27 June 2006

The dangerous vulnerability of discontentment

by Dan Phillips

Salesmen depend upon discontentment. Contentment = No Sale.

Think about it. Why buy anything, if you're happy with what you have? Why even shop? A salesman either has to find you discontented, or make you that way, if he wants to make a sale.

Now, sometimes the discontentment is legitimate and undeniable. Your washing machine broke, you need a new one. Your roof leaks, your car keeps breaking down, your clothes are becoming too revealing. You're "discontented" with being smelly, wet, stranded, and indecent. Nobody needs to talk you into looking for something new. For that matter, our conversion to Christ springs from a God-given "discontentment" with being lost, under sin, separated from God.

But what if what you have is really okay? What does the salesman do then? He has to convince you, somehow, that it is not okay. He has to persuade you that you'd be a lot more productive with a faster computer, that you'd be a lot more attractive if you bought his line of clothes/cologne/shoes, that you deserve a better car. Then what you thought was pretty decent doesn't look so hot anymore. You're discontented, and now you're vulnerable to a good sales pitch.

It's also Satan's favorite tool. Imagine your challenge is to approach a sinless woman who literally has everything she needs, and convince her that she needs this one thing that will in fact kill her, make her miserable, and devastate her world. How do you do it? But of course this is precisely what Satan did in Genesis 3. He presented himself as the woman's best friend, looking out for her best interests, wanting only her fulfillment, her actualization, her self-realization. She just needed this one more thing.

And she fell for it, hook, line and sinker.

And so has every natural-born child of Eve ever since. Why should Satan even imagine changing his tactics when we, gullible fools that we are, have fallen for it again and again for thousands of years?

So how can anyone counter this appeal to discontentment?

When I was preparing, years ago, to preach/teach through Colossians, I was struck with how Paul responded to incipient heresy in that congregation.

The apostle Paul was quite capable of being brutally frontal, as we see in his correspondence with the Galatians and the Corinthians. However, here he takes a somewhat different tactic.

The approach of the false teacher in Colosse (the references to him are all in the singular: 2:4, 8, 16, 18) was the same then as it is today: he was a charismatic individual who came in with special, personal, private revelation, special truths, special methods, all of which were must-have's for the person who really wants to have a top-grade spiritual experience. He excluded the "mere Christians" in Colosse as not having fully arrived.

How does Paul counter this? In Colossians the apostle mostly makes sidelong allusions to the false teaching. Paul does not get into a point-by-point explication and refutation of the Colossian heresy, as it has been called. Rather, he focuses on Christ, His person and work, His fullness. In my study, I found that Christ is men­tioned in 53 of the 96 verses in Colossians. In some of these, He is mentioned two and three times. Therefore, some 55% of the verses mention Christ at least once. Or, put another way, every other thing Paul says in this letter is something about Jesus Christ.

Not only does Paul lay down solid teaching about the person and work of Christ, but he dwells on ways to make personal use of the truth. Chief among these is thankfulness. Again and again Paul either expresses gratitude, or says that all believers should be grateful, should give thanks. We see it at least in 1:3, 12; 2:7; 3:15-17; and 4:2.

Thankful people are people conscious of, and glorying in, the riches they possess. Thankful people are contented people. Contented people are immune to salesmen, whether they be peddlers of baubles and trinkets, or of false doctrine.

And so, Paul's centering on, and glorying in, the supremacy and all-sufficiency of the Lord Jesus Christ would have to flush out the false teacher. If the letter left believers rejoicing in Christ alone, grounded solidly in apostolic teaching, and uninterested in all the false teacher's supplements and additions, he was sunk. He'd have to expose himself more fully, speak more plainly. He'd have to put Christ and His work down, and put up his own additions more. He has to convince folks that what they have is not good enough.

And so it is today. "Merely" false teachings and damnable heresies alike depend on the same method. Regular readers will notice that, whenever one of us exults in the sovereignty of God in salvation, in the monergistic nature of saving grace, in the glories and sufficiency of God's eternal and inerrant word, the "But-but-but" crowd is activated. If God is truly sovereign in salvation, then where is the room for our "contribution"? If Christ's atonement actually atones, and not just theoretically, then where is the place for our "free will" on the throne?

