Sinclair Ferguson – Our New Affection


In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine listed “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” At the top was Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.” Second on the list (presuming no bias in the choices made by the magazine) came the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” This song, both in its intended sense and even when pruned of its innuendo, has served as the anthem of the past half-century (it was released in 1965). It therefore comes as no surprise that USA Today reports that the majority of Americans, in every age group, feel that they have never discovered their destiny. There is no reason they should have. For once we cut ourselves off from the ground, means, and end of both our satisfaction and our destiny, we simply starve to death spiritually. No satisfaction means no contentment.

Here is one more facet of the gospel that meets our culture at its point of need: Jesus Christ gives what the world cannot—contentment.

This at least is what Saul of Tarsus—one of the least naturally contented of men—discovered: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound … I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:11–13).


What does it mean to be content? Paul may have startled his Philippian friends by using a Stoic term for a Christian disposition. Was he hinting that what Stoicism sought—detachment from the disturbances of strong emotions—the gospel alone provides, but without denying or avoiding the reasons for the emotions themselves?

By contrast, for Paul contentment comes to expression in situations that arouse strong emotion—having plenty, having nothing—but it is learned in a different school from the Greek Stoa.

Back to School

How, then, can we discover what Jeremiah Burroughs called the “rare jewel of Christian contentment”?

Some of us naively believe we are naturally “contented people.” But higher tolerance levels are contentment lookalikes, even imposters. Spiritual contentment is learned, not natural. And it is learned in situations that test us, as Paul indicates—when we are brought low and when we abound. Contentment is the ability to be equally satisfied in both situations, not just in one or other, but in both.

That may seem paradoxical, even contradictory. But the contented believer is one who believes that God’s provision is always sufficient and His appointments are always appropriate. Only when we have faced both good and bad (as most of us do, to whatever degree) can we know that neither draws us away from the anchor of our contentment in Christ. Both situations, then, become the school in which we learn to rest in Christ as our sufficiency and to do all things through Him.

The Backstory

Loss of contentment has a long history. Its origin lies before the dawn of time. Satan was (and still is) discontented. For whatever reason (was it, after all, jealousy that the real King of the angels was the Son of God?), he was not content with God’s provisions or appointments. And the discontented always seek company. So the serpent deceived our parents. They, in turn, became discontented with being the creaturely likeness of God, and they desired to be as God Himself. Their folly led to our misery.

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