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TEXT: Romans 5:3
SUBJECT: Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment #2
Last week we began to study a chapter in the Puritan classic, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. The author of this book is Jeremiah Burroughs, a man well-trained in disappointment and contentment.
The whole book-it seems to me-is too long for our mid-week study, but it's not too long to read, and I highly recommend it to you-especially if you're unhappy with what you have. Out of the book, I've selected chapter seven as being particularly helpful: the title explains why: The Excellence of Contentment.
What quality could be more excellent than contentment? We look at the life of Joseph or Moses or Paul, and we cannot help admiring their patience and good attitudes. Moses was a prince, Joseph the son of a rich man, and Paul a great scholar-yet look at the hard and grimy lives they were called to live! The prince becomes a shepherd, the son becomes a slave and prisoner, the scholar becomes a vagabond preacher without a wife or kids or a fixed salary! But you don't hear much murmuring from them, do you? From Joseph and Paul, there's none at all. In Moses, there's some griping, of course-but can you blame him?
The contentment we find in them is very great, but it's not half of what we see in Another Man. This Man is also a Prince, an Heir, and a Scholar, but He find Himself poor, unpopular, unmarried, unappreciated, and, then crucified! The Man is our Lord Jesus Christ who set the standard for being contentment with what you have-even if all you've got is.God.
Contentment is a rare jewel-beautiful, precious, and hard to find. But the Lord calls us to contentment-all of us to it. And by His grace, we ought to seek it and find it, in some measure. How much happier we would be if we were content; how much more peaceful our families and churches would be if we were content; how much better would our witness be if we were content!
This is the topic of our study-and the importance of it. Last time, we saw contentment as being an act of worship. Burroughs says by being content, we
"Give God the worship that is due to Him.You worship God more by this than when you come to hear a sermon, or spend an hour in prayer, or when you come to take the Sacrament".
The language is bold for a Puritan! These men always harped on the public worship of God and showed how important it is to come to church, to hear sermons, to partake of the Lord's Supper, and so on. Yet these things-as dear as they are-are less dear than being content with what you have!
That's what Jeremiah Burroughs says-and he's right. We shouldn't despise outward things, but we must remember that what we are matters more than what we do. Praying, reading the Bible, coming to church-good. Being content-better.
What makes contentment so excellent? In his second heading, the Puritan says,
"In contentment, there is much exercise of grace; there is much strength of grace, there is much beauty of grace: I put these all together".
Two-third of what he says here is quite clear to me: contentment builds character and adorns the soul. But the first part I had to read over and over to see what he's getting at. Strength and beauty are plain enough, but what's he mean by: "much exercise of grace"?
I'm not sure why he chose that word, but what he means by it is something like inclusion. I know that's not much better than exercise, but if you don't like it, do better yourself!
"There is a compound of grace in contentment: there is faith and there is humility, and love, and there is patience, and there is wisdom, and there is hope; almost all graces are included.In one action you do, you may exercise one grace especially, but in contentment, you exercise a great many graces all at once".
If you go to a health club, you'll find a great many machines designed to exercise one part of your body. One machine works on your biceps, another on your calves, a third on you lower back, and so on. By using one of the machines, you can build up one part of your body. By using them all, you can become fitter and stronger all over.
Now, what if an inventor came up with a machine that would work all parts at the same time? Do you think he could market it? Do you think you'd buy it? And, what if it was guaranteed to work! The man would win the Nobel Prize and become a gazillionaire!
Contentment is something like that machine. When you can be satisfied with God while not having the other things you need (or want), you build your faith, humility, hope, patience, gratitude, and more.
On the other hand, discontentment weakens your graces. What discontented believer is also thankful? What complainer is also humble? How can you believe the promises of God and also be unhappy with what you have?
Christian Contentment is a Rare Jewel-is an excellent thing-because it pretty much includes all other graces.
From this, we infer a stern doctrine: Contentment is a window on your character. It shows what's inside you. Don't tell me how pious you are if you're also mad at God for not giving you more than He has--or different.
