Thursday, June 11, 2015

What Does it Mean to be Content?

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

Greed is one of the most deadly corruptions of the heart.  The Bible speaks in many places giving warning about greed.  A very important commandment God speaks, the tenth commandment:

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”  (Exodus 20:17)

This commandment is in the negative form.  God commands that a human being, created in the image and the likeness of God, must not covet other people’s belongings.  Such desire is forbidden.  It leads to jealousy, envy, and then rage, and then murder, and all the terrible sinful acts.  The corrupted soul of man is twisted in such a way that often it is robbed of compassion of others.  Its love of self is too big that it blocks one’s heart to love others.  In the end, the blinded soul cares only for the self, even if it means the detriment of others.  And greed takes advantage of this crookedness, so even a worthless item could prompt someone to eliminate others just to own that worthless piece.  There is this story of King Ahab and Naboth which is recorded in 1 Kings 21.  Ahab’s greed got the best of him, and Jezebel helped him eliminating Naboth just to own the vineyard the King coveted so much:
1Now Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. And after this Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house, and I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money.” But Naboth said to Ahab, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.” And Ahab went into his house vexed and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him, for he had said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.” And he lay down on his bed and turned away his face and would eat no food.
But Jezebel his wife came to him and said to him, “Why is your spirit so vexed that you eat no food?” And he said to her, “Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, ‘Give me your vineyard for money, or else, if it please you, I will give you another vineyard for it.’ And he answered, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.’ ” And Jezebel his wife said to him, “Do you now govern Israel? Arise and eat bread and let your heart be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”
So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal, and she sent the letters to the elders and the leaders who lived with Naboth in his city. And she wrote in the letters, “Proclaim a fast, and set Naboth at the head of the people. 10 And set two worthless men opposite him, and let them bring a charge against him, saying, ‘You have cursed God and the king.’ Then take him out and stone him to death.” 11 And the men of his city, the elders and the leaders who lived in his city, did as Jezebel had sent word to them. As it was written in the letters that she had sent to them, 12 they proclaimed a fast and set Naboth at the head of the people. 13 And the two worthless men came in and sat opposite him. And the worthless men brought a charge against Naboth in the presence of the people, saying, “Naboth cursed God and the king.” So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death with stones. 14 Then they sent to Jezebel, saying, “Naboth has been stoned; he is dead.”
15 As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, Jezebel said to Ahab, “Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money, for Naboth is not alive, but dead.” 16 And as soon as Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab arose to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.  (1 Kings 21:1-16)

Long before Ahab and Jezebel did what they did, David too did something similar.  He committed adultery with Bathsheba and then out of fear that his sin would be known because she was pregnant and Uriah her husband refused to lie with her, David took matter in his own hand by plotting to murder Uriah so he could save his self and then took Bathsheba as his wife.  So the prophet Nathan was sent to him to rebuke him:

1And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.
Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ (2 Samuel 12:1-10)

David answered correctly, that the man who did such thing must die.  He thought he was not the man.  As long as the self was protected, then it was safe to pass judgment.  It was the right judgment.  The person who did what Nathan said ought to be put to death according to the law of God.  Then it was time for Nathan to reveal to David that he was the man.  Covet had taken over.  It had led David to do terrible things.  The same thing befell Ahab and Jezebel.  Innocent people suffer because of greed.

            The book of Hebrews reminds its readers that the love of money is dangerous.  It imprisons man’s soul, and blinds the heart of what is noble.  So the advice is to be content with what one has.  Here is the exact quote: “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have.”  This advice is in its positive form.  Combine the negative command and the positive advice, we got a complete wisdom.  Combine “do not covet” and “be content” and we will have a strong foundation for a dignified life.  And the author of Hebrews provides the reasoning for being content: “for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.  God has said that he will never leave nor forsake us.  That is the guarantee.  God knows what we need.  He provides for us.  God is good.  Jesus teaches in Matthew 6:25-33:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

The key for not coveting is to be content.  And the key to be content is to trust God.  Faith is the foundation for life in dignity.  And this is what the apostle Paul testified:

11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for 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. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.  (Philippians 4:11-13)

What a wonderful testimony this is.  All Christians can do all things through God who strengthens us.  The saying is true that God never leaves us nor forsakes us.  Paul knew what poverty was.  Paul also knew what living in abundance was.  But his soul was not tossed back and fro.  He stood in dignity.  Whether in poverty or in abundance, his soul remained content.  He did not covet others’ possessions or comfort when he was in poverty.  When he was in abundance, he did not become arrogant.  In either condition, he praised the Lord.  He was content.  And his contentment was in the Lord.  He did not rest his comfort on the physical world.  But he rested it in the Lord himself.  So he confidently instructed Timothy:

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. 10 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)

The basic wisdom that every wise person in the world knows is that “we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. The story of the funeral of Alexander the Great written by Paul Lee Tan:

Alexander the Great, we are told, being upon his deathbed, commanded that, when he was carried forth to the grave, his hands should not be wrapped, as was usual, in the gravecloths, but should be left outside the bier, so that all men might see them, and might see that they were empty; that there was nothing in them. He was born to one empire, and the conqueror of another; the possessor while he lived, of two worlds, of the East, and of the West, and of the treasures of both, yet now when he was dead could retain not even the smallest portion of these treasures. The poorest beggar and he were at length upon equal terms.[1]

Not even an emperor as great as Alexander could bring anything into the next life.  Listen to the warning given by one of the greatest kings ever lived on earth, Solomon:

