Contentment in Christ

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:10-13 ESV

Verse 10 presents what appears to be, at first glance, a somewhat awkward and misplaced transition. It seems as if Paul is jumping to a whole new topic: His recent receipt of some sort of gift from the Philippian congregation. But, while that is the topic, Paul seems to be bringing it up at this point because it has everything to do with what he has been discussing in this section. He is using their gift to make an important point about what it means to “think on these things.”

Remember, Paul has just stressed that they were to fix their thoughts on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, or commendable. They were to fill their minds with thoughts of those actions and attitudes that reflect those kind of characteristics. Then, almost as if out of nowhere, Paul brings up their recent gift to him. But notice that is it not the gift itself that Paul turns his attention to. It is what the gift represented to him. He tells them that he “rejoiced in the Lord greatly,” not because of the nature of what they gave, but because of the heart behind the gift – “you have revived your concern for me” (Philippians 4:10 ESV). 

The gift was a tangible expression of their love and concern for him. And, Paul lets them know that he always knew they cared for him, but was aware that they had been hindered in expressing their love in either word or deed because of distance and his own unique circumstance in Rome. For Paul, the gift was not the point. He doesn’t even mention what the gift was. It was simply a timely reminder of their love for him and, as he thought about that, he couldn’t help but rejoice. Their thoughtfulness to send him the gift was an example of whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, or commendable.

Too often, we allow conditions and circumstances to determine the degree of our joy. When things go well for us, we react with happiness. When they don’t, we can find ourselves struggling with disappointment and disillusionment, wondering what we did to make God mad at us. But circumstances were never meant to be metrics for measuring our joy or contentment. And neither were material things. But the truth is, far too many of us place excessive importance on stuff and things, seeking from them a sense of worth and using them as our primary source for finding satisfaction and significance in life.

The Philippians saw Paul as someone in need. He was under house arrest in Rome, so his circumstances were less than ideal. He had no source of income, so his financial situation was challenging. They may have heard that his housing was inadequate and his food supply was insufficient. From their perspective, it must have appeared that Paul was in dire straights, as he awaited trial before Caesar.  So, they sent him a gift. And it was only natural that they would do so. They wanted to do something to help alleviate any suffering he may be experiencing as a result of his conditions.

But Paul, while grateful for their graciousness and love, used this as another teaching moment, letting them know that, in spite of what he was going through, he really had no need. It wasn’t about the condition of his circumstances or the abundance or lack of material things. And Paul makes that point quite clear in what has become one of the most well-known and oft-quoted verses from the Bible.

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. – Philippians 4:11 ESV

Think about what Paul is saying. His mention of the delay in receiving their gift was not intended to convey that he had lacked in anything. He had not been sitting around waiting for someone to do something about his circumstances. He had not been longing for a gift of some kind that would lighten his load or improve his living conditions. No, he said that he was perfectly content. He was at peace. He appreciated their gift, as an expression of their love, but he didn’t need it. Whatever it was that they sent was not going to make him any more happy or satisfied than he already was.

Over the years, Paul had learned a valuable lesson, that he was not attempting to pass on to them.

I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. – Philippians 4:12 NLT

Paul refers to what he has learned as being a secret or mystery. The Greek word he used is myeō, and it means “to initiate into the mysteries.” He had been taught something that few people ever get to know on their own. And the lesson he learned was taught to him by Jesus Christ Himself. Remember what Paul stated earlier in this same letter: “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had” (Philippians 2:5 NLT).  He was humble, obedient, selfless, sacrificial and obedient to God the Father, even to the point of death.

Paul was probably familiar with the story when the disciples had brought Jesus food and had encouraged Him to eat. But He had responded, “I have a kind of food you know nothing about” (John 4:32 NLT). While they debated among themselves how Jesus had gotten this food, Jesus told them, “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work” (John 4:34 NLT). And it is likely that Paul was aware of the encounter Jesus had with a would-be disciple, to whom Jesus declared, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58 NLT).

For Paul, contentment had nothing to do with content. It wasn’t about things. Clothes, food, and living arrangements were not what brought Paul joy. The size of his personal portfolio was not a determiner of Paul’s contentment. The condition of his circumstances was not how Paul measured his sense of satisfaction. The ebbs and flows of material prosperity had no little or no impact on Paul. He didn’t allow the ups and downs of life circumstances to dictate his overall sense of contentment. And the key to this rather radical view on life was his relationship with Jesus. According to Paul, it was Jesus who gave him the strength to live as he did.

