Autarkes: Automatic Contentment

Word of the Week

June 1, 2024

Autarkēs: Automatic Contentment


Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.

Philippians 4:11 NASB

I have spent much of my career working for small Christian schools that struggled financially.  Paychecks were never exorbitant, and they were sometimes irregular.  In fact, we lived through one stretch where we received no salary for several months!

We scrimped and scraped and grumbled, but at the end of that year we made a remarkable discovery.  Our total income was actually higher than the year before!  God had provided for us in some unexpected ways.  Since then, we have adopted a slogan:  “God supplies our needs, and sometimes He does it through our employer.”

The Lord has many lessons to teach us about money, and some of them are wrapped up in a Greek word that expresses our experience.

The Greek word is autarkēs [ow-TAHR-kayss], often translated “content.”  It occurs only once, but we can also look at a matching noun, autarkeia [ow-TAHR-kay-ah], which appears twice in the New Testament.

This word cluster is built on the word arkeō, “sufficient,” which we studied last week, combined with a second Greek word, autos, which often means “self.”  The combination describes someone who is self-sufficient, not depending on help from others.  Autos shows us in our English word automobile, a vehicle which is “mobile” by itself, moving forward without being pulled by a horse or ox.

Last week we learned that the root word arkeō has two meanings.  (1)  Objectively, it describes someone who has what they need.  (2)  Subjectively, it denotes a person who is satisfied with what they have.  We can trust God to give us what we need, and we should be grateful for what He chooses to provide.

This week’s words add important insights that can govern our attitude toward our personal finances.  Let’s look at the three passages where the word appears.

 Philippians 4:11

Paul is under house arrest in Rome, waiting for a hearing before the emperor.  He can’t earn an income from tentmaking, as he usually did.  But he still has expenses, paying for his room and board.  When the church at Philippi found out about his plight, they put together a financial gift for his support.

Now Paul writes a letter to them which includes a thank-you note for their gift.  In it, he explains that his gratitude is not just based on the face he needed the money.

Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am (Philippians 4:11).

As he explains in verse 12, he has learned the secret of how to live in plenty or in poverty.  He has experienced both extremes, and he knows that you can thrive spiritually in either condition.

In classical Greek, the word he uses served as a description of a man with sufficient wealth to support himself independently, without help from others.  The Stoic philosophers used it to describe the ability to live contentedly because you had no needs and could move on undisturbed no matter what you lost.  That’s not what the New Testament recommends.  Paul says we can be content regardless of our circumstances because we trust a God who provides for our needs.

2 Corinthians 9:8

This time Paul is taking up an offering, gathering funds from the Greek churches to provide relief for poverty-stricken believers in Jerusalem.  It’s a big project, and Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to be generous.  In fact, he has just finished telling them that God loves a cheerful (hilarios) giver.

Now he promises that they can share with others because God will provide all they need:

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.

Notice that God does more than provide a set amount for this special occasion.  He provides comprehensively for His people:  ALL grace, ALWAYS, ALL sufficiency, EVERYthing, EVERY good deed.  All these statements come from the same Greek word.

We fall easily into a mentality of scarcity which thinks, “If I share with someone else, I won’t have enough for myself.”  Our instincts tell us that we are playing a zero-sum game.  But Paul tells us that our security rests not on what remains in our bank account, but what God is willing to supply.  We can afford to be generous!

1 Timothy 6:6

This concept is not an advertisement for the prosperity gospel.  Paul warns Timothy that godliness is not a way to get rich.  In verse 8, he makes it clear that the Lord wants us to be content as long as we have food and shelter.  Accumulating great wealth is foolish because, as verse 7 tells us, you can’t take it with you!

Verse 6 gives us the promise that we can count on:

But godliness is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.

We don’t have to be anxious, because God has promised to care for us.  We can be free to be generous, because God has promised to provide our needs.  Your IRA may be a little smaller because you have used your funds to bless others, but your eternal bottom line will be bigger.

For us, being “self-sufficient” is possible – not because we deny our desires or master our own fate, but because we serve a God who cares for our every need!


Coming Up

In Romans 5, the apostle Paul talks about Christians who can “reign in life.”  That sounds like a promising reality, if we can figure out what it means.  That will be our goal next week.

©Ezra Project 2024

2 Responses

  1. As with last week, I’m learning to be self-sufficient in all that I have because of God’s grace and His sufficiently… Not mine.

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