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    Mar 17, 2016

    Class 7: Discontentment Within the Church

    Series: Living as a Church

    Category: Core Seminars, Church Life, Church Membership, Church Unity, Fellowship & Hospitality, Capitol Hill Baptist Church


    I. Introduction

    Discontentment is something we all struggle with at one time or another, and discontentment with the church can be particularly difficult. Don Whitney writes that no one can hurt a believer as deeply as a group of Christians because of the nature of fellowship that exists between Christians.

    I wonder - can you recall the last that time that you have been deeply disappointed by another church member – either in this church or another? Probably. Or think about the last time that you felt a church let you down. Maybe it had been months since you’d joined a church and you still felt like an outsider. Or maybe the congregation was unconcerned about a particular priority that mattered a lot to you. Difficulties like that so easily lead to discontentment. And how we respond to discontentment can be a great enemy of our unity as a church. Or it can be an incredible force for good. In a moment, we’ll going to talk more about how discontentment arises. But at the very beginning here, I’d like to hear your thoughts on how discontentment can be so damaging. What are some ways that our response to discontentment can harm unity in the church? And another question: How can a good response to disappointment strengthen the church?

    Like all adversity, we know that God gives us the grace to work through discontentment, and he intends it to serve his glory and our good. So how can we promote unity when we encounter discontentment in the church? This is what we’ll be considering today.

    Before we go further let me offer a bit of definitional clarity. Today’s topic will not address how we should respond to clear sin in the church. Lord willing, we’ll consider that topic later this month when we think about encouragement and church discipline. Nor will today’s class specifically address discontentment that comes from disagreement with leadership. That’s our specific topic for next week.

    Instead, think of today’s topic as sort of a mirror image of last week’s topic in which we thought about how we can grow in unity together through our love for each other. Today we’ll consider how we respond to aspects of our church that are not necessarily sinful, and yet can be cause of unhappiness, and thus a potential source of disunity and discouragement. And it’s worth pointing out that discontent isn’t always bad. Maybe you’re disappointed in your church because they don’t give much to missions. That’s probably a Godly discontent, isn’t it? But we can still respond in a way that damages Christ’s church.

    So how we can glorify God by addressing discontentment in a god-honoring manner?

    I’m going to begin by briefly examining the negative effect that discontentment can have on a church. Then, we’ll think through some ideas of how we should deal with discontentment in general, and then more practically, we’ll consider three specific categories of discontentment. Through this, my prayer is that we will all be better equipped to “work for the unity of the spirit and the bond of peace” as we are commanded to do in Ephesians.

    So first, in what ways can discontentment affect church unity. That’s roman numeral II.

    II. The Bitter Fruit of Discontentment
    We might define discontentment as a longing for something better than the present situation. It’s inevitable for sinful people in a sinful world. That’s because we know for a fact that this world is broken by sin and should be better, but also because as sinful people, we so often put our hope in circumstances rather than in God. And discontentment, even when spurred by godly desires, can bear bitter fruit. So let’s look at three ways in which discontentment, if not properly handled, can harm the witness of the church:

    1. Discontentment can lead to complaining and grumbling
    Paul warns us in the book of Philippians to “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation” (2:14-15). Do not complain or grumble, in anything, ever, is what scripture says. Part of the way in which our witness should be compelling to the world around us is that we do not complain or grumble. (See also James 5:9). When we don’t properly address discontentment, and it leads to complaining and grumbling, we damage one of the characteristics that marks us as Christians and harm the church’s witness.

    2. Discontentment can lead to discord
    When we’re unhappy with something we’re tempted to talk about it. We criticize. We rally support, trying to get people to see things from our point of view. And no matter the virtue of our initial concern, this type of behavior can quickly cause factions and dissension within the church—something that Paul lists alongside idolatry, witchcraft, and fits of rage when he writes about the acts of the sinful nature (Gal. 5:20). We must be careful to address discontentment because of the discord it can produce.

    3. Discontentment Distracts from What Really Matters
    As individuals and as a church, our charge is to “make the most of every opportunity.” But discontentment consumes our time and attention. It saps our energy. It consumes the time and attention of our brothers and sisters, our elders and staff. It can distract from what really matters.