I can do all things through him who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:13 NLT

Paul could survive house arrest, because of Jesus. He could put up with less-than-satisfactory living conditions, because of Jesus. He could do without comfortable clothes or good food, because of Jesus. But Jesus didn’t just give Paul strength to survive want and neglect. Paul could survive all the temptations that come with material wealth, because of Jesus. He had remained undistracted by the allure of fame and notoriety, because of Jesus. He was not prone to envy other, more popular, ministers, all because of Jesus.

In his first letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul reminded them that when he had arrived in their city, he wasn’t out to impress or to gain approval.

I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan. For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified. I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. – 1 Corinthians 2:1-2 NT

His emphasis had been of Jesus. His strength had come from Jesus. He came to them, filled with fear and trepidation, but he found the power to do what he had been called to do – in Christ. And, in a second letter to the same congregation, Paul emphasized that the strength he received from Christ allowed him to endure anything and everything so that the gospel might be spread and the church of Jesus Christ might be strengthened.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us. – 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 NLT

For Paul, suffering and troubles came with the territory. They were just part of the job description of being a follower of Christ. And he was perfectly content to endure all that came with being a faithful servant of Christ. Life isn’t about ideal circumstances or the presence of material comforts. It is about contentment in Christ.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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Simply Better.

1 A good name is better than precious ointment,
    and the day of death than the day of birth.
It is better to go to the house of mourning
    than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind,
    and the living will lay it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
    for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
    but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise
    than to hear the song of fools.
For as the crackling of thorns under a pot,
    so is the laughter of the fools;
    this also is vanity.
Surely oppression drives the wise into madness,
    and a bribe corrupts the heart.
Better is the end of a thing than its beginning,
    and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
Be not quick in your spirit to become angry,
    for anger lodges in the heart of fools.
10 Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?”
    For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.
11 Wisdom is good with an inheritance,
    an advantage to those who see the sun.
12 For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money,
    and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.
13 Consider the work of God:
    who can make straight what he has made crooked?

14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him. Ecclesiastes 7:1-14 ESV

Once again, using a steady, staccato stream of parables as his tool, Solomon provides us with yet more proof of the futility of life lived under the sun. Still maintaining his somewhat pessimistic outlook, he utilizes a series of stark contrasts in order to support his central theme that all is vanity: He juxtaposes birth and death, sorrow and laughter, wisdom and foolishness, the beginning and the end, the patient and the proud. In each case, Solomon draws a conclusion, deeming one better than the other, and what he decides is meant to shock and surprise us. He starts out comparing birth with death, and while we might logically conclude that the beginning of a life is preferable to its end, Solomon would disagree. And he uses a somewhat odd comparison to make his point. In verse one, Solomon utilizes a word play, using two similar sounding Hebrew words: shem and shemen, to make his point. Shem means “name” and refers to someone’s reputation. Shemen is the Hebrew word for “oil” and it typically refers to an oil used for anointing that had a strong fragrance associated with it. Solomon states that a good name or reputation is better than precious ointment. To put it another way, he seems to be saying that being good is better than smelling good. A man who hasn’t bathed may douse himself with cologne, but he only masks the stench. His life is a sham, marked by hypocrisy. And Solomon uses shem and shemen to make a point about birth and death. While the beginning of life is associated with feasting and celebration, it masks the reality that much hurt and heartache lie ahead. A baby is born without a reputation. It has had no time to establish a name for itself. And no one knows how that child’s life will turn out. Yet, we celebrate and rejoice the day of his birth. Solomon is not suggesting we cease from celebrating new birth, but that we recognize that it is the end of one’s life that truly matters. We all face the same fate. Death is inevitable and inescapable. And when it comes time to mourn the life of someone we knew and loved, those who have managed to achieve and maintain a good reputation will be missed most. When it comes time to mourn the loss of someone of good character, the sorrow will prove better than laughter, because the reflections on that individual’s life will bring sweet and lasting memories. It will remind the living of what is truly important, and the wise will glean invaluable lessons from a life lived well.

When a child is born, words of encouragement may be spoken, but they are all hypothetical in nature. No one knows the future, so no one can presume to know how that child’s life will turn out. We can and should be hopeful, but we cannot be certain that our hope will be fulfilled. Yet, at the time of one’s death, there is irrefutable evidence that proves the true outcome of that person’s life. A life lived well will be well documented and greatly celebrated. Even in the sorrow of the moment, there will be joy. Solomon puts it this way: “by sadness of face the heart is made glad” (Ecclesiastes 7:3 ESV). The memories of the one we have lost bring joy to our heart and put a smile on our face, and we experience the seeming dichotomy of sadness and gladness.

