Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity: “Contentment”

Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity: “Contentment”
A Message on Philippians 4:11-13

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
October 15, 2017
By Doug Wintermute


Philippians 4:11-13


11 Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

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Years ago when Pam and I were newlyweds we used to go camping. We had a tent and we would go find a state park and camp. It was fun and we enjoyed it.


One of the things that amazed me when we got back home from tent camping was how LARGE our house seemed! It was AWESOME! And we had running water… in more than one place! And bathrooms that we didn’t have to walk down a path to! That was great as well! And we had AIR CONDITIONING! Oh man, that was awesome! And a refrigerator instead of an ice chest! How cool was that!


I always felt a little guilty during those moments of realization because I knew that most of the time I just took those things for granted. For a few weeks afterward I was very content with our house. But as time passed that feeling of contentment went away, replaced by a desire to have something different than what we had.


Contentment. It’s not a characteristic held in esteem by our society. It is overwhelmed by a society that emphases mass consumption of items, a society that tells us our self worth is determined by how many of the latest and greatest “things” we own. We become rats in the rat race, wearing ourselves out and going into debt both financially and spiritually as we compete with others in the never ending pursuit of the ever elusive cheese.


In the scripture we read today from Paul’s letter to the church members at Philippi we find the Apostle talking about contentment.  He writes, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty.”


If we go back and study the life of Paul this statement increases in significance. We have to remember that Paul was a Pharisee, one of the top people in Jewish society. They were the not only the religious leaders of the day but also the top civil authorities. Now the Romans had military control of the Holy Land but they allowed the Jewish form of government pretty much alone to keep the population under control. As long as the taxes to Caesar kept coming in and there was no uprising, things were good.


Paul, being a Pharisee, would have lived in the nicest of houses in the best neighborhood. He would have had the finest clothing to wear, feasted on plenty of the best food, and would be held in such esteem that when he walked down the street people would get out of the way to make a path for him. He was SOMEbody.


So he knew what life was like at the top of the social ladder. And it was good!


But then he had the “Road to Damascus” experience where Jesus got ahold of him. He went from persecuting the followers of Christ to being one of the leaders of the movement. He gave up everything, literally, in becoming a follower of Jesus Christ.


He went from the top of the social ladder to the bottom. He went hungry. He was beat up numerous times, thrown in prison and put in chains, and even stoned so severely that the people doing the stoning thought he was dead!


So when he says he knows what it is to have little, and knows what it is to have plenty, he knows what he’s talking about because he has experienced both extremes. And he says he has learned how to be content regardless of the situation.


Now I don’t know about you, the I think it would be hard to be content when you are physically beaten up and then locked into shackles in a prison without committing a crime. But Paul was. He found contentment.


So what is it about human nature that keeps us from being content?


I think it’s just part of our sinful nature. The last of the 10 Commandments talks about a cousin of discontent: coveting. Coveting is seeing something that belongs to someone else and wanting it for yourself. The commandment tells us, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”


But it’s so easy to covet, isn’t it? I know I’m guilty of it. I’ll see a nice, 4-wheel drive pickup and think, “Oh man, I’d like to have that! That would be awesome for carrying my kayak to the lake to go fishing in!”


Or a bass boat. Yeah, a nice bass boat, I dunno, maybe say something like a 2018 Skeeter FX 21 foot bass boat with a Yamaha V MAX SHO® VF25O engine with a foot throttle and pro trim as well as tilt hydraulic steering, dual power poles, and a Minn Kota® Fortrex 112 Trolling Motor, and with a Lowrance Carbon 12 Touch-Graph fish finder in the dash as well as a Lowrance Carbon 9 Touch Graph at the bow! Arg, arg, arg…


It’s easy to get caught up in that, isn’t it? I think part of the reason is that the world of advertising plays on our emotions to try to get us to purchase things. We participate in the “If only…” game. “If only we had a bigger house.” “If only I looked like ______ (fill in the blank with a movie star or celebrity. By the way, I want to look like J.J. Watt. Just sayin…) my spouse would love me more.” You get the idea.


The “If only…” game is the opposite of contentment. You can’t play the game and be content. It’s one or the other.


In Luke 12:15 Jesus says, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (ESV)


In his book, Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity, Adam Hamilton points out four keys to cultivating contentment based on the scripture we read today.