If you want to grow in grace, learn to be content. That's the first heading. The second follows from it.
"There is a great deal of strength in contentment. A body that can endure much hardship without being altered by it is a strong body.You complain of weakness of gifts, that you cannot do what others do in these things, but you can be content".
Nothing is harder than contentment. A content Christian has a strong and healthy soul. A believer who isn't content is weak and sickly-no matter how much he knows about the Bible or does in the church!
This means that every believer can become a strong Christian because strength does not depend on gifts! Do you want to do something with your life? Be content with what you have! Do you want to offer an outstanding service to Christ? Be content with what you have! Do you want to stand out from other believers? Be content with what you have!
Contentment is strength. Discontentment is weakness. A contented housewife in Fremont, California, is stronger than a discontented missionary in Papua New Guinea!
Why is contentment so very excellent? Because it is strong-far stronger than doing big things! Even big things for Christ! Proverbs 16:32 says so:
"He who rules his spirit is greater than he who takes a city".
I know the primary meaning here is controlling your sinful anger. But what is this anger but an outworking of discontentment? Why do I blow up? Because I'm not getting what I want. Why do I pout? Because I'm not getting my way. But he who is content in not getting what he wants or having his way is more heroic than the great warriors who took cities and built empires.
Contentment is excellent because it is strong. If you want to impress me, don't tell me what a man has done for God, but tell me he's content with what God has done for him!
The Puritan says,
"It argues for a strong spirit that whatever befalls it, yet it is not always whining and complaining as others do, but it carries on as before and blesses God".
This is the second heading. There's one more,
"There is beauty if contentment.There is a saying of Seneca, a heathen, `When you go out into the woods and see tall trees, it strikes a kind of godly fear in you. But, do you see a man who is quiet in the storms of life and who lives happily in the midst of adversities, why do you not worship that man?' The glory of God appears here more than in any of His works. There is no work that God has made-sun, moon, stars, and all the world-in which so much of His glory appears as in a man who lives quietly in the midst of adversity".
Burroughs begins this heading with a quotation from Seneca, one of the most celebrated men of the Rome-and a pagan, by the way. A towering tree or a waterfall or a some other natural wonder evokes a feeling of awe in us. He's right, of course, it does. But if Half Dome or the Redwoods or Niagara Falls makes you reverent, what should you feel in the presence of contentment? He says you ought to worship a content man! For he's a wonder far greater than oceans or mountains or thunderstorms!
The Puritan says God's glory shines in contentment more than in the sun or moon or stars.
There's a beauty in contentment: in being happy with what the Lord has given you and not fussing about what He's withheld from you.
At this point, let me remind you of Joseph, one of the great men in the Bible. Pharaoh valued his knowledge. The Egyptians valued his foresight. His family valued his mercy and generosity.
But we who have read the whole story of his life cannot help being most impressed by his contentment. He's the favored son of a rich man, but his brothers envy and hate him. We never find him whining about them. He's sold into slavery and becomes the houseboy of Potiphar. He has a good attitude and moves up in the service of his master. Potipher's wife tries to seduce him, and when he says no, he's thrown in jail, where he becomes the trustee of prisoners. In jail he helps a high officer in the Royal Service and tells him to say a word to Pharaoh about him. For three years the officer forgets all about him. Later, he has a chance to punish his brothers for their wickedness, but won't because, though
You meant it for evil, God meant it for good.
What'er my God ordains is right;
Holy His will abideth;
I will be still what'er He doth
And follow where He guideth.
The gift God gave Joseph, He offers to you too. By His grace, you too, can receive the Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. To help you receive it-and grow in it-just remember:
"Be content with what you have". This is the command of God, made to people who didn't have much. The order has not been revoked; it stands even now and will keep on standing till the Lord comes again.
But are you content with what you have? Rather than leaving it so general, let me ask:
Contentment does not contradict ambition. There's nothing wrong with wanting a better job or more income or even a better spouse and so on. But it becomes wrong when you cannot give thanks for what you have-right now-and mean it.
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