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How to Experience Biblical Contentment (Ecclesiastes 5:12-6:2)

How to Experience Biblical Contentment (Ecclesiastes 5:12-6:2)

We experience biblical contentment primarily through our relationships with Christ. Secondarily, it comes from simple things like eating, drinking, and finding joy in our labor. But biblical contentment does not come from riches and possessions.

I covered Ecclesiastes 5:11-12 in Being Content from a Missionary Trip to Malawi, Africa. I’m picking up at verse 13.

Hoarding Is a Threat to Contentment

Ecclesiastes 5:13 I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owners.

If I had to write down a list of grievous evils, I’d probably say murder, adultery, hurting children, stealing from the less fortunate. But hoarding probably wouldn’t even make the list. But that’s the grievous evil Solomon had in mind.

Hoarding is so devastating that a reality show fittingly called Hoarders depicts people suffering from a “compulsive hoarding disorder.” The show is a record of people whose lives are ruined by their possessions.

Even if we aren’t hoarders, our possessions can still cause problems because of the time they consume and the choices they create. We have to figure out what to buy, where to get it, how to make the trip to get it, where to store it, where to put the old stuff that the new stuff replaces, and how to use it when we buy it. We bought it; we will make sure we use it to feel like we got our money’s worth.

These choices can consume us, so our possessions start possessing us. We become consumers consumed by our consumption.

They don’t have these problems in Malawi. Most people’s homes don’t have furniture. The floors are dirt. There’s no electricity; say nothing about televisions or the Internet. In Third World countries, the problem is not having enough. But in First World countries like ours, the problem is having too much. Mark Twain once defined civilization as “a limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessities.” 1

Self-storage is one of our biggest industries. An article titled “The Hottest Industry Right Now Is Storing All Your Stuff” reads:

“A day hardly passes without the U.S. retail industry sustaining fresh wounds as malls and outlets shut their doors. Americans are still shopping, though online, in their pajamas and physics dictates that their new stuff, and old stuff, go somewhere. Welcome to the renaissance of self-storage.”

Another article, “Self-storage: How Warehouses for Personal Junk Became a $38 Billion Industry,” reads:

“Despite recessions and demographic shifts, few building types have boomed like self-storage lockers. The self-storage industry made $32.7 billion in 2016, nearly three times Hollywood’s box office gross. Self-storage has seen 7.7 percent annual growth since 2012, and now employs 144,000 nationwide. One in eleven Americans pays an average of $91.14 monthly to use self-storage. The United States has over fifty thousand facilities and roughly 2.31 billion square feet of rentable space. To give that perspective, the volume of self-storage units in the country could “fill the Hoover Dam twenty-six times with old clothing, skis, and keepsakes.”

Our lives are filled to overflowing with possessions. When I drive down the road and pass storage facilities, I wonder, “What’s in the units people don’t need and can’t easily access but still pay money to keep? How many owners are still paying off the credit cards that bought the stuff in the first place?”

The Importance of Remembering We Take Nothing With Us

Ecclesiastes 5:14 and those riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand.

Wealth can disappear! Even though he’s a hardworking father, he has nothing to give to his son because he lost everything. People lose wealth through bad business decisions or other misfortunes, such as accidents, fires, or medical bills.

Even if we don’t lose riches in this life, we lose them when we die, which is Solomon’s next point:

Ecclesiastes 5:15 As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. 16 This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind?

My dad, John LaPierre, passed away in 2021. He choked on some food. My associate pastor and I took turns administering CPR until the paramedics arrived, and then they worked on him for over an hour. So, it was hard to know when he passed. The paramedics might say it was when he stopped breathing, his heart stopped beating, or his brain stopped functioning. But the Bible tells us it was when his spirit left his body:

Matthew 27:50 Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and YIELDED UP HIS SPIRIT.
Acts 7:59 They stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, RECEIVE MY SPIRIT.”
James 2:26 The body WITHOUT THE SPIRIT IS DEAD.

The spirit is immaterial or nonphysical, and the body is material or physical. When the spirit leaves the body, it takes nothing material or physical with it.

