18th Sunday after Trinity September 29, 2002
1 Timothy 6:6-16
537, 447, 395(1-6), 391
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Woe to you who are at ease in Zion, and trust in Mount Samaria, Notable persons in the chief nation, to whom the house of Israel comes! Go over to Calneh and see; and from there go to Hamath the great; then go down to Gath of the Philistines. Are you better than these kingdoms? Or is their territory greater than your territory? Woe to you who put far off the day of doom, Who cause the seat of violence to come near; who lie on beds of ivory, stretch out on your couches, eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall; who sing idly to the sound of stringed instruments, and invent for yourselves musical instruments like David; who drink wine from bowls, and anoint yourselves with the best ointments, but are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph.
In the name of Jesus, our true treasure, dear fellow-redeemed by His blood:
Attitude. Sometimes attitude is the only difference between right and wrong. Jesus praised the offering of the widow’s two pennies over against the other offerings that He saw because of the attitude that she had. She gave willingly of all that she had. On the other hand, Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead when they gave an offering. However, they lied and had an improper motive in their giving. There is a right and wrong attitude in giving.
There is also a right and wrong attitude when it comes to receiving. Our Scripture reading from 1 Timothy 6 spoke of the proper attitude of contentment when it comes to the blessings God gives us. Our sermon text from Amos 6 speaks to us of the incorrect attitude of complacency.
This morning we will examine the difference between contentment and complacency, and in defining the difference we hope to refine our attitude as well.
The differences between contentment and complacency are: I. Satisfaction with God instead of pride concerning oneself, II. Focus outward rather than inward, and III. Emphasis on the spiritual instead of the material.
The first difference between complacency and contentment has to do with giving credit where credit is due. A content person finds satisfaction knowing that it is God who is the Giver of all that he has. Whereas a complacent person will find self-satisfaction which stems from pride.
Amos was giving warning to the Israelites because they were feeling quite self-satisfied. Everything was going well for them, and as is usually the case with prosperity, they had forgotten about God and were heaping praise upon themselves. The Lord told them through Amos, “Woe to you who are at ease in Zion, and trust in Mount Samaria!” [v.1] It was a time of economic prosperity. They not only had what they needed, they had much luxury when it came to furnishings and food and entertainment. There is nothing wrong with that except that they began to give themselves the credit, and consequently had trust in themselves rather than in the Lord.
This was not a scene that was isolated to the Israelites. Nebuchadnezzar had witnessed the Lord’s power through Daniel’s interpretation of dreams, and the three men’s miraculous escape from the fiery furnace, and yet he spoke these fateful words: “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30). At that moment, God took away his reason and he literally lived like an animal until he repented. Similarly, at the tower of Babel, just a few generations after the Flood, people thought that they had more power than God and thought they could defy Him. God quickly dispelled that notion by confusing their language (cf. Genesis 11).
Despite the warnings that are often found in the Scriptures, we too have that awful tendency to give ourselves credit for prosperity. It is extremely easy to look at the abundance of our possessions and our bank account, or investment portfolio, and figure that we are solely responsible because of our smarts and abilities. When that attitude is there then we feel free to take our ease, to be smug and complacent, and to have pride in ourselves.
God pops this balloon of pride very quickly in the Scriptures. He accurately reveals Himself as the source of all blessings. James 1:17 tell us, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights.”
Every time we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we are recognizing God as the source of our blessings. He is the One who sends the rain and the sunshine, and He can withhold them as well. If the Lord would withdraw His provident hand, even for a moment, then we would waste away. When we do realize that God is our Provider, then it is easier to be content with what He has given us. Then it is easier to be thankful toward Him, and to continue trusting Him for what we need rather than having sinful pride in ourselves.
A similar affliction of complacency is that the focus is inward instead of outward as God would have it. As we read through our text we see the idea of “me first.” Let us read verses 3-6 again and see the promotion of “self” even to the neglect of others: “Woe to you who put far off the day of doom, who cause the seat of violence to come near; who lie on beds of ivory, stretch out on your couches, eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall; who sing idly to the sound of stringed instruments, and invent for yourselves musical instruments like David; who drink wine from bowls, and anoint yourselves with the best ointments, but are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph.”
This is an area in which we need to examine ourselves as well. When we look at ourselves in comparison to God’s standards we find that we are truly unworthy of any blessings that He gives us. When we look in the mirror of God’s Law we find that we have disobeyed Him numerous times and in numerous ways.
One of the easiest ways to disobey God is to put yourself first. That is a most natural thing to do. It is a fruit of complacency. When we have smug self-satisfaction then we are concerned primarily with taking care of our own needs. It takes an effort to put others above ourselves. Yet, this is what God requires. The summary of God’s Law in Matthew 22 makes this quite clear: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind,” and, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:27-29).
God directs our love outward, putting Him above everything else with our fear, love, and trust, and also looking out for the benefit of our fellowman. It is ironic that the times of greatest prosperity are also times of great selfishness. It often takes a tragedy as great as what happened on September 11 to gear our outlook toward others.
Directing our love outward is much easier when we are content. When we realize where our possessions come from and have that ultimate trust in God, then it is easier to part with our goods and our time and talents for the benefit of God and neighbor. When we realize anew that Jesus gave up His own life for us, then it is easier for us to work toward being selfless instead of selfish. When we consider the greatness of our spiritual blessings and the temporary nature of this earth and the things on it, then it is easier to be concerned with others instead of just ourselves.
That brings us to our final point which is that the difference between contentment and complacency is a difference in emphasis between things spiritual and things physical.
It’s funny how we strive after wealth, and most of us greatly desire more instead of less, but most of us don’t handle prosperity very well. Very often when an athlete signs a huge contract his production goes down. He loses his drive to succeed. Great financial success very often causes us to lose our spiritual drive, and can become an obstacle between us and God. In great success, we may think that there’s nothing better than this life. Great prosperity contributed to the downfall of Israel, and you wonder what affect it is having on our country as well.
Quite often God will remove physical blessings in order to draw people back to Him. Where there is complacency and self-satisfaction there is also spiritual complacency. It is a great danger to be satisfied with your spiritual knowledge, or the fruits of your faith, or Christian growth in the Word. Faith does not remain unchanged, but is either increasing or decreasing.
When we read in verse 6 that the people were not grieved for the affliction of Joseph, they had not only forgotten about their fellowman, they had forgotten about God. God warned them of impending judgment because of their neglect of Him and His Word. They had forgotten about the promises of God despite all of the efforts that He made on their behalf. He sent prophet after prophet in an effort to bring their attention back to Him.
God also has made great efforts toward us. He has given us His Word in the Bible that we may access at any time. He gives us the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper so that we have visible reminders of the invisible blessings of forgiveness. God wants us always to be aware of the fact that we are saved by His grace.
While physical contentment does not make one spiritually content, being spiritually content will lead to physical contentment. When you remember the atoning sacrifice of Jesus and His life-giving resurrection, then everything else will fall into place. We can ask then, what is the world to me? What does it matter what I own or, more to the point, what I don’t own? God has taken care of me even beyond this life into eternity. What’s the worst that can happen to me? Even death itself is but the gateway to life for the Christian. Spiritual contentment, not complacency, brings peace and true satisfaction.
Being rich is certainly not a sin, but God does warn us about complacency. When we have that smug self-satisfaction we will be giving ourselves credit for what God has done, our focus will be inward instead of outward, and we’ll pay more attention to the temporary things of this world, rather than the eternal things of God. May the Lord instead direct us to godly contentment in which we are satisfied not only physically, but more importantly—spiritually. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.