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Rev. Nathan George: I was planning this service, my subject being peace and contentment. I thought, oh, I should sing that song Peace, Perfect Peace and then I realized I’m leading and I’m singing and I’m preaching and I’m tired. [laughter] And so I’m thankful for the Lord who sustains. If you get something out of this, it will be by the power of the Holy Spirit, not by my power, for sure.
In the spring, Kevin proposed that each pastor preach on topics found in the Proverbs, and my first thought was oh, cool, this’ll be great. And it has been good, it’s been very good, but preaching topically can be a little challenging. In one sense, exegetical preaching is harder because you have to walk through a book, you have to learn each passage, and sometimes you have to preach hard passages, passages you may not want to preach. On the other hand, it’s a little easier because supposedly the text tells you what to say.
Topical preaching is tough because you have a lot more freedom to mess up. It’s easier to just revert to hobby horses, or it’s easy to take passages out of context just to try to prove a point that’s always on your mind, something you’ve dreamed up, perhaps.
When it comes to peace and contentment, a number of approaches or passages or outlines could be used. Its subject is throughout the Scriptures. I could have chosen prayer as a focus, or anger or providence or trust or being truthful or honest. So many subjects play into a life of peace.
Well, our main passage is Proverbs 17:1. If you would turn there, just one verse, Proverbs 17, verse 1. It reads this way:
“Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife.”
Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting, but one with strife.
That’s pretty easy to understand, right? It’s not difficult, but it’s much harder to actually like. There are several implications that flow from this little proverb that are rather penetrating, and we will easily see that peace is better than strife; that’s the easy part. But we instinctively think and act as if feasting is better than dry morsels. That’s common to us all. The human experience, if it shows anything, shows that we like to feast. Even if it does come with a little strife.
This morning I want to ask us, to call us, to actively seek after the gift of divine peace and contentment. In an effort to deal with a few of the implications, I will say that this cannot be found in self-fulfillment, but rather only in Christ’s fulfillment on our behalf. That particular statement, the way I just said it, is not found in the Proverbs in so many words, but the futility of seeking after self-fulfillment is riddled throughout its pages. You know that well.
So, in a society that is racked with anxiety and fear, we need quiet in our hearts.
My outline is as follows. It has two questions and a rabbit trail. That’s it. We’re going to take ’em in one question, a rabbit trail, and then the second question. That’s my outline.
The first question is “Do you know yourself?”, then we’ll do that rabbit trail, that sort of winds around our hearts, and then I will ask “Do you know the Prince of Peace?”
Peace and contentment is a rare jewel. Will you seek for it with me today?
Let’s pray. Father, we do ask that You would open Your Word. We’ll be jumping around in Your Word, so I ask that You would help me use it well. We ask that You would prick our hearts, that You would show us Christ, and that the peace we know in Christ would spill over into our lives. This we ask in the powerful name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
First question. Do you know yourself?
I want to start by examining some common temptations to us all, to try to expose our hearts before the Living Word, before Christ Himself. So let me ask you a few questions.
Are you willing to explore your heart in a way that helps you identify your first loves? Are you content with your lot in life?
Some of us can say quickly yes, some of us will go ahhhhh, maybe, maybe some of it, maybe not all of it.
Are you content with the way your life is now instead of what you dream it will be in the future? Are you content with waiting, with hardships? And have you noticed that discontent is like a monster you sort of have to keep feeding to keep it at bay?
How about this: Are you content with other people? Life would be, pastoring would be so easy except for there’s people. [laughter] Are we content with each other?
I must admit that when I was trying to think of examples of peace in my life, I quickly realized that I need to grow in this area because every time I lose my keys, out goes my peace. It’s gone. I get frustrated easily.
I heard someone ask this, I don’t know who it was, but they asked this question: Have you noticed that the poor and the rich have a least a couple things in common? They both want to live in tiny homes. Or they both at least try to live in tiny homes. And they both envy each other. The rich envy the simple life, and the poor envy the big life. We always want what’s on the other side of the fence.
