The opposite of covetousness is contentment. We are to cultivate the virtue of contentment as an answer to the covetous heart. An exposition of Hebrews 13:5-6.

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Hebrews 13, beginning of verse 5: “Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,’ so that we confidently say, ‘The Lord is my Helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?’” (vv. 5–6)

Well, covetousness is a difficult sin to mortify. And one of the reasons that it is so difficult is not just because it is woven into the warp and woof of our hearts, and deep in there, but because of the dizzying number of influences in our culture and in our society that encourage covetousness, excuse covetousness, incentivize covetousness, and appeal to our covetousness. Advertising appeals to our discontent, and the purpose of advertising is to make us discontent and to appeal to our discontent so that we will seek to satisfy that discontent with something that we are told will finally make us content. But once you see an advertisement for something, you can almost never get that idea, that discontentment, out of your heart and out of your mind without a very purposeful and intentional attack against that sin of covetousness.

Sometimes we don’t even know that we need something until we see an advertisement for it. We see the whatchamagigit advertised on television and we think to ourselves, “How did I ever live without a whatchamagigit up until this point? I didn’t know I needed a whatchamagigit until I saw the whatchamagigit advertisement, and now I wonder, how has human history ever gotten by? How have we ever lived for six thousand years without whatchamagigits in every home?” And then you go out and you buy a whatchamagigit and you’re satisfied by that, you’re content by that for a little while until the whatchamagigit 2.0 comes out, and then you think to yourself, how in the world did I ever get by with a whatchamagigit 1.0 because the 2.0 surely is going to satisfy that craving that I have in my heart and soul for the whatchamagigit. And so you go out and you buy the whatchamagigit, all because it is far too easy for people to appeal to our discontent. It is all too easy for people to appeal to our covetousness.

Greed and envy and jealousy have this strong gravitational pull that affects our hearts and draws us toward those things. And it is a pull that we must fight against. It is a draw that we must resist. Covetousness has become a national pastime. It used to be tax evasion or tax avoidance. Now it’s covetousness. It’s become something that we do just as a matter of course. It’s almost a sport in our culture to chase after the next biggest thing, the next greatest thing, the next intriguing thing. And it is a defining mark of our culture. It has become the water in which we swim, so much so that we are not even really aware at times just how covetous we are and how much covetousness drives what we do.

As an aside, the problem with covetousness is not that we live in a capitalistic system. That’s a lie. Well, it’s actually a lie that we live in a capitalist system. We live in a government-controlled, government-regulated, government-mandated, government-curated society where they allow just enough production, just enough freedom so that they can take just enough to keep us from revolting to give to our benevolent overlords. That’s the system that we live in. That’s not capitalism. But the lie that says that capitalism is something that creates greed—you hear this all the time. “It’s greedy people that flourish in a capitalistic system. And capitalism appeals to greed.” Capitalism doesn’t appeal to greed. Capitalism appeals to our self -interest. And the problem is not that a capitalist system creates greed. People who say that, I just wonder, do you think that people in socialist countries and communist countries, that they don’t have covetousness? Do you think people in socialist systems read, you know, “Be free from covetousness” and they wonder, “What is that? Covetousness? What is that? I wonder if we lived in a capitalist system—I bet we’d understand what covetousness is.” No, we all have it. Capitalism doesn’t create it. Socialism doesn’t create it. It’s just manifested differently in different environments in which we are placed.

It is a problem of the human heart, not the environment in which we live or we swim. We just happen to live and swim in an environment that appeals to that sin within us. We live in an environment that appeals to a lot of sins within us. But let us never fall prey to the lie that says if we only lived under a different system, people wouldn’t be so greedy. Different systems just give a lesser number of people the power and influence to be greedy and to take everything for themselves. At least in a capitalist system, we can all take as much as we want.

But the problem is not the capitalist system. That’s a lie. The answer to covetousness in our hearts is not to change the environment in which we live. The answer to covetousness in our hearts is to cast it off and to put it to death and to instead foster the delightful virtue of contentment. Covetousness and contentment, these are polar opposites. And so our text, verses 5 and 6, tells us that we are to go to war against covetousness, and instead we are to cultivate the virtue of contentment. The answer is contentment.

