Tag Archives: contentment

False Ideas Christians Believe About…God’s Will

12 Jun

Do you know God’s will for your life? How do you find out? A lot people wonder. In this post we are fact-checking Christian ideas about God’s will.  There are a lot of thoughts out there about God’s will.  And unfortunately there is much confusion too.  Here are the ideas that we are going to be looking at:

  • God doesn’t choose the equipped, he equips the chosen.
  • You’re never safer than when you are in God’s will.
  • When God closes a door, he opens a window.
  • All in God’s timing.

Have you heard any of these?  Have you found yourself thinking them or maybe saying them?  Let’s take a deeper look at them.  We’re starting with:

As I read that one a couple times while preparing for this sermon, even though it was a phrase that I have heard many times before, I thought to myself, “That is a confusing phrase.”   I love these kinds of phrases, where you move words around in a sentence and it gives you a different meaning.  They’re super creative and fun, and often times they can be very helpful.

Like John F. Kennedy’s famous line: “Ask not what your country can do for you…” how does it finish? I bet you know.

“…Ask what you can do for your country.”

I did not know this, but there is a term for this kind of literary device.

Antimetabole!  It is from the Greek meaning “turning about” and it is defined as “repeating a phrase in reverse order.” 

But sometimes antimetabole is just plain old confusing or illogical.  So let’s fact check this phrase we Christians so often say: “God doesn’t choose the equipped, he equips the chosen.”  It is a fun phrase to say, but we have to break it down into pieces and see how its ideas and assumptions compare or contrast with biblical teaching.

This phrase has a couple features that we need to look at:

  1. The idea of God choosing people.  Does God choose some people and not others?  And choose them for what?  To be saved and go to heaven?  Or to just serve him?  Does God choose some people for certain roles, like becoming a pastor or missionary, but not other roles?  There are lots of questions about the idea of God’s choosing.
  2. The idea of people being equipped.  Are certain people equipped, but not others?  Does God look around the earth, surveying people and concluding, “Aha!  You are equipped to be a pastor, so I choose you.”  Does he do that?  Or does he randomly choose some people, and say, “I choose you, and now I am going to equip you to be a missionary.”  And what about the other roles and responsibilities in his Kingdom beyond just being pastors and missionaries? 

There are so many questions!  Let’s see if we can answer some.

First of all, does God choose people? 

In the Old Testament we saw in our Deuteronomy series that God chose the nation of Israel to be his people.  He chose a whole family that became a nation.  So he did choose, but each Israelite had to respond by also choosing him back, a choice they showed they made by keeping the terms of the covenant that they had with God.  In other words, they had to obey him, and to be faithful to him.  Sadly, many did not choose to do this throughout their history, and they broke their covenant with God. In fact, the whole nation many hundreds of years later was so rebellious that God allowed them to be invaded and exiled. God choose them corporately, but his choosing did not guarantee that they would be saved no matter what.  They had to choose him back.  Additionally, when he chose them, he gave them a mission to be a blessing to the whole world, as he told them that he wanted them to reach the world.  There is a sense in which God chose not only Israel, but through Israel’s mission, God also chose the whole world.  Yet Israel didn’t do so well with this mission.

God through Jesus, then, entered into a new covenant, choosing corporately again, that anyone who would respond in faith as Jesus’ disciples would be part of his new family, as we saw in the previous post.  We saw that God desires all to be saved.  Again, God chose not individual people, but he choose corporately all who are in Christ.  That means each individual, just like the individual Israelite in the Old Testament, has to choose God back to be part of this new covenant, this new corporate choosing. 

My conclusion is that we should not see God as choosing some people to be saved, for whatever random reason, and not choosing others.  God wants all to be saved.  Not all will be saved, of course, because some will not choose God back. 

What I have been talking about so far is God’s choice for us to be a part of his family. 

There is also another way of looking at God’s choosing, and this, I think, is what the phrase we are fact-checking, is talking about.  Does God choose people for special roles or tasks in his Kingdom mission?

In the Bible, we can read about times when he definitely did this.  The most amazing example, I think, is that of the Apostle Paul in Acts 9.  Paul was a Pharisee who was bent on eliminating the brand new fledgling Christian church.  He thought the early church and its apostles were a cult.  God supernaturally broke into Paul’s life and said “Stop it, Paul!  I, Jesus, am the real deal, and I want you to start serving me now.”  How many of us have thought in our lives, “Lord, I want you to speak audibly and unmistakably to me like you did to Paul!”???  Well, it changed Paul’s life, as you can imagine it would.  Paul went from persecuting Christians to being the most ardent Christian missionary. 

For the rest of Christian history, up until the present day, we have a Christian idea that God still supernaturally chooses some people to be his ministers.  I believe God does still do this choosing.  We have a term for it.  “Calling.”  Are you called, we say?  Many people have felt that God has called them into ministry. 

In many churches, this calling is a requirement for ministry.  Some people talk about their work as a calling, and many believe that God has called them to do it.  My point is that God absolutely can call us supernaturally, and I believe he does.  But as we will see, that is not the only way Christians can make decisions about how to live their lives.  Imagine if everything we did, every choice we made, we first had to wait until God told us what to do! 

On one hand it sounds very spiritual.  “God I am depending on you, guide me, and tell me your will, and I will only do what you want me to do.”  On the other hand, it would lock down our lives.  What outfit should we wear?  What should we have for breakfast?  Maybe these are all important details! 

Well, that is ridiculous, and so some people respond by saying, “Well God allows us freedom to make decisions about the mundane aspects of life, and he only has a special individual will for us in the big areas.”  What, then are the big areas?  Usually people respond that the big decisions are, “Who to marry, what career to have, whether or not a person should be in ministry, and maybe where to live and anytime they are considering a big purchase.

Here’s the question, though…does the Bible affirm any of this decision-making and will of God logic?  No.  My conclusion about God choosing is that while he can and does break into our world and guide us, that supernatural act is the exceedingly rare exception to the rule, and thus we can make decisions, even big ones, without having to wait for God to direct us.  Because he, in his word, has given us teaching and principles saying that we can make wise decisions on our own, we can have confidence in decision-making based on biblical principles of wisdom. 

So, let’s take all of that and apply it to the phrase we’re fact-checking.  In so doing, it seems to me that we can affirm the first side of the phrase: God doesn’t choose only certain people who would qualify as “equipped” as if there are special people who God will use.

Consider the analogy of new car purchase.  When you buy a car, you learn about all the features that come standard, and the features that are extra.  We Christians can wrongly believe the idea that there are standard people and that there are non-standard people, like there are standard cars and cars that come loaded.  We can believe there are regular Christians and then there are super-spiritual Christians who are called.  Is that how God has created us?

Not at all.  Yet, we sometimes think that don’t we? 

Here’s the truth, though: God can and does use all of us, even in our weakness. God has created us with unique personality and aptitude, and can use anyone.  We all have a role to play.  No matter who you are, you have a role to play!  I want you to hear that very clearly.  You are gifted by God and he wants to use you.

So with that in mind, we can now examine the second half of the phrase.

Does God equip the chosen?  Again, that makes it seem like God chooses some and not others.  I would reiterate that every Christian is chosen, and there is not some special group of super-spiritual Christians who have a special calling from God.  Pastors are not special.  Missionaries are not special.  We are all important, we are all chosen, and we all have gifts and abilities.

We read about the vitality of every part of a church family in 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, 

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”

The writer of this passage, the apostle Paul, goes on to use the illustration of a body.  He says in verse 18: “God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” Further in verses 20-22 Paul writes, “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.” So he concludes in verses 25-27, “so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”

Just as all parts of a body are important and needed and must work together, all the people in a church are gifted and have a role to play.  Therefore we can say that the second half of the phrase is true, but only in the sense that all are called by God, and all are equipped by God to serve him and the mission of his Kingdom! 

Hear that, Christian. You are all called by God to serve his Kingdom using the unique gifts and abilities and bodies and minds that he has given you.  Whether you are young or old, male or female, you are vitally important.  God gives his Spirit to all Christians.

And that brings us to our next phrase.

We’ve seen that we are all gifted by God, but clearly Israel was not always following God’s will. Just because you are a Christian who is chosen corporately in Christ and who is gifted to serve him, that doesn’t mean that you will always choose God.  That means we need to talk about following God’s will.  And this phrase comes up: “You’re never safer than when you are in God’s will.”

It gives the idea that there is some particular will of God, and if you just choose to do that special will of God, your life will be great!  We need to fact check that idea.

What does this mean when it says “safe”?  Bodily safety?  Physical safety?  Emotional?  Financial? 

In The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, from The Chronicles of Narnia, CS Lewis writes about Aslan, which is the lion who is a figure for God in the story. Lewis says that Aslan or God is not safe, but he is good.

There are plenty of times when people in the biblical stories were totally in line with God’s will, but they were far from safe. There are plenty of times when you, too, are following God and you are not safe.  In some places around the world, being faithful to God means that you will be persecuted. 

In Matthew 10:28 Jesus taught: “don’t worry about the body, be concerned about the soul.” There is no guarantee that following Jesus means you will have a guarantee of physical safety.

But look at the phrase more closely.  It talks about God’s will. What does this mean by God’s will? We’ve been discussing it throughout this post, but now I want to consider it more closely.

There is a long-held point of view that in the many areas of life for which we have questions, that God has a very specific will that he wants to us to discover.  This is the bull’s eye view.  That if you want an awesome safe life, you can discover and follow God’s will.

It seems like Paul in Romans 12:1-2 talks about this:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

But Paul is not talking about a bull’s eye approach.  He is talking about being obedient to God.  He talks about it in the sense of offering our bodies as sacrifices to God.  This is not a comfortable, easy life, but a death to self, just as Jesus said his disciples would do: “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” That means you give everything in your life to him, and when you do that, Paul says, in Romans 12:1-2, you will not be conforming to the pattern of the world, and you will be transformed through the renewal of your mind, and you’ll be able to see clearly what it means to obey God.  We should not understand Paul as talking here about specific bull’s eye decisions God has for each person, whether the big decisions I mentioned above, or the multitude of small decisions we face every day.  

Instead, Paul is talking about living a life of commitment to the way of God’s Kingdom, the way of Jesus, to live like he did, which was first and foremost sacrificial, a giving away of one’s own life, like Jesus did. 

So in life we will find that there are plenty of excellent options that we can choose.  Who to marry?  There is not one soul mate.  What career to follow?  God might not call you to a specific job.  He might not give you specific instructions about where to live.  Instead, God wants us to use our wisdom when we make choices.  Base your decisions on biblical teaching, base them on wise godly input, and definitely pray.  Ask God for wisdom, as James teaches us in James 1.  But don’t expect God to guide you supernaturally.  He might.  He can!  But he never promises to do so every time.  In fact, it would be the rare exception.  That means you don’t have to wait in agony over which choice to make.  If you’re choosing between a number of excellent options, you can choose, and know that God supports you.

But sometimes our choices end up falling through.  And that leads us to our next phrase.

Is this true? Maybe?  What is this phrase talking about?  It is a situation in life where we are going down a road that we think is the right way.  Could be a major life decision like who to marry, what career path to follow, where to go to college, or a major purchase like a house or car.  Could be ways to serve in the church or community. But the pathway closes.  We realize that the direction that we are going becomes an impossibility.  And we are shocked and confused.  At that moment, this phrase suggests, God opens a new option for us to follow. We say, “Oh, I see why he closed the door, because he wanted me to go in this other direction.”

God sometimes does this. We already talked about how God broke into the Apostle Paul’s life and changed his direction radically.  But what about the many times this doesn’t happen?  What about the times when we have five choices and all seem equally good?  How do we choose? 

Wait for God to direct supernaturally?  No.

As we have seen already, God’s supernatural direction is best seen as the exception.  Not the rule. There may be times, perhaps even most times, when a door will close, and there will seem to be no other options, where it seems that God has not opened another option.  Or there may be five options and it seems impossible to choose between them.

Let me reiterate. In those moments, God wants us to make a choice based on biblical principles and wisdom.  Here are some principles:

  1. Ask for wisdom from the Spirit – James 1
  2. Discern between sin and not sin
  3. Seek first the Kingdom – Matthew 6:33
  4. Evaluate how God made you uniquely you and how you could best fit in serving him.
  5. Ask the people around you who know you best and love you to give you advice. 
  6. Then choose!  And know that God supports the decision because you have used his principles for making a wise decision.

Finally, the last phrase that we are fact-checking relates to why we so often have to wait in life. Or when we are trying to resolve difficulties.  Or find direction.  And what do we hear from people?

