Wednesday, July 22, 2009

How Christ Teaches Contentment - Part Two

The following is the next installment in Tim Challies' series Reading the Classics Together - The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. I'll try to make each post readable on its own, however I highly encourage your own study of this Puritan classic by Jeremiah Burroughs.

In Chapter Six we wrap up our these lessons on “How Christ Teaches Contentment.” But before we move on to the final three points, I'd like to make a quick review of Christ’s lesson plan so far:

  1. The lesson of self-denial: that we are nothing, deserve nothing, can do nothing, cannot even receive any good because of our vileness, can make use of nothing when we have it, are worse than nothing, and will be no loss if we perish. AND it is by realizing all of the above that our souls come to rejoice and take satisfaction in all of God’s ways.

  2. The vanity of the creature: that if we look for contentment in the creature we will fail.

  3. To know the one thing needful: that it is necessary to have peace with God,to have pardon of sin, to have God as our portion, that our souls should be saved on the day of Jesus Christ.

  4. To know one’s relation to the world: that we are mere strangers and pilgrims traveling to another home – a glorious destination.

  5. To know wherein the good of the creature is: that it points us to God, and insofar as we can enjoy God in it, it is good.

  6. The knowledge of one’s own heart: so that we can quickly discover the root of any discontent, and thereby know how to quiet ourselves; so that we can come to know what is best for us, and know what we would best do without.

And now I'll move on to the remaining lessons need to learn in Christ’s school of contentment, which are:

  • The burden of a prosperous condition
  • The evil of being given up to one’s heart’s desires
  • The right knowledge of God’s providence


7. "The burden of a prosperous outward condition"

“Men in a prosperous position are in a great deal of danger…prosperity invites the Devil and temptation. Men in a prosperous position are subject to many temptations that other men are not subject to.”


"Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness." 1 Timothy 6: 6-11

Ponder for a moment the people in your acquaintance who are more wealthy than you. Consider their particular troubles and how many of them are a result of their wealth or the power or influence or status they have as a result of their wealth. Think also of the lives of the countless famous people we cannot help being aware of, and the troubles in their lives that are due largely to their wealth and fame. Do you think their wealth and fame are really worth the pain they bring?

"Jesus...said, 'How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." Luke 18: 24-25 (See also Luke 12:13-21)

According to Burroughs, the burdens of outward prosperity are fourfold:
  • trouble: "A rose has its prickles, and the Scripture says that he that will be rich pierceth himself through with many sorrows" (1 Tim. 6:10)
  • danger: "Men in prosperous position are in a great deal of danger...Honey, we know, invites bees and wasps to it, and the sweet of prosperity invites the Devil and temptation."
  • duty: "God requires more duty of those who have greater wealth than of you who have not such wealth." (Luke 16:1-17)
  • account: "You think of princes and kings - Oh, what a glorious position they are in! But what do you think of a king who has to give account for the disorder and wickedness in a kingdom which he might possibly have prevented? What an abundance of glory might a prince bring to God if he bent his soul and all his thoughts to lift up the name of God in his kingdom! Now what God loses through the lack of this, that king, prince or governor must give an account for." (Luke 19: 11-27)
Every one reading this right now is, percentage-wise, among the wealthiest people in the world. We have access to electricity, computers, and internet service. Beyond that, we have many articles of clothing, for many kinds of weather. We have homes with roofs, walls, and indoor plumbing. We have food aplenty - even food enough to be able to take in animals as pets (instead of butchering them for food). We have far more than mere food and clothing, with which the apostle has told Timothy to be content. So I have to ask, “Why are we so often dissatisfied?
Considering the burdens, risks, and biblical warning associated with wealth, why would we as Christians seek it? I think if we truly take this to heart we will do as Paul commanded Timothy and "flee these things" as we would a poisonous snake, or a murderer.


8. The evil of being given up to one’s heart’s desires:

"It is indeed a dreadful evil, one of the most hideous and fearful evils that can befall any man on the face of the earth, for God to give him up to his heart's desires."

“There is nothing that God conveys his wrath more through than a prosperous condition...The Lord conveys the plague of his curse through prosperity, as much as through any thing in the world.”

(See Psalm 81: 11-12, Rom. 1: 18-32, Rom. 2:3-5 and Heb. 12: 1-11)

Since a prosperous, un-afflicted condition can sometimes be an evidence of God's wrath rather than His favor, we can find contentment in our difficult circumstances:

"The Lord has inflicted external judgments, but he has not inflicted spiritual judgments on you, he has not given you up to hardness of heart, and taken away the spirit of prayer from you in your afflicted condition. Oh, then, be of good comfort through you have outward afflictions upon you; still your soul, your more excellent part is not afflicted."

