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The Off Color series provides valuable insight to help us master our emotions and not allow emotions to master us. Pastor Philip calls believers to engage their emotions properly and to enjoy God’s goodness in all circumstances of life.
More From This Series
Well, let’s take our Bibles and turn to Exodus 20, and we’re going to focus on verse 17. We’re picking up where we left off last Sunday. We are concluding today our series Off Color: Dealing with Unwelcome Emotions.
If I wasn’t feeling too well, my mom would often say to me, “You’re a little off color.” And what’s true of our physical features can be true of our emotions. We can be off color. And certain emotions, which are unhealthy and unholy, can color us. We can be white with fear. We can be blue with depression. We can be red with anger. We can be gray with indecision, black with guilt. And last week we started to look at the issue of envy—green with envy. We based our remarks on Exodus 20:17.
Keep your Bible open in Exodus 20:17. I’ll read it for you, and we’ll jump back in as we wrap the series up. But listen to this. Exodus 20:17: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”
I want to return to a message we entitled “Got to Have It.”
The Jewish Talmud says this about emotions: “Our passions are like travelers: at first they make a brief stay; then they are like guests, who visit often; and then they turn into tyrants, who hold us in their power.” I think that’s helpful; it’s insightful. It’s a recognition that emotions, if we’re not careful, can escalate. They can get to a place in our lives where they hold sway in a manner that’s unhelpful and unhealthy, leaving us unhappy.
Look, emotions are God-given. They’re a central part of the human experience, and we ought to be thankful for that. As we work, rest, and play, we feel things, and that can enrich our lives. That reality makes life enjoyable and fun. Although, let’s be honest, it can also make it exasperating and frustrating.
I like what one author said about emotions: “Facts are black and white; feelings mean we live in color.” But feelings that bring color to our lives, bring colors in both dark and light shades. There’s a whole range of emotions that we have to deal with. Some add to our living experience, and some subtract from our living experience. On the positive side, there are feelings of wonderment and joy and peace and hope. On the negative side, there are feelings of anxiety, shame, despair, anger, jealousy.
And for some weeks now, we have been looking at some negative emotions—unruly affections, as Isaac Watts would put it. Certain emotions, and if they’re not managed well, will paint our lives in unpleasant tones. We’ve been working through those emotions. We’ve given them a kind of color-code: blue with depression, black with guilt, red with anger, white with fear, gray with indecision, green with envy. And it’s that last one we started looking at last week on the basis of Exodus 20:17: the emotion of covetousness or envy or jealousy.
Let me just define it for us once again. To covet something—which is forbidden in Exodus 20:17—means that we want something that we don’t have that someone else has to a point that it dominates our lives, and without it we don’t think we can be happy. That is forbidden and prohibited in God’s Word.
As we looked at that issue, we’ve kind of put all of our thoughts under three headings: the character of envy or the characteristics of envy, the consequences of envy, the cure for envy. We’ve got about halfway through that outline.
We looked at the characteristics or the character or the nature of envy: inordinate, inward, idolatrous, insidious. Nothing good about envy. We don’t want it taking any floor space in our lives. Then we started looking at the consequences of envy. We were warned from the Book of Proverbs that wrath is cruel and anger is a flood, but who can stand against jealousy? Envy is something that’s bad for us. If that emotion masters us rather than us master that emotion, we become its slave, and misery results.
Now, we started to look at the consequences of envy. We looked at the fact that it dishonors. It dishonors God. It has us questioning His goodness and His providence and His allotment in our lives, which are governed by wisdom and mercy and goodness. We looked at the fact that it depreciates. It not only dishonors; it depreciates. It has us switching the price tags on life. We do what Jesus warned us not to do. We measure life by the things that we possess, and we depreciate things that are of eternal value. But there’s two more thoughts here, and then we’ll get to the cure for envy.
Number three: It depresses. What do I mean? To covet things you think will make you happy won’t make you happy. The opposite is true. Covetousness breeds unhappiness. Plus, it makes us sad at the happiness of others. It’s a thing that’s depressing in the outworking of its presence in our lives. It sours us because it breeds ingratitude, questions providence, diminishes spiritual riches in Christ, has us warring against our neighbors, and has us self-focused. And none of that’s good. None of that multiplies joy. None of that creates shalom.
