15 – ENGAGING THE POWERS OF THE KINGDOM – THE POWER OF CONTENTMENT

15 – ENGAGING THE POWERS OF THE KINGDOM – THE POWER OF CONTENTMENT

Perhaps this topic should have been included in our study on generosity. At least, it is a part of generosity, but I think it needs separate treatment so, here goes!

Much of what Paul wrote in his letters flowed from years of personal experience. His life as a believer was eventful, to say the least, full of dangers and deprivations. Yet his conclusion near the end of his life is startling and unexpected but true.

“Some people may contradict our teaching, but these are the wholesome teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. These teachings promote a godly life. Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.” 1 Timothy 6:3, 6-8 NLT

What is contentment and how do we learn contentment when everything around us is so topsy-turvy?

DISCONTENT – THE HALLMARK OF THE UNGODLY

I think we can best learn what godly contentment is by first examining discontent and the fruit it produces.

Discontent is a powerful force that is driving the levels of crime to where they are in our country today. Why are people so discontented? I think it’s because of an attitude of entitlement which often follows oppression.

The “freedom” people experience after years of oppression develops into an attitude of entitlement as a compensation for what they suffered. “I want this or that. It’s my right. If I don’t get it, I will take it by force.”

The children of Israel developed this attitude when they were finally settled in the Promised Land. They threw off the yoke of God’s rule and became “free” to do as they liked.

The Lord comes forward to pronounce judgment on the elders and rulers of his people: “You have ruined Israel, my vineyard. Your houses are filled with things stolen from the poor. How dare you crush my people, grinding the faces of the poor into the dust?” demands the Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.” Isaiah 3:14-15 NLT

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? History repeats itself over and over.

Entitlement is, in the end, the expression of lawlessness, rebellion and… greed, and is the way people live out their slavery to sin.

So, marches, strikes, protests, and mass action  fuel the fires of rebellion, resulting in violence and destruction. The end result is more loss and more suffering which produce more discontent. People who behave like this are fools because they never learn. They do the same thing again and again and think the outcome will be different.

This is typically the selfishness that characterises people who are without God and are caught up in the world’s system. “Sheep” is an apt term to describe worldly people. They mindlessly follow the ones who shout the loudest and never consider the consequences of their lawlessness.

CONTENTMENT – THE HALLMARK OF KINGDOM CITIZENS

By contrast, contentment is, or should be, the characteristic of God’s children. God is in the process of reproducing His Son in the lives of His sons and daughters which includes contentment.

(We must not confuse contentment with complacency. A contented person is at peace with his/her situation but, at the same time, will recognise and grasp opportunities for improvement when they come.

On the other hand, a complacent person is one who is apathetic, lazy and unwilling to do anything to change a bad situation even if he/she has the opportunity to do so).

Jesus is the perfect example of a true son.

What characterised His life? (This is something we should never forget)! His loving and willing submission to the Father. Jesus was perfectly contented with His life in the Father no matter what happened.

But Jesus was Jesus!

How can we achieve an attitude of contentment in God in a world of people seething with discontent?

Despite his circumstances in a Roman jail surrounded by Roman soldiers, here’s how Paul did it. “I have learned…” he said.

“How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:10-13 NLT

One of Paul’s early lessons as a believer is recorded in Acts 16. He and Silas, his companion, were thrown into prison for freeing a slave girl from demons. Instead of making a fuss about injustice, they sang songs of praise to God when they couldn’t sleep.

We know the outcome. Paul and Silas were freed and an entire Roman family believed in Jesus. That was tough but he learned by doing.

Contentment is not on the list of spiritual gifts or the fruit of the Spirit. Contentment, like obedience and generosity, is learned through practice. We learn obedience by being obedient. We learn generosity by being generous. We learn contentment by being content. These are choices we make, over and over until they are woven into who we are becoming.

Why is contentment of such importance to us, and to God?

1. Contentment is the expression of our trust in God.

We allow God to be God in our lives. If we are discontented with our lot in life, we are actually challenging God’s love. We are telling Him, “You don’t love me. If you did, you would do a better job of caring for me.”

2. Contentment frees God to make changes for the better in our situations.

Bad situations are a test of our faith in God. Look how God tested the children of Israel in the wilderness.

“Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands. Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Deuteronomy 8:2-3 NLT

Their discontent revealed their faithlessness and brought God’s wrath down on them.

Job, on the other hand, trusted God and refused to curse Him despite his suffering.

“Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him… ” Job 13:15a.

After the test, God doubled what Job lost and blessed him lavishly for his faith.

3. Contentment allows Jesus to have the right to supreme authority in our lives. He chooses our situation and circumstances.

He earned the right to be Lord by taking our place in death and paying our debt of sin. Now He lives in us by His Spirit to reclaim us from the sins we still commit and raise us up with Him to reign with Him in life over our old nature and its pull towards sin and death.

4. Contentment protects us from jealousy, envy and covetousness.

Firstly, let’s examine what these words mean.

“Jealousy” has a good and a bad application. To be “jealous for” implies a protective attitude towards what is good. God is a jealous God.

“For I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. I promised you as a pure bride to one husband—Christ.” 2 Corinthians 11:2 NLT

“Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us?” James 4:5 NLT

God is jealous for us because He knows that, without Him, we are nothing.

