Founders Ministries Blog


Founders Ministries Blog

Founders Ministries exists to work for the recovery of the gospel and the biblical re-formation of local churches. They have a myriad of ministries that are given to that two-pronged effort, including a church planting network, an online study center, a publishing house, a quarterly journal, regional conferences and events, minister search list, friends list, and church list. In addition to this their website is populated with loads of resources for pastors, students, church leaders and serious Christians.

Contributers to the blog:

Dr. Tom Ascol, Senior Pastor, Grace Baptist Church, Cape Coral, FL

Dr. Tom Hicks, Pastor of Discipleship, Morningview Baptist Church, Montgomery, AL (Tom is the team leader of the blog).

Dr. Fred Malone, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Clinton, LA

Dr. Tom Nettles, Professor of Historical Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY

Dr. Phil Newton, Pastor, South Woods Baptist Church, Memphis, TN

Dr. Kenneth Puls, Director of Publications and the Study Center for Founders Ministries, Cape Coral, FL

Dr. Jeff Robinson, Pastor, Philadelphia Baptist Church, Birmingham, AL

Jon English Lee, Ph.D. Student, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY

How to Meditate on God's Word

by Ken Puls

I love God’s Word and delight in its truth. Yet too often I find that after reading my Bible or hearing a sermon, the truth, so necessary to the wellbeing of my soul, can too easily slip away. The truth that had for a moment captured my attention and my affections can quietly fade amid the clutter and noise of the day.

One of the best ways to remedy this is to practice the spiritual discipline of meditating on God’s Word. It is a discipline that takes time and intention, but one that brings great benefit to the soul. We need to carve out time to lay hold of the truth of God’s Word.

It is a bewildering paradox of our day that the Bible can be so accessible and yet so marginalized. On the one hand our technology has brought God’s Word close at hand. It’s on our phones and tablets and computers and iPods. We have almost immediate access to several versions of the Bible as well as a wealth of sermons and commentaries. But this same technology also threatens to distract us and drown out God’s Word. We have become a culture obsessed with noise and comfortable with clutter. So many sources are bringing input into our lives: TV, radio, online news feeds, Facebook, Twitter.... More than ever we need to make time to meditate, to dwell in God’s Word.

Meditation is pondering the Word in our hearts, preaching it to our own souls, and personally applying it to our own lives and circumstances. It is how we sanctify our thinking and bring it into submission to Christ—taking every thought captive. Paul tells us in Romans 12:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).

[All Scripture references are ESV unless otherwise indicated.]

In Psalms 77 Asaph uses three verbs that capture the essence of meditation. When he finds himself perplexed and troubled and cries out to God, he determines to steady his soul by looking to God and laying hold of truth. He says in verses 11 and 12:

I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
Yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work,
And meditate on your mighty deeds (Psalms 77:11-12).

Asaph uses 3 verbs in the Hebrew to describe what it means to lay hold of truth: He says: I will remember, I will ponder, and I will meditate.

He begins with remembering (zakar)—calling to mind “the deeds of the Lord” and His “wonders of old.” He intentionally takes note of truth and draws it back into his thinking. Asaph reflects on what God has accomplished for His people in the past—events and epics like the Exodus and Passover, the giving of the law on Mount Sinai, the conquest of the Promised Land. He makes an effort not to forget all the Lord has done.

David also speaks of remembering God:          

When I remember you upon my bed,
And meditate on you in the watches of the night (Psalms 63:6).

In Psalms 143, when David is overwhelmed with trouble, he uses the same three verbs as Asaph, beginning with “remember.”

I remember the days of old;
I meditate on all that you have done;
I ponder the work of your hands (Psalms 143:5).

We are a forgetful people and God would have us to remember. Meditation begins with remembering, bringing back into our minds the truths and praises and promises of God.

But, second, Asaph also uses a word that is translated in Psalms 77:12 “I ponder.”

I will ponder all your work,
And meditate on your mighty deeds (Psalms 77:12).

This is the verb hagah in the Hebrew. It is found in numerous places in the Old Testament and is translated as “ponder” or “meditate”:


This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success (Joshua 1:8).
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And on his law he meditates day and night (Psalms 1:2).          
When I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night (Psalms 63:6).

In Psalms 2 it is used of the nations “plotting” against God.

Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain? (Psalms 2:1)

The word literally means “to let resound.” It is used in Psalms 92:3 of the sound or tones of a musical instrument as it resonates.

On an instrument of ten strings,                
On the lute, And on the harp,
With harmonious [or resounding] sound (Psalms 92:3).

It is used also in Psalms 9:16.                                

The LORD is known by the judgment He executes;
The wicked is snared in the work of his own hands.
Meditation. Selah  (Psalms 9:16).

It is not entirely clear if the use of the word here is a musical instruction for the musicians to play an interlude—letting the instruments resound—or if it is an instruction to the congregation—let this truth resound within yourselves.

We find the term also at the end of Psalms 19:

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer (Psalms 19:14).

In other words: Let the inward tones of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord...

This is how we want the truth of Scripture to fill us and impact us—as we hear it and sing it and pray it—as Paul tells us in Colossians 3:16, let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly! Let it dwell in us in a way that resounds and reverberates in and through our lives.

We see another use of the word in Isaiah 31:4 that helps us understand its intent. Isaiah uses the word in reference to a lion:

For thus the LORD said to me,
 “As a lion or a young lion growls over his prey” (Isaiah 31:4)

The word for growl or roar is this word for meditation. Have you ever heard a lion when he roars? He does not just use his voice. His entire being reverberates. This is meditation. Letting God’s Word resound from within the very center of our being.

Meditation involves remembering, and resounding, but finally Asaph speaks of meditating.


I will ponder all your work,
and meditate on your mighty deeds (Psalms 77:12).

This word siyach means to muse and wonder and dwell on—to think deeply about something. Used literally it means to murmur, mumble or talk to yourself.

In a negative sense it can mean “to complain.” It is the idea that something has so taken hold of your thinking that you can’t stop thinking about it. So on the negative side—it troubles you and disturbs you and draws out complaint; but on the positive side—it captivates you and enraptures your thinking so that you “dwell on” it. This is the way we want God’s truth to lay hold of us—so that we can’t but dwell on it, so that it captures our thinking and finds it way into our choices and decisions.

The Puritans thought of meditation this way as they described it as “preaching to yourself.” We take the Word of God that we hear and read, and we mull it over in our minds and then bring it to bear upon our lives in personal exhortations.

It is a word that is found often in the Old Testament, especially in the psalms.