The greatest reason for contentment is stated at the end of verse 5 and in verse 6 in our text: “‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,’ so that we confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?’” That, by the way, those two quotations, are the verity—that is, the truth—that the covetous heart must speak to itself to put to death the sin of covetousness. In other words, the author’s point is you have been given everything you need and therefore we have no excuse for covetousness. And we have every motivation for contentment. If I truly understand that the Lord has promised Himself to me, that has secured, then, the fulfillment of every single promise He has ever made. For Him to give Himself to me is to give to me everything He has ever promised to me, every good thing. And if I have that, then of course I can be content. This is the truth that feeds the virtue of contentment, and it is meditating upon this truth itself which is the ammunition that we must have in order to put to death the sin of covetousness.

Now last week we considered the vice that we are to cast off—that’s covetousness. And this is just a review of the outline that we’re stretching out over three weeks—last week, today, and next week. Today we’re looking at verse 5, the virtue that we are to cultivate, and that is contentment. And then next week we will look at the verity that we are to cherish, namely God’s companionship, the fact that He is with us. So let me review for you, since this is part two or the continuation of last week’s message, let me review for you a couple of definitions.

First, what it means to be covetous. What is covetousness? Covetousness is a disordered desire of the heart that manifests itself in endeavoring to acquire and possess more than God is pleased to give us. In other words, God is pleased to give us this. He has circumscribed the boundaries of what He has provided for us. The covetous person is the one whose heart has the disordered desire to acquire and possess more than what God has apportioned to us. It is an attitude of discontent, a desire for things and a longing for them. It is the setting of our hearts and affections on them, whether we possess them or not. In other words, I can possess certain things and still be covetous for those things and for other things like them.

When the author says, “Make sure that your character is free from the love of money” (Heb. 13:5), remember he is talking there—with the word character, he is describing your entire way of life. Not just something about your heart, but everything that you do—our conversation, the words that we use, the attitudes in which we reflect, the way that we approach life and live our lives—should be free from the perverse affection for or the love of money.

So last week, the vice we were to cast off. Now let’s look today at contentment and what it is. And I would begin with a definition of contentment because this is always helpful. The word that is translated “being content” there in the passage is a word that describes to be satisfied with or to be sufficient. It described having a state of adequacy or having enough. And notice that the author does not say, “Go get enough so that you can be content.” He says, “You are to have enough with what you have, being content with what you have, being sufficient, being at a fullness and a sufficiency with what it is that you do have.” So it’s not getting more so that you can be content, it is looking at what you have and saying, “I will be content with this.”

And before you get upset or confused, let me flesh out what this means and what it doesn’t mean. Being content is being satisfied with the sufficiency that you have already been given. Covetousness and contentment are both heart attitudes; notice that. They are both dispositions of the heart, inner realities. Covetousness is a dissatisfaction with what has been given, and contentment is a satisfaction with what has been given. Covetousness looks at what has been given by the hand of God and says, “That is not enough.” Contentment looks at what has been given by the hand of God and says, “That is enough, that is sufficient.”

Now notice that neither of those words, covetousness nor contentment, neither of those words have anything to do with the measure of what has been provided. Whether it is great or whether it is small is irrelevant to the issue of contentment and covetousness. You can be covetous with a little, and you can be covetous with a lot. You can be content with a little, and you can be content with a lot. Neither of those words have anything to do with one’s station in life, the amount of provision, the timing of the provision, the grandeur of the provision, or the nature of the provision because we are talking about an attitude or a disposition of the heart.

Jeremiah Burroughs in his excellent book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, offers a definition of contentment. Jeremiah Burroughs in his excellent book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. Now I say that twice because if you don’t have that book on your shelf, you should buy that book and read it before you put it on your shelf. I was going to say put it on your shelf. You should buy that book and read it. It’s written by a Puritan from the 1600s or so, and it just spends, in a Puritan fashion, an entire book describing what contentment is and what it is not. And it is very helpful. You will want to read that slowly. You will want to read it thoughtfully, and you will want to work your way through that. It’s a very good book. The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. It’s like seven bucks on Amazon. That’s not bad. A little Puritan paperback.

