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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:How Then Shall We Be Content?
Text:LD 44 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Added:2022-05-26
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Psalm 37

Lesson: Lord’s Day 44 (Q/A 113)

 

HOW THEN SHALL WE BE CONTENT?

  1. By Understanding Desire

  2. By Focusing Desire

 

  1. Psalm 46:1-3

  2. Psalm 37:1-3

  3. Psalm 23:1-3

  4. Hymn 2

  5. Psalm 131:1-3

  6. Hymn 13:1-5

 

Words to Listen For: shell, simply, Saul, steak, saint 

 

Questions for Understanding:

  1. Who was Simeon?  What can we learn from him?

  2. What is different about the 10th commandment?

  3. Is desire wrong?  All desire?  Why or why not?

  4. What does Psalm 37:4 really mean?

  5. What is the secret to contentment?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ our Lord,

There was once a very strange man who lived in a very strange time in church history.

The man?  St. Simeon Stylites the Elder.

The time?  The early 300s AD.

The church had experienced persecution right from the start.  We heard a little of that in our sermon this morning.  Right from the start they were dragged before rulers and told not to preach.  They were beaten with rods, stoned, whipped, put in prison.

During the reign of Emperor Nero, Christians were marched into the arena and ripped apart by wild beasts for the entertainment of the masses.  Others were soaked in oil and lit on fire - made into living candles for garden parties.

During the reign of Emperor Diocletian, there were so many Christians in prison that all non-Christian prisoners were released, so that they would have more room for the horrible criminals that were the priests and bishops, proclaiming the gospel.

And then, in 311, this persecution was...suddenly over.

In 312, Christianianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, and it was THEN that many Christians struggled.

They struggled with the lack of struggle, because, after living with suffering for so long, it had become permanently tied up with their faith.  They had a theology of suffering, and without that suffering, they wondered if they were still believers anymore.  After all, Christ promised us that we would suffer for His name.

So what do you do when you aren’t being martyred?  You martyr yourself!  You cause yourself real and lasting suffering, if the government is unwilling to do it.

And one of these self-martyrs was known as St. Simeon Stylites the Elder.  Simeon wanted to deny himself of all the things that gave him pleasure in life so that he would truly suffer, and therefore, have assurance of his faith.

He began his time in a monastery, but the other monks judged him to be too extreme in his self-denial, and he so was put out.

He then proceeded to be more and more extreme in his self-denial, going off into the desert and fasting from food and drink, until he became so weak that he would collapse.

This life was still too easy for him, for he got a great deal of pleasure from the pilgrims who would search him out to learn from him, so he built himself a 9 foot pole, and stood on top of it.

But the pilgrims still found him, so eventually he built a 50 foot pole, on top of which he stayed, on a small platform, for 36 years, tying himself to a stake when his legs gave way.

And yet...in all of this, there was no contentment, there was no peace.  In his attempt to abstain from the pleasures of this world, standing 50 feet above it, Simeon forgot one very important thing - when he climbed up that pole, he took his sinful nature with him.

When he climbed up that pole, he took his sinful nature with him...and all the suffering and pain in the world cannot replicate Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross.

Simeon died, a shell of himself, and still no closer to holiness than when he started in the monastery.

On the one hand, we scoff at men like Simeon.  How could he think that he could earn his salvation through suffering?  Why didn’t he just rest secure in Christ’s sacrifice?

But on the other hand...can’t we see a little bit of ourselves in Simeon’s story?  How often don’t we look for something else that we can do to be right with God?

It is as one of my seminary professors said: We all have a bit of Roman Catholic in us.  We have this idea that there is a weigh scale that God is looking at, and when we’ve done something good, He is happy with us, and when we sin, He is disappointed in us, He is angry with us, until the next good thing that we do to even out the scale.

This was Simeon’s problem.  Being content, being at peace?  Not until I make up for all my sins!  And when this is our motto, then peace is never really an option.  Contentment is just a pipe dream.  And with this in our minds, this longing for true peace, ask with me:

HOW THEN SHALL WE BE CONTENT?

