More to Learn About Contentment

“Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” 1 Corinthians 10:11-12 (NKJV)

“Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious, frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.” Jeremiah Burroughs

 

We’ve looked at a number of things in Burrough’s definition of Christian contentment that might make us feel well-prepared in the subject. To summarize: Christian contentment is a heart matter; it is a quieting of the heart; it is a spiritual matter; it is graciously and freely submitting to God’s plan for us; there is a certain pleasure in seeing God at work in our life through trials; everything that happens is due to God’s wise sovereignty; every circumstance, no matter how difficult or how long it persists, is in God’s control.

We will look at I Corinthians 10 quoted in part above in a later lesson, but note that the lesson of verses 11-12 is that our experiences in life, like the Israelites wandering in the desert, can leave us with misconceptions about who God is and why God puts trials in our path. The more God showed His grace and care in their desert wanderings, the more the Israelites complained and grew bitter against Him. If you’ve been a believer for any length of time, you’ve had many opportunities to face difficulties. Some of us have not handled them well and others have come through with flying colors—thanks to God and His grace.

My point is that sometimes we can think that we can deal with problems that come our way in our own strength. We pray, read our Bibles, worship, fellowship, serve, love our families, and work hard. Things will happen along the way and we feel confident that we can deal with them! “…let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”

We have a way yet to go in our study of Christian contentment. We live in a sin-cursed earth surrounded by sinners like us! The next lessons are mini-insights from Jeremiah Burroughs on “The Mystery of Contentment.” You might be surprised that a believer in the middle of the most horrible crisis of their life can still be spiritually content. How can that possibly be? That is the mystery!

 

Submission to God is Contentment

“For thus says the High and Lofty One

Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:

“I dwell in the high and holy place,

With him who has a contrite and humble spirit,

To revive the spirit of the humble,

And to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”

Isaiah 57:15

“Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious, frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.” Jeremiah Burroughs

Burrough’s definition of Christian contentment ends with the thought that the believer’s spiritual attitude must be in submission to God’s sovereign will in all circumstances. When things go well we say “Praise the Lord!”. We (rightly) thank Him for recovery from an operation or illness, provision of a raise at our job, good grades at school, or the gracious settlement of a family argument. “This is God’s will,” we reason, because things have gone well. How about when the news from the doctor is not so good, we lose our job, our grades take a nosedive, or there is constant stress in our family? We ask, “Can this be God’s will?”

Burroughs has four practical insights to help us apply what he means when he says thatChristian contentment, “…freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.”

Christian contentment means…free submission to God’s work in our lives – Submission to God in our circumstances must be give freely, willingly. Burroughs tells us in his unique style: “This freedom is in opposition to mere stupidity.” He explains that, “many are contented…who have a dead paralysis about them. But a yielded heart has sense enough and yet is contented, and therefore free.” Those who are not content to let God perform his perfect work (Deuteronomy 32:4) believe that they know better than God! Remember that you are  not above God—He is above you! “Keep under the authority and sovereignty of God; the power that God has over you! To keep under, that is to submit. The soul can submit to God at the time when it can send itself under the power and sovereignty and dominion that God has over it.” Doing this freely is the difficult part…

 

Christian contentment means…delight in what God does – “I am well pleased in what God does, in so far as I can see God in it, though I may be sensible of the affliction, and may desire that God in His due time would remove it…Yet I am well pleased in so far as God’s hand is in it…that I see that there is good in it. I find that there is honey in the rock… and the hand of God is good.” “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:71)

Christian contentment means…God’s work is wise and fatherly – God has a good outcome in mind for our afflictions and troubles as He works in us to shape us into the men, women, children He wants. Joseph could say, even after so many difficult experiences in his life, “…you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” (Genesis 50:20) Likewise, God works today to work all things together for god in our lives. (Romans 8:28-30)

Christian contentment means…submission and delight in all that God does – It is difficult to remember these lessons on contentment during times of adversity. Burroughs notes that all trials are different and affect individuals differently:

