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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Learning Contentment
Text:LD 44 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:10th Commandment (Jealousy)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 63:1,2                                                                                     

Ps 27:1,2  [after Apostles’ Creed]

Reading – Philippians 4; 1 Timothy 6:3-21

Ps 37:1,2,3,16

Sermon – Lord’s Day 44

Hy 78:1,2,3

Hy 65:1,2,3,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Brothers and sisters, it’s hard to be content. That can be an elusive state of mind: when we accept our position, what we have, and where we’re going—when we accept all this from the Father’s hand, and we live at peace. Contentment: that’s not always longing for more, being jealous or envious, but finding satisfaction in Christ and being truly thankful.

It’s not easy because of the kind of the world we live in. We live in a society that’s always flashing in front of us beautiful and exciting things, things that we think we want. A newer vehicle; a bigger home; a fancier vacation; the best technology, a better body, and lots of good times—we’re told we need it, we even deserve it.

Contentment is also hard when we can stay up-to-date with what everyone else around us is doing and buying. Complete with well-filtered insta-pictures, we get an online window into how interesting and exciting their lives are—how happy they seem, especially compared to us and our boring existence.

Like all our problems, this one springs from the sinful heart. By nature, ours is a heart that doesn’t rest easy. We see that with Adam and Eve, when they weren’t happy with their position before the Creator. They let their eyes wander to the attractive fruit, pleasing to look at, and desirable for gaining wisdom—and they went ahead and took it. And we still want things we can’t have, or things we don’t have. Then discontentment can take hold.

And so in his mercy God has given us the tenth commandment. “You shall not covet.” That is, you shall not set a sinful desire on blessings that God has not granted you—whether it’s a better job, or a more interesting spouse, or a fancier RV, or anything. The LORD desires that his children be content, where “not even the slightest thought contrary to any of God’s commandments should ever arise in our hearts” (Q&A 113).

God wants us to turn our eyes away from things we don’t have, and to look at what we do have: we have him as Lord and Saviour! I preach to you God’s Word as it’s summarized in Lord’s Day 44, under this theme and points,           

In the tenth commandment God calls us to be content:

  1. our struggle against dissatisfaction
  2. our path toward true peace in Christ


1) our struggle against dissatisfaction: We’ve said already that contentment is a hard-fought thing. It’s hard to turn off all the noise of bad desires and envies, and turn on the sweet sounds of gentle peace. You probably know that from your own life, too. Some days, I think, we do feel almost perfectly at rest. We feel like anything could happen, and we’d be fine. For we consider our family, our job, our future, and we’re filled with gratitude. At moments like that, we’re glad to be where we are, to have what we have. And we’re glad to know the Lord.

But how different it is a few days later! Suddenly our work isn’t going so well. Or there’s some bad news in the family. The utility rates are going up. Or you’ve got a sore back again, and you didn’t sleep well last night. Our contentment melts away so quickly. There can be many circumstances that make it a struggle for us.

And this struggle makes sense. This is how the Catechism explains it: “In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of [the obedience which God requires]” (Q&A 114). As long as we live on this earth, we’re always going to be wrestling with the weakness and sinfulness of our character.

Paul speaks about contentment in Philippians 4. Here he says it was something he had to work at. Verse 12, “Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” First, underline the main verb in that sentence: I have learned. If there’s anything that the Bible says you have to learn, then we know it’s not going to come naturally to us—we need to work at it.

So just what is this state of mind, state of heart, called contentment? Paul’s words—and the background of his words—can help us a lot. He wrote to the Philippians from prison in Rome. And sitting there, Paul’s coming death was very much in his thoughts. He even wrote in chapter 1, “I have the desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (v 23). Paul knew the end of his life could very well be near.

Yet Paul isn’t paralyzed with fear. He doesn’t invite his fellow prisoners to a pity party. No, Paul picks up the pen and writes in order to encourage the Philippians to keep living in unity and humility. And he wants to thank them for their gifts.

The church at Philippi had been generous to Paul. They had heard that he was in prison, so they sent him money to provide for his needs. In Roman prisons, there was no cafeteria and no vending machines—getting your daily food and drink was up to you. So Paul greatly appreciates the Philippians’ kindness and concern for him, even though recently, he says, “they lacked opportunity” to show it (4:10). Perhaps they couldn’t find a reliable messenger to bring the support, or they didn’t know the prison where Paul was being kept. Paul knew that they cared, only their mercy met some obstacle.

Yet it didn’t matter, for Paul was content. Even if their support never arrived, Paul wanted to tell them he was OK. For as the apostle sat there, he didn’t see anything lacking. He writes, “Not that I speak in regard to need” (4:11). This is a remarkable statement! “I’ve got no worries, not a care in the world,” he says. Despite his terrible condition, despite the uncertainty of where his next meal is coming from, Paul is not in need.

