God's Gift of Contentment

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“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).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
A couple who had lived in the same house for 30 years grew tired of their surroundings. “Let’s sell and move!” they decided. So they listed their house with a realtor, who wrote an elaborate listing. Before the agent posted it, however, she showed the listing to them. It was a glowing description, noting the excellent location, solid brick exterior, comfortable rooms, large lot, and many other valuable features. The couple looked at each other. “On second thought,” they said, “we really are happy here. I’m not sure we would be content in another home.”
This couple learned an important lesson about contentment. Contentment is not found in what we have, but rather by how we look at things. Nothing had changed in their lives. It was still the same old house of which they had grown tired. It was the same old house they had begun to take for granted. But when they saw it in a different light, they noticed all of its valuable features, and realized it was perfectly capable of bringing them contentment.
Regarding contentment, St. Paul writes: “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, 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).
St. Paul contrasts the way of godliness with the way of the world. True godliness is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ together with the kind of life that faith produces. This brings joy and satisfaction and contentment—the opposite of dissatisfaction and greed and covetousness.
Coveting is desiring something to which you have no right, craving something that belongs to someone else. Covetousness is at the heart of sins against all the commandments. Therefore, it is fitting that it is addressed by the last (two) commandment(s) because it deals with the inner attitude, which leads to violations of all the others. As Jesus said, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Mt. 15:19).
Covetousness is rooted in our basic human selfishness. We want what we want, when we want it, and we don’t care who gets hurt or left out in the process. Happiness is our right, and we will get it. And since our society has come to identify the pursuit of happiness with the pursuit of possessions, we think we will be happy if we just have one more thing. We recognize this pursuit in young children. Buy them a new toy, and they are bored with it after a few hours. We recognize it in others and call it “keeping up with the Joneses.” We recognize it in ourselves that it seems like “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”
The recognition of the pursuit for possessions or for pleasure is not peculiar to Christianity. The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus put it this way: “If you want to make a man happy, add not to his possessions but take away from his desires.” Some religions try to shut off all human desires. It’s the solution offered by ancient Stoicism, by Buddhism, by ascetism, by New Age mysticism.  But desire, in itself, is not evil. God built desires into our very being. In fact, God Himself has many desires. The psalmist writes of God: “Behold, You desire truth in the inward being, and You teach me wisdom in the secret heart” (Psalm 51:6).
God speaks of His own desires throughout Scripture. Through the prophet Hosea, God announces: “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (6:6). And God states His desire for us through Isaiah: “My word… will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (55:11).
Yes, God is filled with desires—healthy, helpful desires—and He desires the same for us. Through St. James, the Holy Spirit speaks of “the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:20). Through St. Paul, he urges the Corinthians to “eagerly desire the greater gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:31); “eagerly desire spiritual gifts” (1 Corinthians 14:1); “eagerly desire to prophesy” (1 Corinthians 14:39). And he tells Timothy: “Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, [that is, a pastor] he desires a noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1).
Desiring something isn’t necessarily wrong. Desiring becomes a problem when we yearn for something that is not God pleasing. In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul makes this differentiation: “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires” (Romans 8:5, NIV).
We cross over that thin line between acceptable and unacceptable desiring when we covet, when we want something that is not intended for us or is available only at someone else’s loss or expense. Coveting is like a cancer. It sucks away our peace and contentment. Coveting makes us greedy for more, and discontent with what we have. When we covet, our will displaces God’s will for our lives. God tells us not to covet because He wants us to be satisfied with what He gives us.
In our Lord’s parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:16-21), the farmer was not wrong to produce a huge harvest. He was not wrong to build big barns to store them. He was wrong to call them “my crops,” “my grain” and “my goods.” As Jesus says in the parable, “The land of the rich man produced plentifully.” It was God who had blessed him. God entrusted the crops, the grain, and the goods to him. God trusted that he would use these blessings properly. They were not given for his selfish enjoyment but were gifts to use with responsibility and accountability. Instead, the rich man thought only of himself, only about having more. He was looking for contentment in the wealth he amassed for himself. He did not think of the needs of others and of God’s kingdom. He said to himself, “You have ample goods laid up for many years, relax, eat, drink, and be merry.”
The man wasn’t wrong to retire. He wasn’t wrong to “be merry.” And it certainly wasn’t wrong for him to be rich. But God wanted so much more for him. And God wants so much more for you and me. The rich man desired the wrong thing. He coveted what was foolish and temporary and selfish. “'God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” He foolishly forgot that he would one day have to give an account of his stewardship to God. Jesus concludes the parable by saying, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
The man was not wrong to desire wealth. He was wrong to covet. He was wrong to think that he had a right to it… that it was his to do with as he pleased. His life was focused on the wrong goal. When our lives have the wrong center, when we are focused on the wrong goal, we are tempted to covet what belongs to our neighbor—what the Ninth and Tenth Commandments warn against.