I’ve traveled a lot and a particularly enjoy taking rural routes and sort of just viewing the cattle off in the distance. I like barbed wire fences and long views and the West and I’ve noticed something about cattle. They love the grass that’s just beyond the barbed wire fence and they will come up to a barbed wire fence, a well-built barbed wire fence that has lots of pricks, and they will stick their necks through the fence and reach out as far as they can get sideways to get the grass while there’s acres and acres of sweet grass right behind them.
We are the same way. We want the apple in the middle of the garden on the tree. Not only did Adam represent us as our federal head, but we act just like him.
I just this last week spent several days in the mountains with my family in a tent and I couldn’t help but think about a better sleeping pad, maybe a pop-up tent, maybe a motor home. There were some nice ones just across the way. Maybe to be a little more specific, a 1989 Volkswagen camper van. [laughter] It was like trying to not think about a pink elephant. I couldn’t help it.
Of course, one’s urge to better themselves is not evil. God gave us dominion over the earth to care for it, to discover it, to improve upon things. This is good. That’s good stuff. But if we’re not careful, our hearts will lead us to envy, frustration, greed, and eventually strife. But envy is not the only path to strife. We’ve heard about a few other paths, even in this series in Proverbs.
Listen to Proverbs 29:22: “A man of wrath stirs up strife and one given to anger causes much transgression.”
So anger leads to strife.
How about Proverbs 30, verse 33: “For pressing milk produces curds and pressing the nose produces blood and pressing anger produces strife.”
We have a tendency to push for just a little bit more.
In 2 Kings there’s the story of King Amaziah who just had a couple good victories, and he was, I think, feeling his oats and wanted to have one more good victory. He probably saw in his mind ha, I can reunite the northern and the southern kingdoms, and so Jehoash, come meet me face-to-face in battle.” And Jehoash replied “you have indeed struck down Edom, and your heart has lifted you up. Be content with your glory and stay at home, for why should you provoke trouble so that you fall? You and Judah with you.”
Well, there’s the teaser. You’ll have to go to 2 Kings, chapter 14, to figure out how the story ends, but just note that Amaziah was not content.
We have a similar issue in the New Testament, so both old and new. In 3 John, Diotrephes is clearly sort of putting himself forward as a leader in the church, and so John writes: “So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers,” wants to stop hospitality, and, not content with that, he “also stops those who want to.”
He adds insult to injury.
Our hearts are actually not so different. We see it common in the human experience. When we win an argument, we sometimes like to just sort of twist the knife for effect. If we are, if we have the spiritual upper hand, even in our own marriage, we might press our advantage to make a point with our spouse, perhaps overshadowing our spouse to the point of disrespecting, or destroying, part of their joy.
Pressing the nose produces blood, and sometimes we don’t even know that we’re doing it. Comments pointing out errors, unnecessary comments pointing out errors, or forgetfulness or clumsiness, or what have you, is pressing the nose.
Plus, intuitively we just know how to get under our sibling’s skin. It’s really easy. When I was in middle school, I knew how to send my younger brother into orbit. Every time we would pass one of those caution signs that says “Dip” on it, I’d say “hey, why is your name on that sign?” [laughter] I know, brilliant, wasn’t it? And he would get so irate, and I loved it. My heart loved causing strife.
As a friend of mine used to say in his country drawl, “She doesn’t just know how to get my goat, she knows exactly where my goat is tied up.” [laughter]
Somehow we know just the right thing to say to get a rise out of someone. But Proverbs 15:1 says a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Why do we need to hear this again? Well, it’s because we do it. We have harsh words at the ready in a time of stress rather than the readiness given by the Gospel of peace. Passive-aggressive comments seem to be a particular source of sadistic joy in our society. As we foster a critical spirit, sarcasm can, which is a lot of fun, but can easily slip into cynicism, and our friends and our spouses, our children, they feel it. Our parents, they know it.
Ecclesiastes 9:17 says the words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools.
You see, taking care of your frustrations publicly is dumb. Expressing your frustrations in front of your children, in meetings, in public, or online, is only proving that we are foolish rulers fostering foolishness. These are all ways to destroy peace in home and community and church, and there are more, but I want to circle back around to the issue of discontent simply because it’s so pervasive, and we’re going to hang out here for a little bit.
Proverbs 28:25 says this: “A greedy man stirs up strife, but the one who trusts in the Lord will be enriched.”
And of course, our main text, to repeat: “Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife.”
This, these verses imply that our hearts yearn after feasting. Some feasting is good, it’s a gift of the Lord. Some feasting is not. But greed, or desire for feasting or self-satisfaction above all else, can and does lead to strife and discontent.
Earlier I asked four younger folks to read for us, and we read “I am content with weakness.” Oh, really? Hmm. Sometimes I’m not. Insults? I usually want to defend myself. Hardships? Hmm. Persecutions? I don’t experience that much. Calamities? I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. If we have food and clothing, with these we’ll be content? No, I want a 1989 camper van.
So much to prick our hearts.
And in Hebrews 13, just the straight out statement: “Be content with what you have.”
I found this from an English poet. He died in 1644. His name is Francis Quarles, and he wrote this: “Without thy presence, wealth is bags of cares, wisdom but folly, joy disquiet sadness, friendship is treason and delights are snares, pleasures but pain and mirth but pleasing madness. Without thee, Lord, things be not what they be, nor have they being when compared to Thee.”
What did he… He said pleasures but pain? That’s very foreign to me, very foreign to us. He said mirth but pleasing madness? No, we like to laugh, and laughter is good. Why is that sentiment and that verse so foreign to us?
I want to take a little time to think about that with you, and essentially I want to attempt to evaluate our culture a bit. Mainly to see how much it’s rubbed off on us. We know that there should be a difference between the believer and the unbeliever, but how much has it rubbed off on us?
So, here we’re going to enter that little rabbit trail I mentioned earlier.
First of all, let me remind us again, there is a good sign of discontent, if you will, or to take, you know, the drive to take dominion. You know, a good work ethic is excellent. Better medical care is a gift. Air conditioning is awesome.
That’s not what I’m talking about. The discontent I’m talking about should build in us a desire for a peace and quiet that is beyond us, a divine peace and quiet. Something that can’t come with better design or air conditioning.
The cultural rabbit trail I want to chase has a name. It’s called nihilism. Those that know the term sort of know what that is, but let me ask the question. What is nihilism?
It claims that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known and in the end it is the destruction of all things. That’s not my commentary; that is the philosophy. It is the destruction of all things. So nothing has a base, nothing can be known, and all things need to be destroyed: All thought, even live.
You know this better in more subtle ways as skepticism or cynicism. It’s fascinating, however, to me that while the pervasive spirit of the age is cynicism, the word of the age is authenticity.
Have you noticed? We talk about being authentic a whole lot. Paul Miller, in an excellent book and there’s just a few copies out there, excellent book called A Praying Life, writes this: “Because cynicism sees what is ‘really going on here,’ it feels real. It feels authentic. On the other hand, nothing can be believed.” Wow. “On the other hand, we must all be our authentic selves.”
Even a quick through philosophical journals online will reveal that noted scholars will note that current forms of nihilism actually grow out of an honest intellectual pursuit. But it leads to believing that there is no base for knowledge. It leads to, as one author put it, erosion of conviction and certitude and collapse into despair.” That’s Donald Crosby, 1988.
We see it from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, to Friedrich Nietzsche’s superman, to the current implosion of self.
