Title: The Secret of Contentment
Series: Philippians (20/20)
Reference: Philippians 4:10-20
If you have a Bible, I want to invite you to open up to the New Testament book of Philippians. As you’re doing that, we’ll take a moment and dismiss the kids to Children’s Worship. So all the little ones– You can make your way to the back of the Sanctuary, and from there you’ll be escorted off to another great Bible adventure.
For those of us who remain, we’ve been studying through the book of Philippians on Sunday mornings, and today is the last message in our series. Philippians 4 is where we’re at. The title of today’s message is “The Secret of Contentment.” I’ll begin reading with verse 10, and I’m going to ask if you’re physically able– Let’s all stand, in honor and reverence, for the reading of God’s Holy Word. The Word of God says in Philippians 4, beginning with verse 10:
10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. 14 Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction.
15 You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; 16 for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs. 17 Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account. 18 But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. 19 And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “Contentment makes a poor man rich, and discontent makes a rich man poor.” There’s a lot of truth in that statement! Unfortunately, most Christians are not exactly living lives that are marked by contentment. In this respect we are, sadly, very much like the world. We are a discontent people! We complain about our children being too loud, our homes being too small, our cars being too old, our jobs being too demanding– Our meals are not instant enough, our clothes are not stylish enough, and our 55-inch, flat-screen TVs are not sharp enough!
We are like the airplane pilot, who was flying over the Tennessee Mountains, and pointed out this one particular lake to his co-pilot. He said, “When I was younger, I would sit on a boat in the middle of that lake and fish. Every time a plane would fly overhead, I’d look up and wish I was flying that plane!” Then he said, “Now that I’m a pilot, every time I fly over the lake, I look down and wish I was fishing!”
That’s us! Ours is the spirit that is never satisfied. And even when we get what we want, it’s only a matter of time before we want something more, something bigger, something better. In contrast is the perspective of the Apostle Paul, who says in verse 11: “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances.”
Wouldn’t you love to be able to say that! “I have learned to be content!” Wouldn’t it be a great thing in life to be content with where you are? To be content with what you have?
It’s a lesson we constantly press into our kids. “You should be happy with what you have?” (How many parents have ever said something along those lines)?! “There are people all around the world who don’t have that– There are people all around the world that would love to have what you have! You should be happy with what you have?”
We press that into our kids– We see the value of our kids getting contentment, but this morning I want to ask the question, “Are we getting it?” Are we content? Are we happy with where we are? Are we content with what we have? Because the truth is, there are people all over the world who would love to be where you are & to have what you have! Are we a contented people? Can we say, along with Paul, “I have learned to be content.”
Contentment– Where does it come from & how can we experience it? If you’re taking notes, let me share with you some thoughts about the nature of contentment. Number one, CONTENTMENT RESTS IN GOD’S PROVIDENCE.
The word “providence” comes from two Latin words, and it simply refers to the truth that God sees to it beforehand. It’s not to be confused with God’s knowledge– It’s not that God just knows beforehand (although He does), but it’s the truth that God sees to it beforehand. It’s the idea that God is working in advance. He’s going before you, working (in your circumstances & in your life) in such a way to ensure His will is going to be accomplished.
Looking at Philippians 4, let me remind you that in the historical context, it had been about ten years since the believers in Philippi had financially supported Paul. Paul started the church in Philippi. He stayed there for a few years to help strengthen those believers, and then he left on mission to Thessalonica (and they supported him on that trip). They also supported him as he left Macedonia and headed to Achaia, but since then (about ten years) there hasn’t been any support from Philippi.
Somehow the church hears that Paul is in jail. He is awaiting trial, and things don’t look good for the home team. They get word about that and feel led of God to send Paul a gift, and the letter we know as “Philippians” is essentially Paul’s “thank you” letter back to them.
10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity.
You’ll notice that Paul isn’t mad. He doesn’t question them. He doesn’t question their love for him or their commitment to the gospel. He doesn’t try to manipulate the situation and make them feel bad! He doesn’t say, “Hey, where you guys been the last decade!” He just says, “I know you’ve been concerned, but you’ve lacked the opportunity to express it.”
Now that word “opportunity” at the end of verse 10 is a great word. It simply means “season.” Paul says I know you’ve been concerned, but you’ve just never had the right opportunity / right season to express it. We don’t know why? Maybe the church wasn’t doing well financially? Maybe they didn’t know about Paul’s need? We don’t know why, but for whatever reason the opportunity / the season (from their perspective) wasn’t right for them to support Paul.
Now notice that little word “revived.” 10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me…
It speaks of restoring or renewing. It’s the image of blooming again! Paul says your concern has bloomed again! Your love has bloomed again! (Now we know it’s always been there– Paul doesn’t question that). He says the season was never quite right, but now the season is right– Their concern has bloomed again, and their display of affection hits Paul right where he needs it most, and he says I rejoiced in the Lord greatly because of you!
Do you see God’s providence all over that!