May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the LORD (Psalms 104:34).          
I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways (Psalms 119:15).          
Oh how I love your law!
It is my meditation all the day (Psalms 119:97).

When we meditate we think about God’s Word. We dwell on it and then as opportunities arise, we preach it to ourselves. We inject it into our thoughts as we make decisions, as we admonish and instruct our souls to choose right things and walk down right paths.

This is the essence of meditation. It is evoking the truth, embracing it and embedding it in our lives. It is intentionally focusing on recalling God’s truth that it might resound in our hearts and become that grid through which we sift and measure our thoughts and actions.

Meditation is a crucial Christian discipline and a vital means of grace that we must treasure and practice. But it is a discipline that takes time and effort. Accessibility can never beat intentionality. Don't assume that having God's Word close at hand means you have it close at heart. Carve out time in your day to remember, time to ponder, time to preach to yourself. The world around us can too easily choke out what is needful and good for our souls. Don’t allow God’s truth to slip away from you. Be intentional and diligent and your meditation.

Dr. Kenneth Puls is the Director of Publications and the Study Center for Founders Ministries, Cape Coral, FL. Founders Ministries exists to work for the recovery of the gospel and the biblical re-formation of local churches. They have a myriad of ministries that are given to that two-pronged effort, including a church planting network, an online study center, a publishing house, a quarterly journalregional conferences and eventsminister search listfriends list, and church list. In addition to this their  website is filled with resources for pastors, students, church leaders and serious Christians.


Zeal Needs Humility

by Tom Ascol

Too often zeal for truth is used as a license to be harsh, condescending or downright mean. Where such professed zeal is wedded to such attitudes you can be sure that something more than love for truth is motivating the one who is advocating it. Anyone who uses commitment to his Lord's doctrines as an excuse to violate his Lord's commandments reveals that he holds neither gospel nor law as fervently as he thinks.

The same Master who teaches us the doctrines of divine election ("All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out, John 6:37) and spiritual inability ("No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day" John 6:44) also commands us to love the brethren ("A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another," John 13:34) and even our enemies ("But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," Matthew 5:44). And Paul explains that love is "patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude... it is not irritable or resentful" (1 Corinthians 13:4-6).

What kind of devotion is it that excuses sin in the name of truth? Uninformed and immature at best and blind and deluded at worst.

John Newton understood this very well and made the following observation on the combination of humility and benevolence that is found in true Christian zeal. His words are worth just as needed today as they were in the 18th century.

The Christian, especially he who is advanced and established in the life of faith, has a fervent zeal for God, for the honor of His name, His law, His gospel. The honest warmth which he feels, when such a law is broken, such a Gospel is despised, and when the great and glorious name of the Lord his God is profaned, would, by the occasion of his infirmities, often degenerate into anger or contempt towards those who oppose themselves, if he was under the zeal only. But his zeal is blended with benevolence and humility: it is softened by a consciousness of his own frailty and fallibility. He is aware, that his knowledge is very limited in itself, and very faint in its efficacy; that his attainments are weak and few, compared with his deficiencies; that his gratitude is very disproportionate to his obligations, and his obedience unspeakably short of conformity to his prescribed rule; that he has nothing but what he has received, and has received but what, in a greater or less degree, he has misapplied and misimproved. He is, therefore, a debtor to the mercy of God, and lives upon His multiplied forgiveness. And he makes the gracious conduct of the Lord towards himself a pattern for his own conduct towards his fellow creatures. He cannot boast, nor is he forward to censure. He considers himself, lest he also be tempted; and thus he learns tenderness and compassion to others and to bear patiently with those mistakes, prejudices, and prepossessions in them, which once belonged to his own creature and from which, as yet, he is but imperfectly freed. But then, the same considerations which inspire him with meekness and gentleness towards those who oppress the truth, strengthen his regard for the truth itself, and his conviction of its importance. For the sake of peace, which he loves and cultivates, he accommodates himself, as far as he lawfully can, to the weakness and misapprehensions of those who mean well; though he is thereby exposed to the censure of bigots of all parties, who deem him flexible and wavering, like a reed shaken with the wind. But there are other points nearly connected with the honor of God, and essential to the life of faith, which are the foundations of his hope, and the sources of joy. For his firm attachment to these, he is content to be treated as a bigot himself. For here he is immoveable as an iron pillar; nor can either the fear of the favour of man prevail on him to give place, no not for an hour. Here his judgment is fixed; and he expresses it in simple and unequivocal language, so as not to leave either friends or enemies in suspense, concerning the side which he has chosen not the cause which is nearest to his heart.


Self-Deception

By Tom Ascol

Have you ever noticed how many times and how many ways the Bible warns of being deceived? By clear admonition as well as by graphic example God repeatedly calls us to be on our guard against believing lies. That's what deception is--believing what is not true. It is one of the great works of the enemy of our souls. So the Lord repeatedly warns us about it in Scripture:

  • Luke 21:8, Jesus warned His disciples: "Take heed that you not be deceived. For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am [He],' and, 'The time has drawn near.' Therefore do not go after them."
  • Romans 7:11, Paul describes the role of deception in his spiritual bondage: "For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed [me]."
  • 1 Corinthians 6:9, Paul identifies "cheap grace" with deception: "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.
  • 1 Corinthians 15:33, "Do not be deceived: 'Evil company corrupts good habits.'"
  • 2 Corinthians 11:3, "But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ."
  • Galatians 6:7, Paul warns those who think that they can get away with sin: "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap."
  • 2 Timothy 3:13, This is a problem that will constantly threaten us in this life: "But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived."
  • Titus 3:3, It is the very condition out of which we have been converted: "For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another."
  • James 1:16, "Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren."
  • Revelation 20:8, 10, It is the devil's design to "deceive the nations."

This is a mere sampling of the Bible's warnings. Deception is spiritually deadly because at every point that you believe lies you cannot believe truth, and it is the truth that sets us free and by which we are sanctified (John 8:32, John 17:17).

If deception is dangerous, self-deception is disastrous. When you have been deceived by another, that person shares the blame for your condition, but when your deception is self-imposed, you alone are accountable. Further, self-deception is perniciously destructive. It is hard to detect and harder to eliminate.

Think about it. Have you ever met a person who admitted to being self-deceived? The very nature of self-deception is that there is no conscious awareness of believing lies. Self-deception emerges from living on a self-referential basis. Such people measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves to themselves and, Paul says, "are not wise" (2 Corinthians 10:12).