First from Macbeth, from William Shakespeare. “Out, out brief candle. Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
That sounds like the Scriptures. Man’s life is like the grass that fades away. That’s very similar to nihilism. In Ecclesiastes, everything is meaningless. You’ve heard this before. And it signifies nothing. Of course, we know the Scriptures don’t stop there, praise the Lord. However, in culture, that has become the goal. And we have progressed, as Nietzsche predicted, to the next stage where we need to be the overman, the superman, which is simply full on self-expression with the will to power. That’s the goal of our culture.
The only hope for culture is to be the madman, the authentic man, who throws off all restraint and all values and completely re-values everything. Not according to the Word of God, but according to self.
And Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, he says “Become what you are. This is the new religion. This is the new hope.” Sounds a little bit like Star Wars.
Identity and authenticity of self, it turns out, is a very persistent problem. It’s astonishingly similar to Romans chapter 1, which you know well: “For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools.”
And then I’ll skip down to 25: “Because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator.”
Charles Hodge writes this: “The heathen did not think it worth the trouble to retain the knowledge of God.” The knowledge of God is just trouble. “They considered religion as useless,” he writes, “and supposed they could live without God.”
Nihilism is essentially the throwing off God and the putting off of self, which is the exact opposite of Colossians chapter 1 and Ephesians chapter 1.
As a culture, we’ve adopted Romans chapter 1 as our positive philosophy, as the grandchildren of nihilism, these verses have become the goal of modern society. Nietzsche unwittingly agreed. Maybe wittingly, it’s hard to tell sometimes, but agreed with God at least in this. He also agreed with poets and hymnists and philosophers and even the punk rock movement I knew as a kid. They all agree on the meaninglessness of life without God.
And without God, the only solution left to man is self-destruction so that we can self-define.
St. Augustine felt the same thing 1500 years ago. It was called Epicureanism then, and it leads to the destruction of self in the search for self-expression, self-gratification, and self-authentication. It essentially comes down to this: This is who I am, this is what I want because this is who I am.
But as we will find, and we have found as a culture with all this feasting upon self, peace and contentment has been obliterated while anxiety and fear and anger and self-destruction rises in lockstep with a culture in search for authenticity. Apart from God’s word.
Clearly the ideas from a hundred years ago, make that 2500 years ago with the Greek skeptics, is still very, very current. We want to self-define rather than to be defined by God, and the word authentic in our culture is now a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Because it gives this, this is why, it gives us the anarchistic freedom to pursue whatever we feel. We have accepted that we are the most important, the most authentic, the superman. We feel we must be the center of our day in order to be content. We are the center of our stories. We must project our identity and follow our desires in order to be content. We must follow our feelings. We must chase our dreams and our passions. We must above all else be authentic.
Why am I so sure about this? Simply because it’s another form of idolatry. I like me better than I like God. However, as you know, this breeds a discontent that’s just very difficult to overestimate.
Now, you may have a few thoughts running around in your head. You may be thinking I have no idea what this guy’s talking about. We’ll deal with that in just a moment. You might be thinking, um, wait, wait, isn’t following your passions a good thing? Isn’t being authentic a good thing? We’ll deal with that in just a moment. And then three, you might be thinking, [clears throat] yeah, young people have really swallowed this up. Preach it, brother. We’ll deal with that in just a moment, too.
To the first. I would contend that you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you felt frustrated with your spouse because they didn’t do what you want or need again, if you’ve been upset with your parents because they just don’t understand your desire to be left alone and to do what you want, if you have felt the impulse to just quit and pursue your passions. If you thought I want to watch what I want to watch and I don’t want to feel guilty about it. If you thought I want to view what I want to view on the internet without consequence, then you are feeling that human sinful impulse of all the cultural big wordisms.
In one sense it’s quite simple. If you think “I want what I want because this is who I am,” you have been more influenced by our culture than you think.
Number two. So I think you know exactly what I’m talking about. You’ve felt these things before.
