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The Key to Constant Contentment

November 20, 2016 Speaker: Kit Johnson Series: Miscellaneous Sermons

Passage: Hebrews 13:5-6


This morning, we are going to take a break from 1 Timothy to talk about Thanksgiving. Among all of the holidays in our calendar, Thanksgiving is probably the most naturally joyful. The whole point of Thanksgiving is to reflect on the blessings you have received and to give thanks. Yet many people will not feel much joy this Thursday. It’s hard to be thankful when your family gets together and everyone is at each other’s throats or when you have lost a loved one in the past year or when you are struggling to put a Thanksgiving meal on the table. Maybe you are having a hard time being thankful. You are grieving or feeling tremendous pressure. You know that 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says “In everything give thanks,” but obeying this command seems impossible because nothing about your circumstances inspires thankfulness. Therefore, the question I want to answer this morning is how can we have joy or a spirit of gratitude at all times no matter what life may bring. To answer this question, I’d like to consider Hebrews 13:5–6. We’ll begin by reading vv. 1–6.

To fully appreciate this passage, we have to understand some things about the original readers. In particular, they were familiar with persecution. Hebrews 10:32–34 states that in the past they had endured severe persecution including the seizure of property. However, they endured by faith and continued to look out for each other through the hardship. It was now apparent that another round of persecution was coming. And based on the challenges of vv. 1–3 and vv. 5–6, most commentators believe that at least some of the readers were not responding as well this time. Instead of being generous to each other, some were hoarding their money in an effort to remain secure. As such, the author challenges them in vv. 1–3 to continue being generous toward each other. Then in vv. 5–6 he challenges them regarding the root of their selfishness. They were pursuing security and joy in earthly resources rather than in God’s abiding presence. Therefore, the author challenges them that true joy and thanksgiving are not found in temporal circumstances but in God’s abiding presence. We need to remember this challenge often, whether or circumstance are bad and thanksgiving is difficult or whether we are doing pretty well, and have forgotten our true source of contentment. The text begins by giving the charge to contentment. It follows by offering the basis for contentment and concludes with the result of contentment. Notice the charge…

The Charge: Be content with God’s provision (v. 5a).

The author challenges his readers to be content by means of two statements, one negative and one positive. He begins with the negative command…

Do not place confidence in wealth.

In the Greek, the opening clause consists of two words: the word for conduct and an adjective meaning free from greed. The word for conduct doesn’t just refer to what I do but also to who I am, my character, my heart. The idea is that the believer’s heart and life must not be shaped by a love of money or by an inordinate desire for temporal gain or security. But remember that the readers were preparing to face persecution; therefore, the author is not so much concerned about hoarding riches to fulfill extravagant lusts; rather, he is challenging his readers not to be buy the lie that money can keep them secure and thereby make them happy.

Most of us can resonate with this warning. We don’t spend our days entertaining realistic dreams of being rich, driving a Lamborghini, or owning a cabin in the Alps. Instead, we imagine how much happier we would be if we just had a little more so that we have a little more room for fun, so that we could put a little more on our mortgage, or so that we could save a little more for retirement. But God says that we must drive this kind of discontentment out of our minds. We must not be deceived by the vain hopes of human wealth. Instead, we must…

Be content in God’s provision.

The implication of this statement in context is that what you have is what God in his wisdom and goodness has decided is best for you. Therefore, to be content with what you have is to have a settled confidence that God knows best and that what he has provided is sufficient for my every need. As such, the text is not describing some warm fuzzy feeling of happiness, nor is it describing a lazy or irresponsible attitude which does not strive for excellence. Rather, it describes someone who with the knowledge that he is where God wants him to be is secure in what God has provided and in his continued control over his circumstances. For example, when I was probably four or five years old, I went with my dad to check on our cows. And as we came down the road on a tractor, we saw that the entire herd of probably 20 cows and their calves were out in the road heading the opposite direction. My dad was immediately struck with fear as he thought about thousands of dollars wandering out in the countryside and having to round them up, and so he made a quick decision. He told me to stand in the road (BTW, it was not a busy road) and that he would take the tractor around the cows and drive them back towards the gate. It was my job to keep the cows from running past the gate and to steer them into the pasture. And so my dad took off, and I was left standing in the road. I remember a few moments later feeling the rumble of 20 or so 1200-1500 pound cows coming towards me. As you can imagine, I was nervous and everything within wanted to turn and run. But my dad had told me to stand there and since I trusted my dad that he knew what he was doing, I stood firm and directed the cows in the gate. And in a sense, this exemplifies the contentment in view. It is not a warm feeling or an exuberant happiness; rather it is a settled confidence that you are where God wants you and a trust that he knows what is best and will be faithful. We serve a good and wise God, and we must trust that his will is good even if it is hard.