This is the problem that Jesus exposed to the church at Laodicea. They were self-deceived. Their evaluation of themselves was radically different from Jesus' evaluation of them. Their self-assessment went like this: "I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing." But Jesus' assessment of them was this: "[You] do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked" (Revelation 3:17). They believed lies. Their press reports on earth were completely opposite of their record in heaven. In this regard their condition was the same as that of the church at Sardis, to whom Jesus said, "You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead" (Revelation 3:1).

Can you imagine a more spiritually dangerous position to be in? To have a reputation of being alive--written up in denominational newspapers as a model church--and yet, in the eyes of the Lord, to be dead! To think that all is well when in fact, according to Jesus, all is rotten!

The mere possibility of falling into this kind of deadly trap ought to be enough to breed extreme humility in the most experienced believer and most accomplished church. It ought to call us to radical commitment to measuring our lives by what the Scripture calls us to be and do and by nothing else. It ought to make us willing to listen to criticism--even criticism from those who openly oppose us (in this regard some of my strongest opponents have served me best because had no interest in sparing my feelings, as friends sometimes do, and therefore have spoken honestly, if harshly, about my faults).

Our prayer should be that of David's in Psalms 139:23-24,

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me, and know my anxieties;
And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.

Finally, the ever-present danger of self-deception should keep us running to Jesus Christ as the great Shepherd of our souls. We desperately need Him to secure our standing and our walk. We need His protection and provision at every step of our journey. Our only hope and our certain supply is His righteousness and His sacrifice which is ours through faith and faith alone.


Does God Command Us to Rest?

by Jon English Lee
 
Last time I looked at evidences for the Sabbath rest rooted in creation. But does the fact that God rested mean that Adam, and all humanity, should keep the Sabbath? Not all think so.[1] Frame offers four compelling arguments, of increasing persuasiveness, for man to imitate God by resting on the Sabbath: (1) man as God’s image, (2) the work/rest pattern, (3) Mosaic authorship of Genesis, and (4) the fourth commandment itself.[2]
 
God creating man in His own image means that man should usually imitate his Maker. There are times when this is obviously not the case (e.g., killing the firstborn of Egypt), but “there does not seem to be any metaphysical, ethical, or historical reason why we should not imitate God’s cycle of work or rest.”[3]
 
Secondly, the cycle of 6 days of work followed by 1 day of rest would be difficult to understand if God had not made it for the benefit of his creatures. Because God never needs rest Himself, why would God take a day off if not to set a pattern for His people? Third, Frame points out that Moses was the primary author of Genesis. The Jews were already out of Egypt and under the Covenant. “A Jewish reader of Genesis during the wilderness period would see Genesis 2:2-3 as the beginning of the Sabbath observance, the background of the fourth commandment…. The Jewish reader would see that, as in the fourth commandment, God in Genesis 2 institutes a day of rest, which he blesses and makes holy.”[4]
 
And finally, the most compelling argument for the Sabbath as a creation ordinance is the fourth commandment itself: Israel should keep the Sabbath because, “in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath and made it holy” (Ex 20:11). God rested,
"From his creative labors and rested on the seventh day, which he hallowed and blessed, he also hallowed and blessed a human Sabbath, a Sabbath for man (Mark 2:27). In other words, when God blessed his own Sabbath rest in Genesis 2:3, he blessed it as a model for human imitation. So Israel is to keep the Sabbath, because…God hallowed and blessed man’s Sabbath as well as his own."[5]
Would not the claim of our Lord, that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” be applicable to Adam preeminently? He was the only man present when the Sabbath was made! The Sabbath was a gift given to man at the end of the creative week.[6] This gift, a gift that sinners like to forsake, was meant to be a perpetual reminder of God’s masterful work in creation. Because man is made in God’s image and should therefore imitate Him, because of the pattern of 6 work days and 1 day of rest, because of Mosaic authorship, and because of the fourth commandment itself, the Sabbath is established as a prescriptive creation ordinance along with work and marriage.
 
Additionally, Chantry argues that because Exodus grounds the command primarily in creation[7], the Sabbath is not then “rooted in anything unique to the Jewish experience.”[8] Rather, Sabbath is a creation reality (See Ex. 20:11; 31:17; Heb. 4:4, 10). Furthermore, if the Sabbath is not a particularly Jewish reality, it is not then limited to the Jewish Covenant (Old Covenant). In this sense then, the Sabbath command is ‘above’ Mosaic Covenant because it was set in place prior to Sinai, even though it was part of the Mosaic commands.
 
That the Sabbath is a creation reality is also clear because unlike the other commandments, the fourth begins with “remember.” The command to remember is telling for two reasons: (1) this is not a new command, and (2) some were already guilty of not keeping the Sabbath, as is the sinful tendency of all mankind. As William Perkins wrote: “This clause doth insinuate, that in times past there was great neglect in the observation of the Sabbath.” [9] The call to remember raises another question: to whom or what are the Jews pointed when being reminded to remember? It was not to Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. It was to the very beginning; specifically, the Lord’s rest at the end of His creative week. The Jews would already be aware of the pattern of work and rest that God has built into creation.[10] While the Mosaic Law would bring peculiarly Jewish ceremonial and civil laws built off of the Sabbath commandment, the core of the moral law was derivative off of God’s example in creation.
 


[1] E.g., see DA Carson, From Sabbath to Lord’s Day.
[2] Doctrine of the Christian Life, 531ff.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid., 532.
[5] Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, 532.
[6] Richard Barcellos states that it would be ‘clumsy’ to separate the creation of man from the creation of the Sabbath by thousands of years (Eden and Sinai). He argues, “Since we know that man was created… in the Garden of Eden, Christ would have us to conclude that the Sabbath… was made at the same time and place. This corresponds to what we saw in Exod. 20:11.” The Old Testament Theology of the Sabbath in RBTR, Vol 3, No 2. July 2006.
[7] I say ‘primarily’ because the Deuteronomic recount of the commands recalls the Israelite deliverance from Egypt as a reason for Sabbath (Dt. 5:15). The Sabbath, as will be argued below, is not merely retrospective, but prospective: retrospective by looking back to creation and redemption; prospective by looking forward to Christ’s work and to the Promised Land (and ultimately the New Creation). The different motives for Sabbath obedience are not competing; nor does the second (redemption) nullify the first (creation). Regarding the different motives given for the Israelites to obey the 4th commandment, Frame explains, “Creation and redemption are not antagonistic. Redemption is the work of the Creator. Creation and redemption do not generate two different ethics, but rather the same one” (Doctrine of the Christian Life, 514).
[8] Chantry, Call the Sabbath a Delight, 24.
[9] William Perkins. A Golden Chain: or, the description of theologie : containing the order of the causes of salvation and damnation, according to Gods word, Printed by John Legate (Cambridge, 1600), 61. Found at http://archive.org/stream/goldenchaineorde00perk#page/n1/mode/2up (Accessed May 2, 2013).

[10] Chantry cites Cain and Abel bringing their sacrifices ‘at the end of days,’ which he takes to mean they understood one day a week was devoted to worship. He also mentions that, “Noah gave great attention to the seven day cycle of time,” and that the Jews in the wilderness were to respect the Sabbath when the manna was given. Call the Sabbath a Delight, 26.


4 Signs of True Contentment

As fallen men, even redeemed fallen men, we will never be entirely content in this life. Our hearts are too prone to wander, far too apt to flirt with idolatry, for us to be completely content in Christ. As Calvin famously put it, the human heart manufactures idols day and night every day. Still, we pray for contentment and, like Paul in Philippians 4:11, we seek to learn the secret to contentment in Christ.

If we are content in Christ, what shape will our lives begin to take? What is the contented heart drawn to? When my contentment is in Christ, then four things ought to be true of me.

  • I will exhibit a deeper love for God’s Word. Because my contentment is in Him, I will want to know Him more. We know Him more through His Word. Contentment is a plant that must be tended daily, as Spurgeon said in his inimitable style: “Now, contentment is one of the flowers of heaven, and if we would have it, it must be cultivated. It will not grow in us by nature; it is the new nature alone that can produce it, and even then we must be specially careful and watchful that we maintain and cultivate the grace which God has sown in it.” One of the primary means is by hiding His Word in our hearts and having it on our person as a constant reminder that apart from our Lord, we can do nothing.
  • I will exhibit a deeper and more mature love for God’s church. When your satisfaction is found in Christ, then you will want to be in His church and with His people. It will also transform the way you see the church. This building is not the church; you are. And when your contentment is in Christ, you will love God’s people, all of God’s people, not just those people with whom you are comfortable. And you will love His church, even though it is imperfect and stained with sin. If I am content in Christ, then it will set me free from false expectations in others and will set me free to love people who come from a different background than do I.
  • I will not fall apart when adversity comes. I will rest in the absolute sovereignty of God and in His prerogative. You and I have a very limited ability to exegete our circumstances. Because we are weak and lack omniscience (though we crave it), there will be many moments in life when we simply do not understand what is going on. We will face moments when the God whom Scripture calls good brings or allows things into our lives that will not seem good. They may even seem very bad: The doctor said it was cancer. Stage four. The boss said my position has been cut. Your son continues to reject the God I taught him to love. ISIS beheaded another Christian. Your daughter admits same-sex attraction. There will be times when all you have is Christ, but if you are content in Him, He will be enough. When we our content in Christ, we can say with Paul, in Phil. 3:7–8, “But whatever gain I had, I counted loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss for because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” When it pleases the Lord to take away some earthly blessing I cherish, then I should be able to say with Job, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”
  • I will want others to know the great gain that comes from godliness with contentment. I will want my friends, neighbors and family members to find the peace that passes understanding. Thus, I will not be embarrassed to proclaim to them the only path that leads to the Celestial City.

I have written this series, not because I am always content or am an expert in the doctrine of contentment. Actually, I have written this because I am an expert in discontentment and am seeking contentment in Christ. May it please God to grant it. So far, I must say, it comes and goes. I have to repent much of discontentment.

I close out this brief series with memorable words from Spurgeon on the absurdity of discontentment for the follower of Christ:

“Permit me to remind you again, that you should be contented, because otherwise you will belie your own prayers. You kneel down in the morning, and you say, “Thy will be done!” Suppose you get up and want your own will, and rebel against the dispensation of your heavenly Father, have you not made yourself out to be a hypocrite? The language of your prayer is at variance with the feeling of your heart. Let it always be sufficient for you to think that you are where God put you. Have you not heard the story of the heroic boy on board the burning ship? When his father told him to stand in a certain part of the vessel, he would not move till his father bade him, but stood still when the ship was on fire. Though warned of his danger he held his ground. Until his father told him to move, there would he stay. The ship was blown up, and he perished in his fidelity. And shall a child be more faithful to an earthly parent than we are to our Father, who is in heaven? He has ordered everything for our good, and can he be forgetful of us? Let us believe that whatever he appoints is best; let us choose rather his will than our own. If there were two places, one a place of poverty, and another a place of riches and honour, if I could have my choice, it should be my privilege to say, ‘Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.’” (Spurgeon’s entire sermon from Phil. 4:11 simply titled “Contentment” is available here.)


How to Have Healthy Churches

The conversations tend to go like this: “I like my church. My pastor preaches the Word. There are some wonderful people in the church. But something is wrong. There’s no life together. People don’t seem to really care for each other. Conversations are superficial. I’m not sure that people even know one another in our church.”

Have you had those conversations? Maybe you have even said the same thing to someone out of concern for your church. That seems to be a good starting point for doing some thinking about what it means to have a healthy church.

Many of you reading this post have found help in Mark Dever’s Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. Dever identifies nine essential characteristics of healthy churches: expositional preaching, biblical theology, biblical understanding of conversion, biblical understanding of evangelism, biblical understanding of church membership, biblical church discipline, concern for discipleship and growth, and biblical church leadership. While we might add to that list, e.g. biblical understanding of mission, we would not subtract anything from that list to characterize healthy churches.

Yet how does a church get out of the starting block toward a healthy condition? Obviously, it starts with expositional preaching in the power of the Holy Spirit. It would be impossible to institute biblical church membership or biblical church discipline or biblical church leadership without first laying a solid foundation in the church’s understanding through expositional preaching. Otherwise, any attempt to do so will result in either a church split or a short pastorate.

But here is where I want to offer one thought to consider in the process toward establishing a healthy church. Teach and preach about the nature of the church. I know that seems obvious, or should, but it appears to be presumed by pastors and leaders. We can think that a church surely knows what it is as the people of God, the pillar and support of the truth, the body of Christ, the temple of God corporately indwelled by the Spirit, et al. We can presume that one who consciously joins a church at least understands what the church is.

However, may I suggest that we delete that presumption from our memory banks? Over and over in conversations with both members and leaders from one church to another, I’m brought to the stark reality. Church members, as a rule, do not understand what the church is. They do not understand the price of its existence through the bloody death of Christ. They do not grasp its corporate standing before God and corporate functioning as the people of God in community with one another. They do not see that they have responsibility for one another to love, exhort, serve, forgive, be kind to, encourage, bear burdens, and accept. They fail to see that the church is the focus of the redemptive work of Christ rather than merely the individual. They are more influenced by Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson in their thinking than Jesus, John, and Paul. They think individually rather than as a family of believers in covenant with one another to live out the gospel.

