Today we finish our journey through Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Paul is finishing his letter with some of the most powerful words for us specifically on contentment. And so, just jumping right in, I’d like to ask Ed VanGulick to come and read Philippians 4:10-23. That is on around page 100 in the blue New Testaments in the seatbacks, if you would like to follow along. But we’re going to hear directly from Paul why he was so thankful for the Philippians, and in the midst of that, also what was his secret for contentment. Philippians 4:10-23; Ed, take it away.
10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.
23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
Thank you, Ed. As you probably noticed, Paul is very grateful for the Philippians. He likes them a bit, doesn’t he? Of course! He has a strong affection for them. And as he’s closing out this letter to them, he thanks them especially for a monetary gift that they’ve sent him. He’s very grateful for their partnership and for their support, and he wants to make that very clear. That’s really his goal in these last verses of Philippians.
But, in the midst of thanking the Philippians, he also writes some really important things about contentment. He’s thanking them, telling them he’s so grateful, but also makes 2 clarifications. In verse 11, he writes, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation to be content.” In other words, “Yes, thank you for your gift, but not that I absolutely needed your money, because I’ve learned to be content no matter what.” And then later in verse 17, he writes, “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.” In other words, “Not that my goal is the money itself, but the goal is the fruit, or what’s going to happen because of that money you gave, and you get credit for that!
Why is Paul putting out these disclaimers? These clarifications? It’s because Paul did not want to risk people wondering about his motives! He did not want anyone to think he was travelling and starting churches and then going back around to encourage them—he didn’t want them to think that he was doing all that for money. He was concerned about this not just because he didn’t want people to think badly of HIM; he was concerned because did not want people to miss his message because they were wondering about his motives! That makes sense! The quickest way for a preacher to lose influence with people is for it to come out that he’s just doing it for the money, or for the attention he gets. Right? No one wants to listen to a preacher like that.
And so, Paul is trying to make as clear as possible that, yes, he’s so thankful for this support from the Philippians, and yet at the same time, he really had no absolute need for it. He has learned to be content no matter his situation. So, in explaining why he is content, this is where we can also learn a lot on how to be content.
The Reality of Life
Life is inconsistent.
Before we jump into contentment, though, we should probably just stop for a moment here and recognize that life is sometimes crazy. That’s the reality of life. At times, life is crazy. At the very least, we can all admit that life is inconsistent. Maybe it’s not really crazy for you all that often, but we’d certainly all say that circumstances in our lives change. Good things happen, bad things happen; sometimes we’re happy, sometimes we’re depressed, down. Life as a human being is inconsistent. Maybe it looks something like this….Again, life is inconsistent, yes?
Paul himself knew this. He wrote in verses 11 and 12, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.” You see that, right? He knows the ups of downs of life! He says, “In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” I mean, we see the ups and downs he’s referring to. He’s probably talking about things far lower and far higher than the things we usually experience. Most of us do not go hungry. Most of us have never been flogged. I’d venture to guess that none of us have ever been flogged. Paul knew about ups and downs, and yet he wrote here about being content.
In the midst of this life that is inconsistent, this life in which things change (sometimes quickly and drastically), the question is, “How do we become and how do we stay content?” How do we become steady people who reflect our steady God, and who are satisfied, content? How do we, to use Paul’s words from chapter 3, “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Because that’s really where all these ups and downs in life are headed.
Yes, we face difficulty, we have bad things happen and respond by being sad or frustrated. And yes, we have good things happen too. BUT, what it means to be steady and content in the midst of all of that is that not everything about us changes with our circumstances!
In other words, when things are going well, let’s say we’re happy, we’re living with purpose, we’re trying to be obedient to God and even trying to influence those around us with the gospel. But, when things aren’t going well, we’re sad, we feel like we have no purpose, we become indifferent toward Jesus, we stop caring about influencing the people around us with the gospel.
Or maybe for you it’s the other way around, especially when it comes to faith. Things are going well, so you become indifferent toward Christ because there’s not really an immediate need for focusing on that right now—things are going well! But when things go badly, ooh, I need the church, I need encouragement, I need to focus on finding my joy in Christ—I feel like maybe that’s all I have right now. Different people respond to all this in different ways.
The Secret to Contentment (11-13)
It’s funny, especially, how gathering with the body of Christ, coming to church, is inconsistent when we let our life’s circumstances control what we do. Listen, letting life’s circumstances control you; that is not a life of contentment. That is not a life of true, lasting satisfaction. But this is how the vast majority of the world lives, making decisions and letting their entire lives be driven by their emotion or whatever is happening that very day. Paul, however, gives us the secret. He calls it a secret to contentment. It reminds me of a weight-loss commercial. The SECRET to losing 50 pounds in 20 seconds. Paul has the SECRET to being contentment in 3 seconds. He’s learned in whatever situation he is in to be content. In any and every circumstance, here’s the secret, verse 13:
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
That’s the secret to contentment, to steadiness, to moving forward in the midst of all the craziness toward the prize. In all things, the good and the bad! I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. And when he says all things, we know Paul is including here some of the hardest things that come up in life because he was just talking about the ups and the downs! He said he knows what it is to be brought low, to be hungry, in want. What’s the secret in the good and the bad? I can do all things, meaning the good and the bad, through Christ who strengthens me.
