Paul tells us in this section that he has learned to be content, he has discovered the secret. This is a secret that I believe everyone would like to discover. Most people desperately want to be content, to be satisfied. We try to buy contentment. We try to work for it. We all want to be content. We assume that contentment is the absence of all problems. That is not what contentment is - if it was, no one would ever have it because you can't be completely free from problems.
True contentment is being able to be satisfied, content in the midst of any problem. That is the kind of contentment that God offers through Christ, and Paul says that he has this contentment. He has learned the secret, he is free from anxiety and worry.
We need this, we live in an utterly discontent culture. We are discontent with what we have, we are discontent with what we look like, with who we are married to, with our vocation, and with our circumstances.
How can we learn to be content? We see several principles in Paul's life that can help us. In Philippians 4:10-19, in the midst of Paul's expression of gratitude, we can see five principles for acquiring contentment. If we could apply these principles to our lives, we also would be able to live lives of contentment.
1. TRUST IN THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD.
We see this as an underlying thought in verse 10.
Philippians 4:10 (NKJV) But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity.
Paul understood that God controls all circumstances. All circumstances? Yes, all! Even when people do us wrong and try to hurt us.
Genesis 50:20 (NKJV) "But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.
Please memorize this verse, and meditate on it every time you are hurt by someone, and remember that what ever they do to you, God means it for good. So, don't focus on their evil, focus on the good that God is working in your life.
Paul understood that if the Philippians had no opportunity, it was because God did not give them one. God orders opportunities. This is where contentment starts. God has not forgotten me, God is attentive to me, God knows all about me; he has my hairs numbered, and that number is constantly changing so he must always be aware of me. I am the constant focus of His omniscient love, and he orders everything in his universe to bring to pass my good. When you believe that, you'll experience contentment.
I think we all understand that our circumstances are under God's control, but do you realize that so are our possessions? Providence does not only cover our circumstances, it covers our possessions also.
1 Chronicles 29:11-13 (NKJV) Yours, O LORD, is the greatness, The power and the glory, The victory and the majesty; For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, And You are exalted as head over all. 12 Both riches and honor come from You, And You reign over all. In Your hand is power and might; In Your hand it is to make great And to give strength to all. 13 "Now therefore, our God, We thank You And praise Your glorious name.
God controls the wealth of His world.
Deuteronomy 8:18 (NKJV) "And you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.
All that we have comes from God as a direct result of His grace. God, in his sovereign good pleasure, has seen fit to give some people more wealth and possessions than others.
Matthew 20:11-15 (NKJV) "And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, 12 "saying, 'These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.' 13 "But he answered one of them and said, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 'Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. 15 'Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?'
Everything in this world belongs to God, and it is His sovereign right to give stewardship of it to whom ever He sees fit.
Does being content mean that we should never buy a new house or car? If we are content with the house and car we have, we'll just keep it until it falls apart - right? No, being content doesn't mean that you never seek to improve on what you have, but it does mean that you shouldn't be dependent upon those things for your contentment or happiness. If you have the means to purchase something, then it's alright. But don't let your lack of means cause you discontentment. God will give you what He desires you to have through the means of work or inheritance. So, be content with whatever you have because you don't deserve anything!
We are to be content, trusting in God's providence with our circumstances, our possessions, and our position in the body of Christ and society. Many people are discontent with their position in the body of Christ.
1 Corinthians 12:14 (NKJV) For in fact the body is not one member but many.
What makes a body a body is all the different members that it has. It takes all the parts to make the body function as it should. Paul goes on to give us a humorous analogy of the body.
1 Corinthians 12:15-18 (NKJV) If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body? 16 And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? 18 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.
God has given you the talents and abilities that you have, and has given you the place in the body of Christ that he wants you to have. If you are an ear, don't try to be a mouth. Don't try to be what you are not, be what you are for the glory of God. Accept that God has made you an ear, and be the best ear that you can be.
Along with accepting our position in the body of Christ, we also need to learn to be content with our position in society - our vocational calling. Vocational calling usually determines status as well as wealth.
Remember, God's providence rules in your vocation as well as every other area of your life. It is God who created some to be farmers, and some physicians; some plumbers, and some salesmen; some cab drivers, and some air plane pilots. If God did not rule in this manner the world would be a chaotic place to live. What if everyone wanted to be a cab driver? Who would fix the plumbing problems? Why is it that different people decide to do different things? Is it all left to chance? No, God providentially rules in the vocations of life.
