Rev. Miersma is pastor of Immanuel Protestant Reformed Church in Lacombe, Alberta, Canada.
Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.
The words of our text look at covetousness from a different point of view than that to which we are accustomed. Usually we are addressed with respect to the negative, being warned of the dangers of material prosperity and the seeking of such; for when we seek the things of this world, the Lord sends leanness into our souls. Many texts in Scripture admonish us in this regard. However, our text looks at the positive side, telling us what we must do, instead of telling us what we may not do.
These words are written to us, the church of Jesus Christ. Even though all men are commanded to serve the Lord, these words are directed, first of all, to the church. There is good reason for this, because it is only the church, redeemed by the blood of Christ and possessing His Spirit, that can give heed to these words. In the world, contentment is forever an impossibility, for contentment is a gift of God’s grace, which He gives only to His own, the church.
In order to see more clearly what contentment is, we should first look at its opposite, covetousness. The writer starts here because we are so inclined to be guilty of this sin. How men covet the things of this world and the money that is used to purchase them! Oh, what a magic word that seems to be—money! Money is largely the power that rules the world, controlling the lives of men, individuals, corporations, and nations. People are willing to do almost anything for money. For it they are willing to be dishonest, lie, and sell their own souls. It is the god of this world and of all men by nature. The possession of money is considered to be the purpose of life itself. The Word of God admonishes us not to live that way. I Timothy 6:10tells us that the love of money is the root of all evil. In Colossians 3:1, 2 we are exhorted to seek the things above, not those on the earth. In the sermon on the mount, Christ admonishes us not to gather unto ourselves treasures that are on the earth, where moth and rust corrupt, and not to be anxious for the morrow, but to seek the kingdom of God first and only (Matt. 6:19, 33). Later, inMatthew 13:22, Christ would have us realize the deceitfulness of riches. The reason for all these admonitions is found in the fact that we all are by nature so covetous. We lust after these things. We seek to grasp what we do not have. That is what the Scripture calls coveting.
Covetousness reveals itself in different ways. First of all, there is the man who seeks the treasures of this world and squanders them as quickly as he has acquired them. He lives for the sheer enjoyment of all that this life offers. It is not a question of daily bread, but simply of wanting more. On the other hand, there is the miser, who, possibly, has worked day and night to accumulate some of the wealth of this world, then hoards it, gloating over that which is his. Both seek the earthy as an end in itself, not as a means with which one must serve the Lord. Both have an anxious care for the things of the world, and both are dissatisfied with their present state or condition.
Contentment we have when the inner state of the soul is in harmony with the conditions around us. Content we should be regarding many things, including the physical condition of our body, of our family, and of our work and friends. Whether they be adverse circumstances or favorable, when our soul is in harmony with them we have contentment and peace. And remember, contentment does not take into consideration the neighbor who may have much more than we. This we are so inclined to do, always looking to the right or left, but not heavenward, from whence we must receive all gifts of grace. Contentment is the virtue that gives peace whether we are millionaires or paupers. We speak of contentment as a gift and a virtue, for such it really is. It is a blessed gift of grace, given by God the fountain of all good. By nature no one possesses it. True virtues such as love, peace, joy, and others, including contentment, are gifts of God’s grace and are never found in the world.
We are admonished here to exercise this virtue. The writer is speaking to people who apparently have only the bare necessities of life. This can hardly be said of any of us today. We have much more than our daily bread. But most of God’s people, as described in Scripture and seen in history, have been poor. Throughout history they have had to suffer much because of wars, famines, disaster, depression, and persecution. And yet God’s people were called upon to be always content. Only those who have experienced these things really know what a marvelous gift the grace of contentment is.
But why? Why should we be content? In the text the writer quotes a promise of the Lord given in the Old Testament on several different occasions. There the Lord assured His people that He would be with them and never leave them. This promise is also given to these Hebrew Christians. They must be content, for He has said: I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.