If you want to see two examples of this idea, that it depresses, my first example would be King Saul. In 1 Samuel 18, we have the story of David returning from some military campaigns with his soldiers. They have seen some triumphs over the Philistines. There’s been a slaughter. As David returns, the women come out on the streets, and they sing, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” Here’s what we read in verse 8: “Then Saul was very angry, and the saying displeased him.” He wasn’t happy. He was sullen. He was sad. He was sour because he was jealous, because the women were singing, “David has slain his tens of thousands, while Saul only has slain his thousands.” You know what it says in 1 Samuel 18:9? “So Saul eyed David from that day forward.” He eyed him with suspicion. He gave him the evil eye, so to speak, all because of envy—which produced displeasure, which created animosity and suspicion.
Another example would be King Ahab. You can read his story in 1 Kings 21—classic story about covetousness and envy. It’s the story of King Ahab and Naboth the Jezreelite, who had a vineyard right by the king’s palace. King Ahab eyed it one day and thought it would make a beautiful vegetable plot and would enhance the neighborhood. So, he asked Naboth if he could buy it, basically saying name your price. Naboth says, you know what, it’s priceless; it’s not up for sale. Because, you know what, by parenthesis, if you knew your Bible, King Ahab, I can’t sell what God has given to my family. It’s an inheritance. Right? Verse 3: “But Naboth said to Ahab, ‘The Lord forbid that I should give the inheritance of my fathers to you!’” Now, notice this, verse 4: “So Ahab went into his house sullen and displeased because of the word which Naboth the Jezreelite had spoken for him. . . . And he lay down on his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no food.” He’s not a teenager. This is a grown man lying in his bed, sulking, facing the wall, talking to nobody. His breakfast just lies cold on the floor of his bedroom—because covetousness has produced sadness, because his desire to have has been forfeited and stymied.
Those are just two examples. Maybe one other, now that I think about it, would be 1 Timothy 6, which we’ll come to a couple of times this morning. In 1 Timothy 6, Paul addresses the danger of desiring riches inordinately, making that your goal in life. He says, “For the love of money is a root of kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:10).
Covetousness produces sorrow and sadness and sullenness. Unlike other sins, it’s no fun. I don’t say that to promote other sins. I just say that to show you the depressed nature of this sin. It’s a wretched experience from start to finish. It’s cravings that are never satisfied, leading to a life of perpetual upset.
Here’s a good quote from British writer Graham Tomlin in a book on the seven deadly sins. Listen, as I quote: “Out of all the sins, envy is different. It is different because it is the one sin on the list that has no pleasure in it whatsoever. From start to finish, envy is no fun at all. It is the most miserable of habits. Just about all the others can be enjoyed at least for a while. Even the most pious have to admit the promised pleasures of lust, or the relief that comes from letting go a pent-up tirade of anger against someone who has riled us. Gluttony tastes excellent for a while, pride makes us feel good about ourselves, greed entices us with a vision of expensive holidays and fast cars, and sloth does let us stay in bed longer. But no one chooses to spend their time delighting in a secret bout of covetousness. Henry Fairlie said this about envy: ‘Its appetite never ceases, yet its only satisfaction is endless self-torment.’”
There’s no fun in it at all. It dishonors. It depreciates. It depresses. Fourthly, and finally, it destroys. Remember, we’re dealing with the consequences of envy. When God forbids it, He forbids it out of love because He knows the consequences of this sin. It destroys. Who can stand against jealousy? (Proverbs 27:4). It splits churches. It separates friends. It blows up marriages. It dissolves contentment. It injects hostility into the office. It creates havoc on a university dorm. It spreads tension in a locker room. It leads to lying, theft, violence, and even murder.
Let me try and justify that statement. I quoted 1 Timothy 6 a moment ago. I want to go back to it because I want to read it again. “But those who desire to be rich . . .” Inordinately. It’s their goal. They must have it. It’s covetousness. “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts”—now notice—“which drown men in destruction and perdition.” If you have an NIV, it might read, it “sinks” men or “plunges” men in destruction and perdition. It pierces them through with many sorrows (vs. 10).
