Thanksgiving Through Contentment

November 20, 2005 / No. 3281

Dear radio friends,

     As we look forward to celebrating our nation’s Thanksgiving Day this coming Thursday, we direct our attention today to God’s Word in Philippians 4:11-13.  We read a very beautiful passage:  “Not that I speak in respect of want:  for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.  I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound:  everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.  I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”

     Obviously today we want to pause and ask the question:  Am I thankful?  Am I really thankful to God in my life?  Does an awareness of all that God has done for me live daily in my heart?

     But there is an even more basic question:  Am I content with the way of the Lord?  Does the grace of contentment live in me?  You see, without contentment, you cannot be thankful.  And if we are not thankful, it is because we are not living in contentment.  For when the grace of contentment dwells within our hearts, we are then ready to give thanks, always and for everything.

     Another way of putting it is this.  The Bible teaches that covetousness is the opposite of thankfulness, or the opposite of contentment.  If we, as sinners, are covetous, if the sin of lusting after what God has not given to us and constantly wanting more and more, if that lives in our hearts, then, obviously, we cannot give thanks to God for what we have.  If we live our life dissatisfied with our looks, with our home, with our money, with our job, with our wife, with our husband, with our parents, with our car, with our clothes, we cannot give thanks.  And if we do this Thursday, we give the thanks of a hypocrite.

     How often do we not go to the closet and express our discontentment?  A closet filled with clothes and yet we come out saying, “There’s nothing to wear.”  Or, as a teenager, we go into the cupboard and we say, “Mom, there’s nothing to eat,” while the cupboard is filled with food and boxes of goodies.  We have so much!  But covetousness is a sin, you see, that is present in prosperity.  The more that we have, the less that we will be satisfied, by nature, and the more we will want and the less we will appreciate.

     What is the answer for us as Christians, swamped in prosperity today and so often bankrupted in thanksgiving?  The answer is:  the grace of contentment.  Desperately we need to learn what it is to be content.  For only out of the soul where godly contentment is living, only there will one find the delightsome activity of thanksgiving to God.

     In this very beautiful chapter (Phil. 4), it seems as if the apostle Paul and the saints at Philippi were falling over each other in love and appreciation for each other.  Paul is writing from a Roman dungeon.  In verse 10 we learn that the Philippians have sent to the apostle a gift.  He says, “your care of me hath flourished again.”  But Paul was very careful.  He does not want them to think that his appreciation for the gift would imply that they had been tardy.  He says, “Ye lacked opportunity” to send it earlier.

     And more.  He does not want his mentioning how much he appreciated the gift to be construed or to imply that he is in a desperate condition, that he is discontent or wanting.  He says to them, “Oh, my beloved Philippians, I’m OK.  Really, truly, I am.  I am not talking to you today,” he says, “out of lack.  All is well with my soul.  Even though I am in this dungeon, I am content in the Lord’s way.  In fact, I would like to know what I can do for you.”

     What a confession of faith.  Is that your confession today?  Are you thankful?  Look down into your heart.  Are you content?  Or are you covetous?  Are our hearts like an empty drum, an empty oil barrel?  When it is dropped on a concrete floor it clangs and it hurts our ears.  Are we like that empty barrel, complaining, angry, bitter, resentful?  Or does a pleasant sound of praise come out of our life because we are full?  We are full of God’s love and grace in our heart.  We have contentment, snd we express contentment through thanksgiving.

     What is contentment?  It is the opposite of covetousness.  Covetousness is to lust after things as an end in themselves and not to see that those things that God has given are a means whereby we might serve God.  Covetousness is insatiable.  It is never filled up.  It is an evil of attempting to satisfy oneself with the things that God gives and not with God Himself.  It is the foolishness of believing that things are able to satisfy the soul.  Jesus spoke of that, you remember?  In Luke 12 — the parable about the rich fool who had his barns full at this time of the year and he said to himself, “Soul, take thine ease; eat and drink.”  He believed that if he had these things, or especially if he had that new barn, then, when he had everything that his heart could possibly fancy, he could find rest and he would be happy.  The Lord said he was a fool.

     We are, by nature, covetous.  It makes no difference if we are rich or poor, healthy of sick.  By nature we always want something different, something more, our fancy to be satisfied.  We think that money, leisure, pleasure, jobs, possessions will be the gateway to happiness of the heart.  That is covetousness.

     Contentment is a grace that comes from Jesus Christ.  It is to be satisfied with the earthly way He gives to me today and the circumstances that have not come by chance but by my Father’s will.  It is based in the cross.  It is to know a full and complete pardon of sin.  Then it is to say, “I have enough.  It is enough to have the love and forgiveness of my God.  Therefore I experience an inward joy and peace in the way that God leads me today and with the provisions He gives to me.”

