Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Hardest Sermon to Prepare and Preach

The Hardest Sermon

Epistle Reading: 1 Timothy 6:6-16 (KJV)

6 But godliness with contentment is great gain.
7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
8 And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.
9 But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.
10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
11 But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.
12 Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.
13 I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession;
14 That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ:
15 Which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords;
16 Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.

In one of those classes where they try to teach seminary students how to preach, our professor said, “The hardest sermon to preach year in and year out is the Thanksgiving sermon.” That stuck with me. You might imagine then how I felt when I got my senior preaching assignment. I was to preach a Thanksgiving sermon before the whole student body and faculty with the sermon followed by public faculty criticism.  Well, thanks to Pastor Rich, here I am again, assigned to preach a sermon for Thanksgiving. I will receive his criticism - and yours, too - at the door!

This morning as we look forward to Thanksgiving, I want to focus our attention on 1 Timothy 6:6-10.

1. St. Paul commends contentment.

But godliness with contentment is great gain.

The Apostle tells us that there is great gain for us when godliness and contentment are combined.

So we must ask then, “What is godliness?” Godliness is another word for religion. Godliness reverence for God. We show reverence for God when we offer to him right worship with a right spirit, when we develop a  holy character, and when we live a righteous life.

There were, then as now, teachers who used religion  for enriching themselves. They were like some of the celebrity ministers who have television shows, whose gospel is optimism, success, prosperity, and health, and who ask us for money. We discover too often that they use the gifts of God’s people pay themselves large salaries,  buying themselves luxurious mansions, cars, and vacations. For them godliness is a way to get gain.

Paul says that in fact true godliness is great gain, but not financial gain. It is gain when it is genuine and joined to contentment.

What is contentment? Contentment means self-sufficiency - to have yourself all you need so that you don’t have to depend on outside resources or other people. However, for Paul this sufficiency is not what we mean when we talk about being self-sufficient. What Paul really means is “Christ-sufficiency.”  It means you are not dependent on other people or on circumstances, because you have Christ, and you can depend on Christ to take care of your needs.

St. Paul explains this in his letter to the Philippians which he wrote from Rome when he was waiting on a trial and allowed to live in a house under guard.   He had to provide for his own food and other expenses. The Philippians, after not having sent him financial support for awhile, had now sent a gift to help him meet his needs.  He writes to thank them, but he explains:

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.  Not that I am speaking of being in need, for 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.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble (Philippians 4:11-14, ESV).

Paul was happy to receive their gift and grateful to them, but that does not mean that he was anxious or unhappy waiting to see if they or some other congregation would send him support so he could supply his needs.  He accepted as adequate for today what he had today and did not worry about tomorrow’s needs.  He had learned to be content both when he had much and when he had little. He could deal with it either way. In that way he was independent - independent of other people or circumstances.

How could this be? Christ gave him strength to be content regardless of his circumstances. He had Christ; he depended on Christ; Christ gave him inward strength to deal with the circumstances of life whether that he had more than he needed or did not have what he needed. As we put our trust in Christ he will do the same for us.

Discontentment and thanksgiving are incompatible. When we are discontent we are anxious and complaining. In that state of soul we cannot give true thanks. But when we are content because we trust in Christ, we can give thanks even if we have little in the present and the future is uncertain. Contentment with what God has provided produces thanksgiving and thanksgiving for what God provides strengthens contentment. Contentment itself is something for which to thank God.

2. St. Paul reminds us of a reality.
For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.

If you have ever witnessed the birth of a baby, and you can probably figure it out even if you haven’t, babies come into this world without anything, not even clothes. That is true of all babies regardless of the circumstances of their parents. Poor babies, middle class babies, and rich babies all enter this world naked. Not one of them brings a purse or a wallet filled with cash. No one has a checkbook or credit card in hand. All come into the world with nothing.

The next part is harder, though it, too, is obvious - or should be. We don’t take anything with us when we
leave this world. A poor man doesn’t take his bills, and a rich man can’t take his bank account, real estate, or  stock investments. We all leave behind everything in this world. No matter how much money and stuff we accumulate, we are not going to take any of it with us.

