Covetousness and discontentment are intimately wed, insomuch the route to covetousness is fueled through a lack of contentment. Inevitably, the malcontent turns from their blessings in favor of another’s and thereby fuels their resentment for God’s good gifts and their neighbor. That which the covetous have, they cannot enjoy, and that which they so desperately desire to fill them, would produce all the more covetousness in them if they would have it.
We think of sin as individual temptations rather than compounding in their effect. It is the malcontent who then turns in covetousness, and the covetous one who then turns to hatred of their brother, who has what they desire, and so on and so forth. In so desiring more (and fear of losing even that which they have), the one who covets forgets the very purpose of these things to begin with.
You say, “If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.” You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled. – Charles Spurgeon
It is interesting to note the grand sin of mankind, as presented by Paul in Romans 1, isn’t what we would normally consider heinous. It isn’t homosexuality, bestiality, murder, adultery, or theft – it is the fact that they did not honor God as their Creator, nor give Him thanks. It was with this in mind the apostle writes that as a result, they were given over to all sorts of gross immorality – not the other way around. It was not that they indulged in licentiousness and perversions of their nature, but that they did not glorify and praise their Maker. Thereby, their minds were subjected to futility and their foolish hearts were darkened, and they exchanged the natural use for the unnatural.
It is this very same principle that draws our focus today, for discontentment is simply another facet of the vice that is unbelief. It is through this the Christian can easily be tempted to forget their Maker and live with reverence toward earthly bobbles and trinkets. It is this ever-alluring pull toward satisfaction being found in the next thing, be it electronics, home décor, a bigger and better house, notoriety, or perhaps a little closer to home for some: a spouse, child, or best friend. None of these things are necessarily bad to have. Mere objects are not capable of moral status, but simply serve as a mirror to reflect the owner. Desiring a spouse, father, mother, or any other intimate human relationship, is a good desire – yet it is not the ultimate joy to be had. Likewise, influence is not necessarily evil – yet it too shall grow old and tiresome.
Thereby, it is always and forever will be the affections of our heart, to which we turn our focus. Yet in the same breath, one can easily decry something opulent and extravagant; there is a measure whereby we can see the heart of man reflected in the grandiose. There is a certain softness and inability to persevere, which comes with decadence. Perhaps you long for the intangible riches this world proffers, above and beyond the material. Nonetheless, whether material or immaterial wealth you seek, only He shall satisfy the longing soul; only He shall fill the hungry with good things (Ps. 107:9). If He is not your satisfaction, no surplus of any such things shall remove your plight. If He is not your delight, no thing or person shall cause your heart to rejoice forevermore; it too shall fade and cause your affections to wane like all perishable and finite things.
Pride, unbelief, vain hankering after something we have not got, and fickle disrelish of present things, make men discontented even under favourable circumstances. – Matthew Henry, Commentary on Philippians 4:14
The trend toward minimalism over the past few years has revealed even the general populous is contemplating the value of amassing more. However, I would simply suggest this trend does nothing to target the actual issue of the heart. The issue is not found in the ownership of goods, nor even in the admiration of beautiful craftsmanship and artisanry, but in the lack of thanks for all He has lavished upon us. One can own little and still maintain irreverence and thanklessness toward God without qualms. One can own little and still horde up their wealth, or spend it upon experiences of self-indulgence.
In the same way, one of little status and notoriety can still reside in the vain pretense of the one with great notoriety. The difficulties and temptations of the rich and powerful are innumerable, for with such things comes greater opportunity for abuse. Again, this is not to say wealth and renown are evil in and of themselves. Such things serve to reflect the man behind them and what they love. One who is virtuous will indeed remain virtuous if his core conviction is that of honoring God in all things. Yet the one who loves money shall find many foolish and harmful desires that will plunge them into ruin and destruction (1 Tim. 6:9-10).
Instead, we find the apostle Paul learned contentment in all things (Ph. 4:11-13). In his want and in his abundance, he counted everything worth losing for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ – and we find that indeed, Paul did lose everything. A man of his station, an apostle, who maintained that he had both plenty and nothing, sat in the miserable pits of a jail in Rome awaiting his execution. His freedom was extinguished, Demas abandoned him and the faith, and none stood with him at first (2 Tim. 4). He desires his dear friend and brother Timothy to visit him before he dies, yet has no way of knowing that can happen. His words?
“But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (2 Tim. 4:17-18).