Here is Paul, a prisoner chained to a Roman soldier every hour of every day. He’s isolated. He can’t move around. He can’t work / minister / anything. He’s a prisoner waiting for his trial. He’s looking at the possibility of being on the chopping block! He has been stripped of nearly everything. Talk about hitting a low-point in life, folks, here it is!
But God, in His own sovereign way of working things out, He opens up a door for the believers in Philippi– He ushers in this season (this opportunity), and for the first time in ten years, Paul hears from this church and their gift came when he needed it most!
And realize, from Paul’s perspective the gift is great, but it’s the expression of love that encourages him. I mean, the new T-shirt is great, but it doesn’t mean a whole lot when your head is about to be whacked off! So the gift is good. The gift is nice, but it’s really the expression of love that encourages him, and it comes when he needs it most.
That’s what providence is all about! It’s God going beforehand, working in my life and in my circumstances to both provide for me & accomplish His will.
And listen, beloved, this is the big “how” behind Paul’s contentment. How could he be content in jail? How could he be content, awaiting trial, knowing his life is in danger? Because he believed God was above it all, working in all things, and if God is in control of everything, then shouldn’t I be able to be content in anything!
Number two, CONTENTMENT IS INDEPENDENT OF MY CIRCUMSTANCES.
11 Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content…
That tells us this is something that doesn’t come natural! Contentment is not something we are born with! We are born just the opposite of contentment. We are born, naturally programmed, to want something more, something better, something bigger. Our spirit, as sinners who are separated from God (and maybe even as Christians who are out of touch with the Spirt), our spirit is to strive for more!
Paul says in verse 11 “I have learned to be content.” This isn’t something you’re born with, but it can be learned so here’s the question, “How do we learn contentment?” Or maybe a better question is, “How does God teach us contentment?”
We can’t really know that for sure. We might be able to compare it to how we might try & teach our kids to be content. With that in mind, I’m guessing God’s curriculum for contentment seldom has anything to do with giving us everything we want.
The word “content” that Paul uses here. It’s taken from the Stoic philosophy of the day, and the basic idea behind it is to be self-contained, to be self-satisfied. It pictures having enough in yourself, so that you don’t have to rely on anything external (outside of yourself), because everything you need is on the inside.
That’s the word Paul uses in verse 11: I have learned to be content… He’s saying I’ve learned to be self-contained, self-satisfied. Paul says I’ve learned how to have enough resources in myself, (and when he uses this word he’s not talking about being self-sufficient in the same way the Stoics used the word, but he’s using it in the sense of being sufficient in Christ. (And we know that because that’s what comes out in verse 13): “I can do all things through Him (through Christ) who strengthens me.”
The strength is not in myself, but it’s in Christ! And it’s only as I’m plugged into Christ that I can be as these verses call me to be, which is content.
It’s very much like the image of the Vine & Branches in John 15. Jesus says I’m the Vine. You guys (disciples) are the branches, and the only way you’re going to bear fruit is to abide in the Vine! You remain in Me, and you’ll produce fruit. You get away from Me, and you’re life is going to have little to no fruit!
That’s the same image Paul is giving us in Philippians 4. It’s in Jesus that my heart finds peace & contentment (there’s deep satisfaction with life). Apart from Jesus, my heart is restless & unhappy. Apart from Jesus there’s this nagging spirit– This restless soul that seems to be so preoccupied with what should be / could be), and the key is Jesus!
Jesus is the key to contentment! The key to you being happy with where you are & what you have. The key is not a change of environment. The thing you need is not different circumstances or a different spouse or a different set of problems. The only thing you need to know contentment right now is Jesus!
So Paul says I’ve learned to be content. I wasn’t born that way, but I’ve learned to be satisfied. I’ve learned to be sufficient. To already have inside of me what I need, so that I’m not dependent on anything external (do you see where Paul is going with this)? He’s saying everything I need to be content in this life is right here on the inside!
12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity…
Contentment isn’t about what I have or don’t have (it isn’t tied to external things).
12 …in any and every circumstance… Because it’s not attached to my circumstances, then I can be content in whatever situation God has placed me in because I have a sovereign God who, in His providential care, is preparing the way for me (that was main point 1)!
That teaches us that when I’m not content (the issue is not getting whatever it is that I feel like I deserve), the issue is a heart issue with God. The reality is: if you can’t be happy in Jesus right now, then changing something on the outside isn’t going to make you happy on the inside!
You understand that? You picking up what I’m putting down? Contentment is independent of my circumstances. It’s not about having things right out here; it’s about being right in here!
12 …I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need…
Paul says I’ve experienced what it’s like to live on humble means. I know what it’s like to live in a prosperous way. He says I’ve been filled. I’ve went hungry. I’ve lived with an abundance, and I’ve lived with need, but in it all Paul says I’ve learned to be content. I’ve learned to be satisfied because of what (Who) God has put inside me, so I’m not dependent on any of these external things to make me content!
Number three (and we’ve already touched on this, so we won’t dwell here long), CONTENTMENT IS ABOUT BEING FULLY SATISFIED IN CHRIST.
13 I can do all things… Now he has in mind here, all the physical things he just talked about in verse 12. He says, back in verse 12, I can be content with humble means. He goes on to say I can be satisfied with being filled or going hungry, having abundance or suffering need, and the natural question is, “How? How do you do that? How is that possible? How do you live like that?”
13 I can do all things…
You need to hear strength behind that declaration! It speaks of having the power & the resources, and Paul says I can do it all through Him, verse 13, who strengthens me— And that phrase means “to infuse with strength.”
We look at a testimony like this and question, “How is it possible?” Paul says I have the power to do all things through Him (through Jesus) who infuses me with strength.
That’s where contentment is found. Contentment is about being fully satisfied in Jesus. It’s not seeking after the perfect circumstances (because a restless heart will always want), but it’s about Jesus being enough! And when Jesus is enough (when that’s my heart’s confession), then I can be satisfied in here (in my heart), regardless of whether roses are coming up on the outside or not.
Contentment rests in God’s providence. Contentment is independent of my circumstances. Contentment is about being fully satisfied in Christ. Real quick, here’s the last one (number four), CONTENTMENT IS ABOUT BEING OUTWARD-FOCUSED.
14 Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction. That’s an important transition because (as the believers in Philippi were reading this letter), based on what Paul has just said, they could conclude their gift didn’t mean that much! Paul has said, “I’ve learned to be content. Whether I have an abundance or need, I’ve learned to be satisfied with Jesus (and He lives in me), so I’m not looking to anything out here (externally) to make me happy.” That’s Paul’s testimony, and the believers in Philippi could read that and conclude, “Well, so much for our love offering!”
14 Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction. 15 You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; 16 for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs. 17 Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account.
That’s our principle! Do you see the outward focus in that? Paul says what you’ve done is a good thing, not because of how it benefits me, but ultimately because of how it benefits you!
Outward-focused. Others-focused. This is how Paul lived his life, and this is a huge key to finding contentment. When you live for you, you’ll never be content. When life is all about you, when you’re preoccupied with how things affect you, relate to you, apply to you, when life is all about you, you are not all about God, and your heart will be miserable!
Contentment comes not to those who are occupied with self, but to those who are occupied with the good of others. And this was Paul’s heart… Even as he received the gift from the believers at Philippi, he says I’m blessed (not by the gift. The gift is good and it means a lot), but the thing that really blesses me is how God is going to add to your account because you gave!
18 But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. 19 And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
Paul is saying, “Look, I know you gave in a sacrificial way, and I want you to know God is going to give back to you! God will not remain in debt to you! You gave in such a way that left you in need” (and if you want to see how they gave, flip over to 2 Corinthians 8 later today and read that account– A great example for what it means to give sacrificially), and Paul is simply saying, “God has got your back!”
And Paul can say that because there’s a spiritual principle found all over Scripture (Proverbs 11:24-25; Proverbs 19:17; Luke 6:38; 2 Corinthians 9:6; Galatians 6:7). It’s just everywhere, and it’s the principle that says it’s by giving that we receive!
It doesn’t make sense from a mere intellectual perspective, but God says that’s the key to finding contentment. Don’t focus on self & what you’re going to receive, but focus on others and the blessings they will receive.
The secret of contentment! Where does contentment come from? How can we experience it?
It comes from resting in the providence of God. It’s not tied to anything externally (it’s independent of my circumstances. It’s about being fully satisfied in Christ, who lives in me, and it’s about being occupied with the good of others.
Let me pray for us…
Father, we thank You for Your Word– We thank You for Your Spirit, and we just pray that Your Spirit would take Your Word and speak truth to our hearts… Help us to be a contented people. Help us to trust that we are exactly where You desire for us to be, so rather bucking up against that, help us to come to this place where we trust You– More than we might even desire our own comfort, may we simply trust in Your plan for our lives.
With your heads bowed, your eyes closed, maintaining this attitude of prayer… Let me ask you, “Where do you to focus more on Jesus?”
If contentment is found in Christ, if contentment is about being fully satisfied in Christ, then where do you need to focus more on Jesus? Where do you need to take your eyes off the situation / the circumstances / the thing you feel like you’ve got to have / the need you feel like isn’t being met? If contentment is found in Jesus, then where in your life do you need to focus more on Him?
Will you prayerfully ask the Spirit that question right now? Perhaps the bigger question is, will you surrender that area to Christ? Will you willingly give it up, trusting in His plan, trusting that you are where He desires you to be, and the satisfaction you’re looking for (in having all these things right on the outside) is really about being in a good place on the inside.
Father, give us courage to be honest. Give us wisdom to see those areas where we need to focus. Where we need to intentionally focus on Jesus, trusting His plan and resting in His sufficiency! Work in our hearts to this end, Father. Help us to come to this place where we can confess that Christ is all we need, and He’s all we want. Help us to get there, for we ask it according to the mighty name of Jesus, amen.