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How to Handle the Blessin...

The Art of Contentment

Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. (1 Timothy 6:6-7)

 

God made you to live in this world for a short time and then to live with him forever.  So Paul says, “If we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Tim. 6:8).  That really is all that we need.  The challenge, of course, is that we all want a lot more.  But Paul says, “Here’s the problem: ‘Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation’” (1 Tim. 6:9).

 

Notice that this is an unqualified statement.  Paul does not say, “Those who desire to be rich might fall into temptation.”  He says, “They will!  They do!”  If the goal of your life revolves around having more, you will fall into temptation.  It will be a snare to you and it can destroy you.  So you cannot allow yourself to be in this position.

 

Paul is speaking here about contentment in relation to money.  When God gives you more, it will be accompanied by greater opportunity, greater responsibility and greater temptation.  So we need to know how to handle the blessing of God.  That’s what we are looking at today.

 

The Story of Jeremiah Burroughs

The person from whom I have learned most on this subject is Jeremiah Burroughs.  He wrote two books about contentment and I want to tell you the story of his life.

 

Jeremiah Burroughs was born in 1599. [1]  He studied at the University of Cambridge and at the age of 28 he began his ministry in the delightful town of Bury St. Edmonds.  It didn’t go well.

Burroughs said, “I have been nearly three and a half years with them with little success.”  The people had a ‘strange disposition’ towards him.  After three years they cut his salary in half, giving a pretty clear hint that they wanted him to move on.

 

Burrows moved from a large town to a small village—a place called Tivetshall.  That did not go well either!  The king (Charles I) was concerned about the general health of the nation, so he published The King’s Book of Sports, a royal decree laying out the edict that the king’s subjects were to participate in recreation on Sundays.  This recreation was to include leaping, vaulting, Morris dancing and setting up maypoles.

 

Since the church was established by the state, ministers were required to read The King’s Book of Sports to the people on Sunday mornings.  With no television or radio broadcasts, the state church was often used as a means of getting the king’s messages to the people.

 

The Puritans held strong convictions with regard to the holiness of the Lord’s Day, and there was no way that these men of conscience would use the pulpit to announce compulsory leaping, vaulting, and Morris dancing on Sundays.  So Burroughs, along with others, simply ignored The Kings Book of Sports.  Ministers who did this were known as ‘nonconformists,’ and that really is the historical root of free churches as they evolved in Europe.

 

You don’t refuse the king’s edict without consequence and the Archbishop, who acted as the agent of the king, went after the nonconformists.  So at the age of 36, Burroughs was suspended from ministry and a year later he was fired, which meant that he lost not only his income but also his home.

 

Burroughs was taken in by the Earl of Warwick, and became pastor to his household.  It was a great kindness and it was the Lord’s provision, since no position in the church was open to him.  But here is this gifted and godly man who commits his life to serve the Lord, but every step in his life is a step down.  He starts in a town and the people don’t like him, so he moves to a village and the king goes after him, so he ends up ministering to a single family.

 

Then it gets worse!  In 1638, a false accusation was made against him to the effect that he had defended the Scots (who were again being rebellious!) in taking up arms against the king.  This was a capital offence, and when a warrant was issued for his arrest, Burroughs fled to Holland.  The cost of leaving the people and the country he loved was very great, but on pain of his life it was clearly the right thing to do.

 

Phil Simpson, who wrote a biography of Burroughs, describes these years of his life as “a downward spiral of narrowing influence and opportunity.”  There were many things that might have led Burroughs to complain.  But this was the man who wrote the book on contentment!  He had learned to be content.

 

Here is where the story gets even more interesting: After three years in exile, Parliament passed legislation allowing ministers who had been ejected to return to England.  When Burroughs came back, he was appointed to a prestigious position in London where he ministered to some of the wealthiest people in the country!

 

Here’s what Burroughs discovered, and it led him to write a whole second book: It is easier to be content when you have less, and harder to be content when you have more. [2] ‘More’ is a relative term.  When we say ‘more,’ I immediately think of some wonderful people who have more than I do.  I’m sure that you can do the same, but let’s not do that today.

 

Do you have more today than you had 10 years ago?  For most of us the answer to that question will be, ‘Yes.’  If you have more than you had 10 years ago, you need to know how to handle more.  Even if you have less than 10 years ago, all of us here have more than most people in the world.  Anyone who lives in America needs to know how to handle the blessing of God.

 

When Burroughs came to London, he picked up on Paul’s words: “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound” (Phil. 4:12).  Burroughs knew what it was to learn contentment when he had less.  He could say, “I know how to be brought low.”  But now he was facing a new challenge – learning how to abound!  Do you know how to abound?  Do you know how to wisely handle the blessing of God when he gives you more?

You Know How to Abound When

1. You resist the temptations that come with having more.

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches. (1 Tim. 6:17)

What are the particular temptations that come with having more?

i. The temptation to pride

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty. (1 Tim. 6:17)
When you have more, you’ll be tempted to credit yourself with what you have accomplished.  That’s what Nebuchadnezzar did.  “He was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king answered and said, ‘Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?’” (Dan. 4:29-30).

 

Then he lost his mind.  Apart from the grace of God sustaining my mind, I would not be able to string two coherent thoughts together.  When some Christians were getting too big for their boots at Corinth, Paul asked, “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7).

 

In Deuteronomy God speaks to his own people, and therefore to us: “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’  You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth” (Deut. 8:17-18).  Whenever God gives you more, you are going to face this temptation in some way.

ii. The temptation to presumption

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to…set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches. (1 Tim. 6:17)

 

Money has a way of making things seem more certain, and when you have more it is easy to get the idea that it will always be so.  Always beware of saying,

 

  • “I can do more for Jesus Christ later.” Really?  You don’t know how much time you will have later.  All you know is the time that God is giving to you now.

 

  • “I can give more to the Lord later.” Really?  You don’t know how much you will have later.  All you know is what God has given to you now.

 

People who know how to be full resist the temptations that come with having more.  There is a humility about them.  They know that what they have is what God has given, so they don’t take credit for it themselves.  And there is a shrewdness about them.  They know that money is uncertain, so they don’t set their hope on it.  They know how to honor God by making the best use of what they have, while they have it.

 

You Know How to Abound When

2. You remember that you will give an account.

…until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Tim 6:14)

 

Everything Paul says in these last verses of 1 Timothy is framed in the context of “the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  This is how you are to live in the light of his appearing.

This is what you are to avoid in the light of his appearing.

 

  • We must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10).
  • Each of us will give an account of himself to God ( 14:12).
  • Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required (Luke 12:48).

 

The principle of “much given, much required” is illustrated in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25).  One servant is given 5 talents.  He uses what he has been given for the master and brings back 5 more.  Another servant is given 2 talents.  He uses what he has been given for the master and comes back with 2 more.  Both servants were given “according to their ability” and were commended in the same way: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

 

The master did not judge his servants on the results they achieved.  The master’s commendation was based on what they did with what they were given.  The question on which we will give account to God is: “What did you do with what you were given?”  The more you are given, the more God requires of you.

 

Think about what will be like for you when God says to you, “Now let’s look at what I trusted to you in your lifetime.  Let’s total up everything that passed through your hands—money, gifts, talents, opportunities, and time.”

 

“What did you do with all this?  How did you deploy what I gave you for the advance of my great purpose in the world?  I sent my Son into the world and he said, ‘I will build my church.’  How did you deploy all of this for the great purpose of gathering my people?”  The more God gives you, the more you will have to account for.

 

Listen to how Burroughs puts this: “If… a man who had a wealthy estate had nothing else to do but sit by the fireside and have his servants bring him provisions – if that was all that was needed to be full – it would be easy for a man to know how to be full.  But you must know that there is much more falls on your shoulders than this – things for which you must answer and for which you must give an account before God.” [3]

 

Don’t envy the rich.  Don’t envy people who have greater opportunity than you because temptations and responsibilities come with opportunities, and they have more to account for than you do.  Remember that when you are tempted to envy them.

 

John Brown, who I referred to a few weeks ago, was a great encourager of younger pastors. One of the men he mentored was appointed to serve a congregation that was much smaller than the congregations served by his colleagues.

 

Brown wrote to him and this is what he said, “I know the vanity of your heart, that you will feel mortified that your congregation is very small in comparison to those of your brethren around you; but assure yourself, on the word of an old man, that when you come to give an account of them to the Lord Christ at His judgment-seat, you will think you have had enough.” [4] The more we have, the more we must account for.