    This is some of the bitter fruit that discontentment can bear in our life together as a church. But remember that discontentment can strengthen the body as well. When we respond in a way that is godly, when we submit to each other for the sake of Christ and do the hard work of love, we can bring great glory to God. We show that our unity as a church doesn’t rest on perfect agreement, or compatible personalities—but on shared hope and satisfaction in Christ. To see that in action, let’s think about ways we can address discontentment in a God-glorifying manner. Roman numeral III on your handout.

    III. Addressing Discontentment in General
    How should we address discontentment? As with any other area of the Christian life, the key is not to memorize a list of things we can do to respond to discontentment. The key is to understand how the message of the gospel transforms our response to discontentment. To better understand that, I’m going to go through four general guidelines for addressing discontentment.

    A. Pray for God’s Mercy.
    First and foremost, the gospel tells us that we are unable to do anything of value in our own strength -- and that includes responding to discontentment. Remember psalm 121: “I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” So our first guideline is to pray and cry out for God’s mercy. It’s foolish to think that we are mature enough that we can address discontentment under our own power. When something difficult happens to you at church and someone asks you about it, is your first reaction to say, “Thanks—but I’m OK. I’m OK.” Really? OK because you have relied on the strength of God to forgive an offense and to love beyond your own ability? Or because you think you have what it takes to do that in your own strength?

    When you encounter discontentment, pray. You need to pray. You are entering a struggle that you cannot win on your own. Pray that God would give you discernment and wisdom through his word. Pray that God would identify any sinful desires in your own heart and replace them. Pray that he would fuel your heart with the love of Christ. We would honor God far more if we tried to fix things ourselves less often and spent more time in desperation pleading for God to heal us.

    B. Examine Your Desires; Confess and Repent of those that are sinful
    Second, examine your own heart to understand the desires at the root of our discontentment. Where is there sin that you must confess? Where are there desires that should be satisfied in Christ, but that you’re wrongly seeking to satisfy in comfort or in the respect of others? James writes in chapter 4 of his letter “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want.” (4:1-2a). James gets right to the connection between discontentment and circumstances. We often feel discontent because we have put our hope in our circumstances rather than in God. But circumstances change. And God does not change. He is the same: yesterday, today and forever. So is there a fight or quarrel? Then there are ungodly desires to deal with.

    For example, perhaps you’re unhappy because some people are better friends with a particular member than you are. Well, what’s at the root of that discontentment? Is it because you feel that such friendship conveys a special status that you covet? Is it because you’re jealous of a friendship that seems so close? Ask God to identify sin in your life—and confess it as sin. Think hard about the root problem – what are the desires behind the emotions of discontentment.
    • Are you putting your hope in the approval of men rather than in Christ’s provision for you? The gospel will counter that desire.
    • Are you trying to accomplish good ends through your own strength and are impatient with the inefficiency of others? The gospel will remind you that as a Christian, you can only do things in Christ’s strength, in his time, for his ends.
    • Are you discontent because you feel you deserve better treatment than you have received? Remember the gospel’s call to lay down your life—and your rights—for the sake of Christ.
    That’s guideline number 2 – examine your desires; and repent.

    C. Fill Your Hearts With a Passion for God’s Glory
    Third, we should fill our hearts with a passion for God’s glory. Not only must we repent of sinful attitudes, we must replace them with attitudes that are godly. And here again, we must understand how the gospel transforms the situation. In Christ, God has lavished His riches upon us by forgiving us of our sins. As we grow in the understanding of the depth of His grace and our hearts are filled with gratitude, the reasons for our discontentment can suddenly seem quite small. When we are filled with a passion to see God’s glory proclaimed, discontentment rooted in selfishness can melt away.

    Where does this come from? Quite obviously, through things like regular prayer, fellowship, and time in the Word. But specifically related to this topic of discontentment with the church, let me give you a few ideas on how we can fill our minds with the passions of God:

    1. First, when you are unhappy with someone or something in the church, pray for that person or situation. Pray that God would prosper their desire for him. Pray that God would help you understand the worth that they bear as His children.