Psalms 75:6-7 (NKJV) For exaltation comes neither from the east Nor from the west nor from the south. 7 But God is the Judge: He puts down one, And exalts another.
God sets up and takes down. He rules in the lives of men.
Please note: contentment is not incompatible with ambition, we can aspire to more responsible or challenging jobs.
1 Corinthians 7:20-24 (NKJV) Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called. 21 Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it. 22 For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord's freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ's slave. 23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. 24 Brethren, let each one remain with God in that state in which he was called.
If contentment meant that you never sought to improve your situation, than Paul would not tell the slaves to gain their freedom if they could.
Let me add here that I do not believe that there is a distinction between secular and sacred work. All work is sacred when done as unto the Lord.
Colossians 3:23-24 (NKJV) And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.
Whatever your vocation is, do it for the glory of God. Be salt and light wherever you are.
God's providence includes our circumstances, our possessions, and our position in the body of Christ. So, learn to trust in His providence and be content.
2. LEARN TO LIVE WITH THE BASICS OF LIFE.
Philippians 4:11 (NKJV) Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:
Paul implies that he needed very little to get by on. He could have said, "I have great needs," but instead he says, "I don't speak in regard to need." How could he say that when his circumstances were lousy? Contentment does not come from things, or comfort, or pleasant circumstances, but from godliness.
1 Timothy 6:6 (NKJV) Now godliness with contentment is great gain.
To be satisfied with little could be the most valuable lesson that you could ever teach your children.
3. HAVE AN ETERNAL PERSPECTIVE.
Philippians 4:12 (NKJV) I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
Paul had "learned" to be content. Paul's focus was on the things that were eternal, so the things in this life didn't control him. He knew that life here is short, so he was preparing for eternity.
4. BE DEPENDENT UPON DIVINE RESOURCES.
Philippians 4:13 (NKJV) I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
If you are going to be content in this life, you must learn to be dependent upon divine resources. The best texts on this verse omit the word "Christ," but this is certainly the "Him" who Paul speaks of.
Paul gives us the heart of the issue of contentment, here. He says, "I am sustained by Christ who strengthens me." He had learned that no matter how tough things got in the physical world, there was a spiritual undergirding. Paul says, "My sufficiency comes from Christ, the all sufficient One." We are not self-sufficient in the Stoic sense, we are Christ sufficient. We are contained, self-sufficient because Christ indwells us. His power, His all-sufficient power, is available for the demands of life, and we need nothing else.
What does Paul mean when he says, "I can do all things through Christ"? He means that because he is in communion with Christ, the power of Christ is available to him for every need. Paul cannot do "all things" simply because he is a Christian. He can do all things because he is living in a dependent relationship with Christ. He is abiding in Christ.
Philippians 4:13 gives us the positive, and John 15:5 gives us the negative:
John 15:5 (NKJV) "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.
With me (living in dependence on me), you can do all things, but without me, you can do nothing. Philippians 4:13 cannot be claimed by every Christian. It is only for those believers who are abiding in Christ. When we walk in fellowship with God, we have His power available to help us deal with life. Out of fellowship, we have no power.
How do we get out of fellowship? Sin. Sin hinders our fellowship with Christ. Look at:
John 13:4-8 (NKJV) rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. 5 After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. 6 Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, "Lord, are You washing my feet?" 7 Jesus answered and said to him, "What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this." 8 Peter said to Him, "You shall never wash my feet!" Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me."
The Greek word for "part" is meros, which has the idea of: "fellowship." Jesus is telling Peter, "If I don't wash your feet, you have no fellowship with me."
John 13:9-10 (NKJV) Simon Peter said to Him, "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!" 10 Jesus said to him, "He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you."
The word "clean" is katharos, it is used here of salvation. Jesus says, "But not all of you"because Judas was there (verse 11). Jesus is telling them (the eleven) that they are clean, they are saved. But as they go through life, they are going to get their feet dirty - sin. And if you don't clean them, you won't have fellowship with Christ. How do we get our feet washed? How do we remain in fellowship?
1 John 1:9 (NKJV) If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
We get our feet washed as we confess our sins.
Let's look at what Christ says about abiding in Him.
John 15:1-3 (NKJV) "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 "Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.
The word "clean" here is katharos, the same word he used in John 13:10 referring to salvation. Judas was gone at this time and Jesus is speaking to the eleven, and he tells them they are clean. Now, notice carefully what he says to the eleven who were clean - saved.