You Know How to Abound When

3. You can discern how best to use what God has given.

They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.
(1 Tim. 6:18)
When God gives you more, it is with the purpose that you will be generous.  What God requires of you and of me is that we make the best use of all we have been given.  Learning to be full means wisely discerning how to do that.

 

So you look at your life and you say, “Here is what I have.  How can I make the best use of all that God has trusted to me?  Where can I make a difference?  How can that best be done?”

 

If you have more than you really need in investments, what does this mean?  You look at your investments and you ask, “Is this the best I can do with what God has trusted to me when there are opportunities for ministry expansion before us right now in this congregation where God has set me down?”

 

If God has given you more than you need, I would love for you to meet Valerie Hogan.  She is a member of our church at the Itasca campus.  She is also an attorney, and her ministry is to help people do what we are looking at today—wisely handle the blessing of God.  She doesn’t ask people for money, but she is well qualified to give wise counsel with regard to generous giving through wills, trusts, and appreciated assets.  I commend her and her ministry to you.

 

Those who have more are to be “generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Tim. 6:18-19).

 

Think about packing for a trip.  It’s always the same for Karen and for me.  Last time we took too much luggage, so we said, “Let’s travel light this time.  We are only going for a few days.  We always take too much.”  So we pack as little as we possibly can, because home is where we belong, and we only pack as much as we need for the journey.

But suppose for a minute that you were going on a trip from which you would never return.  Suppose that everything in your house would be left behind forever.  What would you do?  You would pack as much in your suitcase as you possibly could.

 

That’s what you are doing when you give.  When you are generous, you are “storing up treasure for [yourself] as a good foundation for the future, so that [you] may take hold of that which is truly life.”  What is given, in some sense, goes with you, everything else is left behind.  So pack in all the generosity that you possibly can.

You Know How to Abound When

4. You enjoy what you have but don’t depend on it for your joy.

God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. (1 Tim. 6:17)
Notice two things before we close today:

1. God richly provides us with everything to enjoy!

A person who knows how to be full will have great freedom and joy.  They will not go through life inhibited by a scrupulous conscience always wondering, “Is it ok to buy this coat or this car?  Is it ok to go on this vacation or to live in this home?”  Knowing how to be full means enjoying what you have.  Where the Spirit of God is, there is freedom.

2. Knowing how to be full means that you enjoy what you have, but it also means that you don’t depend on what you have for your joy.

There’s only one way to get there, and that is by having more joy in Jesus Christ than in anything and everything he has given you in this world.  That’s why right in the middle of this call to contentment, we read about our God,

  • The blessed and only Sovereign (6:15)
  • The King of kings and Lord of lords (6:15)
  • To him be honor and eternal dominion (6:16)

 

Have you come to a place where Jesus Christ is more than all the world to you?  If the world is more to you than Jesus, you will always be chasing the world and you will never be content.  Your joy will depend on what you have and one day it will be taken away.

 

But if Jesus Christ is more to you than the world, you can enjoy all that he gives you, but you will not depend on what you have for your joy.  You will hold what you have with an open hand.  You will see yourself as a steward who will give an account.  You will constantly be asking, “How can I make the best use of all that I am and all that I have for the Savior who gave everything for me?”  When your joy is in Jesus Christ, no one and nothing will ever be able to take away your joy.

 

© Colin S. Smith

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By Colin S. Smith. © Colin S. Smith. Website: UnlockingtheBible.org

[1] I am indebted to Phil Simpson for the biographical information on Burroughs in his preface to Contentment, Prosperity and God’s Glory, Reformation Heritage, 2013.  And in How Jeremiah Burroughs Learned Contentment, https://timmybrister.com/2008/04/how-jeremiah-burroughs-learned-contentment/

[2] “Men think it is a hard thing when they are brought blow under affliction, but in truth it is much harder to know how to abound… It is very hard for a man to learn how to be full.”

Jeremiah Burroughs, Contentment, Prosperity and God’s Glory, p. 36, 43, Reformation Heritage, 2013.

[3] Contentment, Prosperity and God’s Glory, p. 38, where Burroughs also says, “A man who is full, who has a large worldly estate, is required by God to look beyond his home to the general public.”

[4] William Brown, The Life of John Brown with Selected Writings, p. 62, Banner of Truth, 2004.