16th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, owning a dog is a new experience for me. My wife grew up with them, I didn’t. But one thing that amazes me about my dog. We take her for walks or watch it in the yard. If something moves, and she sees it, she will run and bound and maybe let out a little bark at it. She’s probably chased hundreds of things like birds or grasshoppers or squirrels, but you know, I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen her catch one. But I’m almost certain later today when a bird lands in our yard and she sees it, she’ll go bounding after it again. It almost makes you pause and think, “What’s wrong, doesn’t she learn, Just give it up!” But then again, are we much different?
We discover something in our life that we want, we strive and strain and struggle in order to get it and we finally get it and….what happens? “Well, I guess that’s nice…but what I could really use is ___________.” Then we strive and strain for something else and we do it again and again and again. There was a pastor I once listened to who was telling about his grandpa (I think). Growing up his grandpa talked over and over again about the boat that he was going to get someday. Well, finally grandpa retired. And his grandson asked him, “Grandpa, you’re retired now, you’ve got the money, you’ve got the time, aren’t you going to buy your boat?” And grandpa responded, “Na.” The boat was kind of his stopping line. He knew if he bought the boat, then there’d be something else, then something else, and so on. But we’re like that, aren’t we? If someone was observing our lives from the outside, would they look at us and say, “What’s wrong with them, don’t they get it, won’t they be happy, why don’t they just give up?” What’s the answer to this continual longing inside of us for something more? What’s the answer to the thoughts that keep creeping into our heads, thoughts like, “If only I had this…” or “I’d sure be happier if….” or “If I had this than everything will be right.” What’s the answer?
God gives us the answer through the apostle Paul. Paul is nearing the end of his letter to the Philippian Christians. But before he ends he doesn’t want to forget to acknowledge a gift that the Philippians had sent to him to give him support in his ministry. He’s thankful for the gift but notice where Paul centers his joy: “I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.” Paul’s rejoiced greatly – this gift was a wonderful surprise to him – but he didn’t rejoice in the gift, but in the Giver, in God. For whatever reason, the Philippians were unable to support him for a certain time, but now they could. Paul might have been out of sight for them, but he wasn’t out of mind.
Paul goes on, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Paul’s joy did not stem from his outward circumstance or from his current situation (he’s in prison at this time) or from the gift of support sent him by the Philippians. Paul remained joyful because God had given him the gift of contentment in any and every situation. Now, of course, Paul wasn’t content with letting people remain in sin, or content with meager efforts to share the gospel, or content with souls not hearing about their Savior. But Paul knew the secret of being content in every outward circumstance of his life.
We can’t learn this secret of contentment from the world. To be content is a foreign concept to many people in our world. In fact, it is natural for us to be discontent. It is easy for us to be discontent and to always want something more and to complain if we don’t get it. We see it all the time: the workaholic father who’s seldom at home, seldom at church because he’s providing for the family. And perhaps even more popular today is the workaholic couple who hardly know their children because they’re too busy paying of expensive mortgages and car loans. And we’re often discontent about many different things: our things, our job, our position in life, our family, our spouse, our house, our car, our church, our health, our dinner, the weather. There’s so much we can be discontent about and it’s easy.
But then we might say, well, actually I don’t feel too discontent. I feel quite satisfied actually with how things are going. But perhaps we need to ask ourselves what our contentment is based on. If it’s based on anything to do with our outward circumstances, we could easily lose it. Here’s a little test: If your house burned down today with everything you own in it, would you still be content? If you lost all your money in the stock market or your retirement funds depleted, would you still be content? If the doctor told you that you have a health complication that is going to make the rest of your life very challenging, would you still be content? On what do we base our contentment? Remember Paul’s words? “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.”
Finally, discontentment is a sin. Finally, it’s telling God He doesn’t know what He’s doing. And each one of us here is guilty of doing just that telling God, “God, if you really loved me, you’d do this. God, you’re doing a terrible job of controlling things.” But the problem isn’t with God, it’s with us. What a horrible life we bring on ourselves when we are discontent!
But did you notice what Paul said? Contentment wasn’t something that came to him naturally or was revealed to him by God, it was learned. Think about it, every circumstance, every situation remains under God’s control. Whatever God allows to happen or directly causes to happen to us is not something we ignore or use as fodder to accuse God. Rather, in every situation God sets before us a challenge or a lesson in which he wants us to learn from and grow in our faith in him. There are certain truths that are absolutely unchangeable, truths like: God is love, God in His love sent His Son Jesus to pay for all sins, God is forgiving, God has forgiven all your sins- including your sins of being discontent, God cares about you, God will provide all you need, God will work out all things for your good, God is with you no matter what, those truths cannot change! And since those truths are always true, you can approach any and every situation, whether it’s a time of need and want or a time of plenty, you, too, can say with Paul, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
You see, Christian contentment isn’t based on changing external circumstances of life, but on the unchanging relationship with the Lord. When God gives you plenty, you can enjoy it as a gift from Him. When you have little, you can rejoice in the treasure you have in Christ and the treasure stored up for you in eternity. True contentment is independence from the world through dependence on God in all. And it’s through this dependence on God that the Christian can adjust to circumstances. When God gives more, the Christian can enjoy it without being consumed by it. When God gives less, the Christian can adjust without grumbling or complaining or falling into self-pity.
Depending on God, trusting in Him, and empowered by the strength of His forgiveness you too can live in contentment. Instead of wanting more or pining after what you don’t have, in every situation ask yourself, “What challenge is the Lord setting before me? What can I learn from this situation?” You see, enjoying God’s gift of contentment bring a life of joy no matter what.
There once was a man walking by a small house out in the country. It was very small and modest house and the home of a childless, old, and poor man. The man heard some strange sounds coming from the house and he came closer and closer and soon could make out these words, “This, and Jesus too! This, and Jesus too!” It was repeated again and again with deep emotion and praise and wonder. So, the man went closer and peered in the patched window and there was the old man at a table looking at some crusts of bread and a cup of water with his arms up to God saying, “This, AND Jesus too!”
Think about that: You have Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you are washed clean with his own blood, you’ve been clothed with his righteousness, you are an heir of eternal life, what more could you possibly need? Knowing that, treasuring that in any and every situation, you , too, will enjoy God’s gift of contentment! Amen.