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By Ted Schroder
November 20, 2005

Recently I preached a sermon on The Secret of Being Content from Philippians 4:10-20. After I delivered it I realized that it was only half the story. You can't cover everything in one sermon, but you can balance what you say by addressing the other side of the coin in a subsequent sermon. Paul had learned the secret of being content in his circumstances in prison. He had learned (it did not come to him easily or quickly), that, despite his circumstances, he could do all things through Christ who strengthened him. But earlier in the letter he expressed his discontent with himself. His goal was to know Christ, and to become like him in his death and resurrection. But he was discontented with his progress towards that goal. He realized his shortcomings. He was aware of his inadequacy.

This was why I was dissatisfied with my sermon on contentment. I realized that I am not generally content. I am not always satisfied with who I am, or what I am doing. I am not always satisfied with the world in which I find myself. Yes, I enjoy what I do. Yes, I am happy in my marriage and family life. Yes, I look forward to most days. Yes, usually I am content in my job and my stage in life. Yes, I love living on Amelia Island, and find great pleasure in knowing and relating to the members of this community and congregation. Yes, I am proud to be an American. But that does not mean that I am content with my character, with the state of the world, and with my ability to do something about it. What about you? Are you so content with yourself and the state of the world that you are oblivious to your limitations? Or are you frustrated with your progress and effectiveness, and with the effectiveness of others?

The words of St. Paul echo in my ears:

"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining forward toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:12-14)

The language Paul is using comes from the world of war and athletics. He likens himself to a pursuing army overtaking the enemy. The enemy in this case is his sin, his complacency, his imperfection, those things in his life which prevent him from achieving his goal. Jesus has taken hold of him, and given him an assignment in life. Jesus has forgiven him his former rebelliousness, and has recruited him into his army. But Paul realizes that he has not so far yet fulfilled that assignment.

Like the athlete who is running a race, Paul is putting all his energy into straining forward, pressing on, to the finish line. His goal is to win the prize God has provided for those who finish well.

There is no place for laziness in this imagery. There can be no coasting on past achievements. There is no excuse for complacency. The action verbs are clear: press on, take hold, strain forward, win.

Paul tells us that the mature Christian realizes that his work is never completed, that he can never be content with what he has done with his life until he has crossed the finish line, and attained the resurrection from the dead.

"All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained." (Philippians 3:15,16)

Mature Christians realize how far they have to go before they can rest. The immature rest on their laurels prematurely - they think that they have it all wrapped up. They think they have arrived. They think they know it all. That is the evidence that they are immature. Christian believers, forgiven sinners as they are, also have to work out their salvation for which Christ has taken hold of them, by striving to become like Christ in their character, and by working for Christ in the world.

Jesus was discontented with the world in which he found himself. He did not hesitate in expressing his discontent. Matthew 23 contains his denunciation of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees as hypocrites. They were the religious and political leaders of his day.

"Everything they do is done for men to see... they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them 'Rabbi.'...The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Woe to you teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence... You are whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness."

If our goal is to become like Christ then we will be discontented with hypocrisy and phoniness in public life. We also will denounce waste, and cronyism, greed, and extravagance, evasion, self-serving hand-outs and empty rhetoric that fosters cynicism and distrust of the very people who are elected to represent us. We also will be out-spoken in our denunciation of terrorism, and the inhuman and murderous ways they operate. We will not hesitate to exercise our right to freedom of speech in criticizing those in our own culture who oppose our beliefs and undermine the values which support marriage, family and civil society.

Paul was very clear that not everyone wanted to become like Christ. In fact, many were quite content to follow their sinful, selfish nature. He contrasted the two groups.

"Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven." (Philippians 3:17-20)

This is how The Message puts the same passage:

"Stick with me, friends. Keep track of those you see running this same course, headed for this same goal. There are many out there taking other paths, choosing other goals, and trying to get you to go along with them. I've warned you of them many times; sadly, I'm having to do it again. All they want is easy street. They hate Christ's Cross. But easy street is a dead-end street. Those who live there make their bellies their gods; belches are their praise; all they can think of is their appetites. But there's far more to life for us. We're citizens of high heaven."

You can say that the world has not changed. There are two sorts of people in the world. They have two different belief systems, and two different moral codes. They are heading in different directions. They operate on different agendas. They are following different paths. They will end up in different destinations. This is why Jesus urged:

"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.. By their fruit you will recognize them." (Matthew 7:13-16)

I have shared with you St. Paul's secret of being content. Now I want you to learn from him the value of being discontent. Be discontented enough with where you are in your spiritual progress so that you will share Paul's zeal to press on, to take hold, to win the prize God has set before you in Christ. Be discontented enough with the world so that you will share Jesus' courage to make a difference.

Where does your discontent lie? Just as Jesus and Paul put their fingers on the sources of their and God's discontent, so we need to pray for the Holy Spirit's discernment to do something about it.

Captain James Cook was one of the greatest explorers this world has seen. His voyages to the South Pacific rediscovered New Zealand in 1769 and mapped much unknown territory. He was a native of Whitby, Yorkshire in England where a monument in his memory looks out to sea with words of Tennyson chiseled in its base. They come from his poem, Ulysses.

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

It is the last line that was chosen to commemorate Captain Cook, who was murdered by natives while exploring the islands he named the Sandwich Islands, today known as Hawaii. "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

Is this not what St. Paul is telling us to do? To press on to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of us. To strain forward to what is ahead in life. To press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus.

It is for these things that we 'strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.' This is why I am not content to settle for the status quo in either the church or society. I am not content with my own life, nor should I be. But I can do something about it. I am not content with the effectiveness of the church, nor should I be. But I can do something about it. I am not content with the health and welfare of our society and culture, nor should I be. But I can do something about it. What about you? There is a value in being discontent. It should stir you up to action, to do something about it. What can you do? What will you do?

An audio version of this sermon is to be found at www.ameliachapel.com.

Amelia Plantation Chapel
Amelia Island, Florida

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