Application: But so often we are not content in the box that God has made for us. The grass appears greener somewhere else. We wish that we had just a little more money, a bigger house, or a newer car. Maybe you won’t be happy until you get one more promotion or unless you can take a certain vacation. Maybe you are frustrated by your health or the health of a loved one. You think, I’d be happy, if God would just take this one struggle away. And so you are not content in the sovereign will of God. If you were really honest with yourself, you would have to say that you think you know better than God what it is that you need. You think that he has given you the wrong box to live in; therefore, you are not thankful. Sure, you might have a token list of things you are thankful for that you can recite on Thursday, but you are not truly content in God’s will. My point is not to minimize your sorrows. Life can be excruciating painful, and contentment doesn’t mean that we don’t feel pain or that we skip everywhere we go. Instead, it means that we can rest in God and the goodness of his will. God commands you in this passage to be content with his provision and so obey his will. But you may think this sounds impossible. How could I ever be content or thankful for my circumstances? Our passage goes on to give the ultimate basis for this contentment.

The Basis: God is always present (v. 5b).

The author reminds the readers of God’s abiding presence by means of a promise God gives several times in the Old Testament. Moses reminded Joshua of this promise three times, and David reminded Solomon of this truth as well. Both Joshua and later Solomon were about to become the ruler of the nation. They had a huge task in front of them, and they were probably struggling with fear. They needed assurance that God would be with them, and God promised Joshua, David, and readers of Hebrews, and all Christians in the strongest terms that he will be with his people. We need to see that everything about this statement is as emphatic as it can be. The author introduces the quotation with the emphatic statement “He Himself has said.” In other words, what I am about to say are the very words of God Himself. God’s promises us “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” This promise is also emphatic. The Greek statement consists of only nine words, five of which are negative particles. There’s a double negative, then a negative conjunction, and then another double negative. In English, a double negative makes a positive statement; however, in Greek it indicates emphasis. And so this quotation begins with the emphatic promise, “I will never leave you.” It is followed by a negative conjunction and a second double negative, “nor will I ever forsake you.” As such it states as forcefully as the Greek language will allow that God will never abandon his people. He will always be with us. If you are a Christian, God is with you. He is watching over your life and sovereignly orchestrating every detail. His Spirit lives in your heart and knows your every struggle and fear. Nothing about your life is random or left to chance. No, God is with you all of the time. This also means that he is giving you an endless supply of grace to face each challenge. Sure life can be very hard. The original readers had their own fears and doubts. But God’s grace is always there, and he can carry us through.

The author’s point is to say that because God will always be there, we can be content in any situation. That’s incredible isn’t it? Is God really saying that I can be content through a debilitating illness or while watching a family member suffer? Can I really be content when my family is falling apart or when someone I love is walking away from Christ? Can I really be content when we are barely scraping by financially? How can I be thankful even when the circumstances of life are really bad? These are the kinds of questions question that the original readers needed answered and that we need answered as well. The answer is that we can and should be content because God has promised that he will be with us guiding us with his mighty, wise hand and caring for us with compassionate grace. And because of that fact, no matter how difficult the situation may be and no matter how much you may want it to be different, you can be content. You can rest assured knowing that God’s perfect will is being done. The only question that remains is whether or not you will trust the goodness and wisdom of God. Will you grow bitter and angry, or will you rise up by faith? Folks what a blessing it is to know that we can have contentment and thankfulness that is not circumstantial. We can be content at all times because we enjoy God’s abiding presence. Our passage then concludes by stating how we should respond to the truth of God’s presence. The result of God’s presence is…

The Result: We can live confidently (v. 6).