As he continues, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content” (4:11). Paul was at peace. Satisfied, “in whatever state.” And for him, this wasn’t some theoretical or distant idea. As an apostle he’d experienced much suffering—being beaten, going hungry and homeless, getting shipwrecked, left all alone, and now, imprisoned again. He’s not exaggerating when he says, “I know how to be abased” (4:12).

Paul had gone through the very worst of times. Few of us have missed many meals, or lost our freedom of movement. Few have gone homeless, or faced an angry mob, or had to think about the looming day of our execution. But Paul has been brought very low; from a human perspective, it should’ve been impossible for him to be at peace. Yet he can say, “I’m OK, whatever happens.”

So what was his secret? Was Paul some kind of super-Christian? Is it even possible for regular people like us to share in his peace? We can, because he tells us about contentment’s true source! He tells us what we need to know to live and die in the joy of salvation. The secret is in the very next verse, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (v 13).

Now, everyone likes that text—on bookmark or a wall-hanging, it’s inspiring. But when we read it together with his testimony to contentment, it’s even more remarkable. Paul, sitting there in prison, wondering how long his head would be attached to his body, facing hunger, facing the end—was at rest. And it was all because Paul knew the great power and faithfulness of the Lord Jesus! “I can do everything through Christ who strengthens me.”

Here’s what this means. Paul knew, and we can know, that God, for the sake of Christ, will never withdraw his blessing. God, for the sake of Christ, will never forget one of his children. No matter what we face in this life, Christ gives courage and trust. He loves us so much that He died for us, so He’ll also help us hold onto what’s truly important, even to the end.

In Christ, there’s always cause for a Christian to rejoice, because He’s given something eternal—something more precious than anything we could ever gain or buy or achieve. Jesus suffered to give us peace with our Maker. He died to take away God’s wrath against our sin. Then Christ rose from the dead, to deliver us from Satan and sin, even from the grip of the grave. That’s everything we’re ever going to need—so cling to Christ and live in his peace.

This is the power of contentment you have access to today, through the powerful and gracious and life-restoring presence of the Triune God! You can live in communion with a God who’s able to give us all things, and who delights to bless us. He sees the burdens, the hardships, and the pain we carry. He understands far better than we do the gifts that we depend on for living. God knows the encouragement we crave—the hope we need—for being able to carry on. He knows, He cares, and for Jesus’ sake, He helps.

Also when things are well with us, peaceful and prosperous, we can rest in God. Some of us certainly know what it is to be abased, but most of us have a lot more experience in knowing what it is to abound—we have been greatly blessed. And it’s especially when things are well that we need to keep seeking the Lord!

In 1 Timothy 6, Paul says the same thing. He tells “those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches” (v 17). Don’t ever let your peace in life depend on the gadgets you have, or the position you fill, the strength you possess, or how many friends surround you.

We need that warning, because even as those who know Christ, we are easily dissatisfied with our lot in life. We’re impatient with how God is directing us. We’re envious of what others have. We might look for our peace through uncertain things—we might keep looking for our “happy place” here on earth, but we’ll never find it.

True rest only comes from knowing God through Jesus his Son. Says Paul, we can put our hope “in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Tim 6:17). Even if we don’t have much, even if there’s much that’s difficult about our present condition, our Father will take care in every way. If we know that—and if we trust him—doesn’t it make every difference? All our needs are going to be met through God’s riches in Christ!

As Paul did, we too can look back, and see God’s faithfulness. Has God ever forsaken you? Ever withheld what you needed? Ever done evil against you? No, whatever you faced, God was there in his love. Whatever you had to deal with, He made it possible. Abounding or abased, we can be content, for “We can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.”


2) our path toward true peace in Christ: It sounds simple. Contentment is all very straightforward on a Sunday afternoon, but it’s much harder to practice on Monday morning. Being content still goes against the grain of our hearts, and against the spirit of the age.

And there are many of God’s children who have to carry around grief and disappointment, who must battle against pain or disease. Then we wonder what an invisible God can do to help. For all our praying, God doesn’t make automatic deposits into our chequing account. God doesn’t miraculously take away our depression or restore our family’s brokenness. God doesn’t grant us every desire of our hearts.

Yet God does give peace! Paul learned this, through years of hardships, through his countless days and nights of trial. He learned to see God’s sanctifying purpose in pain. He learned to treasure the Father’s good gifts. He learned to centre his life on what was most important—the gospel of salvation through Christ.

This is what we have to learn, too. For recall that key truth: contentment takes an effort. It’s something to learn, and learn again. So what can you and I do to secure a steady peace for our hearts? What’s the path toward true peace?

First, let’s learn to reject the false methods of contentment, and sort through the lies of this world. You know that so many things promise “peace of mind.” If you buy this kind of car, or wear this kind of clothes you’ll be cool. If you achieve this level of savings, you can retire early. If you live in this kind of neighborhood, or have this kind of body, you’ll gain the admiration of all. As we said before, contentment is closely attached to those passing things. And by nature, we said, we get so attached to these things.

