Monday, October 22, 2012

Hebrews 13:5 - "Challenges and Encouragements on the road to Contentment"

TEXT :  Hebrews  13:5

TITLE: Challenges  and  Encouragements  on the road to Contentment    

Date:  14/10/2012

The letter to the Hebrews is a letter to  a group of  (Hebrew) Christians  who are  tempted to compromise  their faith- this being tantamount to abandoning the gospel. They were tempted to withdraw from the good fight of faith… enticed by the teachings which threaten the uniqueness of Christ ; they are in  danger of squandering  their birthright in order to purchase temporary relief…”. [1] 

At the heart of the letter to the Hebrews   the writer addresses to deep discontentment  that has crept into  the hearts of these Hebrew Christians. Christ  no longer is sufficient  and supreme  in their lives. When  this happens – when  the first love  for  Christ  is lost (see Rev 2:4)  from the heart of the professing Christian, other loves ( called idols) very quickly  take   the place  that  was  His place. John Calvin is right. The human heart is an idol factory (Institutes). Just as nature abhors a vacuum, so the human heart abhors a vacuum. The heart does not remain in neutral. It soon engages another  love. To the Galatians  who had a similar problem, the apostle Paul wrote: “I am  astonished that you are  so quickly deserting Him  who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning  to a different gospel…” (Gal 1:6)

It is against this background that we need to see the closing  exhortations  of the  writer to the Hebrews in Ch. 13, and particularly this one:  “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  (Hebrews 13:5 ESV)

At the heart  of this text  is the  phrase,  be content with what you have”.  On the left side of that   is   an exhortation  and a  warning: “Keep your life free from the love of money”. On the right side is a promise: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Another way  to  say this  is, at the heart  of this text  is the  phrase  be content with what you have”.   On the  left side is    the  cause of that  which makes us discontent  (the love of money)  and on the right hand  is   the  cure for our discontentment  (God’s provision).

The love  of money is  clearly  another  temptation to the Hebrews who were giving up on Christ  and looking for other loves. Here the writer is echoing something of that which Paul has said to Timothy, pastor of the church in Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3) :
But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.  (1 Timothy 6:6-10 ESV).  Advising his  young pastor friend  in many ways, he addresses  the discontentment  of many church members.

The  Hebrew Christians  apparently did not always struggle with  discontentment. Listen to  this:
“But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.”  (Hebrews 10:32-34 ESV)

This  Hebrew Christian group  to whom this letter is addressed  once   had a Christ centered perspective . They had it in the midst of many trials. They had Christ, and  they lived their lives in sacrifice  for others, knowing  that  they had treasures in heaven (Hebr. 10:34 ; Matt 6:19ff). Those were the former days,    BUT now  they were struggling. They were struggling  among many things  to keep their lives free from the love of money, because somewhere, as I suggested earlier, they  had lost perspective of  their greatest treasure,  who is Christ. 

Let us learn from this that yesterday’s  experience of Christ  isn’t sufficient for today! Christ  must  be  continually walked with, relied upon, and spoken to … daily! God help us  a to guard against  a  religion of yesterday!  Hebrews Chapter 2 is  a chapter that warns us against  neglecting our salvation. Yes, it is true that we are saved  by God’s grace  minus any of our own effort. But how do you know that you  are saved, Christian?  You  must walk in obedience to Christ. And that faith is called the “today   faith  (see  Hebr.  3: 8,13,15; 4:7). In this regard I want to warn you in particular  against  living in the past; living on past victories  (i.e.  falling prey to the Elijah syndrome – 1 Kings 17-19)  where the prophet  fought tirelessly against  evil  and overcame by the power of God, but  lapsed into a deep depression – essentially  because  he  was not careful  to keep  God at the center of his perspective.  Satan  knows when to attack you – when you have  experienced spiritual victories, and  when you are tired and vulnerable  and you are off guard. When you are tired it is not time to take a rest  from spiritual vigilance. You must continue to diligently pray, read the Bible and  worship. Otherwise discontentment or disillusionment  will  catch you quicker than you think. 