Here’s the definition that Jeremiah Burroughs gives. He says this: “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.” It is the sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition. It is therefore to greet God’s provision with satisfaction and to submit to His disposal of you and your possessions and your circumstance and your situation and your life in all of its details. It is to greet God’s disposal of that, His use of that, what He has apportioned in that, with satisfaction and submission. It is to say, “I will receive this from the hand of God”—what He has prescribed concerning you.

Now here’s the value of contentment. When you are content, it means that you can be satisfied with very little. You can also be satisfied with very much. But the value of contentment is that it can make you satisfied with very little so that you don’t have your heart churning over what you don’t have and obsessed with what you don’t have. Instead, you can take delight in what you do have. In fact, one of the poisons of discontentment is the fact that no matter how much you have, you can never fully be satisfied with that and you can never enjoy that. So it’s like the child who gets the gift on Christmas morning, here’s a big LEGO set, and you give that to them and they open it up and they think that’s great for a second until they realize at the end of all the opening of all the presents that they didn’t get the LEGO set that they wanted. And suddenly they’re discontent with that, and now because they didn’t get the LEGO set that they wanted, they’re unable to enjoy the LEGO set that they got. That’s what discontentment robs us of. It doesn’t just make us unsatisfied with God’s good gifts, it makes us so that we can’t even enjoy the good gifts that He has given to us with a sense of submission and gratitude. The value of contentment is that one can be satisfied with very little.

First Timothy 6, which we read just a few moments ago: “But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content” (vv. 6–8). If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. Every person in this room has those two things. If you didn’t have covering, we wouldn’t have let you in the front door here today. And the fact that you were able under your own strength to get here is evidence of the fact that you have food. You have food and covering; with these we shall be content.

That’s a very low bar, isn’t it? It’s a very low bar. In fact, Spurgeon said, “We may have the necessities of life upon very easy terms, whereas we put ourselves to great pains for its luxuries.” Very easy to have the necessities of life—food and clothing. Very easy to have those. You don’t have to work a lot just to have the bare necessities. It’s the luxuries of life that we kill ourselves for. The necessities of life we have very easily. That is wise counsel. Contentment not only can be satisfied with very little, but when you are content, it suits you for every condition of life. Paul says in Philippians 4:11–12,

11 Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. [Whatever my circumstances are, Paul says, I have learned to be content.]

12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, of having abundance and suffering need. (NASB)

If contentment is the situation or condition of your heart, you can live at peace in prosperity and you can live at peace in poverty. Contentment trusts the good hand of God’s provision, what He ordains and what He circumscribes for us, because it suits you to live in every circumstance that life can give you, if you have learned the secret of being content.

Now, let me offer some needed clarifications because at this point there may be some confusion, and I want to offer these clarifications so that you don’t think I am indicting you with covetousness when I may not be. So here are the clarifications. Number one, contentment does not preclude hard work and industry. It does not preclude hard work and industry. God calls us to work hard. He calls us to be industrious. He calls us to use the gifts, the talents, the things that He has given to us, our treasures, to better our circumstances, to better our situations, to provide for our family. Contentment does not preclude hard work and industry. In fact, you are sinning if you are not working hard and seeking to use what God has given to you in a wise manner that would reflect a good stewardship. So it doesn’t exclude hard work and industry.

We do have to provide for those who rely upon us, right? We can’t just say, “Hey, kids, I know there’s no food on the table and the last meal you had four days ago was hot dogs and rice, but we just need to learn to be content.” No, a man is worse than an infidel if he doesn’t provide for his own family (1 Tim. 5:8). So we have to do that. Being content does not preclude hard work and industry. Paul was a tentmaker, and he worked hard. He had double duty, preaching and tent-making to provide for not only himself but also his fellow traveling companions. Paul says—I think it’s to the Thessalonians, maybe the Corinthians. He said to some first-century Christians, these hands have provided not just for my needs but also for the needs of others around me, so that he could have something to give to others (Acts 20:34).

Second, contentment does not preclude preparation and planning. It doesn’t preclude preparation and planning. If you see evil coming, if you see that your furnace is going to need to be replaced in the next couple of years because it’s twenty years old, or twenty-four years old like mine is, it would be wise for you to set aside a little bit of money over the course of the next several months and try and get that replaced sometime before the next cold snap that starts in February of next year. It doesn’t preclude preparation and planning, investing and thinking about the future, thinking about what might break down. Your roof is going to need to be replaced. You need to plan for that. You need to think for that. You need to save for that. Maybe invest for that. Contentment doesn’t preclude those things. In fact, that’s wise behavior to foresee evil and then hide yourself or get out of the way and make provision for that, what might be unforeseen or what you can see definitely coming down the road. So contentment doesn’t preclude that.

