Contentment And Truth
When Abraham Lincoln and Senator Stephen Douglas debated each other in the Lincoln – Douglas Debates, both men advocated inappropriate discrimination against blacks. Both, to some extent, refused to acknowledge blacks as fully human. Even though all Americans knew the truth revealed in Christ Jesus’ teaching in The Parable of the Good Samaritan, our nation pridefully refused to comply with that truth. Instead, to excuse slavery, Americans pointed to their shared experience, their nation’s traditions, and even their Constitution. Thus, America became a house divided.
Was religion the problem? Some would say it was. In AN EXAMPLE OF BIGOTRY — PART 1, we began this series considering the origin of the word bigot. Here is a brief definition.
bigot n : a prejudiced person who is intolerant of any opinions differing from his own
What will a more detailed definition tell us? That definition will tell us that what passes for bigotry often occurs for religious reasons. That is, when we discriminate inappropriately (i.e, without regard to what is politically correct), we supposedly display religious “bigotry”. Thus, the issue of bigotry supposedly comes down to religious prejudice, but is that how we make prejudicial decisions?
A Problem Of Contentment
In AN EXAMPLE OF BIGOTRY — PART 3, we considered four methods people use to arrive at the truth: experience, tradition, law, and revelation. Which of these four methods of arriving at the truth is best? As it happens, the method is less important than the objectivity of our analysis. When we consider what is true, how do we gain objectivity? How do we remove our own personal wants and desires from consideration? How do we eliminate envy and strife from our hearts?
True objectivity arises from contentment. What is contentment? Consider the first half of the teaching in Contentment: A Gift From God by Settled In Heaven.
In our text, Phil 4:10-13, we find the proper Christian attitude toward the riches of this world.
But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity.
The Apostle Paul was writing from a prison cell, having been arrested by the Roman government opposed to his preaching of the gospel message. During his stay in prison, Paul’s needs were supplied through the love offerings from various churches. The church at Philippi was one of Paul’s supporting churches. For a period of time, the Philippi love offerings had ceased, and then began once again. Paul understood that the church had always cared for him, but, at times were unable to send him offerings.
It was during these “lean” times that Paul had learned a very important lesson. It was in this context, that Paul began instructions concerning the need to be content with what we have.
Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, [therewith] to be content.
Paul was not writing this to try to “beef up” his support. He had learned an important lesson he wanted to share with the Philippians… it was a lesson about contentment. Paul had learned no matter what his monetary situation might be, he needed to be “content”. The Greek word for content means “your self has enough” or simply “to be enough”
I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
In Paul’s life he knew how to be humbled and to be overflowing. In every area of life, Paul had experienced fullness and satisfaction as well lack and hunger. Yet in all these conditions, Paul knew he needed to be content. He viewed each situation with the attitude…. it is enough.
I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
How could Paul ever say that when hungry… it is enough? How could he possible look at times of lack as “I am content”? It was only through the strength that Christ had given to him.
This verse is a very well-known and highly quoted verse. Let me quickly say that I do believe through Christ we can do all things… there is no limit to what we can accomplish with Christ’s enabling.
However, clearly in the context of this verse. By “all things” Paul is describing all types of conditions of want and need. What he is saying, contextually, is that he can be content in any area, through the strengthening of Christ.
In AN EXAMPLE OF BIGOTRY — PART 3, we considered The Book Of Job and Job’s suffering. Just as Job learned from his suffering the Apostle Paul learn from his. Both men learned to be content by trusting in the Lord.
Does the desire to own other men stem from contentment? Could men who desire to own or degrade other men be objective about the evils of slavery? Does that even seem likely?
Parts five and six in this series will be out next week. What will they be about? When Lincoln advocated an end to slavery, he referred to the Declaration of Independence. He referred to a particular phrase: “that all men are created equal.” At the same time, Douglas attacked Lincoln for using that phrase. Did Lincoln advocate religious bigotry or a truth revealed by God? How about Douglas? What did both men have to say about that famous phrase, about all men being created all?
For a list of the posts in this series, see AN EXAMPLE OF BIGOTRY — PART 1.
Nice job, partner.
Your section on Contentment is particularly intriguing, Tom, as it pertains to objectivity.
We hear people every day say that they are “objective”, or argue that they they are objective because they don’t “have a dog in this fight”.
But since everyone comes to the table with their own dogmas, prejudices, “truths”, ideologies, etc.,.. no one can ever be said to be truly objective.
And I believe that contentment, although certainly assisting in someone’s clarity of thought, would not necessarily make someone completely objective. Someone might still arrive at a completely “objective” conclusion, but they’d have to traverse through their inherent biases to get there.
Overall, a very good piece.
I’ll set some time aside this weekend and read the previous chapters.
Thanks, and thanks for commenting and offering to read the other posts. I thought you might have something interesting to say.
Since no man we know of save Jesus was ever truly contented — because he fully trusted in God — we don’t have much experience with complete objectivity. We can only speculate what complete contentment might achieve, but here is the question I think your comment is aimed at: would a contented person always be right? I agree with you, andI don’t think so. Even with complete objectivity, we would still be limited by our humanity.We would be limited by our knowledge, previous instruction, and incorrect assumptions.
So why the apparent disagreement? I think some subtle differences in how we use some words appear to separate us. Consider the word “bias.” When people are brought up to believe another race is inferior, because that belief is something they were raised by their parents to accept, it distorts their perspective. That is true even among those who have no interest in enslaving or abusing that other race. Nonetheless, a contented soul is far better prepared to accept new information and examine incorrect assumptions. That is because that soul will more easily accept the fact that what he “knows” sometimes is not true. Instead of feeling the need for self-condemnation because he is wrong, that soul will thank God for the opportunity to correct a bad assumption.