Pursuing the Secret of Christian Contentment

Bernie Lawrence, Speaker

Philippians 4:10-20 | January 7 - Sunday Morning,

Sunday Morning,
January 7
Pursuing the Secret of Christian Contentment | Philippians 4:10-20
Bernie Lawrence, Speaker

Good morning, brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s good to be with you today in Kevin’s absence. It’s my privilege to bring you God’s Word this morning. You’ve heard that Kevin and Trisha are in Hawaii for a week where Kevin has been asked to preach and to teach. Don’t you think it’s a rather convenient time with Michigan-like temperatures here for him to be headed off to Hawaii? I said to him just before he left, “You know, Kevin, it’s been known to snow in Hawaii.” And I checked my weather app this morning when I got up and I was really sorry for them; it was just 74 degrees. Of course, it’s still nighttime out there. And so I texted him yesterday to say that the creek behind my house had frozen over, and in return he sent me a picture of this beautiful beach and water where he and Trisha are staying with this terse text that says “water here is not frozen.” It was not an encouraging reply.

In addition to Kevin speaking this week, he also has an opportunity with Trisha to get some well-deserved rest and time together; you’d appreciate that if you had seven young children. And so we ought to pray for them that they would be refreshed and perhaps also that they wouldn’t like Hawaii too much. We’re expecting him back Wednesday. If he doesn’t show up, I’ll let you know.

So this is the first Sunday of the New Year 2018, and I can only imagine that pastors all over the country are using this as an opportunity to encourage their congregations to make wise New Year’s resolutions. I thought about doing that, but I really wouldn’t know where to begin because there are so many opportunities for us to resolve to be and to do things that bring God pleasure and us and our world much good. However, our sermon this morning might indeed be worth a New Year’s resolution for I want to talk to you this morning about the Bible’s call to contentment, a contentment that is peculiarly Christian and sadly rare.

I’m reading a book right now by a 17th century English Puritan pastor named Jeremiah Burroughs. It’s titled The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. I expect some of you are familiar with that. It’s been a convicting read for me because I realize that if the enemy of true contentment is discontentment and it is, I probably like most of you have been afflicted with this disease of the soul. Good medical doctors look for early evidences of disease in wellness physical exams. I have one every year and I’ve been spared a great deal of trouble by the early discovery of a few diseases that I wasn’t aware had invaded my body.

And what is true of the physical body in this regard is also true of the soul. It’s helpful to examine our souls from time to time with the help of the fine surgical instrument of Scripture as Hebrews 4:12 thinks of it, to look for evidences of sinful patterns or dispositions or ungodly ways of making life work that have found their way into our lives and therefore pose real threats to our spiritual health and to our life with God and with others. In some ways, this is a more difficult task for us than evaluating and sustaining our physical health because the physical body is accessible to the tools of modern medicine; the soul, however, is not. And though just as real as our material bodies, the soul, of course, is immaterial, and so it requires the help of the Scriptures and competent pastors and teachers and other means of grace to diagnose and address the diseases that afflict the soul.

With this in mind, I’d like to as you, if you would, to turn in your Bibles to our primary text for this morning, found in Philippians chapter 4, verses 10 to 20. And you’re looking for an outline this morning, I hope to do several things with you. First I want to spend some time discovering or considering the enemy of Christian contentment, and I’ve already mentioned that’s discontentment. We’ll consider its origins and its evidences and its consequences. Secondly, I want to look at a dangerous impostor, a counterfeit, if you will, of Christian contentment that is a default pathway for many looking for a remedy to the misery that discontentedness brings. Finally, I hope to provide a compelling explanation of and a call to Christian contentment from our text and a few others that we’ll look at that I hope will help you assess your present state in the matter and clarify for you the reasons for and the pathways to pursuing this rare jewel we are calling Christian contentment.

But first let’s read our text and get some context from it. I’m beginning reading at verse 10 of chapter 4 of Philippians. There Paul says:

“I 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. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I 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. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Would you pray with me, please. Our heavenly Father, help us to think correctly about contentedness this morning such that we would bring You pleasure and ourselves the peace of Christ that surpasses comprehension. May we, like the Apostle Paul, gladly lift doxologies of praise to Your great name as we come to understand and appropriate your divine gift of spiritual contentment. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Little context. The Apostle Paul has written this epistle to the Philippian church as a prisoner in Rome. It’s around 61 A.D. Life for Paul as he writes this letter to his beloved Philippians is very different. For prisoners in Rome in the Roman system depended on outside support for everything. Paul is locked up and in chains. He has meager provisions. And if that’s not enough, we read in chapter one that he is hearing reports of others preaching Christ from wrong motives intended to afflict him further. And it’s understandable in all of this that martyrdom is on Paul’s mind as we read in chapter 1 verses 20 and 21. Paul is certainly in the throes of suffering and need. Then in God’s providence Epaphroditus, a beloved co-laborer with Paul, shows up from Philippi with this generous monetary gift to provide relief for Paul. Epaphroditus had nearly lost his life doing this.