That word “drown” or “plunge” is a nautical term. It comes from the sailing world. It’s used in Luke 5:7. Remember when the disciples were out fishing? They’d fished all night and caught nothing. It’s my story. They come back, and Jesus says, hey, I’m going to tell you when to put the nets down. Then they do it, and they bring in a catch so large, so big, that the boat begins to sink. They have to call another boat over, and they unload some of the catch into that other boat.
Our word is there. You’ve got to take some of this fish because we are plunging. We are sinking. We are capsizing. And Paul uses that word about covetousness. When your heart is loaded down with covetousness—which is desiring what others have that you don’t have, desiring it to such an extent that without it you’re not going to be happy . . . If that is your experience, and your heart is loaded down with that kind of thinking, your life’s going to get capsized, plunged into sorrow, discontentment. It’s ruinous. In fact, if you read 1 Timothy 6:6 and following, it chokes faith. It kills contentment. It murders eternal perspective. It kidnaps joy. That’s the result of covetousness.
We don’t have time to go to the life of Joseph to reinforce that. I think I can draw upon your biblical knowledge. You know, because of the dream that God gave him, which spoke of his ascent, because of his father’s favor and the coat of many colors, Genesis 37:4 says his brothers became jealous. They were covetous. They were envious. We’ve been using those terms. I know there’s a distinction, but we’re using them interchangeably.
But that covetousness, that jealousy, that envy leads in verse 18 to conspiracy, leads to mockery in verse 19, leads to thoughts of murder in verse 20, leads to actual violence in verse 23, when they take their brother and throw him in an abandoned cistern. It leads to betrayal, as they sell him to a passing caravan, and it leads to immeasurable hurt to their father who can hardly be consoled (vs. 34). All because of what? Covetousness. Envy. This is a destructive sin.
There’s a story in Jewish folklore about a store owner who’s visited by an angel. The angel offers this man a once-in-a-lifetime deal: a wish. He can have anything he desires, but there’s a caveat. There’s a condition. His rival—that’s another businessman whom he’s had some conflict with across the street and whom he has envied intensely—will get double whatever he asks. Given the rivalry, given the envy, the man wishes to be blind in one eye. Covetousness does that. It blinds. It destroys. It kills joy, the work of God, peace, neighborliness. I think you get the picture.
All right, we’ve looked at the characteristics and the consequences. We need to move on to something more positive. Let’s look at the cure for envy. And you know what the cure for envy is: contentment. Now, we have noticed—and we made reference to this last week when we were looking at Exodus 20:17—that the Ten Commandments are framed in the negative, but they imply the positive. It’s the putting off and the putting on. It’s “don’t do so that you can do.” And you can read the Ten Commandments positively. Let me do that for you.
Worship the one true God, and have no other gods. Pray only to God; don’t worship idols. Respect God; don’t use His name lightly or in vain. Get some rest, and enjoy the Sabbath. Keep it holy. Love your parents; honor them. Respect life; don’t murder. Be faithful to your spouse; don’t commit adultery. Tell the truth; don’t lie. Be content; don’t covet.
In fact, the Westminster Shorter Catechism gets that. Listen to these words: “The tenth commandment requireth full contentment with our own condition, with a right and charitable frame of spirit toward our neighbor, and all that is his.” It also says, “The tenth commandment forbiddeth all discontentment with our own estate, envying or grieving at the good of our neighbor, and all inordinate motions and affections to anything that is his.” Did you notice those words? The tenth commandment requires “full contentment.” Don’t covet, but be content.
In fact, you’ve got that language, don’t you, in Hebrews 13:5. Don’t covet, but be content with such things as you have, for He has said that He’ll never leave you nor forsake you so that you may confidently say, “The Lord’s my helper. I will not fear what man will do to me.”
So, let’s spend the remaining 30 minutes here delving into the idea of contentment. J. C. Ryle, the bishop of Liverpool—good old Protestant pastor—said, “Two things are said to be very rare sights in this world—one is a young man that is humble, and the other is an old man that is content.” So, let’s seek to learn contentment. It is a process. It is a spiritual discipline. It is something that God works in us as we submit and work out what He’s working in.
Now, what I did was I took the word “content” and turned it into an acrostic. So, if you’re taking notes, I want you at this point now to write the word “content” vertically on your page, because we’ve got something to say about every letter in the word “content.” Let’s get going.
Number one, C: Cherish Christ. The heart of contentment is an abiding soul sufficiency rooted in a growing relationship with Christ. Paul says in Philippians 4:10–13, I’ve learned to be content in whatever circumstance God has put me in. And I can do all things in those circumstances that God asked me to do because Christ sufficiently pours His strength into me. Second Corinthians 3:5–6. Paul says what? Who is sufficient for these things? Not me, not you, but our sufficiency is in God.
If we go back to the Old Testament, is there anything better than Psalm 23:1? The “LORD” is capitalized. That’s the covenant name of God: Yahweh, the Self-Existent One; the One who is dependent upon no one and everything is dependent upon Him; the One who was, and is, and is to come; the Ever-Existent Sufficient One who needs nothing outside of Himself to be Himself.
I think it was R. C. Sproul who said, “God doesn’t need me for Him to be Him, but I need Him to be Him for me to be me.” That’s the sufficiency we’re talking about. “The Lord is my shepherd.” And since that’s a fact, “I shall not want.” See, there’s no want in Him. And, if I’m in Him, I have no want. So that’s the point.
In fact, the Greek word in both 2 Corinthians 3:5–6 and Philippians 4:10–13 and 1 Timothy 6:6 is a word that means “sufficient.” When we are told to be content, we are told to be in a state of mind where you have a sense of abundance, where you are sufficient for the circumstance you’re in.
I love Warren Wiersbe. He translates that or supplants that idea with the word “containment.” He says another good word for “contentment” is “containment.” Contentment is this abiding soul sufficiency rooted in a growing relationship with Christ. I have learned that I’m contained. I have all that I need for life and godliness. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, for the circumstance He puts me in. Let me put it like this, and we begin to move on. Being intimately connected to the ultimate source of life . . . That’s our position, isn’t it? In union with Christ. Being intimately connected to the ultimate source of life brings a conviction of inner abundance, which produces the flower of contentment. In Him, we move and have our being.
I love these words. We touched on this last week at the end of the service. Psalm 73:25–26, a passage we will end with later this morning: “Whom have I in heaven but You? And there’s none upon earth that I desire besides You.” Notice this: “My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” We are up for anything because in Christ we have everything. There’s no circumstance, no condition, that gets us down, because we’re seated with Christ in the heavenlies.
If you go back to Psalm 23, one writer put it like this: For our weariness, we have green pastures. For our anxieties, there is still water. For our faltering, there is restoration. For our perplexities, there is guidance. For our fears, there is comfort. For our enemies, there is a feast. For our hurts, there is an anointing. For the end, there is the Father’s house. Feeling a little richer this morning? You should.
Go to Ephesians 1. We’ll start there soon enough in our new series. Blessed in Christ (vs. 3). Chosen before the foundation of the world (vs. 4). Holy and blameless (vs. 4). Predestined in His love (vs. 5). Adopted as sons (vs. 5). Lavished with the riches of His grace (vs. 6–8). Given an eternal inheritance (vs. 11). To the praise of His glory (vs. 12). Sealed with the promise of the Spirit (vs. 13).
A lot of stuff there. It’s a wonderful thing to know that we are sufficiently provided for, cared for, in the Lord Jesus Christ. We have a peace that cannot be destroyed, a joy that cannot be suppressed, a love that cannot be abated, a grace that cannot be arrested, a strength that cannot be exhausted, a comfort that cannot be lessened, a hope that cannot be disappointed, a glory that cannot be diminished. Should I go on? Cherish Christ. That’s the secret to contentment.
I think I’ve told you before about Danny Simpson. If he had known more about guns, he might not have robbed the bank. In 1990 in Ottawa, Canada, this 24-year-old went to jail, and his gun went to the museum. Let me explain. He was arrested for robbing a bank of $6,000, and he was sent to jail for six years. During the robbery, he used a .45 caliber Colt semiautomatic that turned out to be an antique made by the Ross Rifle Company of Quebec City, 1918. And it was appraised at a $100,000. Bummer, you idiot. If Danny Simpson had known what he had, he might not have felt so impoverished, driven to desperation. But the joke’s on us. Know what you have in Christ. Cut the bellyaching out. Stop talking about inflation. Be content with what you have, because you have in Him all things necessary for life and godliness.