By means of this quotation the writer, first of all, shows them that they must live by the Word of God. As we must do that today with the completed Scriptures, so they had to do it with the Word of God which they possessed at that time, namely, the Old Testament. That Word is our only source of comfort and light. It guides us and teaches us the way of the saints. By this Word we must live, and by this Word only.
The promise of which our text speaks was given first of all to Jacob when he was fleeing to his uncle Laban. He had a dream, at night, of a ladder reaching to heaven. In the morning the Lord spoke these words to him. “Behold, I am with thee, … I will not leave thee.” Comforting words they surely were for Jacob. The future was very dark for him; he had no idea what lay ahead. It is at this time that the Lord assures him that He will never leave him. Later, when Moses speaks his lastwords to the Israelites and points out to them the dangers that are lurking on their path, he speaks the same words. He means to say: Israel, remember this, the Lord promises you that He will not leave you or forsake you. And when Israel stands at the threshold of Canaan, seeing the multitude of wicked Canaanites that they must overcome, this promise again comes to them. This promise the Lord always gives to His people, also to us who live in the confusion and unrest of our day.
But what does this promise really mean? It is put in a negative form; the Lord will not leave nor forsake us. The word leave means to let loose, give up, let sink. To forsake means to abandon, desert, leave behind in a condition of helplessness. The two words belong together. To be forsaken of God is the most terrible thing that can happen to any human being. And yet this is exactly what Christ experienced. God let go of Him. In fact, God banished Him from His presence to experience the torments of hell. And when He was in the depths of thissuffering He cried out, O my God, my God, why? But it was through this way that He made atonement for His people, so that they would never be forsaken of Him.
Stating it positively, it means that God will be with them, help them, and keep them. On the basis of Christ’s work, this promise is given to the saints throughout time. God will hold them in His almighty hand. To make this personal, He says to you as believer: “At no time, in no wise, under no circumstances will I ever leave you. I will never, never leave you or forsake you.” There you have it. God will always be with you. And when the almighty, gracious God is with you, you have everything. All is well. What a blessed promise! But does this promise imply that He will give you abundance of material things? That you will always be prosperous? We know better. We must see, first of all, that the wicked do have bread and are forsaken. Hence, abundance of earthly things is in itself no evidence that God is with us. Secondly, we must remember that bread and other earthly things are not the most important things of life. We may often think so, and we may live in this consciousness, but to have God, that is the all-important thing. In the third place, when a parent assures his child that he will always seek his good and keep him under his protecting care, does this imply that the child will receive everything he desires? Again I say, we know better. The wise parent will withhold much from the child because he seeks his spiritual welfare. Would the all-wise, all-loving Father do it differently?
Sometimes it is necessary for us to experience hardships and trials and poverty. But in them all God assures us that He will never leave us, but always be with us with His strengthening Spirit and Word. Enjoying this promise, we as His children surely should be content. That is the idea of the text. What tomorrow will bring, no one knows; the future is always unknown to us. But this we know, God will not forsake us. He will also give us in His wisdom and love what we need regarding our physical lives. Be, therefore, not covetous, but content. Living by these promises we have peace of mind and heart. What a blessed life is the life of the saint when he lives by the Word of God!
Doing this we will also be able to express what we read in the last verse of our text. There we read: “So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.” The idea is that when we live by the Lord’s promises we can utter these words as an expression of our hearts. Also these words are a quotation of the Old Testament, Psalm 118. Surrounded by evil men, the psalmist is not afraid; for Jehovah, the faithful One, is his helper. The idea of the text is that when His beloved ones cry, He is there immediately. The cry of faith is never lost in the wind, but is ever heard. Whatever the future holds for us, we know that Jehovah is our helper. We live in dark days. They will get darker. Do we turn to the things of this world for our strength and comfort? No, we turn to God in prayer. We will pray that our faith may be increased, that we may be able to live by His Word only, that we will receive grace to seek the kingdom of God first and only, and that we may live only by His promises.
Doing these things by the grace of God we shall be content, regarding the things of today and of tomorrow. And God will be our helper, never leaving us, until we enter His home with its many mansions.