  1. By Understanding Desire

  2. By Focusing Desire

 

How Then Shall We be Content?  By Understanding Desire

Our Lord’s Day this afternoon is an interesting one by all accounts.  In a Lord’s Day about the commandment: You shall not covet, the word “covet” is nowhere to be found.

We see the typical question that the catechism has used for all the other commandments, but we do not see the typical answer.  We don’t seem to get coverage of the commandment in a comprehensive way.

And I know WHY the writers of the catechism did it...the tenth commandment is seen as a different sort of commandment than the rest, for it is EXCLUSIVELY a matter of the heart.

The other commandments all BEGIN in the heart, and work themselves out in an action.  An action that can be recognized, rebuked, and repented over.  But coveting...is only a heart condition.

And yet, I think there’s a little more to this commandment that we have in answer 113.  But the writers of the catechism do give us a little something to work off here, and this is found in one word.  DESIRE.

Not even the slightest thought or DESIRE contrary to any of God’s commandments should ever arise in our heart.

The desire is recognized and then immediately the catechism moves on.  But we won’t.  This afternoon, we are going to dwell in the realm of desire.

And, on the outset, this is an uncomfortable place for us to be.  When we think of desire, we get uncomfortable.  Desire seems like a bad word to us, because we know, because we are taught, that so much of what we desire is evil.  And that’s true.  Our nature is corrupt, and on any given day, even the most holy among us have more evil desires than good.

And so, we have come to think that DESIRE ITSELF is the problem.  “If only we were emotionless!” we think.  “If only I was rid of these pesky emotions distracting me from the truth of the gospel!”

We somehow have it in our heads that our hearts are more corrupt than our minds.  That our minds are renewed by Christ first, our eyes are opened to the truth of the gospel, and our hearts lag behind.

But this is simply not true.  We were corrupted - heart and mind - in the Garden, and we are being renewed - heart and mind - through the work of the Holy Spirit.

This is what many of us think: We see our desires as the root of all evil, and so we seek to repress these desires to sanctify ourselves.  When we think this, we have a lot wrong.

DESIRE AS THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL - this is Buddhism.  The Buddha teaches that desire is the root of evil, and when we purge ourselves of our desires, then we will be at peace.  Jesus said no such thing.

REPRESSING THESE DESIRES - this is asceticism, like what was practiced by Simeon on top of the pole for 36 years.

SANCTIFYING OURSELVES - this is pride.  The idea that we, as sinful human beings can MAKE OURSELVES less sinful...it is arrogance and pride.  This is not something that is in our natural ability to do.

Let me put it to you this afternoon that our ultimate problem is not that we have desires, but something else entirely.

Let me put it like this, as others have before me - to WILL is of man, to will ILL is of a corrupt nature, and to will WELL is of grace.

Let me say that again and then flesh it out for us -  to WILL is of man, to will ILL is of a corrupt nature, and to will WELL is of grace.

As human beings, we were created with a will.  We were created with desire.  Even though the fall into sin has CORRUPTED that will, and BOUND that will to sin...that will, that ability to desire...it has not been taken away from us.  To will is of man.

But due to our fallen and corrupt nature, our hearts are always seeking after things that they shouldn’t.  As corrupted beings, we are now drawn to corruption.  Instead of the true God, we are drawn to corrupt imitations.  Instead of proper worship, we are drawn to a corruption that flatters ourselves.  Instead of love FOR our neighbour, we seek dominance OVER him.

We still have a will, we still have a desire...but it is a desire pointed in the wrong direction.  To will ill is of a corrupt nature.

But there is still hope...even though we have been corrupted by Satan...there is the BUT GOD of the gospel.  Satan offered corruption, Eve and then Adam accepted that corruption, BUT GOD offered hope.  But God offered renewal and restoration.  God offered His Spirit to work in our hearts and turn our desire back to what is right.  To will WELL is of grace.

DESIRE, you see...DESIRE is not the same as COVETOUSNESS, and DESIRE is not the opposite of contentedness.