To be “jealous of” implies that I crave what someone else has, which often includes bad feelings towards the other person.

Envy and jealousy are not interchangeable. They don’t mean the same thing. Jealousy focuses on the object; envy is directed towards the person with the intention to do harm. The attitude of the religious leaders towards Jesus is a classic example.

“As the crowds gathered before Pilate’s house that morning, he asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you—Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” (He knew very well that the religious leaders had arrested Jesus out of envy).” Matthew 27:17-18 NLT

Envy recognises the good in the character of another and hates him for it.

Jesus told a story which illustrates this attitude.

“… So, when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius.  When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner.  ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’  

“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?  Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you.  Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ ” Matthew 20:10-15 NIV

“Covetousness” is an inward attitude that drives both envy and jealousy. Paul recognised covetousness, aroused by the law, as that part of his sin nature over which he had no control.

“What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”  But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead.” Romans 7:7-8 NIV

The only cure for covetousness is contentment and the only way we can be contented is by learning to be content through the power of Christ.

“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 this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13 NIV

5. Contentment protects us from worry, anxiety and fear.

Once again, worry, anxiety, and fear are the outcome of mistrusting God’s love. These three attitudes cancel confidence in God’s reliability to keep His promises. They open our minds to the devil’s lying suggestions and accusations that cast doubts on the character of God. They are a slap in God’s face by accusing Him of lying.

These are rough words but mirror the words of Scripture…

“If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.” 1 John 1:10 NLT

6. Contentment protects our minds from the devil’s lies.

It is impossible to think two thoughts at the same time. If you are anxious or worried, you cannot trust God. You mind is attuned to Satan’s insinuations that God is untrustworthy.

If you are grateful and value God’s goodness, you will be immune to Satan’s suggestions. Both thoughts cannot co-exist in one mind.

7. Contentment honours God by giving Him credit for all that He is and does for us.

Contentment is expressed by a grateful heart. Remember the mouth that is the opening to the well of salvation?

“But giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honours me. If you keep to my path, I will reveal to you the salvation of God.” Psalms 50:23 NLT

“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 NLT

It is impossible to be thankful and discontented at the same time. Therefore, learning to be contented is a simple lesson if we give thanks “in all circumstances”.

“What can I offer the Lord for all he has done for me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and praise the Lord ’s name for saving me.” Psalms 116:12-13 NLT

This verse kept coming into my mind this morning. The more I thought about it, the more I began to understand the role of thanksgiving in our lives that ties in beautifully with the topics we have been studying.

The best way to express our gratitude to the Lord is by “lifting up the cup of salvation”. What does that mean?

The basic meaning of “salvation” is “wholeness”.  God has given us His power in its many facets, the same power that raised Christ from the dead, to overcome the sin in us that produces death, and restore wholeness in us. Therefore, to engage the powers of the kingdom is the best way to show our gratitude to Him and, conversely, not to apply these truths in our various circumstances is the worst form of ingratitude.

It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that we show our gratitude for a gift best by using it. It is the same with God’s gifts. Not to “lift up the cup of salvation” means that we don’t value the benefits of His salvation. Paul pleaded with the Corinthians Church, which was full of sinful behaviour, not to receive the grace of God in vain.

“As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.” 2 Corinthians 6:1 NIV

To continue living in sinful reactions to our circumstances in life is to ignore God’s grace and devalue the power He has put at our disposal to “overcome the world”.

Ingratitude is the first step in a slippery slide that ends in a depraved mind.

21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Romans 1:21

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 Romans 1:28-29

8. Contentment gives us space to enjoy who we are, where we are, and what we have, which all come from God.

“Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” James 1:14-17 NLT

When we live in an attitude of contentment, we create space in our minds to move around in our environment without the pressures of wrong desires and wants.

We acknowledge that what we are and have is from God. We are grateful for everything He has given to enrich our lives.

We value and enjoy who we are; we cultivate and use our gifts to bless others; we make good use of what we have and give away what we do not use to benefit others.

We stay where we are because God has put us there. Sometimes, God moves us through creating restlessness in our spirits. We learn to discern the difference between fleshly and divine discontent.

Fleshly restlessness often comes from wanting more or better…

Divine discontent is spiritual awareness that God is calling us away, perhaps to worse circumstances and yet, deep inside, we know it is the right thing for us. If God is in it, we will be contented, no matter what.

9. Contentment is the best way to de-stress your life.

Stress is a major factor in killing people today, either by stress-induced diseases or by suicide. Lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically increased the number of suicides worldwide. Why? Is it because people have reacted to the huge changes in their lives by becoming discontented? In other words, they don’t know how to handle stress.

Stress and contentment are incompatible. If you have learned, like Paul, to be contented in all circumstances, stress will be excluded from your responses to change. Why? After all, God is still in charge.

Can you see, then, what a powerful tool contentment is to ward off the greed and covetousness that drives the world system. With the protection of contentment motivated by gratitude for God’s goodness, we can live in the most confined of circumstances without being driven by what us going on around us.

Through the power that Jesus supplies, we, can be free indeed.

“Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin.  A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.” John 8:34-36 NLT

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

All Scripture quotations in this series

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luella Campbell


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