PRYING FOR CONTENTMENT
The pursuit to contentment is a task everyone must undertake on his or her own. We like to read, “And my God will satisfy all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus”(Phil. 4:19). Paul could say it, but could Paul give it? A few lines before, he wrote, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances” (Phil. 4:11). Just how rich was Jesus, the Christ? His answer was, “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Mt. 8:20). Yet, it was Jesus who told his disciples, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied”(Mt. 5:6). What the Lord is saying, to me to be satisfied, I must hunger and thirst to do what is right, and in so doing what pleases the Lord, I will be blessed.
Two things are absolutely necessary to please Christ; namely, faith and righteousness (Ro. 10:6). Faith in Jesus is straightforward. It means that one must trust in Jesus and his words. According to James, everyone can believe, but not everyone will be accepted (Ja. 2:14-26). This is congruent with Jesus’ teaching (Mt. 7:21-23). The believers, who are accepted, are the righteous. Christian interpreters, due to total human depravity, concluded that Christ’s righteousness is intended. It is absolutely certain that Jesus has the final word regarding our final destiny (Jn. 13:3). However, righteousness for the Jews was based on what the Law of Moses required. Hence Paul began, “Moses describes the righteousness that is by the Law this way, ‘The man who does these things will live by them’”(Lev. 18:5; Ro. 10:5). Jesus happened to agree with Moses (Mt. 5:17-20). The Rich Young Man qualified by the Law for the kingdom, but he chose not to follow Jesus (Mk. 10:17-22).
Regarding Gentiles who do not follow Hebrew Law, faith takes the place of the Law. Interpreters, again, have us believe that faith does make us just or righteous in Christ (Ro. 10:6; Eph. 2:8-9). Paul, himself, reputed the idea that faith replayed good deeds or works. He wrote to the Romans, “Indeed, when the Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now defending them”(Ro. 2:14-15). The same Paul also warned, “God will give to each person according to what he has done” (Ro. 2:6). “It is the faith of those that do what is right, will count.” Jesus was very adamant regarding the Law. “Whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven”(Mt. 5:19).
I have a problem understanding Jesus’ view on not worrying about food, clothing and shelter (Mt. 6:25-34). I have been homeless and hungry, but I did not sit down and expect someone else to feed, cloth and shelter me. Regarding the birds, they are far busier than I am. One time, I decided to help them out, and they became outright mean among themselves and impolite with our yard. They left their deposits everywhere. They were scavengers. They flew in like a swarm of hornets and not as a flock of birds and drove the local birds from their territory. The question that troubles me is how can a hungry person seek the kingdom of righteousness and who is going to feed him, when he does? My problem has been that I assumed Jesus meant all of us when in reality He had only his disciples in mind. He was specifically teaching them that they could not raise bread and serve the gospel at the same time. They were to be taken care of by their converts who would enter the kingdom (Mt. 10:5-14). I heard a preacher making a case for being a Matthew, leaving his job and following Jesus (Mt. 9:9). The early Christians, in Jerusalem, did what Matthew and many others did and they all were driven out of town and back to work. God wants his servants to be served, as much as ten percent, and the rest of us earn our bread by working. A full stomach does gratify and even brings about a content disposition.
The question is should my job impact my disposition? We are not Jesus, not even Paul, who was not sidetracked by difficulties and hardships. We do have to be willing to change our attitude and adjust to what we must do to earn our bread. Not all tasks are pleasant, but all are necessary. Luke recorded an incident where Jesus had to remind a servant (worker) of his duty. “Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down and eat?’ Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink?’ Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’”(Lk. 17:7-10).
A farmer in Canada employed me, and I had no set hours when I simply could put down whatever I did and walk away. During harvest time, I trashed until midnight. After that, I had chores to do and then did my own meals. I had a good boss and he did help me when he could. There were circumstances when he had his hands full with his other duties. After all, he was my employer and he had the right to do as he pleased. I did not have that right. Jesus also touched on that subject. “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions”(Lk. 12:42-43). Jesus also held that it was the owner’s right to pay what he agreed with every person regardless how long they had worked for him in his vineyard. He asked those that were dissatisfied, “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?” Then He added, “Or are you envious because I am generous?”(Mt. 20:15-). Two other words for envy are greed or covetousness, the major reasons for dissatisfaction.
To be content with who I am and what I have, can make my role in life much easier. In this life, we are not equals nor is what we have the same for everyone. There are those that serve and there are those that are being served. In this life, we must fit in or make our own place. Regardless of how small we feel or what anyone thinks of us, we are indispensable. We take each other for granted until one among us is taken and we have to fill the void. It is up to every individual to do his or her best to maintain an atmosphere of contentment. Paul found a similar broken relationship in Ephesus 6:5-9 and offered this advice. “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eyes are on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. “And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism.”
A young lad was heartbroken. He loved music but could not play or sing. He shared his disappointment with Amati, the violinmaker. Amati invited the boy into his home and told him that the music that mattered the most was in the heart and that there were many ways to make music. In addition to playing the violin, some sing, some paint pictures, some carve statutes, and some grow flowers. They all contribute to the music in this world. Amati taught the lad how to built violins and when he perfected the trade, He produced the best violins of any other maker in the world. That young discontent lad was Antonio Stradivarius (Wa. 838). A man came to a psychiatrist and asked for help. He was bored and unhappy. The good doctor told him, “What you need is a good laugh. Why don’t you go and see Bozo the clown.” There was a long pause and then the tortured man replied, “I am Bozo, the clown.” He did not like himself or what he did. Laughter seldom satisfies. A content older gentleman was asked, “How do you obtain a satisfied life?” He responded, “You see all the fine trees and orchards I possess? Well, I have them because I planted them as a young man. So in youth, I laid the foundation of my life. I did not wait until I was old to build for this day”(Wa. 127). Josiah Billings observed, “If you ever find happiness by hunting for it, you will find it as the old woman did her spectacles, safe on her nose all the time”(Wa. 161). Paul had a better way. It is on our lips and in our hearts (Ro. 10:8-11). Be it ourselves; no one can be it for us. Misery can keep us company, but contentment will keep us satisfied.