Thanksgiving: To Be Content, No Matter What the Circumstances
From Reformed Polemics Vol. 8, No.11, Oct. 31, 2002 - Rev. B. J. Berends
Thanksgiving Day is a day set aside to thank the Lord our God for all He has granted us in harvest and labour. As the people of God we may do that every day. But we are also privileged to still have a special day set aside for that by the government of our country. For us it is a special day to thank our God for the many blessings received in food, clothing and shelter. We may thank him individually and collectively for seed time and harvest, for the ability and opportunity to work from week to week. It was He, the Lord our God, who in Christ has blessed the work of our hands in this past season. It is therefore He who should receive all the thanksgiving and praise everyday and also on Thanksgiving Day.
But giving thanks to the Lord does not come naturally with us. Is it not true that instead of
thanking the Lord for what we have, we more often tend to think of what we do not have, and that
rather than being content we frequently express discontent? Despite the many gifts received -
undeserved gifts - it is still so often with us a matter of never enough, never being content!
The apostle Paul provides us with a better insight for thanksgiving while imprisoned in
Rome. He writes to the church at Philippi who had sent him a sum of money by way of br.
Epaphroditus. Of course he is happy with their gift, for it is money he can certainly use. But what is it that really makes him happy? Is it only the money? No, he is especially happy because of the love it conveys. To the members of the church at Philippi, faith in Jesus Christ is not just talk, for talk is cheap, but it is followed through, it is confirmed by their walk. Their faith is a matter of word and deed.
But at the same time Paul explains that he could also be content if he had not received that
money. He has learned to be satisfied no matter what the circumstances might be. Mind you, that kind of mind set, such a spiritual outlook had not come automatically to him. After all, what comes automatically, naturally to man? To man in his fallen state, his natural inclinations lead him only to evil continually. No, this is something that Paul had to learn. And as brothers and sister of Paul, we may be guided by him to also learn this lesson and put it into practice every day.
What a confession! ‘I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.’
In this confession the apostle says ‘Amen’ to the Word of God, the gospel of Christ. Paul had been taught by the Lord that in every circumstance he would always be rich in Him, His God and Maker. He would always have enough because of knowing His one and only Saviour Jesus Christ. Had the Lord not taught and convinced Paul with that well-known and divine word: ‘my grace is sufficient for you’? And now Paul is able to confess: ‘I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.’ Paul has learned to become a man of God, has learned to know what it means to be rich in God, and as a result has learned to sing: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say again: Rejoice!
When someone is ready to do that they have understood the content of the Word of God, the
promise of God as fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The only way to reach that strange contentment of Paul is by knowing the content of the gospel of Christ. Only by knowing Him as our Lord and Saviour, as the Life and the Resurrection can our heart and mind become filled with that otherwise elusive spirit of contentment. It is faith in Him, the Eternal Life that will allow us to look past the things that are seen and allow us to concentrate on the promise of God that He will be with us whatever the circumstances.
That’s what makes this man Paul, this prisoner Paul, a king. He has learned that he always has
enough; he is always content, no matter what happens. He will not lose his head, no matter the
circumstances. Still, he does not have this mind-set of himself. He expressly emphasizes that truth. No, he received it by learning, learning what Christ had taught Him by His Spirit. It is Christ who by His Spirit made Paul confess: I always have enough. I am always content. I always have enough for this my life, enough for my existence here on earth, enough for as many days as the Lord has allotted to me, i.e. I will always have enough in the service to which He, my Lord, has called me.
What a confession, what content! And we may learn even more when we also consider the context. Paul writes that he knows what it means to be in need, as well as what it means to have plenty. He has learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. Paul places things in sharp contrasts here, as between light and darkness, as between day and night. But how true it was, for that’s the way his life was. Just read 2 Corinthians 11 to see what he had to experience in life. Yet, all that adversity, all those trials and tribulations were covered by that redeeming, wondrous word of God, as he had to record it in 2 Corinthians 12: ‘My grace is sufficient for you!’ Therefore, whatever his circumstances, he always has enough because his God has given him enough. God has filled his life.
That’s how this man of God, despite those heart-rending successions of prosperity and adversity, of having plenty and practically nothing at all, was able to remain content. It was because he was rich in God that he did not lose his stability, did not loose his head. It was thanks to that wondrous grace of God that he was able to remain steadfast throughout all those difficult circumstances.
Also now, now that he was chained down as prisoner in Rome, unable to go anywhere, he was able to write with steady hand, ‘I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.’ I have
enough, even in this prison. More than enough, for my God gives me more than enough. In Him, in Christ I have everything, also in these most difficult of circumstances.
Doesn’t Paul put us to shame here? For how dissatisfied don’t we sometimes behave? How quick are we not to complain and to lament. When prices go up and taxes increase? Yet, aren’t we in much better circumstances than our brother Paul? How come? Well, that’s what this Word teaches us. Sometimes we are not content with what the Lord our God gives. Often we do not live in the faith that the Lord will always give enough for our service to Him. We are of the opinion that we definitely need more, need to have things changed, otherwise we cannot, will not, be content. To give thanks properly is only possible when we believe that God gives sufficiently, even during dark and difficult times, even when it seems there is nothing but adversity in our life.
And there is more. Paul confesses here that he is also content when he has enough, when he is
living in plenty. Well, you say, isn’t that logical, isn’t that self-evident? Who would not be content
when he has all that his heart desires? But isn’t it true that we always want more? When our wages are good, they can still be better. And one thing is for sure, nobody wants to do with less. Nobody wants to tighten his belt a bit to balance the books, to live within the budget. Even if there is abundance there is still always something wanting. Also the well-to-do, the rich, are seldom satisfied. They always want more. No wonder that Scripture teaches that it will be nigh impossible for the rich, for those living in plenty, to enter heaven.