     Contentment is the eye of faith that looks to God, who is the owner of everything and who has given earthly things to me to care for.  Contentment is the ear of faith that hears all of God’s promises in the Word.  And contentment is the heart of faith that says, “It is well.  His way is perfect.  It is always good.  He is leading me to glory.  All is well with my soul.  Therefore I thank God for everything.”  Thanksgiving through contentment.

     You see, then it will be an all-inclusive thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is not something that is to be done in parts.  It is not for some things.  We are taught in the Scriptures to give thanks for everything.  The apostle Paul, in the passage we are looking at today (Phil. 4), puts it this way.  He says, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (v. 11) — whatever circumstances the will of God places me in.

     Now, we need to understand that we are not talking here about indifference to a sinful way of life.  No.  But we are talking about what comes to us in the will of God concerning the situations in our life, whether that be health or sickness, freedom or prison, a single life or a married life, our height, our looks, our money — all that makes up my earthly way.  Can you say, “Lord, thanks!  I am content with what You have given me.  I am content because I see the great treasure of the pardon of my sin and that everything now in my life is ordered by the hand of a gracious and loving Father.  Thanks!”

     Paul goes on to explain.  He says, “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound … I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”  To be abased means to be brought low.  Paul says he knows what it is to be brought low.  That happened often in his life.  He had been scorned and cast out by men.  He had been stoned and beaten.  Yet, he says, though those are most difficult things to endure, “I am content.  I am content in knowing that it is the way of my Father.  I know how to be abased.”  And, he says, “I know how to abound,” that is, to overflow.  There the Scriptures are talking about affluence, of enjoying more than what we absolutely need in a given day.  “I know,” says the apostle, “how to be abased and to abound … in all things I have learned to be content, to abide in trust upon the God who cares for me.  Then, out of that trust and love for Him, to express thanks in every way.”

     Can you do that?  Can you say, by the grace of God today, that you are satisfied with the will of God and that you want only to serve Him in the way that He chooses for you to take?  It may be that He leads you today in a way of adversity.  Your income as a family may be very tight.  Or it may be sickness.  It may be concern for your heart, for your heartbeat and your heart rhythm.  It may be great sorrow over your children — they are not walking in the way of the Lord.  It may be difficult and stressful situations in your job.  What are we to do?

     Unbelief says concerning all of those things:  Be resentful.  Shake your fist in God’s face.  Feel hopeless.  Be angry at God.  The world would say to us, “Well, be a stoic.  Detach yourself emotionally from all of these things.  You have to learn not to get hurt.  You have to be tough.  Just bulldoze your way through.”  Others may say, “We had better just be depressed then over all those things that we cannot change.  We had better decide that we are not going to be happy.”

     The grace of contentment is that we receive all of that from the hand of our God who has promised over the cross and grave of His Son to give to us sufficient grace to serve Him in whatever situation He places us.  It may be today that we are in a way of prosperity.  That might be more likely for many of us.  What then, should we be boastful today?  Shall we be proud?  Shall we say on this Thanksgiving Day that is ahead, “Well, others could have as much as we do if only they were as diligent as we are.  See what we have achieved?  See how diligent we’ve been?  If you drive yourself to succeed in this country, you can get there, you know.”  Is that what we are going to say?

     No!  In the way of contentment I will not forget that everything that I have and all that I am comes not from my strength but from God.  The worst folly there is is to boast in ourselves.  That is to forget the Lord.

     “I have learned,” says the apostle, “in whatever place I am to be content.”

     That means that this grace of contentment is not something that we are born with, but it is something that God has to teach us.  It is something that we are never finished learning.  Every child of God is enrolled today in a school called Contentment.  And you never graduate.  In fact, you are constantly sent back for refresher courses.  You never get a degree in this school until you are taken from the earth to heaven.  When you awake in righteousness, to see Him face to face, then you will be perfectly satisfied.  Until then, God keeps you in school.

     It is the profound work of God to crucify our covetous, rebellious hearts constantly and to begin to teach them submission to His will.  It is a practical, daily school.  And the lessons are hard.  It is just like trying to tame a German Shepherd that has been beaten and chained and to make him into a manageable dog.  You could sooner do that — teach a dog that has been beaten and chained and taught to be cruel — you could easier calm him and make him gentle than you could learn contentment.  For, by nature, we are ready to snap at God, snap at the wife, snap at the boss, at the house, at the looks, at the kids — nothing is any good!  “I don’t like it!  The Lord is not right.  I can’t accept this!”  By nature that is what we are always saying.  We have to learn contentment.