Contentment is not the same as apathy and indifference. So your water heater goes out, contentment doesn’t mean that you say, “I guess I just have cold showers for the rest of my life. God wants me to be content with this. I have a sore tooth that’s probably going to get infected and may even get into my bloodstream and kill me, but just two weeks ago, I heard Jim talking about being content, so I guess I’m not gonna have to do anything about that. I would take pain medication, but that would maybe be me trying to be discontent. I don’t want to be discontent.” If you’re sick or ill or you’re in pain—contentment doesn’t mean that you approach life with apathy and indifference to the things that come into your life, even if it is affliction.

To repair or to replace or to improve things that expire or wear out, that is not covetousness, that is wise stewardship. Ecclesiastes 10:18 says, “Through indolence the rafters sag, and through slackness the house leaks.” It is foolish to not do those things, not covetous. Contentment doesn’t preclude improving your situation. God may provide for you or give you opportunity to have a better job or to retire or to sell a business or have a better position within a company or a more favorable opportunity. He may bring those things into your life, He may grant you huge blessings and give you opportunity to improve your station in life, and it is not sinful to take those opportunities.

You’re living in a state, the People’s Republic of California for instance, and you’re sitting there looking at everything that is going on, and you say, “You know what? I can’t foresee raising my children and my grandchildren in this environment. I think wisdom would dictate that I get out of this environment and go somewhere where I’m safe, where I can be safe, where my values can be cherished, where my children are not going to be manipulated and brought into this system. We should move somewhere.” It’s not sinful for you to move to Oregon or Washington or Utah or Arkansas or Arizona or Florida or Canada or Egypt or England or France or anyplace else on the planet. None of that would be sinful.

It doesn’t preclude fixing your condition. If you get ill, seek medical advice. If you’re in a dangerous place, get out of the dangerous place. To be discontent in the sense of, “I’m accepting where I am at in God’s hand, but I will also take opportunity to improve my lot if He should bring it, and I will even pursue that”—that’s not covetousness. Because you can have these two things going on at the same time. I want to improve my lot and help my family and my circumstance, and I am also willing to embrace what God gives me in His good timing and be content with whatever it is that He says yes or no to when seeking to improve my circumstances.

Further, we may even seek or pray or trust God for relief. The Psalms are full of this. The Psalms are full of, Lord, here’s where I’m at. Here’s the circumstances that I am in. Bring me deliverance. Get me out of this. Give me relief. Give me salvation from this. Take me out of this. Make this stop, please. Here is what this is doing to me and my loved ones. Please make this cease. That does not come from a heart of discontent. So it is OK to seek God or to pursue relief from affliction or horrible circumstances.

Paul, who was in prison, prayed for his own release, and he asked others to pray for his release, and then he made plans on the expectation that he would be released from prison. And when Paul was in prison, do you remember when his nephew informed him of the plot to take his life, and they said, “We’re not going to eat or drink anything until Paul is dead,” and Paul’s nephew came and told him that? What did Paul do? Did he say, “Well, I guess I’ll just be content with a hit man deciding that he’s going to kill me before I leave Jerusalem”? Did Paul do that? No, he sent his nephew to the captain of the guard and said, “Inform him, tell him,” and then Paul was ushered out of there to Caesarea. And when he was put on trial before the Pharisees and the Sadducees, did Paul say, “Well, I guess they’re just going to kill me”? No, he didn’t. He said, “I appeal to Caesar.” Paul moved in his own life and took action in his own life to improve his circumstances and to avoid danger. You can do all of that without being discontent.

Lastly, last clarification, our possessions or our lack of them is no measure of contentment. You can’t look at somebody with a meager existence and say, “Oh, he must be content,” and you can’t look at somebody who has a lot in their life and say, “Oh, he must be content,” or somebody who has a lot and say, “He must be discontent,” or somebody who has meager provisions and say, “He must be discontent.” You cannot read contentment at all from the outside based upon what somebody has or even how they use what they have. That is no sure measure of the state of someone’s heart. It may be, but it is no sure measure of it.

