East Victoria Park Baptist, 01/05/2005
“11 Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:11-13)
Personal Testimony: Late last year I was going through some very stressful times to do with church life – I knew I needed to get alone with God. By faith i.e. I didn’t have the money I flew to Darwin, hired a car and went on a prayer journey in the N.T. and across to the N.W. One of the things that God imparted to me and I have not lost is a tremendous sense of satisfaction in who he is. My spirituality and emotions may rise and fall, but every time I centre on him this invaluable sense of contentment returns.
Australian society is massively discontented, according to a recent survey (Australian Reader’s Digest Survey 2004) 60% of the population is hungry to improve their quality of life and 37% say they are searching or personal fulfilment and meaning.
The evidences for social dissatisfaction are everywhere – Australians lose $1000 per head on gambling (puts us around the top gamblers in the world), JY in shopping centre the other day – queues buying Lotto tickets.
The foundation of our consumer culture is a lack of fulfillment. All advertising is based on the assumption that people want more/better. Credit card debt is enormous – Dec 2003 $26.42 billion $2377 per head. All this debt fueled by insatiable appetite for escapism – TV movies romantic novels drugs sport holidays home renovation
This atmosphere also pervades the sexual arena. Sexual permissiveness/ pornography/ prostitution always implies dissatisfaction with one’s partner. Duncan, “I’m a one woman man.” Hopefully, not because he’s a legalist, but because he’s contented with the woman he married.
In areas to do with contentment, Christians are often not much different from the world. Largest and fastest growing churches in Perth preach one form or another of a prosperity gospel. Paul’s words, “godliness combined with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim 6:6), have become “godliness combined with great gain is contentment”.
My counselling and pastoral experience shows that all the sexual problems of the world are in the church.
Life with a hole in it example: things just keep on falling through sex, food, money, respect, success, possessions… The only thing that plugs the hole and makes you complete is God.
Whenever people are caught in a destructive way of life you have to ask, “What is the deception?” The primary deception at work in a discontented materialistic community is that money can buy happiness. Every major text on contentment in the New Testament (Phil 4; 2 Cor 9; 1 Tim 6; Heb 13) is in the context of the giving and receiving of money.
A few years ago, the prominent Christian and then captain of the South African cricket team, Hansie Cronje, was exposed for accepting bribes from bookmakers. Later a fellow cricketer quoted him as having said, “I love money, it can get you anything.” Apparently our brother Hansie had forgotten the warning, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. (1 Tim 6:10). Paul does not say that money is the root of all kinds of evil, or that all evil is caused by the love of money. But he is saying that loving money is an evil thing.
Proverbs wisely says, “give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that I need,9 or I shall be full, and deny you, and say, “Who is the Lord?” or I shall be poor, and steal, and profane the name of my God.” (Prov 30:8 -9).
Jesus warned, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15). Most Australian Christians, wouldn’t think they are a target for Jesus words. Well, let’s test this out with the Lord’s “worry index”.
24 “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.” (Matt 6:24- 25). The extent to which you worry about life’s daily needs is the extent to which you are serving/worshipping money rather than God. These every day worries are the “piercing pains” Paul Warned us about (1 Tim6:10).
Someone once asked John D. Rockefeller, one of the richest men that ever lived, what would make him really satisfied, “Just a little bit more.” he said. Desiring more things is like drinking sea water, the more you drink the thirstier you are.
It does not have to be this way. Let me read a report from thePhilippines, “One Sunday, I and some others visitedSmokeyMountain, which is a ten hectare area of land used as a rubbish dump by the city of ten million people. 20,000 people live on this rubbish dump, making their living by scavenging for rubbish. Disease and sickness is rife, but for all this, a church we visited was filled with some of the most sincerely joyful people I have ever met, people who can do nothing but praise God for all that he has given them. It was a joy and privilege to worship with these brothers and sisters.”
Is this the sort of joy people experience when they visit the average Australian church?
Living the Contented Life
In our main text Paul makes the remarkable claim that whatever the circumstances of his life, he is free from worry. (Phil 4). Elsewhere he says, “10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” (2 Cor6:10)
What does it mean (in Paul’s words) to “have learned the secret” of being content. Literally, he has been “initiated” into contentment. It is an initiation through suffering whose dynamics are revealed through Paul’s thorn in the flesh experience. Whatever this thorn was, it involved chronic pain. After repeated prayer, Jesus said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9). From that point on he stopped asking for relief and could say, “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:9- 10).
This secret power that enables Paul to, “do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13) means that whatever is happening in life, its ups and downs, joys and sorrows – it’s all the same to Paul, he does not favour poverty over prosperity or the reverse.
This secret power of satisfaction is a share in the very life of Christ for there is not the least hint of dissatisfaction in the life of Jesus. He shows no interest whatsoever in the devil’s temptations to be a miracle worker, a star attraction or the ruler of the world (Matt 4:1- 11).
The heart reason for Jesus absolute contentment is found in his relationship with the Father. It is Jesus who taught us that God clothes the flowers and feeds the birds, and he said “indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” (Matt6:26-32). Jesus reveals what was going on inside his life when he says, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” (John 15:10). Whoever abides in the love of the Father rests secure in his promises and knows that God is watching over them all their lives.
Since Jesus was a man of feasting and famine we too can, and must, be people of feasting and famine. Since Jesus was both acclaimed and despised we too must be able to receive popularity and rejection in the same way – and never lose our contentment in God.
This is not at all easy, but it is increasingly possible. The key principle is this, the more you are willing to lose for Jesus the more you grow in an experience of Jesus and his contentment. Paul tells us, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil3:10). The only way to the absolute satisfaction with God that Jesus enjoyed in the resurrection is to share with him the sort of dereliction that he endured for us at the cross (Phil3:10; Mark15:34).
I was once praying for a group of rebels who I was pasturing (a prophet’s description) and I felt God say, “I am satisfied with this people”. It had to be God, because there was no way that I could feel like that towards them. I was compelled by the Spirit to go and preach to them the truth that “in Christ” God was totally satisfied with them. In the words of Colossians 2:10, “in Him you have been made complete”.
Do you sense that you are complete in Jesus – has he ever failed you, misled you, betrayed you, disappointed you, hurt you?? Never!
How powerful is this truth of incredible and amazing contentment in our God – money cannot buy this experience, nor can it be procured by any form of entertainment or pleasure or religious efforts . It is totally free.
For this nation to be impacted by the gospel it only requires Christians to live consistently in the contentment of God – people will sit up and ask, “Where do you get this peace.” “Whatever you have, I want it.”
The older I get the more I learn to accept God for who he is and not what I want him to be, this pleases him and produces contentment in me.
The single condition for experiencing contentment with God is personal weakness. If I had not been in a position of deep weakness when I went on my prayer journey, and I am in much the same position now, I could not have this sustaining experience of satisfaction in God.
Let us then take up the attitude of Paul, “So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Cor 12:9).