September 25, 2016
Advertising slogans have a way of sticking with the public consciousness. In 1907 the Carnation Company came up with a slogan for its condensed milk. They called it “The milk that comes from contented cows.” They pictured their cows grazing contentedly in their lush green pastures. Imagine that one day a milk truck passes by some contented cows, a truck maybe driven by Gary? On the side of the truck are the words, “Pasteurized, homogenized, standardized with Vitamin A added”. One cow sighs and says to the other, “Makes you feel kinda inadequate, doesn't it?”
As I studied our readings for today, the start of Paul's letter to Timothy kinda jumped out at me. Paul wrote at least two letters to Timothy, who was a protege of Paul's, now leading a small church in Ephesus. He wrote to encourage Timothy, as there were plenty of discouraging things happening in those early days. A young pastor could get to feeling inadequate for the task. And so the apostle Paul wrote words of instruction, encouragement and warning
I began by talking about advertisements. The goal of advertising is to fuel our discontent. The milk we are buying isn't as good as Carnation's. The chocolate we are eating isn't as sweet as Nestle's. Our clothes, our fragrances, our car are all inadequate as can be seen by the wonderful lives lived by the people in the commercials. As ads seek to make us discontent with our lives, we are gathered here this morning to heed these words of Paul. We want to grow in godliness and that means learning to be content. We gather to share in fellowship, to offer our gifts and talents, to sing praises to the Lord. All this is intended to lead us to greater degrees of godliness.
I mentioned false teachers, one thing they were trying to teach about godliness, in verse 5 which is not part of our reading but is important for the context, Paul wrote those teachers were teaching “that godliness is a means of gain.” Their form of godliness was a get rich quick scheme. Now that is a false teaching that hasn't disappeared. A posting of Facebook several weeks ago showed a preacher (Joel Osteen actually) preaching to a tremendous crowd in his giant auditorium. The next slide showed his house, or better his mansion. The third shared the fact that one in three children live in poverty. Making the contrast of wealth as a goal of ministry and what Jesus calls us to do...care for the orphan and widow and prisoner.
Did you know that Jesus said more about money than he did about heaven or hell? We all hate for the preacher to talk about money, but Jesus thought it was pretty important. Please note, the bible never says it is a sin to be rich. It does warn about the love of money. “But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith.” More warnings from today's reading.
Now we may well say, “that’s all well and good, but I'm not rich”. I found this interesting tidbit this week. “The latest global statistic shows that if one has a roof over his head and a meal on his table he is richer than 93 percent of the world’s population. If a person wears a pair of shoes he is richer than 75 percent of the people in the world.” While doing research I plugged Julie's and my net worth into a claculator and found we are in the top 3%! We're not rich, but we certainly are rich relative to the vast majority of people who are living or who have ever lived. Yet, we can still be discontented. Solomon, the wisest and richest man who ever lived, said, “The lover of money will not be satisfied with money; nor the lover of wealth, with gain. This also is vanity”. (Ecclesiastes 5: 10) Those false teachers, the health-and-wealth preachers, teach us that financial success is the sign of our godliness. But Paul is clear in today's lesson, riches can be a trap plunging us into despair and sin and ruin, if not by the world's standards, by Christ's. And we are, after all, Christ-followers.
Okay, enough about money. Back to that opening sentence, “There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment.” Paul contrasts the false notion that godliness and wealth go together by putting godliness and contentment together. What is meant by contentment? The dictionary defines it like this, “the state of being mentally or emotionally satisfied with things as they are.” I take that as a general state, we can never be totally satisfied or we will be stagnant. But the contrast is to be overly anxious for things we don't have or the desire for conditions in our lives to be different. Paul is our example here. He suffered great deprivation and physical abuse during his ministry. Well, listen to what he wrote to the Colossians, “imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.” (2 Corinthians 11:23-28 He he was then able to write this to the Philippians, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:12-13). Paul faced far more hardship than we can ever expect to face, and he learned to be content, content that he had Christ and that was enough. We will never learn contentment when our hearts are set on gaining more; more money, more status, more and better houses and clothes and cars. You've heard of that bumper sticker that tells us, “The one with the most toys at the end wins”. That is not to be our goal!
I want to give you a few secrets to live the contented life. I got them from the bible teacher John MaCarthur. I share them with you with the understanding that they aren't magic. We need to be aware of the covetous nature of human beings, of our own greed. Godliness must begin with a spirit of contentment with what God has done, what God has given us.
First, learn to give thanks to God for and in all things. We know that statement from Thessalonians, “pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” ( 1 Thessalonians 5: 17-18) Thankfulness is a matter of obedience, it is a characteristic of those walking closely with the Lord and it is a choice you can make every day.
His second key is to learn to rest in God's providence. I talked about providence last week. I defined it as the belief that God guides us, that God is in control. If we can claim that article of doctrine for ourselves, then we can find contentment like Paul did. In his trials and troubles, he always looked to God as his source of strength and trusted that God was in control. I may not always feel like it, especially the way the world seems to be out of control, but we can decide to trust. Trials come but God sees the end result and the troubles will pass.
Third, learn to be satisfied with less. Paul made this point, “we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.” And as I pointed out, food, clothing and shelter make us part of the richest people in the world. And this contentment includes times of trouble such as Paul and his thorn in the flesh. I remind you again how he quoted the Lord in his time of trouble, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.' So, (Paul wrote) I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”
And fourth, learn to rely on God's power and provision. We have that extra boost as children of God. Paul's words, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” And Jesus' words, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Contentment is a choice. Sometimes we need to be reminded of what we have and appreciate it, or what we lack and realize we don't need it. I share an internet story I received in 2002. Been waiting for the right sermon to use it and think today is it...it reminded me of my Mom and her moving into her Bethany apartment:
The 92 year old, petite, well-poised and proud lady, who has always been fully dressed each morning with her hair fashionably coifed and makeup perfectly applied--moved to a nursing home today.
Her husband of 70 years recently passed away making the move necessary. After waiting many hours in the lobby of the nursing home, she smiled sweetly when finally told her room was ready. As she maneuvered her walker to the elevator, I (the teller of this tale) provided a visual description of her room. She jumped in with her statement, “I love it!” with the enthusiasm an eight year old might have for a new puppy.
“Mrs. Jones, you haven't seen the room, just wait.”
She told me, “That doesn't have anything to do with it. Happiness is something you decide on ahead of time. Whether I like my room or not doesn't depend on how the furniture is arranged...it's how I arrange my mind. I've already decided to love it. It's a decision I make every morning when I wake up. I have a choice, I can spend the day in bed recounting the difficulty I have with the parts of my body that no longer work. Or I can get our of bed and be thankful for the parts that do work. Each day is a gift and as long as my eyes open, I'll focus on the new day and all the happy memories I've stored away just for this time of my life.
She knew the secret to contentment, knew it is a decision we each make. And as our decision to follow Jesus calls us to become ever more Christ-like, we too should focus on the blessings in our lives; the body parts that actually work, the roof over our heads, the food we have to eat, the family we have to share with. Paul learned this secret and his words to Timothy should encourage us as we learn to live the contented life. “As for those who in the present age are rich, (remember, that's us) remind them to ...set their hopes on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.”
Contented cows give better milk. That is actually true. A person who makes up their mind to be content can enjoy every stage of life. True too. A Christian can learn the secret of contentment and take hold of life that really is life. And then we may be able to say with the author of our next hymn, no matter what life throws at us, “it is well with our souls!” Amen.
Hymn: When Peace Like a River 401 HLC