Number two, O: Offer thanks. We’re working through this acrostic. O: Offer thanks. Contentment grows in the soil of gratitude. You cannot be content with what you have if you don’t appreciate what you have, and you won’t appreciate what you have until you spend some time accounting what you have. Gratitude and thanksgiving put you into that mode, where you sit down and take an account of what you have.
There’s an old hymn I grew up with, and many of you senior saints know it. “Count your blessings, name them one by one.” You’ve got to sit down and do that, and “it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.” Covetousness and envy denies God’s goodness. Thanksgiving and gratitude declares God’s goodness.
Just an example of what we’re talking about would be Psalm 103:1–5. If you read that whole psalm, there’s not a complaint in it. It’s unbridled joy in God. And what have we got? “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! . . . And forget not all His benefits.” And then he begins to count his blessings one by one, and he’s totally surprised at what the Lord has done. He forgives my iniquities. He heals my diseases. He redeems my life from destruction. He feeds my mouth with good things. He renews my strength like an eagle. No wonder he is so happy, offering thanks on a continual basis.
In everything, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 will be a bulwark against covetousness. You cannot be content with what you have if you do not appreciate what you have. And you do not appreciate what you have because you don’t spend time appreciating what you have, through thanksgiving.
Let me say this and move on. “Gratitude” comes from the same family of words as “grace”—means “favor.” When you and I appreciate the grace of God in our lives, all that and what God has given us in an undeserved manner in Christ will be amazing to us. We’ll be amazed at what we have, given who we were apart from Christ and what we deserved at the hands of a just God. But you see, He didn’t deal with us after our sin. He didn’t reward us according to our iniquities, but He loved us in the Savior. He spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all. And, with Christ, He’s given us many things. And we’re going to covet and envy and wish for more? My friend, anything we receive less than hell is ground for great happiness. Are you looking for more than what God has given you undeservedly in Christ?
I finished the book a while ago by Timothy Chester on John Stott. In the book he tells a very interesting little story. I’ll make my point, and we’ll move on. Every morning at 11:00, as Stott was reading a commentary or studying the Scriptures, his assistant Corey Widmer would come in and give him a cup of coffee when he was deep in concentration. But he’d always stop and lift up his face and say to the student, “I’m not worthy.” This amused the student for a while. He didn’t take it seriously. In fact, after a while, it bothered him.
And, one morning, after Stott said, “I’m not worthy,” after he received his cup of coffee, the student blurted out, “I’m sure you are.” “You know what?” Stott replied. “You haven’t got your theology of grace right.” To which the student replied, “It’s only a cup of coffee.” To which Stott replied, “Yeah, it’s just a thin edge of the wedge.” See, Stott’s point is this. Given who we are apart from Christ, given what we deserved, a cup of coffee, just this, is a sign of God’s goodness and mercy. It’s a means of gratitude and thanksgiving. And when we move from that, that’s the thin edge of the wedge moving us towards ingratitude, arrogance, self-pity.
N: Nurture love. If you want to prevent covetousness from getting a hold of you, become a more loving person. Why would I say that? Because, according to 1 Corinthians 13:4, “Love does not envy.” Look it up for yourself. “Love does not envy.” So, let’s work that out in simple terms. The more you covet, the less you love. The more you love, the less you covet. That seems to be the implication of the text.
And, remember, it’s 1 Corinthians 13, and the word that Paul uses for love is “agape,” which is a word describing God’s love for us in Christ. It’s a gospel term. It’s kind of one that Paul invented or made up or cannibalized or baptized with gospel meaning—that God’s love was directed toward us. And while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. It’s gospel loving that God spared not His own son but gave Him up for us. That Christ gave Himself to the suffering of the cross for us in an act of humility and an act of atonement and an act of obedience to the Father. That’s kind of our word. This is a love that seeks the highest good of the other person, regardless of the cost to oneself, regardless of the unworthiness of the object.
Let me say that again. That’s agape. That’s gospel love. All patterned in the cross. This is a love that seeks the highest good of the other person, regardless of the cost to oneself, regardless of the worthiness of the object. And if you and I nurture that love—by lingering by the cross, by preaching the gospel to ourselves again and again and again, by desiring to share with others what God has graciously shared with us—that will extinguish covetousness, because love is antithetical to a coveting spirit. I say that because love gives the best for one’s neighbor. Covetousness wants to take from one’s neighbor. I think you get the point.