Now Paul says that he also has known such days of plenty - most likely before his appointment as missionary, in the time of his youth. He must have had well-to-do parents who could have let him study in Jerusalem, at the feet of Gamaliel. In those days Paul had it good. He could get whatever he desired. But when he became a servant of the gospel, then things began to change, even though there may have still been many times that he could make ends meet without any problems. But also
then Paul knew how to be content. Why, because he had learned to possess as though not
possessing, and to use this world without abusing it. Certainly, he enjoyed the good God gave him.
He wasn’t insensitive to such days of plenty. But it does not make him lose his head, does not get him of balance. He does not become obsessed by it. He simply has enough with what God was pleased to give him.
Doesn’t that also put us to shame? Are we ready, if need be, to give up a life of plenty? How
attached are we to our possessions? And how often, even if we are living in plenty, do we still see room for more. Still it is not enough. And yet, we are called to do both, to be able to do both. We are called to learn that spiritual secret of being content in any and every situation: in time of plenty and in time of want, in good days and bad, in health and sickness. That’s how it was with Paul. He knew both sides, and he confessed to be content with both. He had learned to be satisfied with what God was pleased to give him. And that’s how he came to confess: I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. What a glorious confession! A confession of faith!
Perhaps, by now we think that it is only a Paul who could come to such a confession. Well, where do you think he got it from? It was worked in his heart through the gospel of Christ. Paul speaks here in faith, in response to that gospel. And that’s exactly what the Lord is also after with us. The Lord tells us, I will always give you what you need. You can count on that. Well then, by faith we should know that it will be enough in any and every situation, whatever the circumstances the Lord will give us, good days or bad, riches or poverty, health or sickness, fruitful or barren years.
Indeed, the world we live in brings much pressure to bear on this confession. There is the
communist who proclaims: you do not have enough, and you should have more and . . . you can
get more. All you have to do is put an end to free enterprise, to get those capitalists under control. And his cousin, socialism, plays the same tune, except he is a bit more moderate, and takes the democratic route, which makes it all the more dangerous. Like the communist he wants to bring everything under the control of the state, the use of capital and the means of production. With socialism, too, there is the constant appropriation by the state of private property, of our moneys and possessions via its tax system, by robbing Peter to pay Paul, to make Paul content under the state.
It is the very opposite of what the apostle Paul confesses, and what we Christians are called to
confess. Lord, I have enough, for You have given me enough! I will be content with what You have portioned out to me, and therefore I will give You thanks on Thanksgiving Day, and all the days of my life. Yes, we will rejoice and gives thanks to the Lord who brings us to this confession. For, in this frame of mind, with this spiritual mind set Paul will always find room to rejoice in the Lord, to rejoice while carrying out his mission in life - to uphold the Name of Christ - whatever the circumstances, to carry out the service to which Jesus Christ has called him.
And to that service belongs both times of need and times of plenty. And still, his Lord and Saviour will not leave him wanting anything. He will give him what he needs to serve Him whatever the circumstances. And the knowledge of that indisputable truth gives Paul every reason to rejoice and to boast in the Lord His God, and enables him to conclude, to state spiritually triumphant: ‘I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.’
The Lord gives me strength. That’s what He promised me. That’s what also our Lord and Saviour promised just before He went home again, just before He left for heaven: ‘Surely, I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.’ And what He promised He will do. Let us see our Lord and Saviour, crowned with glory, exalted in heaven above, ruling over all as Head of the Church, the Church of which He has made us members. See His glory in that He provides us with everything necessary for soul and body. He gives enough from day to day, exactly enough, to carry out our service in His eternal kingdom. Boast and rejoice in Him our King, who gives us the necessary insight and strength to be content in good days and bad, in health and sickness, in fruitful and barren years.
The apostle says, I have learned; I have been taught, and thus I surely know! I have learned the
secret of being content in any and all circumstances. The secret! It is understood only by those who have been touched by the Word and Spirit of Christ. Only they are the insiders to knowledge most worth knowing, only they can say, ‘I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.’ It’s true, to reach that frame of mind, that spiritual mind set, will involve a great struggle, will at times cause much tension. To keep listening, to keep trusting, to keep believing that we do have enough, and that we have every reason to keep rejoicing in our God, in our Lord and Saviour. Indeed, it’s a holy art, which only insiders are able to carry out, only those who have let themselves be taught by the Lord. And He teaches us in His Word that His grace is always sufficient, in times of plenty and in times of need, in good days and bad, in health and sickness, in fruitful and in barren years.
And when then the Lord makes us live in times of adversity, in times of need, let us then not say
that in such times we will never be able to learn that little is enough, that little can still give us
contentment. For now we know. We now have learned again that ‘Amen’ in faith to that redeeming Word of our God: ‘My grace is sufficient for you.’ For the Word of God will make it possible, will allow us to pursue that holy art: to have contentment in any and every situation, to boast and rejoice in our Lord and Saviour, who will give us the strength to live by faith, the strength to live always out of that grace of God.
That’s how we will rejoice and always be ready to give thanks. Not only on a Thanksgiving Day,
not only when we may look back on a year of plenty in harvest and labour, but we will rejoice and
give thanks under any and every situation, because of that grace of God in Jesus Christ, the Saviour to whom we belong with body and soul, both in life and death. That’s our comfort, our only comfort, a comfort in which we can and will rejoice, in times of plenty and in times of need.
Rev. B. J. Berends
Minister in Brampton, ON.