The first is this: “Four Words to Repeat: ‘It Could Be Worse.” I’m reminded of a scene from the movie “Young Frankenstein” where things are going wrong for Dr. Frankenstein (“That’s Fronk-en-steen”) and Igor (“That’s Eye-gore”). Dr. Frankenstein makes a comment on how bad things are. Igor responds with, “It could be worse.” Dr. Frankenstein replies, “How in the world could it be worse,” to which Igor says, “It could be raining.” And of course, immediately after saying those words, it begins to rain.


I Timothy 6:6-8 says, “Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for 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.”


Food and clothing. Paul is talking about the bare basics. And notice he doesn’t say shelter. Paul suggests that if you only have the basics of physical needs you have enough to be content. And he doesn’t mean designer clothes and gourmet meals, but simple clothes and food, the bottom layer on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.


“It could be worse.” No matter how bad you think things are for you, there is always someone else that have things worse. The fact that all of us can walk to the sink and get a drink of clean water means that we can do what 783 million people–basically one in every nine people–cannot do because they don’t have access to safe drinking water. (Source: The Water Project)


Keeping things in perspective and being aware of those who do not have what we take for granted everyday can help us not only to be content, but to use what we have to improve the lives of others.


The second is to ask yourself, “For how long will this make me happy?” How many of you have bought something, thinking it will make you happy, only to realize after a period of time that it doesn’t. I think a good example of this is when we buy little children expensive toys for their birthday or Christmas, and they end up playing with the box it came in more than the toy. Today’s newest smartphone (by the way, Apple is coming out with the iPhone X which costs $1,000) is usually replaced by a newer better model every six months to a year. “Things” don’t make us happy. “Things” CAN’T make us happy.


In Matthew 6:20-21 Jesus says, “…but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust  consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” We are to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…” (Matthew 6:33)


Our treasure should be in heaven, not in “things.”


The third is an important one: Develop a grateful heart. This is something that is absolutely essential in order to have contentment. Over in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 Paul writes that we are to “give thanks in all circumstances.” This is easier said than done, but an integral part of contentment.


If we are truly thankful for all the things we DO have, we find that we don’t focus on things we DON’T have.


In the fall of 1942 World War I pilot and ace Eddie Rickenbacker was sent on a mission to inspect the air force facilities in the Pacific and deliver a secret message to Lt. Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Their plane became lost over the Pacific and they had to ditch. The seven men floated in the ocean in three life rafts, dehydrated and starving. Then on the eighth day, about an hour after they had held a prayer meeting in the raft, something really weird happened. Mysteriously a seagull flew down and landed on Eddie’s head. He quickly reached up and grabbed the gull. It was quickly dispatched and the starving and thirsty men ate it and used parts of it for bait to catch fish, which they also ate. They were lost at sea for 24 days before they were rescued. One of their group perished during the ordeal.

Rickenbacker said that after that experience he never again took a glass of water for granted. He was thankful and grateful for drinking water the rest of his life. And, according to some web sites, once a week he would walk down to the beach with a bucket of shrimp and toss them one by one to the seagulls. He had a grateful heart not only to God, but also to seagulls, especially the one that sacrificed its life so he and the others could live.


Gratitude leads to contentment.


The fourth key to cultivating contentment is what Hamilton refers to as “Where does your soul find true satisfaction?”


Blaise Paschal, a theologian and mathematician that lived in the 17th century, described humans as having a God-shaped hole in our souls. We have a yearning to fill that hole and we try to fill it with worldly things, only to find that it doesn’t work. Only in God can we find what our souls long for.


Saint Augustine once said, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.”


Psalm 42:1-2 reads, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”


There are many things we try to substitute for God: work, hobbies, money, possessions, alcohol, sex, drugs, the Internet, sports, etc. But they all fall short.


When the first priority in our life is God and when we lead active spiritual lives, practicing spiritual disciplines that produce spiritual fruit, we find contentment. We fill that God-shaped hole.


Just as Pam and I found contentment in things like running water and air conditioning after tent camping, most people in this world can be divided into two “tents.” One is con-TENT-ment, and the other is “discon-TENT-ment.”


Those who live in “discon-TENT-ment” seek to find meaning and significance in the things of the world.


Those who live in “con-TENT-ment” know that “life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” They look to God as the source of all things in life, they give thanks for the things they do have and fight against coveting things they don’t have. They have a Biblical perspective about money and are generous in giving the first fruits, not the leftovers.


So my challenge to you today is to examine which tent you live in. Are you in the tent of “discon-TENT-ment” and seek after worldly things, or are you in the tent of “con-TENT-ment” looking to God as the top of their priority list and seeking treasures in heaven?


I don’t think Jesus willingly went to the cross and died for our sins so that we could seek after worldly things. I know what tent he would want us to live in.


In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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