What makes for contentment?
What makes for contentment in life?
Jesus addresses this subject in the first act of public teaching that Matthew records in his gospel. But he offers a far different perspective than the people of His day or the people of our day would expect.
Calvin Miller once shared a description of what many people think leads to happiness:
“A beggar asked a millionaire, ‘How many more dollars would it take to make you truly happy?’ The millionaire, reaching his gnarled hands into the beggar’s cup, replied, ‘Only one more!’”
We tend to think that if we could get just a little bit more we would be happy. But it never works, for there is always “a bit more” to be gotten to make us happy.
J.B. Phillips has offered this idea about what makes for happiness:
“Happy are the ‘pushers,’ for they get on in the world. Happy are the hard-boiled, for they never let life hurt them. Happy are they who complain, for they get their own way in the end. Happy are the blasé, for they never worry over their sins. Happy are the slave-drivers, for they get results. Happy are the knowledgeable men of the world, for they know their way around. Happy are the trouble-makers, for they make people take notice of them.”
That’s the common perspective as to what makes for happiness. But it’s not the perspective Jesus takes.
According to Jesus, what makes for contentment does not have to do with getting more and more. In fact, what makes for contentment does not even have to do with the pursuit of happiness.
Dr. Donald Hagner points out, “Surprisingly, the Bible doesn’t seem very interested in happiness. English translations hardly employ the words ‘happy’ or ‘happiness.’ A perfectly good Greek word, eudaimonia, meaning ‘happiness,’ was available, but is not used by a single New Testament writer. Another Greek word, one that seems indispensable to the description of Hollywood happiness is hedone, ‘pleasure.’ This word occurs in the New Testament only a few times, always negatively. Luke 8:14, for example, refers to seeds that are ‘choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life.’ Happiness, in the sense that it is usually understood, apparently seems from the New Testament perspective to be altogether too much of a preoccupation with the self.
“The Bible has another vocabulary, a more elevated one, for words such as ‘blessedness’ and ‘joy.’ While in the Old Testament blessedness is sometimes related to material matters, in the main it designates as blessed the person who knows and fears God, who considers the poor, and does justice and righteousness. Blessedness is for the most part directed away from the self. Blessedness is the product of what God has done and our participation in that.”
So when Jesus addresses the question of what makes for contentment, in His first public speech recorded by Matthew—the verses known as the Beatitudes—Jesus claims that what makes for contentment has to do with a life of dependency on God and a life of loving others to the point of mourning, hungering, thirsting, sacrificing, and being persecuted.