So, in terms of wrapping up the clarifications on what we mean by contentment and discontentment, let me give you two last considerations. If you are tempted to take the instructions for contentment as an excuse for your sin or your folly, you have misunderstood what I have said. If you are tempted to take the idea of contentment as an excuse for your sin or your folly, you have misunderstood what I have said. Sin might be: I’m lazy and I call it contentment. Sin might be: I refuse to work with anybody else and therefore I can’t get a job because I’m contentious on the jobsite, nobody wants me around, I can’t be satisfied with anything, so I’m just not going to work, and I’m going to call that contentment. Or I refuse to provide for my family; I’m going to call that a lesson in contentment. Don’t take pious language regarding contentment and use it as an excuse to cover up your sin, all your other sins.

On the other hand, do not use pious language to cover up your covetousness by trying to portray it as something that it is not. Well, the Bible calls me to provide for my family, therefore, I must have to work twenty hours a day, seven days a week, and never see my family. Don’t call that provision. Don’t call that wisdom. Don’t call that being a good steward. Don’t take pious language and use it to cover up your neglect of other duties under the guise of providing or under the guise of being wise or being a good steward. So obviously we don’t want to take the language of contentment and cover up our other sins, or the language of other virtues to cover up our covetousness. This is what makes contentment such a difficult thing for us to wrestle through because we have to examine the condition of our own hearts. Heart work is hard work. It’s tough. Because I have to be able to look at my own heart, my own circumstances, my own desires and say, “Why am I truly doing this? Am I disguising my covetousness with this, or am I excusing my laziness with contentment?” And you’ve got to wrestle through that.

And I can’t answer that for you. So not that I don’t love you, but don’t come up to ask me afterward and say, “Look, here’s what I got, here’s where I’m at, am I covetous or content?” I don’t know that. That’s something each of us has to wrestle through with the Lord. Why do we do what we do?

“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.”

Now here’s the mystery of contentment. The mystery of contentment is that we can have a healthy discontent. Now, if I haven’t already messed you up with all the other stuff that I’ve said, it is possible to have a healthy discontent. I am not content with my level of holiness. I’m not content with my knowledge of Scripture. I’m not content with how I treat other people. I’m not content with my own preaching ability. I’m not content with where I’m at in how vigorously I serve the Lord, how I use my time. I have all kinds of things in my life that I’m not content with. Those things have nothing to do with what God has provided for me. They have to do with my use of those things that God has provided for me.

So there is a happy way of being discontent. Listen, you should be discontent with your discontentedness. Right? That discontent that you have that wants something else, the covetousness. It’s not a virtue to be content with your covetousness. You want to be discontented with your covetousness. So that’s a healthy discontent. A lack of satisfaction with where we are at spiritually, that is possible to exist even within one whose heart is marked by contentment.

Now how do we cultivate contentment? It is a virtue, it is a sweet frame of the heart and mind, and therefore it requires a work of the Spirit of God in our hearts and a continual pursuit and cultivation of this virtue. How do we go about it? I would remind you of Philippians 4, which I read a few moments ago. It teaches us something about contentment—that is, that it is a learned virtue, a learned virtue. Philippians 4:11: “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” Paul didn’t say, “I woke up one morning and I was content. Finally! I prayed for it the night before—‘Lord, make me content.’ I woke up the next day, and I was content!” That’s not what Paul says. Paul says, “I have learned contentment in every circumstance.” Paul says, “I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry” (Phil. 4:12). You know how you learn contentment? By being filled and going hungry. By having plenty and having nothing. That teaches you contentment. That’s how we learn contentment in all of life’s circumstances. We go through all of life’s circumstances and then we allow the Word of God to shape our hearts and to reveal to our hearts where we are sinning and where we are lacking so that we may learn contentment in those circumstances. It is a learned virtue. You pick it up in the school of life. Some people pick up these lessons of contentment quickly and some people slowly. Some people need to go through those life circumstances over and over and over again to learn those lessons of contentment. But it is a learned virtue.