So, in the journey toward church health, please don’t neglect intensive teaching, preaching, and training in what the church is. That understanding and practice won’t happen overnight or in a year or two, in all likelihood. It takes much patience to set forth that essential foundation for church health. And it must be constantly repeated, rehearsed, and gloried in. It cannot be programmed into existence. As a matter of fact, understanding the nature of the church takes the work of the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of a congregation to understand the clear teaching of Holy Scripture.

But our gracious God kindly opens eyes and transforms understanding about the church. Let’s be faithful, not presumptuous, in laying the foundation for the church to know what it is in Christ.


6 Battle-Tested Ways to Become More Content

As Tom Hicks outlined in a recent post here, so unusual is contentment in a fallen human being that Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs called it “a rare jewel.” Nothing exhibits Christian maturity like contentment in Christ and nothing unmasks our immaturity like discontentment, which I examined in part I of this series. Yet, contentment is elusive. The writer of Proverbs alludes to this in 27:20b, “... never satisfied are the eyes of man.”

What is contentment? Burroughs defines it this way: “Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.... It is the inward submission of the heart.” Similarly, Michael Scott Horton asserts that “Being content with life means accepting the circumstances in which God’s providence has placed me.”

My own definition is brief but strikes at the heart of the sin of discontentment: contentment is the opposite of covetousness. It is the opposite of covetousness because the coveting heart says, “I deserve better than what God has given me, a better ministry position, a better job, a better spouse, better children, a better socioeconomic position... better.” Discontentment runs at cross purposes with the tenth commandment. And fallen man is a discontented lot.

But there is good news for followers of Jesus Christ. In Philippians 4, Paul says he learned the secret of contentment in any and every circumstance. Paul, the great apostle, Paul the author of Romans and Galatians and Ephesians and much more, Paul, whom the Lord took up into the third heaven, who encountered Jesus tangibly on the road to Damascus, had to learn contentment. That fact alone encourages us with hope and reminds us that sanctification indeed progresses in fits and starts over the course of a life.

How did he do it? Paul cultivated contentment in his life by reaching a settled conclusion that Christ was enough for him. He was willing to say in fashion similar to Luther, “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also….” As I pointed out previously, that is at the heart of the meaning of Phil. 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” It’s not a promise that adding a little Jesus to my daily repertoire will push me to perform superhuman feats, but a promise that is far more expansive: I can find peace and joy in this life, no matter the intensity of the storm that swirls around me, when Christ is my pearl of great price.

But how may I cultivate this most elusive of virtues? With a little help from Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his exposition of Philippians coupled with few of my own insights, here are a six thoughts:

1. Conditions and circumstances in life are always changing, therefore my satisfaction and joy must not be tied to circumstances. Jesus must not be one who merely meets our material and physical needs. Jesus is not a divine ATM. John Piper’s words are sobering and penetrating here: “I’ll tell you what makes Jesus look beautiful. It’s when you smash your car and your little child smashes through the windshield and lands dead on the street, and you say, through the deepest possible pain, ‘God is enough. He is good. He will take care of us. He will satisfy us. He will see us through this. He is our treasure.’ Whom I in heaven but you and on earth there is nothing that I besides you, my flesh and my heart and my little child may fail, but you are the strength of my heart and my portion forever. That makes God look glorious as God, not as giver of cars or safety or health…. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him in the midst of loss, not prosperity.” Thus, contentment comes when I melt my will and my desires into Christ’s will and desires, even when I struggle to understand my circumstances.

2. What matters supremely in life is my soul and my relationship to God. Christ’s death and resurrection is my only hope. Hope may be our most powerful possession. Hope is the sunshine and rain of our life—it is what makes us grow and thrive. Without it, we won’t flourish. An old saying applies here: “Human beings can live 40 days without food, four days without water, and four minutes without air, but we can’t live four seconds without hope.” And we have a sure and settled hope as the anchor of our souls (Heb. 6:19).

3. God is concerned about me as my Father, and nothing happens to me apart from His will. Even the hairs on my head are numbered. He is meticulously sovereign. He is good and he delights to give good gifts to his children (Matt. 7:7–11).

4. God’s will and God’s ways are a great mystery, but I know that whatever he wills or permits is for my good. Every situation in life is an unfolding of some manifestation of God’s love and goodness. Therefore, my business is to look for each special manifestation of God’s goodness and be prepared for surprises and blessings. Romans 8:28 is not a trite cliché, but a glorious promise for God’s children that serves as solid ground for their feet.

5. I must not regard my circumstances and conditions in and of themselves, but as part of God’s dealings with me in the work of perfecting my soul and bringing me to final perfection. In a life east of Eden, suffering will be a major part of this. We must burn into our minds and hearts the words of the psalmist in 145:17, “The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.”

6. Whatever my conditions may be at this present moment, they are only temporary, they are passing, and they can never rob me of the joy and the glory that ultimately await me in Christ. To be content, I must realize that my inheritance is in heaven and it is being guarded to be revealed on the last day (1 Peter 1:4). Paul called his affliction momentary and light (2 Cor. 4:16–18), even though he suffered in ways the vast majority of us never will. See his ministry resume in 2 Cor. 11:16–29 for a stunning laundry list of Paul’s sufferings in service of the gospel.

Next time, in part 3, I will examine what a contented life in Christ looks like in the full-court press of everyday life.


You’ve Heard God’s Word... Now What?

One of the great benefits of gathered worship with the church is that it keeps us regularly under the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. As God’s people we must give attention to God’s Word. We must be diligent to listen as it is taught. We must be willing to place our lives in its light and ask God to shine upon us.

As the Word of God shines on us, exposing our sin, we are to respond with repentance. God’s Word has a penetrating gaze into the life of the believer. It is like a light that shines into a room. When the light is dim, the room may not look too bad. It may look rather pleasant. But as it shines more brightly, we begin to notice spills and stains, dirt and dust—messes we never even knew were there.

This is what Christ does through His Word each week as we sit under the preaching and teaching of truth. He comes into our lives and opens drawers, and goes through closets, and looks behind our cherished possessions. He exposes our darkness and smashes our idols. He makes us aware of our sinfulness, and we begin to realize just how dark and deep our sins really go. Our repentance deepens as we learn to confess sin, fight sin, flee temptation and turn away from sin.

