“…I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” - Philippians 4:11
Contentment. It’s a pearl of inestimable value. Yet it often feels like like a desert mirage - looming, but never within reach. I’m going to begin a series of blogs on the topic and today we begin with the apostle Paul’s words in Philippians.
“…I have learned…” The word choice indicates the difficulty involved in finding contentment. It doesn’t come naturally. I didn’t have to teach my kids how to sin. Sin comes naturally. Contentment does not. Contentment is learned. Sin requires little effort. Contentment requires much grace-driven effort.
I’ve often heard the question: why is spiritual growth so hard? The answer is simple: spiritual growth is against nature. We are by nature sinful and objects of wrath (Eph. 2:3). The art of divine contentment, a spiritual thing, runs against this nature.
The first lesson: contentment does not come naturally; we have to work at it.
I am prone to melancholy. I'm not sure why. It's just one of my struggles. I guess that's one of the reasons I so easily identify with another preacher who struggled with it as well. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was a pastor in England from the 1930's-1960's. When I read his book Spiritual Depression, I was both grateful and regretful for not having it earlier.
He writes: “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?…You must take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, you have to preach to yourself, question yourself…then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done and what God has pledged Himself to do.”
This is me! When melancholy strikes, if you could hear my thoughts you would hear me thinking a lot about me and the threats around me. "What did 'so and so' mean by that?" "I wonder what they think about me?" "I know I really messed that up." I am the main character of this story. When I make myself the main character of the story, I create ideal growing conditions for melancholy.
Instead, I need to learn to preach to myself rather than listen to myself. The Psalmist does this so clearly for us:
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God (Psalm 42:5-6).
Do you see the writer taking himself in hand and preaching to himself rather than listening to himself? This forces us to make God the main character of the story unfolding in our heads. This is the only way to joy. Rather than focusing on what's wrong with me or "those people," we need to focus on what's right with Jesus.
"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things" (Php. 4:8).
It’s no secret that one of the predominant cultural attitudes towards sex lives by the motto “if it feels good, do it.” But sexual license isn’t just from the Woodstock era. It has mutated to form dozens of strands: bi-sexuality, same-sex sexual intimacy, transgenderism, and more. The pervasiveness of sexual license hasn’t been part of the ambient culture since the dawn of time. So how did we get here?
Andrew Walker wrote an incredibly helpful book entitled, God and the Transgender Debate, in which he isolates numerous “streams” that flow into transgenderism. But these “streams”, as he puts it, aren’t just salient for the issue of gender dysphoria, they are pertinent to the issue of sexual license altogether.
Stream #1: Relativism
Within Christian circles, relativism used to be one of the most frequently used words. It’s not now. Not because the notion of relativism has disappeared, but because it’s the air we breathe. Relativism is the idea that truth is relative. What’s wrong for one person may not be wrong for another. Relativism rejects the idea that there is a right way to understand the world.
Stream #2: Post-Christendom
By almost all statistical analyses, Christianity is in decline in the West. That is, Christianity’s cultural influence is diminishing. Church attendance is dwindling and with it biblical illiteracy is on the rise. So if the only truth is that there isn’t one truth and fewer people are falling under the influence of biblical Christianity, the question then becomes: who’s “truth” will govern?
Stream #3: Radical Individualism
Walker states, “What an individual wills or wants is the highest good…” Radical individualism is the inevitable result of relativism. This is why the statement “don’t judge me” may be the only acceptable doctrine.
Stream #4: Sexual Revolution
Sexual fulfillment is the highest good. Two rather predictable results of the sex as the highest good are declining marriage rates and escalating divorce rates. Sexual fulfillment as the highest good doesn’t require marriage nor does it require faithfulness to a spouse.
Stream #5: Gnosticism
Gnosticism is an ancient idea. It teaches that our self-awareness is more important than our true selves. That is, who we think we are may not be the same thing as who we really are and who we think we are or who we want to be is what counts.
When relativism, post-Christendom, radical individualism, sexual revolution, and gnosticism all merge, the result isn’t surprising. Walker sums up these five streams nicely, “And all this means there are two unforgivable sins…The first is to judge someone else. The second is to fail to fulfill your desires.”