As I was visiting with a friend who was almost killed and paralyzed from the chest down when struck by a drunken driver, but who, with great courage, faith and determination continued to study, write and go to school, she mentioned to me that an elder had said something to her about being content when she was in the nursing home.
Since she was continuing her studies in Abilene Christian University in Greek and Bible (having received her degree from a Junior College after she suffered the injury, and now a Master's in Ministry, a Doctorate in Ministry, a Doctor of Theology and studying for a Ph.D., she looked in her Greek Testament at 1 Timothy 6:6 and read, "But Godliness with contentment is great gain." She pointed out to me what I had never noticed before. The Greek word translated "contentment" is "autarkeia" which Thayer defines as "a perfect condition of life in which no aid or support is needed." She was checking Thayer, Vine's and Young's Concordance for the various related meanings, and I suggested that she write an article about it. Since she is so busy with school work, attending to her own physical, mental and spiritual needs (she is in a wheel chair in her own apartment now) she may not get around to it for some time, so I decided to write one, which she can probably improve on when she does get to it.
We usually think of contentment merely as a passive state of willingness to "put up with" whatever state we are in, assuming that when Paul said, "I have learned in whatever state I am therewith to be content" (Phil.4:11) that he meant that he did not gripe and complain too much about it. Her short conversation about it suggested that we should consider its primary meaning as being more significant. That is, contentment comes, not because of a passive acceptance of whatever our condition may be, but because there is a "perfect condition of life in which no aid or support is needed" inasmuch as God has granted one whatever he needs to face life and conquer it! Can you imagine one who has suffered through years of privation and rejection, and months of physical and mental agony coming to a conclusion that she may be able to be content, not just because she will not complain of her lot, but because she has in herself, by God's grace and power, sufficiency to carry on "independently of external circumstances" as Thayer puts it!
I think she is beginning to see what Paul meant about his thorn in the flesh, and "My grace is sufficient for thee" (2 Cor. 12:9). For this word "sufficient" is the same root word, "arkeo."
Because one has contentment -- "sufficient strength, ability, power to do whatever needs to be done" -- one may be content -- "satisfied with his condition." It is perhaps worthy of note that the same word is used in 2 Cor. 9:8 where Paul indicates that when one does what God wants of him, "God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye always having all sufficiency (autarkeian) in all things, may abound to every good work."
One conclusion to which I have come is that "contentment," from the Bible viewpoint, is not merely a passive willingness to bear whatever comes, but a vital, living, active power to overcome and conquer through the strength and grace of God! Indeed, "Godliness with contentment is great gain," for then "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Phil.4:13). It is noteworthy that he said this only three verses after he had said, "I have learned, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content (autarkes)."
T. Pierce Brown
Published in The Old Paths Archive