These words show us that contentment isn't a natural propensity of man. "Ill weeds grow apace." Covetousness, discontent, and murmuring are as natural to man as thorns are to the soil. We don't need to sow thistles and brambles; they come up naturally enough, because they're indigenous to earth: and so, we don't need to teach men to complain; they complain fast enough without any education. But the precious things of the earth must be cultivated. If we would have wheat, we must plough and sow; if we want flowers, there must be the garden, and all the gardener's care. Now, contentment is one of the flowers of heaven, and if we would have it, it must be cultivated; it won't grow in us by nature; it's the new nature alone that can produce it, and even then we must be specially careful and watchful that we maintain and cultivate the grace which God has sown in us. Paul says, "I have learned . . . to be content;" as much as to say, he didn't know how at one time. It cost him some pains to attain to the mystery of that great truth. No doubt he sometimes thought he had learned, and then broke down. And when at last he had attained unto it, and could say, "I've learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content," he was an old, grey-headed man, upon the borders of the grave---a poor prisoner...shut up in Nero's dungeon at Rome. We might well be willing to endure Paul's infirmities, and share the cold dungeon with him, if we too might by any means attain unto his good degree. Let's not get the notion that we can be contented with learning, or learn without discipline. It's not a power that may be exercised naturally, but a science to be acquired gradually. We know this from experience. Let's "hush that murmur", natural though it be, and continue "a diligent pupil in the College of Content".
How We Relate to Each Other
I like the saying, “Sure you can fly, but that cocoon has got to go.” It's true of the caterpillar, but it's also true of us. We can't become the new person created unto good works until we're willing to give up our wrong ways. True, we're not saved by our works. We're saved by grace. But... we're saved unto good works. We aren't saved by changing our behavior, but being saved will change our behavior. Or, to say it another way, God loves us just as we are, but he loves us too much to let us stay that way.
Knowing this, Paul gets specific. His theology may reach both the world before, this world, and the world to come; but he gets personal.
A country preacher of a generation ago said, “The devil will "get your goat" if he can, because he knows where you have it tied.” While it's true that the devil likes to prey upon our weakness, the spirit of God points out our weakness so that we can be strong. He calls us from the worldly life to the life of holiness. God may indeed provide the “robe of righteousness,” but we have to put it on. “Put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. 4:24).
Beautifully, Paul brings together the negative and the positive sides. In order to put something on, we must take something off. We not only lay hold of some things, we must also lay aside some things—quit them.
The theme of Ephesians is relationships—relationship with God’s eternal plan, relationship with God’s chosen people, and relationship with our former self. The formula for getting along with people is simple:
1. Don’t lie. You can’t build a relationship on dishonesty.
2. Tell the truth.
3. Don’t stay angry. “Let not the sun go down on your wrath (Eph. 4:26).” If you've offended someone, ask forgiveness. If you're upset, discover the reason and deal with it.
4. Don’t let the devil drive you from his people. God has called us to unity, to love, and to acceptance.
5. Don’t steal. Be a contributor. Look for ways to contribute to the church. Don’t be a parasite and a liability.
6. Talk about what's good. Build people up. Actually, the church is made up of people. If we're tearing them down, we're destroying the life of the body. Edify. Build up. Think of ways to make people feel appreciated. We can strengthen them. Let's do it!
7. Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit. He's been sent to lead us into truth. When he can’t, he feels bad. We frustrate him. When he gently reproves us, Let's don’t resent it. Know that he does it only because God loves us. When he directs us to service, let's obey him.
8. Let's be as forgiving of others as Christ has been to us. Unless we'd be happy for God to parade our sins before the whole world, let's don’t parade others’ sins and weakness.
All of these things are in the fourth chapter of Ephesians. They seem trivial in the light of the universal gospel. Simply remember that while the sun shines brilliantly, the man who puts his hands over his eyes remains in darkness. Sin blinds. Sin binds. Sin separates.
To ignore these guidelines to holy living is like being in favor of health, but refusing
to kill germs or bacteria.
The Sandbox Rock
A little boy was spending his Saturday morning playing in his sandbox. He had with him his box of cars and trucks, his plastic pail, and a shiny, red plastic shovel. In the process of creating roads and tunnels in the soft sand, he discovered a large rock in the middle of the sandbox.
The lad dug around the rock, managing to dislodge it from the dirt. With no little bit of struggle, he pushed and nudged the rock across the sandbox by using his feet. (He was a very small boy and the rock was very huge.)
When the boy got the rock to the edge of the sandbox, however, he found that he couldn't roll it up and over the little wall. Determined, the little boy shoved, pushed, and pried, but every time he thought he had made some progress, the rock tipped and then fell back into the sandbox. The little boy grunted, struggled, pushed, shoved---but his only reward was to have the rock roll back, smashing his chubby fingers. Finally he burst into tears of frustration.
All this time the boy's father watched from his living room window as the drama unfolded. At the moment the tears fell, a large shadow fell across the boy and the sandbox. It was the boy's father. Gently but firmly he said, "Son, why didn't you use all the strength that you had available?"
Defeated, the boy sobbed back, "But I did, Daddy, I did! I used all the strength that I had!" "No, son," corrected the father kindly. "You didn't use all the strength you had. You didn't ask me."
With that the father reached down, picked up the rock, and removed it from the sandbox. Do you have "rocks" in your life that need to be removed? Are you discovering that you don't have what it takes to lift them? There's One who's always available to us and willing to give us the strength we need. When the apostle Paul faced times of a broken spirit and sapped strength, he proclaimed to the Corinthian church, "My grace is enough for you. When you are weak, then my power is made perfect in you" (2 Corinthians 12:9b NCV). When we're broken in spirit and our strength is spent, we can turn to our Savior Jesus.