The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment

Contentment was a popular notion in ancient Greek philosophy. To be accurate, contentment is an almost universally appreciated virtue as stated in these pithy maxims.

Buddha: Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth. Lao Tzu: Health is the greatest possession. Contentment is the greatest treasure. Gandhi Man’s happiness lies in contentment.

Socrates asked: Who is the wealthiest person? The one who is content with the least, for contentment is nature’s wealth.”

Yesterday I spoke on the Apostle Paul’s use of the word contentment, showing that in his view contentment is not circumstantial, it can be learned, and the secret to contentment is the powerful inner presence of Jesus Christ.

My comments were based on what the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4: 10-12. “I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it.  11 Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have.  I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty.  In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.

I commented that Paul’s passion for life led to his contrasting Christian contentment with that of the Stoics who believed reaching the point of “not caring” was the key to contentment.

Stoic Philosopher Epictetus illustrated it this way: “Begin with a cup or a household utensil; if it breaks, say, “I don’t care.” Go on to a horse or a pet dog; if anything happens to it, say, “I don’t care.” Go on to yourself and if you are hurt or injured in any way, say, “I don’t care.” If you go on long enough, and if you try hard enough, You will come to a stage when you an watch Your nearest and dearest suffer and die, you will say, “I don’t care.”

This led church historian TR Glover to conclude, “the stoics made of the heart a desert, and called it peace.

By way of contrast I pointed out that the Christian faith does not require us to detach from life’s passions: we are passionate about life. We seek a full life. We aspire to become the best version of themselves that we can spiritually, intellectually, creatively, relationally and morally.

In one of the services I mentioned that many eastern religions emphasize the cessation of desire as the key to happiness.

I received this comment from an island friend who attended one of our services.

“Hi Dick, I enjoyed the sermon very much today. I think the practice of contentment is very underrated in our society. But as a Buddhist I am wondering what did you mean by Eastern Religions and their practice of non-attachment? I believe you can practice non-attachment and care very much, as did Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, and the Buddha. (Don’t get me wrong. I am still very attached to things.) But I am curious, specifically, what did you mean?

So here is my reply.

First, I did not mean to imply that all practitioners of eastern religions would agree with the idea of the Stoics, that the essence of satisfaction is saying in every situation, I do not care.”

Second I know that the eastern ideas of detachment and renunciation are often misunderstood. As one Buddhist explains it, “renunciation” actually means “the determination to be free.”

Third, based on what I’ve seen of you,  ANYBODY should be able to see you are a person of great compassion~you care.

Fourth, I would add that in my observation, practitioners of religions that emphasize non-attachment sometimes do veer into cessation of passion as the beginning of happiness and satisfaction.

Jonathan Horgan, a science writer and acquaintance of mine practiced Buddhism for a while, and wrote an article in SLATE titled, “Buddhist Retreat~Why I gave up on finding my religion.’ He ultimately left Buddhism because the idea of non-attachment struck him as wrong.

“What troubles me most about Buddhism is its implication that detachment from ordinary life is the surest route to salvation. Buddha’s first step toward enlightenment was his abandonment of his wife and child… It seems legitimate to ask whether a path that turns away from aspects of life as essential as sexuality and parenthood is truly spiritual. From this perspective, the very concept of enlightenment begins to look anti-spiritual: It suggests that life is a problem that can be solved, a cul-de-sac that can be, and should be, escaped.”

I hope you know I am an advocate of building bridges instead of walls whenever possible. So I welcome further dialogue on these issues.

Christianity itself argues for a certain kind of detachment from the things of this world.  In the end though, Christians explain pain as the consequence of the fall, and salvation as saving both soul and body. The world and flesh will one day be redeemed, and transformed into a new heaven and earth.

Christian contentment comes when we 1) Rejoice in everything because the Lord God is near; 2) Stop worrying and start praying with thanksgiving; 3) When we concentrate our minds on good things; 4) When we realize the secret of our power in the indwelling Jesus Christ. Finally as the serenity prayer suggests:  God grant me the serenity 
to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

In the old Puritan Classic, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, the writer, Jeremiah Burroughs concludes, “To be well skilled in the mystery of Christian contentment is the duty, glory and excellence of the Christian.”


Posted in Staublog in August 22, 2011 by | 2 Comments »

2 Responses to The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment

  1. ST082211 | Dick Staub on August 22, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    […] “To be well skilled in the mystery of Christian contentment is the duty, glory and excellence of the Christian.” Jeremiah Burroughs. Read more […]

  2. Nicholas Colitses on August 27, 2011 at 7:13 am

    The desire of humming birds to drink, seems like attachment to me, epic blog!!!

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