Wendell E. Miller
Q. I see so much discontent, especially in our younger generation. How can parents, grandparents and others help children and young people find contentment?
A. When studying a given subject in the Scriptures, quite often it is helpful to study words that are similar in meaning and words that are opposite in meaning.
"Satisfied" is the word most similar in meaning to "content," and "covet" is the word that is the nearest to being opposite.
Thus, the tenth commandment (Deut. 5:21; Ex. 20:17) commanded the Israelites to be content with what they had, as well as prohibited covetousness.
As Christians, we are commanded to be "content" with such things as we have (Heb. 13:5). So, since coveting is opposite to being content, we are commanded not to covet anything that we do not have.
Now if we are commanded to be content (and we are), then there must be a biblical way to be, or to become, content; and also, there must be a way to help other Christians to be content.
The Apostle Paul said that he "learned" to be content (Phil. 4:11). The idea behind the word translated "learned" is to "learn something appropriate for oneself through experience or practice." In some way, he had learned contentment through experiences--experiences of having and experiences of doing without.
In the next verse, he said that he learned the "secret" (KJV "I am instructed") of living in humble means and living in prosperity (Phil. 4:12).
What "secret" could there be in living in abundance or in deprivation? You either have an abundance or you do not. You either suffer deprivation or you do not. So what is the "secret"?
The "secret" must be in being content with such things as you have. At least one translation of the Scriptures (New International Version) includes this meaning in the translation of Philippians 4:12.
The "secret" into which he was initiated in verse 12 must be related to his statement in verse 13, in which he says, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."
This spiritual strengthening includes two components, both of which are "through Christ."
One of these components of spiritual strengthening is the reality of the blessings that are "through Christ." These realities include His promise never to leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5), being joint-heirs with Him (Rom. 8:17), and the rewards that we will receive (1 Cor. 3:11-15).
The other component of this strengthening "through Christ" is the realization of the reality of these blessings, as the Holy Spirit witnesses to the truth of scriptural promises.
Since the Scriptures teach that contentment is learned by experiences (Phil. 4:11) and by spiritual "strengthening," it is appropriate to consider how parents, grandparents, church and others can help children and youth learn to be content.
One of the most important principles of child rearing is modeling. Students become like their teachers (Luke 6:40). So if our children and youth are to know that spiritual realities are more important than things of the world, and if they are to develop Christian contentment, is it not critical that we model these things for them?
In order for them to know that spiritual realities are more important than things of the world, children and youth need a biblical view of life. You can help them develop a biblical view of life by teaching them the Scriptures and by applying biblical truths to every aspect of their lives (Deut. 6:7).
But the influence and teaching of the world must be minimized. What view of life do you expect them to develop if they live in a fantasy world of affluence, glamour and excitement by watching television, or if they listen to the message of rock music?
Since contentment is learned, in part. from experiencing a lack of things (Phil. 4:11), will we not rob children and youth of opportunities to learn contentment if we give them too much?
Parents, together with your church, should you determine wage scales for children and youth that are in accordance with their various ages and that are reasonable in comparison to adult wages? If you, or good-hearted friends, pay them excessively, will you not be planting the seeds of future discontent?
Children and youth should learn to be good stewards of their earnings (and of suitable things they purchase with their earnings), in Christian giving, in savings, and in progressively assuming responsibility for their own needs. Will it not be difficult for them to learn contentment later, if all of their earnings are lavished upon themselves now and they develop an insatiable appetite for things of the world?
Children and youth should learn to be content as they go through various stages of development toward adulthood; and so they should not be given adult experiences (even though they are "experiences that they will never forget"). If they are given adult experiences now, how can they be satisfied with ordinary childhood or youth experiences next year, or the next? And how can they be satisfied with life as adults if they have seen it all, had it all, and experienced it all?
Jesus taught that the one who desires to be "great" must be the servant (KVF "minister") of others, and the one who desires to be "first" must be the slave (KVF "servant") of those he leads (Matt. 20:25-28). Should not training for service precede training for leadership?
So children and youth should be given opportunities in the church to learn servanthood. They should visit the widows, rake their lawns, and clean out their eaves troughs.
If we thrust them into leadership experiences before they learn to serve, or if we give them exciting missionary experiences before they have proved themselves to be faithful in small things--and progressively in larger things--will they develop the heart of a servant, and will they be content to do common and ordinary things? Or will they be discontent? Will they be lifted up with vanity and pride? Do not the Scriptures warn against putting novices in leadership positions (1 Tim. 3:6)?
Three of the most important objectives of training children and youth in Christian service should be for them to 1) bring glory to God (Matt. 5:16), 2) learn how to serve Him, and 3) learn to be satisfied with pleasing Him (Col. 3:23,24). So should not children and youth serve in the church quietly and without fanfare, lest they learn to crave the praise of men more than the praise of God (John 12:43)?
In Christianity, there should be thoughtfulness of others, cooperation and the desire to help others win too, rather than a desire to win over others. The Apostle Paul said (paraphrased), "I am running for a crown; I want you to have one too; so run that you may obtain a crown" (1 Cor. 9:24-26)! If we attempt to motivate children and youth by offering them awards and trophies for winning over others, will it not develop a competitive spirit in them, and will it not tempt them to covet?
When Christians must compete with others, and some must win and others must lose, then the competition should be entered into "heartily as unto the Lord" (Col. 3:23,24). It should not be an occasion of coveting after personal glory, but of using, for His glory, those talents with which we have been entrusted. The result should be contentment, in winning or in losing, knowing that we did it for Him, and knowing that He is pleased with our efforts and with our attitude.
We have seen from the Scriptures that contentment is learned, partially by experiencing a lack of at least some worldly or materialistic desires, and partially by coming to a full realization of the reality of our eternal blessings in Christ.
In addition we have considered the relationship between seeking after personal glory and finding contentment by doing everything to the glory of God (Col. 3:23,24). Although this principle is not taught explicitly as being a source of contentment, the Scriptures relate happiness (KV "blessed") to a life that pleases God (Ps. 1:1).
We have considered some possible relationships between contentment and such things as material possessions, wages, exciting experiences, opportunities for service vs. opportunities for leadership, learning to obtain pleasure from pleasing God rather than from obtaining the acclaim of men, and competition.
If, through your example (modeling) and your teaching of the Scriptures children and youth are finding salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, you are helping them find great riches.
Your example (modeling) and your teaching can also help children and youth find the contentment that should accompany salvation. What steps can you take to model and to teach those things that will help them find contentment in a restless and mixed-up world?
Copyright 1986 by Wendell E. Miller
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