Number four, T: Tithe and then some. What I’m really saying in that is: cultivate a generous spirit. That’s another antidote to covetousness. It’s interesting to me how Jesus addresses the issue of covetousness after a man comes to Him and says, “You need to talk to my brother. He needs to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus tells the parable about the guy who had all; his barns were full. He wanted to sit down now and retire and eat and drink and be happy. “Hold on a minute,” God says. “You’re a fool. Tonight, I want your soul back. And then whose are these things going to be?” And Jesus finishes that story and that issue with the guy about covetousness by saying that we need to be rich towards God.
Cultivating a generous spirit is another antidote to covetousness—being rich towards God and our neighbor. We’ve been there a couple of times. We’re going back once more to 1 Timothy 6. Notice Paul. He’s warned about those who desire to be rich, those who become covetous and materialistic, and he warns about the consequences. We plunge into destruction and perdition; you get pierced through with sorrows. Over in verse 17, he says this: “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy.” Now listen to verse 18: “Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share . . .” It’s been well said that if you want to be free from the love of money, then freely give your money to the Lord’s work and to the needy. Tithe and then some.
Letter E: Embrace providence. Now, when I talk about God’s providence, I’m talking about God in His sovereign rule of life and history—that He orders the affairs of man. He holds the planets in their orbit. He watches the sparrow as it falls. Providence is the ordering of life by God. Ephesians 1:11 says that God works all things together after the counsel of His own will. Acts 17:26–28 talks about the fact that God determines our times and the boundaries of nations and history and that in Him we move and we have our being.
So, here’s my point. Follow my logic. Our features, our parents, our skills, our zip code, our material consequence are all a part of the tapestry of God’s providence in our lives. In a real sense . . . And I know I could qualify this regarding sin and its consequence and disobedience—all of that. In a real sense, who we are, what we look like, where we live, and what we have God has ordained. That’s the implication of providence. You are who you are, you look like who you are, you live where you are because God has ordained it. God decided the family you’d be born into, the skills you would have, the opportunities that would surround you, or the limit of opportunities that surround you.
Psalm 37:23: “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” Now, that’s important. That doctrine’s important. We need to embrace providence if we’re going to be content. We need to accept that fact. And, if we do, it will help us live in the moment we’re in. It will help us deal with differences among people. It will help us become our best self in Christ. It will help us value who we are without jealousy by comparing ourselves to others. Because, you see, God broke the mold when He made you. You’re fearfully, wonderfully made. God knit you together in the hidden parts of your mother’s body. He gave you skills and abilities, and you were birthed into a context that He ordained with either opportunities or limited opportunities.
And then, if you’re a believer, He gifted you with gifts and enablements, given to you by the Holy Spirit. And God has ordained works for you to do (Ephesians 2:10). And you and I need to embrace that and be who we are, where we are, to the best of our ability, for God’s glory, and be content with that. Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t improve upon your circumstances or your present state. But, while you’re in that moment ordained by God’s providence, with good and bad opportunities and limitations, you’re to live contented and draw upon the sufficiency of Christ. It becomes something more you are.
Let me just kind of work this out in a practical way quickly. It’s just an illustration of what we’re talking about. Amy Carmichael was born in Northern Ireland, in a little seaside village called Millisle. I’ve been there many times. She was the eldest of seven children. She was always getting into trouble with her siblings with her schemes and ideas. Her parents were Christians who taught her the love of God and the need to serve Him. Her favorite color was blue, and she was discontent with the fact that she was born with brown eyes. She remembered that her mother said that God answers prayer, and so, in her childish innocence, she went to bed every night praying that God would change her brown eyes to blue eyes. And she got up every morning and ran over to face the reality in the mirror that God hadn’t answered that prayer. She was always kind of jealous and envious and discontent with the fact she had brown eyes.
Now, you know her story, or many of you do. Later on God was to save her and make her a missionary in India, where she established the Dohnavur Fellowship, rescued little girls from temple prostitution, and sought to enrich and enhance the lives of many. What she learned later in life was that because of her brown eyes, she was accepted into the Indian culture far more quickly.