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, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment
Godliness plus contentment is great gain, yet godliness involves more than simple thankfulness. It involves a heart primed to give up our earthly treasures for the benefit of others. This is the intrinsic purpose to work. It is not what profession you choose or if it presents a safe nest-egg for retirement; it is so that the one who works may have something to share with the one in need (Eph. 4:28). It is for the mission of the church, supplying the needs of the body, and a production of the overflow of our thanksgiving to God (2 Cor. 9).
And yet the pitiable thing is that most would imagine they have lost this money forever – that there is no reward given to the godly. Here we see still the immeasurable kindness of the Lord. He not only gives us all that we have, but then gives us more which will not perish when we offer up what He has given us, which will perish! Think upon this for but a moment more: God gives us everything we have on earth. These things shall perish, not simply at the eschaton, but in our lifetime we shall undoubtedly see their devaluation. God then rewards us with imperishable treasure in heaven for cheerfully giving up the perishable. Even he who has little shall reap a great reward!
The remarkable truth of the widow’s two mites is that in her poverty, this cosmic exchange of value took place (Luke 21:1-4). The rich came and gave of their abundance, yet she came with what amounts to less than a halfpenny – something the text specifies as all she had to live. In the worldly meagerness of her offering, the heavenly return was far greater than those whose abundance produced handfuls of valuable coins.
We ought not to miss the significance of Christ’s words here, for many of us are those whose offering comes from abundance. How much more so should our hearts be conditioned to gratitude and generosity, if the Lord has so granted us the potential for great reward in heaven? Thus, out of our abundance we ought not to covet more, nor shall we turn to minimalism, where we store up our wealth. We, of all people, should be able to strike that balance between the enjoyment of God’s good gifts now and investment in things of eternal glory and substance.
Believers ought to see to it that after they have learned that this life will soon vanish like a dream, they transfer the things they want truly to enjoy to a place where they will have life unceasing. We ought, then, to imitate what people do who determine to migrate to another place, where they have chosen a lasting abode. They send before them all their resources, and do not grieve over lacking them for a time, for they deem themselves the happier the more goods they have where they will be for a long time. – John Calvin, Institutes (book 3, chapter 18, section 6)
It is the dereliction of our duty as creatures bound to give Him all praise and honor and glory, in all things, times, and circumstances, which presents the obstacle to a child-like faith that produces contentment. When we learn to trust that God is our benefactor, that indeed, He has given us all things good, both here on earth in the measure He finds best suited for us, and all riches in heaven through His Son, we shall find true and lasting contentment. In this contentment, we will be freed to pursue not the worldly endeavors of covetousness, which do not satisfy. No, we shall pursue the highest order of our benefit in godliness, and with these two, we shall find incalculable gain and immeasurable joy.
It is with these in mind that we do not build up our treasures here on earth, yet simultaneously exalt Him by way of thanksgiving for all that He has given us. We mustn’t blame God for the circumstances of our lives, in the sense that He has not been good to us. We shan’t express discontent and covet our neighbor’s belongings if we truly believe that this day, God has fashioned brand-new mercies to bestow upon us (Lam. 3:22-23).
The gospel is no guarantor of financial security, comfort, health, or worldly good – yet it does promise hope, joy, peace, and salvation, even to the least of these. Do not forget the precious gospel this day. Delight yourself in His ways and genuinely enjoy the things He has given you. Eat of good food and drink of good drink; give yourself to laughter in the company of dear brothers and sisters; soberly approach your fate, which is common to all men. Do these and more, in thanksgiving for His merciful provisions. And if you cannot do some of these things, then by contentment, let your heart be thankful still for His merciful provision, for He alone satisfies the weary soul and replenishes those who grow weary (Jer. 31:25).
As in all sins, we must come to fountainhead of all goodness and cast ourselves upon His mercy. Covetousness and discontentment, if left alone or diverted for a season, shall only fester and grow in our hearts, as our true treasure is not Christ. If genuine repentance is to be had, we must turn in confession and prayer. In turn, we must learn to cherish that which He has so lavished upon us, whether it be great or small in terms of this world’s affairs.
A sin is not mortified when it is only diverted. Simon Magus for a season left his sorceries; but his covetousness and ambition, that set him on work, remained still, and would have been acting another way. Therefore Peter tells him, “I perceive thou art in the gall of bitterness.” – John Owen, The Mortification of Sin