It seems like it can be a good phrase to encourage patience.  We live in a society of urgency and getting what we want now…or yesterday. 

This phrase can also have a really good aspect of learning contentment.   In Philippians 4, Paul remarks, “I have learned the secret of being content,” and that is quite important for us to learn too.  Patience is hard.  It is a very human tendency to think about the future, and to want the next thing, rather than be content with where we are.  

But I have some concerns with this phrase, “All in God’s timing.”  How will we know when it is God’s timing?  This one is very much related to the previous phrase. 

We can totally misinterpret God’s timing.   Or maybe assume that God has timing, but he actually doesn’t.  The phrase “all in God’s timing” makes it seems like we are puppets on a string, and God is just not ready to pull a string and make us move.  He is just letting us hang there.  But is that how life works? Is it how God works?  Where God is actually making all the choices for us?  And our free will is actually a mirage? 

No.  We believe that the Bible teaches we have true freedom. 

The result of true freedom is that we can make a choice, and it can turn out quite different from what we thought.  We can feel awful about that.  It can be hard to be patient and content when life isn’t turning out how we thought it would.  But we need patience. We also need grace, God is gracious and we need to be gracious to one another in the difficulty of waiting.

Let us be a people of patience and grace as week seek to grow contentment.

How my Google Home taught me about discontentment (and how to be more content)

3 May

My smart phone was due for an upgrade recently, so when an advertisement came via email offering the newest version of my phone; I took a look.  The advertisement on that email said that if I pre-purchased the new phone—it was due to be released in a few weeks—I could also get a Google Home and a new TV.  I was ON THAT.

We didn’t need these things.  We already have a TV.  Our life is fine without a Google home.  But they were free!!!!

My new phone eventually arrived in the mail, and I got it set up, but there was no Google Home and no TV.  I started questioning.  Was I too late in signing up?  Nah, couldn’t be…I signed up literally within hours of receiving the email.  Where was the TV or Google Home?  A feeling rose up inside me.  You know what that feeling was?  Discontent.

I called my cell carrier because I wanted to know what happened.  They told me that I had to go to a separate website and register my info, sales receipt, etc., and that’s how I could redeem the offer.   I found the website for the Google Home offer and got my info registered and approved!  Yes!

Then when the email came that my Google home was being shipped, you know what I did?  I tracked that sucker five times every day till it was on my front porch.

But there didn’t seem to be a way on the promotional website to redeem the TV.  That led to more discontent!  Why did this have to be so hard?  I started feeling grumpy.  What if I had never called them?  This was horrible customer service!

I called them again.  They told me to go back to the same website.  What?  I was already there.  There was no button to redeem the TV offer like there was for the Google Home.  Oh, I needed to read the fine print…the TV offer wouldn’t go live for another week.  You know what I did?  I set up an appointment in my calendar for the day the TV offer website would go live and made sure I wouldn’t forget.  I had to get my TV.

Discontentment.  The TV still isn’t here.

Is it possible to find contentment in life?  Will I feel better when the TV arrives?  Maybe I should call again to make sure it is on its way?  Have you experienced any similar feelings in your life?

We continued our Sunday morning series through 1st Timothy this past week, and in 1 Timothy 6:3-10 we learned in verse 6 that “godliness with contentment is great gain.”  That’s a short, but loaded phrase!

What is godliness?  What is contentment?  Let’s take a closer look.

While Paul refers to godliness in verse 6, he had already referred to it in verse 5, but very differently. Look at the end of verse 5.  He says that those false teachers (he called them arrogant ignorant false teachers) thought that godliness would lead to financial gain. Paul says in verse 5 that those false teachers are robbed of truth.  They think godliness will lead to financial gain, and they are simply wrong.

So what is this godliness he is talking about? In the original language this word is defined as “appropriate beliefs and devout practice of obligations relating to supernatural persons and powers—‘religion, piety.’[1]

We Christians tend to dislike the word “religion”.  We say that when it comes to our faith in Jesus, it is not a religion but a relationship.  Religion gives us the idea of buildings and set prayers and rules and something very fake and empty.  We say relationship is where it’s at.  Talking and walking with Jesus and having lives transformed, filled with the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, self-control.

So what is Paul talking about here?  A religion or a relationship?  Because he says in verse 5 that the false teachers think godliness leads to financial gain, that kind godliness must be a false religion, right?  The problem is he uses the very same word in verse 6 when he says that godliness with contentment is great gain.