Solomon’s use of shem and shemen has ongoing application. He seems to be advocating a life that is lived beneath the surface – well beyond the shallow and pretentious trappings of materialism and hedonism. He refers to “the house of mirth,” the place where fools tend to gather. It is the place of joy and gladness, rejoicing and pleasure. The fool makes it his primary destination, believing that it is there his heart will find satisfaction and fulfillment. But Solomon recommends the house of mourning, where sadness and sorrow are found. Again, it is at the end of a life that the true character of that life is revealed in detail. The tears of sorrow may be for one who lived his life well and whose departure will leave a hole in the lives of those left behind. But, in far too many cases, the tears flow out of sadness over a life marked by sweet-smelling oil on the surface, but nothing of value on the inside. The “perfumes” of life are the things we acquire and accumulate, none of which we can take with us. They represent the oil of achievement and visible success. Our homes, cars, clothes, portfolios, resumes, and 401ks may leave the impression that we had it all but, at death, we will leave it all behind. As Job so aptly put it, “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave” (Job 1:21 NLT).

Solomon has learned that life should be accompanied by a certain thoughtfulness and soberness. It requires serious reflection and careful examination in order to learn all that life has to offer. But we are prone to live life with our hearts and eyes set on those things that bring us the greatest amount of pleasure and satisfaction, temporary though they may be. We prefer the sweet-smelling, short-lived perfume of a self-indulgent lifestyle. We want it all now. We prefer joy to sorrow, pleasure to pain, happiness to heartache, and a good time to a good name.

But Solomon knew from experience that living in the house of mirth never brought true happiness. He had learned the hard way that a life lived with pleasure as its primary focus rarely resulted in lasting satisfaction or true joy. Like perfume, its aroma faded with time. Which is why Solomon always reverted to wisdom.

11 Wisdom is even better when you have money.
    Both are a benefit as you go through life.
12 Wisdom and money can get you almost anything,
    but only wisdom can save your life. – Ecclesiastes 7:11-12 NLT

Money might improve your life, over the short-term, but only wisdom can save your life. And wisdom can’t be bought or acquired. It comes through observation and application of life lessons, and that requires a willingness to look beneath the surface, beyond the pleasant-looking lies of the enemy. The apostle John gives us some sober-sounding, wisdom producing words to consider.

15 Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. 16 For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. 17 And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT

And Solomon reminds us to look at life more soberly and seriously, judging it not from our limited human vantage point, but through the eyes of God. “Accept the way God does things, for who can straighten what he has made crooked?” (Ecclesiastes 7:13 NLT). We see death as negative, the end of life. But God sees things differently. We view pleasure as preferable to pain, but God works in ways we can’t comprehend, using the seeming incongruities of life to teach us the greatest lessons. And as Solomon has done before, he boils his thoughts down to one simple suggestion: “Enjoy prosperity while you can, but when hard times strike, realize that both come from God” (Ecclesiastes 7:14 NLT). There is nothing wrong with enjoying the pleasures of life and the blessings that God bestows on us in this life. But we must recognize that God is found in the extremes of life. He is sovereign over all that we experience in this life: the good, the bad, the pleasant, the painful, death and life, wealth and poverty, joy and sorrow. A wise man will look for God in everything, and find Him. The fool will set his sights on finding joy, pleasure, satisfaction, significance and pleasure, but miss God in the process.

 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

When God Is Not Enough.

1 There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil. If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life’s good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. For it comes in vanity and goes in darkness, and in darkness its name is covered. Moreover, it has not seen the sun or known anything, yet it finds rest rather than he. Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, yet enjoy no good—do not all go to the one place?

All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied. For what advantage has the wise man over the fool? And what does the poor man have who knows how to conduct himself before the living? Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind.