Living and working in this world, we hear it all the time, and we start to buy into it. “Maybe I do need more than what I have right now. Maybe my life would be better if I made more money or had more free time. If this one thing was just different, then—surely then—I could be happier!” We have covetous hearts—hearts that are inclined to set our desires on what doesn’t belong to us.

But this is how God warns us in 1 Timothy 6:9, “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction.” Coveting what we don’t have—whether money or pleasure or power or prestige—coveting so often leads only to misery.

Instead, get to know the power of God, and have a confidence in the Lord’s strength and goodness. As Paul tells us a few verses before: “Rejoice in the Lord!” (4:4). Even there in prison, with every excuse to be miserable, he took the time to rejoice in God. He rejoiced in how the Lord had provided him with everything in Christ—everything truly essential.

We too, should learn to rejoice in God’s daily goodness. Even if we don’t have endless resources, Paul says: “Having food and clothing, with these we shall be content” (1 Tim 6:8). That’s a lesson for us to focus on what we have, to open our eyes to God’s gifts! Do you have this day’s meals? Do you have somewhere to sleep tonight? Clothing for your body? A car to drive to work? Energy to get out of bed again tomorrow, even breath in your lungs? Rejoice that it’s all a gift of his grace. You have what you need.

The way to this contentment is also paved with prayer. Writes Paul to the Philippians, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (4:6). There’s so much that we could be anxious about. Our work. Our family. Our health. So many plans unfulfilled. So many concerns burden us, from the moment we wake up, to the time we finally fall asleep. There’s much in your life that you might wish to be different.

But Paul says, “Don’t be anxious.” Or like Peter says, “Cast all your anxiety on [God] because He cares for you” (1 Pet 5:7). Don’t be anxious, but pray. For when we pray, we’re entrusting our concerns to God. When we pray, we’re not taking it with us, but we’re laying our troubles at the Father’s feet. And as we do, our confidence begins to grow: “This is what I know: The Almighty God is in control of all things. The Father will take care of my life. He is able—more than able.”

And that’s the effect of prayer that Paul describes. After calling us to present all our requests and anxieties and thanksgivings to God, he points out the sure result: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7). We gain the peace of God—the contentment that comes from trusting in the power and faithfulness of God.

It’s not automatic. We don’t always experience it, the moment that we’re done offering up our petitions. But the peace does come, as sure as God’s promise. When there is no reason at all to expect it, when no human explanation can be offered for it, we’re granted a peace that passes all understanding. It comes from God. It comes from knowing God.

And our contentment gains some staying power, some longevity, when we make it our habit to seek after the things of God. Paul urges us in the same chapter, “Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue, and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (v 8).

The Spirit here calls us to seek the better things. Don’t get caught up chasing empty dreams. Don’t give your life for human goals. Don’t let your reason for living be having fun, or being better than other people, or building your own small kingdom. For then you’ll never find contentment.  But seek the things are above. This is how the Catechism describes this process of growing in better and holier things: “While praying to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit… never stop striving to be renewed more and more after God’s image” (Q&A 115).

Whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable—covet these things, and find your delight in them. And what are such excellent and praiseworthy things? It’s knowing the goodness of God’s Word, and his Kingdom. It’s embracing the riches of the gospel, and the blessing of the Spirit. It’s realizing who you are in Christ, and living that out with joy. It’s dedicating yourself to doing good. It’s enjoying the fellowship of believers.

When Paul gave instruction to Timothy, he encouraged the same thing. Now, Timothy was a young man; he could’ve been distracted by all the exciting things going on around him in the big city, ensnared by everything that the world promised. But Paul tells him, “But you, O man of God, flee these things  and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness” (1 Tim 6:11). Pursue these things!

This is the only life worth living, where we “with earnest purpose,” strive to walk with Christ. This kind of godliness with contentment “is great gain.” For if we desire the Father, delight in his Son, and are filled with the Spirit, then the God of peace will be with us.

We know, says Paul to Timothy, “that we brought nothing into the world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out” (1 Tim 6:7). The fact is, one day we’ll leave this life, and on that day what will we have? If we’ve tried to store up treasures on earth, we’ll have nothing at all. If we’ve tried to build peace by our own efforts, on that day we’ll be most unhappy. For “we brought nothing into the world, and it is certain that we can carry nothing out.”

Instead, we can have something much better. The Triune God is whom we need, more than anything. For life and death and eternity, He’s all we need. Brothers and sisters, have you learned to be content in him? Do you have peace, whatever your lot and your condition, whatever your circumstance?

Or to ask the question better: Are you still learning this contentment? Are you still asking God to teach you about it? Are you trying to find in Christ your highest joy, your greatest treasure, your truest peace? Seek him and his strength, for in Christ God promises you the peace that passes all understanding!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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