Look at the definition of godliness again.  It actually encompasses both religion and relationship.  Religion and piety. Religion refers to outward acts of connecting with God, while piety is inward, relational, what we would call our heart and mind connecting with God.

That means godliness is a very well-rounded word here.  You can see why Paul would use it.  So he says godliness is not a means to financial gain.  We should not be using the outward or inward elements of our connection with God to try to enrich ourselves financially.  Using God for personal gain is the stuff of the arrogant and ignorant.

Instead, Paul says godliness with contentment is great gain.  What, then, is contentment?

Contentment is “The state of being content with one’s circumstances or lot in life.”

Have you heard that you are not supposed to use the word you are defining when creating a definition of that word.  So for example, “running is when you run.”  That might be true, but we have not learned much about running in that definition.  How about “running is the act of moving your legs rapidly, starting from a standing position then allowing your body to go in motion”?

So therefore, how do we define contentment?  It can’t just be “the state of being content”. We discussed this at sermon roundtable, and one person said that “contentment is to know that we are children of the King, and he will care for us.”   Additionally, we are content when we feel an inner sense of being okay with ourselves.  One author describes it like this:

“Self–sufficiency in a good sense, sufficiency with oneself as spoken of a satisfied mind or disposition[2].”

I like that.  A satisfied mind.

There is such a thing as holy discontent.  That is when something is not right, maybe an injustice is happening, and you feel discontent about it.  Holy discontent motivates you to right what is wrong.  Paul is not talking about that.

Paul is talking about being content in life.  Contentment is a satisfied mind.  I will admit that this one is a struggle for me.  I don’t always handle stress well.  The years of 2013-2015 had some difficult elements.  And in the late summer/fall of 2015 I started experiencing strong anxiety and even a couple panic attacks.  I was not content with life.  I did not have a satisfied mind.  I couldn’t sleep well, and I needed help. And I sought out that help.

For me discontent has manifested itself emotionally.  Discontentment might also be experiential.  What I mean is that we might be very tempted by the things of this world.   We live in a culture where we are trained to be discontent. Businesses want us to be discontent.  They create advertising so that we will feel discontent and buy their products, which they promise us will make us feel good.

 

Instant gratification trains us to only be happy if we get what we want immediately.  What is the trend of the week that we have to have in order to feel satisfied? The reality is that many of us think it is completely normal, this ongoing discontentment.  We feel that if we have things to hold on to, or if we have the right clothes, gadgets, homes, then we will feel fulfilled, normal.  As if that is just the way life is.

What does this say about us?  What is going on inside us that we can be deceived into believing that these things can provide us the satisfaction we deeply desire?  It is what some have called the “empty self”.  A God-shaped hole. That’s a big hole to fill.  No amount of stuff can fill that hole.

That’s why this principle is so very important!  Godliness with contentment is great gain.  Paul’s statement is a direct judgment to those false preachers who look to godliness to achieve financial gain.

But Paul says that true gain is only found in the combination of godliness with contentment. 1 Timothy 6:6 could be translated like this:

“Religion is a source of great wealth if it is accompanied by contentment with what one has.”[3]

If you are like me, struggling with discontent, then what I say next probably sound very normal. I have literally asked God for $1,000,000 as that would pay off our mortgage, pay off small debts, and get our kids set for college.  What this prayer request shows me is that I am not content, and I believe that removing money concerns from my life will make me feel better.

How many of us think more money will help us feel content?  Paul warns us about this in verses 7-9.  We think the things of this world will be the answer to our discontentment, but what we need is to learn to be content with just a few things like food and clothing.  Contentment comes, Paul says, when we learn to be satisfied with just a few things.  And that is a battle in our society.  But it is a battle followers of Jesus must fight.

Why?  Because discontent can lead to disaster.  It’s a trap, a temptation that is too powerful for most. Paul says, “Nope.  The love of money is a root of all evil.”  To be clear, money is not the problem.  Money is neutral.  It is the love of money that is the problem.

I can’t tell you how many times you will hear the phrase “money is the root of all evil.”  That is not what Paul says.  Look at verse 10.  It is the “love of money”.  It is a heart issue.  It is greed, avarice.  Who can spot what is wrong with this picture?