10 Whatever has come to be has already been named, and it is known what man is, and that he is not able to dispute with one stronger than he. 11 The more words, the more vanity, and what is the advantage to man? 12 For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? For who can tell man what will be after him under the sun? Ecclesiastes 6:1-12 ESV

From Solomon’s unique vantage point as king, he has been able to see and experience a great deal of what life has to offer. Some of his observations are more objective in nature, providing the perspective of an impartial outsider, viewing the lives of the people in his kingdom. He has been able to witness first-hand, the oppression of the poor. As a judge over his people, he has had to preside over countless cases involving injustice and abuse. He has had to listen to the cries of the destitute and needy, as they have begged for someone to help them in their time of need. But some of Solomon’s most powerful insights come from his willingness to look at his own life and share his more subjective and personal observations. In this chapter, he seems to be speaking from personal experience, revealing his own frustrations over what he sees and what he fears. First of all, he starts with what he describes as an evil or wickedness that he has observed “under the sun” or in this life. He writes from a human perspective, presenting his earth-bound opinion regarding what he sees as a prevalent problem among mankind. There are those whom God has obviously blessed with great wealth, but He has also denied them the power or capacity to enjoy all that they have been given. These people have all that their hearts desire, except contentment and joy. And to make matters even worse, when they die, their God-given blessings are enjoyed by someone else. It’s all a grievous evil. Or is it? First of all, Solomon’s viewpoint reflects the commonly held perspective of his day. Anyone who enjoyed great wealth had obviously been blessed by God. And if they had been blessed by God, their lives must have been pleasing to God. Which is why it made no sense for God to withhold the one thing these people needed: The ability to enjoy what He had given them. Solomon was right when he concluded that all good things come from God. In fact, he would have based his view of the Scriptures themselves.

11 Truth springs up from the earth,
    and righteousness smiles down from heaven.
12 Yes, the Lord pours down his blessings.
    Our land will yield its bountiful harvest. – Psalm 85:11-12 ESV

Even the New Testament author, James, echoes this view.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights… – James 1:17 ESV

But where Solomon missed the point was in his assumption that wealth and material goods were to be the sole source of his enjoyment. In other words, he wrongly assumed that it was the blessings of God that brought joy, contentment, satisfaction and significance. He misunderstood the true nature of the source of those things. God was to have been his focus. Not just as the giver of good things, but as the only good thing anyone could ever need. God was to be enough. The apostle Paul expressed this viewpoint when he said:

11 Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:11-13 NLT

It didn’t really matter to Paul whether he had a little or a lot. As long as he had his relationship with Christ, that was all that mattered. Solomon placed his emphasis on the tangible and temporal. For him, the proof of God’s love was in the presence of material goods and the ability to enjoy them. And yet, what Solomon was experiencing was the very painful lesson that nothing can ever satisfy our inner longings like God Himself.

For Solomon, the measurement of a successful life was based on both quantity and quality. He pessimistically observed that if a man ended up fathering hundreds of children (and he had), and lived a long life (which he did), but his soul was not satisfied with life’s good things (and his wasn’t), then his life was a waste. In fact, he would have been better off if he had died at birth. Notice what he is saying. He is measuring the significance of life using a quantitative matrix. He operated on the commonly held assumption: The more, the merrier. It was long life and lots of kids that brought joy. But having hundreds of children, none of whose names you know, will never bring satisfaction. Living a long life, but without a relationship with the One who gave you life, will never satisfy. Acquiring much wealth and accomplishing great deeds will never make anyone truly happy or content, if they fail to seek the giver of all good things.

For Solomon, nothing was more futile and frustrating than the thought of living a long life devoid of contentment. He states that a man “might live a thousand years twice over but still not find contentment. And since he must die like everyone else—well, what’s the use?” (Ecclesiastes 6:6 NLT). And, sadly, this is a description of Solomon’s life. This describes where he finds himself. He is at the end of life looking back, and while he can claim to have fathered hundreds of children and lived many years, he cannot say as Paul did, “I have learned to be content.” More was not merrier.

In his mind, it was all about satisfaction. Even the poor, who spend their days trying to scratch out a living and provide food for their next meal, only discover that they’re hungry again. The wise, the wealthy, the foolish and the poor are all faced with the same grievous problem: Enough is never enough. Satisfaction and contentment are illusive. And the only advice Solomon can come up with is “Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have” (Ecclesiastes 6:9 NLT). But again, his emphasis is on the wrong thing. He is not recommending that we find our satisfaction in God, but that we simply resign ourselves to enjoying what little we have been given by God. He has missed the point.

