Benjamin Franklin said, “Contentment makes poor men rich, discontentment makes rich men poor.”
The world around us works very hard to make us feel discontented. We are told that in order to be happy we must have certain things, such as the latest fashions in clothes, a prestige car, and all the newest technological toys. It has been said that every man who owns a boat wants a bigger boat. Whether or not this statement is true, it is true that most people are discontented because they do not have what they think they need in order to be happy.
This phenomenon is not new, but it certainly has been accelerated by the advertising we see everywhere, promoting fancier cars, new types of toys, fashions, food, medicine, gadgets, and more. The items are presented so alluringly that we can become filled with a desire for things that we previously didn’t know even existed.
Contrast this focus on acquiring more and more with the teaching of scripture. Jesus warns, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness, for a man’s life consists not in the abundance of the things he possesses.” Isaiah speaks of men who are “greedy dogs which can never have enough…they all look to their own way, every one for his gain.” Paul warns Timothy, “men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous.” “Thou shalt not covet” is one of the Ten Commandments.
We are discontented when we continually want more, and, as Ben Franklin suggests, spending lots of money and effort to get those things we want can make us poor, monetarily and spiritually. Wanting all those worldly goods also is a sin that can keep us from the kingdom. John in his epistle writes, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Paul says covetousness is idolatry.
How do we resist this bombardment from all sides, the media hawking their merchandise, our neighbors and colleagues seeking and getting more and more, and our desires becoming inflamed, full of lust for more of the things of this life?
The answer comes from Paul, who was in prison when he wrote to the Philippians. It is interesting that this answer is something that he had to learn–it did not come naturally even to the apostle Paul. He puts it this way: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
Paul proved the truth of Ben Franklin’s wise observation. Paul felt contentment even though he was in prison. It is not easy to be content while in prison. Paul learned what we all need to learn, that contentment is not dependent on things or our situation. Contentment is a state of mind, and we can choose our feelings just as Paul chose his — and he chose to be contented. He was experiencing what it was like to be in need, and he knew what it was like to have plenty, and he tells us the secret he discovered is to decide to be content in whatever situation he might find himself.
We need to learn this lesson also. We, too, can choose our feelings, and we are wise to choose to be contented, to stop and count our blessings. Abraham Lincoln said that most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. When we look around us we can see that many have made up their minds to be miserable.
It was Og Mandino who said, “Realize that true happiness lies within you. Waste no time and effort searching for peace and contentment and joy in the world outside. Remember that there is no happiness in having or in getting, but only in giving. Reach out. Share. Smile. Hug. Happiness is a perfume you cannot pour on others without getting a few drops on yourself.”
The best ‘happiness perfume’ gives off is the aroma of salvation, as Paul explains to the Corinthians when he tells them that we believers can spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus Christ “for we are to God the aroma of Christ.” When we share the message of the gospel of salvation, we will find that contentment will fill our lives just as pouring perfume on others gives us a sniff of the sweet aroma. Paul explains that there are two groups, one that hears our message and one that does not: “For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.”
So let us be content the same way Paul was. He spread the aroma of Christ to all around him, whether he was in prison or out of prison. To some, what he said was, unfortunately, the smell of death. We read in Acts, “Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: ‘We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.’ When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord.” To those who would listen, Paul was the fragrance of life; to those who wouldn’t, the smell of death.
Let us learn to be happy and contented as we accept our present circumstances and give our lives to spreading everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Never mind that some consider the aroma of Christ to be the smell of death, for to us it is the fragrance of life, “knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus.” May we be granted a place in the kingdom in that day.
Robert J. Lloyd