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TEXT: Hebrews 13:5
SUBJECT: The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment #4
The Seventeenth Century was the noisiest hundred years in the history of England. The people who have always prided themselves on moderation and muddle, were-at the time--immoderate and ferociously clear-cut in what they wanted.
The nation was divided into three parties: the Cavaliers who backed the King, the Church of England, and the status quo; and the Roundheads who supported Parliament, the Puritans, and change, and the Radicals who favored either no government at all or the direct rule of Jesus Christ (without human kings, judges, lawmakers, and so on).
To put it mildly, the English Christians of that century were not content with what they! Nearly all of them wanted something more, something less, or something different.
But in that loud and confusing time, a single voice was raised in protest. It was from Jeremiah Burroughs whose best-known book was published in 1648. The title tells you what's it's about. It is The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment.
The theme is just that: Believers in Christ ought to be content with what we have and that contentment would adorn us more beautifully than the most precious diamond. What the Proverb says of a good wife, we can say of contentment: its price is far above rubies.
In an age rife with covetousness, I wish somebody would covet contentment! We want everything else in the world, but not the one thing that would make us happy with what we already have: contentment.
For the last few weeks, we've been examining Chapter 7 of the book, which is The Excellence of Contentment. Think of all the mediocre things we're dying for, but can't have. But here's one that is excellent-and can be had by anyone who wants it.
You don't have to be smart or strong or ambitious or lucky to be content. But you need to be wise enough to see how precious it is! The poorest Man who ever lived was also the most content. He had no place to lay His head and He wasn't worried about it.
Everyone in this room-starting with me-needs to be more content with what he has. The contentment I have in mind does not contradict ambition or trying hard to make something of yourself. But what it does it make you thankful for what you have right now. And it makes you happy when others have more. Even if they seem to deserve it less than you do.
So far in our study, we've looked at four things that make contentment the excellent thing it is.
Contentment pleases the Lord, it develops His gifts in you, it fits you to receive His mercy, and it qualifies you to serve His people. Take contentment away and all these things go to pieces.
This is a rebuke I don't like! But, like it or not, it's true. The covetousness, the murmuring, the envy, the self-pity-these things are not consistent with worshiping the Lord or serving Him. All these things are just branches that grow out of the trunk of discontentment.
Tonight's topic is the most obvious one of all. What makes contentment such a rare jewel? The Puritan says,
"Contentment delivers us from an abundance of temptations. Oh, the temptations that men of discontented spirits are subject to! The devil loves to fish in troubled waters; where he sees men and women troubled and vexed, there he comes, saying, `Here is good fishing for me'".
THE RING OF TRUTH
There's a ring of truth to what he says. He doesn't cite any Bible verse because he doesn't need to. What could be more plain than the fact that a discontented man is open to way more sins than a contented man is?
Let me give you an illustration.
Peter Smith is a forty-year old man who is content with his wife. He knows she isn't perfect, of course, but she makes him happy, and every time he prays, he thanks the Lord for giving him, not only a wife, but a soul mate, a help meet for him as the Bible has it.
John Taylor is also a forty-year old man whose wife is a lot like Peter's. But John isn't so happy with his wife. He won't say she's a bad wife or an evil woman, because she isn't. But she's also not what he hoped she would be. And, instead of giving thanks for her good qualities, he spends a lot of time resenting the ones that aren't so good.
Peter and John work in the same office. One day, a new receptionist is hired named Hilary. She's young, beautiful, and flirtatious. Which man is more likely to fall for Hilary? Peter the contented husband or John, the man who's not satisfied with his wife?
The two men are very much alike in most ways: they're the same age, they're both married to good women, each man is red-blooded and neither is blind to the charms of a pretty girl. But we all know that John Taylor is more likely to sin with the new girl than Peter Smith is. Why? Because Peter is contented with his wife and John isn't!
John's unhappiness is not adultery, but it sure opens the door to it. Likewise, Peter's happiness does not make rule out infidelity, but it sure cuts down the likelihood.
Thus, Jeremiah Burroughs is right: contentment delivers us from an abundance of temptations.
Apply this to other sins and you'll see that discontentment is a breeding ground of a great many sins.
Which man is more likely to think ill thoughts of God? The man who is thankful for what he has or the man who feels the Lord has cheated him out of what he ought to have?
Which man is more likely to gossip about his church? The one who can see both its good side and bad, or the one who is focused on the bad and blind to the good?
Who's more likely to cheat on his income tax? The man who's thankful for what he makes or the one who thinks he deserves far more?
Who's going to be a better father? The man who is thankful for his kids (as imperfect as they are) or the man who is bitterly disappointed in them because they're not what he wants them to be?
Go through the Ten Commandments. Who's more likely to break them? The contented man or the discontented? Who's going to make an idol-the man who's content not seeing God or the one who wants to see Him (no matter what the image may be)? Who's going to commit a murder: the man who is glad his neighbor got the promotion or the one who resents it? And covetousness is just another word for being discontented with what you have.
Contentment is not God and it does not keep us from every sin. But it sure cuts down the number of sins we're likely to commit and lowers the intensity of all other sins.
If one quality can keep a man from committing adultery and his wife from overspending and his kids from being morose all the time, it must be an excellent one. And contentment is all that. And more.
THE LENGTHS TO WHICH DISCONTENTMENT WILL GO
If you think I've overstating the case, you need to read Jeremiah Burroughs! He goes way, way farther than I do. In the middle of this section, he says
"Discontent is the ground of all who have been witches and so have given themselves over to the devil. It is noticeable that those on whom the devil works, to make them witches, are usually melancholy people of the poorer sort who are discontented at home. Oh, there is an opportunity for the devil when he meets with discontentment!"
This is not something a modern preacher is likely to say, but it's worth thinking about. What does a witch want? She wants what doesn't belong to her-either power or knowledge or a long life-that she has no right to!
But what makes her long for these things? Why does she want a knowledge that is more than human or a power over other people through spells? She wants them, quite simply, because she is not content with what she has. She is not satisfied with what God has given to humans.
The black arts rise from the black pit of discontentment! Now, most people are not that discontented-especially believers are not. But the difference is only in degree, not in kind. Do you want even a drop of what makes people into witches? Without become a full-blown wizard, would you even fool with Tarot cards or Ouija boards? I wouldn't do that-I want no sniff of black magic!
But then, why don't I repent of my discontentment, which is at the heart of it all?
What's the answer to a discontented spirit? It's easier to say what it is than to do anything about it. But you know what it is: contentment.
Why are the disciples of Christ dumber than the Pagans? Why do we think there's little or no harm in discontentment? Or that, maybe there is for others, but not for me. Or, that what looks like the sin in me is really something else: the pursuit of excellence, maybe.
Near the end of the section, the Puritan quotes Marius Curio a Roman officer and pagan.
"When bribes were sent to him to betray his country, he was sitting at home eating a dinner of turnips. He said, `The man who can be content with a dinner of turnips will not be tempted with your rewards'".
The Roman who's happy with his dinner of turnips cannot be bought off with a bribe of a million denarii. The Christian who is content with Christ, forgiveiness, and heaven will not be drawn into sin by the promise of something more.
So, what makes contentment the Rare Jewel it is? Its power to ward off temptation. If there was a pill you could take to cut the power of temptation, what would you pay for it?
There is no such pill! But, until there is, contentment will pretty much do it for you. Oh, if you love holiness and hate sin, Be content with what you have.
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