But for us to have hope, repentance must be accompanied by another response in worship. Though we must see ourselves in light of God’s Word, we must look even more intently at Christ. As the Word of God shines on Christ, revealing Him as the way of salvation, we must respond with faith. In ourselves we have no hope. But in Christ there is mercy and forgiveness. In our sinfulness we face fear and condemnation. But in Christ we find joy and redemption. We must put our hope and trust in Christ alone. We turn away from sin, but we turn to Jesus.

Because of Christ our faith is strengthened, even as our repentance grows deeper. Our sin is great; our need is certain. But our Savior is greater, and the promise of the gospel is more certain. As we look to Christ by faith we realize more and more just how precious He is, how much we need the gospel, how much we need His perfect righteousness to clothe us. This is why we so need the gospel—even after we have professed faith in Christ. We never outgrow the gospel. We must day by day learn to walk in faith and repentance.

Faith, like repentance, is not something we can find or create in ourselves. Faith is a gift of God rooted in His grace.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8–10).

By faith we believe the gospel and walk in its light, trusting that all God has said in His Word will certainly come to pass. Faith allows us to lay hold of the promises of God, though we have not yet seen the final outcome.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

We have every reason to trust God and rest in Him. Over and over the Bible exhorts us:

You keep him in perfect peace 
whose mind is stayed on you, 
because he trusts in you. 
Trust in the LORD forever, 
for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock. 
(Isaiah 26:3–4)

Trust in the LORD, and do good;
 dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. 
Delight yourself in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart. 
Commit your way to the LORD; 
trust in him, and he will act. 
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, 
and your justice as the noonday. 
(Psalm 37:3–6)

Trust in him at all times, O people;
 pour out your heart before him;
 God is a refuge for us. Selah
 (Psalm 62:8)

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding. 
In all your ways acknowledge him,
 and he will make straight your paths. 
(Proverbs 3:5–6)

Even in times of trials, the promises of God remain true. Trials, as Peter teaches us, can be God’s means to increase and test our faith, that Christ would be magnified in our lives:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:3–9).

This is how we respond rightly to worship—trusting Jesus by faith.

As we go out from worship, we must go out into a life of faith, a life where we are not trying to sort things out on our own, but a life where we are committed to walking in the light of God’s Word and trusting in His promises. Responding rightly to worship is anchoring our hope and securing our faith in Christ alone.


See a Table of Contents (thus far) for this series: Gathered Worship in the House of God

(Scripture quotations are from the Holy BIble, English Standard Version (ESV) ©2001 by Crossway)


Preparing for Gathered Worship: Come to Christ

by

Those involved in leading gathered worship know that much planning and preparation go into each service. The time we spend worshipping God together as His church is valuable. So time is invested praying and preparing the message, selecting and rehearsing the music, checking the sound and media, cleaning and making ready the building. When we arrive, we expect all to be ready. We assume that our leaders and those serving in various ministries will be in place.

But what of the church family? What should be expected of us? What are our role and responsibilities in gathered worship as a congregation?

This is the first in a series of posts in which I hope to probe these questions. How can we best prepare for, participate in and respond to corporate worship? We begin with preparing. The first thing we must do to prepare for worship may seem obvious, but is the most important.

We must come to Christ.

If we are to come to God and worship God, we must have Christ! Jesus said in John 14:6 that He alone is the Way, the Truth and Life. No one comes to the Father except through Him. Our greatest need, as we prepare for worship, is knowing and loving and being in Christ.

In John 4 Jesus enters into a discussion with a Samaritan woman at the well. He asks her for a drink and then tells her in verse 10:

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

He then explains to her that He is the source of living water. Verses 13-14:

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

As the conversation continues, Jesus confronts the woman with her sin in verse 18 by asking her to call her husband. She responds by changing the subject and asking Jesus a question about worship in verses 19-20.

The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”

She was asking about the place of worship, but what she needed most to know was the Person to worship. Notice how Jesus answers her question. He tells her in verses 21-24:

“Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

She needed the Spirit of God to quicken her spirit that she might receive truth and know and recognize and come to Christ. Her reply in verse 25 indicates that God was indeed opening her eyes. She says to Jesus:

“I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.”

Jesus then tells her plainly in verse 26: “I who speak to you am he.”

What the woman does next is marvelous. She has found Christ. And now she is no longer curious about this mountain or that mountain. She leaves her water pot, goes into the town, speaks with people she may have otherwise avoided, and tells them in verse 29:

“Come, see a Man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”

This is our great need as well. If we are to worship God, we must first “come see a Man.” We need our eyes and hearts opened that we might see and know and come to Jesus. We need this certainly when God first rescues us from our sin and draws us to Himself. But we need it continually. We need always to look to Christ and stay anchored in the hope of gospel (Hebrews 12:2).

So, as you prepare for worship, keep your eyes on Jesus. It is only because of Him that you can come into the presence of God and fear no condemnation. It is only because of Him that God receives you and delights in your worship. You can come into the gathered worship of the church and enjoy great fellowship, sing favorite songs, hear the reading of God’s Word and the prayers of His people, learn right answers to good questions—but if you miss Christ, you will miss worship.


The Deadly Problem of Forgetfulness

by Tom Ascol

We observed the Lord's Supper last Sunday as a part of our worship that included a sermon on apostasy from Jeremiah 18:13-23. In verse 15 the Lord summarizes Judah's apostate condition with this simple charge, "My people have forgotten Me." That succinct assessment is repeatedly made in the first 18 chapters of the book (Jeremiah 2:32, Jeremiah 3:21, Jeremiah 13:25). What an indictment it is! When those to whom the Lord has come forget Him they are doing something that goes against nature, is uncharacteristic of pagans with their gods, and which is spiritually suicidal (see the contexts of the verses listed above).

Forgetfulness is a common, yet deadly spiritual disease. That is why God's Word gives so much emphasis to calling us to remember. Much of the burden of Moses' message to the Israelites in Deuteronomy is warning them not to forget the Lord and exhorting them to remember Him and His salvation. David penned two psalms "to bring to remembrance" (Psalms 38 and Psalms 70).

This same emphasis is found in the New Testament as well. In the midst of their sufferings the Hebrew Christians had to be reminded that those whom the Lord loves, He disciplines (Hebrews 12:5). Peter exhorts his readers to "add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love." Then he explains that "he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins" (2 Peter 1:5-9).

The apostles saw it as part of their responsibility to remind the disciples of Christ of things that they already know. Paul explained to the Roman church, "I have written more boldly to you on some points, as reminding you...." (Romans 15:15). He sent Timothy to Corinth in order to "remind" them of his ways in Christ (1 Corinthians 4:17). Peter plainly declared his purpose in writing to his fellow believers: "For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth. Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you... (2 Peter 1:12-13). In fact, he self-consciously wrote his letters in order to encourage his readers to remember truth long after he had died: "Moreover I will be careful to ensure that you always have a reminder of these things after my decease" (2 Peter 1:15; see also 2 Peter 3:1).