The moment that communicated the finality of Dad’s passing wasn’t when the police officer told me he passed. Instead, it was when the paramedics handed me his possessions, including his watch and hearing aids. It was like they were saying he wouldn’t need them any longer where he was going, and they were right. We come into the world with nothing and leave the same way.

Job 1:21 Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and NAKED SHALL I RETURN.
Psalm 49:10 Wise men die; likewise, the fool and the senseless person perish, and LEAVE THEIR WEALTH TO OTHERS…17 When he dies, HE SHALL CARRY NOTHING AWAY; his glory shall not descend after him.

In Luke 12:20, God asked the rich fool, “The things you have prepared, whose will they be?” The answer is not his! Whatever we accumulate is left to others: friends, family, neighbors, the church, or – worst of all – the government. We don’t know where our wealth will go, but we know it will not go with us.

Earlier Solomon wrote:

Ecclesiastes 2:18 I hated all my labor in which I had toiled under the sun, because I MUST LEAVE IT TO THE MAN WHO WILL COME AFTER ME.

Solomon knew he wasn’t taking anything with him.

When a wealthy man dies, people ask, “How much did he leave behind?” The answer is “All of it!” You never see U-Hauls behind hearses because we aren’t taking anything with us.

Proverbs 23:5 Will you set your eyes on that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away like an eagle toward heaven.

Riches tend to fly away when we least expect it, and the one time they really fly away is when we die. John Piper said, “At the greatest crisis of your life [when you die], when you need contentment, and hope, and security more than any other time, your money and all your possessions take wings and fly away. They let you down. They are fair-weather friends at best. And you enter eternity with nothing but the measure of contentment that you had in God.

Learning from Malcolm Forbes and No Fear

Malcom Forbes was an American entrepreneur best known as the publisher of Forbes magazine. He’s also remembered for several sayings, one of which is, “He who has the most toys wins.” As you would expect from someone who said this, he lived an extravagant, flamboyant lifestyle. He spent millions (or perhaps billions) on parties, traveling, and his collection of yachts, aircraft, art, motorcycles, castles, hot-air balloons, and Fabergé eggs, some of which cost over one million dollars each.

Growing up, there was a popular clothing line called No Fear. One shirt corrected Malcom’s quote: “He who dies with the most toys still dies.” The people working for the secular clothing company were considerably more biblical than Mr. Forbes. The clothing company recognized that we couldn’t take any of our toys or possessions with us because if we could, the one who died with the most toys would be the winner.

Remembering we’re not taking any physical stuff with us is one of the best ways to be content!

Godliness with Contentment

This is one of the most famous verses in the Bible about contentment:

1 Timothy 6:6 godliness with contentment is great gain.

These are the ideal combination. It is wonderful to have them together. Imagine God saying, “If you want a full life, pursue these. When you have them together, you will be blessed.”

Godliness means being like God or having God’s character. What are the distinguishing traits of godly people? In other words, what makes people godly? Is it humility, service, prayerfulness, faithfulness, or joyfulness? These are wonderful qualities, but contentment also belongs on the list because it reveals a spiritually peaceful life. Contentment is evidence of a heart that finds Christ sufficient and rests in Him.

The truly godly person is not interested in becoming rich. He possesses inner resources which furnish riches far beyond that which earth can offer.

William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Pastoral Epistles, Baker Book House, 1957, page 198.

It almost looks like Paul is saying we can have godliness without contentment, as though godliness WITHOUT contentment is LITTLE gain, but godliness WITH contentment is GREAT gain.

But it’s impossible to have godliness without contentment because a godly person whose discontent looks ungodly. Picture people who are discontent. They are miserable, always be complaining, murmuring, and grumbling. They look ungodly.

If you want a biblical example, think about Israel in the wilderness. We started reading through Numbers as a family. The Israelites were God’s people, so they were supposed to be godly. But they were constantly complaining, and it made them look ungodly.

How Can We Experience Biblical Contentment?

Paul provides the answer in the next verse:

1 Timothy 6:7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.

This is a staggeringly powerful verse about contentment. Knowing that we come into this life with nothing and leave with nothing should significantly affect our ability to be content.

Whenever our contentment is threatened because we covet something, we should meditate on the reality that we can’t take it with us! Whatever we covet will lose value in our sight, and it is hard to covet something with little value!