And if God's word is everything the triune God says it is, then where is the rationale for endowing our emotions, our hunches, our intuitions, our peculiarities, with sacred and canonical status? Our feelings become mere feelings, our hunches mere hunches. We are "stuck" with having to study, work, pray, think, analyze, reason, explain, take accountability, shoulder responsibility. We have no more holy trump cards hidden up our sleeves that no one else can see. We can't pull out our cherished "the Lord told me" cards, or our "I just feel led to" cards, and end the debate. All we have is that Bible out there, that everyone else can see, study, learn, and meditate over just as surely as we. We have to agree with the Holy Spirit that it is what He said it was: sufficient (Deuteronomy 29:29; Psalm 119; 2 Timothy 3:15-17, etc. ad inf.), and we study it to know His mind (2 Timothy 2:7). We're on a level playing field; we have no mystical "gotcha" from God.

While itself a very liberating truth (John 8:31-32), to some it is threatening. It signals a sea-change, a paradigm-shift. It engenders panic, and panicky measures and expostulations.

But I'd point out to any and all the common factor in all of these.

Every teaching that denies Christ's divine glory begins by praising Him, and denies that it is a denial.

Every teaching that denies God's grace starts by praising it, and denies that it is a denial.

Every teaching that denies God's word starts by praising it, and denies that it is a denial.

Roman Catholics and Mormons believe in Christ, faith, grace, and the glory of God. It's the "alone" that separates Biblical doctrine from Romish doctrine. With Christian leaky-canon pop-off-ets, Roman Catholics and Mormons believe in the Scripture. It's the "alone" that distinguishes the one from the other.

And it's the "but" and the "and" that are the problem. And only the discontented are vulnerable. Why give up your steak for a plastic banana -- unless you really don't savor fully what you already have?

The answer is believingly to relish what God has given us, make much of it, and just say "No thanks -- really don't need it" to supplements and substitutes.

Dan Phillips's signature

29 comments:

DJP said...

This is one of those that could easily have been five times the length. Think as well of sexual purity before marriage, fidelity afterwards; covetousness, avarice, greed, ambition; "church growth" methods... we could go on and on. (Some would say I already did.) I'll "content" myself with commending it to you for Christian reflection.

Castusfumus said...

Appreciation is a most often overlooked blessing, and like that of sanctification; is not a passive enterprise.

centuri0n said...

I would exclude t-shirts, mugs and buttons from your very pithy point.

Oh, and books. You can never have too many books. Or binding styles for your Bible. Or translations: you can always learn something new from another translation of the Bible.

And a word of truth from an apostle. Who doesn't need one of those? And a new psalm by which to praise God -- everyone needs a new Psalm.

Huh. Maybe I should have been more offended the first time ...

Mike Y said...

Dan,

I think you know I appreciate the timeliness of this one. And I'm also glad you tied discontentment to covetousness in your comment. I was going to bring that up.

For me, I'm really less concerned about the discontented unregenerate. My concern is the one who professes Christ, but is looking for that "special edge" to distinguish why he might be more of a super Christian than you or me.

I'm seeing a lot of that right now. And I think I'm slowly getting to the point where if someone says they're a Christian and disagrees with the sufficiency of scripture, I'm moving on. The discussions just seem to be as pointless as having an evidential apologetic conversation with a reprobate. All objectivity is out the window.

Anyway, thanks for the post. It's really quite edifying.

-Mike

JackW said...

Good job, but why do I now have this irresistable desire to read Colossians?

DJP said...

Give in, Jack -- give in! It's a good thing!

(c;

Wielding the Sword said...

Thanks so much for that! If we learned to be content in all that Christ is for us, we not only wouldn't be vulnerable to false teachers but sin in general. May we delight our hearts in the Lord!

LeeC said...

A little testimony here.
My wife when before she was aved wanted nothing to do with kids. Her experience of having her parents divorce the month she was 18, the fact that they "had" to wed, and the numerous examples of how kids were fine if you wanted that kind of toy, but they can really be an inconvienience left her wnating nothing to do with the idea. Once she was saved and fellowshipping amongst a group of godly families the Lord changed her heart, and we pursued having children. But after a long time with no success we decided to talk to a fertility doctor.

