16th Sunday After Pentecost September 16, 2012
1 Timothy 6:6-8
2 Chronicles 13:4-18
16, 361, 423, 436
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.
Dear fellow-redeemed by the blood of God’s own Son:
The words of this text make me think of a cow! Not just any cow, but a cow from my youth. In the town in southern Minnesota where I grew up, the local dairy featured a cow in its television
commercials. The cow’s name was Elsie. Elsie, the cartoon-cow, always appeared on the commercials with a smile on her face. She
was supposed to be a contented cow, representing the other cows of the dairy, completely satisfied with their life in the dairy’s perfect pastureland.
A distressed cow will not produce well. Some dairymen do all they possibly can to keep their cows calm. Some even pipe soothing music into the barns to keep the cows from becoming alarmed and discontented because of things around them. Of course, Paul is not talking about what makes contended cows. Our topic is: THE CONTENT OF CHRISTIAN CONTENTMENT.
How can anyone be discontented in this nation of plenty? It seems impossible, but there is a whole lot of evidence that discontent is alive and well. Marriages very often break up because man and wife too often want what they see as the greener “grass” on the other side of their fence. They want more money to pay for more things, or they want another partner in marriage. Millions dream of winning the lottery because they are not content with what they may earn for a living. Social workers tell us that our problems are the result of inadequate housing and a lack of good-paying jobs. Every election-year the politicians ask, “Are you better off today than you were four years ago,” seeking to lay the blame at the door of those in office.
Some argue for a redistribution of the wealth in our society so that those who have less may have more of what used to belong to their neighbors!
All of these measures and propositions are like piping music into the dairy barn to soothe discontented cows. They don’t deal with the inner problem of man. Discontent snuck into the heart of Eve when Satan suggested that she could be “like God.” She ate and she fell! (cf. Genesis 3)
By a mighty hand God delivered the children of Israel from Pharaoh, but the people complained that God had led them into the wilderness to die! They were unhappy with the food God dropped from the sky for them. They complained when they were thirsty. They whined that they did not have a king like the nations around them. Finally, their discontent led them to open rebellion against God, unbelief, and destruction!
Discontent led David to take Uriah’s only wife for himself. Discontent led Absalom to plot against his father David to seize his throne. It was the sin of discontent that brought about the murder of Naboth by Jezebel and Ahab over a vineyard.
Fleshly discontent has caused wars and rebellion without number, as well as countless quarrels between friends and family members. Discontent causes employers and employees, husbands and wives, children and citizens to shout for their “rights,” and to be dissatisfied with less than the best clothing, the latest toys, and the most fun!
Just think of how the sin of discontent arising from within us has caused us to pile up debts because we just “had to have” what we could not afford. Think of how discontent causes us to be self-pitying, anxious, and sad, rather than thankful and happy.
Christians can be truly contented people. Paul writes: “But godliness with contentment actually is a great means of gain.” [v.6, V. Fossum translation] The term “godliness” means something we call
“worship.” Worship is not something we do only on Sunday morning. Worship is really “worthship”— the understanding that real worth is found in God. He alone is truly worthy of our attention, our love, and our devotion in this life.
Along with this Spirit-worked godliness or worthship within the Christian comes contentment. Christian contentment is joyful because it is based on the provision of a merciful and faithful God. Christian contentment says with the Psalmist: “Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name! 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 from destruction, who crowns you with loving-kindness and tender mercies…” (Psalm 103:1-4, the whole Psalm applies!)
Christian contentment is realistic. Paul asks: “Why should we be discontented with what we have or do not have in this world? What are our rights before God? What did we bring into this world? Nothing at all! No clothing, no food, no house, no land, no bank account, no insurance policy or retirement benefits! So, neither shall we be able to bring anything out of this world!” As Job said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there…” (Job 1:21a).
Still, dear friends, the Christian alone may be content because our contentment is not contained in perishable things, but in eternal things! What are these lasting, eternal contents? Jesus Christ is the content of Christian contentment. I said that the content of our Christian contentment IS—singular—Jesus Christ, because in this one Person by faith we possess all that we need to be content. In Christ we are rich beyond calculation or expression! In Him we are guaranteed the love of the Father, the ear of the Father, and the everlasting care of the Father in Heaven—who is our Father because of Jesus!
We know that all discontent comes from sinful hearts, and that we deserve nothing but eternal damnation. But all that we receive is free gifts from the hand of a merciful God! Therefore, we may be content with our earthly possessions and be thankful for what we have, rather than anxious about what we do not have.
As our Savior leads us beside the still waters, restores our thirsty souls, and leads us in the paths of righteousness, He continually fills our cup to overflowing and sets a full table before us right in the presence of our enemies! (cf. Psalm 23).
No one has expressed the content of Christian contentment better than Henry Francis Lyte. In the last hours of his earthly life he wrote one of the Christian church’s favorite hymns, “Abide with Me, Fast Falls the Eventide.” The second verse is this:
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day
Earth’s joys grow dim,
its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou Who changest not,
Abide with me!
But Jesus was not the content of Lyte’s contentment only in death. Twenty-five years earlier, in the prime of his life, Henry Francis Lyte wrote another of our favorite hymn stanzas:
Jesus, I my Cross have taken,
all to leave and follow Thee;
destitute, despised, forsaken,
Thou from hence my all shalt be.
Perish ev’ry fond ambition,
all I’ve sough or hoped or known;
yet how rich is my condition!
God and Heav’n are still mine own!
May this same Jesus be the CONTENT OF OUR CHRISTIAN CONTENTMENT each and every day until we share His eternal glory in the heavenly Jerusalem! Amen.