Biblical Contentment Does not Come from Wealth and Possessions

We’re talking about being content by focusing on the next life. In the following verses, Solomon describes a rich man who doesn’t focus on the next life, leaving him completely miserable:

Ecclesiastes 5:17 Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger.

Could there be a more depressing description of someone’s life? He spends his days vexated, sick, and angry. How miserable! His wealth didn’t make him content.

It says, “he eats in darkness.” This is physical darkness, but it is a metaphor for his gloomy life, and especially his spiritual darkness. The light of the Gospel has not shined on him. He doesn’t know Jesus, who said:

John 8:12 I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me WILL NOT WALK IN DARKNESS, BUT WILL HAVE THE LIGHT OF LIFE.

This looks to where true contentment comes from: relationship with Christ:

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.”

We’re told we should be content because we will always have Christ. Christ alone is enough for us to be content.

Biblical Contentment Does Come from Simple Things

Now we get to see something fascinating about biblical contentment:

Ecclesiastes 5:18 Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot.

This stands in contrast to what Solomon said earlier. In verse 13, he said he had seen a grievous evil. Now, he says he has seen two things that are “good and fitting,” and they’re both simple.

  1. First, eating and drinking: this life is not about extravagance, luxury, and lavishness but about enjoying simple pleasures. I believe this is why the people in Malawi seemed joyful and content. They enjoyed simple things, like eating and drinking.
  2. Second, finding joy in our labor. We spend much of our lives working; it is a blessing when we find it pleasurable.

The next verse shows something similar:

Ecclesiastes 5:19 Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toilthis is the gift of God.

It is important to notice that “the gift of God” is NOT wealth and possessions. Instead, the gift of God is three things:

  1. Having the power to enjoy wealth and possessions God has given us
  2. Accepting our lot in life (which is a simple definition of biblical contentment)
  3. Enjoying our work, as the previous verse said.

Having these means being very blessed, and God is the only One who can give them to us: they are His gift to us. Look at one more blessing:

Ecclesiastes 5:20 For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.

This doesn’t sound like a blessing. It sounds like something that would be said about the man eating in darkness in much vexation, sickness, and anger. So, how can this be a blessing? It must be interpreted in light of this book, which teaches this life is vain or empty:

  • Ecclesiastes 6:12b While he lives the few days of HIS VAIN LIFE…
  • Ecclesiastes 7:15 In MY VAIN LIFE I have seen everything…
  • Ecclesiastes 9:9b All the days of YOUR VAIN LIFE that he has given you…

Because this life is vain, we do not want to “remember the days.” The Amplified reads, “He will not often consider the [troubled] days of his life…” When we know the Lord, His blessings offset our trials. We don’t remember our suffering because we are busy enjoying God’s gifts.

All this is contrasted with the first two verses of the next chapter. Look at Ecclesiastes 6:1, which says the opposite of what we just read:

Ecclesiastes 6:1 There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: 2 a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet GOD DOES NOT GIVE HIM POWER TO ENJOY THEM, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil.

This man has everything one could want: wealth, possessions, honor, and, on top of that, he doesn’t lack anything he desires. Could you imagine having everything you want but not being able to enjoy it?

This is the opposite of what we read earlier:

  • Ecclesiastes 5:19 God HAS GIVEN wealth and possessions and POWER TO ENJOY them…
  • Ecclesiastes 6:2 God DOES NOT GIVE him POWER to enjoy them…

Why would God prevent people from enjoying His gifts, such as wealth, possessions, and honor? We are not meant to enjoy God’s blessings apart from Him, so He prevents us from doing so. This might sound harsh, but it’s one of God’s graces because it drives us to Him. Otherwise, we could be content without Him.

Biblical contentment can only be found in a relationship with God because He created us, loves us, and knows what is best for us. Thus, the ultimate cause of contentment is pursuing God as our source of joy and meaning in life, and the ultimate cause of discontentment is failing to do so.

If we focus on the gifts more than the Giver, we are guilty of idolatry (we elevated gifts above God). If we accept God’s gifts but are discontent, we become guilty of covetousness as we strive for more. But we will be content if we accept God’s gifts and thank the Giver.

Footnotes

  1. Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Compassionate (Luke 1-13): Let the World Know That Jesus Cares (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2010), 163.

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