Though we all know this, yet so often we live as though it were not true. We live as though the real meaning of life in this world is gaining and consuming and as though we can take our stuff with us into the next world. But material things are for this life only, and even in this life they have limited value, while, as St. Paul tells us “godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). Jesus told us:

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

We very much need a reality check. We didn’t bring anything with us; we are not going to take anything with
us. So it makes no sense to live as though how much stuff we have is the meaning of this life or has any value for the life to come.

3. St. Paul sets a standard.

And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.

Paul sets the standard for contentment as food and clothing - or, we might say, the necessities of life. We can quibble about what are the necessities of life in the modern world. How many shirts and pairs of pants, how many dresses or pairs of shoes are necessary? Do we need a car? If so, what make and model? Televisions and computers? Satellite or cable? Cell phones? Do we need to be able to out to eat, or order takeout, or go through the drive-through? Do we need vacations or recreations? Paul seems to set the bar pretty low at the things really necessary for life.

Paul surely does not tell us we cannot seek to better things for our families and ourselves. There are things we may not look for. You can’t look for a better spouse, much as my wife might be justified in thinking she should be allowed. But you may look for a better job, while accepting God’s provision for today. You can work hard to so you can afford a better house or more reliable car, or you can save up so you can afford to take a vacation or buy some new clothes, though you can’t make these things the focus of your life.

The problem we have is that we think what we need really to be satisfied is on a hill out in the distance. We work very hard or we get picked up and set on that hill without working for it at all. Then, when we are on that hill and attain whatever was set on it, we find that that  we are not satisfied, or that we are satisfied only temporarily. The problem, and the lesson we find it so very hard to learn, is that satisfaction, happiness, and contentment are not found in getting things or changing our circumstances. No matter what it is, the new car smell soon wears off.

We will be content and so able to give thanks only when we learn that the Lord will provide our necessities and that the necessities are all we really need.
4. St. Paul warns about wealth.

But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

Those who are not rich want to get rich. Those who are rich want to get richer. It seems just as you can’t be too good looking or too young, so you can’t be too rich. But Paul warns that danger lurks when we want to get rich.

Love of money and the things it can buy is potentially fatal to our present and eternal welfare. The love of money is not the only root but it is one root from which every kind of evil grows - idolatry, neglect of parents, hatred and murder, cutting corners and theft, lies about ourselves or to others, and covetousness. Wanting to get rich, and whether we are rich, poor, or in between we are all prone to it,  is like seeing a snare set by a snake. We see a bar of gold, and we eagerly reach for only to get a fatal bite from the snake we did not see.

Wanting to get rich produces foolish and harmful desires that can ruin our lives and the lives of others and lead us to eternal destruction. People wreck friendships and families, make fools of themselves and ruin their own reputations, and ultimately can destroy their own souls for eternity when they rush headlong after money and wealth.

Love of money and things can, and often has, lead people to turn away from the faith they profess. They turn away from their because  their faith hinders their pursuit of material wealth, Or their wealth and possessions crowd out their faith like weeds in a garden. It’s like people see a bush covered with more money than they have ever seen before. They focus on the tree and run as fast as they can to be the first one there. Then, when they get close and hear the footsteps of those they are afraid will get there before they do, they leap into the the air and throw themselves on the bush only to impale themselves on a bush full of thorns hid by the money.

The writer of Hebrews tells us:

Keep your life free from the 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, ESV).

We can be content because the Christ, the only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of Lords, has promised he will never leave us or forsake us, and that he will provide. When we delight in him and trust in him we find contentment.
Martin Rinkart was a German Lutheran pastor in the city of Eilenburg during the Thirty Years War. The city experienced famine and epidemic. Eventually he was the only pastor left and officiated at almost 5,000 funerals. He buried his own wife. Yet in that horrible experience, because his contentment was in Christ, he wrote:

Now thank we all our God
with hearts and hands and voices;
who wondrous things hath done
in whom this world rejoices.
Who from our mother’s arms,hath led us on our way,
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.
God grant us such grace, such faith, and such contentment.

No comments: