Contentment is Better than Happiness   1 comment

One of the biggest challenges in life is to be content in our lives as they are now. The sage advice is, “Happiness is not having what you want. It is wanting what you have.” This is on-the-head accurate when it comes to singleness and marriage. God’s desire and expectation is that we would be content in Christ, whatever circumstances we find ourselves in.

Image result for image of contentment in marriageThe apostle Paul modeled godly contentment. In Philippians 4:11, he wrote that he had “learned to be content in any circumstance” Amazingly, he penned these words from a Roman prison. Paul could say he was content in Christ even while he was suffering great hardship. Paul allowed Jesus Christ to transform his heart and mind and give him a supernatural perspective.

So how many of us share Paul’s perspective? The person this Bible study was designed for does not. So, what about my readers? Are you content in your singleness or marriage? If not, why aren’t you content? Could it be that you are seeking your own happiness? When it comes to issues pertaining to singleness, marriage, and divorce and remarriage, the question is not, “What will make me happiest?” but “What will make God happiest?”

In 1 Corinthians 7:6-24, Paul told us that God is happy when we are content. Therefore, if you want to bring a smile to the face of God, cultivate contentment. As you do, you will find that contentment is one of the keys to Christianity. In this passage, Paul laid out three directives that will help us to live a life of contentment.

I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that everyone was as I am. But each has his own gift from God, one this way, another that.

To the unmarried and widows I say that it is best for them to remain as I am. But if they do not have self-control, let them get married. For it is better to marry than to burn with sexual desire.

To the married I give this command – not I, but the Lorda wife should not divorce a husband (but if she does, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband), and a husband should not divorce his wife.

To the rest I say – I, not the Lordif a brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is happy to live with him, he should not divorce herAnd if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is happy to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified because of the wife, and the unbelieving wife because of her husbandOtherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. But if the unbeliever wants a divorce, let it take place. In these circumstances the brother or sister is not boundGod has called you in peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will bring your husband to salvation? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will bring your wife to salvation? (1 Corinthians 7:6-24

Please note that Paul distinguishes between his personal belief based on his experience and God’s commands all throughout this passage. A lot of bad theology has been perpetrated by failure to notice this.

Paul expressed his preference that all Christians be single as he was. Nevertheless, he acknowledged that both marriage and singleness are viable options for the Christian. In 7:6, Paul wrote, “But this I say by way of concession, not of command.” Paul wanted to make it clear that what he was about to say in 7:7-9 is a “concession” and not a “command.”5 The word “concession” means “permission to do something.” In 7:7-9 Paul explains his concession: “Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that. But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”

Paul wished that all Christians would remain single. He explained later in this chapter that a single man or woman is able to be more devoted to Christ (7:32-34). He also made it clear that his concession is based upon the present circumstances. Some historians believe there was a famine in Corinth or the surrounding areas at the time of writing. In light of these factors, Paul believed that during that specific time, it was better not to marry. Yet, even during a time of crisis Paul was a realist and said, “…it is better to marry than to burn” with unfulfilled sexual passion (7:9).

Two principles come to mind:

Celibacy is a spiritual gift and should be treated accordinglyIn 7:7, Paul wrote, “each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that.” Those men and women who are able to be single have been gifted by the Lord to do so. It is unlikely that marriage is a gift, since it is a normal expression for humans. Nevertheless, it should be treated as a gift. Thus, if you are single you should value your gift of singleness, and if you are married you ought to celebrate your marriage. This is God’s express desire.

Often single people want to be married and married people want to be single. Our problem is a lack of contentment. We don’t value God’s gifts and timing. Consequently, we are always restless and dissatisfied. It is worth recognizing that at some point in our lives each of us will be single. It may be before marriage or after marriage. Since 90% of all Americans will eventually marry, it is also likely that many people who are single will marry. God’s call is for us to be content in Christ, whatever our circumstances. Remember, God is happy when we are content.