And so Paul is grateful. So grateful is Paul that he expresses his thanks to the Philippians in these closing verses once again, just as he did in chapter one. It’s amazing to me that the apostle, given his predicament, is able to be so effusive with thanksgiving. Charles Erdman says of this passage “this message of thanks is a rare blending of affection, of dignity, of delicacy, with a certain undertone of gentle pleasantry. It’s an embodiment of ideal Christian courtesy.” And I would only add, it’s a reflection of Christian contentment.

In verse 10, Paul commends the Philippians for remembering him in such a tangible way. Their concern for Paul’s imprisonment was longstanding and it had taken them a good bit of time to put feet to their intentions, but in God’s providence, the timing was perfect. In verses 14 to 16, Paul acknowledges greatly that the tangible support of the Philippians early on, and that they were the only church in Macedonia consistently providing financial support to his missionary efforts. This meant so much to Paul that he refers to the Philippians as longstanding partners with him in taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth. This is a great precedent for our own faith promise giving each year. We, like the Philippians in that first generation, have a partnership in the Gospel with those missionaries we support through our finances and our prayers.

In verses 17 and 18, Paul acknowledges that their gift had fully supplied his need. It was more than enough. And then, ever the theologian, Paul assures the Philippians that their financial gift to him was first and foremost a gift to God, an act of worship, like a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. Again, how do we think of our own sacrificial gifts that we make week in and week out and in fact that we just gave? Do you see them as part of your worship experience that brings pleasure to God? He does.

And in the midst of this marvelous expression of thanksgiving, Paul also provides for us a remarkable perspective that explains how a Christian man, imprisoned in chains for his faith, suffering real needs and hostilities from his enemies, can persevere and actually flourish. We see this in verses 11 to 13 and 19 and 20 as the apostle discloses what he calls the secret of Christian contentment.

I’ll return to those verses shortly, but first it might be helpful to give some attention to true contentment’s enemy, or its opposite, and as I’ve said, that’s discontentment. I describe discontentment as a disease of the soul, because its presences does indeed foul and diminish the soul and cause it to languish and to dissipate. Contentedness isn’t what’s native to us as fallen creatures; discontentedness is what’s native to us. The sad truth is that all of us have at least a dose of discontentment. It’s been with us since the fall and it’s a mark of the fall. In fact, one could argue that discontentment led to the fall. Sinclair Ferguson suggests as much. He notes that Satan himself was discontented with God’s provisions and appointments for him, and in his discontentedness, since misery loves company, he deceived Adam and Eve and they, too, became discontent with their station in life as God has assigned it. They wanted to be like God Himself, and this as we know led to the fall. And their subsequent misery has been the experience of every son and daughter of Adam ever since. And so godly contentment was lost in the garden, and has eluded men ever since.

Discontentment expresses itself in a lot of ways, all of which are sad and destructive. Think with me of David in 2 Samuel 12. David should have been among the most contented men on earth given God’s promises and blessings in his life, but in an unguarded moment of discontent, David wanted what wasn’t his to have, the wife of Uriah, and for that David and his entire family, like Adam and Eve, paid a dear price for a long time. Think with me of the children of Israel in the desert at Massah which means “testing” and Meribah, meaning “quarrelling.” From the earliest days after crossing the Red Sea and seeing God’s grace profoundly on display, the Israelites grumbled and complained against Moses and Aaron, and indeed the Lord, out of their discontentment with God’s simple provision of food and water.

In Exodus 17:7 we’re told that their grumbling was a way of expressing unbelief and testing God by asking this question, “Is the Lord among us or not?” Like Adam and Eve, the Israelites paid a steep price for their discontent.

We could go on and on with examples from Scripture that demonstrate that discontentment is rooted in a belief that God either doesn’t care for His people or He is simply unable to do so. Discontentment says “I deserve better and I will seek contentment on my own terms.”

