True Satisfaction Through Faith Alone
A sermon on Habakkuk 2:5-8 by Coty Pinckney, Community Bible Church, Williamstown, MA 4/8/01
Imagine this: You are a well-known musician; your group has sold 50 million records and you’ve just signed an $80 million contract. An interviewer asks you, “Are you happy?”
What’s your response?
This actually happened recently. What was the musician’s response? The interviewer writes that he “finished chewing his animal cracker and gave me a perplexed look. . . . Happy? That just didn’t compute. "I don't know if happiness is something that's even relevant, you know. Some days I'm happy, some days I'm not." Then when asked if he was satisfied, he replied, “I’m completely unsatisfied.”
Would tens of millions of dollars make you happy? Would fame and success and money give you satisfaction?
I imagine all of us have thought that way: “Oh, if I only I was rich! If only I had another $5,000 (or $10,000 or $20,000 or $100,000)! Then I could take that vacation I’ve always dreamed of, or buy a much nicer house, or an expensive car.” Or we even think, “Then I could give so much more to God!”
But money does not bring happiness or satisfaction. If it did – we would already be happy! For by the average standard of living in the world today, all of us in this room are rich. As we learned several years ago in a sermon series on money, any person who has a car, indoor plumbing with clean hot and cold water, a house or apartment in which parents and children sleep in different bedrooms, and enough money to buy all the food you need this week is rich by the standards of the world. And if we go back in history, comparing ourselves to those who lived in centuries past, we are rich indeed. My guess is that every one of us here this morning has more material abundance than 90 percent of the people in human history. Yet I venture to say that most of us are not satisfied; we wish we had even more.
Money doesn’t satisfy; when we achieve the income we thought would make us happy, we want even more. Ray Stedman uses an apt expression to describe this situation: “Destination sickness.” Destination sickness is the disease that hits you when you achieve all your dreams, when you accomplish all the goals that you think will give you fulfillment – and then find that you are not happy. We work and work and work to establish a career or build a house or raise a family – and then find that what we thought would make us happy does nothing of the kind.
This shouldn’t surprise us, since God tells us all this in books of the Bible written 3,000 years ago. Ecclesiastes 5:10, for example, says, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income.”
And in today’s passage in Habakkuk we find the same idea. Recall that Habakkuk wanted God to deal with the violence and injustice in Judean society. God responded that He would do so – by bringing in the Babylonians to destroy Judah! This plan shocks Habakkuk. God knows the Babylonians are even more evil than the leaders of Judah – so how can a good and holy God use evil men to accomplish His purposes? Habakkuk reminds himself of God’s promises and God’s character, then waits expectantly, knowing that God will answer Him.
Last week we saw that God tells Habakkuk that He is in control: His revelation is certain to occur at exactly the right time, even if it seems to tarry or delay. Habakkuk is to live by faith: and this means that he is to value God’s promises, His word above all; he is to believe that God will fulfill His plans exactly at the right moment; and He is to trust God’s character, even when circumstances seem to call into question God’s goodness and power.
The remainder of chapter two is a series of 5 lessons on how not to live by faith. Recall that this chapter contains 5 woes proclaimed against the proud one, the Babylonian, who is not living by faith. There is a common structure to each of these pronouncements of woe. In each case, the proud one has an objective, a goal that he is trying to accomplish. And the goal in and of itself is GOOD; he is trying to fulfill a God-given desire. But by pursuing the goal – instead of pursuing God – the proud one distorts the good goal. Furthermore, the proud one ends up doing evil to accomplish the goal. But he doesn’t attain the goal, and God frustrates the proud one in the end, so that he loses even what he had. Furthermore, God wreaks an appropriate punishment on him, providing us with a valuable lesson about living by faith.
We will examine the first Woe today. I encourage you this week to look, and try to map out the rest of the Woe’s: Answer these questions, which will also be our outline for the rest of today’s sermon: Contrast the proud man, with the man who lives by faith:
Let’s read Habakkuk 2:2-8:
2 Then the LORD answered me and said, "Record the vision And inscribe it on tablets, That the one who reads it may run. 3 "For the vision is yet for the appointed time; It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; For it will certainly come, it will not delay. 4 "Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith. 5 "Furthermore, wine betrays the haughty man, So that he does not stay at home. He enlarges his appetite like Sheol, And he is like death, never satisfied. He also gathers to himself all nations And collects to himself all peoples. 6 "Will not all of these take up a taunt-song against him, Even mockery and insinuations against him And say, 'Woe to him who increases what is not his-- For how long-- And makes himself rich with loans?' 7 "Will not your creditors rise up suddenly, And those who collect from you awaken? Indeed, you will become plunder for them. 8 "Because you have looted many nations, All the remainder of the peoples will loot you-- Because of human bloodshed and violence done to the land, To the town and all its inhabitants. (Habakkuk 2:2-8 NAU)
What is the proud one’s objective? Verse 5 tells us he “enlarges his appetite like Sheol (the grave), and he is like death, never satisfied.” He also “gathers to himself all nations” – evidently, given verse 8, for the purpose of plundering their possessions. Verse 6 says he is making himself rich.
Proverbs 27:20 uses some of these same terms: “Sheol and Abaddon (destruction) are never satisfied, Nor are the eyes of man ever satisfied.” It doesn’t matter how many people have already died; death will swallow up even more.
The proud one is the same: It’s not as if he says, “OK, I’ll amass a fortune of, say, 2 million, and that will be enough.” No. He may think that, but he hits two and says, “Well, maybe a little bit more.” And then he hits 4 million and thinks, “I really could do with a larger house; and, my, if I send all 6 of my kids to Williams, I’ll use up almost 1/5 of my net worth!” And no matter how much he gets, he always wants more.
Note that there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting material goods. Our bodies need food and clothing. We need rest. God made us that way. So the desires to satisfy our hunger and to protect ourselves from cold and to have a place of rest are not bad. But the proud one, here, goes much beyond the satisfaction of his needs, instead increasing his wealth again and again and again.
How does the proud one attain these riches? Not, in this case, by producing them himself, but by plundering the goods of others. Verse 6 says he is taking what is not his; verse 8 says he has looted many nations.
The last phrase in verse 6 – “And makes himself rich with loans” – may appear confusing at first. How can he plunder from people and borrow from them at the same time? But he is not really borrowing. Instead those taunting him say, “You think you’ve plundered us and taken all this away from us – but we’re coming to get it back! You think you’ve stolen it, but in fact you’ve only borrowed it for a time. Now we are your creditors, and payment is coming due!”
So note what the proud one has done: He has taken a God-given desire, and pampered it and caused it to grow far beyond what God intended. Then, because he can’t satisfy this overgrown desire in honest ways, he steals from others, plundering their goods.
What appropriate punishment comes to the proud one? The first hint comes in verse 6: 'Woe to him who increases what is not his-- For how long-- And makes himself rich with loans?” Those mocking him say, “You think you’ve amassed this great fortune, but you won’t have it for long! You think you’ve stolen this and it is yours for good, but you’ve only borrowed it!”
Then verses 7 and 8 make the punishment explicit: The plunderer becomes the plundered; the looter becomes the looted. And this is exactly what happened to the Babylonians; about 70 years after they first attack Jerusalem, they themselves are overthrown and plundered by the Medes and Persians.
So justice is done. This is part of the answer to Habakkuk’s question: How can God use evil deeds by evil men to accomplish His just and holy purposes? Answer, in part: God will mete out an appropriate punishment to those men for their evil deeds. They might seem to be on top for a while, but whatever they have is only borrowed; they will lose it in the end.
Question: Is this always the case? Do those who plunder always end up being plundered? Do they always lose their riches? What do you think?
A man once came to Ray Stedman and said, “Ray, my goal is to be just like my uncle. He died a millionaire!” Ray responded, “No he didn’t. He was a millionaire a second before he died – but the moment he died, he had no more than the child who died of starvation in Sudan.”
Sometimes God wreaks his judgment on those who plunder others in this life; sometimes they do not lose what they stole until death. But every sin is paid for; justice is always done.
Romans 12:19 says:
Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord.
So we’ve seen that the proud one aimed to amass material goods to try to satisfy his desires. But this led only to frustration; he never satisfies his insatiable desires, despite plundering and looting others, and in the end loses everything.
We’ve said that each of these five woes is a negative example to us: What is the opposite of living like the proud one? How are we to live by faith?