I think Christians reject the legitimacy of singleness. I am convinced that is the reason for so much hurt in the church regarding this issue. Directly or indirectly, subtly or not so subtly, we have ascribed to the conviction that singles are unfinished business. We say in groups and in private conversations, “Aren’t you married yet?” “What’s a nice girl like you doing unmarried?” “What you need is a good wife.” “Found anybody to date yet?” “I’m praying the Lord will lead you to a good guy.” “It’s too bad he’s not married.” Parents and relatives say that. Family reunions apparently are notorious for these and similar comments. Books and articles are written from a Christian viewpoint that say, “If you will only commit your life to Christ, God will give you a marriage partner.” Christ never said that. He said He will lead you to a life of meaning, purpose and fulfillment. He never said He would give you marriage. He’s more concerned about other things. We need to accept the legitimacy of singleness. Simple mathematics says there are more women than men in this world, and there always will be. We need to accept singleness because there are some people whose circumstances involve singleness, and they have no opportunity to change. Others prefer not to change. We need to accept the legitimacy of singleness primarily because the Bible does.

Marriage is to be encouraged not discouraged. In 7:9, Paul encouraged singles to get married if they lack control and are burning. This desire is from God and is not meant to be inappropriately squelched. It’s hard for us to understand this in our day of age with its extended adolescence, but at the time of the New Testament writings (and for hundreds of years afterward), marriage occurred closer to the age of puberty. Marriage permitted the blossoming sex drive to be fulfilled and not frustrated. Today, marriage is usually postponed until later in life due to modern educational, vocational, and financial pressures. The longer one postpones marriage past puberty, the more sexual temptations he or she will naturally have to face. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 96 percent of Americans over the age of 20 have had sex. Premarital sex is an epidemic in the world and in the church. We must seek to protect our young people. Does this mean that young people should get married at 13 years old? No! That’s way too young. I recommend young people avoid sexual temptation and not postpone marriage until all their proverbial “ducks are in a row.” If you are spiritually ready and are in a godly relationship that you are willing to commit to for the rest of your earthly life, you have the Biblical freedom to marry.

Yeah, that probably terrifies a lot of parents, but consider this. Apart from your child’s relationship with Jesus Christ, the most important passion you can develop in your son or daughter is to be a godly husband or wife. We typically don’t give this as much thought as we should. We are more concerned about ensuring that our children get good grades, get into the right college, and learn the right profession. If you really want to set your child up for success, prepare your child to be a godly spouse. Teach your child responsibility and commitment. Encourage your child to look forward to marriage. Let your child know that nothing matters more than being a godly husband or wife.

So, I doubt that a lot of teenagers read my blog, but I hope they won’t use my words against their parents’ wishes. Most teenagers feel lots of passion. They’re basically hormones with feet. But most of them are not ready for marriage. A Christian marriage is a covenant before God that is filled with blood, sweat, and tears. It is not something to be entered into lightly. So if you want to get married soon or in the near future, I would suggest that you work feverishly on your relationship with Christ, prioritize your purity, and find a good job or finish college as quickly as you can. That said, if you are having trouble keeping your hands off your intended, better to marry than to misuse one another.

Know that until God brings the right person into your life, He will provide the strength to resist temptation. Two of the best means through which His strength is realized are spiritual service and physical exercise. Additionally, He expects you to avoid listening to, looking at, or being around anything that strengthens the temptation, and to focus your minds on that which is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, of excellence and worthy of praise (see Philippians 4:8).

Paul was clear. You need to consider marriage carefully, but if you choose to get married you must Remain married permanently (7:10-16).

Modern Americans find this passage difficult. We are so steeped in the false ideology that God wants us to be happy at every moment of our lives, so we struggle with the concept that God wants us to remain in a relationship that doesn’t rock the fireworks or bring us candy every night. But that is exactly what He wants from us. Paul urged Christian spouses to remain married. In 7:10-11, Paul wrote to Christian spouses in a Christian marriage: “But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave [divorce] her husband (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.”

Paul gave instructions that are from Jesus Who spoke about the permanence of marriage (Matthew 5:32; 19:6; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:8). Divorce is not an option. The husband does not have God’s permission to divorce his wife and the wife does not have God’s permission to divorce her husband.