A common expression of discontentment among men is the pursuit of riches for the wrong reasons. Tim Challies in an article on contentment coins a new word to describe the hazards of those of us living in the developed West where abundance that rivals the splendor of Solomon’s kingdom is typical. He gives it a clever name: Affluenza. Affluenza. He likens it to a disease that is a real and present danger to those who are addicted to an affluent lifestyle. Challies likens affluenza to the Spanish flu that spread to every nation and claimed the lives of some 20-40 million people, the deadliest epidemic in human history. And he says, ironically, the most common symptom of affluenza is discontentment. Challies continues, “there seems to be an inverse relationship between how much we have and how much we are convinced we need to be content.” And he concludes “affluenza has other symptoms, too, such as self-dependence and ingratitude.”

And that’s consistent with Paul’s sober warning to those thinking that affluence will bring them contentment. I’ll read from 1 Timothy 6, beginning in verse 6, where Paul warns us that “godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rish fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”

It occurs to me that unchecked discontentment will cause us to violate many, if not all, of the 10 commandments. Perhaps the most obvious one is the tenth, “thou shalt not covet.”

How bad can it get? Well, if you want to turn with me in your Bibles to James chapter 4, James tells us how bad it can get. I read beginning in chapter 4, verse 1, where James asks, to people struggling with contentment, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and you do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. And you ask and you do not receive, because you ask wrongly, with wrong motives, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people!” he calls us, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God, therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

One of Satan’s chief tactics is to keep up in perpetual discontentment, unsatisfied with God’s provisions, and his providence. C.S. Lewis writes about this in his tongue-in-cheek satire The Screwtape Letters. If you’re not familiar with this classic work of Lewis, he imagines a series of letters written by an older demon named Screwtape to his young and inexperienced nephew named Wormwood, instructing him on strategies and tactics to keep his patient, as he calls him, actually his victim, from a life with God. Here’s one piece of advice from Uncle Screwtape to Wormwood: “We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap onto the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the present.” In other words, Satan takes great pleasure in tempting us to discontentment and has our focus not on the present provisions and providences of God, but on some future apparition, where the grass is greener and making the ruthless pursuit of that our primary aim.

Now I’d be dishonest with Scriptures if I didn’t acknowledge that God makes a place for what I’ll call divine discontent. God expects us to be saddened and disturbed by loss and injustice, our world is so terribly fallen. We see these very emotions in Christ Himself as He wept at Lazarus’ tomb, as He ran the money-changers out of the temple, as He asked the Father for another way in the garden just before His crucifixion, and the songs of lament give generous place for expression of godly discontent and fear and confusion and sadness and sorrow, even sorrow for one’s sins. I’ve been with many of you in such times and I would never deprive you of your prerogatives to groan when loss and sorrow and the consequences of sin come your way, so please don’t confuse worldly discontentment with divine discontentment; they aren’t the same. With one, God is pleased; with the other, with the other He calls us to repent.

As with other Christian virtues, the world has its counterfeits, its impostors for Christian contentment that might look like true contentment but aren’t genuine. And one impostor to biblical contentment is stoicism. Stoicism was an ancient Greek school of philosophical thought that’s alive and well today. They consider contentment the essence of all virtues. Stoics sought to reckon with the disappointments and hardships of this life through a passive indifference to their circumstances. They pursued independence from all things and all people, to need nothing and no one. The Stoic line was man should be sufficient unto himself for all things, and able by the power of his will to resist the force of circumstances. The Stoic idea, according to one commentator, was a kind of self-contained superman who would rise above his circumstances in independent and self-sufficiency and serenity. For the Stoic, fretting was useless. They fostered a self-sufficiency in which all the resources for coping with life were located in the man himself. They sought to eliminate all desires. The Stoic would say if you want to make a man happy, add not to his possessions, but take away from his desires. And they proposed to eliminate all emotion and all feeling until one arrived at the place where he didn’t care what happened to him or anyone else, for that matter. T. R. Groves [sic] said Stoics made the heart a desert, and called it peace. They were more like statues than people. Contentment for the Stoic was a human achievement.

We have our modern-day stoics. I bet you know some. My question to you, though, is, are you one? Do you see contentment through fleshly and worldly means? As we’ll see, the Apostle Paul was no stoic. Far from it. He was a man who experienced joys and sorrows and all sorts with genuine contentment. And fortunately, we aren’t called to find contentment by denial of our desires in order to live, and by isolating ourselves from people or circumstances, in order to live out our days with a counterfeit contentment. Actually the opposite is true: There is a better way.

And so having considered discontentment, the enemy of godly contentment, having looked at a worldly counterfeit for godly contentment, let’s return to our text and observe what the Bible’s description of a contentment that pleases God. Paul calls it a secret, for a good reason. Look with me again at Philippians 4, verse 10: “I 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. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I 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. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Interestingly, in our passage, the Greek word that Paul uses in verse 11 for content is autarkies. It’s the same Greek word that the stoics chose to describe their own approach to contentment. In a sense, Paul is redeeming that word for us.