We’ll look at three different ways of summarizing this lesson. First:
The proud one tried to amass goods to satisfy his desires. In contrast, living by faith means we can be content, we can be satisfied with whatever we have. Living by faith means we know that our happiness is not dependent on the amount of material goods we own.
The key here is distinguishing between our needs and our desires. Our desires will never be satisfied; our needs are very few. As Paul writes to Timothy (1 Timothy 6:8): “But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”
And Paul doesn’t mean for us to say, “OK, God: I’ll be content if I can eat at the Main Street Café every night and wear Ralph Lauren clothes!” We could translate “food and clothing” as “sustenance and covering” – enough food to keep us going and enough clothing to keep off the cold. Paul says the very simplest meeting of our genuine physical needs should be enough for us.
Jesus says the same in the Sermon on the Mount:
31 "Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?' 32 "For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Furthermore, this idea of contentment goes beyond food and clothing. We are also to be content with the station of life God has given us, content with our families, content with our jobs.
This is living by faith. The one who lives by faith separates his desires from his needs, and trusts God to meet his true needs.
But there is more:
While we should be content with what we have, our satisfaction should not come from our possessions. Instead, our satisfaction comes from God Himself. As John Piper writes, “The deepest and most enduring happiness is to be found in God. Not from God, but in God.” We are to delight first and foremost in the giver, not in His gifts.
Consider these passages from the Psalms:
Psalm 65:4 How blessed is the one whom You choose and bring near to You To dwell in Your courts. We will be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, Your holy temple.
Psalm 17:13 Deliver my soul from the wicked with Your sword, 14 From men with Your hand, O LORD, From men of the world, whose portion is in this life, And whose belly You fill with Your treasure; They are satisfied with children, And leave their abundance to their babes. 15 As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake.
The contrast in Psalm 17 is between the man who is satisfied with God, and others who find satisfaction in the good things of this life, what God has given them: children and possessions. These are all gifts from God. But the wicked delight in the GIFT and not in the GIVER. We are to find satisfaction in God alone.
So living by faith means trusting God with our physical and material needs; living by faith means being satisfied in God alone and not in the things of this world. But this statement is not strong enough to capture the biblical mandate. “Satisfy” can sound to us like, “just enough to make due.” But God offers us much more than just enough to make due! So on to our last point:
Have you ever thought about the biblical commands to be happy? The Bible does not say that God provides us with all we need, and therefore we should delight in His gifts. Instead, the command is: “Delight yourself in the LORD!” (Psalm 37:4).
Many people have the mistaken idea that Christians shouldn’t desire their own happiness, that we should sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice – we should belong to God but be miserable. But that’s not the Christian message! The command is to DELIGHT in God! As C.S. Lewis says,
If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from [secular philosophy] and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
Infinite joy! Expand on this image a bit: You are a child playing in the mud in a slum. A kind, wealthy man offers you and your family a condo on a Florida beach for two weeks, all expenses paid. And your response: “This mud is so gooey! I like the way it squishes through my fingers! I prefer staying here!”
The Bible clearly teaches that the delight of knowing God is far greater than any other delight the world has to offer – even if we think otherwise at first! Not only is delight in God greater than the pseudo-joys of illicit sex and drink – it is also greater than the true joys God gives us in the good gifts of family and work and friendship. As Paul says:
7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:7,8)
Do you see what he is saying? Nothing compares to the delight we can have in knowing God – and God commands us to delight in Him! He commands us to be happy in Him!
So if knowing God and delighting in Him is the greatest source of delight, of happiness, of satisfaction – how can we do that?
What are God’s instructions for having this happiness?
Look at Psalm 1: “Blessed (Happy) is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked . . . but his DELIGHT is in the Law of the Lord.” And what does he do with this Law? “And on his law he meditates day and night.”
So how can we come to delight in God Himself? By feeding ourselves with God’s revelation of Himself! By learning His promises, and treasuring them! By memorizing portions of His word! By praying, “Lord, make Yourself my delight; change my desires so they are in accord with Yours.”
This is one important way that we live by faith:
So where are you? What are you seeking after? Can you say with Paul that you count all other things as rubbish compared to the value of knowing Christ? Are you following the biblical command to delight in God? Or are you still trying to make the best mud pie of all time?
Delight Yourself in the Lord!
This sermon was preached at Community Bible Church in Williamstown, MA on 4/8/01. The John Piper quote is from Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist.
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