Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, October 12, 2014
Practice Contentment - October 12, 2014 - Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23) - Text: Philippians 4:4-13
I believe that one of our biggest struggles in life is to understand and admit the difference between a want and a need. If you ever were a child and if you have ever had children, you know how it is, “I need that particular brand of cereal because if you collect the box tops you can get a free toy.” “I need that particular dress, or pair of pants so I look good, and different, like everyone else.” “I need to new set of wheels.” “I need a new computer, the latest and greatest.” “I need the newest phone to be able to keep up.” I am told that when Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone he thought every city should have a phone, one phone. Boy would he be surprised today? Do we really need to have a television in every room of the house? Does everyone really need their own phone? Of course, all these things are physical things, but I think we could agree that when it comes to the physical blessings of life all we really need is food, shelter, shoes and clothing.
But what about our spiritual needs? Or do we even think about our spiritual needs? What do we need spiritually? Unfortunately, when it comes to our spiritual needs, verses our spiritual wants, we tend to have an opposite view of our wants and needs than that of our wants and needs according to our physical perspective. What I mean is that when it comes to the physical blessings of life we tend to think our wants are actually needs and our needs are actually wants, but when it comes to spiritual blessings, we tend to think we do not necessarily need forgiveness of sins, to be in divine service and Bible class every Sunday because we think we are pretty holy and knowledgeable already. We tend to not think about our Baptism nor our need to come to the Lord’s Table to be strengthened in our faith. Indeed, when it comes to our spiritual needs, we tend to think our wants are needs and our needs are wants.
I mention this difference of wants and needs because in our text Paul calls us to rejoice in all things and to be content. We begin with Paul’s encouragement to rejoice in the Lord always, verse four, “4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (v. 4-7). Although we may not always see it at the time, we can know for certain that God’s will for us is always good and right. Certainly when we are having difficulties and struggles in our lives it may not appear as if God’s will is right or good, but God is love and He knows more about what is best for us than we actually do.
Paul encourages us to lay all our concerns on God in prayer. Of course, as we have mentioned in Bible Class and I am sure here before as well, God already knows what we need even before we ask. The reason we ask is because of our own need to acknowledge and verbalize our need, to admit before God our need. And so Paul encourages us to take it to the Lord in prayer.
Paul reminds us of the phrase we very often hear at the end of a sermon, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (v. 7). The peace of God is that peace of forgiveness and removal of the guilt of sin. True peace can only come from forgiveness of sins. And that true peace of forgiveness does surpass all understanding, because no one can truly understand the love that God has for us so much that He gave His life for ours and for our forgiveness.
With forgiveness of sins, with peace, then we can rejoice in the Lord always. What else is there to do, but rejoice, with sins forgiven?
Perhaps you have heard it said, that a change of behavior is one thing, but unless there is a change of heart, a change of behavior will only last so long. Paul encourages a change of heart in us and he does so by encouraging us to think good thoughts. Picking up at vers eight, “8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (v. 8-9). We are not simply to think about what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy, but what Paul is saying is that we are to live such things. Paul’s words are a call to action.
One of our first thoughts after hearing Paul might be the eighth commandment where we are reminded that we are to put the best construction on everything, which truly is contrary to our normal human nature. As sinful human beings, we always like to hear the dirt, the bad stuff. Why do you think the news media does so well. I wonder what would happen to television stations if they only ran good news and tried to explain everything in the best way. They would probably go out of business. But this is exactly what Paul is calling us to do, to put the best construction on all things, to put into practice living a life of true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy living.
And again, God will give us peace. True peace is not simply a few minutes of calm and serenity, but is knowing that our sins are forgiven. With sins forgiven we know we have eternal life in heaven and thus we truly have peace.
Finally, Paul encourages us to be content. Picking up at verse ten, “10I 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. 11Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12I 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. 13I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (v. 10-13). Paul reminds us that in times of plenty we are to be content. Of course, in times of plenty we usually are content, or are we? Perhaps we might actually be less content in times of plenty, because when we have plenty we begin to realize that there is plenty more to be had that we do not have and so very often we are discontent and want even more.
Paul reminds us that in times of want we are to be content. Certainly we might surmise that those who have less might be less content, however the less we have means we may not realize there is more to have and so we might simply rejoice in what we have thinking it could be worse. Indeed, there are dangers in having too much and there are dangers in having to little. What we have may be the best of how much we have and so we are to be content.
Paul says that the secret of contentment is that God gives the strength to be content. My sinful nature is to desire, to covet, to lust, to want more and more. Only as the Lord has His way with me, only as I recognize that all that I do have is first and foremost a gift from God, only then can I begin to get a handle on being content, knowing and realizing that God has given me all that I truly need and in most cases for most of us more than we need and much of what we might want, although I am sure we can always want more.
So, what does all this mean and what does it mean for us today? First, as usual, Paul’s words remind us that when it comes to being content, we fail. We fail in that we fail to recognize that God is the one who gives all and we are the ones who are given to. Instead we tend to think that what we have we have earned or deserved and the same then tends to be true when it comes to our spiritual well being, that is that we think we have earned or deserve some of heaven.
Second, Paul’s words remind us that although we fail, Jesus succeeded. Jesus came to this earth, true God who gave up all the glory that was His in heaven in order to take on human flesh and blood, to be born as a human being. Jesus never owned a house, property, livestock, a car, a phone, a computer. All Jesus had was the clothes on His back and yet He was never concerned for what He might be lacking and He was content. Jesus faced the struggles, the trials and tribulations of this life, the same struggles, trials and tribulations that we face and even greater. In His poverty He had all that He needed. Through His struggles, trials and tribulations He was content. Indeed, the very reason He came to this earth, God in human flesh, God intervening in time and history, was to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Jesus came to live perfectly for us in our place, obey all the laws and commands of God perfectly for us in our place. And then after fulfilling what we are unable to do, after living in contentment, He took our sins upon Himself, our sins of discontent as well as all our sins He took upon Himself in order to suffer and die to pay the price for our sins, because of His great love for us.
And now, God gives us strength. What Jesus has done for us is a completed action. Jesus has taken care of our sins. Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit to give us faith. God works through the means of grace to give, strengthen and keep us in faith. Justification has been accomplished and we will never add anything to what God as done for us, what He does for us and what He continues to do for us. Now that we have been given to by God, the Holy Spirit works in and through us through the means of grace to be the people God would have us to be, to be content.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice!” How can we not rejoice when we come to see with eyes open wide that God loves us, that God gives us His all and that God has so much more He wants to give to us? How can we not rejoice when we know that God gives us what He knows is best for us and He always gives us His best, including Himself for us and for our forgiveness? How can we do anything less than live a life of faith as our Lord strengthens us through the gifts and blessings He has to give through His means of grace? And as our Lord has so blessed us while we are in this world, indeed, we continue to look forward to more gifts and blessings as we look forward to spending eternity with Him in heaven feasting on the richest of food and the best well-aged wine. Indeed, rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice. To Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.