Contentment

At the imperial diet in the city of Worms, Germany in 1521, Martin Luther spoke very boldly in defending his beliefs and teachings. He refused to back down from demands to take back what he had written. But when it comes to contentment perhaps Luther was even more bold. See if you agree.

Luther’s motto was a short little rhyme:

“For what God gives I thank indeed;

What He withholds I do not need.”

The challenge to contentment is that people compare themselves to others:

“The fact that no one is satisfied with what he has is a very common plague. Consequently even the heathen says: Why is it that the fruits are always better in another’s field than in our own and that the neighbor’s cows give more milk than ours?

Contentment is addressed in the last two of the Ten Commandments:

The Ninth Commandment: You shall not covet, or have a sinful desire for, your neighbor’s house.

Which Luther explains in the Small Catechism: “We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbors inheritance or house, or get them in a way which only appears right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it.”

The Tenth Commandment: You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Which Luther explains in the Small Catechism: “We should fear and love God so that we do not entice or force away our neighbors wife, workers or animals, or turn them against them but urge them to stay and do their duty.”

“If the troubles of all men were heaped together and were then to be equally distributed, it would come to pass that everybody would much rather keep his own. So very equitably God governs this world that every advantage has appended to it a corresponding disadvantage. And everyone only sees how snugly the shoe fits his neighbor, but does not see where it pinches.

“The world lives on in the folly that everybody has eyes only for his own evil and his neighbor’s good fortune. But if he saw only his own good fortune and his neighbor’s evil, he would thank God and be satisfied in all quietness, no matter how lowly and bad his station might be.”

Luther points out that the only way to avoid covetousness is through faith.

“If we are to avoid such restlessness, disquiet, and disgust, we must have faith. Faith is firmly convinced that God governs equitably and places every man into that station which is best and most fitting for him.

“To be satisfied with what we have at present is positively a gift of the Holy Spirit. For the flesh, contentment is impossible. The flesh is forever moving from present possessions to future ones. It loses the former in the pursuit of the latter and thus deprives itself of the use of both.

“Why is it that no one is satisfied with his station in life and that everybody imagines the other man’s station to be better than his own? It is our sinful flesh for which contentment is impossible. Contentment is a gift of the Holy Spirit.”

For guidance on contentment Luther urges us to consider the animals:

“All animals live in contentment and serve God, loving and praising Him. Only the evil, villainous eye of man is never satisfied, nor can it ever be really satisfied because of its ingratitude and pride. It always wants the best place at the feast as the chief guest (Luke 14:8); it is not willing to honor God, but would rather be honored by God.

“There is a tale, dating back to the days of the Council of Constance, of two cardinals who were riding around when they spied a shepherd standing in a field weeping. One of the two cardinals, being a good soul and unwilling to pass by without offering the man some comfort, rode up to him and asked him why he wept.

“The shepherd, who was weeping bitterly, was a long time replying to cardinal’s question. At last, pointing his finger at a toad, he said; ‘I weep because God has made me so well favored a creature, and not hideous like this reptile, and I have never yet acknowledged it or thanked and praised Him for it.’”

In some ways, taking a stand for contentment is just as bold as the stand he took before the Emperor at the Diet of Worms.

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