Desire CAN lead us astray, but, used in the proper way, used in the way that God intended it...desire can be pleasing to God, and serves as an important part of our worship.  Desire belongs to our original, uncorrupted nature, and, when the Holy Spirit begins to work on our hearts, we do not become LESS EMOTIONAL, our desires are not WEAKENED, but they are sanctified, they are clarified, they are FOCUSED.  Our second point.

Nowhere in Scripture do we see a lack of desire, a lack of passion, a lack of emotion, as something to aspire to.

Look at the Apostle Paul -  With Paul, it appears that everything he felt, he felt right down to the very bottom of himself.  Before he was changed by the gospel message, he was filled with passion to destroy the church, and this consumed him, night and day.

After his conversion, he was filled with passion to spread the good news to the far corners of the earth, and this consumed him night and day.  What changed in Paul, was not his passion, it was the direction, the focus of his passion.

Look at the Lord Jesus Christ - He was angry at sin, flipping over tables in the temple, driving money-changers out with a whip.  He was filled with love and compassion for those who suffered, loving them and sacrificing Himself for them, all throughout His life, but especially at the end.

And look at King David - a man who shows us both extremes of desire.  His sinful and wicked desire caused him to commit adultery with Bathsheba, and then murder her husband Uriah when Bathsheba became pregnant.  His sinful desire resulted in death - the death of his infant son, and the displeasure of the Lord.  David committed great evil because of his desire.

But out of his love for God, out of his heart, which was a heart after God’s own heart, he was a wise and just king, he led Israel into their golden age.  And what we have written for us, preserved for us in the book of Psalms, is the outpouring of his heart.  The outpouring of his godly desires.

Can you imagine any of them...can you imagine David, or Jesus, or Paul, going off into the desert and climbing on top of a pole to escape from sin?  To escape from people and desire?  Not a chance!

The Apostle Paul spent time in the wilderness after his calling, but for the express purpose of being taught by Christ, so that he could serve the church, in person, with his emotions on full display, wearing his heart on his sleeve.

Our Lord Jesus spent time in the wilderness - but He did so to be strengthened and fed by His Heavenly Father so that He could continue His earthly ministry, preaching and teaching, healing and relieving suffering.  Jesus took time alone so that He could take time with others.

And David spent time in the wilderness - but he was on the run from Saul.  He longed to return to the temple, and the people of Israel.  And during his desert years, he wrote psalms that expressed the true longings of his heart.

And this is what we saw in our reading in Psalm 37.  Though we don’t know if David wrote this psalm in the fields as a shepherd, or in the desert as an outlaw, or in Jerusalem as a king, it is a psalm that shows us a picture of his heart.  We see of his desire, and he teaches us about how our desires should be.

Although the entire psalm speaks of this, encouraging us to trust in the Lord (verse 5), to be still before Him (verse 7), to place no stock in the many possessions of the wicked (verse 16), and encouraging us to remember what our true heritage is (verse 18)...I would like to focus with you on one particular verse, verse 4, as it shows us an example of right desire that leads to contentedness.

Psalm 37:4 - Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.

A simple enough verse.  Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.  This seems like a good verse to put on a plaque in your house, to look at it when you get up in the morning as an encouragement...and there’s nothing wrong with that...as long as we truly understand its meaning.

For a verse like this can very easily be twisted by Satan, and can lead us down the wrong road.

This is a verse that those in the prosperity gospel movement HAVE twisted and turned and have led others astray.

So...let us work to truly understand it, and thus gain true contentedness.

What does this NOT MEAN?  It DOESN’T MEAN that as long as you love God, He will give you a car.  And a 401K.  And a private jet.  And a huge mansion.  Love God, and He will reward your earthly desires.  This is not what this verse means.  It CANNOT BE.

And to be fair, there are times when God chooses to bless His people with earthly blessings.  Abraham, the man of faith, was a very rich man.  He was considered to be a mighty prince in the land.

But for every Abraham, there was an Apostle Paul - a man who worked as a tentmaker to earn enough money to do his ministry.

For every Solomon with grand palaces, there was a Jesus - who didn’t have a place to lay His head.

God MAY choose to bless you on this earth - and for some of us here, He has - but we have to realize that these blessings are EXTRA.