Number two. If you think following your passions is a good thing. First of all, keep in mind that pursuing a career that you enjoy is not a bad thing. I’m not saying that, I’m not saying I’m trying to discourage all the young people in the room from not, to not pursue what they enjoy. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m simply pointing out that as a culture, the extreme form of this has become our god. An idol. Our golden calf. We’ve all accepted the idea that if we don’t pursue our passions, we can’t be happy.
That would be a lie from the devil. If you don’t take the apple, he says, you won’t know. The follow your passion ideal, if you follow that to its logical end, you end up with a populace that serves self and self alone and destroys itself in the process.
Christ doesn’t tell us to follow our passions. He tells us “follow Me.”
Now, admittedly a dry morsel is no one’s passion. Right? No one names their restaurant “The Dry Morsel.” [laughter] Actually, it has a pretty good ring to it, don’t you think? Anybody want to invest in a franchise called “The Dry Morsel”? That actually might reveal more about our hearts than you might think.
Finally, if you were thinking oh, yeah, the young and immature really need to hear this. They need to stop being so selfish. Here’s a caution: Just note how our society glorifies freedom in retirement, freedom with wealth, freedom with the right health pills. We have accepted that any restriction to freedom is not freedom and is anathema, to be cursed, cursed be self-sacrifice, cursed be self-forgetfulness, cursed be responsibility, cursed be the Gospel, which calls us to have a biblically defined identity, cursed be dry morsels and the rest. We want none of that. We want self-expression, self-forgiveness, self-fulfillment, self-satisfaction, self-gratification sexually, emotionally, financially, or what have you. We’ve even redefined freedom.
As Americans, we rightly believe that freedom is important. And yet, it has been redefined, slowly and insidiously. No longer does it mean free to be responsible, now it means we exalt a life, we worship a life full of extremes. The freedom to do, feel, and think whatever we want, to go to whatever feast we want, because after all, it’s who we are, it’s authentic. Extreme authenticity has become our golden calf. And we say please, above all, please don’t give me a life of self-denial and self-control. I’m full, I can’t eat any more of the fruit of the Spirit. But this is nothing more than anarchy.
Now, I understand that nobody in this room would actually want governmental anarchy. We like stop lights; it keeps us from bumping into each other. It’s a good thing, right? But when it comes to the heart, we all want heart anarchy. We don’t want stop signs in our hearts. We want to follow our passions. We want no property rights in our hearts; we want that other woman or that other man and all his money, or his life. We want the freedom to do my thing.
This is why the father says “my son, be attentive to my wisdom, incline your ear to my understanding,” and then a phrase down, “for the lips of a forbidden woman” or replace it with man, “drip honey and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter” and her strife, “bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol.”
This warning against self-fulfillment is riddled throughout the pages of the Proverbs, and this little passage here is really a picture of aspects of nihilism, epicureanism, hedonism, all the isms.
Proverbs 17:19 reads this way: “Whoever loves transgression loves strife; he who makes his door high seeks destruction.”
Another statement of the same concept: Do you love your sin? Of course you would say no, no, no, I hate my sin. But let’s be honest. We kind of like flying off the handle. It gives us a sense of control. We kind of like strife.
And do you build your doors high? What’s that mean? We like to be behind closed doors, hiding what we’re doing in secret, back room deals, whispered gossip masked as prayer requests, browsers that have no history, shielding our phone to catch a glimpse of a pretty body. Then, if that’s the case, you love the steps to the path of Sheol.
According to our culture, there is only way to peace: Being fulfilled in self.
And of course, according to the Scriptures, there’s only way to peace: Being fulfilled in Christ.
I need this. Why did I ask young people to read this morning? Because they need this. And young people grow into 20-somethings and they need this. And when they feel the community of college disappear out from underneath their feet, they need this. Singles need this. Are we content with the life that we’ve been given? Married couples need this. Are you content with the person sitting next to you? Empty nesters need this. Are you content with each other when the kids fly the coop. Elderly folks need this. Are you content to walk through health challenges. We are all tempted toward being discontent with a dry morsel, and we rarely learn the precious jewel of quiet.
Our Proverbs study has dealt with anger, finances, the tongue. Brian dealt with providence. And I wonder if we’re okay with what the Lord is doing with our lives right now. Life brings job loss, medical hardships, another vehicle breakdown, an opportunity to fly off the handle, an argument, depression. How about a dry morsel that tells you, you are in the palm of God’s hand. He knows you. He loves you. He knows what He’s doing with your life. You will never know the peace of Christ with an ongoing search for self-gratifying authenticity.
If you love you more than Christ, you need the feasting of the world to become bitter as wormwood in your mouth. Perhaps, maybe, just maybe once you have been starved on the gluttony of the world, a dry morsel will begin to sound like an eternal feast.
And you might be thinking, wait, wait, dry mor… They’re hard to eat, they stick to the roof of your mouth. Yes, but this dry morsel of Christ turns to living water, so that I don’t have to keep coming back to the well to draw up water again and again. Peace with God, identity in Christ, and living in the fruit of the Spirit.
And so now we begin to close this out. I’m going to take us to Ephesians chapter 2: “But now in Christ Jesus you were once far off. You who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ, for He Himself is our peace.” And listen to this: “Who has made us both one.” And listen how this passage progresses: “And has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in the ordinances that He might create in Himself one new man in the place of two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And He came and preached peace to you who were once far off and peace to those who were near.”
Those both far off and those both near to the Gospel of peace need to hear it again and again and again that we have been made one through the blood of Christ. No longer do I have to figure out how to project myself. I live in Christ.
“O taste and see that the Lord is good.” Behind this door called identity in Christ is a room full of peace and contentment, millions of people who are happy with a dry morsel handed to them by Christ saying “take and eat, this is My body which is given for you, and with it comes rivers of wine, for in Me is no condemnation for anything you have thought or done. In Me is victory over sin in this life and for eternity. In Me is hope for all the ages. In Me is peace for all who will come unto me.”
Human authenticity is grab the apple on the tree. Christ’s authenticity is truth that sets you free.
The Christian life is not about living in poverty or in riches. The Christian life is about Christ shaping you after His likeness.
So I close with the question: Do you know the Prince of Peace? Do you know the calm in the midst of chaos will sitting in the ER for eight hours? Do you know the rest of not wanting another thing to distract you? Do you know the kind of trust that is okay with God’s timing as you pray for your wandering children? Are you content that God will bring a Savior into their world at just the right time? Do you know that peace in your life is a chance to witness to a watching world, for while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.
Let me paraphrase that. For while we were still struggling with envy and greed and a bad case of the “I wants,” Christ died for us. While we were still satisfying ourselves with feast of the eyes and feast of the heart and feast of the flesh, at the right time Christ died for us. And while we were still self-medicating and self-identifying, at the right time Christ died for us and made us one when we put our faith in Him.
Will the gift of divine peace be to you like the widow’s coin? Will you search? Then look to Christ. It is a gift of the Spirit. You can’t drum it up by playing nice music in the background or satisfying your hunger with a feast. When, however, the Master drops a dry morsel, will you gobble it up? She said yes, Lord, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Do you know yourself? Every time I begin to examine myself, I think I need Christ, again. Have you begun to root out discontent in your heart? How much of the culture of self-gratification has crept into you and rubbed off on you? Do you know the Prince of Peace? He offers a feast without strife. He sets a table abundant with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and yes, even self-control.
How about a dry morsel? Would you like one? The peace of God which passeth all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ. O, taste and see that He is good.
Let’s pray. Father, it takes us too long to like the idea that a dry morsel with peace is better than feasting with a little strife. Protect us from this, Father. Protect us from the onslaught of the one who hates us, and give us peace that surpasses all understanding. Help us to taste and see that You are good. This I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.