It is worth noting that there is a parenthetical statement in 7:11. “but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband”. It is possible that Paul may have been making a compassionate provision for an abused woman. This seems to indicate that God Himself is acknowledging that some marriages, even between Christians, are so difficult, unwholesome and degrading that divorce is the lesser of two evils. It is as though God is regrettably tolerating a violation of one of His own principles. Regardless, for the believer who divorces his believing spouse there are two options: singleness or reconciliation. Remarriage to a different spouse is not Biblically permissible.

We must recognize that “divorce” is an expletive. Many of us who would never drop an expletive or use Jesus’ name in vain, frequently bring up divorce. This is a sin. If you are married, God’s intent and expectation is that your marriage goes the distance. This means when (not if) there are problems in your marriage, it is imperative that you go to the leadership of the church before it’s too late. Too often, couples run to the pastors and elders when their marriage is on life support and nothing can be done to salvage it. Yes, God can and will work miracles, but it is wise to include Him in our marriage trauma before it’s too late.

Paul continued his argument for the permanence of marriage in 7:12-16. But in these verses Paul wrote to a believer who is married to an unbeliever: “But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?”

Four times in 7:10-13, Paul prohibited divorce. To write it once would be sufficient. Twice would be unmistakably clear. Three times would be more than enough. But four times? The man meant business!

In 7:12, Paul distinguished between his own apostolic instruction and Jesus’ teaching during His earthly ministry. Paul dealt with a situation about which Jesus gave no instruction in His earthly teaching.

It’s very important to recognize that the mixed marriages Paul addressed here are the by-products of the conversion of one of the partners. When these two individuals got married they were both unbelievers; now one of them has become a Christian. This section does not apply to a believer who violates God’s law by knowingly marrying an unbeliever. For such a person to appeal to this passage would be like a teenager killing his parents and then appealing to the judge for leniency on the grounds that he’s an orphan.

In 7:12-16, the discussion is not about a believing spouse initiating a divorce. Instead, the unbelieving spouse initiates the divorce. The general principle in 7:12-16 is that those who are married are to stay married (i.e., the believer should remain married to the unbeliever). Although the believer should not initiate the divorce, if the unbeliever should do so, the believer is no longer bound to the marriage (7:15). Paul granted permission for divorce in the case of a believer being deserted by an unbeliever.

This is stated in 7:15, where Paul wrote that the believer is “not bound in regard to marriage” (i.e., free to remain single or to remarry). In 7:39-40, there is a conceptual parallel where a wife is said to be “bound” (a different word in Greek, but the same concept) as long as her husband lives. But if the husband dies, she is “free” to marry as she wishes, only in the Lord. If the parallel holds, then “not bound” in 7:15 also means “free to marry another.”

Two motivations that Paul brought out for remaining in an unequally yoked marriage are:

  • the spiritual benefits that accrue to your family (7:14)
  • the hope that you may win your spouse to Christ (7:16).

Paul said that the unbeliever is “sanctified” (i.e., set apart for God’s blessings) on account of the believer. Salvation does not change the marriage state. If the wife’s becoming a Christian annulled the marriage, then the children in the home would become illegitimate. Instead, these children may one day be saved if the Christian mate is faithful to the Lord. Paul also holds out hope that the believing spouse may influence the unbelieving spouse to believe the gospel.

A Christian whose unsaved spouse has divorced him or her should remain unmarried as long as there is a possibility that the unsaved person may return. However, if the unsaved spouse who has departed remarries, I believe Christian would be free to remarry since, by remarrying, the unsaved partner has closed the door on reconciliation. Remaining faithful to your marriage blesses your spouse and children.