    And express that concern in other forms of service. Send them an encouraging e-mail or provide for a physical need. Choosing to love someone at an extremely practical level can be one of the best ways to soften our hearts in the midst of discontentedness.

    Now, you might be thinking: but if my heart is saying negative things inside while I say encouraging things outside, isn’t that hypocrisy? No, it isn’t. Disciplining yourself to work toward the good of another, even when your feelings incline elsewhere, is part of what it means to persevere in love as we thought about last week – and God can use that then to warm our hearts; to gain that affection that is lacking.

    2. Second idea to fill our minds: consider God’s call in Philippians where he says: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (2:3, ESV). How often we are ready to recite this verse but do we really live this out? Internalize it?

    Think of why you should consider another member as “more significant” than yourself. Is it because they are more capable or more godly? No. It’s because they are Christ’s possession; He has bought them with His blood. They are precious in God’s sight. Much selfish discontentment begins because we have elevated our worth and importance over those around us. Looking at a specific person and thinking about why you ought to consider them more significant than yourself is not only humbling—it’s a great way to recalibrate your values toward those of Jesus Christ.

    So, for example, let’s say I’m impatient with someone because they’re not signing up for nursery duty. And my attitude is: how dare they consider their time more valuable than mine! Don’t they realize how much I juggle on a weekend? I’ll do well to refocus my passions away from the value of my time and toward the value of those Christians. Christ gave his life for them. That’s how I’ll turn my thoughts from contempt to love. I may still talk with them about how serving in the nursery is a good thing, for them and the body of Christ, and yet, Lord willing, my motivation will be love.

    D. Speak . . . In Love.
    How you choose to share the specifics of your discontentment with others affects whether that discontentment spreads or subsides. So what should you talk about and how should you talk about it? Let met give you a few suggestions.

    1. It’s a good practice to work through these things we’ve talked about so far (prayer, examine our desires, filling our minds, etc.), before you speak with someone about your area of unhappiness. Are you wanting to either confess sin or collaborate to encourage the church? If your conversation doesn’t fall into one of those two categories, then it is probably complaining and grumbling.

    2. When you think it’s good to talk about something, talk constructively about how you two can better serve the church. Simply using a conversation to let off steam or to seek affirmation of your discontentment will likely spread that discontentment. The temptation to sin in anger can be quite strong—and something against which we should guard ourselves.

    3. Recognize your responsibility as a church member. We’ll talk about this more in two weeks (Lord willing), but suffice it to say that Jesus in Matthew 18 lays out very clear steps for dealing with sin in the church -- and the first step is to confront the individual you suspect of sin. With very few exceptions, if you’re talking with anyone else about that sin, then you are acting as a gossip and a slanderer. I can’t tell you how many times someone comes to me with a concern about what someone else is doing and expects me as a church leader to fix the problem. With very few exceptions, my counsel is for the complaining person to talk with the offending person. That’s how things should work in a church.

    4. Be careful how you speak about the issue publicly. Do you remember that 2x2 grid we used two weeks ago to describe when the elders have responsibility for decisions and where the congregation needs to take action? That can also guide how you speak publicly. If something is both serious and clear, then speaking publicly—say in a members’ meeting—against the elders—is potentially a good thing. Of course, you want to get counsel on this ahead of time, both from the elders and from leaders you respect outside this church. But if it’s not in that category of both serious and clear in Scripture, you should not speak publicly against the leadership of the elders—and leave your conversation to be in private.

    So again, four guidelines for addressing discontentment: Pray. Understand your desires and repent of what is sin. Fill your hearts with a passion for God’s glory. And speak in love.


    IV. Specific Areas of Discontent
    In our remaining time together, I’d like to get even more practical in discussing how we should address particular situations in the church that cause discontentment.

    1. The church isn’t meeting my needs
    One specific area of discontentment is that the church isn’t meeting my needs. We’ve talked extensively in this course about the reason for church. It’s not ultimately to surround us with social relationships in which we find fulfillment; its ultimate purpose is to glorify God by showing off his power in a diverse community of united, loving believers. Nevertheless, even with that knowledge in mind, we can still struggle. Perhaps you’ve been a member of a church for several months and you’re finding it difficult to make close friends. Maybe you’re dissatisfied because your particular gifts aren’t being recognized and used in the church.

