Contentment is a rare thing. We are bombarded by a myriad of multi-billion dollar advertising campaigns that reach into every nook and cranny of our conscious lives. These campaigns have saturated our senses with images and taglines all carefully designed to breed discontentment to fuel sales.
And so, whatever device or vehicle or shoe or item of clothing we have or holiday we had is quickly superseded by a new one we now desire.
Against this background, from prison, Paul’s statement strikes a stark contrast;
“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” (Philippians 4:11-12)
Wow! As we have seen before in Philippians, it is the “whatever” that makes this sentence remarkable. It is easy to be content in good situations or in blessed situations – therefore ‘whatever’ is code for being content in bad situations.
Before you rock back and think this is impossible for me, note that Paul wrote that this had been a process for him. He had ‘learned’ how to be content in whatever situation he found himself in. This was something he had grown in as he followed Jesus.
How content are you at the moment? What is causing you to experience discontentment? Not just materially, but in the stage of life, you are in?
How might God want you to grow, to learn to be content in that situation? How might God want to mature you, or grow your character in the situation you are in right now?
Paul could testify that he had learnt to be content in plenty and in lack – but how? What was his secret?
13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
The secret Paul had learnt, was to tap into the empowering presence of God in all circumstances in his life. God, in him, was enough. The awareness of God’s presence with him was the single biggest X-factor that enabled him to endure all things with contentment.
It’s not written here outright, but the sub-text of this section is Paul’s underlying resolute trust in the sovereignty of God. He believed that God had either brought about the circumstances he was presently facing or God had allowed them to happen – God was not having any crisis meetings to work out what to do next; instead the plan and purpose of God was relentlessly moving forward even when he could not understand it or see how it was doing so.
We see this belief and trust in his statement in vs19 and his worship in vs20.
19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen
There were many instances in the Old Testament when the prophet of God spoke in harsh words of God’s righteous judgement against a foreign nation or king for their rejection of God or injustices.
Many times, the subject of the prophecy wasn’t in fact in earshot of the words of God, but God’s people were. And because of the way God’s word works and always accomplishes that which God intended it to (Isaiah 55:8-11), it didn’t even matter if King Cyrus or Nebuchadnezzar or Pharoah could hear God’s word of judgement. Nothing could stop what God had proclaimed against them (Isaiah 43:13).
When God spoke through the prophet against the wickedness of a foreign king, within the earshot of God’s people, they had the opportunity to hear who God is, what God is like & what He will not leave unpunished. And so when they overheard God’s judgements of foreigners, they had an opportunity to reform their ways, adjust their lives & thinking to God’s revealed will.
But what does that have to do with James 5:1-6 though I hear you ask?
Well James is a little like an Old Testament prophet at times, he speaks the truth in agitated and urgent ways, his words cut to the heart, not to hurt but expose our hearts to reform them.
And just like the Old Testament prophets sometimes spoke in terms of judgement towards those, not in the room. Similarly, James here is writing to Christians speaking in judgement to unsaved people who will face the wrath of God for their wicked ways.
I say this because we who are Christ Followers will not face the wrath of God for our sin because Jesus paid for our sin. The believer has no fear of punishment to come – we will regret that we did not respond more wholeheartedly in this life to God’s gift to us but ought not to have any fear of condemnation – Romans 8:1.
But as we listen in to James scathing pronouncement of the judgement of God on those who have not put their faith in Jesus – we can learn about God, we can be sensitised to the things that please and displease our Father in Heaven (Ephesians 5:10). And because we listened in, we can repent if any of these things are still resident in us so that we can change to be more pleasing to God our Father.
So what can we listen in on, to find out what pleases & displeases our Father in James 5:1-6?
1. Humility (vs1) – wealth tends to pride (1 Timothy 6:17). Trust in self. Here James calls for humble contrition & reflection. May we be humble, contrite & thinking about today in light of eternity!
2. Temporary vs eternal, hoarding vs investing (vs2-3) – the things of this life are passing away, are not eternal. Thinking short and not long is foolishness in the extreme. Jesus advised us to store up for ourselves riches in heaven where moth and rust can’t destroy them (Matthew 6:19-24). We are not to hoard wealth for ourselves here on earth; we are not to functionally be putting our trust in our wealth, which is so uncertain but to be ‘rich in good works’, ‘generous & ready to share’ thus investing for ourselves treasure for eternity! (see 1 Timothy 6:17-19).
3. Injustice (vs4&6) – God hates injustice. God always sides with; God will defend the marginalised, the abused & the downtrodden. Wealth = power in this present life and the rich use their power to control people, use their power to use people to enrich themselves further. Here James warns us strongly about such injustices as not paying proper wages to those who work for us – the Lord of hosts hears the cries of injustice from the poor and the righteous (vs6), and He will act on their behalf. So, how are you treating anyone who works for you? The Lord of hosts is watching, sees everything. Does anything need to change?