Nevertheless, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each person, so must he live. I give this sort of direction in all the churches. Was anyone called after he had been circumcised? He should not try to undo his circumcisionWas anyone called who is uncircumcised? He should not get circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Instead, keeping God’s commandments is what countsLet each one remain in that situation in life in which he was called. Were you called as a slave? Do not worry about it. But if indeed you are able to be free, make the most of the opportunityFor the one who was called in the Lord as a slave is the Lord’s freedman. In the same way, the one who was called as a free person is Christ’s slave. You were bought with a price. Do not become slaves of men. In whatever situation someone was called, brothers and sisters, let him remain in it with God. (1 Cointhians 7:17-24)

Stay put indefinitely (7:17-24). Paul now departed from commenting about marriage to offer more general considerations about one’s overall situation in life. But since he continued with issues concerning sexuality in 7:25-40, we cannot interpret the present section as unrelated to the marriage issues just discussed. In order to explain the general principle he had been trying to communicate in the previous verses about marriage, Paul used two other less urgent issues (circumcision and slavery) as examples. His main point is that after experiencing the call of God, each person should remain in the situation he or she was in at the time of that call. Becoming a Christian does not mean totally revamping one’s social status. Do not seek marriage; do not seek singleness; do not seek divorce. In fact, do not actively seek any change in social status!

Three times Paul insists that a believer is to remain in the situation he or she was in at the point of faith in Christ (7:17, 20, and 24). This means that a Christian does not have to seek “the right situation” in order to enjoy Christian freedom or to serve God’s call effectively. We should serve God where we are until He calls us elsewhere.

Again, Paul’s overarching point in this passage was God is happy when we are content. If you are single—be content, if you are married—be content. Whatever your stage in life, be content.

I read a story some time ago called The Stonecutter:

Once upon a time, a stonecutter lived all alone. Though he had acquired great skills, he was very poor. He lived in a tiny bamboo hut and wore tattered clothing. One day as the stonecutter worked with his hammer and chisel upon a huge stone, he heard a crowd gathering along the streets. By their shouts he could tell that the king was coming to visit his humble village. Joining in the procession, the stonecutter gazed on as the king, dressed in marvelous silk, was greeted by his subjects. Oh, how I wish I had the power and glory of the king, he thought. He has soldiers at his command. There is no one more powerful. His cry was heard in the heavens, and immediately the humble stonecutter was transformed into a powerful king. He found himself riding on a great horse, waving at the crowds of people who had flocked to see him. This is power, he thought.

As the summer progressed, however, the new king watched the effects of the heat upon his people. Men and animals became weary, and plants withered under the powerful rays of the sun. As he looked at the sky, the new king realized that the sun was more powerful than any earthly ruler. How I wish I were as powerful as that, he thought. I wish I were the sun. Immediately, his wish was granted. The stonecutter relished his new role as the sun. He gloried in the power he felt as he surveyed the kingdoms below. As he sent his bright rays to earth, he watched kings and princes hide under their parasols; he watched as powerful warriors became weak under his gaze. Even the crops in the field were under his command.

Then one day a tiny cloud moved over the land, shielding the earth from the sun’s bright rays. Seeing that here was something more powerful, he thought, I want very much to be a cloud. Again, his wish was granted. Now he blocked the sun’s rays and felt important. He gathered all his strength, becoming a gigantic cloud, and began to pour down rain on the earth. Rivers formed where previously there were none, and water flooded the streets of the cities and the farmland. Everything—trees, animals, people—seemed to be awed by his power. Only the massive rocks were unswayed. There is nothing, he thought, as powerful as a rock. How I wish I were a huge stone. His wish was granted.

As a stone he remained motionless and powerful, unmoved by sun, wind, or rain. He felt exempt from all the forces that shaped the existence of those around him. Then one day a man approached, carrying a bag. When he stopped, he pulled out a chisel and a hammer and began to chip away at the rock. Realizing that the man with the tools was more powerful than any rock, he cried out, “Oh, I want to be a stonecutter.”

Once again the heavens heard his cry, and he became a stonecutter. Once again he lived in a bamboo hut and made his living with hammer and chisel. And he was content.

God is happy when we are content.

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One response to “Contentment is Better than Happiness

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  1. Yes, contentment is being happy with what we have. As soon as we want more than we can afford, contentment goes out of the window…

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