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TEXT: I Timothy 6:6
SUBJECT: Excellency of Contentment #1
Jeremiah Burroughs was a Puritan pastor who lived from 1599 to 1646. This was not a happy and peaceful time in England, and many Puritans suffered greatly under the hateful and persecuting Archbishop, William Laud.
For many believers, it was a time for action; extreme measures were called for, and they were ready to implement them. But as the voices got louder and more hysterical, Jeremiah Burroughs sat quietly in his study and wrote a book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment.
Every word in the title was chosen carefully: Contentment is rare because very few have it-and not just the ungodly. How many believers can you name who seem truly, deeply, and permanently content? I can only think of one.
Contentment is a Jewel because it is both beautiful and precious. Today, a woman who puts up with a bad husband and loves him anyway is called a doormat-or something a lot worse than that! But Peter says her meek and quiet spirit is an incorruptible beauty and in the sight of God, very precious.
Contentment is Christian because it has nothing in common with the fatalism of Islam, the indifference of Buddhism, or the pride of the Stoics. Christian contentment does not pretend everything is right in the world-it isn't right! It does not pretend that God has so willed evil that the ones who do it are not responsible for what they do-they are! And, it is surely does not think that unhappiness is beneath its dignity.
Tonight, we'll begin a study of this fine book.
In the edition I have, the book is 228 pages long-and though it's quite readable, I think this is too much for our mid-week service. If you disagree with me, you're welcome to read the book for yourself! I highly recommend it, for brief devotional reading, or any other kind.
So, what we'll do-the Lord willing-is to study one chapter of the book; it's near the middle, and when you hear its title, you'll know why I have chosen it. It's called The Excellence of Contentment.
If there's a quality more excellent than contentment, I don't know what it is. If there's a trait more Christlike, more needed, and more useful than contentment, I can't name it. If there's an attribute that will set us apart from the world and testify to it of God's grace and power more than contentment, I have no idea what it would be.
Contentment is a grace-not a gift; it's a fruit of the Spirit and not a special calling. This means it's for you, and, if you're in Christ, you can have it, and need to grow in it. All believers need to be more patient and satisfied than they are: young ones need to and so do old ones; rich, poor, sick, healthy, newly converted, veteran saint, we all need to be content.
Jeremiah Burroughs can help us grow in this grace. So let's get to him.
He begins by stating his case, citing both sacred and profane authors in support of it:
"The Apostle says, `I have learned to be content', as if he should say: Blessed be God for this! Oh! It is a mercy of God to me that I have learned this lesson, I find so much good in this contentment, that I would not for the world be without it!
Now even the heathen philosophers had a sight of the great excellence that is in contentment. I remember reading of Antithesthenes, who desired of his gods nothing in this world to make his life happy but contentment, and if he might have anything that he would desire to make his life happy, he would ask of them that he might have the spirit of Socrates, to be able to bear any wrongs, any injuries that he met with, and to continue in a quiet temper of spirit whatsoever befell him. If he saw what a great excellence there is in this, certainly a Christian may see an abundance of excellence in it!"
The Bible verse he begins with is Philippians 4:11, and is part of Paul's rejoicing. He has not resigned himself to a rotten life in the world to be made up for in heaven, but he is rejoicing right now-in a world full or hardships and persecutions. Partly because he has learned to be content with whatever the Lord has brought his way.
I Timothy 6:6, it seems to me, is even more to the point. There, Paul is arguing with the false teachers who say "Godliness is a means of gain". In other words, God wants you rich and if you obey Him, you will be! Godliness as a means-a way-of getting what you really want. But Paul says Godliness-with contentment-are the riches God gives you. Not: Be godly and content so you'll become rich, but If you are godly and content you are rich!
This is precisely what the Bible teaches: that contentment is a rare jewel.
Burroughs could leave it there, but chooses not to. He then quotes a pagan writer who says, roughly, the same thing. Why does he do this? It's not that Antisthenes adds anything to the word of God, but that if even he-an idolater-knows the value of contentment, we should know it even better.
Marcus Aurelius was one of the persecuting Caesars, yet he believed in contentment and spent his whole life pursuing it. How come we don't? Why do we justify our discontent, our murmuring, our envy, our resentment with what we don't have? It's not flattering to be compared to a Pagan and found.less content than he is.
What makes contentment so precious? Burroughs names ten things that do. We'll look at the first one tonight. It is both the most important-and also the one you're most likely to miss.
"By contentment, we come to give God the worship to Him. It is a special part of the Divine worship that we owe to God, to be content in a Christian way".