And because he has missed the point, he misses out on the real meaning and purpose of life. It is not about gaining and getting. It is not about acquiring and accumulating. It is about learning to seek satisfaction, significance, joy and contentment from a relationship with the God of the universe. But Solomon had a warped perspective about God. He refers to God as “one stronger than he.” He doesn’t see God as Father, but as enforcer. He doesn’t approach God as the gracious giver of good things, but as a capricious tyrant who withholds the ability to enjoy what has been given. And while he rightly understands that God knows all and sees all, Solomon seems to resent the fact that God keeps the future fate of man a mystery. Which leaves man stuck in the here-and-now, trying to make the most out of what he has before his life comes to an abrupt end.

What Solomon describes in this chapter is the sad state of all men and women who refuse to see God as the central source of all good in their lives. He does bless. He does give good things. He is the author of life and the source of all that we can see. But God is not to be viewed as some disembodied purveyor of presents, like a cosmic Genie in a bottle. He is the gift. He is the good. He is the satisfaction and significance for which man so desperately seeks. The apostle Paul summarized it well when he spoke to the people of Athens, describing the nature of the “unknown god” to whom they offered sacrifices, but of whom they knew nothing.

24 “He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, 25 and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. 26 From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.

27 “His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. 28 For in him we live and move and exist. – Acts 17:24-28 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Food and Forgiveness.

Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. – Matthew 6:11-12 ESV

Matthew 6:9-13

Prayer, at its most basic form, is communication with God. It is the child of God speaking with and listening to his Father. There should be a certain degree of intimacy and expectancy in our conversations with God. As Jesus shows us in the model prayer He shared with His disciples, our prayers should begin with an acknowledgement of God’s holiness and transcendency, but also a realization of our personal relationship with Him as His children. Because He is our Father, we can come to Him boldly, knowing that He loves us. But we must also come respectfully and submissively, never forgetting that He is God and always ready to subject our will to His. It is this recognition of God as both our creator and Father that prompts us to willingly submit to His rule and reign over our lives. And while we are perfectly free and repeatedly encouraged to bring our requests before Him, we must always do so with a readiness to accept what He deems best. In Jesus’ prayer, He seems to teach us to ask God for the basics – “give us this day our daily bread.” This isn’t a request for a life of poverty or bare subsistence. It is an expression of dependence upon God for those things that will sustain us in life. Thomas L. Constable, in his commentary on Matthew, writes, “Daily bread refers to the necessities of life, not its luxuries. This is a prayer for our needs, not our greeds. The request is for God to supply our needs day by day” (Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Matthew, 2008 Edition). When we ask God for our “daily bread,” we our admitting our dependency upon Him. Rather than in prideful self-sufficiency, we admit our reliance upon Him as our creator, sustainer, provider and loving Father. This attitude in prayer expresses a degree of contentment in and satisfaction with what God provides. Paul told Timothy, “Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content” (1 Timothy 6:6-8 NLT). Sometimes our constant requests of God for more reveal that we really seek satisfaction and contentment in things rather than Him.

But there is another necessity that Jesus would have us recognize. Not only do we need God to provide us our daily needs, we need His constant forgiveness. This particular part of Jesus’ prayer has caused some great confusion and consternation. After all, weren’t all our sins forgiven by His death on the cross? If so, why must we constantly ask God to forgive us our sins? It is important that we understand that our sins have been forgiven – in full, past present and future. We stand before God as righteous because of the death of Christ on the cross. But we know from experience that we still sin. We have sin natures and a built-in propensity to sin against God. And sin, as it always has done, creates a barrier between us and God. The forgiveness Jesus is talking about has nothing to do with our salvation. That has been taken care of by Jesus. The forgiveness He is telling us to seek has to do with restoring fellowship with God. The word translated “debts” refers to our sins, not our financial obligations to God. Each and every day of our lives, we sin against God. We rebel against His rule and reign over our lives. We lie, deceive, exhibit pride and prejudice, hurt others, fail to love, act selfishly, lust, covet, and refuse to obey His commands. Our confession of those sins brings forgiveness. In asking for forgiveness, we are recognizing the amazing reality that God WILL do just that – forgive us. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV). An admission of our sins and a willing confession of them to God restores our fellowship with Him. And fellowship with our Father should mean more to us than anything else.

But there is more. Jesus adds an interesting twist to His model prayer. He says, “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12 ESV). This is not teaching us that our forgiveness from God is somehow tied to our forgiveness of others. It is telling us that forgiveness should be so important to us that we are willing to extend it even to those who sin against us. To refuse to forgive others is to show an open disregard for the forgiveness of God. That is why, after Jesus finishes giving His model prayer, He adds, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15 ESV). To refuse to forgive others is sin. It is against the will of God for His children. Dr. Constable adds, “These verses explain the thought of the fifth petition more fully. Repetition stresses the importance of forgiving one another if we want God’s forgiveness. Our horizontal relationships with other people must be correct before our vertical relationship with God can be” (Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Matthew, 2008 Edition).