4. Self-indulgent Comfort (vs5) – the god of this age is comfort. So much of our technology serves our god of comfort and convenience. We live in an age where food is no longer primarily about nutrition but has been turned into art & recreation & entertainment we watch! Jesus’ parable in Luke 16:19-31 warns us about living self-indulgently while ignoring the plight of those around us.
In South Africa, these verses are even more relevant than in some other contexts. We have a dark, sad history of injustice and oppression of disempowered people and the lingering legacy of that corrupt system of Apartheid. And we have a continuing story of injustice and corruption with the widespread abuse of power for personal gain at the expense of the poor, that we have witnessed since 1995.
If you are a believer, have you truly repented of the sins of our nation and have you acknowledged how you might have benefitted from that injustice and still benefit today? Do not the cries of the poor in our nation with its excessive levels of inequality come before the Lord of hosts?
Are you using whatever wealth or possessions you might have in such a way that results in much good to others, are you rich in good works, are you generous and ready to share? (1 Timothy 6:18)
If you are, you are godly & you are 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 Timothy 6:19).
May I urge you to listen in, to James’ scathing rebuke of rich ungodly wicked people, and in so doing may you and I know more about what matters to our Father who is in heaven, and may we live to please Him in these things.
Consider for a moment the interaction between the young ruler and Jesus and what God is saying to you from it.
Who is Jesus?
The young man addressed Jesus as “Good Teacher” as he asked his question. Jesus, however, resisted. Wouldn’t let the man limit to his own ‘little box’ he’d made for Jesus. Jesus is the majestic Lord of all, almighty God, ruler & creator of the universe, Lion of the Tribe of Judah… You can’t just choose yourself who He is in your life.
You see, Either Jesus really is God or He is not. If He is God then it follows that we MUST SURELY obey Him explicitly in ALL of life. However, if He isn’t God then really don’t bother with anything about him ever again.
Good news not good advice
The young man’s question exposed that he didn’t understand the gospel, he was legalistic and religious. He wanted to know what more he could DO to inherit eternal life. He was focussed on his moral performance thinking that was what God required from Him. He was looking for GOOD ADVICE from Jesus, ‘what more can I DO to please God enough to earn eternal life?’.
Jesus’ response was designed to expose the futility in that thinking. Go and keep all the commandments, and then give away everything you have to the poor! With man this is impossible, Jesus said later on. It is impossible to obey all the commandments fully and to have the right heart that God requires – no one can do it (Romans 3:10-12), no one. That’s why Jesus came to earth, to do what we can’t do!
That’s why the gospel is GOOD NEWS not GOOD ADVICE. It is not information about something we should DO, or something more we should DO (which is what the young man was asking). The gospel is the GOOD NEWS of what Jesus has already DONE for us in our place because with us this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.
Thank you Jesus for the good news of the gospel!
Letting go to lay hold
Lastly from this passage we see that the young man sadly could not loosen his grasp on his possessions and money, couldn’t let go of what his security and pleasure was founded on and so went away – ‘disheartened’ (Mark 10:22).
You, can’t hold onto Jesus truly unless you let go of what you’re holding onto first! We can’t simply add Jesus to the rest of our lives, following Jesus means laying down of everything in our lives at a heart level – giving it all up to lay hold of Jesus, trusting that Jesus is worthy of that level of devotion and trusting that Jesus is good and will reward those who do lay it all down for Him.
The magnitude of our response reveals the extent of our comprehension.
Jesus tells two parables in Matthew 13:44-46, that both have something of great worth which is hidden. The treasure was hidden in the field, the pearl is hidden within an oyster’s shell in the ocean.
In both parables the object of great worth is found, is discovered, is uncovered and it’s true revealed value then dictates what happens next…
The value of the discovery of the treasure/pearl is so great that it is worth selling everything in both instances! More than this it is worthy of great joy even in the sale of everything in the case of the treasure in the field.
So, the two individuals who sell everything when they discover the item of great value are not being sacrificial they are being prudent and wise because they have truly comprehended the value of the item in question.
Imagine you somehow knew with absolute certainty that if you bought a certain numbered ticket in a very very prestigious competition in which the tickets cost R500 000 each but the prize was 5 Billion rands, you would not be unwise to sell your house to afford the ticket, you’d be unwise to not act on the certain information you had at your disposal.
Similarly, the magnitude of our response reveals the true extent of our comprehension regarding God and His kingdom.
Those who have not seen the infinite value of following Jesus wholeheartedly will not lay down all other things, will not prioritise the church and God’s mission, will not relinquish their own agendas in this present and temporary life so as to lay hold of God’s greater and eternal plan for their lives!