John 15:4 (NKJV) "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
It is to those who are clean that he says, "Abide in Me." To be a Christian and to abide in Christ are two different things. "Abide in me" is in the active voice. That is something we are expected to do. We initiate that. The word, "abide" is the simple word "remain." "Stay with me," he is saying. "Keep close to me." In other places, it is the word "Follow me," "do what I say," "obey my commands." Christians are exhorted to abide in Christ, because this privilege and duty may be neglected, and very often is.
"And I in you." The implication is, "Let me abide in you." That is passive. It is not something we can initiate, but something we can expect to happen and trust God for. It takes both to be a fruitful, Christlike Christian. One alone is not enough.
To abide is to have fellowship with Christ, to walk closely with Him, it is to walk in obedience to His Word. We could define abiding as: "understanding and obedience to the Word of God." When you know the Word because you have spent time in it, and when you walk in obedience to what you know, you will be abiding in Christ.
Paul says, "I can do ALL THINGS." What are the "all things?" This doesn't mean that he can leap tall buildings at a single bound or run faster than a speeding bullet. It doesn't mean that you can pass an exam that you haven't studied for, or fly an airplane even though you have had no instructions. Verse 13 must be taken in the context of verses 10-13. What he is saying is, "I have the power of Christ to sustain me in life's difficult circumstances." A literal translation would read like this, "I am strong for all things in the One who constantly infuses strength into me."
The phrase "I can do" is from the Greek word ischuo, it means: "to be strong, to have power." Paul is saying, "I am strong enough to go through anything because the Lord Jesus Christ makes His power available to me as I trust in Him." Trusting in Christ gives us inner power to deal with any and every situation in life. When we come to the bottom of our human resources, we find an unlimited power in Christ. Paul talked a lot about the power of Christ. Walking in fellowship with Christ gives us the power to deal with any and every situation.
1 Timothy 1:12 (NKJV) And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry,
The word "enabled" is the Greek word endunamoo.. It means: "to pour power into."
2 Timothy 4:17 (NKJV) But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. And I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.
The word "strengthened" is also endunamoo. The Lord gave him the power to deal with the circumstances that he found himself in. In fellowship, the omnipotent One empowers us.
Have you ever seen a Christian in a very difficult situation and asked, "How can they deal with the situation that they are in?" They can deal with it because the power of Christ is available to those who abide in Him, those who walk in dependence on Him. No matter what circumstance you are facing, you have the power to handle it if you are abiding in Christ. And if your situation is more than you can bear, it is because you are not trusting in His strength.
Because the early Christians would not submit to the worship of Rome (receive the mark of the beast), they were severely persecuted. The martyrdom of Polycarp clearly documents this hostility and the power available in Christ. Polycarp was a bishop at the church of Smyrna. A letter from the church at Smyrna to the churches in the Christian world related that Jews joined with pagans in clamoring that Polycarp should be cast to the lions or burned alive. His whereabouts was betrayed by a slave girl who collapsed under torture. They came and arrested him. Not even the police captain wished to see Polycarp die, and on the brief trip to the city, he pled with the old man, "What harm is it to say, 'Caesar is Lord' and to offer sacrifice and be saved?" But Polycarp was adamant that for him only Jesus Christ was Lord. When he entered the arena, the proconsul gave him the choice of cursing the name of Christ and making sacrifice to Caesar or death. Polycarp responded, "Eighty and six years have I served Him and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me? The proconsul threatened him with burning, and Polycarp replied: "You threaten me with the fire that burns for a time, and is quickly quenched, for you do not know the fire that awaits the wicked in the judgment to come and in everlasting punishment. Why are you waiting? Come, do what you will." As they came to bind him to the stake he requested not to be bound. "Leave me as I am," he said, "for he who gives me power to endure the fire, will grant me to remain in the flames unmoved even without the security you will give by the nails." So they left him unbound in the flames. Polycarp died as he stood in the flames praying to his Lord.
Where did Polycarp get the power to endure this torture? He could endure through Christ who gave him strength. When we come to the bottom of our human resources, we find an unlimited power in Christ.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (NKJV) And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
When we come to the bottom of our human resources, we find an unlimited power in Christ when we trust Him. Here we see in verse 9 that God's message to Paul was, "You can be content because My power will sustain you." In my dependency, I see His power.
The words, "I can do," "ischuo", are translated, "overpowered" in Acts 1:19; "prevailed" in Acts 19:20; "effective" in James 5:16. It is a word of strength and power.
Paul says he can do "all things." "All things" in the Greek is in the first emphatic position, "All things I have the power to endure." Paul endured beatings with rods and whips, stoning, shipwreck, persecution, and prison. Paul, in effect, says, "I can endure all of that on the outside because I am strengthened by Christ on the inside."
Paul prays that the Ephesians would know the same power that he knew.
Ephesians 3:14-21 (NKJV) For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height; 19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
IF YOU CAN'T DEAL WITH YOUR CIRCUMSTANCES, YOU MUST NOT BE DEPENDING ON HIM! You'll know contentment when you learn not to depend upon your own resources but to trust in God's power. The secret of power in the Christian life is to walk with Christ. Paul is saying, "I can go through anything through the strength of Christ and that strength comes from a walk of obedience and dependence." Contentment is a by product of obedience.
Our final principle in learning to be content is:
5. BE CONCERNED FOR THE WELL BEING OF OTHERS.
We see this principle in verses 14-19. I am not going to expound on these verses but I want to draw out this principle; and then in the following weeks, we will come back to these verses and look at how they relate to the subject of Christian giving.
Philippians 4:14-19 (NKJV) Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress. 15 Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. 16 For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. 18 Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God. 19 And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
If you live only for yourself you will never be content. Contentment begins to be a reality when you have more concern about how it is with others than about how it is with you.
Most of us never experience contentment because we demand our world to be exactly the way we would like it to be - that's a curse. We want to force everything into a mold that we have made. We want our partner in life , husband or wife, to be exactly the way we expect them to be in order to fulfill our expectation, our design, our agenda. We would like our children to absolutely conform to this pre-written plan which we have ordained for them to fulfill. We would like everything in our world to fall into its perfect nitch. You'll never know contentment until you get away from the idea of designing your own agenda and lose yourself in a preoccupation with the well being of others.
Why is Paul rejoicing in the gift that they sent him? It wasn't because he needed the money. He is rejoicing (verse 10) because:
Philippians 4:17 (NKJV) Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account.
It isn't that I want the material benefit in my account, it is that I want the spiritual benefit in your account. Paul was preoccupied with the well being of others, and not himself.
How did their giving benefit them?
Proverbs 11:24-25 (NKJV) There is one who scatters, yet increases more; And there is one who withholds more than is right, But it leads to poverty. 25 The generous soul will be made rich, And he who waters will also be watered himself.
Philippians 4:18 (NKJV) Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.
Paul tells them that their gift was overwhelming to him. He was full. Paul viewed their gift as an offering to God, a sacrifice that was well pleasing. Notice the words Paul uses here, "sweet-smelling" is from the Greek word euodia, and "aroma" is from the word osme, and "sacrifice" is from the Greek word thusia. Now, I'm sure that those words don't mean anything to you, but they might if you understand that all three of them are used in Ephesians 5 of Christ's sacrificial offering of Himself to God in man's behalf.
Ephesians 5:2 (NKJV) And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice (thusia) to God for a sweet-smelling (euodia) aroma (osme).
These words express the language of worship - GIVING IS AN EXPRESSION OF WORSHIP! Worship is honor and adoration directed to God.
Philippians 4:19 (NKJV) And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
What a tremendous promise. Is this a universal promise to every believer? Is the saying, "Every promise in the Book is mine," true? Let's keep in mind the hermeneuticial principle of "audience relevance." This promise was made to the Philippians because of their sacrificial giving as an act of worship. I think that you can only claim this verse if you give as the Philippians did. They might have some needs now because of their gift to Paul, but God will meet them all.
Notice what he says, "God doesn't meet their needs 'out of' His riches in glory, but 'according to' his riches in glory." If a millionaire gave you "out" of his riches, he could give you a dollar. But if he gives you "according" to his riches, it will be substantially more. No gift given to God will ever make a Christian poorer, it will only make him richer.
Contentment comes from:
1. Trusting in the providence of God.
2. Learning to live with the basics of life.
3. Having an eternal, not temporal perspective.
4. Being Dependent on Divine resources.
5. Being concerned for others.
We could sum it up in five words: Faith, Humility, Submission, Dependence, and Unselfishness. These make a contented person. Contentment is something that we all need to learn. Let's get busy working on it for the glory of God.
|Continue the Series|