Part of pastoral ministry is to be given over to reminding God's people of the Lord and His ways. Paul admonishes both Timothy and Titus to do just that (2 Timothy 2:14, Titus 3:1). He also encourages his young pastor friend to "remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel" (2 Timothy 2:8). Forget this and Gospel ministry becomes impossible.

All of these reminders are indictments on our tendency to forget. Which bring me back to the Lord's Supper. Jesus said, "Do this in remembrance of Me." Isn't it amazing that we need to be reminded of the sacrificial death of our Savior? What a commentary on the power of remaining sin that resides within believers! What a testimony to the subtle strategies of the devil and the alluring deceptions of the world! It seems inconceivable, doesn't it, that people who have been rescued for the wrath of God and granted eternal salvation would ever forget the One who, at such great cost, brought it about. Yet, that is sadly our tendency. We forget.

That's why we sin. We forget the wickedness of our sin and what it cost our Savior to redeem us from it. That's why we complain and grumble. We forget the greatness of incomparable worth of all that is ours in Jesus Christ. That's why we hesitate to forgive. We forget that God in Christ has forgiven us. That's why we get depressed, lose hope, become joyless and settle into spiritual mediocrity. We forget Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, has conquered every one of our enemies and given us a sure future in heaven.

How gracious and kind and condescending of Christ to give us the ordinance of the Lord's Supper so that by it we will be dramatically called to remember Him on a regular basis! An obedient Christian (who submits to the command to "Do this") cannot long remain a forgetful Christian (because it is done in remembrance of Christ). Forgetfulness is a great enemy to a joyful, faithful Christian life. We must not underestimate our need for encouragement to remember Christ. And we must not neglect the very means that He Himself has given to us to do so.


The Sabbath as a Creation Ordinance

by Jon English Lee

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." - Ex. 20:8-11 (ESV)

It is of no small importance that Exodus grounds the Fourth Commandment upon God’s example in creation.[1] Chantry offers this reason for referring back to creation: “God’s written fourth commandment recalls the first historic observance of the Sabbath in order to stir up our own compliance with Sabbath-keeping.” 
 
Using the text of Genesis 2 as a guide, this post will examine three creation narrative observations, followed by a discussion of whether God’s rest should be viewed as descriptive or prescriptive.

Sabbath as Imitation of God

First, six days of work followed by a Sabbath day of rest imitates God’s own pattern (Gen. 2:2). Ryken puts it simply: “We are called to work and rest because we serve a working and resting God.”[2] Frame, borrowing from Meredith Kline’s work, offers three categories in which to classify the rest of God: consummation, enthronement, and consecration.[3]
 
God's rest on the seventh day is the consummation of His creative work: “As a celebration of the finishing of the world-temple, the Sabbath proclaims the name of the creator to be Consummator.”[4]

The Sabbath rest of God, foreshadowing Christ's future rest at the Father's right hand, also demonstrates Divine enthronement: “God created the heaven and the earth to be his cosmic palace and accordingly his resting is an occupying of his palace, a royal session. The dawning of the Sabbath witnesses a new enthronement of Elohim.”[5] Christ has always reigned as Lord, but now He has new territory over which to rule. 
 
Finally, the Sabbath is tied to consecration: “Consecration here means, then, that all creation recognizes, affirms, and honors God’s lordship and behaves accordingly.”[6] Man is present for the very first Sabbath day, and he is not without a role: “All the creation of the six days is consecrated to man as the one set over all the works of God’s hand, as the hierarchical structure of Genesis 1 shows, but man himself in turn is consecrated to the One who set all things under his feet.”[7]

God Blessed the Sabbath

A second creation-based reason to keep the Sabbath commandment is because the Lord Himself “blessed the Sabbath day” (Gen. 2:3a). Chantry ties this to a blessing that falls on those who enter into God’s rest with him.[8] Regardless of whether or not this refers to blessings being bestowed upon Sabbath keepers, the language of the passage does point toward a perpetual Sabbath pattern. In Genesis 1, God’s blessing is given over the fish in the sea, the fowl of the air, and of humans. This blessing is for the ongoing production and multiplication of each group. God likewise blesses the Sabbath day, setting it apart for ongoing observance.

God Sanctified the Sabbath

A third creation-based reason for seeing the Sabbath as a creation ordinance is that God made the Sabbath holy (Gen. 2:3a). This should give us even more reason to strengthen our resolve to keep the Sabbath. “He who is king over all the earth has, by his sovereign right, made the day holy. He devoted one day in each seven to his worship and service. He does not advise or request but decrees that it is so. He who is eternal divided our time and legislated that we give him a day of worship each week.”[9] Because the Lord himself has sanctified, or set apart, one day a week for reflection upon His work, it would be foolish to carelessly disregard such a pattern.
 
We should follow the Sabbath pattern set forth by our Creator. That claim is not without its detractors; so, in subsequent posts, I plan to defend God's Sabbath rest as prescriptive for us, rather than merely descriptive.

[1] See also David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans: An Exposition of Chapter 14:1-17 : Liberty and Conscience (Edinburgh; Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth Trust, 2003), 81ff.

[2] Ryken, Written in Stone, 107.

[3] Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, 529.

[4] Meredith Kline, Kingdom Prologue, as quoted in Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, 529.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 530

[7] Kline, Kingdom Prologue, in Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, 530.

[8] Chantry, Call the Sabbath a Delight, 27.

[9] Chantry, Call the Sabbath a Delight, 28.


20 Ways to Find Contentment

Jeff Robinson has started a great series on contentment, but the topic has been on my own heart as well. I’ve been reading Jeremiah Burroughs’ classic book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, and wanted to share a bit of it here. If you haven’t read this book, let me encourage you to get it and read it. American culture fosters discontentment and all the miseries and heartaches that go along with it. Discontentment is coveting what we do not have, longing for it, believing that if we have it, then we will be satisfied.  To be content is to obey the 10th commandment, “You shall not covet” in the power of Christ and the gospel of grace.  Here’s my summary of 20 ways that Burroughs describes contentment.

“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Phil 4:11).

1. Contentment is a sweet, inward matter of the heart. Many people appear to be calm on the outside, but inwardly, they are frantic emotional basket-cases. True contentment is an inward peace and calmness of soul no matter what kinds of terrible trials and sufferings may be happening on the outside.