With these thoughts in mind then  may I present to you  a very real  dilemma  which I am afraid, many of you are  presently facing  with respect to  the love of money.   

Leo Tolstoy  (1828-1910)  a famous  Russian writer of  short stories and novels, wrote a  short story entitled : “How much   land does a man need?” He verbalizes this problem very well. 

The  central character of the story is a peasant named Pahom. He  complains that he does not own enough land. He says:"if I had plenty of land, I shouldn't fear the devil himself!". Unbeknown  to him, Satan is present sitting behind the stove and listening. Satan accepts his challenge and also tells that he would give Pahom more land and then to snatch everything from him.
A  little later, a landlady in the village decides to sell her estate, and the peasants of the village buy as much of that land as they can. Pahom himself purchases some land, and by working off the extra land is able to repay his debts and live a more comfortable life. However, Pahom then becomes very possessive of his land, and this causes arguments with his neighbours. Threats to burn his building began to be uttered.  He decides to sell  and relocate to another commune  with more available land. Here, he can grow even more crops and  so he  makes  more money.   However he has to grow the crops on rented land, which irritates him. After buying and selling a lot of fertile and good land he is eventually  introduced to the Bashkirs,  who own a huge amount of land which they are  willing to sell. Pahom  seeks  to negotiate as much of their land for as low a price as he possibly  can.  Their offer is very unusual.  For a sum of one thousand roubles, Pahom can walk around as large an area as he wants. He  starts at daybreak, marking his route with a spade along the way. If he reaches his starting point by sunset that day, the entire area of  the land which he has marked will be his, but if he does not reach his starting point as the sun goes down,  he will lose his money and receive no land.
He is delighted as he believes that he  has  hit  upon the bargain of a lifetime. That night, Pahom  has a  dream in which he sees himself lying dead  at the feet of the devil, who is laughing.
The day comes. He stays out as late as possible, marking out land until just before the sun sets. Towards the end of the day, he realizes  that he is far from the starting point and runs back as fast as he can to the waiting Bashkirs. He finally arrives at the starting point just as the sun sets, but he has utterly exhausted himself  from the run,  and Pahom drops dead.
His servant buries him in an ordinary grave only six feet long and three feet wide , thus ironically answering the question posed in the title of the story : “How much land does a man need? The writer to the  Hebrews  reminds us : “Be content with what you have.”

Allow me then  to summarize my observations   concerning  the lack of contentment,  as observed   from the  life of the Hebrew Christians  and from this moving story:

1.     Loosing Christ  at the center of you earthly perspective leads  you to seek for other  things  (counterfeit  gods). Tim  Keller in his book “Counterfeit gods“[2]   writes:  “A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living. And idol has such a controlling position in your heart that you can spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought. It can be family and children, or career and making money, or achievement and critical acclaim, or saving “face” and social standing. It can be a romantic relationship, peer approval, competence and skill, secure and comfortable circumstances, your beauty or your brains, a great political or social cause, your morality and virtue, or even success in the Christian ministry. When your meaning in life is to fix someone else’s life, we may call it “codependency” but it is really idolatry. An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel significant and secure.”

2. The end of the story is that your idols (who   stir up continued discontentment) will kill you and  they will leave  dead  at the  feet of the devil, who will be laughing !

   Which side  of the  statement “Be content with what you have “ are you on?
           On the left side ? “Keep your life free from the love of money
           On the right side ? “… for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 

Diagnostic Questions
        1. What do you presently  have in your hand?  Is it really not enough? 
        2. What are you chasing,   and why is it causing you to be breathless  and exhausted, robbing you of your joy and contentment in the Lord?
       3. Is Christ  not sufficient for your needs,   or is He? Answer this question honestly  (if necessary, use  Keller’s checklist again), and then read Matthew  6:25-34  . 

[1] Philip  Edgecombe Hughes : Hebrews, p.12/13
[2] Intro p.18

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