Pillars of Christian Character: Contentment
As I was preparing for this morning’s message on contentment, I came across some pithy quotes and interesting proverbs from other countries that describe contentment from that culture’s perspective:
- Italian Proverb—Since the house is on fire, let us warm ourselves.
- Turkish Proverb—One already wet does not feel the rain.
- Chinese Proverb—He who is content can never be ruined.
- Spanish Proverb—Since we have loaves, let us not look for cakes.
- Jewish Proverb—When life isn't the way you like, like it the way it is.
- Epictetus, a 2nd Century Stoic philosopher, (C. 55-C. 135) – Contentment consists not in great wealth but in few wants.
- William Shakespeare (1564-1616)—He is well paid that is well satisfied.
- A more contemporary muse, Bill Gothard, says—Contentment is understanding that if I am not satisfied with what I have, I will never be satisfied with what I want.
- But, my favorite quote on satisfaction is an Arabian Proverb—Better a handful of dry dates and content therewith than to own the Gate of Peacocks and be kicked in the eye by a broody camel.
This morning’s text tells us that Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, just as we shall not be able to take anything out of it. If that is true, then the opposite is also true . . .
I. WORLDLINESS WITH DISCONTENTMENT IS THE SCOURGE OF OUR CULTURE
- have you ever wanted something really, really bad?
- I mean, wanted something so badly that you could almost taste it?
- did you ever want something so much, that you thought your life would be empty and meaningless until you got it?
- perhaps it was a toy you especially wanted as a child
- perhaps it was that new automobile for graduation—that teen dream car
- perhaps it was that certain house in a certain place
- perhaps it was a certain relationship with a certain person
- now, have you ever had the experience of finally getting exactly what you wanted for so long only to discover that it did not satisfy for long?
- you got the new toy, but it broke within a week
- you got the new car, but within a few months that ‘new car scent’ was gone and there was a ding in the side panel
- you got the certain house in the certain place and the basement leaked
- you got the relationship only to discover that your ‘Prince Charming’ was in reality a toad
- if you’ve ever experienced the emotional let-down that comes with the dissatisfaction of what you were convinced would satisfy you, then welcome to the American Experience
A. DISCONTENTMENT IS A SYNDROME OF AMERICAN CULTURE
- we live in a society were we have come to define ourselves by our titles, our positions, our account statements, and our possessions
- we have an unhealthy drive for more in America
- this is not a new problem
- “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Timothy 6:9–10, NIV84)
- our culture’s philosophy of consumption, materialism and out-right hedonism is best illuminated by the popular bumper sticker of a few years ago which read: “He who dies with the most toys wins!”
- if some is good, then more is better
- more attention
- more power
- more titles
- more degrees
- more material assets
- Madison Ave. promises us again and again that our dissatisfaction will disappear if we just buy this or that product
- we are constantly bombarded with ploys to get more stuff
- you turn on the television and there are commercials
- you log on to the internet and its full of ads
- you drive down the highway and there’s nothing but a forest of billboards
- you open the mail and there’s a catalog and credit card offer
- you answer the phone and it’s a telemarketer
- ILLUS. The average American is exposed to hundreds of advertisements a day that promise happiness. “If you just had that new exercise machine, you’d have “abs” like the guy in the commercial. If you just had those new clubs, you’d hit a golf ball like Tiger Woods. If you just had the right tan or the right makeup or the right clothes . . .”
- Americans are dissatisfied with their jobs
- one out of every five Americans admits that he or she hates waking up to the job they have
- many people are not content with the work they are doing because the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence
- instead of doing their work cheerfully and conscientiously as unto the Lord, they yield to a spirit of bitterness—as a result, they miss God's blessing
- Americans are dissatisfied with their spouses
- that’s obvious by the almost 50% divorce rate in our nation
- ILLUS. Some people in our culture trade families like my friends and I traded baseball cards when we were growing up.