I want you to see two important truths about biblical contentment that pleases the Lord, and the first thing we see in verse 11 is that godly contentment is learned. Christian contentment isn’t divorced from life experience, rather it’s learned over time and the best of times and in the worst of times. It’s learned from observing Scripture, it’s learned from observing other saints who live contented lives, and like most aspects of the life of discipleship, we mature over time into contentment through our sanctification. In verse 11 and 12, we are told the length and the breadth and the height and the depth of Paul’s experiences that taught him contentment. It’s comprehensive. It covers any and every circumstance, he says. It includes experiencing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. In fact, we might think of Paul’s life experiences as a school for learning godly contentment.

We know much more about Paul’s unparalleled miseries than we do of the abundant times of which he speaks. In addition to Paul’s situation in a Roman prison as he writes this epistle to the Philippians, listen as I read a few of Paul’s descriptions of the unspeakable hardships he endured in his life. From 1 Corinthians 4, he writes “to the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and still are, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.”

In 2 Corinthians 4, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.”

2 Corinthians 6: “But as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: By great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger.”

Finally, in 2 Corinthians 11, Paul provides us an inventory of specific afflictions that had come to him during his ministry for Christ. Listen: “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the 40 lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I as adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”

For all these afflictions, for all these afflictions, Paul surely knew some times of prosperity. Before he was converted he was a prominent Jewish Pharisee, I’m sure with the perks that came with that. He did have seasons in his ministry where he knew the favor and the gratitude of people, and that likely included financial well-being, too.

In 2 Corinthians 12, a most interesting passage, Paul describes an unforgettable experience of being caught up to the third heaven, the dwelling place of God, in a vision. There he saw and heard what he called inexpressible things, glorious things, things that he says that a mortal man is not permitted to talk about. It must have been quite something.

But Paul goes on to say that to keep him from becoming conceited from that profound experience he was given what he described as a “thorn in the flesh,” or a messenger from Satan to, in his own words, torment him. We don’t know what it was, some think it was an eye disorder, but whatever it was, Paul entreated the Lord, he asked the Lord three times to be delivered from this, but the Lord declined, and said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” And it is Paul’s response in this matter that serves as a segue for the second important point about Christian contentment. Paul’s response to the Lord isn’t what you’d expect. After being declined three requests for deliverance from this thorn in the flesh, Paul is able to say “therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ then, I am content, with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities, for when I’m weak, then I am strong.”

Do you see it? Paul is content in all of his miseries, whatever the source, and the reason is because he was in Christ and Christ was in him. That is the secret Paul is referring to in Philippians 4, if you look back with me at our text at verse 13. There we read “I can do all things through Him” (that is Christ) “who strengthens me.”

Commentators would say that a better translation of the Greek word for “through” is “in,” and it would read this way: I can do all things in Him, in Christ, who strengthens me.

Paul says that his contentment in every and any circumstance, in good times and in bad, is not rooted in himself or his efforts to grin and bear it or in the circumstances themselves, but exclusively in his union, in his relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the secret of Christian contentment. And what makes it a secret is that the world does not, the world cannot, and for the most part the world doesn’t care to understand this. But this is the testimony of all Scripture.

And it’s particularly clear in the New Testament. If you turn back one chapter in your Bibles to chapter 3 in Philippians and look with me at verses 7 to 11. Here Paul provides a compelling, maybe a stunning insight into his deepest longings, and that is to be united to Christ and to be found in him. “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

In other places Paul speaks of his and our union with Christ in various ways. Let me read just a few. You’re familiar with Galatians 2:20, a favorite verse of Pastor Ross: “I have been crucified with Christ, it’s no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me and this life I live now in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and who delivered Himself up for me.”

Colossians 2, verse 6 and forward: “Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now built up in Him and established in our faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude. See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete,” Paul says.

This is how the Scriptures routinely and plainly speak of the source of contentment and fare more. The Christian is in Christ and derives life and meaning from that relationship. The closest earthly analogy that I know of is found in a vital Christian marriage between a man and a woman whom the Lord says enter into a one-flesh union on their wedding day. No longer two individuals primarily, but one flesh, and to live that way brings great blessing. We have many couples in our church who can testify to this.

