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A Contented Life

Thomas J Parlette

“A Contented Life”

1st Timothy 6: 6-19

9/25/16

 

A few years ago, my trusty Dodge Durango decided it was no longer interested in being driven on a regular, dependable basis. So we made a trip over to a local used car dealership and made arrangements for the GMC Yukon Denali that I usually drive. It’s been a good car for us – a bit big and terrible when it comes to gas mileage – but all in all, it’s been a good car. The best thing about the Denali is that it came with a free trial subscription to Sirius XM radio. Something I never would have considered buying if it hadn’t come with the car, but something I have come to really enjoy.

Normally, I have it tuned to one of the sports talk radio channels – with two exceptions. Number one, Juliet hates sports talk radio, so when she’s in the car for any length of time, the radio goes to the comedy station or the “Greatest hits from the 80’s” channel. The other time when I switch from sportstalk comes around late February, when I’m really of winter and I switch over to the Margarittaville channel that specializes in Jimmy Buffet music. A welcome tropical breeze in the Minnesota winter!

A few weeks ago I was listening to my sportstalk and the topic of the day was some football player talking about holding out to get a new contract. One of the callers was talking about how it wasn’t about the money, it was about respect. This player felt he deserved to be the highest paid at his position – it wasn’t about the money, it was about the respect.

But then the host of the show interrupted and said, “wait, wait, wait – whenever they say its NOT about the money, its ALWAYS about the money.” It’s always about the money.

I think Paul would understand that idea. Evidently there was a similar kind of situation occurring at Ephesus. We talked last week about Paul’s warning to Timothy about false teachers and today Paul circles back to that same warning. Apparently the false teachers were charging for their lessons. It was as if they were on the lecture circuit, using religion to make a quick buck. In his final bit of advice to Timothy, Paul encourages all of us to look at life in a new way. Today’s passage is really about how to orient ourselves properly in a world where wealth and power and possessions seem to be the measure of success and the ultimate goal of life can be summed up by a sports talk radio host – “it’s always about the money.”

Paul however, offers an alternative. He starts by pointing out that a devout life, a life centered on God, does bring wealth – but it’s a different kind of wealth. A devout life is the rich simplicity of being yourself before God. A devout life finds contentment in the things you have rather than striving for the things you don’t. As Eugene Peterson puts it in the The Message – “since we entered the world penniless, if we have bread on the table and shoes on our feet, that’s enough.”

Living your life centered on money, power or stuff, whatever that may be, will bring nothing but trouble. Paul’s first piece of advice about how to orient your life is to be content.

Certainly Paul’s words echo what we hear in the Hebrew scriptures. Think of the well known, well loved Psalm 23, with it’s famous line, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Some people hear that line and see it as a pledge not to desire anything. But that’s not it at all. What the psalmist means by “I shall not want” is better expressed by some modern translations that render this line – “There is nothing I lack.” Or, as another version puts it, turning the phrase around and expressing it positively – “The Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need.”

Rabbi Harold Kushner, in his devotional commentary on Psalm 23, relies on the wisdom of a friend of his, who says the verse really means, “The Lord is my shepherd, what more do I need?” It’s a statement of satisfaction, of sufficiency, of contentment that goes against the grain of our hyper-materialistic consumer society where it’s always about the money.(1) To properly orient our lives, we must seek to be content.

Martin Theilen has written a book called Searching for Happiness: How Generosity, Faith and Other Spiritual Habits Can Lead to a Full Life. In it Theilen points out that “After years of extensive research, psychologists have discovered at least nine practices – all of which are under our control – that lead to happiness. What I find especially compelling is that all nine of these happiness traits are taught in the Bible… They are also confirmed by experience. So when it comes to overall life contentment, science, experience and Scripture are in complete agreement. The following nine attitudes and behaviors make people content.

  1. Contented people use trials as growth opportunities.
  2. Contented people cultivate optimism.
  3. Contented people focus on the present.
  4. Contented people practice forgiveness.
  5. Contented people practice generosity.
  6. Contented people nurture relationships.
  7. Contented people express gratitude
  8. Contented people care for their bodies
  9. Contented people care for their souls.(2)

Practicing these nine attitudes and behaviors will put us on the path to a properly oriented life.

Paul’s second bit of advice for Timothy, and for us, has to do with eternal life. He encourages us to seize the eternal life – the life you were called to. A life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness and courtesy. Access to a life like this is what Jesus gave us – this is eternal life.

Now when Paul speaks about eternal life here, he’s not talking about life after death. He’s not talking about our great reward in the hereafter. No, for Paul, eternal life is available to us in the here and now. Eternal life is what Jesus made possible for us. Theologians from Karl Barth to Jurgen Moltmann have argued that Paul believed eternal life was now, not some future promise. Eternal life is not something we look forward to, it is something that has already arrived because Christ has arrived and has brought eternity into our midst. The reality of God’s life-giving presence establishes itself in this era and shapes the human perspective on life and on the materials, the things of this world.(3) For Paul, the reality of eternal life is that things, stuff, money, possessions – they are passing. But we, God’s children, our eternal souls – we are not. We have eternal life. Paul encourages us to seize this life and hold onto it tightly.

Paul goes on to give us a message for others. He says, “Tell those who are rich in this world’s wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage – to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they’ll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life.”

In 1976, Forrest Carter wrote a wonderful book called The Education of Little tree. It’s the story of a young Native American boy named Little Tree. When Little Tree is left an orphan, he is sent to live with his Cherokee grandparents in the Smoky Mountains. Soon the grandfather begins to teach Little Tree about the ways of his people.

One day, grandfather and grandson went hunting. The old man dug a hole in the ground and made a turkey trap. When they returned hours later, six turkeys were gobbling down in the trap.

Together they pulled all the turkeys out and tied up their legs. As they squawking and flapping on the ground, grandfather explained that they only needed three turkeys – they would be content to take only what they needed. So which three turkeys should they keep and which should they let go.

At first, Little Tree thought they should keep the three biggest turkeys. But grandfather said “No, we will keep the three smaller turkeys and set the other free to reproduce and provide food for someone else.”

In this way, Little Tree learned that the way of his people was to be concerned with giving to life as much as taking from life.(4)

That is what Paul is talking about when he encourages us to be content – God will provide. The Lord is our shepherd – what more do we need.

That is what Paul is talking about when he says to do good, be rich in helping others, and be extravagantly generous. Give back as much as you take – that is truly life.

A contented life can be found by going after God.

A contented life can be found by doing good, helping others and being extravagantly generous.

That is the way to gaining life that really is life.

Do those things my friends – and you will lead a contented life.

May God be praised. Amen.

 

  1. Homiletics, Vol. 28, No. 5, p.33.
  2. Ibid…p.33.
  3. Stephanie Mar Smith, Feasting on the Word, Westminster John Knox Press, 2010, p.112.
  4. Gary L. Carver, Search for Serendipity, CSS Publishing Inc, 2003, p.378.