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TEXT: James 5:11
SUBJECT: Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment #3
A couple of weeks ago, we began to study The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. It's a book published in 1648 by the Puritan minister, Jeremiah Burroughs.
He chose the title carefully: Christian contentment is a jewel because it is precious and beautiful; it's rare because there's not much of it in the world. Think of all the Christians you've known in your life. How many seem satisfied with what God has given them?
When was the last time a man told you how happy he is at work? How thankful he is for the job the Lord has given him, the money he makes, and the boss he answers to? It's been a while, hasn't it? Yet, every day you hear people complaining about their rotten jobs, their low pay, and I'm way too polite to repeat what they call their bosses!
The same is true of their families and churches and homes and neighbors and pretty much everything else. An example I find especially worrisome is the general unhappiness people feel about their weight. We could send missionaries to Pluto on the money Christians spend every day on diet books!
In short, most people are not content with what they have. And many of them are believers in Christ! I don't fault the unsaved for being restless and trying to fill the hole in their hearts with cars or husbands or presidencies. But there is no excuse for Christians to be dissatisfied with what they have! For we have more than we deserve; we have more than we need; God has given us-
"Exceedingly, abundantly above all we ask or think".
Thus we can be content with what we have because we have Christ and with Him we have Everything.
Saying, "be content", and being content are two very different things. Even a man of Paul's experience and character had to learn to be content. He wasn't born that way and his conversion didn't make him that way. No, he learned the hard lessons of contentment over his whole Christian life. And it wasn't until nearly the end-30-35 years after he was saved-that he finally got it.
Most of the topic cannot be taught by a sermon or a book-not even the Bible! It has to be learned in the school of hard knocks and taught by a Teacher far wiser, rougher, and gentler than any mere man!
But some light can be thrown on the matter and no one does it better than Jeremiah Burroughs. His book is not too long to read (or hard to read, either), but it is too long to teach at our midweek service. So, I selected one chapter in the book for this study. It's called The Excellence of Contentment. It's made up of ten short parts, two of which we've already examined.
What makes contentment so excellent? In the first place, it is an act of worship-an act far more pleasing to God than reading the Bible, praying, hearing a sermon, or taking the Lord's Supper. In the second place, it grows the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. It's hard to imagine a discontented person abounding in love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness, faithfulness, and self-control.
What does discontented peace look like? Or dissatisfied joy? Or irritated self-control? Or feeling-sorry-for-yourself generosity?
Contentment-in short-is a rare jewel that every believer ought to admire, love, and seek. If you think otherwise, just look at the life of our Lord Jesus Christ-the King becomes a carpenter-and is happy with it.
In tonight's study, we have two things that make contentment such a fine thing to have and keep and grow in. Burroughs combines them and, we'll follow him.
"By contentment is fitted to receive mercy, and to do service. I will put these two together: contentment makes the soul fit to receive mercy, and to do service. No man or woman in the world is as fit to receive the grace of God and to do the work of God, as though who have contented spirits".
I'm tempted to stop here. What he says is so obvious, so plain, undeniable, and beyond doubt, that I don't know what more I need to say. Contentment is a wonderful and necessary trait because:
The mercies of God are given-not only because we need them-but because He wants to be praised for them!
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all this is in me; bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life for destruction, Who crowns you with loving kindness and tender mercies, Who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your strength is renewed like an eagle's!
But is a discontented, unhappy, man person likely to praise Him? Oh, he might for a minute or two-but that's not the real man, but only an emotional break. He's glad to get out of a jam, but tomorrow he'll be complaining about something else!
Contentment doesn't fit us for God's mercy, by making us worthy of it-no man is worthy of it, but Christ. In fact, contentment empties us of worthiness, and that prepares us for it.
The contentment that makes us fit vessels for God's mercy, also make us fit vessels for His service.
Again, I don't mean we're competing to be His servants and the content-est of all wins the medal and gets the position! No, but by the very nature of things, contentment promotes service and unhappiness does the opposite.
Think, first, of how much time the discontented man wastes worrying about what he doesn't have, grumbling about what he got stuck with, and so on.
Secondly, think of how his griping cuts him off from other Christians and the good he might do them if only they liked or respected him enough to ask him!
Thirdly, think of how his unhappiness pollutes his witness to the world. Who wants what he's got? If religion makes him miserable, why should I want it? Christianity becomes a disease that everyone shies away from. His witnessing is like coughing up blood!
Contentment, on the other hand, saves time, effort, and money. It attracts the Lord's people and supports our witness to the lost. If all this is true, it must be what the Puritan says it is: excellent.
Having said this, he goes on to give the particulars. In the first place, contentment.
FIT FOR MERCY
"Fits you to receive mercy from the Lord. If you want any vessel to take in any liquor, you must hold it still, for if it stirs and shakes and moves up and down, you cannot pour anything into it."
This is a great illustration. Anyone who has kids-or has ever had dinner with kids-knows exactly it means. You try to pour some milk or soda or water into a small kid's cup and you spill it all over the table because the child is moving the cup!
What the hand does to the cup is what discontentment does to the soul! The Lord is pouring out His mercy for us, but we're so shaky that we only get a drop or two!
Does the Lord give mercy to the discontented? Of course He does. If He didn't, they'd be dead or worse than dead! The very breath they use to complain is His gift. The fact that they're wringing their hands about their lousy jobs means they have jobs-and jobs are God's mercy!
But, if the kid held his cup still, he'd get more soda. If the Christian held his heart still, he'd get more mercy. He would appreciate what he has already and recognize the new mercies the Lord is giving him every day.
A few lines down, the Puritan uses another illustration that is equally sharp and unflattering.
If a child throws and kicks up and down for a thing, you do not give it to him when he cries so, but first you will have him quiet.even if you intend to give it to him.
Nothing is uglier in a child than throwing a temper tantrum. Nothing is weaker in a parent than giving into it. The Christian who rants and raves about what he doesn't have is-in effect-throwing a temper tantrum at God, but He's a Father who won't give into it.
We receive His mercies when we ask for them.nicely. When we don't, He often says No, or, even worse than that, He says Yes. When Israel demanded a king, the Lord gave in to their demands-and Saul made them his slaves and cannot fodder for the Philistines.
He has two more illustrations, and they show the futility of dissatisfaction-the uselessness of getting mad at the Lord for what He's not giving you.
"A prisoner must not think he will get rid of his chains by pulling and tearing at them. He may tear his flesh and cut it to the bone, but he will not be unchained any soon. If he wants to be unfettered, he must quietly ask a man to unlock them for him".
"If a beggar knocks once or twice and becomes troubled [and vexed], he will not receive your alms. But if he is [humble and patient], he will get your alms".
If you were a jailer with two prisoners scheduled for release today, whose cell would you open first: the prisoner who's yelling, jumping up and down, and calling you every name in the book? Or the man who's sitting quietly, reading his Bible, and smiling at you? The first man is going to get hoarse and tired and maybe pop a blood vessel! But the second man is getting out first!
The same is true with a beggar or a panhandler. The first man yells at you: Hey, give me a dollar-make it a five-and hurry up! The second politely asks if you can give him fifty cents to make a phone call. Who gets your money?
The reason we prefer humility and patience to pride and impatience is because we're made in the Image of God. And if the images feel this way, the Original will too!
Everyone lives on mercy! The best way to get it from the Lord is to be content until He gives it. The stupidest and most sinful way to get it is to resent Him and murmur against His grace.
This is the first heading: Contentment fits us for God's mercy. The second is a lot shorter:
FIT FOR SERVICE
"If contentment makes fit to receive mercy, so it fits us to do service. Disturbed spirits that have no steadfastness in them are not fit to do service to God".
Remember, the word is fit, not worthy. The unhappy are no less worthy to serve God than the most contented man in the world. But the contented man is better fit or prepared to serve Him.
Burroughs does not develop this thought very much. But, I already mentioned some ways that discontent unfit us for the Lord's work: it wastes time and effort and it makes us repulsive to other people. But, let me add two or three other things here. These are my thoughts, not the Puritan's, but they're consistent with him and the Bible.
Firstly, discontentment grieves the Holy Spirit. How can He be happy with us if we're not satisfied with Him? And if He's not happy with us, what can we do?
Secondly, discontentment makes for a bad conscience. It's easy to fool yourself, what's not so easy is to keep yourself fooled. At first, you can justify your unhappiness, but after a while, it becomes more and more clear that you've got a bad attitude! And, if you're not willing to confess your known sins, you'll have a bad conscience. And that paralyzes all service, but hypocrisy!
Finally, discontentment justifies every sin. A man cheats on his wife because she doesn't satisfy him. A woman gossips about her husband because he doesn't satisfy her. Parents yell at their kids because they're major disappointments. Christians become paper members of the church because it's not meeting my needs.
In short, nothing will hinder your service for the Lord more than discontentment. And so, if you can learn to be content, you'll do far more for Christ and better.
You need more mercy from the Lord and you need to serve Him better. But do you want His mercy? Do you wish to serve Him better? If so, be content with what you have.
And to help you do it, just remember what you have:
"Let your conduct be without covetousness and be content with what you have, for He Himself has said, `I will never leave you nor forsake you'".
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