God knows what He’s doing, even in the color of your eyes. You need to accept your features, your parents, your skills, your zip code, your material contacts, your body shape, and be who you are for God’s glory. It doesn’t mean you can’t improve. Contentment doesn’t mean passivity, but it does mean living the moment you’re in until God creates another moment and then living in it content there.
Letter N: Nix ungodly desires for more. Contentment comes not so much from great wealth but from fewer wants. Want to improve your life quite simply? There it is. Contentment comes not from great wealth but from fewer wants.
- K. Chesterton, the great Catholic philosopher, said this: “There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.” Pretty simple, but pretty good. We become content not by adding but by subtracting ungodly desires, materialistic impulses for more and more and more—where we do what Jesus prohibits, where we begin to define life by the things that we possess that end up possessing us. We need to pare our desires down to what our heavenly Father, in love, has chosen to provide for us at a given moment.
There’s a couple of texts I think will help us with that. Hebrews 13:5–6. Don’t covet. “Be content with such things as you have.” Be content with what you have. Don’t want more. Pare those desires down to what God and His providence has provided at this moment, and live contentedly. Be content with what you have. Appreciate it. Give thanks for it.
Another text would be 1 Timothy 6:6–8. Contentment with godliness is great gain, for, remember, you come into this world with nothing, and you will leave with nothing. Therefore, having food and clothing, be content. See, the world has us measure happiness here in terms of material things, and the Bible has us measure happiness here in terms of material things. Have you got a roof over your head? Have you got some food in the cupboard? Have you got a change of clothes in the wardrobe? Be content. You’re already ahead of two-thirds of the world.
I love also Proverbs 15:16–17. Listen to these words: “Better is a little with the fear of the Lord, than great treasure with trouble. Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a fatted calf with hatred.” What about Proverbs 16:8? “Better is a little with righteousness, than vast revenues without justice.” You need to look at your life and see the benefit of fewer things, so long as they’re the right things. See, there’s a lot of people who have more than you, but they have more of the wrong things. But, if you’re righteous, you’re in Christ, indwelled with the Holy Spirit, then you’ve got all the promises of God. You’ve got the right things.
My mother was a simple woman, and I admired her for that. She had few wants. In fact, when we were out shopping with her, just walking the mall, either in the UK or the US, we might point something out. We might even offer to buy her that thing that we think would be good for her. She’d always say, “I don’t need it.” And then, about 10 minutes later: “Don’t you be buying me that.” Okay, I’m happy to save a few bobs. She was content and happy in the home she had lived in for 50 years. We had to persuade her to buy herself something. And, if she did buy herself something, normally it was out of a Goodwill store, to our embarrassment. But she always told us it was high-end Goodwill stores. She loved to tell us about the hidden treasure she got: a dress at a third of the price that had only been worn once or a Royal Doulton figurine at a few dollars. In fact, she kept those figurines and those ornaments in this kind of trophy cabinet. And many times she talked me through each journey into some store where she’d found it, like buried treasure.
She was a simple woman. In fact, my daughters told me that they asked my father, after my mom’s death, “What was granny’s favorite tea?” To which he replied, “Whatever tea was in the pot.” She was an incessant tea drinker, but that’s again a measure of her life. What’s her favorite tea? Whatever was in the pot. She’ll take whatever tea you give her. It’s tea, isn’t it? I think she was content that way. She was marked by simplicity because of her blue collar upbringing, because of the loss of her father to tuberculosis when she was only a little girl and the hardship she watched her mother go through to take care of the family as a single mother, bereaved. She was a child of the Second World War and remembered rations and the preciousness of a block of butter, a pint of milk. I think she was that way because she was a loving mother, and she always wanted her children to have more than she had, so she went without.
But I think she was that way mostly because she loved the Lord, and He was sufficient. She had the Lord. She had my father and his love. She had children that loved the Lord and followed Him. She had her King James Bible, and she had a little Baptist church at the bottom of her street. It’s all good. She didn’t need anything more than that. Didn’t she have food and clothing? Wasn’t she in her right mind? Wasn’t she watching the grace of God, in an amazing way, work its way through our family? So I rise up to call her blessed, and I want to tell you her life and her Christian faith speak to me and repeatedly curb my instincts to complain and splurge unnecessarily. Her life is a call back to the basics and the beauty of the Lord Jesus.
