It’s beautiful, but also exasperating, that the Bible often points out two seemingly opposite and contradictory sides of a subject. For example, Jesus is both God and man, a paradox that is hard, if not impossible, for us to fully grasp.
And have you ever studied the issue of “eternal security”? If so, you’ve found verses that seem to state the absolute impossibility of losing your salvation (e.g., John 10:28-29, Romans 8:31-39, Philippians 1:6), while other passages warn about the danger of falling away (Hebrews 6:4-6, Hebrews 10:26-27, 2 Timothy 2:12, 2 Peter 2:20-22). I’m sure God understands how all of this works together. But if we’re honest, sometimes it’s a bit baffling for us.
In the face of the Bible’s paradoxes, our tendency is to cite proof texts on one side of an issue or the other. In doing so, we ignore verses that show the other side, and this typically leads to heated theological arguments with sincere believers who have their own set of proof texts.
Hey, I used to be an attorney, so I’m pretty good at presenting just one side of the evidence.
Some of the Bible’s paradoxes are practical, not just theological, in nature. For example, I have a close friend who loves to quote Paul’s words about contentment: “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am” (Philippians 4:11).
Over the many years this friend has known me, he’s periodically observed my discontentment over my finances, my weight, my lack of spiritual impact, and many other things. And even after I was able to get unstuck and make progress in these areas of discontentment, he’s noticed that I always find another mountain of discontentment that I still needed to climb.
When my friend preaches to me contentment, I quote to him a passage Paul writes in the chapter right before his statement about being content: “I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14).
I guess I struggle with the whole contentment thing. How can we be content, when our spiritual condition or other aspects of our lives fall short of God’s best for us?
What a dilemma this is. By focusing on the importance of contentment, my friend runs the risk of settling for circumstances in his life that God wants to change. In time, he’s liable to get stuck in situations that are far less than God’s high calling for his life.
But my perspective clearly has its dangers too. By stressing a lifestyle of continually “pressing on” to ever-higher goals and objectives, I run the risk of never resting or enjoying the journey. Life tends to become just one long marathon race, never being satisfied with my current position on the GPS.
Somehow both of these scriptural principles are true. Wherever we’re currently at on our journey through life, we must learn to abide in the Lord and experience His peace (Philippians 4:6-9, John 15:1-5). Thankful that He is faithfully working out His purpose in our lives, we can unapologetically take some time to “smell the roses” along the way.
Of course, this doesn’t negate the realization that we haven’t “arrived” yet. No matter how far we’ve come so far, we are still in the process of being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). And rather than allowing ourselves to become stuck on some spiritual plateau, we must recognize God’s “upward call” to transform us from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).
So which side of the contentment dilemma are you on today? Do you need a nudge to get unstuck and press higher, or is it time to take a deep breath, rest, and enjoy where God has brought you so far?