Image result for in greed we

“In greed we trust”.   It should be “In God we trust.”  But money is temptress and trap.

Money shows how discontent we are.  Like this guy:

When you love money, you are greedy, you are passionate about wanting more and more.  And that is why it so often leads to evil.  Theft, crime. Though we might not be in prison because we committed a financial crime, we might have done some other things.

Did you strive to report your taxes properly?

What about the issue of being demanding when you are not treated right or given the right deal on something you purchased.  Might greed be at the root of that desire?  We might say “Well, I wasn’t treated right, and I want justice.”  Justice is quite important, but is it possible that we can use justice to mask greed?

When we recently visited our son who completed Army Basic Training at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, we arrived at our hotel to find they had given our party of four a room that slept two.  There were literally no rooms left in the hotel.  None in their sister hotel.  None in two other hotels nearby.  It was 1:30am.  I slept on the floor.  The next day, thankfully, a room opened up in their sister hotel next door and we moved over.  But that day I spent some time talking with management about this.  My internal question was how far should we go in getting a refund for the inconvenience?  I had the confirmation email which clearly stated the type of room we paid for.  The hotel was wrong.  They gave our room to someone else, and they took the blame for their mistake.  Were we not due a refund or discount for our troubles?

Or maybe that sense of what was due us was motivated at least in part by greed? Maybe “godliness with contentment” could help us to view this situation from another angle?  Maybe we could take the hit and show grace?  Just like Jesus did for us?  At what point do I just allow myself to be content and avoid the nagging feeling of greed that wants more and more.  As Paul said in Corinthians “why not rather be wronged?  Why not rather be faulted?”

So what does it mean to live a content life?

Evaluate your life.  Get someone who will provide a real honest assessment to evaluate you.

Seek examples to emulate.  Who is an easily recognizable person or example of someone who demonstrates contentment in life?

Contentment is possible.  Not in money.  Not in material things.  But only in Christ.  So pursue godliness.

 

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains 1996 : 530. Print.
[2] Zodhiates, Spiros. The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament 2000 : n. pag. Print.
[3] Louw & Nida, 298.

When I’m not feeling happy or content in my relationship – 1 Corinthians 7:17-24

22 May

happy vs joyAre 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?

Feeling discontent in your relationships?

17 May

discontent

What would you say has been bothering you?  Anyone been feeling discontented lately?  A change that you are hoping for too long in coming?  A change that you weren’t hoping for came unexpectedly?  Change or die, they say.  Or maybe they say it like this, if something does not change it is dead.  Or, all living things change.  But as much as we claim to embrace change, thrive on change, it can be unsettling, leaving us with that feeling of discontent.  Change too fast, and we feel unprepared, off kilter. Change too slow, and we get impatient, grumpy, disillusioned.

It can be hard to be content.  There is a sense in which discontent can be a very good thing.  There is such a thing as holy discontent, an inner feeling that something is wrong that needs to be righted.  I’m not talking about that kind of discontent. Instead I’m talking about a dissatisfaction with life.

In the church at Corinth, which we have been studying since the beginning of the year at Faith Church, we see a group of people struggling with the realities of change. It is relationship month at Faith Church, as during the month of May we are walking through 1st Corinthians chapter 7, which we have divided up into four sermons about relationships.  We’re covering all sorts of relational ground, and much of it is about changing relationships and the feelings of discontent that we so often have about our relationships.  Perhaps that is the most important question to ask: How do you feel about the most the important relationships in your life?  Could it be said of you that you have feelings of discontent about them?

My guess is that you would be the exceedingly rare exception if you could say that you were perfectly content about the relationships that matter the most to you.  The Christians in Corinth had written Paul a number of relationship questions, as it seems that they were experiencing some discontent.  And so tomorrow at Faith Church we’re going to take a look at what Paul has to say to them about this fundamental issue that affects so many of us.  When we are discontent, what should we do?

There are plenty of ideas out there.  Some say if you are discontent in your marriage, for example, get out.  These people feel that there is nothing worse than being in a sub-par marriage.  Or how about your job?  Are you longing for something more?  Make a change people say.  You deserve better.  Feeling dissatisfied with your church?  Move on, there a plenty of other options.

What do you think Paul would say about that? If you want, check out 1 Corinthians 7:17-24 to get ready for tomorrow’s sermon.