And so perhaps two questions remain. First, what does a contented life in Christ look like? Well, we’ve established, I hope, that such a life isn’t divorced from trouble and hardships. We’re not spared such things. But our contentment comes from being convinced that our God is sovereign over all of life, that He’s good and that He’s loving. He has made what Peter calls precious and magnificent promises to us that provide a very different interpretation of trials that come to us. Paul sums this up handsomely in a verse that all of us know, Romans 8:28: And we know, Paul says, that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

But there is more. To be contented in Christ is liberating. Such contentedness allows us to be satisfied with what we have, to live without fear, to love our enemies, to be generous in our giving, to be other-centered rather than self-centered, to avoid resorting to such things as anger and deception or other worldly tactics, ungodly tactics to control and manipulate others to get what we want or have our own way. These things lose their power when one is living contentedly in Christ.

The final question is this: How is such a godly contentment in Christ sustained? And that’s no secret, my friends. When I do premarital or marriage counseling, I urge couples to do those things that cultivate their one flesh life together. They’re simple things: I urge them to pray together, to talk and listen to one another, to be curious about one another, to pursue one another, and, oh, by the way, to date often. It isn’t that much different in a life with Christ, you know. He has shown us how and given us the means. We read our Bibles, we pray, we worship, we remain in fellowship with one another, sharing our joys and our sorrows, simple things really. Christ has done all that is necessary to see that we can live contented lives.

The real question for us is do we want it enough or are we satisfied to define and pursue contentment as the world does?

So with all of that said, I think we have enough information to succinctly define contentment as the Bible does. I’ll let Jeremiah Burroughs speak from his book as I mentioned earlier, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. Burroughs defines Christian contentment this way: “Contentment is the inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, freely submitting to and taking pleasure in God’s disposal in every condition.” He sounds like a 17th century Puritan, doesn’t he? I’m going to read it again: “Contentment is the inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, freely submitting to and taking pleasure in God’s disposal in every condition.” I can’t improve on that.

We can’t overlook verses 19 and 20, though we’re almost out of time. They provide a fitting closure to our passage. We read there “and my God will supply every need of yours, according to His riches and glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father, the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Paul concludes with a promise and a simple doxology. The promise—Paul’s God, the Philippians’ God, and our God, if we know Christ, will supply our every need out of His inexhaustible riches in Christ Jesus. What a promise. And then, as if Paul has exhausted his ability to say any more about the unfathomable riches of God in Christ, he collapses gladly into worship, “To God be glory forever and ever. Amen.” To which I add, amen.

There is nothing more to add, except to say be contented, dear Christian. Worship God, for He is for you.

I want to leave you with an example of a compelling life marked by godly contentment. And though it may seem self-serving, I could think of no better life example, real-life example, than my 100-year-old mother-in-law, Blanche Kohnle, Pat’s mom. Mrs. Kohnle died on my birthday last March; she was 100. She was a simple Christian woman. She married very young, becoming the wife of a tobacco farmer. It was a hard life. Mrs. Kohnle was up early cooking breakfast and lunch for all the farm hands and staying up late at night washing dirty tobacco clothes. There was no indoor plumbing in her home in those years. She had eight children; Pat’s the youngest. Pat’s dad died when she was just 7 from lung cancer. There were still five kids in the home to raise, and so Mrs. Kohnle gave up her life as a tobacco farmer’s wife to raise her remaining children on the humble wages of an elementary school cook, living in a two-bedroom home with one bathroom. She died in that home last March.

But Mrs. Kohnle’s humble life was among the richest I’ve ever witnessed. She wasn’t perfect, of course, but she was sufficiently contented in her Christian life, her life with Christ. She rarely thought of herself. She was consistently and constantly concerned for others. I have countless stories of Mrs. Kohnle making sacrifices for others that humble me. She outlived, by the way, two of her children. But she was happy, light-hearted, generous, grateful, self-sacrificing, loving, and contented right up to her dying breath, for you see her life’s agenda was Christ’s agenda. That’s how I want to live. That’s how I want to die, and to be remembered. Don’t you?

Would you pray with me? Heavenly Father, as we have seen, contentment in this life will not be found in what we have or the avoidance of difficulty and calamity, for our world is terribly broken, and defies lasting contentment as the world defines it. We confess that our feeble attempts to achieve lasting contentment on our own terms have not worked. Please forgive us. Would that we could say with the contented psalmist, “O Lord, my heart is not proud nor my eyes haughty, nor do I involve myself in great matters or things too difficult for me. I’ve stilled and quieted my soul like a weaned child rests against his mother, so my soul is like a weaned child within me.” Help us, Father, as your people to transfer our pursuit of contentment from worldly ways to a life with Christ so that even in our dying moments we might be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “for me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” For we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.