(a) The kind of trouble impacts people differently: one person faces a deadly disease and another is in a crumbling marriage and another is in financial hardship; God can use any means to conform us to the image of His Son;

(b) The time and continuance of a hardship will be different for each believer: some trials can be seen approaching to give time for preparation while others strike without warning and when we are least prepared; some last but for an hour or a day and others last a lifetime;

(c) The circumstances of our suffering can make submission to God’s sovereignty easier or harder. Sometimes the circumstances surrounding a burden are harder to bear than the burden itself. All of this is still part of God’s plan;

(d) The variety of trials can compound our misery. Bearing one thorn in the flesh is difficult enough and yet bearing two or three or more in succession can be crushing. Job experienced more different calamities in one day than anyone else would face in a lifetime. (Job 1:13-19) Yet, “In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.” (1:22)

 

Next time: Do we understand spiritual contentment? Not yet…

Contentment is a Matter of the Spirit

“For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8:5-8

“Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious, frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.” Jeremiah Burroughs

The term “frame of spirit” may sound unusual to us, especially in Burrough’s 17th century English. We would recognize the term used in the King James Version of the Bible when it speaks of the frame of the human physical body: “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust. As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.” (Psalm 103:13-15 KJV)

The Apostle Paul reminds us that our bodies are a physical “framework” (a holy temple) which houses the believer’s inner spirit and the Holy Spirit as long as the mortal body is alive. (I Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:19) I believe that Burroughs refers to the former in his definition. I hasten to point out that the believer’s inner spirit and the Holy Spirit are intimately bound and sealed together for eternity. (Ephesians 1:13-14, 4:30; II Corinthians 1:22)

Burroughs gives us three helpful thoughts on contentment as a spiritual matter:

Spiritual contentment, “…is soul-business.” Not only is our contentment a matter of the heart, it is also a matter of the spirit or soul. (I suspect he uses little distinction between soul and spirit as his way of making these lessons more practical than theological.) Contentment is much more than a matter of the heart. It addresses deeper, eternal issues related to our spirit which has been regenerated by God’s power. Because our inner spirit is now capable of being in tune with the Holy Spirit, we can pursue spiritual contentment as we live and walk in the spirit. We walk in a heavenly, spiritual realm where everything has spiritual implications and ramifications.

“Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit Who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” (I Corinthians 2:12-13 NKJV)

Spiritual contentment “…spreads itself though the whole soul.” This begs the question of whether part of me can be content and another part discontent. An example is someone who reasons that because he has enough money, he should be content. He might convince himself that this is the case even though it is faulty reasoning. When that same person faces a trouble or calamity he is discontent. This is because he lacked contentment in his spirit or soul. He can reason all he wants that he should be content, yet if contentment does not saturate his entire soul, he will come up short. Burroughs suggests that a spiritually content believer will say, “This is the hand of God and is suitable for my condition or is what is best for me. Although I do not see the reason for it, I am satisfied with it.’ Spiritual contentment will imbue every part of a believer’s life—spirit and soul.

“The frame of the spirit shows the habitual character of contentment.” Spiritual contentment is not something that shows itself from time to time when we are feeling in a good mood. Burroughs makes this very clear: “A Christian who, in the constant tenor and temper of his heart, can carry himself quietly with constancy has learned this lesson of contentment. Otherwise, his Christianity is worth nothing, [emphasis added] for no one, however furious in his discontent, will not be quiet when he is in a good mood.” We will have more to say about this in a future lesson.

 

 

Contentment is a Matter of the Heart

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23

“Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious, frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.” Jeremiah Burroughs

Contentment is first a matter of the heart. Our definition of spiritual contentment begins with this comment by Burroughs: “Contentment is a sweet, inward heart-thing. Contentment is the quiet of the heart.” I suspect that many people think of contentment as a reaction to favorable or pleasant circumstances. ‘I am content when I’m eating my favorite ice cream.’ Someone else may say, ‘I am content when all my bills are paid.’ As we saw in Philippians 4:11, true contentment is independent of circumstances. We can be content in difficult or even horrible situations if we allow the Holy Spirit to control our attitude. (Ephesians 5:18-20; Colossians 3:1-4, 15-17)

The first attributes of contentment in our definition are embraced in the fruit of the Holy Spirit: “…love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23a NKJV) To use Burrough’s words, contentment is, “a work of the Spirit indoors.”