So, what does this verse truly mean?

Take a look at it again.  Psalm 37:4 - Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.

The words “delight” and “desire” are almost interchangeable here.  So, what this verse really means is: “If the true desire of your heart is God, He will fulfill that true desire.  When you want God more than anything else...He will give you all of Him.  He will wash you with the blood of His Son.  He will fill you with His Holy Spirit, and He will welcome you into His glory, to dwell with Him forever.

And so, we see that the meaning of this verse isn’t POORER than the false interpretation of the prosperity gospel preachers, but in fact MUCH RICHER!

          Compared to an eternity with God...what is a mansion?

          Compared to an eternity with God...what is a private jet?

          Compared to an eternity with God...when we have our eyes upon Him...why would you ever covet?

We might think, it’s not fair that his wife is prettier than mine!

But compared to the eternal gospel of salvation...why does this matter?  TURN YOUR EYES BACK ON GOD, AND AWAY FROM YOUR NEIGHBOUR’S WIFE.

His house is bigger than mine!

Well...Jesus is preparing a dwelling for you in Heaven.  Does it really matter where you live right now?  TURN YOUR EYES BACK ON GOD, AND AWAY FROM YOUR NEIGHBOUR’S HOUSE.

These earthly blessings...they’re not NOTHING...God desires for you to have a faithful and righteous spouse who will partner with you in serving Him, and He wants you to be attracted to each other...God desires for you to have a roof over your head, and for you to have a house where you can properly work and live, and use to serve those around you...but these things are EXTRA.

They’re not even a cherry on top of a wonderful piece of cake, making it THAT MUCH BETTER...they’re not even cherry-level.  But instead, these earthly blessings could be likened more to an after dinner mint.

It’s FINE.  It’s NICE.  It’s not UNPLEASANT...but can it compare the mint to the steak dinner you just enjoyed?  NOT A CHANCE!

You see...the heart of this commandment, the heart of the 10th commandment, forbidding covetousness...it’s not ultimately about the other sins that coveting will lead you to.

  • If coveting leads you to steal, that’s covered in the eighth commandment.

  • If coveting leads you to hate and murder, that’s covered in the sixth commandment.

  • If coveting leads you to an affair, that’s covered in the seventh commandment.

But, by forbidding COVETING, God is telling us that we must find fulfillment, ultimate joy, and true contentment, IN HIM.

What is contentment, really?

Contentment is something we experience when our desires are fulfilled by our assets.

One way to do this is to kill our desires.  When we desire a beautiful wife or a handsome husband and we don’t have one...we can try to kill our desire.

We have 0 assets, and this can be matched by 0 desire.  That would make us content.

But we can’t completely kill our desire...for we were created to be beings of desire.  No matter how hard you try...you won’t completely get rid of it all together.

The secret to contentment is not in killing our desires.  It is not in lessening our desires.

Do you think that after all those years on top of that pole, Simeon did not desire comfort?  He tied himself to a stake so that he wouldn’t sit, not only because of the weakness of his body, but because of the desire of his heart.

The secret to contentment is, instead, JESUS CHRIST.  In having Him, we have all that we could ever need.  In fact, all we could ever wish for.  As Paul proclaims in 1 Corinthians 3 - All things are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.

The answer for a coveting spirit is to want Christ so much that everything else fades away in comparison.

It is as Saint Augustine said, our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God.  We naturally desire what will not last.  We naturally covet what will be a burden to us.

But God loves us too much to let us continue chasing after lesser things.  God loves us too much to watch us continually drinking, cup after cup of salt water, getting thirstier and thirstier...every drink dehydrating us more and more.

THIS is what it is to covet.  To ignore the crystal clear mountain stream and make the long trek to the ocean, lapping up salt water until we die.

It’s a harsh description, but an accurate one.

Instead, drink from that crystal clear mountain stream.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus

Look full in His wonderful face

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of his glory and grace

Can we truly confess this with all our heart?  It is when we release our grip on what doesn’t ultimately matter, that we will be open to true blessing, true joy, true contentment, and true life.

AMEN.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Jeremy Segstro

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