Super Mario Strikers was a totally underrated video game back in the day. It was nuts. It was basically Super Mario Kart on a soccer field, sans cart, which, if you ask me and my friends was perfecto [insert Italian finger kiss]. You collected shells and bananas that you could trip up your opponent with, which meant if you were on a fast break, you could shoot them off to create even more space. Or, you could shoot your opponent who was ready to drop one in the back of the net. You basically have to be a Zombie or a Communist to not enjoy its exhilarating game-play.
On a cold, blustery, Illinois night (there are lots of those if you haven’t been paying attention), I invited several gamer bros over for a spicy Strikers tournament — the winner got bragging rights, which basically meant you got less pizza because you were too busy playing everyone. I was super cool, obviously. I had advanced to the semi-finals, and I was playing against previous Strikers Tournament winner Joe [last name redacted], who was clearly the favorite, which is fine, whatever.
We went into overtime, so everyone put down their flip phones and basic mp3-players and watched with anticipation. Joe, in the final thirty-seconds, accrued the crown jewel of shells, which we called, “Big Blue.” It was a heat-seeking missile of a shell, and it all-but sealed his victory. With ten seconds remaining, he got the ball, shot his shell on a fast-break to clear space, and nailed the goal. He jumped into the air and fist-pumped, and I threw myself onto the floor in dismay.
It got real quiet. Turns out, Joe, with clenched fist, punched a hole in our ceiling, which was at it’s lowest over the couch. Joe never came over again, not because my parents were angry at him, but because of shame and guilt.
Intense desire makes us do dumb things. In this case, the desire for victory and its realization made Joe punch my ceiling. He still feels real bad about it. To this day, I still grumble about losing that game. Intense desire, however, has ruined way more things than ceilings.
God’s Distinct People
Now that I’ve spent 400-words describing a lame video game to you, it’s important to note that the purpose of God’s people, whether Israel or the Church, has always been to stand out by conforming to God’s will. Holiness is the quality that distinguishes you and me from the world. Holiness in our relationships, our giving, our efforts, our service — God’s people are to “Be holy as I am holy (Lev. 11:44; 1 Pet. 1:16).”
Israel’s holiness was to be so stark that the nations were to be drawn to it:
See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it.Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?
The Church, similarly, is to give the world a preview of Christ’s future millennial reign by submitting to Jesus’ Lordship now, living in conformity to His will, as well as teaching the world what God has done through His Messiah through the Gospel:
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
1 Pet. 2:9
God’s Content People
The root of this holiness — to which the People of God have always been called — is contentment: reposing, relaxing, basking in God’s goodness and provision. This is the distinguishing mark of a true believer.
We are content because we rest in God’s providential care and sovereignty over our finances, our job, our family, and our influence. We’re content because we have been declared righteous now and forever; Christ died for us and rose again on the third day. We’re content because we’re looking for a better Kingdom, where all loss in this life will be eclipsed and forgotten in the physical presence of Jesus Christ.
The issue of contentment is rooted in the Sabbath Day of the Creation Account in Genesis and the Law of Exodus; it’s at the heart of Adam’s failure to trust in God’s gift of wisdom and knowledge; it’s the base of Scripture’s commendation of Enoch, the reason for Israel’s rampant idolatry and subsequent exile, and source of gain for the Church (1 Tim. 6:6). It is, as Thomas Watson puts it in his work The Art of Divine Contentment, “a gift from God. It is a slip taken off from the tree of life, and planted by the Spirit of God in the soul. It is a fruit that grows not in the garden of human learning, but is of a Heavenly birth.”
Indeed we see churches and its Shepherds rise and fall on this subject. James MacDonald wanted more, so he gambled, connived, sought glory for himself. What a great fall he experienced because he was not content with the lot God had given Him! The stomach-churning sexual abuse scandal within the Southern Baptist denomination is born out of an intense and wicked desire for something other than what God has provided through the marriage relationship.
Paul writes in Philippians,
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. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
In this series, I want us both to know what it means to be content and learn the secret of it. We’ll study the theology behind it, it’s root in the Sabbath Day, its example in Biblical characters, its foundation in the Law, the failure of Israel and eventual revival through the New Covenant, commands for the church, and realization in the Eschaton. As Puritan Thomas Watson compels us, we must learn the “Art of Contentment.”
Our Christian walks and ministries depend on it.
See all posts in this series: