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Satisfaction…The Other Kind

Usually, when we think of “satisfaction,” we think in terms of the context of what satisfies us. A nap on the sofa in front of a fire in the fireplace, a nice thick and juicy steak dinner, or a favorite book are satisfying things that come to my mind. For those of us who do, preaching and teaching the Word of God is one of the most satisfying of all things to do in life — as one pastor said, “preaching is my vocation, my avocation, and my vacation.” Amen to that, there is nothing quite like it in the world. And as Christians, we ultimately are to find our satisfaction in Christ. Indeed, if God is “well-pleased” in Christ (Matthew 3:17), then oughtn’t we be the same?

Yet, there is another kind of satisfaction — one that is objective in nature and has to do with the Law. When a law is broken there is a punishment assigned to that law which is said to “satisfy the demands of the law.” Thus, if you drive too fast on the road, if you fail to pay your taxes, if you steal from your neighbor, or if you perjure yourself, then there is a penalty to be paid. Sometimes that penalty is measured by a fine, sometimes it includes community service, and sometimes it requires jail time. Whatever the punishment assigned by the Law and applied by the Judge, that is required of you to “satisfy” the Law’s demands. Once satisfied, you can then go about your life as normal.

Yet, when we shift from earthly things to eternal things, we find ourselves with a dilemma. Our sins are not just sins against the earthly community around us; they are sins against God and against His law. And since God is eternal, the consequences of sin against God are eternal in nature as well. Hell is in fact the only suitable and proper punishment for our sin.

The problem with eternal is just that…it is eternal. In other words, unlike paying a fine or even going to jail for a sentence, those things end and we can come out on the other side. Eternal means that it never ends. And Hell is a frightful place given the Biblical definitions — unlike what the popular culture celebrates, it is not the place that any would ever or should ever want to go. And, when it comes to God’s law, because he is just and righteous, the demands of the law must be satisfied either by us or by another (as Heidelberg Catechism, Question 12 puts forth).

This is the very heart of the Gospel. How do we escape the wrath to come? How do we escape the wrath we deserve? What is worse, as Question 13 points out, we can never make that satisfaction for ourselves. Why not? It is because we are finite and cannot endure infinite wrath. It is also because we are sinners and tainted by sin, so even our best works are not good enough to earn merit in God’s eyes. We are indeed in a fix.

Many years before the Heidelberg Catechism was written, Saint Anselm wrestled through this question as well, pointing out that man needed saving but he could not save himself while the God who needed no saving was the only one who could save man. Thus God had to become a man to save men. The questions that follow in Heidelberg are designed to flesh out Anselm’s answer for us, but more importantly than that, they are designed to teach us that the only place to which we can run to escape the wrath we deserve is to Jesus Christ the Son of God. He made satisfaction for his people — not for all mankind, but for all that God has elected to trust in him as their Lord and Savior — the rest are condemned already (John 3:16-18). Flee to Christ, dear friends, flee to Christ.

Satisfaction in Your Work is a Good Gift

“Behold, I saw that which is good and which is beautiful — it is to eat and to drink and to see the goodness of all his anxiety for which he works hard under the sun for the number of days of his life which God has given him — for it is his portion.”

(Ecclesiastes 5:17 {5:18 in English Bibles})

In the west, fewer and fewer professions demand genuine tradesmen. Manufacturing is highly automated or is done through repetitive activities on an assembly line. Much of the construction that is done consists of tract housing and even in my former trade of carpet installing, so much of that is basic covering a floor with the carpet being “flat and fuzzy side up” and not a lot of fancy borders or inset designs. Custom craftsmanship requires time and skill but sadly most people either cannot afford or do not wish to pay for skilled craftsmanship.

Currently our church is having its stained glass windows redone — they are 90 years old and the lead is breaking down — here is an instance where all the craftsmanship is done by hand as they must custom remake every piece of lead which mounts the colored glass in place — none of which are regular and none of which can be automated. It is taking a bit longer than we expected going into the project, but at the same time, we can see the pride in craftsmanship taken by those involved in the process. 

There is a sense of satisfaction that comes from a completed job that has been done well — when you have crafted something with your own hands which is distinct from all other things. And this is an experience that much of our society does not relate to…sadly, in many cases, jobs never seem to come to an end, but just continue on week after week, month after month, and year after year — and then we wonder why people are anxious to retire and don’t feel like there is a lot of meaning in their labors.

Solomon has addressed this before and will come back to this theme again, but his simple answer is that since we do not know how many days our God has given us in this world — take satisfaction in the things you accomplish and in the provision that you earn from those labors. In the end, that will bring joy to your life; it is your portion in life — make the most of it. 

Satisfying the Penalty

I suppose that one of the most significant criticisms that can be made of the church in America today is that pastors often downplay the seriousness of our sin. The late Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones used to say that “sin used to be ashamed of itself,” yet by his day, in the church, it no longer was. People think of sin as mere misbehavior that ought to be addressed with a mild scolding and not as criminal behavior that needs to be addressed by the formal authorities who enforce the law. Of course, in many ways, the American justice system itself has shown itself to be inequitable when it comes to how it punishes those who break civil laws — yet that is a conversation for a different day.

I suppose that this brave new culture in which we live has something to do with the changes taking place. While little more than a generation ago, children were taught in school that there was right and wrong and there were absolute rules that governed each category of action. Today, ethics are considered relative to the situation, absolute rights and wrongs are only a matter of preference or upbringing and thus only apply to the individual, and definitions have their meanings blurred so as to either make one view sound like something it is not or to cast another view into contempt and make its holder “guilty by association.” The greatest American virtue now seems to be a blithe acceptance of anything or everything that would flaunt historical and orthodox Christian beliefs.

And so, churches often downplay sin and wrath and judgment, they teach us that we should never hate anything, and that God loves us just the way we are and will bless our lives if we just follow him. Sadly, that is neither true nor reflective of the Bible’s teaching of the character of our God. Further, it presents an notion that we are not as bad as we really are in the eyes of God and reduces the notion of grace to merely good favor. 

Yet, God presents sin as being outward and open rebellion against God. It is lawlessness and deserves more than misbehavior. It is criminal and deserving of punishment from a just and righteous judge — that judge being God himself. And a just judge will not relent in his punishment until the demands of the law are satisfied — the penalty for the lawbreaking is paid in full.

From a Christian perspective, that is where our hope lies…not in God loving us just the way we are, but in God’s own Son perfectly fulfilling the demands of the law not only in his life but also paying the penalty for our lawbreaking in full. Christ satisfies the demands of the law for his people completely, permitting us to go free. The Heidelberg Catechism, question 1 words it this way: “With his precious blood he has fully satisfied the penalty for all my sins.” 

And so, if we wish to show our gratitude, we will live in light of that gracious work that Christ has done on our behalf as believers — seeking to honor him in all things. To go on living how we want conveys an attitude of ungrateful arrogance and a rejection of the significance of Christ’s work. And to teach others that sin is acceptable, that it is not that bad, or that God does not demand that you grow in holiness is to dishonor God’s Word and to lead others into dishonoring it as well. Or, in the words of Jesus himself:

“Therefore, if one loosens one of these commandments, even the least, and teaches the same to men, he will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But whoever does them and teaches them, this is the one who will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

(Matthew 5:19)

Satisfaction and Vanity

“Thus, I became great and I did more than all of those who were before me in Jerusalem. Indeed, wisdom accompanied me. All that my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I did not withhold any joy from my heart from all of my toil and this was my share from all of my labors. Then I turned away from all the work my hands had done and from my exertions in doing it and I beheld that all was vanity and exasperates the spirit; nothing was gained under the sun.”

(Ecclesiastes 2:9-11)

It is true, there is a great deal of satisfaction that comes from the completion of hard day’s work. One of the things I enjoyed, during the little over a decade that I installed carpet vocationally, was that by the end of the day, I could look back with satisfaction at the transformation that we wrought in a person’s home…new carpet will do that. Solomon is saying to us, “look folks, I understand the satisfaction — the joy — that comes from one’s labors and from the pursuit of every earthly pleasure that is under the sun, but…”

It’s always the “but” that gets to us, isn’t it? It’s that little detail that puts everything into perspective. These things are good, but… And he is saying that he knows the joys and pleasures that come from these earthly things, but if one simply is living for such pleasure then your labors are in vain. New carpet gets dirty when it is walked on and it gets yellowed and stained over time. New construction breaks down. People grow old and die. Endeavors fade and people’s memories are short. They are vain and all of these pursuits will exasperate your spirit if this pursuit is an end unto itself. If you are pursuing God first, and these labors are a means to an end, then we have a different conversation entirely.

There is a saying that floats around American circles periodically that goes: “It’s about the journey, not the destination.” In other words, the process of learning that comes along with striving for a goal is more valuable to you in the long run than the goal itself. And, while I do not wish to discount the value of learning “along the journey,” we must remember that without eyes set clearly on the goal, the journey, no matter how valuable in the short run, will be of no lasting value because it is set entirely in earthly things that fade and disappear. For the believer, the goal is the glory of God and the journey we are on only makes sense in light of that goal. Else, at the final judgment we will look at all we accomplished and say, “It was vanity.”

Satisfaction

“clinging to the Word of Life, that I will be satisfied in the day of Christ that I did not run in vain nor did I labor in vain.”

(Philippians 2:16)

There are many things in which we can take satisfaction. We can find satisfaction in a hard day’s work. We can find satisfaction in a good meal or in a good book. We often find satisfaction in watching our children grow and mature, living as they ought. We can go on in our list and all of these things are good, but Paul presents us with another aspect of satisfaction…or another thing in which we ought to take satisfaction…that of watching those you have mentored stand strong in their faith. And for Paul, it is not just that he is taking satisfaction that they are living faithfully now…but he prays that in the end, when Jesus returns and brings all deeds both good and evil into judgment, that they will be still standing in that day.

I spent a number of years teaching Bible to High School students and repeatedly, I would set down for them a principle that I think echoes what Paul is speaking of in this verse. I would tell them that if they studied there was no reason that they could not earn an “A” on any given exam that I might set before them or on any assignment that they might have. At the same time, getting an “A” in a course I might teach was not the measure to see whether or not you did well in my class. I would go on to say that the real measure of whether you did well in my class is whether or not in 15 years, 50 years, 70 years, and on their deathbed they were still living out their faith. “If you get an ‘A’ in my class,” I would say, “but do not live your life out in faith, you are the one who failed because you have not understood what I am teaching.” I would go on, “But, if you struggle to pass my class but live out a life of faith until your dying day, you are the success.” Paul wants the Philippians to be a success — not just in Paul’s here and now — but for all of the days in their life so that he might take satisfaction in them and be assured that his labors on their behalf were not in vain (at least from a human perspective).

Beloved, don’t just take satisfaction in earthly things (work done, a meal served, etc…), take satisfaction in eternal things…one of which being the walking in faith of those whom you have mentored. May one day, when our Lord returns, we see the fruit of our labors and be humbled by the way that God has seen fit to use us.

David in the Wilderness: Psalm 63 (part 6)

“As with fat and the choicest cuts of meat, my soul will be satisfied.

My lips will exult; my mouth will exclaim hallelujah!”

(Psalm 63:6 {Psalm 63:5 in English versions})

 

Now, in a culture that is as health conscious as ours is, we somewhat lose the impact of the initial metaphor.  We usually think of fatty food as something bad and to be avoided because it is just simply not good for you (or at least, in a society that is as sedentary as ours is, it is not good for you).  Yet, one thing that must never be forgotten is that typically, when you are dealing with meats, the fattiest cuts are also the tastiest cuts.  As a child, before I became aware of this and that health concern and when I was active enough that I could eat whatever I wanted and never gain a pound, one my favorite things about when Dad made steaks on the grill, was eating the fat on the outside of the cut.  And that is exactly what David is communicating.  Take all of your health issues and set them to the side and think simply of the wonderful taste that comes with fat, and recognize that David is saying that his soul enjoys his God in the same way as his taste buds enjoys the fatty cuts of meat. 

We, as humans, respond to food.  This is not a cultural thing, but it is tied to our very being—we like to eat and we like to eat well.  We have made an art out of fine cooking, and almost everything we do on a social level is done around food.  Different cultures may have different styles of food that is popular with their palates, but there is food, none-the-less.  And what David is seeking to communicate to us through the ages is that as satisfying as the best meal may be—and when we have an exceptional meal prepared for us, it is not uncommon for us to think of that meal for days if not weeks—and crave it again—so too, David says, his soul enjoys God.  The question that needs to be asked, then, is does your soul crave God in the same way your mouth craves a favorite food.  Do you look forward all day to your morning or evening prayer time in the same way that you look forward all day to a special meal that is being prepared?  Do you savor your time in prayer as you do a good meal or do you see it as just one more thing to do?

Beloved, I think that we are all guilty of falling short of the mark that David sets for us, but he continues his metaphor in the second line of the psalm.  Just as your lips and mouth do not remain silent, but instead rejoice, in a good meal, so too, his lips and mouth cannot remain silent at the presence of God in his life.  And, indeed, David’s mouth did not remain silent, but from his mouth came the many sweet psalms of the first part of the book of Psalms.  Loved ones, does your heart sing, do your lips exult, does your voice refuse to remain silent at the wonders of God?  If so, then praise God, but if not, I pray that these words of David will spur you on and help nurture within you a heart of praise. 

I will sing of my Redeemer, and his wondrous love to me:

On the cruel cross he suffered, from the curse to set me free.

Sing, O sing of my Redeemer!  With his blood he purchased me;

On the cross he sealed my pardon, paid the debit and made me free.

-Philip Bliss

David in the Wilderness: Psalm 63 (part 6)

“As with fat and the choicest cuts of meat, my soul will be satisfied.

My lips will exult; my mouth will exclaim hallelujah!”

(Psalm 63:6 {Psalm 63:5 in English versions})

 

Now, in a culture that is as health conscious as ours is, we somewhat lose the impact of the initial metaphor.  We usually think of fatty food as something bad and to be avoided because it is just simply not good for you (or at least, in a society that is as sedentary as ours is, it is not good for you).  Yet, one thing that must never be forgotten is that typically, when you are dealing with meats, the fattiest cuts are also the tastiest cuts.  As a child, before I became aware of this and that health concern and when I was active enough that I could eat whatever I wanted and never gain a pound, one my favorite things about when Dad made steaks on the grill, was eating the fat on the outside of the cut.  And that is exactly what David is communicating.  Take all of your health issues and set them to the side and think simply of the wonderful taste that comes with fat, and recognize that David is saying that his soul enjoys his God in the same way as his taste buds enjoys the fatty cuts of meat. 

We, as humans, respond to food.  This is not a cultural thing, but it is tied to our very being—we like to eat and we like to eat well.  We have made an art out of fine cooking, and almost everything we do on a social level is done around food.  Different cultures may have different styles of food that is popular with their palates, but there is food, none-the-less.  And what David is seeking to communicate to us through the ages is that as satisfying as the best meal may be—and when we have an exceptional meal prepared for us, it is not uncommon for us to think of that meal for days if not weeks—and crave it again—so too, David says, his soul enjoys God.  The question that needs to be asked, then, is does your soul crave God in the same way your mouth craves a favorite food.  Do you look forward all day to your morning or evening prayer time in the same way that you look forward all day to a special meal that is being prepared?  Do you savor your time in prayer as you do a good meal or do you see it as just one more thing to do?

Beloved, I think that we are all guilty of falling short of the mark that David sets for us, but he continues his metaphor in the second line of the psalm.  Just as your lips and mouth do not remain silent, but instead rejoice, in a good meal, so too, his lips and mouth cannot remain silent at the presence of God in his life.  And, indeed, David’s mouth did not remain silent, but from his mouth came the many sweet psalms of the first part of the book of Psalms.  Loved ones, does your heart sing, do your lips exult, does your voice refuse to remain silent at the wonders of God?  If so, then praise God, but if not, I pray that these words of David will spur you on and help nurture within you a heart of praise. 

I will sing of my Redeemer, and his wondrous love to me:

On the cruel cross he suffered, from the curse to set me free.

Sing, O sing of my Redeemer!  With his blood he purchased me;

On the cross he sealed my pardon, paid the debit and made me free.

-Philip Bliss