Let me finish with this. T: Take the long view. Take the long view. You want contentment? Don’t covet. Be content. Then, keep an eternal perspective. It’ll help you fight the urge to covet and the temptation to want more than God has ordained. If you and I are saved, indwelled by the Holy Spirit, enjoying all the promises of God on our way to heaven, then someday, according to Peter, we’ll enter abundantly into that everlasting kingdom. What have we to covet? Why would we be envious if that’s who we are in Christ? If that’s what we have? If that’s what we have got to look forward to?
We ought not to be envying. We ought to be envied, as people in their hollowness and emptiness and in their pursuit of things apart from God look at us—and they find the joy and they find the peace and they find the contentment and they find the valuing of the slightest little thing in life. We’ve got to keep an eternal perspective. It’s clear and clarifying. Don’t covet things. Second Peter 3:10–14. The day of the Lord is coming, and it’s all going to be burned up. So, I got to be laying up treasure in heaven, where moth and rust don’t corrupt and thieves don’t break in and steal.
And don’t envy the wicked. That was the problem in Psalm 73. Asaph looks out, and he sees the wicked prospering. They’re doing well. Boy, that’s a nice car he’s driving, and yet I know how he got it. He’s a gangster, wicked and prospering. I’m washing my hands and trying to be righteous and keep the law, and they’re wearing their arrogance and godlessness like a medallion. It bothers me. In fact, it makes me wonder, what’s the point? And then we read, “Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood their end.” There is a train coming down the track, and it’s called the judgment of God. The tables are going to be turned, and the wicked are going to be punished, and the righteous are going to be rewarded. And he regains his balance and his contentment because he had envied the wicked.
My friend, take the long view. It’ll help you stay focused. Old Richard Baxter said, “A heavenly mind is a joyful mind; this is the nearest and the truest way to live a life of comfort.” He said that a heart in heaven will be most excellently preserved against temptation and is a powerful means to killing corruption.
As we close, you know this story; I think I’ve told you, but it’s a good one to finish with and finish the series with. The Morrisons had been in Africa serving the Lord at a cost their whole lives. It was time to retire. They had hardly anything to retire on, no pension. Their health was broken. They were defeated. They were discouraged. Many of their friends had left them over time. The churches that had supported them had abandoned them. And, on the way back to New York from Africa, they discovered they were on the same ship as President Teddy Roosevelt, who had been to Africa on one of his big game hunting expeditions. And they looked at the fanfare and the attention that was lavished on this president. They endured that the whole way across. They felt that something’s wrong. Here are we, living lives of faithful service to God, and no one cares. We don’t have much.
It was made worse when they got back to New York. The ship docked, and there was bunting and bands welcoming the president home. They slipped away into a quiet part of the city to meager lodgings. And the husband got to a state of discouragement, depression. He says, “I can’t take this.” His wife says, “You know what? You need to talk to the Lord.” So, he disappears, and some hours later he emerges in a better state of mind, in a better frame of mind. And he says, “The Lord settled it with me. I told him how bitter I was that the president should receive this tremendous homecoming when no one met us when we returned home after so many years of faithfulness. And, when I finished, it seemed as though the Lord put His hand on my shoulder and simply said, ‘But you are not home yet.’”
That’s perspective. That brings contentment in the midst of meagerness and things that are missing that others have. We’re not home yet. The meek will inherit the earth. We’re going to enter into His everlasting kingdom abundantly. We’re going to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.”
Father, we thank you for our time in the text. And now we pray that we would hide it in our hearts so we may not sin against You. And we’re talking about the sin of covetousness. O Lord, forgive us for our grumbling, our murmuring. Forgive us for our discontentment. Forgive us for diminishing the glory of the gospel and the value of our Lord Jesus Christ. In our discontentment, help us to be more thankful, to appreciate what we have. Help us to simplify our lives. Help us to lay treasure up in heaven. Help us to love more. Help us to nix ungodly desires and this craving for material accumulation. Help us to divest ourselves for the sake of the gospel, for the work of God and the help of the needy and our neighbor. Lord, help us to find our contentment, containment, sufficiency in You. We pray that a contented person won’t be a rare site at Kindred Community Church. And we pray that our contentment would be salt to our neighbor, making them thirst for what we have. And we pray it in Jesus’ name. Amen.