Pursuing Contentment through Your Ordinary Local Church

Article
04.06.2017

Your church has a primary role in your personal pursuit of contentment. Does this surprise you? Think about where the battle lines are drawn in your pursuit. Contentment is about whether or not you will rest and rejoice in the sufficiency of the Trinity or will fall for the deceptive marketing of this fallen world. Will you fasten your heart supremely upon created things (people, stuff, etc.), or will you be content in God? God uses the church to help make the latter a reality.

Let’s think together about church and, in particular, the congregation where you’re a member. If it’s like most churches today, it’s not very large (probably fewer than two hundred people). You may be tempted to think that your church, with its modest size, is rather insignificant. When I talk to people about their churches, I almost sense a little embarrassment about the size and perceived scope of their church. Apologetic words like small and ordinary come up. These words aren’t derogatory at all; perhaps they’re even accurate. But the sentiment behind them is concerning, especially in light of how the church serves to help you learn contentment.

CONTENTMENT AND THE LOCAL CHURCH

When you read that word ordinary, what do you think of? Common synonyms include unimpressive, typical, normal, and average: as in “My day was typical.” “The movie was unimpressive.” “The book was average.” When you think about the church in general and your congregation in particular, you might be a bit embarrassed by its ordinariness, especially if it doesn’t have thousands of members, a massive building, or the reputation for being the “cool church.” What if it’s “just” a church? What if it’s “just” an ordinary ministry? Is this okay?

Here’s the bottom-line: the church is the most important organization on the planet. Its importance and inherent value are dependent not upon size but upon substance. The church equips its members to answer the highest calling on the planet—to glorify God by helping people know and follow Jesus (Matt. 28:19–21). There’s nothing more noble or important than this. This does not impugn the importance of other organizations that likewise do very good things, but it does relativize them. Nothing takes the place of prominence like the church. The church is the bride of Christ.

Furthermore, the church has the greatest collective impact. While many organizations may boast of real help for people in this world (and praise God for them), only the church can truly say that it brings help in this world and the next. The church is involved in rescuing sinners from an eternity in hell. Think about this: we rejoice when a group is able to help people get over addictions and enjoy a meaningful life. But, as good as this is, freedom from addiction, by itself, has an impact for only a few decades. How much more does the church shine in her mission to seek and save the lost from eternal suffering? The church also has a tremendous impact on this present life. As Christians gather and work together to hear and apply God’s Word, they encourage each other to be content in God. They grow together in Christ and thus grow in contentment.

HOW GOD DOES IT

We’ve all encountered advertisements for a fast path to better health or a more fit body. The secrets, previously unknown to mankind for thousands of years, have now been discovered. All we have to do is click the ad and try the new program to have all our health and fitness dreams come true. Over the years I have been committed to exercise and healthy living. I’ve read and talked to a lot of experts, and what I’ve found is surprisingly simple: you need to work at it. Regular exercise and a healthy diet are what the experts tell us we need. It’s what they’ve always told us. I remember my grandfather saying, “There is no substitute for hard work and discipline.” It’s still true. And the same is true in the church.

In Ephesians 4, we read of God’s blueprint for his church. The goal, simply stated, is maturity: “mature manhood, to the measure of the fullness of Christ” (4:13). The means by which this happens is the proper functioning of the body of Christ (4:16). But how does the body function properly? It does so as its members speak the truth to one another, having been properly equipped by those gifted in teaching the Word of God (4:11–15). In short, God wants his people to become mature in the Word, in the context of the local church, by means of the sound teaching and application of his Word.

At this point you might be thinking, Okay, I agree with you about the importance of a faithful local church. But what does this have to do with my contentment? This is an important question. Think back to the garden of Eden. Adam was given a plot of land and told to be a steward over it (Gen. 2:15). Genesis indicates that the garden was to spread. Adam and Eve were to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Gen. 1:28). If they had persisted in obedience and spread out to corners of the earth, the earth would have been filled with the glory of the Lord. This was God’s design in creation. Adam, God’s priest-king, was to promote and defend the holiness of God by spreading his glory to the ends of the earth. So, did he do this? No. In Genesis 3 we read that Adam and Eve sinned. They failed to treasure God and trust his word. Disobeying, they died.

Jesus is often referred to as the second or last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45–48). He came to undo and restore all that the first Adam broke. Paul was picking up on this continuity with the first Adam when he showed what Jesus would do through the church. Look at what Paul says in Ephesians 4:10: “He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.” Commentator Peter O’Brien observes:

Christ fills the universe, not in some semi-physical sense, but by his mighty rule over all things (see on Eph. 1:22–23), a notion that is paralleled in the Old Testament where filling the universe, in this sense of exercising sovereign rule, is predicated of God: “‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ says the Lord” (Jer. 23:24). Here the idea is transferred to Christ: he fills the universe through the exercise of his lordship over everything. This entails his functioning as the powerful ruler over the principalities (Eph. 1:21), and giving grace and strength to his people (4:13, 15–16), through whom he fulfills his purposes.[1]

In other words, Jesus is the King over the entire universe. As the last Adam he has stretched out his sovereign rule so that nothing is outside his jurisdiction. He has won. The church is in the business of taking the ground that the King has already won. He has conquered, and his churches, as his ambassadors, come speaking of his victory, bidding others to submit to his rule. The kingdom of Christ is advancing to the edge of the earth through the gospel. And once people come to Christ, they come and join others in the church, where they grow together under the good and sovereign rule of Jesus the King.

What does contentment have to do with your local church? Everything. True contentment comes through a true knowledge of Christ, and the church is the primary means by which the gospel goes out and the primary context in which the gospel is applied. As the Scriptures are taught and applied, we grow together in Christlikeness. This is another way of saying we grow in contentment. Jesus was the most content man who ever lived. He treasured God and trusted his promises. So those who share in Christ come to be conformed to his likeness. We come to be strengthened by him as we increasingly reflect him (Phil. 4:13).

Editor’s note: This article is an adpated excerpt from Erik Raymond’s Chasing Contentment: Trusting God in a Discontented Age by Erik Raymond, 2017. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.

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[1] Peter Thomas O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), 296–97.

By:
Erik Raymond

Erik Raymond is the senior pastor at Redeemer Fellowship Church in Metro Boston. He and his wife Christie have six children. He blogs at Ordinary Pastor. You can find him on Twitter at @erikraymond.