the weblog of Alan Knox

Contentment

Posted by on Apr 28, 2008 in discipleship | 10 comments

I’ve been studying Matthew 6, because we’re going through Matthew on Sunday mornings, and because I’m teaching from Matthew 6:19-24 in a few weeks. That passage starts with these three verses:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 ESV)

The more I study Scripture, the more I realize how much of my understanding of God, the world, myself, other people, and even eternity is based on unscriptural and sometimes anti-scriptural ideas. For instance, consider the idea of laying up treasures in heaven. All of the good gospel songs talk about mansions in heaven (an unfortunate translation of John 14:2) with all the wonderful stuff that we’re going to get when we get there.

Is that what Jesus is teaching? Is he teaching us to give up stuff now so that we can get more stuff later? That seems contradictory to everything that Jesus has been saying in the Sermon on the Mount. Does Jesus really want us to turn away from material things here so that we can be even more materialistic later?

In the first part of chapter 6, Jesus taught that we should not do good deeds in order to be rewarded by people, but to be rewarded by the Father. Similarly, he taught that we should not pray and fast for the purpose of being rewarded by men, but for God. But, was Jesus teaching his listeners – and us – that God would reward us with more stuff – material things?

Could it be that instead of teaching us about eschewing earthly stuff in order to get better, heavenly stuff, Jesus was actually teaching us about contentment? Could it be that the Father himself is our reward when we do good deeds, pray, and fast with the proper motives and for God as our audience? Could it be that “treasures in heaven” is an idiom for God himself?

The author of Hebrews says something similar:

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5 ESV)

According to this verse, our contentment comes from the presence of God himself – not from any earthly or heavenly stuff. The phrase translated “love of money” is also translated “greed”. Greed can be associated with money, but it can also be associated with non-monetary things.

For example, we can become discontent with our health or fitness. We can become discontent with our family. We can become discontent with our job. We can become discontent with our relationships. Any of these things can become a source of discontentment.

But, the answer to our discontentment is not found in more stuff – even in better health or better relationships. The answer to our discontentment is only found in the presence of God. Similarly, the answer to our discontentment is not waiting for heaven and the “sweet by and by”. The answer to our discontentment is found today in the presence of God.

I know that many people have expressed discontentment about the church, either in person, on this blog, or on other blogs. Again, the solution to this discontentment is found in the presence of God himself. Changing our situation may hide the discontentment for a while, but it will never bring contentment.

However, resting in the presence of God – allowing him to be our treasure – will bring contentment. Similarly, we cannot stay in God’s presence without being affected ourselves and without the world around us being affected.

Do good deeds… and let God be your reward. Pray… and let God be your reward. Fast… and let God be your reward. Be content… because God is with you, and he has promised to never leave you nor to forsake you.


10 Comments

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  1. 4-28-2008

    Alan,

    Once again, another great post. I was just talking about this idea recently with a group of believers and nearly all of them expressed belief in material rewards in heaven. One person brought up the “crowns” that believers will receive. I asked them what does the passage say that we do with those crowns? We throw them at the feet of Jesus. What more do we need than the presence of the Almighty?

    Blessings,
    Chris

  2. 4-28-2008

    Chris,

    You said, “What more do we need than the presence of the Almighty?” Yes, exactly! And, the great thing is, we have that presence now!

    -Alan

  3. 4-29-2008

    Alan -

    This is a good, thought-provoking post. And you’re right. What a challenge to me to be simply content in God’s presence.

    And lately I also have also been seeing that much of what I have thought or been taught about God and His Word isn’t accurate at all. “I do not think it means what you think it means” comes to mind a lot … :)

    Blessings!
    ~Heather

  4. 4-29-2008

    Working daily with brothers in Christ who have 100 times less stuff than I do, contentment/reward comes in seeing God’s work in their life and ministry. The Western way of reward is tied far too closely with money, and what money can buy. Here they are far less interested in “things” and more focused on the reward of seeing ‘God’s Kingdom come’ as lives are changed, churches are planted, and the simple joy of being on mission with God.

  5. 4-29-2008

    Alan,

    How good to see you back at the keyboard, and what a top post.

    What greater wealth could anyone want than that which satisfied Paul, both in the present and eternity?

    “Whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ,and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith,that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death;in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
    Phil.3:8-14 NASB

  6. 4-29-2008

    Heather,

    Thanks for the Princess Bride quote… inconceivable!

    Guy,

    You may be a good person to answer this question: In a culture where there is not much money, where do people seek contentment (apart from God)?

    Aussie John,

    Thank you for the Philippians quote. I had Paul’s statement in the back of my mind when I was writing this. I pray that God will continue to mature me until I can say, “I have learned in whatever state I am in to be content”.

    -Alan

  7. 4-30-2008

    Alan,
    This post reminds me of an encounter that I had with God several years ago. During a time of worship and prayer with 4 other believers, we were suddenly overwhelmed with the presence of God in a way we had never felt before and I have not experienced since. It lasted for several hours and His presence became so intense that I felt that my flesh might not survive if it got any more intense. At the same time I wanted to continue to press in and experience more of Him and His wonderful presence.

    What’s my point? Immediately after this experience all of us were just sitting or lying around the room in awe and reflection and it occurred to me…The only thing I need in my life is God’s presence. It’s hard to put into words and anything I can say here will fall far short of fully describing my feelings. But in that moment, I was completely satisfied in Him. These days, when I get frustrated with life, church, whatever I can always remind myself that the ONLY time I’ve ever been completely satisfied was in the manifest presence of God. In a word, He is sufficient and true contentment can only be found in Him. This is also part of the message of the book of Ecclesiastes.

    Blessings-
    Brandon

  8. 4-30-2008

    Brandon,

    Thank you for sharing that story. The amazing thing is that God is with us even when we cannot sense his presence in that way. The fact that he is ever-present with us should give us contentment. Of course, times like you mentioned are very valuable as we walk with God and remind us of just how glorious his presence is.

    -Alan

  9. 5-1-2008

    The challenging thing for me is remembering that He is always present. There are many times when our situations and circumstances seem more real, and are more “felt” than God’s presence. In those times dis-contentment can set in very quickly…I often have to remind myself that He is here whether I “feel” His presence or not.

  10. 5-1-2008

    Brandon,

    I agree. The difficulty is in adjusting our perspective away from what we see and what seems to be real, and focussing instead on what is real, whether we sense it or not.

    -Alan