When you think of worshiping God, what comes to mind? Bible reading, prayer, meditation, singing, hearing a sermon, taking the Lord's Supper? These are examples of worship, of course-and so is contentment. (A bit later, the Puritan will show how it relates to the more visible forms of worship and what its value is compared to the others).
This is how we ought to look at contentment-and the way we hardly ever do it! In some places, church bells ring to call the people to worship. That's what problems ought to do for us: Call us to worship God by being content!
The next time you look at your little paycheck or at your old car, your small home, your disappointing family, your dead-end career, your embarrassing church, and so on, just remember the Lord is calling you to worship Him by being content with what you have-even if it's not what you wanted or thought you would have!
Why should you be content with what you have? Because in being that way, you worship the Lord.
Having stated his reason, Burroughs illustrates it with a comparison most pastors wouldn't use,
"The word that the Greeks have that signifies `to worship' is the same as to come and crouch before someone, as if a dog would come crouching to you, and be willing to lie down at your feet. So the Christian, conscious of his baseness and the infinite excellence that is in God, when it comes to worship this God comes to crouch before Him and lies down at the feet of God: then the Christian worships God! When you see a dog come crouching before you, and when by holding your hand over it, you can make it lie down at your feet, then consider, thus you should do before the Lord. You should be willing to crouch before Him, even lie down on your back or belly, so as to be willing that He should do to you as He wills".
The comparison is not flattering, but it is an apt one. A loyal dog is content with his master. If the man wants to go for a walk, the dog goes with him; if he wants to sit by the fire, the dog will be at his feet. If he wants it to sit up or roll over or beg-or whatever he wants it to do-the dog is content to do it.
If God were a man, it would be humiliating to do this: but He isn't a man and there's no shame in taking what the Lord gives you and being content with it!
This is contentment at its best: Believing the Master knows best and being happy with whatever He wants to give us or do with us.
The Puritan adds,
"When you can be contented and bless God for any crumb, I say this is a great worship of God!"
CONTENTMENT VS. "WORSHIP"
A few minutes ago, I said contentment is an act of worship, just as prayer or Bible reading or taking the Lord's Supper is. But what is the relationship between contentment and these other things? You know how important it is to pray or read the Bible, but how does contentment measure up to these holy things?
Burroughs was a good churchman and very much believed in the means of grace, but he's honest enough to say,
"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 receive the Sacrament. These are acts of worship, but they are only external acts. But contentment is the soul's worship, to subject itself thus to God. You who often worship God by hearing a sermon or taking a sacrament, but afterwards are cross and discontented, know that God will not accept this worship, but will have the soul subject itself to Him".
Being content is more pleasing to God than hearing a sermon-or preaching one! It is better to patiently take what Providence sends you than to take the Lord's Supper with teary eyes.
Why is this? For one thing, public worship can be an outward act only. It doesn't have to be, but, often, it is. But contentment? That's real devotion to the Lord. The Pharisees were committed to praying, fasting, and giving alms. But all the while, they were not content with what they had and very unhappy over the Messiah God sent them!
Contentment is an act of worship more important than the things we do on Sunday morning. It's not an either/or proposition: it's not be content or come to church. It's both come to church and be content and remember which matters more!
Burroughs has some sharp words for the Christian who's very careful about prayer, the Lord's Supper, and so on, but who's not so fussy about contentment!
"When they perform acts of worship, they say, `O that I could do what pleases God!' When they come to suffer any cross, they say, `O that God might please me!'"
But this attitude does not please the Lord. Nothing pleases Him more than contentment. For it is the soul's highest act of worship. Holy Job was never holier than-after losing his children and wealth in one day-he worshiped, tore his clothes, and said,
Naked I came from my mother's womb and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
That's Jeremiah Burroughs on The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. Before we quit for the night, however, I want to ask you a rude question, a series of them, really.
Some of these things can be changed and improved on. But until they are, you need to be content with what you have now. And, if they never change or improve, you need to be content with what you have. This is not my opinion-or Jeremiah Burroughs'-but the plain, unmistakable Word of God.
When you accept what He has for you, you find contentment, thanksgiving, freedom, and usefulness. When you won't take what He has for you, you find dissatisfaction, ingratitude, bondage, and you become a negative influence on people.
But most importantly, when you are content with what you have, you worship God. When you're not, you don't. Everyone has a reason to be discontent-my wife, my kids, my home, my job, my income, my health, my church, my friends, my widget!
But the Christian has no real reason to be discontent because whatever sort of wife, kids, home, or widgets he has, he also has God and with Him, everything else.
"Let your conduct be without covetousness and be content with what you have for He has said, `I will never leave you nor forsake you'".
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