A sweet, inward, and quiet attitude exists in a heart that is at peace with God.  “Truly my soul silently waits for God; From Him comes my salvation. My soul, wait silently for God alone, For my expectation is from Him.” (Psalm 62:1, 5 NKJV) First, peace with God can only come from salvation in Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1) But even believers can be surrounded by trials of all descriptions just like David was often encircled by his enemies and feared for his life.

Inner, heart-felt contentment does not mean that the troubles go away. The believer can do the following three things and still have inner peace with God:

  1. Acknowledge the affliction for what it is. It exists, it’s real, and it’s happening to you now. God put it there for a purpose. Instead of ignoring it or wishing it would disappear, face it head-on.
  2. Complain to the right Person. Instead of pouring out your heart to your spouse, friends, or even our cat, it is always acceptable to pour out your heart to God. David did this often in the Psalms and still maintained his peace with God. His stomach was in knots as he cried out to God, yet he knew God was on his side.
  3. Look for a “lawful” solution. Burroughs suggests that we seek ways, “…simply to be delivered out of present afflictions by the use of lawful means.” He warns against, “…sinful shiftings and shirkings to get relief.” God has promised a way to escape from our trials when they become too hard to bear. (I Corinthians 10:13) For example, a way to escape crushing debt may be to negotiate a repayment plan. The solution must always be “lawful” and it must involve confession of sin if the problem is of our own making.

Sinful conduct will disrupt our contentment. We can fall into sinful patterns that ruin our fellowship with God and destroy our peaceful heart-attitude. Confess these to God and repent. Burroughs points to several things that rob us of our contentment, but I will address those in a future post.

These were some practical thoughts about spiritually content as a heart-matter. Next time we will look at the second half of Burrough’s definition and note that contentment is a spiritual matter.

 

Philippians 4:11-13 – A Brief Exposition

Philippians 4:11 is our theme verse regarding Christian Contentment and it appears in the context as the first of three verses which end with Paul’s “secret” to being content. It obviously isn’t a secret because he tells us that contentment does not rest in us, but in what Christ can do in us. He assured us near the beginning of his epistle that, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

Philippians 4:11-13

Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” v. 11

Verses 10-19 is a discourse of how the Philippian believers supplied Paul with a gift to further his ministry. He assures them that even though it took a long time to reach him, he received it as a love gift and not because they were obliged to him. Their gift arrived late and he assured them that he was in no way offended or deprived by that. (v. 10) He assures them (v. 11a) that what he is about to tell them is not because he is in need of or asking for more frm them. He mentions three things:

  1. In Paul’s life of ministry he has learned something important through painful trials that apply to everyone. (See some examples in II Corinthians 11:23-28.)

  2. The lesson applies to every circumstance or trial which Paul elaborates on in the next verse.

  3. The result of these lessons is contentment. The Greek word for content is used only here in the New Testament and it is a word used by stoic philosophers of a man who is sufficient to himself for all things; able by the power of his own will to resist the shock of circumstance. It could be taken to mean self-reliance, but Paul explains what he means in the next sentence.

 “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” v. 12

Paul isn’t spouting some philosophical or theoretical notion. His own personal experiences of humiliation, hunger, and suffering bear out his assertion. Listen to this man who has proven what he claims in the harsh reality of life:

I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. v. 13

Paul’s contentment does not come from stoical endurance or brave independence. His secret is not self-sufficiency, but all-sufficiency in Christ; it is dependence on Christ in all circumstances. The word strengtheneth in Greek consists of the basic word for power or strength with a prefix indicating the joining of this power or enabling between “Christ” and “me.” Christ working in the believer’s life is empowering, not just to produce contentment, but in accomplishing “all things.” He bears testimony to this power when he asked God to heal him of an illness and God’s answer was another trial to glorify Christ: “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” II Corinthians 12:9

Next time – Jeremiah Burrough’s definition of Christian Contentment

 

Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646)

Jeremiah Burroughs

“I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:1-3

“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.” II Timothy 4:2

The character of Jeremiah Burroughs comes out clearly in his book first published in 1646 two years after his death at age forty-seven. The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment is compiled from his sermons on the topic and lightly edited for spelling and archaic words.

His treatment of the topic of Christian Contentment is remarkably practical. Unlike many of the scholarly clergy of his day who fed their flocks lofty and lengthy dissertations on theologically abstract concepts, Borroughs sermons were so down-to-earth that his congregants loved them for their sensible applicability. His book shows us that spiritual contentment is a very practical and useful subject.

Burroughs spent his life as a warrior for the truth. He left Emmanuel College in Cambridge when he realized that the Church of England was not as committed to the truth of the Word of God as he believed it should have been. He was labeled a “nonconformist” and associated with a number of like-minded Puritan men called the Independents who later moved to New England to form Congregational churches.

During a brief period in England’s history when persecution of Puritans abated, he moved to London and was chosen to preach at two of what some termed the greatest congregations in England (Stepney and Cripplegate). He was second to the senior minister and so assigned to preach at the 7 a.m. service. Before long, he was known as “the morning-star of Stepney.” Naturally, because he preached at the other church in the evening, he became known as “the evening-star of Cripplegate.” In both churches he faithfully preached the word of God and was loved for his sermons.

All who knew him said that he had a calm, peaceable, warm spirit. He was particularly bothered by divisions among Puritans over what he considered minor differences. He noted that the causes of rigid, hot-tempered disputes was usually a wrong spirit and wrong motives. Although his attempts to smooth over disputes was not always successful, he and a few other Puritan ministers managed to keep a sense of proportion. Many of his sermons still survive and their collection in The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment is a blessing to all who desire to glorify God in their daily lives.

 Next week: What Philippians 4:11 says about being “content.”

Introduction – Spiritual Contentment

“…I have learned, in whatsoever state I am,

therewith to be content.”

Philippians 4:11b

Welcome to 2021 and the start of a new series! The next several months will be devoted to a very practical study of “Christian Contentment.”

We can easily become discontent with our circumstances and that discontent will drag us down spiritually. The past year of COVID-19 restrictions and uncertainty combined with a tumultuous social and political scene have driven some Christians to take on an attitude of discontent. Circumstances, personal trials, and conflicts give us handy excuses for being discontent. The Bible says that God “…hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:” (Ephesians 1:3b) Certainly, these blessings are heavenly, but our omnipotent God is not limited to the spiritual only. “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

Our study will lead us into what Christian contentment looks like, what it means to learn to be content, what some of the (many) obstacles to contentment can be, and finally, what we can do to become more content in our Christian lives.

In preparation for our study of Christian Contentment, I asked myself some questions:

  • What is “spiritual contentment”? Happy, comfortable, successful, well-off?

  • What brings me real contentment in life? Where do I find spiritual contentment?

  • Are there circumstances that make me the opposite of spiritually content: disgruntled, frustrated, resentful? Do I express my discontent by complaining, grumbling, griping? Do I make excuses to justify my discontent? Is it sin to be  discontent?

Besides the Bible, our guide will be a little book written by the Puritan preacher, Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646) titled, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, published in 1648. I’ve been blessed by Burroughs’ deep, devotional love for Christ and his practical insights into what causes believers to be discontent, ungrateful, vexed, and disgruntled with what happens around us. This godly preacher of the Gospel had insights into the human condition that are as applicable in the 21st century as it was in his time four hundred years ago.

 

More about Jeremiah Burroughs next time.