    In general, we need to keep in mind that joy in the Christian life doesn’t come as we develop a careful balance between serving others and being served. In fact, that’s not at all the picture that we get in scripture of the joyful Christian life. Instead, joy comes as we give ourselves completely in service to Christ. So our joy in church life comes not from consuming its resources to meet our needs, but as we invest ourselves to meet the needs of others.

    Following the pattern we established earlier about ways to address discontentment, we should approach situations like this with prayer. We should search our hearts and determine whether these feelings stem from selfish and ungodly desires. Does your desire to switch to a church with better dating prospects stem from a hesitation to trust God with something that’s important to you? Does your concern with using your giftedness stem from a focus on your satisfaction rather than the good of the church? Remember that spiritual gifts in the New Testament are given primarily to building up the church. Our goal should be to identify needs in the body and fill them rather than satisfying our personal desire to optimize the use of what we believe are our spiritual gifts.

    And, again—following the pattern we’ve already established—we need to seek God’s glory in the midst of our discontentment. Have you found it difficult to meet close friends? Remember that God’s priority is for us to glorify him by loving others. There are likely many other people feeling the same way, so take the initiative to reach out to them; be a friend to them. God will satisfy your desires but in a way different than you had planned.

    Let me add one other thing on this subject. Much of what this battle entails is in training our minds to understand the many benefits and blessings that God has, in His kindness, given us in the church. I remember Mark’s sermon a few years ago when he gave this striking example of how we receive one blessing after another, and then take it for granted, tossing it aside and looking for more. And all the while, as we are crying out for something else, there is this growing pile of blessings rising up over us that we ignore. Pray that God would train us to see all of the blessings he has given us in the church; and that will affect our heart and attitude in areas of discontentment.

    That said, there may come a time when you find that a particular church—despite its grounding in God’s word—is not a place where you’re growing spiritually. What should you do? Talk to others around you after you have prayed and confessed any sin. Let the elders know; seek wisdom and counsel. The last thing you should do is to decide on your own that you need a different church, only to discover the same root issues coming up in your new church home. When you do talk to someone, remember to be careful with how you discuss this discontentment—don’t let it become a cause for discord within the larger body of Christ.

    2. Dislike of church members
    Another cause for discontentment in the church is simply dislike of other church members. Perhaps it’s an issue of envy or rivalry: you resent the blessings that God has lavished on a particular brother or sister. Or perhaps it’s a basic feeling of discomfort: someone behaves in a way that is radically different from what you are accustomed to. How do you work through discontentedness in areas like this that?

    Again, let’s follow the pattern we have established. Pray that God would change your heart. We have tremendous ability to disguise the longings of our hearts, but only God can truly change them. Confess your sin to God and seek his forgiveness. Recognize that a desire to not love someone is sin—it’s not something you can brush aside as mere incompatibility. Learn to pray for people whom you dislike, that God would bless and mature them. Consider that these individuals, though broken and imperfect today, are being transformed into Christ’s likeness with ever-increasing glory. Loving those whom we find uncomfortable is not easy, but as members of a church, it is hugely important -- because it is through those types of relationships that God is most glorified.

    V. Conclusion

    In his first letter, Peter says the following: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” There are few areas where we are more susceptible to stumble than in the area of discontentment. What begins as a critique or a moment of insecurity can cause havoc in a church as members pursue selfish desires and sink more and more into unhappiness and discord. Paul tells us in I Timothy 6:6 that “godliness with contentment is great gain.” That should be our goal—to strive toward contentment together as a church.

    If there is one last point I would emphasize, it is to remember that we must put our hope in God and not in our circumstances. At the root of discontentment is the idea that things would be better if some person or situation would simply change. Compared to the One who is Lord of those circumstances, and Who has promised us surpassing joy in himself, those circumstances are poor ground for our hope. Let’s pray that as a body, we would pursue the joy that is found in Him alone.