Second, we must identify covetousness and cast it off. This has to do with “How do we cultivate this?” First of all, it’s something that we learn. It takes time. We get it in the school of life. Second, we have to identify the covetousness and then cast it off. See what it is that you are craving for. See what it is that you are upset about. When you have this, but it is not enough, I want something else, then you say to yourself, “Now I am holding this thing that I have been given with an attitude and a heart of discontent, because now I covet something else that somebody else has. I may have a new whatchamagigit, but my buddy has a whatchamagigit 2.0. He shows up at the jobsite and we’re both there. He’s got the 2.0. I’ve got the 1.0. Man, I wish I had that 2.0.” That’s covetousness. You identify that, and then you have to mortify that sin just like you mortify any other sin. You put it to death by reminding yourself that rather than complaining, I should give God thanksgiving and be thankful in all the things that I have.

So when I identify covetousness, when you identify covetousness, you remind yourself of this truth: the Lord has promised that He Himself is with me in all things, and therefore, because He is with me, He has guaranteed that He will provide everything I need. If He has given me everything I need, then whatever it is that I’m longing for in this moment, I don’t truly need it. With food and with covering, I can be content (1 Tim. 6:8). I have both of those things. Therefore I can tell my heart, “Be content with what you have.” And identifying that sin, and then thanking God for the provision that He has given, and then reminding yourself of His goodness in providing it and all that that has done for you, and being thankful in it. Replace jealousy with rejoicing. Rather than saying, “Oh, I wish I had that. Boy, I can’t live without that. Boy, if only—if he turns his head, man, I’m going to snag that thing,” rejoice! Lord, thank You that You have given me this. It’s not what You’ve given to other people, but if the Lord gave to me what He has given to other people, I might not be able to handle it. But the Lord knows me and has appointed all things concerning me, and therefore what He has given to me is perfectly suited to me and my circumstances at this moment. And so I will be satisfied with that and I can submit to that. And then pray for contentment.

Third, and this I think is the key to contentment, and this I think is worth the whole message, but I’m not going to belabor this point. Instead I’m going to remind you—The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs. And I’m going to give you the money paragraph. I’m going to give you the money quote. It’s a summation of the whole book, but don’t use that as an excuse not to buy the book and read it. We don’t gain contentment—this is not Burroughs; this is me for a moment—we do not gain contentment by adding to our lives, because that just feeds discontent. When I satisfy my discontent—remember that’s an idol of the heart that is never satiated, so when I am discontent about something and I covet something and I give my heart what it covets, it’s going to feel satisfied for a moment, but I have really not changed the condition of my heart at all. I haven’t made it content. My heart is still discontent, but now it’s going to be discontent about other things, or it might take a while for me to experience or feel the effect of that discontent, but it won’t be long before it will be hungering after other things. Because, again, it is an idol of the heart that demands everything, gives us nothing, and when we give to it, we only feed it, and it’s insatiable, so we can never feed it enough.

So we don’t arrive at contentment by adding things to our lives. It’s the opposite. You have to lose something. You have to lose something from your life, and not possessions. And I’m not talking about giving up anything that you have. You don’t have to lose any comfort. You don’t have to lose any convenience. You don’t have to lose any physical thing. But you do have to lose something. The blessing of contentment or the virtue of contentment is gained not by adding to what you have but by subtracting from your desire. That’s the key to contentment. I have to subtract from my desire. What do I want and crave and demand in this moment? I have to remove that from my desires.

Jeremiah Burrough says this: “Some men have a mighty large heart.” Let me pause for a moment there. By that, Burroughs is not saying—he’s not using bighearted in the sense that we would use bighearted as somebody who’s generous and gracious and gives and has empathy and sympathy and is very outgoing and just bears everybody’s burdens, is very nice. That’s not how he’s using it. He’s talking about a big heart that is a big cavernous desire for more things. That’s what he means by big heart. A heart that can never be filled up no matter how much you put into it. So Burrough says this:

Some men have a mighty large heart, but they have straightened [or small] circumstances, and they can never have contentment when their hearts are big and their circumstances are little. But though a man cannot bring his circumstances to be as great as his heart, yet if he can bring his heart to be as little as his circumstances, to make them even, this is the way to contentment.