The doctor made sure there was nothing physically wrong with us and then started pushing hormone therapy and other techniques to help us. We weren't fond of that idea for a variety of reasons, and eventually came down firmly on the conclusion that if the Lord could give Abram and Sara a child then if He wanted us to have one we would, and if not, then we could more easily minister to others who have kids and need babysitting and such.

Once we made that decision...to be content, our lives truly changed. Our joy was greater than ever before, and guess what? Two months later we discovered we were having a baby!

The Lord has blessed us with a wonderful five year old little girl, and now an eight month old son. And as sweet as that is, neither would have been as sweet if we were not sitting in a place of contentment, happy to accept whatever the Lord gave us knowing He knows best.

How true is 1 Ti. 6:6-9!!!!


(BTW, do not take this as my condemning any fertility practices. That was merely our choice.)

DJP said...

Carly, you remind me of something Piper says in, I think, Future Grace. From memory, it is something like this: Sin is what we do when we are not satisfied with all that God promises to be for us in Christ. That really struck a note in me; glad you brought that up.

He also said, very memorably: nobody sins out of obligation. (Really great book; immensely helpful to me.)

Jonathan Moorhead said...

Good quote from Piper in conjunction with "every perfect gift" from James.

Kim said...

Chief among these is thankfulness. Again and again Paul either expresses gratitude, or says that all believers should be grateful, should give thanks.

I'm glad you brought up the issue of learning to be thankful. It is one of the areas where I feel like my chidren have either missed the message, or our message has not been clear enough to them. Often, they seem so very unthankful for things. They take all that they have for granted. Even something as simple as having two living parents. It's hard to teach them to be content if they can't even recognize who is the source of all they have.

Frank: I agree with you about never having too many books :-)

donsands said...

Hard lesson, learning to be genuinely content. But well worth it. First and foremost it displays the grace of the gospel in our lives, and honors the Lord.
It's also one of those incredible blessings for our hearts, that we don't deserve.
And it does seem to go hand in glove with gratitude.

Thanks for the excellent thoughts, and for once again, as you always do, giving great honor to the Word of God.

Carrie said...

I really enjoyed this one.

This past week I have had some discussions with Roman Catholics and realized that it all boils down to the sufficiency of scripture. If you can't get them to agree to the sufficiency of scripture then there doesn't seem much point in debating issues as they have the out with "tradition".

What has been bugging me a little is why anyone would want to follow things like tradition knowing that it is unreliable. This article really helped give me an answer not only to the why but with an example from Paul in how to deal with the problem. Thanks.

RC said...

i completly agree on the importance of learning to be content in all circumstances.

easy to say when things are going good.

--RC of strangeculture.blogspot.com

LeeC said...

Just make sure that you don't assume that everyone who is content has things going good for them R.C.

Go look at RachelClayton.com sometime.

LeeC said...

That reads a bit short, it was not intended to be so. I'm not a good writer I fear.

Being content in all things is truly a gift from the Lord. No matter how hard we try in our own might we just can't force it. I struggle with contentment often now that I am a husband and father, something I rarely did as a single guy.

I pray that all is well with you R.C. and if you are struggling that you would lean on the Lord.

C. T. Lillies said...

Dan wrote:
"While itself a very liberating truth (John 8:31-32), to some it is threatening. It signals a sea-change, a paradigm-shift. It engenders panic, and panicky measures and expostulations."

Freeeeeeeee! Panicky doesn't cover it when you first get a high-test does of good theology. It hits you hard and fast you think, "Wow, could this be true? Nah," and the next thing you know you think, "I think I'll go read a little more of that...." When you recover from the shock you begin to wonder about this truth or that Bible FACT. Then you have to back up and re-think all the garbage you've listened to and assumed was true and re-read all the scripture that you've erroneously interpreted. Then you have to go through your library and toss some stuff because its garbage...It's more like a continental plate shift.

Brother this is a great post. Imagine, expecting some poor Christian somewhere to pick up their bible and read it and apply it and STUDY! Next thing you know you'll be asking them to pray or something! What if they're content with their ignorance?

Anyway, keep stokin' it bro, there's a lot a track left on this run.

Josh

Jared Wall said...

Thank you for this post. I must admit that it hit me right where I am. Contentment always seems at arms length and I had to stop and weep when you said "Why give up your steak for a plastic banana -- unless you really don't savor fully what you already have?" It made me stop and reflect on all that the Lord has done for me through Christ.

