There’s a reason that Rolling Stone magazine ranked the song, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” the second greatest song of all time (just under Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”). In many ways, this question of where to find satisfaction . . . where to find contentment, is the question that humanity is asking.
I’ve come to believe that there is perhaps no virtue in our society that is lacking more than contentment. People (myself included) are perpetually dissatisfied, whether it has to do with their personal identity, their money and possessions, or their life situation. They are driven by a constant craving to be someone they are not, have something they do not, or be somewhere they are not.
And yet, contentment is so important. Without contentment a person’s life, over time, will become one of constant frustration—even one of paralyzing desperation. Eventually, a life without contentment can come to be a life that doesn’t seem worth living.
There are three main areas where a person can experience contentment:
- Who they are — their sense of personal identity or worth. A person who is content in this area is not always looking to alter their identity, or seeking for others to notice, value, or approve them.
- What they have – their money and possessions, or lack thereof. A person who is content in this area is not always dreaming about financial gain, or being able to buy that new toy or gadget or house or car.
- Where they are – their present life situation. A person who is content in this area is not constantly complaining about their station in life, or imagining that the grass is greener in some other pasture.
A lack of contentment in any of these areas can be destructive personally, in the home, in the workplace, and within many other spheres of life. However, there are some specific ways that discontentment can cause harm within the church.
In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, a young pastor of the church at Ephesus, the Apostle provides a warning about the damage that a lack of contentment can cause in the church. This caution is found in verses 3 through 10 of chapter 6, wherein Paul talks about two cravings that flow directly from a lack of contentment, and the harm that can come from these cravings.
The cravings that Paul points out here were characteristic of some people who were causing problems in the church. Part of the issue was that these individuals were teaching things that didn’t line up with the Apostolic message. However, I believe that we all need to be aware of, and on guard against, these cravings. Whether our doctrine is sound or less-than-sound, these are cravings that we are all susceptible to.
A Craving for Controversy
The first craving is found in 1 Timothy 6:3-5. Here, a specific type of person is described—a person who “is puffed up,” and has “an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words.”
If you’ve been in the church for long, you’ve met this person . . . maybe you’ve even been this person: always getting into arguments, perpetually stirring the pot, possessing an insatiable hunger for controversy.
My belief is that, most of the time, it is not the controversy in itself that this person is drawn to. Rather, it is his need for attention or recognition. Ultimately, this person is not content with his identity. And so, he feels the need to puff himself up.
In these verses, we are told of the result of this person’s actions, as he feeds his craving for controversy. This person’s actions, it says, promote not contentment, but envy; not peace, but dissension; not encouragement but slander; not confidence but suspicion; not accord, but friction.
How much damage can take place within a church, as a result of a craving for controversy or recognition! How much damage can take place, when a person acts out of a need to be puffed up, because they are not content with their identity.
A Craving for Money
Verses 9 and 10 of 1 Timothy chapter 6 describe a type of person in the church who has a craving for money. According to Paul, in verse 5 of this same chapter, such people even imagine that “godliness is a means of gain.” They believe that faith is a way to generate wealth.
This craving for money, and the coopting of faith as a vehicle to accumulate it, is nothing new. It was a problem in first-century Ephesus, and it is a problem today. The false gospel that following Jesus is a way of achieving gain continues to hold sway. Whether on the lips of televangelists or politicians, the promotion of Christianity as a means of pursuing material prosperity is unflagging.
And so, the warning provided by Paul here is one that we would do well to heed. It is a stark message—one that stands without commentary:
“those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Tim. 6:9-10)
Fleeing These Cravings, and Finding True Contentment
In 1 Timothy 6:11, Paul exhorts Timothy to flee these cravings, and so must we. When we experience cravings for controversy or for money, we must not feed these cravings, or even allow them to persist. Rather, we must pursue true contentment—for it is the only means of expelling these unholy cravings that cause so much devastation, especially within the body of Christ.
But where can true contentment be found?
A starting point to answering this question is supplied in 1 Timothy 6:7, which says: “we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.” This verse points out that we have nothing that is truly our own. Rather, all that we have—whether our identity, our possessions, or our life situation—is sourced in God’s good and gracious provision. As the source of all that is good, it is by God’s beneficence that “he satisfies the longing soul” (Psa. 107:9).
However, it is ultimately when our satisfaction is found in him—rather than just his provision—that our unhealthy cravings begin to dissipate. Finally, it is when we taste him, and see that he is good—better than any sort of satisfaction we might try to find in self, stuff, or situation—that our deepest longings will be met. A person who has experienced this sort of satisfaction can honestly confess, “there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Psa. 73:25).
While a lack of contentment engenders much injury and enmity, the converse is also true: the possession of contentment brings about much healing and reconciliation. This being the case, I wonder how much restoration might be worked in our churches, by simply beginning to present God himself as deeply satisfying? I, for one, would like to find out.
About Tim Harmon
Timothy G. Harmon is Assistant Director of the Th.M. Program at Western Seminary, and lead pastor at Northeast Baptist Church in Portland, Oregon. He is a graduate of Western Seminary (M.A.B.T.S. and Th.M.), and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in systematic theology.