2. Contentment doesn’t mean that you don’t feel the pain of your suffering. In fact, in order to learn contentment, you have to feel the pain of your sufferings. The pains and sorrows of whatever crosses you’re bearing are the things God uses to teach you to find comfort in Christ. If you ignore the pain, belittle it, or mindlessly muscle your way through it, you’ll never learn the lesson of contentment in Christ.

3. Contentment doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to cry out to God and to your friends in Christ. It’s only by crying out to God in faith and submission that you’ll find contentment. God brings you into a state of contentment through communion with Himself. And often, God uses godly friends to speak the truth to you in love, to remind you of the graces of Christ, and to comfort you in His love.

4. Contentment doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to end your suffering. You should certainly seek every God-honoring and lawful means of ending the sufferings you’re experiencing in life. Particularly, if an injustice is being committed against you, and it’s causing you suffering, then it’s your Christian duty to try to end it in any lawful way possible.

5. Contentment means that you should not grumble under God’s good hand. If you’re content, you’ll remember that God Himself has a hand in your suffering. Some people complain that God isn’t good or wise in what He does in their lives, and they think they know better than Him how their lives ought to be. But grumbling and complaining is forbidden because it fails to rest in the knowledge of God and receive His comfort and strength.

6. Contentment means that you mustn’t become bitter or angrily lash out at God and others. Some get so deeply angry when trials come into their lives that they lash out at God and others. But God calls you to quietly accept His loving Fatherly rod of discipline.  He kindly calls you to contentment for your own good.

7. Contentment means that you’re not distracted from your God-given duties.  Some are so discontent in their trials that they neglect the responsibilities God gives them in life.  They may begin to neglect family, church, or their job responsibilities because their present circumstances are so full of sorrow.  But this isn’t how a Christian should respond to suffering.  Often it’s by doing what God calls you to do in a disciplined way that you can grow in contentment.

8. Contentment means that you don’t neglect communion with Christ. It’s possible for your fears and anxieties to become so great that you neglect vital union and communion with Jesus. But knowledge of Christ’s love and communion with Him is the very foundation of contentment and the source of peace with God and joy in this fallen world.

9. Contentment doesn’t sink into dark discouragements. The believer who is content in God remembers God’s power and love, that He’s able to rescue sinners, to heal the sick, to make the blind see. God calls us to trust that He will deliver us from our sufferings in His time and in His way, according to His good pleasure.

10. Contentment doesn’t sin to try to get relief from pain. Sometimes when things are particularly dark, Christians are tempted to find comfort in their sin. They look for a sinful escape or distraction from their trials. Or they may be tempted to believe false doctrine as a means of escaping their pain and fostering some false hope of temporal rescue. But Christ would have us to be content in Himself and to flee from sin and heresy.

11. Contentment doesn’t rebel against God. When people are least content, they’re often tempted to shake their fists in God’s face. They blame God and accuse Him for their troubles. They believe the worst of Him for brining trails into their lives. But God only has thoughts of love in everything He does to those who belong to Him.  It isn’t from ill-will that God brings suffering into the lives of His beloved children.

12. Contentment is a grace that spreads through the whole person. That is, a content person’s thoughts, emotions, and will are all content in Christ. Sometimes people have a very hard time even understanding why they should be content in their situation. Other times, they may understand the reasons they should be content, but they have a very hard time actually feeling content. And still other times, people will not act with contentment. True contentment involves the whole man.

13. Contentment comes from within, from the heart. It’s possible for a person to warm up by a fire for awhile, but he gets cold again when he leaves the warmth of the fire. Some people get temporary contentment by surrounding themselves with external arguments, with people, and with circumstances that make them feel content for a little while, but when their circumstances change, their contentment also leaves them. True contentment, however, radiates from within by the Spirit of Christ. Christian contentment isn’t conditioned upon outward circumstances.

14. Contentment is a habitual character of the heart. Someone who has learned to be content has a habit and discipline of bringing his heart into a state of stable and peaceful contentment, even though the world around him is constantly changing. He practices contentment during lesser trials so that he is strong and able to practice contentment during greater trials.

15. Contentment does not come from a naturally sturdy disposition. Some people have a natural ability to stabilize themselves by sheer force of will. They do this by dulling their emotions and distancing themselves from attachments to the world in a stoic way. But true godly contentment is not dull. The source of godly contentment is Christ. It longs for Him, trusts in Him, rejoices in Him, and wants to honor Him in all of life.

16. Contentment submits to God’s sovereign will. A content person bows under God’s sovereign hand and submits to what God has ordained in his life. He acknowledges that God has appointed this hardship in life and so accepts it from God’s hand. A submissive Christian realizes that he is under authority and he does not resist God’s authority.

17. Contentment takes pleasure in God’s sovereign will. Far more than just submitting to God’s will, a content person knows that there must be good in what God has ordained. Burroughs wrote, “I find there is honey in this rock, and so I do not only say, I must, or I will submit to God’s hand. No, the hand of God is good, ‘it is good that I am afflicted.’”

18. Contentment submits to every kind of affliction. For example, some people may be able to submit to God striking their own personal health. But they wouldn’t be able to stand God striking their spouse or their child. True contentment submits to all of God’s wise providences.

19. Contentment submits to God’s time-table of affliction. Some would say, “This affliction has lasted too long. The affliction itself is bearable, but the length of time I’m required to endure this affliction is unbearable.” But true contentment acknowledges that God’s time-table is good and wise.

20. Contentment submits to afflictions when many come at the same time. Some may say, “This one affliction is bearable all by itself, but it has come with so many other trails and troubles at the same time.” One suffering often comes with many other sufferings. But true contentment submits to God’s wisdom in brining more than one kind of affliction at once.

If you’ve made it to the end of this post, and you’re convicted of your own discontentment, as I am of mine, then the law has done its most basic work. The 10th commandment declares: “You shall not covet.” But the law cannot save you or change you. The law, which commands you to be content, has no power to make you content. You can’t simply decide by force of will that you’re going to start keeping the law and become more content.

Rather, you need Jesus. Only a believing sight of Jesus, our glorious Savior, can quiet your heart and make you content. If you are a believer, remember that Christ died for your sin of discontentment. His blood washes you completely clean. His righteousness covers you so that you’re accepted in the courts of heaven before the bar of God’s justice. It’s only by thinking on Christ, His glories, His wisdom, His greatness, and His perfect love for you, that you will be able to grow little by little, more and more, into contentment for your own joy and for the glory God. It’s when you purposely, and in a disciplined way, draw near to Christ from the heart that you can learn to keep God’s law, to be content, and reap the blessings of it.