Are you feeling discontent in your relationships? Maybe you’re not feeling happy about a relationship? But are you feeling joy? Is there a difference? And what does it matter?
When we are unhappy or discontent, we are very tempted to RUN! In our passage from this past Sunday, Paul says “Remain in the situation in which you were called.” Over and over he says this. Remain? What if we don’t like the situation? As I have said before, if it is an abusive situation, this would not apply. Get safe!
But what about when a relationship is frustrating? What about when there is a lot of anger and arguing? In Relationship Month, we have heard clearly from Paul that we should avoid separation and divorce at all cost. In this section again he says, “Remain.” Then he adds in verse 19, “keeping God’s commands in what counts.”
My NIV Study Bible notes summarize it well: “There is nothing wrong with seeking to improve your condition in life, but be content at every stage.” There is a tension between being content and keeping his commands. Sometimes keeping his commands means we need to make a change.
My dad, Harold Kime, has taught Corinthians for many years at Lancaster Bible College, and in his notes he says: “Keeping God’s commandments does have spiritual value and worth. The verb, “keep”, that Paul uses here is not a simple obedience. When he says “Keep his commands” it also includes the idea of guarding or preserving. This is not a mere outward obedience but an obedience that guards and preserves the very thing obeyed. We can infer from this that certain types of social condition require a radical change. Certainly Paul would not say, “Were you called being a prostitute, think nothing of it.”
We could summarize like this: Remain in the life state that you are in, but do not sin. At the root of all this is a heart that is committed to say that “Lord, your way is the best way.” Keep his commands requires a heart desire that believes that following God’s way is the best! “Find your satisfaction in the Lord” Paul is not saying that the believers in the church should stay as they are for eternity. He encourages slaves, if they can, to be free. But the focus is to be content in the Lord where they are at. Things may change, but the focus for now is to grow that passionate, heartfelt relationship with the Lord.
We can be so discontent about life. We can start to grow a bitterness about our station in life. Paul says that the Christians should find their contentment in the Lord. And we can grow that deep inner joy without having our circumstances change one bit.
Contentment is being able to be joyful no matter the circumstance. There is a big difference between inner and outer joy. One way to describe the difference is to look at the difference between happiness and joy. I am bit hesitant to use these two terms because they are basically synonymous. But think about them this way: happiness is that outer expression of emotion based in how we are feeling. We like happiness a lot because it means we feel good. Joy is different from happiness because it is a deeper inner state of heart and mind that is trusting in God no matter how we are feeling, no matter our circumstance, no matter our station in life. This deep inner joy, this contentment is what Paul is saying the Corinthians believers need.
There is much about life that we can be discontent about. Paul would say to the Philippian church in Philippians 4:12 “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. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
What are you discontent about? Your marriage? Your singleness? Your job? Your finances? The state of the world? Paul is saying that we should be a people who avoid rushing to change, but instead remain as you are, be content, find that deep inner joy in obeying Christ, and commit yourself to grow in your relationship with him. Here’s what’s interesting about contentment. It is okay to allow the deep inner joy of contentment to bubble up to the surface of your life and overflow with emotional outward happiness. We should never confuse that outward emotion for the inner real thing. But it is okay to be outwardly happy. I would go so far as to say that when we are content in Christ no matter our situation, we will see that outward happiness, that outward rejoicing on a more regular basis! And it starts with a contentment in our relationship with Christ.
It is not just in the pain that we can experience deep inner joy. We can also celebrate the joy of the Lord in the good times. We can and should be content in the Lord, no matter if life is difficult or abundant. A friend of mine from my youth group is now a professor at LBC. He and his wife were married a few years ago, it took them some time to start a family. They are now just weeks away from the birth of their son. I asked him this week how they are doing, and he said “Excited, things are going great, but they’re also thinking about those many sleep-deprived nights ahead of them.”
I wrote back and said, “You will get through it. I won’t deny that I had a hard time in the middle of the night. But it is a phase that passes. I think what I have been learning with my kids, though, is that I can yearn too much for each phase to pass. I can be way too focused on “getting them out of diapers” and “getting them out of car-seats” and so one. In so doing, I have found that I can miss out on the wonderful aspects of the present phase. I think this is the message of Ecclesiastes: eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you die. Enjoy the moment that God has given you. While the moment definitely can have its hardships, it also has great joy. Be content no matter the circumstances. I would encourage you to revel in each and every one of those nights of seemingly endless crying and feedings.” (Not that I was the model dad in that regard…)
What will it mean for you to grow contentment in the Lord?