Reflections – 2019.11

Glorifying God: Contentment

The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

– Westminster Shorter Catechism

For one to be content when he is in heaven is no wonder; but to be content under the cross is like a Christian.

– Thomas Watson, from A Body of Divinity

Paul is running down a list of his adventures in his second letter to the Corinthians.  He comments: “Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.  Three times I was beaten with rods.  Once I was stoned.  Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.  And apart from these things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” He goes on to say, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

My adventure list would likely be a bit less interesting than Paul’s.  Maybe yours would be too.  It is possible that the dangers are not any less real for us – the Scriptures speak of the devil prowling around like a roaring lion and of the world hating us and of the need to put off sinful ways – sometimes we have a sense of this, sometimes less so.   But I am struck with that phrase “I am content” … Contentment is difficult to come by in our world.  As Watson points out, if things are going real well (“when he is in heaven”), contentment is natural – who doesn’t like a “good day”!  But it is when things are awful that contentment is a challenge.  And yet Watson points out that this is what a Christian is like.  We see that with Paul.  We see that with Jesus.  Jesus never resented His suffering or just resigned Himself to it (“it is what it is”), He willingly took it all on, even the painful and shameful death on the cross, that God would be glorified in the salvation of sinners.  Jesus was content in His weakness, i.e., He was strong in His weakness, even as He is content now in His exaltation and reign.

Maybe the most important phrase for us and the secret of contentment comes right before Paul’s statement about being content, where he says “For the sake of Christ …”  If I am living for the sake of me, then I will not be content in difficulty.  How could I be?  I can only be disappointed because “me” would be struggling – sad, angry, frustrated.  But if the glory of God is my goal, if I do everything “for the sake of Christ”, then the perspective with which I will view difficulty will change. I will see that my weaknesses allow the strength that God provides to shine in me.  I will need to be leaning heavily on Christ and not on my own strength.  My vision will also begin to be of Jesus Himself, suffering for His people.  Out of gratitude for the benefits He has secured for us through His suffering, I will begin to grow in my willingness to suffer “for the sake of Christ.”   Contentment, then, is the fruit of looking at all things through this “for the sake of Christ” lens.

As the one with the “daily pressure on me of my anxiety” for Living Hope, I would desire that we all learn contentment – not “it is what it is” resignation – but contentment … the joy of living “for the sake of Christ” whether we find ourselves “in heaven” or “under the cross.”  And as we learn to be content, may God be glorified.