- I see this especially with people raised in Christian homes
- they’ve heard all the Bible stories since they were preschoolers, and they’ve heard dozens of sermons on every conceivable Christian theme
- for many of these believers, familiarity with the faith has bred contempt for the church
- the problem with becoming dissatisfied with your faith is that you become vulnerable to false ideas about God
- anyone here this morning who’s not on a diet?
- Americans are visiting cosmetic surgeons in record numbers for nips and tucks and lifts and liposuction and botox
- ILLUS. In spite of the recession, Americans spent $10 billion on cosmetic surgery in 2009. Shows like Extreme Makeovers are big hits. If you’ve never seen Extreme Makeover, it’s kind of like “This Old House” only for the body. Who doesn’t love the story of the respectable-yet-unremarkable-looking person being transformed into a lovely swan who suddenly is noticed by everyone?
- ILLUS. Now, most of us probably don’t think of ourselves as wealthy. But your neighbor might! Surveys have found that people tend to look at those who make exactly double of whatever they make as rich, regardless of their income level. If someone makes $30,000 a year, they think someone who makes $60,000 a year is rich. And someone who make $60,000 a year, they think someone who makes $120,000 a year is rich. Even billionaire Ted Turner struggles with dissatisfaction with his income. He once told a reporter, “It’s all relative. I sit down and tell myself, ‘I’ve got $10 billion, but Bill Gates has $100 billion; I feel like a complete failure in life.” (may I experience that kind of failure and never recover!)
B. DISCONTENTMENT LEADS TO WORLDLINESS
- worldliness can be defined as a preoccupation with the temporal things—the material things—of this world
- worldliness is a spirit that demands that this world conform to our uncontrolled desires and appetites
- the problem with material gain is its inability to bring contentment
- listen to King Solomon lament his flirtation with stuff that did not satisfy . . .
- “I thought in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. “Laughter,” I said, “is foolish. And what does pleasure accomplish?” I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives. I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well—the delights of the heart of man. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me. I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor.” (Ecclesiastes 2:1–10, NIV84)
II. GODLINESS WITH CONTENTMENT SHOULD BE THE STEADFAST GOAL OF THE CHRISTIAN
- “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6:11–12, NIV84)
- this passage assumes that there are three kinds of Christian sitting in the pews this morning
- some believers are godly, but are not content
- some believers are content, but they are not godly
- some believers are characterized by both—godliness and contentment
- Christians need to be striving toward godliness and cultivating contentment as a character trait in their lives
A. CHRISTIANS MUST STRIVE TOWARD GODLINESS
- 1 Timothy 4:7-8 ". . . discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come." NASB95
- godliness is simply a lifestyle that seeks to reflect the attributes of God in our lives: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, and Self-control
- godliness requires an active obedience to his revealed will and a personal devotion that surpasses lip-service
- the Bible teaches us that the secret of contentment—as well as all the other character traits we’ve looked at—is developing a vital, dynamic faith in God
- God, through His Spirit, seeks to create in us the very character of His Son, Jesus Christ
- Philippians 1:6 "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." NASB95
- ILLUS. Sir James Mackintosh, a distinguished Scottish historian, medical doctor, lawyer, and statesman, wrote, “It is right to be contented with what we have, but never with what we are.”
- the Apostle Paul was never content with his current level of godliness and Christlikeness
- he was always striving to be more like Jesus, to have more of the mind of Christ, to understand more of the deeper mysteries of the faith
- listen to the Apostle express his heart’s desire to his friends at the church in Philippi
- Philippians 3:10-14 "I want to know Christ and the power that raised him from the dead. I want to share in his sufferings and become like him in his death. Then I have hope that I myself will be raised from the dead. I do not mean that I am already as God wants me to be. I have not yet reached that goal, but I continue trying to reach it and to make it mine. Christ wants me to do that, which is the reason he made me his. Brothers and sisters, I know that I have not yet reached that goal, but there is one thing I always do. Forgetting the past and straining toward what is ahead, I keep trying to reach the goal and get the prize for which God called me through Christ to the life above." NCV
- we must strive for it as an athlete strives for the finish line
- now all of us have what we commonly refer to as character
- but the question it, “Do you have a Christlike character?”