In Him,
Jared

DJP said...

Josh -- thanks very much; that was really quite encouraging.

Jared -- glory to God. I'm challenged similarly.

Beth said...

Awesome! I get so tired of people trying to add things to the scriptures- telling me what God's will is for their life on non-moral issues etc. etc. I started to ask "what verse is that", and bring the conversation to Christ, His forgiveness, and what brings God glory. Why are people trying so hard to make it difficult and put their own little spin on it-- maybe self-centeredness strikes again!

Steve said...

Centurion said: "Oh, and books. You can never have too many books. Or binding styles for your Bible. Or translations: you can always learn something new from another translation of the Bible."

Like Kim, I wholeheartedly agree you could never have too many books.

But translations? I can think of at least a couple that, if they hadn't been done, it wouldn't be a terrible loss for Christendom.

Hick working email said...

Jeremiah 2:13
For my people committed two evils:they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

Broken Messenger said...

Roman Catholics and Mormons believe in Christ, faith, grace, and the glory of God. It's the "alone" that separates Biblical doctrine from Romish doctrine. With Christian leaky-canon pop-off-ets, Roman Catholics and Mormons believe in the Scripture. It's the "alone" that distinguishes the one from the other.

Dan,

So? Many Reformists simply deny Christ daily by their actions, and yet their doctrine is sound. Which of these is worse? Ignorance or willful disobedience?

Where is the balance here, Dan? That is where is lament over how we Reformists are not content in our doctrines to such an extent that we do not live them out in faith? Where is the rebuke as to how, by our lack of contentment, we rah-rah various "go for broke" apologetics ministries to make sure that every knows how we have gotten our doctrine right even if it is to the wholesale sacrifice of truly loving others in Christ - which just happens to be the very heart of Reformist doctrine? The omission here speaks loudly given these choice of examples?

Is it okay should I not be content with you painting only part of the picture here?

Brad

candyinsierras said...

I'm sure Sacramento is a great place to learn contentment. :)

DJP said...

Yes, broken, hypocrisy is bad, sin is bad, abortion is bad... lots of things that the post wasn't about are bad.

But don't get me wrong. I'm always happy when someone thinks one of my long posts should have been even longer.

Hiraeth said...

You're right, of course. It's so easy to get discontented. And for believers, one of the greatest tempations is discontent with your own Church. Maybe the preaching's not as good as it is elsewhere, maybe the youth work isn't all it could be, etc. I know people who've left churches over this sort of thing.

My advice: tell someone who can actually deal with it, not just your pals. That way you don't get splits in the Church, or at least you don't get cliques/ parties.

Oh, and I'm with Centuri0n. You can never have too many books

Mike Y said...

brokenMy family and I left our previous church because of this reason. I actually felt we were under the best preaching in existence. The doctrine would pour out of the preaching and was very edifying.

But that was the pulpit ministry. What went on behind the scenes was deplorable. There was a complete absence of grace in the bulk of the members. They seemed to hate and distrust one another. They despised anyone not a part of the congregation. And they rellished in the thought of their enemies being destroyed. Hence there was zero love. They acted like Ephesis in Revelation.

So, one can clearly believe reformed doctrine-- even teach it, and be missing other marks of grace. The key difference between this and Mormons, is that with the nature of the unregenerate mind, there is no ability to comprehend doctrine, which is very apparent. But there are rare instances of people who can connect the dots and derive their interpretation of doctrine from books and lectures. But they actually live out what they truly believe.

candyinsierras said...

Dan, you stated: How does Paul counter this? In Colossians the apostle mostly makes sidelong allusions to the false teaching. Paul does not get into a point-by-point explication and refutation of the Colossian heresy, as it has been called. Rather, he focuses on Christ, His person and work, His fullness.

Sometimes I think we (in blogdom) have the tendency to focus on sensationalism in our desire to stand up for truth as well as to stand against false teachers. I have noticed an increase in strident and contentious methods of upholding truth in reformed circles as well as other circles, and I think it is easy to overlook the sovereignty of God sometimes in our discourse. I would appeal to all of us that as we uphold the truth of the gospel and work of Christ, that we lift HIM up and we think about what would glorify God in our conversation and behavior. If we understand his sovereignty, wouldn't that enable us to exercise humility in our encouragement of truth? After all, I sure know where I came from, and it wasn't pretty.