It is not to bring my circumstances up to my desires. Instead, it is to bring my desires down to where my circumstances are, and when my desires match my circumstances, then I can be content because then I have everything I want. Right? That’s what contentment is. It is being satisfied and having the satisfaction or contentment of my heart match the sufficiency of what God has given to me. That’s the definition of contentment. It’s not gained by adding things to your life to satisfy those desires. Contentment is achieved by taking away from my desires so that my desires match my circumstances. That is biblical contentment. Because we can’t control our circumstances, can we?

I have a piece of meat smoking on the smoker out on my deck right now. That smoker could start on fire, like it did a couple of weeks ago, and I could come home and my whole house would be just smoking ashes by the time I get home. I’m not going to know about it here because all my notifications are turned off. So right now my home could be a smoldering pile of ashes in my yard. That’s possible. I can’t control that. I mean, I can from my phone. I can control my smoker, but I mean, I can’t control whether it burns down or not, you know what I mean? But I can control this: when I get home, if it’s a smoking pile of ashes, I can control my desires and say, “At least I’ll be warm while the ashes cool.” And I can be content with that.

I can bring my heart’s expectation down to my circumstances so that my circumstances match my heart’s expectation. Because I can affect my heart. I can dictate to my heart what is true. And if I can dictate to my heart what is true, that can make my heart desire what it is that God has provided for it. And then I can be content with what God has provided. “If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content” (1Tim. 6:8).

So how do I arrive at a place where I am satisfied, where God has satisfied all of my desires? I make my desires match what God has provided. And then He has satisfied all of my desires. With food and with covering, with these we shall be content. Spurgeon said this: “Possibly you are dissatisfied because you cannot bring the contents of your pocket up to the height of your wishes; but if you bring your wishes down to the level of the contents of your pocket, you will be satisfied with what you now have.”

So covetousness is the disordered desire of the heart that manifests itself in endeavoring to acquire things that God has not given to us. Contentment is the condition of the heart that submits to what God is pleased to give us. You and I have to feed our soul with the truth of verses 5 and 6. He has promised Himself, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). Therefore we can confidently say, “What’s man going to do to me?” Burn down my house? Take away my stuff? Put me in prison? If God has circumscribed the boundaries of my life, if He has ordained this, then I can make my heart to be content in that circumstance, and I can praise Him and rejoice in Him in that circumstance as I meditate upon this truth—that He has promised me Himself. That He has promised to never leave me or desert me. He will never forsake me, and therefore, if God is my helper, I will not be afraid no matter what may come. I can be content with that.

We seek to correct our disordered desires by the truth of God’s living Word. That’s the pathway to contentment. If I believe and am convinced that the purposes of God are for His glory and for my ultimate and eternal good—that is what He has ordained—then I can meditate upon that reality, that God’s purposes are for my good, not just in this life, but also in the life to come. And if I am convinced that in the providence of God, He rules all things by His benevolence and His kindness and His infinite wisdom, He has controlled every detail of all of existence so that He can accomplish what He has purposed concerning me and my good; and if I am convinced that by the power of God, He cannot be thwarted and His purposes will be accomplished and His intentions will be fulfilled and that by His power and by His goodness and by His providence, He will fulfill all good things that concern me; and if I am convinced that the promises of God can be trusted, that He will fulfill His every word for me and all who have believed upon Him and everything that is contained in Scripture; and if I am convinced that His presence is with us and that He Himself will never leave us, never forsake us, never abandon us, but that He is with me at this moment and He will be with me for all of eternity, never to leave us or forsake us, and that the promise of His presence is itself the promise that He will fulfill everything good He has ever promised to us—if God gives us Himself, there’s nothing left for Him to give, for He gives us every good thing in Christ when He gives us Himself. God gives us Himself in the gospel, and then He has promised us, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,” no matter how we feel in this life (Heb. 13:5).

So if all of those things are true, that the purpose of God is my good and His glory; that in the providence of God, He rules over all things; that the power of God is without limit; that the promises of God can be trusted; and that His presence is with us even at this very moment, then brethren, we can be content, can we not? We can be content. And therefore, I identify covetousness, I cast that vice off, and I cultivate within myself the virtue of contentment as I reflect upon the truth of God, the verity that He will never desert us nor forsake us.

So we have looked now at the vice that we are to cast off and the virtue that we are to cultivate, and next week we will look more closely at those two promises and what they mean for the believer.