- are you faithful to God and His Kingdom?
- are you obedient to God’s commandments and ways?
- are you humble as Christ was humble?
- do you love as Christ loved?
- do you seek a spirit of unity with other believers?
- do you forgive others for Christ’s sake even as God has forgiven you?
- do you experience real joy in your relationship with Jesus, His Church, and the fellowship of other believers?
- are you thankful for the blessings of life?
- do you have compassion toward those hurt and need a healing word or act?
- I’ve preached on all these pillars of Christian character to get you to where we are this morning – striving toward godliness
B. CHRISTIANS NEED TO LEARN TO BE CONTENT
- “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” (1 Timothy 6:6–7, NIV84)
- ILLUS. Years ago it was reported that someone asked John D. Rockefeller how much money a man needed in order to be really happy. The great industrialist thought for a moment and then replied, “Just a little bit more.” After Rockefeller’s death, someone asked his chief accountant, “How much did Rockefeller leave after he died?” Without hesitation, the accountant said, “Everything!”
- the Greek word contentment refers to a feeling of being satisfied with what you have in life
- it doesn’t mean simply giving up and saying “Well, I guess this is my lot in life. There’s not anything I can do about it.”
- contentment goes much deeper and its much more positive than merely surrendering to fate
- contentment is not obsessing about having more, but being secure in what you have today, even if it’s not everything you want
- contentment is the ability to distinguish between what we really need verses what we merely want
- ILLUS. Someone once said, “Contentment makes poor men rich; discontentment makes rich men poor.”
- ILLUS. A good many years ago, Life magazine published a series of pictures of the Kennedy family. One was of a young David Kennedy, son of Robert Kennedy, sitting outside the White House. The picture had been taken by his aunt, Jacqueline Kennedy. It was inscribed by his uncle and then President of the United States, John Kennedy. The words read, “A future president inspects his property.” No one, it seems, expects more out of a Kennedy than another Kennedy. David never made it that far. Though he had name, status, wealth, and all that money could buy, in 1984 David Kennedy committed suicide at the age of 28. He was rich, but he was filled with so much emptiness and grief the he took his own life.
- and when death does come, we can’t take our money or our possessions with us
- we enter the world broke and completely dependant on the generosity of our parents
- during our lives, most of us will accumulate lots of stuff, make some money and have a family
- but when we leave, we leave alone—none of our possessions or assets go with us
- ILLUS. I did hear a story once about a rich man who was determined to take his wealth with him when he died. He told his wife that when she saw him on his death-bed, she was to gather all his money together, put it in a sack, and then hang the sack from the rafters in the attic. He said, “When my spirit is caught up to heaven, I’ll grab the sack on my way.” Well, the man eventually died. After the funeral the widow and a friend made their way to the attic, only to find the money still hanging in its sack. The widow told her friend, “I knew I should’ve put the sack in the basement.”
- the Apostle Paul is an excellent example of one who learned to be content with whatever life brought his way
- Philippians 4:11-13 “ . . . for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” NIV
When God looks into our hearts, what he hopes to see is contentment in our heavenly treasures and not our dissatisfaction with our earthly inventory.
Jesus gave up everything, so that you could be rich spiritually, so that you could be forgiven of all of your sins and have the gift of eternal life. Do you realize just how rich that makes you?
You have the forgiveness of sins in your spiritual bank account, and that is worth far more than having lots of money in you earthly bank account and lots of stuff in you home. And not only do you have the forgiveness of sins. You also have in your spiritual bank account a guarantee that you have eternal life. You also have God's promise that he will take care of all of your physical needs on this earth. You also have peace and confidence that come from knowing what will happen to you when you die. You have all these things in your spiritual bank account right now. And that is what makes you rich – maybe not in the world's eyes – but in God's eyes, and those are the only eyes that count. When you realize that you are rich spiritually, you won’t need to spend your life piling up worldly wealth. Instead, you'll be focused more on pursuing the things of God.
May God fill you with this kind of contentment.