Just prior to giving His model prayer, Jesus has taught, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24 ESV). There is a point at which our personal relationships can hinder our relationship with our heavenly Father. He has called us to love one another. Our desire for forgiveness from Him and restored fellowship with Him should drive us to maintain our fellowship with one another. “If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11 ESV). Food and forgiveness – two basic needs we all share.and two necessities we should all desire.

Proverbs 23d

Be Wary of Wealth.

“Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich. Be wise enough to know when to quit. In the blink of an eye wealth disappears, for it will sprout wings and fly away like an eagle.” – Proverbs 23:4-5 NLT

It was the apostle Paul who warned his protege Timothy, “Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 10:6-10 NLT). There are probably no other words of biblical advice and counsel that have been overlooked and ignored quite as much as these. Especially in modern American culture. We are a country that prides itself on its affluence and its ability to produce wealth. It’s the American way, the American dream. Money and material things are how we judge our worth and measure our success. And as a result, we live in the land of discontentment. We are constantly bombarded with advertisements and marketing campaigns that tell us what we have is not enough. We need more. We need bigger and better. We need new. We need what everyone else has. We need what we can’t afford. So we work harder and harder to buy things we don’t really need. Or we go into debt to get our hands on things that we think will make us happier. Only to find that our dream turns into a nightmare of monthly payments that last far longer than whatever it was we purchased.

But Solomon and Paul both warn us against wearing ourselves out on getting rich. Solomon reminds us of the proven fact that wealth can disappear in a heartbeat. We can lose it all in no time and find ourselves back to where we were. Riches are unreliable. Wealth if a fair weather friend. Paul goes even further. He gives us the bad news that we can’t take our riches with us when we die. It stays here when we go. So even if we manage to keep our hands on it in this life, it won’t be going with us into the next one. So Paul encourages us to learn contentment. He advises us to be satisfied with what we have, even if what we have is less than what the world tells us we deserve. Discontentment has a voracious appetite. It is like a monster living inside us that you can’t feed enough to ever satisfy. It constantly desires more and more. We can find ourselves becoming discontent with something new we bought within minutes of purchasing it. We are constantly suffering buyer’s remorse, not so much because we shouldn’t have bought what we did, but because we found something else we wanted even more. Listen to Paul’s warning again: “But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:9-10 NLT). Longing to be rich, dreaming of more, desiring greater wealth – can leave us trapped by our own foolish and harmful desires. We become driven by what we want. We can become obsessed by our desire for more. Our love of money can tempt us to do all kinds of things that are ungodly, unrighteous, and unhealthy for our spiritual well-being.

When all is said and done, Solomon would encourage us to pursue wisdom, understanding, godliness and the character of God Himself. Riches are little more than a poor substitute for what God wants to offer us. They tease us with promises of fulfillment, satisfaction, security, and yes, even contentment. But no amount of money will ever deliver what only God can provide. Which is exactly why Paul tells Timothy, “But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness” (1 Timothy 10:11 NLT). Now that’s advice you can take to the bank and count on.

Father, riches are so subtle. They are so alluring and tempting. But contentment needs to be my goal. I want to learn to live with what I have and be satisfied with You. I can so easily find myself believing the lie that more is better. That money can meet my needs. That wealth can satisfy and solve all my problems. But only You can do those things. Money can be such a distraction. All the stuff I own can end up owning me. Open my eyes to the reality of the situation and help me be wary of wealth. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Proverbs 30c

What Would You Ask of God?

“O God, I beg two favors from you; let me have them before I die. First, help me never to tell a lie. Second, give me neither poverty nor riches! Give me just enough to satisfy my needs.” – Proverbs 30:7-8 NLT

We all love the story of the magic genie, that mythical individual who, when released from his entrapment in a bottle, promises to give his liberator three wishes. He offers them anything they want and vows to fulfill even their wildest wish. While we know it’s just a story and will never happen, it has never stopped a single one of us from imagining what it would be like. All of us have spent time thinking about what it is we would wish for. We have dreamed of having three wishes and what it would be like to have them fulfilled. And if we’re honest, we probably have to admit that our wishes probably didn’t include world peace, personal contentment, or blessings on all our enemies. No, we were most likely focused on things like good old-fashioned fame and fortune.

But what if you could ask God for anything. What would you request? While I am not suggesting that God is some kind of cosmic genie, who exists to fulfill your wildest dreams, King Agur, the writer of today’s Proverb, gives us some pause for thought when he begs God for two favors. It makes you stop and think what two favors you might ask from God if you ever got up the nerve to do it. I find it fascinating that the first thing he requests is that he might never tell a lie. He begs God to keep him from lying. Why? Most likely because he struggled with it every day of his life and knew that he had no capacity to stop – on his own. As a king, he knew the danger that lying could have on his leadership ability. It could undermine the trust of his people if they found out he was lying. He also knew the constant reality that those who surrounded him and provided him with counsel could be lying at any time. Agur knew the danger of lying and so he asked God to remove it from his life.

The second favor Agur asks of God is that he might have just enough to satisfy his basic needs. Rather than ask for riches, he asks for just enough to get by. Again, a fascinating choice for a wish or request from God. Why would he beg this favor from God? Well, he tells us himself. “For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name” (Proverbs 30:9 NLT). Agur knows himself far too well. He understand enough about himself and human nature to know that riches would ruin him. Wealth would make him self-sufficient and self-reliant, rather than God-dependent. He is fully aware of the nature of his own heart and recognizes that asking God for riches would be counter-productive and harmful to his relationship with God. He also knows that poverty would result in self-sufficiency and self-reliance as well. Rather than resting and relying on God, he would attempt to remedy his poverty through stealing. Once again, Agur knows the danger that lurks in his own heart. The two extremes of poverty and riches would bring out the worst in him. So he begs God to give him just enough to satisfy his needs. Not too little and not too much.

I think you have to keep these verses in the context of the rest of the chapter. Agur starts out chapter 30 expressing his weariness and weakness to God. He admits his lack of common sense and wisdom. He confesses that he doesn’t fully know and understand God. Yet he knows enough to understand that God is all-powerful and unmatched in wisdom, glory and greatness. He is righteous and always right. And He protects those who come to Him. So that is what Agur does. He comes to God and he requests from Him what he cannot provide for himself. He is sick of lying. He is tired of dealing with a heart that can’t be trusted. He is fearful of how he might respond to either poverty or riches. So he asks God for help. Agur knew himself well, and was wise enough to know where to turn for help.

What would you ask from God? Do you know yourself well enough to know what your real needs really are? Agur was well acquainted with his own weaknesses and willing to turn to God for help. Oh, that we might learn to do the same thing.

Father, I ask You for a lot of things. But what I really need is the capacity to see my heart as You do. Give me the capacity to recognize my own needs from Your vantage point and not from my own selfish, sin-prone perspective. Help me to know my heart and realize that only You can help transform it. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Proverbs 27c

Insatiable.

“Just as Death and Destruction are never satisfied, so human desire is never satisfied.” – Proverbs 27:20 NLT

It was the Rolling Stones who made famous the statement, “I can’t get no satisfaction,” but the message of those lyrics is timeless, even older than Mick Jagger himself. From the days of Adam and Eve, mankind has wrestled with an insatiable desire for more. It seems we have never satisfied. The garden, as good as God deemed it to be, just wasn’t good enough for them. They had to have more. They had to get their hands on the ONE thing God told them they couldn’t have. And the enemy turned that one prohibition into dissatisfaction and, ultimately into rebellion against God. God had given them all that they needed, but they determined it wasn’t enough. They needed more.

The Message has a unique way of paraphrasing Scripture that makes it hit home. It says, “Hell has a voracious appetite, and lust just never quits.” Hell is a bottomless pit whose quota never gets reached and whose occupancy sign is always shining brightly. There’s always room for one more there. And our desire for more is just as insatiable and unquenchable. The world calls out to us like the old Lay’s Potato chip commercial, “Bet you can’t eat just one.” It holds out its bag of delicious delicacies, tempting us with just a nibble, but knowing that once our taste buds kick into gear we won’t be able to say no. One won’t be enough. You’ll have to have more. You won’t be able to resist. Before you know it, the bag lays empty at your feet and your stomach aches with the uncomfortable fullness of having over-indulged once again.

There is a certain sense in which the degree of our satisfaction is directly linked to the level of our sanctification. The more we grow in God, the more satisfied we become in Him. The more holy we become, the more wholly we find out needs met in Him. We find ourselves needing less and less of what the world has to offer to meet our needs and satiate our desire for more. We grow increasingly more content with Him. Paul tells us from firsthand experience that “true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth” (1 Timothy 6:6 NLT). Godliness and contentment go hand in hand. They are two sides of the same coin. You can’t be truly godly and lack contentment. You can’t ever be content without a vibrant, growing relationship with God. It is our dissatisfaction with God that drives our search for satisfaction in the things of this world. But if we try and fill the God-shaped vacuum in our lives with anything other than God, we will find ourselves constantly disappointed and desiring even more.

If you find yourself unable to “get no satisfaction,” it may be time for you to examine what source you’re seeking your satisfaction from. God never disappoints. He never fails to satisfy. He is fully capable of meeting all our needs and satisfying all our desires. He fills AND fulfills us. He scratches our itch. He quenches our thirst. He satisfies our longings and eliminates our insatiable addiction for more. Human desire without divine intervention is unquenchable and uncontrollable. It is a demanding task master that’s never satisfied until we find our satisfaction in Christ.

Father, forgive me for the many times I have turned to this world in an attempt to satisfy my desires. I have taken my eyes off of You and looked elsewhere for those things that only You can provide. Keep me focused on You. Keep me resting in You. Let me find my satisfaction in You. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Proverbs 25b

You CAN Have Too Much Of A Good Thing.

“Do you like honey? Don’t eat too much, or it will make you sick!” – Proverbs 25:16 NLT

A good meal can make you good and sick, if you eat too much. Too much sleep can leave you feeling tired. Too much money can make you lazy, overconfident, and unwilling to work. Too much exercise can lead to injury. Too much of anything can lead to overindulgence. So God calls us to live lives of moderation, not excess, because you really can have too much of a good thing. This particular truth is so apparent and obvious, yet we see it violated everyday in so many ways. Children are spoiled by parents who give in to their kid’s demands, showering them with everything they want. You’ve seen the child with too many toys, too much control, too much money and too little in the way of boundaries. It’s not a pretty picture. But then neither is the man or woman who has too much alcohol. They can be obnoxious and even dangerous if they get behind the wheel of a car. And then there’s obesity, the national pandemic that illustrates our love affair with food and inability to moderate our intake.

Too much food. Too much TV. Too much work. Too many clothes. Too much house. Too much noise. Too many sweets. Too much stimulation. Too much self.

Wait a minute, what does SELF have to do with excess and moderation? At the end of the day, so much of our excess is self-directed. We are trying to satisfy our own selfish desires. We crave sleep, so we give ourselves more than we need. We refuse to deny our desires. We want clothes, so we buy more than we could possibly wear. We want recognition, so we work more hours than necessary, in hopes that our sacrifice will be recognized and rewarded. We want food, but instead of simply meeting our body’s need for fuel, we attempt to satisfy some inner craving for more. Overindulgence is out of control in our society, and in many of our lives. But many of us don’t even recognize it any more. We excuse it and rationalize it. We have become comfortable with it.

But a godly person understands that more is not necessarily better. There is a contentment that comes with godliness. There is a satisfaction that comes from knowing God and appreciating what He gives that will never be matched by more of anything else. Too much honey just makes you sick. But you can never have too much of God. You can have too much religion. You can do too many spiritually looking things – like attend too many Bible studies, read too many Christian books, attend too many Christian seminars or download too much Christian music. When we finally understand that God is our sole source of sustenance and satisfaction, all the other things in life we consume and get consumed by, will mean less to us, so we won’t constantly need more. There is an old chorus whose lyrics state this same truth: “Little is much when God is in it! Labor not for wealth or fame. There’s a crown — and you can win it, if you go in Jesus’ Name.”

A truly satisfied man needs little. If we are satisfied in Jesus, nothing else is required. More of anything else becomes unnecessary. More clothes won’t make us happy. More food won’t make us full. More house won’t make us significant. More money won’t meet our needs. More work won’t make us more worthy. More friends won’t make us popular. A godly man or woman is a satisfied man or woman. They have learned that, in Christ, they have all they need.

I am satisfied with Jesus,
He has done so much for me:
He has suffered to redeem me,
He has died to set me free.

Father, I am surrounded by too much. I desire too much. I already have too much. But my own selfish heart too often desires more. Help me learn to be satisfied with You and all You have done for me. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org