     The apostle said, “I am instructed to be content.  I learn it.”  That word means to learn the secret.  And it refers to the fact that this secret of contentment can only be found in faith in Jesus Christ.  Contentment is a secret.  It is a mystery, apart from faith in Jesus Christ.  You will not learn it by getting a magnifying glass and, like an investigator, trying to solve the riddle and trying to find some book that is going to teach you how to live the happy and contented life off on a mountain or by a river stream.  No.  God must open your eyes to this secret thing that faith knows.  God must give us faith in Jesus, and then you will learn the secret of contentment.  It is this.  It is to believe, on the basis of God’s own Word, that all the circumstances of my life, both good and bad, joyful and sorrowful, both sickness and health, all of them are coming to me from the hand of my Father for Jesus’ sake.  You see, contentment is something that was purchased on the cross and flows from the cross.  You learn contentment, like everything else, by being brought to the foot of the cross.  Jesus earned it!  It goes like this (Rom. 8:32), “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”  Here is the secret.  God, says the Christian, “has loved me in Jesus Christ.  He has given me the greatest of all good.  He has given His own Son for my death that I perish not in hell.  Now, shall not this God, who has given me the greatest, also work all things in my life for my eternal good?”  You see, there is the secret.  All things, says faith, all circumstances, are in God’s hand working my good.

     Do you believe that?  Do you embrace that?  Then you will be thankful for everything.  Let us learn.

     Do you abound today?  Do you say, “I have much more than I need.  The Lord has been so good to me.”  Give thanks.  Are you abased today?  Are you struggling to make ends meet, to pay the bills and the debts?  Perhaps you are on a sickbed, or perhaps you are doctoring and no answer has been brought concerning your physical troubles, or perhaps your heart is so heavy, or perhaps you are getting old and your body creaks and is breaking down and you live in an “old people’s home.”  Are you content?  Do you say, “In God’s love abiding, I have joy and peace more than all the wicked, though their wealth increase.  In His care confiding, I will sweetly sleep; for the Lord, my Savior, will in safety keep”?  Do you say, “Lord, Thou art good.  Thanks, Lord, thanks for everything”?  You see, when contentment begins to dawn in our hearts, then our mouths are loosed in thanksgiving.

     But maybe you think this is all an ideal.  Oh, yes, you say, we expect to hear something about Thanksgiving.  And, yes, we know that these verses are in the Bible and all these truths are in the Bible.  But, it is really an ideal, right?  We do not actually experience this, do we?  We cannot really live this way.  Maybe you say, “I’m not content.  Anxiety gets a hold of me.  I begin to obsess about certain things.  It just gets hold of me and it controls my whole day.”  Perhaps you say, “Resentment and anger and bitterness is like a chain.  It got a hold on my heart and now I’m cynical.  I don’t believe anymore in the peace that you are talking about.”  Or, perhaps:  “I’m lonely.  I don’t like what’s happening to me.  I’m struggling.  Sometimes God seems so far away.  All that you’re talking about — I don’t believe it.  I’m afraid.”  You say, “Well, that was a real nice pep talk.  Be content.  God’s in control.  Be thankful.  But now I have to go back to my life, and there’s a struggle there, a great struggle.”

     Child of God, this is not an ideal.  This is God’s Word.  This is possible by His grace.  No, we are not perfect.  We are still on the battlefield.  But there is the blessing of contentment and it is a real blessing, today, for you and for me.  There is the peace and joy of resting, by faith, in God.  And there is now the gushing impulse to thank and to praise God.  The apostle tells us how this is possible.  “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me.”  What is he saying?  He is saying this.  “I can be content through the strength of Christ in my soul.”  He did not say, “I can be content by my own strength, by my own personality, which is bubbly or positive.  I’m an A-type personality.”  No.  And he did not say, “I can be content because I’ve learned the secrets of coping, anxiety management, and control.”  He did not say, “I can be content because I know that I have the strength to slug it out and to stay with it.”  No, a thousand times No.  He did not say that.  He said, “Through Christ.”  The only possibility is Jesus Christ.  It is not about you.  It is about Jesus.  He is able to make you content.

     He comes now, by His Word, right now, as you hear His Word in Philippians 4.  He speaks and all the waves and storms and winds of our objections are to be silent before Him.  He says, “You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.”  It is Christ who by His faithfulness infuses His grace and power into our lives.  It is Christ who has loved us upon the cross.  It is Christ who performs faithfully the will of His Father.  He pours power through the Holy Spirit into us through His Word.  He uses means.  He uses the church, the pure preaching of the gospel, and the teaching of that gospel in the church.  He uses prayer.  He uses the daily reading of the Word of God.  He uses Christian friends.  He uses many, many things.  But He does it.  “I can do all things because He is the One who is strengthening me.”  He is strengthening me to do an amazing thing — to be content, to have peace in my soul over God’s way, to say, concerning all the circumstances of life:  “Lord, have Thine own way.”  And then, not only to leave it there but to go on to the next step — to give thanks.  He strengthens me today to thank Him.  And now my list of thanksgiving is very long.  It includes everything.  Good and bad, sickness and health — everything, because it is all working my good under the power of my Father.

     Then, out of contentment arises the sound of thunder, the anthem and the song of the church:  Thanks be to God who hath given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

     Let us pray.

     Father in heaven, work in us Thy children, this week, this Thanksgiving Day, and always, contentment, godly contentment, and out of it may there flow forth the thunder and the sweet anthem of thanks.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.