As Luther explains the Ninth Commandment, “We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house, or get it in a way which only appears right.” And the Tenth Commandment, “We should fear and love God so that we do not entice or force away our neighbor’s wife, workers, or animals, or turn them against him.” As in the other Commandments, the accent is on the positive attitude of serving one’s neighbor. We should “help and be of service to him.” We should “urge them to stay and do their duty.”
The foolish rich man in the parable had gained the whole world but lost his own soul. His desire was for the things of this world. St. John writes, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15).
What do you eagerly desire in life? Where is your focus? What proceeds from your heart? Where are you looking for happiness? Whom or what are you trying to serve? Do you live for others? What is your ambition and passion in life? Are your energies directed toward helping and serving others?
Too often we do not recognize or want to admit when we have crossed over the line from wanting something to coveting. So God has given us the Law to show us His will. St. Paul writes in Romans 7:7: “Yet if it had not been for the Law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the Law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’”
In his explanation to the 9th and 10th Commandments in the Large Catechism, Martin Luther says God gave these two commandments to ensure His people know that it is sinful not only to steal, but also to desire something that is not ours. These commandments are not broken with the hand or the mouth but with the heart. Like all the commandments, these commandments accuse us of sin and reveal to us where we stand under the Law in God’s eyes: We are guilty! This is the chief purpose of the Law—to show us our sin… to call us to repentance… to call us to a change of heart.
Since the 9th and 10th Commandments are sins of the heart, what we really need is a heart transplant. And so, as King David sang over three thousand years ago, we sing each Divine Service: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation and uphold me with Thy free Spirit.”
It’s time for us to turn our hearts to Jesus Christ, who manifested the most pure form of love this world has ever seen or will see. The Bible says: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).
Fellow redeemed, do you realize that Jesus, in His love for us, did the very opposite of coveting. He fully submitted to His Father’s will. He gave up everything for you and for me. He emptied Himself. He made Himself nothing. All He desired from you when He came to this earth was your sin, so that He could pay for it on the cross and forgive it and give you back eternal life. That’s love.
Remember, Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life, and have it to the full.” Jesus wants you to have life with gusto! But He’s saying in the 9th and 10th Commandments, that kind of life has nothing to do with getting “stuff.” It has everything to do with being content. It has nothing to do with what you “have.” It has everything to do with whom you know. It has everything to do with following the good and gracious will of God.
It’s hard for us to be content because often what we want and what God wants are two different things. What does that tell us? We are not following God’s will! And guess which one of us is right?
Only Jesus can turn us from following our own will to following God’s will. He calls us to repentance. He offers forgiveness through His death on the cross. He offers a clean heart through the power of the Holy Spirit. Because the Lord redeems and sanctifies you, you, too, can be a person “after His own heart.” You, too, can learn to be content.
St. Paul explains: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 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).
Regardless of his physical circumstances, Paul had learned to always be content. Throughout his lifetime, and especially during his years as an apostle, Paul experienced earthly circumstances that varied from great need to great fortune. At times the Lord granted him periods of rest and refreshment, even relative prosperity, but more often the apostle had lived in less than prosperous circumstances. As he served the Lord—often, in fact, because he served the Lord—he suffered hunger, cold, nakedness, beatings, imprisonment, and lack of the physical comforts many others would have considered necessities.
No matter what physical circumstances he faced, Paul had learned the secret of being truly satisfied. He had found that secret in Christ. Daily, as Christ came to him in God’s Word and as he came to Christ in prayer, the apostle found a source of strength and never-failing fountain of contentment that could lead him to confidently declare, “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”
Whatever needed to be faced or done or accomplished or suffered, Paul was confident that he could meet the challenge because by faith he was “in Christ.” Christ’s grace was sufficient for him. Whatever physical things the Lord chose to give to him or withhold from him, no matter how the Lord worked in his life, Paul was content because he knew the Lord Jesus was at his side.
You, too, can be content with whatever the Lord gives you, be it little or much. You, too, have the assurance that because you are in Christ by faith, He is always there beside you to give you the strength He knows you need to cope with life in the world and to live your life with Him.
You find your security in the Lord’s promise: “Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing” (Psalm 34:10). The Lord Jesus says: “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:31-33).
Think about the blessings you already have. You have your daily bread:  God gives you clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all that you have. He richly and daily provides you with all that you need to support this body and life. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness on your part. For all of this it is your duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.
Those are great blessings! But God gives you so much more! You have the greatest spiritual blessings, too! He has provided you with the finest clothing—in Baptism, you have been clothed with Christ’s righteousness and given an eternal inheritance in heaven. In His Supper, our Lord gives you a foretaste of His eternal banquet, His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sin. And in His absolution, God renews and restores you. No sin is left out, not even your sin of coveting. Yes, for Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven of all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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