tell everyone to be poor or rich. He recognizes that Christians can be both just as he had experienced at different points in his life. But he also notes the need to learn contentment in both seasons. It is all too easy for us to make material blessings the litmus test for recognizing spiritual blessings.
One sign that you are content is when you can see God’s blessings in the midst of your trials. Think about some of the greatest covenant blessings that God has poured out upon his people. They almost always came after significant trials. The covenant of grace was given to Adam immediately after the Fall. The covenant with Noah came immediately after the flood. Children of promise came after many barren years (Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Ruth). We find this pattern throughout Scripture. And I’m almost certain, you don’t have to look far to find it to be a pattern in your own life.
God is doing something in you through your trials. James encourages us to count it all joy when we face trials because they deepen our faith and produce steadfastness (James 1:2-4). Rejoice when the loss of material status or goods produces spiritual growth! God is training us to store up our treasures in heaven. Like Abraham, we do this when we place our hope in the superior spiritual blessing that is gained rather than any earthly reward we might enjoy (Hebrews 11:9-10). We will come back to this critical lesson later on.
By “inward contentment” I do not mean contentment in yourself, but a personal delight in divine grace.
Burroughs 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.
That means we can only really learn contentment as we follow the example of God’s Son. Christ came into this world through a poor family. He had few possessions throughout his earthly life and ministry. In fact, he was heavily dependent upon the hospitality of his disciples. We never once hear of Christ desiring a better station. He isn’t seeking promotion from worldly standards. If anything, he actively shunned every opportunity he had to improve his status.
The only way we can even begin to address our own lack of contentment is to find a superior satisfaction in Christ! We must join Augustine in praying, “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Therefore, it is in Christ that we find the source of true contentment.
Hebrews 13:5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
The indwelling presence of Christ’s Spirit is the source of motivation to seek and find contentment. The Spirit does not eliminate our desires, but He rightly guides them in such a way that they bring glory to God alone.
Vonk When our heart has become a dwelling place for Christ and his Spirit, his enemies become our enemies and everything that he commands us becomes our preferred desire.
When we see our Savior as possessing everything we need and want, we can learn to be content in every situation. We still fail to find contentment in every situation, but the Spirit leads us to repentance. Like David, we confess our sin and ask the Lord to create in us clean hearts (Psalm 51:10).
But true inward contentment should lead us to practice…
DeYoung There’s nothing necessarily wrong with noticing what other people have, but most of us don’t stop and notice so that we can give thanks to God for his blessings to others. We notice and then stop being thankful for all that God has given to us.
Those who are content with their own living arrangement will be capable of rejoicing when their neighbor is able to make home improvements or upscale to a new neighborhood. I wonder how often attending housewarming parties is about a competitive spirit more than it is about celebrating the Lord’s blessing. Maybe we can expect this in secular society, but do we carry that spirit in ourselves?
When you are wholly devoted to your own spouse, you will be capable of rejoices in the good marriage of your neighbors. We won’t be interested in the latest gossip about who is going through a tumultuous marriage or divorce. Our interest will be for the preservation marriages and the promotion of happiness within the homes of our neighbors.
When you are not constantly striving for improved financial arrangements you will be capable of celebrating when your neighbor gets a promotion or a new job. Instead of coveting their position, status, and possessions you will rejoice in their good.
This rejoicing and celebrating the wellbeing of our neighbors ought not be filled with false or fickle motives. Our affection for them should be genuine. It is not as if we only need to learn internal contentment for our own situation, but we need to have a gracious attitude toward our neighbor. Inward contentment teaches us outward charity.
Romans 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
The book of Esther portrays Mordecai as an example of someone who was favored among his kinsman because he “sought the welfare of his people and spoke peace to all his people” (Esther 10:3). When you promote the wellbeing of others, you reflect the love of God.
Unfortunately, modern evangelicals understand the love of God as being uncritical. In other words, we should never criticize what someone else believes. We should just love them. This kind of foggy theology is what leads Christians to dabble in worldly theories and practices. Too many believers think too highly of the enneagram, yoga, or new age practices of meditation.
Packer But desire that is sinfully disordered needs redirecting, so that we stop coveting others’ goods and long instead for their good, and God’s glory with and through it.
Outward charity always complements the truth. We do not disregard one attribute of God in order to highlight another. Showing outward charity does not bury the truth.
Instead of coveting after the idols of foreign neighbors, Israel ought to have been faithfully proclaiming the truth of God’s revelation. This is why the prophets rebuked them for their adultery. They longed for gods they did not have, and the One True God handed them over to their sin.
Jesus came and delivered the same message to the religious leaders who abandoned God’s Word for selfish gain. They did not look out for the poor, the widow, and the orphan. They were more concerned about their own station in the world than they were about God. How often are we tempted in the same manner to have the world’s affection? You might win your neighbor’s affection by forsaking the truth, but in so doing you forfeit giving glory to God.
If we are going to be any different, then we must seek a different kind of affection. Thomas Chalmers spoke of “the expulsive power of a new affection.” When we are motivated by the love of Christ, we rightly prioritize God and neighbor above ourselves.
So this commandment contains internal and external aspects, and it involves inward and outward elements. When we really analyze the relationship between all of these factors we come to the conclusion that:Those who are the most content are the most capable of expressing charity toward others.
Because our Lord represents the epitome of personal contentment, it is not surprising that we also find Him to be the epitome of charity. In the gospel, we find a Savior who was entirely content inwardly and entirely charitable outwardly. It is only in Christ that our deepest desires can find their satisfaction. Those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be satisfied in Christ alone, and their delight will be to do His will (John 4:31-34).