I am taking up the topic of contentment in a few articles here on the blog. In a previous post I began writing about what contentment is. This second article continues to focus on the nature of contentment and how we go about learning it.
Contentment is Spiritual
We are staying on track if we stick with our definition of contentment: Contentment is the inward, quiet spirit that joyfully submits to God’s providence.
It is the key for us to understand that contentment is spiritual. Through the gospel, God is working a change in his people. Part of this change that he is working is a change in how we value things.
In Romans 1 we see the ugly pattern of sin. Tragically, we appraise created things as more valuable than God himself. We believe the hollow and hissing promises of the tempter, and like our first parents, exchange God’s truth for a lie, and worship and serve creation instead of God.
What does the gospel do? It unfastens us from finding our meaning, purpose, and identity in created things and enables us to find it in God himself. Remember, this is the way creation was designed to work prior to sin entering the world.
If you drive through rural New England towns you will notice an abundance of stone walls. These walls served as property markers hundreds of years ago; and, because they were well built, many remain to this day. However, while the walls remain, the art of building a stone wall has nearly faded away. The craftsmen, who, in a previous age were plentiful are now dwindling to a small number.
A few years ago my dad (who lives in New England) wanted to have a wall built on his property that reflected some of the old world craftsmanship. As he inquired as to who could do it, he found that the list was remarkably small. He got his guy, but, he was booked for months. When he finally came he was like a guy from another age. His tools, work ethic, and even the way he spoke about the wall seemed to be from another time. He represented some of the lost art of mason work.
I wonder if you have experienced something like this when you read Christian biographies or theological works from previous generations. I know I have found myself convicted and a bit taken back by my own shallowness when considering their devotion and depth. One such area is the topic of contentment. When I read The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, by Jeremiah Burroughs, or The Art of Divine Contentment, by Thomas Watson, I feel like I am hearing from men from another world.
Because of the gospel, which displays God’s love for us, Christians are to love others in the same way (1 Jn. 3.16). However, we often struggle with understanding and applying this verse. One helpful clarification is the distinction between “loving” and “liking” people.
Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones is extremely helpful in drawing this distinction for us. What follows is a quote Life in Christ a collection of his sermons on First John.
So let me put it like this: we are not called to like the bretheren, but we are called and commanded to love them. Furthermore, I would assert that loving and liking are not degrees of the same thing but are essentially different.
What is liking? What is it to like a person? Well, I would say that liking is something natural something instinctive ore elemental, something that is not the result of effort; you find yourself liking or not liking. In other words, liking is something physical and unintelligible.
It seems that sometimes we deal with sin in the church with the same approach that the government deals with terrorism: It is impossible to remove it completely so we just kind of have to accept it and do our best to keep people safe.
Buttressed up against this common practice is the biblical teaching that sin is devastating. Let’s not forget that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), the price paid for redemption from sin is death (Rom. 5:6), the reality for the a believer is that they are dead to sin (Rom. 6:11), and the ongoing priority for Christians is to put sin to death (Rom. 8:13; Col. 3:5; Heb. 12:1-2). This includes all sin. Every. Single. One.
GOSSIP IN SPIRITUAL NO MAN’S LAND
How can I get better at evangelism? As a pastor I love this question. It comes from a heart that understands the priority of the great commission while also feeling the conviction for unfaithfulness to it. When I think through evangelism and the privileged responsibility to boast in Christ, there are two primary areas that I have had success focusing on: savoring Christ and slaying self.
We talk about what we love. Whatever has our heart also has our mouths. You might say, “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks”. Therefore, if we want to change the content of what we are saying we must fill our heart with something different. In other words, if we want to boast in Christ then we must find ourselves increasingly impressed with Christ!
Do you remember when you were a new Christian? Did anyone honestly have to tell you to tell others about Jesus? Of course not. It was a natural as breathing. Nobody could keep you quiet. Why is this? It is because your heart was filled with the joy of the new birth. The burden of sin was so freshly removed, the cross was so vividly in view, and the promises of God so freshly adorned your formerly hopeless mind. Evangelism was a reflex.
Sometimes things are not what they appear. I have stared for what felt like hours into one of the magic eye books waiting to “see it”. To my shame I have put the book down many times confessing that I didn’t see it.
This happens in our Bible reading too. Remember a couple of vivid occasions in the gospel narrative: Judas kissed Jesus and we also see Peter run away. If we were there we may think that Judas was the man while Peter was tucking it and running. However, Judas was in fact the worst kind of betrayer while Peter turned out to be loyal unto death. Consider also the scene in Genesis 3, the Garden of Eden. The jewel of God’s creation, Adam and Eve, are flirting with disaster. They are being lulled to sleep by the hissing promises of the evil one. They cave and God judges. From the outside it looks like this is done. However, things are not like they appear. God says,
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”” (Genesis 3:15)
There is the promise of adversity and ultimate triumph. The verse here still is not without some language that has us set up for something we don’t fully expect. There will be a crushing of the head by the seed of the woman but also the bruising of the heel by the offspring of the serpent.
“Let brotherly love continue.” (Hebrews 13:1)
Brotherly love is the love that comes from God and functions within the context of our new family, the church. And we come to experience and express this love by repenting of our sin and trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation. A love like this is so very precious. It is little wonder then that the author of Hebrews says, Let brotherly love continue. It is something that is so very costly! Christ gave his own life; he died to purchase this love. This is not cheap, fleeting, diminishing love, but costly, enduring, and replenishing love.
I walked into a store recently and was greeted by a middle-aged women standing behind a booth strategically located in the entrance. “Good afternoon sir, do you get the Omaha-World Herald delivered to your home?” I did not, so I smiled politely and answered her question explaining that while I skim the newspaper on my phone I do not have plans to read the paper regularly. As I walked off I wondered about why I don’t read the paper. The answer seemed obvious: I don’t enjoy it, I simply scan it for information.
This reminded me of something that Alan Jacobs observed in his book The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. He noted that with the advancement of technology, in particular web media, we are becoming people who are relentless scanners for information. This is not a bad thing of course, but we must remember that technological advancements are never free—they always cost us something. In this case our grazing for information is costing us our love for reading. His book, in my view, is eye-opening.
I have seen a similar phenomenon in the church. When I visit with people and ask them about their Bible reading they often look and sound guilty. Comments include: “I need to get back to that.” “I just need to be more committed.” “I really need to do a better job.” However, when I ask why they don’t read the answer is almost always the same: “I don’t know.”
It is truly astounding that we can come to the Bible everyday and we are met, fed, and sustained by the Word of God and the God of the Word. This is a tremendous privilege. In fact, it is such a privilege that we ought to be carefully intentional as to how we use the time.
Once you have settled the fact that you are going to be committed to daily reading your Bible, you may encounter a common problem. A few hours into a busy day you may take a few minutes to gather yourself and think about what you have read. But, to your dismay you have a difficult time remembering anything specific or “sticky” from your earlier reading.
Let me explain. In Hebrews chapter 10 we read of the priority of Christians to gather together. This is a staple of the New Covenant life. We cannot and must not neglect it (Heb.10.25).
But there is something very important that is said in conjunction with this. We read the previous verse in Hebrews:
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,” (Hebrews 10:24)