The degree to which we wholeheartedly unreservedly give our lives for the cause of Christ through His church reveals the degree to which we have truly seen or not seen the infinite value and treasure of Jesus and living for His kingdom and His will in and through our lives.
May I, may we, keep seeing with greater and greater clarity the inexpressible value of our relationship with Jesus Christ and may we therefore live lives that are worthy of what we have seen! Amen.
By Gareth Bowley
This is a perplexing parable that speaks about the link between this present life and eternity (Luke 16:1-13)
In my previous post “Jesus, You said what?” I encouraged us to not be put off by perplexing, difficult or challenging passages but to be drawn in by them and to ask questions that help us to hear our Father speaking to us from them.
So let’s ask some questions;
What questions does it address, ask or answer?
This parable speaks to the relationship between this present life and eternity (vs 9&11) and that we will be held accountable for our actions (vs2). We will be held to account, God as the owner cares about how we steward the resources entrusted to us.
Specifically, this parable links our present management or stewardship of God’s resources in this life to eternity (vs9-12). Like this guy – for us there is a time of stewardship (our life) during which we should use wisely the time and resources we have at our disposal, before our term of stewardship is done and they are no longer any use to us.
This parable also speaks about our relationship to money & possessions – we are managers/stewards, not owners. When it comes to money/possessions, we big idea is that in this world we are managers/stewards not owners with regard to money/posessions.
Finally, this parable speaks about our time on earth and that it is finite. There is a day when we will no longer be able to make the decisions we do still get to make still today, before that day that either we die or the day on which Jesus returns.
What tension/mystery does this text create or resolve?
Why does Jesus’ parable ‘honour’ this ignoble manager? Why is a dishonest person being commended?
In what way did this dishonest manager act that is worthy of being called shrewd? He knows that he is about to loose his job, loose control of the wealth he manages for the owner, but he still has this moment in the present while he is still manager and he knows he can act now in ways that will affect his future.
This is what he is commended for, having a future perspective that changed his life now in the present, changed his actions now. In the same way, one thing is certain in every man’s future: his ‘dismissal’ from his present sphere into the unknown regions of eternity. We too are managers/stewards now, we too are wise if we use the possessions under our control for the purpose of affecting the future while we still can.
The tension here is that Jesus can’t be commending the dishonesty in the manager, he is commended surely his forward thinking which affected his present actions, because in contrast to the manager, Jesus’ followers must not be dishonest, must not use the money they steward for God unrighteously, but like the manager they must use their money in such a way that they prepare for their future life, while they still can.
What does this text say about God, myself or others?
God cares about how we utilise the money/resources entrusted to us.
I have a finite period of time here on this earth, after which there will be a time to give account for how I utilised the resources entrusted to me.
What should I do now as a result?
Do I see myself as an owner of my money or as a manager/steward of God’s money?
How can I best use the worldly wealth (be it little or lots!) God has entrusted to me in order to hear God’s ‘well done’ on the day when I give an account?
How can I use what’s been entrusted to me to gain eternal friends for myself in heaven?
Thank you Jesus for this perplexing parable!
This seemingly bewildering parable addresses questions concerning eternity, money & possessions.
Although this parable is perplexing at times, it helps to remember that parables are truths wrapped in story form. There is normally a single truth or big idea that’s being communicated…
Just as in the secular parable about the boy crying “wolf”, the detail (where he was, what he was wearing….) is not essential, the big idea is. So to this is helpful in understanding parables…
So what is the big idea?
I think there are two in this story:
1) We are managers/stewards and not owners.
2) This life is a test that impacts eternity
We are stewards not owners
This changes everything! “Our money” is not our money after all, and so we are not free to use money as we choose but rather need to consider the wishes of God who owns all things including the money held in our trust for Him.
This life is a test that affects eternity
We are managers/stewards of God’s resources (time, money, skills….) and we should use those resources wisely while we still can, to effect eternity.
The manager in this parable knows that his days as manager are about to end, and so he does what he can while he still can to effect his future and Jesus calls this shrewd or wise.
He knows that he is about to loose his job, loose control of the wealth of the owner, but he still has this moment in the present while still manager that can affect his future.
This is what he is commended for, having a future perspective that changed his life now in the present, changed his actions now.
In the same way, one thing is certain for all of us, at an hour unknown we will be ‘dismissed’ from his present realm into eternity.
Just like the manager who had limited time before his dismissal, we too can only effect eternity in the present and so we are wise to use what God has entrusted to us now in such a way that impacts our eternity positively.
“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
This life is a test in that our faithfulness as stewards of God’s resources now will determine what God entrusts to us eternally.
The thing with this test is we don’t know when the trumpet will sound and all pens will have to be put down… In that moment nothing else will be able to be done, how we lived will then determine eternal reward (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Matthew Henry said; ‘live everyday as if it were your last day’. There’s no time like the present to live as a good, wise manager of God’s resources.