Your quote by Piper is really good too. Sin is what we do when we are not satisfied with all that God promises to be for us in Christ

Couldn't we also expound on that a bit to say...sin is what we do when we are not satisfied with all that God might be working in another's life so that they might recognize all that God promises to be for them in Christ.

contratimes said...

Dear DJP,

Greetings! I am late again, it seems!

There are two things that I think you've overlooked here. First, you fail to mention that there are indeed "good salesmen", salesmen who do not exploit people's "discontentment", or drive customers to buy something they don't need. People buy things that they legitimately need every day from salespersons who do not mistreat them. Second, you write:

Thankful people are people conscious of, and glorying in, the riches they possess. Thankful people are contented people. Contented people are immune to salesmen, whether they be peddlers of baubles and trinkets, or of false doctrine.

Is this really true? Does not God warn countless thankful people, people with their barns full, people whose needs are met and think they need no more (Laodiceans?); people who are content with the glorious status quo, who eat, drink, and make merry; does not God warn against a misplaced contentment, a misplaced gratitude? We even know in the gospels of that man who was "thankful" he was not like other sinners; such a man receives Jesus' scorn, no?

So then, there are two things: Good salesmen, and false contentment yielding false gratitude.

Are there not believers whose charge it is by God to constantly point out that Christians content with what they know should not be content at all? Are there not ministers, prophets, brothers, friends, who reveal to us (by God's grace and Spirit, of course) what we have been blind to, like Paul opening Peter's eyes, even when in a very real sense Peter was Paul's senior? Are there not things each of us does not know; is it not true that each of us has something wrong with our theology? If not, then surely we cannot oppose papal infallibility per se, or on principle; but if each of us is indeed fallible, errant, wrong, in some theological way, what do our errors look like? Just the other day I visited a blatantly anti-Catholic website; the condemnations of Catholicism were crude, vulgar and offensive (even if right). While there, I asked everyone to come forward and share where they were wrong about Christ; where they may have mistakes in their theology. But their silence was deafening, and it suggests a couple of things: that they are content with what they know and are happy with their understanding (which is foolish contentment if they are fallible and errant); or it suggests that perhaps they are too proud to speak up; or that they are unable to discern where they might be wrong (and for this latter group we all rejoice that there are good salesman who help them find their way to something truer and more certain). But perhaps the silence is really an admission that these folks DO NOT believe they are wrong, which makes them vulnerable to accusations of being Protestant Popes; and yet if they admit to such certainty they know that it shall be posited that perhaps if they can be inerrant, so too can the Pope (or maybe they are just vainly holding on to some idolized reputation).

In other words, I am grateful for those brothers and sisters in Christ who have performed a sort of Socratic exorcism on me: they showed me (and continue to) what I did not know, and my pride and false contentment were cast down. And this from a man who so desperately wanted notoriety as a Bible teacher, even a prophet! But alas, Christ came to me in the shape of a rebuke, and -- since I was in error, lost in pride, and arrogant -- I assumed that His rebuke was actually the devil's lie, for that's how difficult His challenge was to me. In fact, whenever I've been really challenged by the Lord, stretched to the breaking point, the challenge felt like an oppression, a fiery dart, shot from the devil's bow. How wrong to have such fears!

But nothing has set me free as a disciple of Christ quite like learning that I did not know what I thought I knew.

Lastly, I disagree with lumping Mormons and Catholics together. What sets the two forever apart is that Mormons are certain of their rightness; they have answers for everything. This is the case with every Mormon I've known. But this is not the case with the practicing Catholics I know: they are some of the most earnest, inquisitive and self-doubting folks I've ever met. On top of that I would never suggest, not for one second, that the Catholics I am involved with are not serious students: there is not a more intellectually and spiritually ambitious group of Christians than the devout Catholics I know. It's just that their scholarship leads to different conclusions than the Reformed tradition, or the Methodist or 4C's. Most of my Catholic friends, especially the converts from evangelicalism, believe that it is in fact the Protestants who lack the curiosity and intellectual rigor to explore the richness of God's blessings.

Peace to you, and thanks for the godly provocation.

Bill Gnade