9. "The right knowledge of God’s providence"

Since this final lesson is, I think, one of the most foundational of all, I'm going to donate a little extra space to it. Burroughs makes four points about the nature of God’s providence which will greatly help us on the road to contentment:

  • It is universal (Isaiah 40: 21-31; Luke 12: 22-34)
    "...the providence of God goes through the whole world and extends itself to everything. Not only that God by his providence rules the world, and governs all things in general, but that it reaches to every detail; not only to order the great affairs of kingdoms, but it reaches to every man's family; it reaches to every person in the family; it reaches to every condition; yea, to every happening, to everything that falls out concerning you in every particular...Nothing befalls you, good or evil, bu ther is a providence of the infinite eternal first Being in that thing..."
  • It is efficacious (Isaiah 46:9-11; Ps. 33: 10-11; Ps. 115:3; Luke 12:25)
    "...the providence of God goes on in all things, with strength and power, and will not to be altered by our power. Suppose we are discontented and vexed and troubled, and we fret and rage, yet we need not think we will alter the course of providence by our discontent."
  • It is orderly in its infinite variety (Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:15-17)
    "God in his providence causes a thousand thousand things to depend one upon another. There are an infinite number of wheels, as I may say, in the works of providence; put together all the works that ever God did from all eternity or ever will do, and they all make up but one work, and they have been as several wheels that have had their orderly motion to attain the end that God from all eternity has appointed...when a certain passage of providence befalls me that is one wheel, and it may be that if this wheel were stopped a thousand other things might come to be stopped by this...it is possible that a thousand things may depend upon that one thing that you would fain have otherwise than it is...if you have a love and friendship to God, be willing to be crossed in a few things that the Lord may have his work go on in general, in a thousand other things."
    In other words, everything that comes to pass in our lives is part of God's great plan which will culminate in His glory. If we love God and are devoted to the glory of His name, we can take great comfort in this.
  • It is special as it pertains to His people – God has an ordinary way of dealing with His people. If we have an understanding of God's general ways in dealing with us, the circumstances we encounter will not seem quite so strange and we can accustom ourselves to them and find contentment.
  1. God’s ordinary course is that his people in this world should be in an afflicted condition. (See 1 Peter 4:12-14 and Heb. 12: 3-11; Heb. 13:13; John 15:18-21)) It is a great comfort to know, when things are difficult, that it is God’s will that it be so, and that He means it for our good and His glory.
    “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: ‘Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth’; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges Righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His won body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness…” Peter 2:21-24
    "God by his eternal counsels has set this as his course and way, to bring up his people in this world in an afflicted condition."
  1. Usually when God intends the greatest mercy to any of his people he brings them into the lowest condition.

    “Usually the people of God, before the greatest comforts, have the greatest afflictions and sorrows....God dealt this way with his Son: Christ himself went into glory by suffering (Hebrews 2.10); and if God so deals with his own Son, much more with his people."

  1. "It is the way of God to work by contraries, to turn the greatest evil into the greatest good."

    “It is the way of God to bring all good out of evil, not only to overcome the evil, but to make the evil work toward the good...God when he will bring life, brings it out of death, he brings joy out of sorrow, and he brings prosperity out of adversity, yea and many times brings grace out of sin, that is, makes use of sin to work furtherance of grace. It is the way of God to bring all good out of evil, not only to overcome the evil, but to make the evil work toward the good."

God chose to use the fall of mankind for the display of His magnificent sacrificial love & grace.

God used the sin of Joseph’s brothers to bring about their salvation from famine.

God used the slavery of His people to bring judgement on the heads of their captors.

God used David’s adultery to bring forth a Messiah.

God chose to take from a rebellious sinful world a bride for His Son.

God used the sins of Jews and Gentiles alike to bring about the death of the Messiah.

God used the death of the Messiah to save Jews and Gentiles alike.

God uses our sufferings to form the character of Christ in us.

1 comment:

Lisa notes... said...

You are right to point out that we see many “rich” people in our own lives who face temptations unique to that situation that we don’t have to face. It’s a good way to find a pocket of contentment. Yet, as you also pointed out, WE are so rich compared to most people. We need to be watchful.

Thanks for sharing.