The author concludes with a second quotation. The first quotation was God’s statement to us, and this one is to be our response to God’s promise. Because of God’s abiding presence, we can say “boldly.” This quotation comes from Psalm 118:6. It was very appropriate for the author to quote this particular psalm to his audience who had a Jewish background. Psalm 118 was one of the primary psalms that was used during the Passover, so they would have known it well. In it the psalmist expresses some very difficult circumstances. He is surrounded by enemies and fighting back fear. But in the midst of this struggle, he forces his mind to reflect on the greatness of God, and he makes the confident declaration that is quoted in our text.

Notice how he describes God.

God is my helper.

There is nothing complex about this statement, but it is incredibly powerful when you consider who God is and who I am. He is the infinite, sovereign Lord, while I am weak and very small. Yet God is at the side of his people. He is supporting us and strengthening us to face the challenges of life and to do so with joy and contentment. Of course, God is so much more than my helper. Ultimately, he is the authority, not me, and his will must reign supreme, not mine. Yet God is also my strength and my help. We serve an incredible God. Because of his help, the text states…

We have no reason to fear.

The believer who has God as his helper can say confidently, “I will not fear,” and he can aks the rhetorical question, “What will man do to me?” It’s important to emphasize that these statements are not the arrogant boastings of a man who is confident in himself. Quite the opposite, in the context of Psalm 118, this is the cry of a man who feels terribly inadequate for the challenges surrounding him. But while he is inadequate, God is infinite. Therefore, he reflects an attitude of confident trust in the Lord that sees that with God on our side, there is no threat that we cannot face and no challenge that we cannot overcome. With God at our side, there is no reason to fear. After all, what can man do to harm me when God is my helper?

Let’s take a moment to review the logical progression of our text. The original readers were struggling with fear about the future, and that fear was causing them to close their hearts to each other and to pursue security in finances and physical resources. Therefore, the author commands them not to love money but to be content in God because God’s abiding presence is a source of perfect contentment that no physical resource could ever match. And because God is with us, we have no reason to fear. We don’t need to live in fear of what’s going to happen with our finances. We don’t need to be anxious about the spiritual condition of our children or others we love. We don’t need to worry about our health or how we are going to cope with coming physical challenges and on and on we could go.

Of course, God does not mean that we shouldn’t be responsible or make wise plans because the Bible repeatedly tells us to do so. We ought to be wise, but we should not be controlled by fear or worry. As well, God is not promising that he will take away our problems or give us everything we want because the Scriptures warn us that the Christian life will be hard. Rather, God is promising us something far better than a full bank account, good health, and peaceful relationships. He is promising himself and the super-abundant grace that only he can give.

Application: Where are you looking for contentment? Do you have the ability to be thankful this week even if there’s nothing about your circumstances that should make you thankful? Are your emotions as unpredictable as the waves of the ocean because they are rooted in the circumstances of life rather than the unchanging character of God? Let’s all be reminded today that if you have God, you have everything you need to be content and to give thanks. As you reflect this week, make sure that your reflection is not ultimately driven by the rise and fall of circumstance but by the solid foundation of God’s abiding presence.

Of course, there may be someone here who does not enjoy this presence or at least you are not sure that you do. The Scriptures are clear that all people do not enjoy the presence of God that v. 5 describes. God is holy, and he cannot be in the presence of sin. That’s a problem for us because all people are sinners who deserve God’s wrath, not his grace. But God provided a way for sinners to have a relationship with him through the death of his Son. When Jesus died on the cross, he took the punishment for our sin and made it possible for sinners to be made right with God. We don’t earn this relationship through our works; instead, the Bible says that we receive it by faith. If you will believe on Christ and the work that he did on the cross, you can be saved today. And you can enjoy the promise in our text of God’s abiding presence. I hope you will come to him today because he is the only source of true joy. The world offers many Band-Aids, but no cures. Jesus is the only cure. Come to him today for grace.