How many of us struggle with envy and discontentment? To put it another way, are we truly content and at ease with our present circumstances? Are we anxious about the future?
How many of us are content with our income? Our automobiles? Our homes? Our families? Our social status? No matter how much we have, we always seem to focus on what we do not have. There is always someone around us who has more (or something better) than we do. We are an envious lot.
It is not without reason that the 10th commandment not only prohibits envy, but does so at great length and in great detail. The 10th commandment (Exodus 20:17) is much longer than the commandments against murder (v.13), adultery (v.14), theft (v.15), or bearing false witness (v.16). Rather than simply saying, “Thou shalt not covet.”, the 10th commandment specifies a number of the various ways that we are tempted to covet:
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:17, ESV – emphasis added)
We covet the estate or place of others, the family of others, the possessions of others, and all kinds of things. The green-eyed monster is a many-headed hydra.
So what is the cure for discontentment? The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews writes,
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.” (Hebrews 13:5, ESV)
How are we to guard our lives from the love of money? How are we to learn to be content with what we have? Take a vow of poverty? Lower our expectations? Think about those who have less than we do or are worse off than we are? (And do that instead of focusing on those who have more than we do?)
All of those things may sound like good advice, but is that what the writer of Hebrews is saying? No – not even close. We are to guard our lives from the love of money; and we are to be content with what we have, not because we just need to bear down and get used to not having as much, but because we need to see with the eyes of faith how much we actually do have!
Concerning Hebrews 13:5, John Calvin writes,
It is quite certain that lack of faith is the source of greed. Anyone who has the firm conviction that he will never be forsaken by the Lord will not be unduly anxious because he will depend on His providence. Therefore when the apostle wants to cure us of the disease of greed he properly recalls us to the promises of God by which he bears witness that He will always be present to us. (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries Vol.12, p.207).
So faith in the providence of God (God’s “most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions” – Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.11) is part of the cure for envy and discontent. When we believe that God Himself is working all things together for our good and is providing for our needs according to His power and wisdom, it is then that we will be able to rest from our anxiety about the future; it is then that we will be able to be content with our present circumstances.
But Hebrews 13:5 not only encourages us by pointing us to the providence of God; it also encourages us by pointing us to the God of providence. We may be tempted to think that we do not have much in this life. But in telling us that God Himself has promised His people that He will never leave us or forsake us, the writer of Hebrews is reminding us that we can be ‘content with what we have’ (v.5) because what (or rather who) we have is God Himself!
If you are in Christ by faith, you have God Himself as your God. God has blessed you not just with things, but with Himself! You have God Himself as your heavenly Father (Matthew 6:5-15). You have Jesus Christ, the Son God Himself, as your Savior and mediator, who not only died for your sins and rose again from the dead for your justification (Romans 4:25), but who is also reigning at the right hand of God the Father almighty and interceding on your behalf (Hebrews 7:25). And You have God the Holy Spirit dwelling within you (1 Corinthians 6:19), who also intercedes on your behalf (Romans 8:26-27).
So if you are a Christian be content with what you have, because you truly have more than anyone on this earth without Christ can even dream of having – you have the one true and living God, the infinite, eternal, and unchangeable triune God as your God. And He will never leave you or forsake you!
That is the ultimate cure for discontentment.