13 There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, 14 and those riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand. 15 As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. 16 This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind? 17 Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger.  (Ecclesiastes 5:13-17)

This wisdom is precious.  Solomon knew this truth.  Regardless of how rich he was, none of his wealth he could bring into his next life.  The toil, the suffering, the pain, even the worry for great wealth, all comes to nothing.  Death seals one’s fate.  And Jesus speaks of a parable about this:

15 And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” ’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”  (Luke 12:15-21)

So Paul said that “if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. The provision of the basic need is to be the reason for contentment.  And God provides these basic needs of food and clothing.  The problem in this depraved world is that the heart of man is greedy.  It desires more.  When the basic need is provided for, the heart wants the secondary to be fulfilled.  When the secondary is attained, the heart demands the tertiary.  And this cycle goes on never ending.  For Paul the cycle ends in the primary.  So his heart was content.  Then Paul gave the important warning to be heeded by every single soul in this planet:

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. 10 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. 

The heart of man is corrupted.  Its desire is wild.  And ever since the fall, man has always had the desire to be rich.  Wealth becomes a deep longing in one’s heart.  One sleeps with this longing.  One wakes up with this longing.  One eats and drinks with this longing.  One dreams of this longing.  The entire life is filled with the desire to attain the wealthy status.  In this world, to become rich and to maintain it one often has to do so many bad things.  In order to achieve riches, one often has to compromise his ethical standard and principle.  Money makes people sell their integrity.  Once the integrity is sold, he can’t get it back.  It is a slippery slope, leading down to ruin and destruction.  Look at Ahab and Jezebel.  Look at the rich fool in Jesus’ parable.  Look even at Judas Iscariot, the betrayer, one who sold an innocent man, the savior of the world, for thirty pieces of silver coin.  Heed these words by the Proverbs:

28Whoever trusts in his riches will fall,
but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf.  (Proverbs 11:28)

1A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
and favor is better than silver or gold.  (Proverbs 22:1)
4Do not toil to acquire wealth;
be discerning enough to desist.
5When your eyes light on it, it is gone,
for suddenly it sprouts wings,
flying like an eagle toward heaven.  (Proverbs 23:4-5)

Even the secular world too knows how fleeting riches is.  The desire to be rich leads people astray.  But yet its lure is great.  For many people, money is extremely appealing that they would do anything to get it.  Take a look at some of the wisdom from Confucius from the Analects of Confucius book 4:

"The scholar who is intent upon learning the right way, and who is yet ashamed of poor attire and poor food, is not worthy of being discoursed with.”

"Where there is habitual going after gain, there is much ill-will.”

"Men of loftier mind manifest themselves in their equitable dealings; small-minded men in their going after gain.”

The Book of Hebrews says: “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have. This is true freedom.  The love of money binds people into slavery.  It tortures the soul.  It keeps the mind at the lowest level.  It deceives people into focusing their entire energy for gaining profit.  Day and night being enslaved by money.  If the goal is not reached, they would be depressed.  Trying to figure out what’s wrong, what mistakes they made, and so on.  If the business failed, they are destitute, because they have devoted all their life into it, and even trespassing some ethical lines.  Flee from the love of money, all of you.  It is a trap.  Once it traps you, it would be a pain to get out.

            This greed thing is one of the easiest to be overlooked.  People often excuse themselves of being greed as long as they gain massive wealth.  They cover the evil tendency of greed with their pride of hard work and street smart skill.  And they boast of their great wealth that they have acquired.  Many simple people too desire to be like them.  And so they start learning the crooked way, and call it smart.  So they hide behind their achievement to permit themselves to commit sin after sin for the sake of attaining riches.  Once they step into this domain, they got sucked into this whirlwind of chaos, and in order to survive they have to play the game.  They quickly become exhausted, but yet they have to keep running, or be destroyed.  But people hide this stress from their fellows, citing their pride of hard work and street smartness.  Pretty soon they have adapted to this chaos, and it becomes their way of life.  Once it becomes their way of life, it then has formed the mind, character, and soul.  Once the soul is shaped according to this “love of money” disposition, everything else that is of greater value than wealth is no longer important for them.  Observe this event of Jesus encountering a young rich man:

16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.  23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”  (Matthew 19:16-24)

Wealth, once it is on hand, is hard to let go.  Even if what is at stake is eternal life.  This rich young man was facing such dilemma.  And he could not let go of his possession.  He chose wealth over eternal life.  This is Jesus’ teaching on treasure:

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  (Matthew 6:19-21)

Certainly the heart of the rich young man was on his earthly treasure.  For him, his treasure was on earth.  He did not value heaven as much as he valued earth.  So he left Jesus in sadness because he was so wealthy.

            The teaching of the Scripture does not condemn people who are rich.  For certainly riches and wealth come from God.  Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 5:19: “19 Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God.”  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph were filthy rich.  David and Solomon too were so rich, and they were on top of the world.  No, God does not condemn the rich.  But he gives warning, because wealth, riches, and money, have their seductive power to deceive the heart of man.  Greed is sown through them.  If we are not careful, money will steal that throne in our heart, and it will become our master.  And that would set up slavery, with us being the slaves.  So, be content my friends.  Trust in the Lord.  He is our shepherd.  He provides what we need.  Jesus testifies in Matthew 6:31-32 saying: “31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. So trust in him!

1The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
(Psalm 23:1)

[1] Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc., 1996), 1547.

No comments: