Threats to Peace, Joy, and Contentment
When do you find yourself struggling most with being discontent? When are you more likely to experience restlessness and anxiety? What’s usually happening in your life when you’re least likely to have joy?
Each one of us struggles with these things at different times throughout our lives. There are perhaps a variety of reasons for this, but very often, the threat to our peace, joy, and contentment can be found in one of these four areas of our lives...
- Our Circumstances – what happens to us.
- People – our various relationships.
- Things – our material possessions.
- And Status – what others think of us.
These four areas very often chip away at our peace, joy, and contentment. Can you relate to that?
In our Scripture, Jesus points us to a new way of seeing that can make all the difference in our lives. This change in our perspective can help us find, and hold onto, the peace, joy, and contentment God desires for us.
The Sermon on the Mount
Matthew 5:1-12 comes at the beginning of what’s called, The Sermon on the Mount, which is found in Matthew 5-7. I love The Sermon on the Mount. We’ve studied it many times at the church I serve. However, as much as I love studying it, that’s exactly how much I don’t like studying it.
That’s a little tongue-in-cheek, but there’s some truth behind it. The Sermon is very convicting. Jesus doesn’t pull any punches in those three chapters. John Stott once said that the most charitable thing you could say about a person who says, they try to live according to The Sermon on the Mount, is that they’ve never read it. Maybe you’ve heard someone say, “the preacher isn’t preaching… he’s meddling.” That’s the kind of sermon, The Sermon on the Mount is.
Therefore, it’s interesting that some of the most beautiful words in Scripture, the Beatitudes, make up the first 12 verses of that kind of sermon. But it’s important to understand that they do because the Beatitudes are the foundation for everything else we read in The Sermon.
Very often, when we think of the Christian life, we think of behavior, of how we act. And yet, in this sermon on the Christian life, Jesus begins by focusing on the character of the Christian, of what’s happening on the inside of a person. He’s saying, “This is what every Christian’s character should be.” If you want to behave or act in a Christian way, according to Jesus, you must have the character he describes in these verses.
You see, the change Jesus calls us to, happens from the inside out.
So, here are the eight virtues, or character traits, Jesus gives us in these verses…
- A poverty of spirit
- Mourning over sin
- A hunger and thirst for righteousness
- Purity of heart
- A desire for peace
- Seeking righteousness, regardless of the consequences
The virtues Jesus lists here give us a picture or portrait of what every Christian is called to look like. It’s not a buffet table where we can pick and choose the ones like and pass on the ones we don’t.
To be honest, I used to think that. I thought these were like spiritual gifts. We don’t all have the same spiritual gifts, and that’s a good thing because the body of Christ needs the variety of gifts – like a body needs feet, hands, noses, ears, and so on.
But the Beatitudes, and the Fruit of the Spirit, are in an entirely different category. Just as each of us is called to bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, So too is each of us called to be poor in spirit, mourn over sin, be meek, hunger and thirst for righteousness, pursue mercy, purity of heart, peace, and to stand for our faith, even under the threat of persecution. It’s a group package. It’s a cumulative portrait of what each of us who follow Christ ought to look like.
Now, what word comes before each virtue? “Blessed.” Each virtue or character has a particular blessing that goes with it. And it’s important to understand the blessing isn’t something we do. It’s something given to us by God. And Christ says we receive those blessings when those virtues describe us. It’s from those blessings we begin to receive the inner satisfaction of peace, joy, and contentment.
It’s also vital to understand that these blessings don’t depend on outward circumstances, or the people in our lives, or the stuff we own, or what people think of us. We often use the word “blessed” or “blessing” to describe something that happens to us – something related to our circumstances; like a good report from the doctor, a promotion at work, a safe trip. And, to be sure, God blesses us in those ways and it’s right to see God’s hand of blessing in those circumstances.
However, that’s not what Jesus is saying here. The blessing he’s talking about doesn’t have anything to do with circumstances. Paul knew what Jesus had in mind. He said in Philippians 4:12-13,
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Paul’s outward circumstances weren’t dictating his inward peace, joy, and contentment. He found them in Christ alone.
God’s Eternal Perspective
So, here’s the big idea: Jesus is giving us a new way of seeing. It’s not what we would’ve naturally come up with on our own. It’s only as we see all of life the way God does – what we might call an eternal perspective – that we’re able to have this inner peace, joy, and contentment, regardless of our circumstances.
But don’t you find yourself, more often than you would like, thinking and living like Eeyore, from Winnie the Pooh? We can become really negative, really quickly, can’t we? And that’s often because we’re not enjoying God’s blessings that come from cultivating these virtues, because we’re looking at life through only a temporal perspective.
Thus, we say things like,
- If only I get this job, then I’ll be happy.
- If only this relationship improves, then I’ll be at peace.
- If I finally get this car or house, then I’ll be content.
You can fill in the blank with whatever you want, but those things will never bring the blessing Jesus is talking about. The blessing he’s talking about doesn’t depend on your outward circumstances. The Apostle Paul knew it’s our perspective on our circumstances that will shape us most, and not just the circumstances.
This isn’t Stoicism that says, just adjust your attitude and then you can handle any situation you face. Instead, God is at the center of an eternal perspective. Trusting in God and depending upon his grace in every circumstance is what brings the blessing. It’s loving what he loves, desiring what he desires, obeying him always, seeking to align your will with his. This is what brings the blessing Jesus is talking about.
The World’s Temporal Perspective
But this isn’t the perspective of the world, is it? How might the Beatitudes sound if they were written today. I came across the following that attempted to answer that question.
- Blessed are the proud and self-sufficient
- Blessed are those who never mourn
- Blessed are the strong
- Blessed are the self-righteous
- Blessed are those who show no mercy
- Blessed are those who look out for number one
You get the idea. But when we compare those to the eight characteristics Jesus gave us, they don’t exactly match up, do they?
That’s because Jesus turned the thinking of the world upside down.
A New Way of Seeing
Instead, we must look to God’s inspired Word, the Bible. That’s where we hear the authoritative voice of Jesus saying things like, “blessed are…
- The Poor in Spirit
- Those who Mourn
- The Meek
- Those who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness
- The Merciful
- The Pure in Heart
- The Peacemakers
- Those who are Persecuted because of Righteousness
But those aren’t virtues we’d naturally seek to pursue and cultivate, are they?
We need God’s grace to change our hearts. We need a new way of seeing – a different perspective. God’s perspective. This new way of seeing comes only when we have a new heart, and we receive that new heart only when we trust in Christ alone as our Savior and Lord. We need his Word to direct us and his grace to enable us to see in this new way and cultivate the character of Christ in our lives.
- Over the next few weeks, start reading and praying over Matthew 5:1-12.
- Look at one verse at a time and ask the Lord to show you how you’re doing with each of those virtues.
- What are the various areas of your life that threaten your peace, joy and contentment? Why are those areas threats in your life?
- Ask the Lord to show you how your life might change when you begin seeing in the new way Jesus reveals in these verses.
- How would your life change when these character traits begin to describe your life more and more and you start enjoying the blessings that come with them? Pray each day for the Lord to give you his grace so that they will describe you.