What an awesome “secret” that’s not really a secret, right? We know this. Christ is our JOY, he’s our ROCK, and not only do we stand on Him and have our eyes set on him in the midst of all this craziness, but he’s the very one strengthening us in the middle of it all! I can hunger because Christ strengthens me. I can be in want, wanting or even needing more than I have, because Christ strengthens me. I can be brought low because Christ strengthens me. He is my source for strength, for purpose, for JOY no matter where I happen to be in the moment. Verse 11: In any and every circumstance, I have learned to be content.
This is not a verse only for life when it is going well! I just want to bring that up over and over and over this morning. Contentment does not mean that life is just carefree, and you have everything perfectly balanced and in order. It doesn’t mean that. Life can be crazy, you can struggle with having things balanced, and yet still be content. It doesn’t even necessarily mean that you’re not stressed at times! It means that in the midst of the stressful times, you are still resting in Christ, content. Knowing that he strengthens you.
It reminds me of a very similar verse in Romans chapter 8. In verses 37-38, this is what Paul writes: “As it is written, ‘for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ In all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” In all things! He wrote about facing death. In all things. Sickness, job-loss, betrayal, I can do all things through him who gives me strength. The secret is that Christ died for you, absorbing God’s wrath on your behalf, and rose again defeating death. That not only saves us from the penalty of sin, that reconciles us to God. This newfound relationship with God, only found in Jesus, that SUSTAINS us through all the twists and turns of life. It sustains us toward the ultimate goal, which is maturity, becoming more like Jesus.
He saved us and he sustains us. It is all God’s grace toward us in Christ. That is why Jesus is our JOY. That’s why we have contentment, because all the things we think we need and the things that we are covetous for, they’re all loss compared to Jesus. They’re rubbish! Trash! You remember that in chapter 3? “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Indeed, I consider them garbage that I may gain Christ and be found in him.”
How can we be content? How can we be steady in the midst of all these ups and downs? We value Christ above all else! Your job can be taken from you. Your house can be taken from you. Pretty much anything and everything in this life is uncertain. But Christ is CERTAIN. This is why Paul follows up what we just read in Romans chapter 8—he says, even as we’re considered sheep to be slaughtered, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” We read that, but guess what follows next in Romans 8? Our certainty:
We can’t be certain about much in this life, but we can be certain of this: Romans 8:38-39- “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
That’s our strength! That’s our contentment! And that’s your JOY. Listen, when you rest in Jesus, and find your identity and significance and joy in him, the more you will be steady and content no matter what’s going on in life! That doesn’t mean there’s not stress, that doesn’t even mean there’s not anguish. And it certainly doesn’t mean you have everything balanced out perfectly in life. It means you are content resting in Christ Himself as he strengthens you, in the midst of all the craziness. And this contentment is remarkable, it’s indescribable. It’s very similar to the peace that transcends all understanding that we talked about last week, from verse 7.
The Enemy of Contentment
So, here’s the question: Why are we not content?! Maybe we really think we understand this, we’ve heard it before. But, getting right down to the heart of it: Why do we still so often feel unsatisfied? Here’s why, and it might be a bit different of an answer than you expect. Here’s the enemy of contentment, the reason why we still struggle with being content:
We don’t believe that Jesus is enough.
Maybe we “believe” as in “acknowledge” that Jesus is enough. Oh, we get that. Maybe we’ve sang the song, even: “Christ is enough for me. Christ is enough for me. Everything I need is in you. Everything I need.” Maybe we sing it, maybe we will tell others that Jesus is enough. But, in our heart of hearts, in our minds, we struggle with truly believing and living and resting in the sufficiency of Jesus. God has promised us eternal life, which started when we became Christians! Life spiritually abundant, and life eternal, started when you were reconciled to God. He has promised us everything we need in Jesus.
But we often don’t really trust in this promise. We don’t believe that God will be everything we truly need! Christ is our treasure, but we think we need more treasure! Even though we see God’s promise fulfilled and clarified throughout all of Scripture, we struggle with really believing it. That he’s enough. We all struggle with this. Can I just stop for a moment and admit that this is me too. I struggle with contentment. I’m very grateful that God is faithful even when I am faithless. This is why this isn’t a shaming thing. This isn’t, “You’re not content. Feel ashamed.” This is is, “You’re not content, but God is still faithful.” In fact, this is where our contentment rests! A great verse I just read this week is 2 Timothy 2:13- “Even if we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is.” You can be content this morning, because even when you’re not content, God is faithful.
Verse 19 right here in Philippians 4, we see this promise yet again that God will meet our needs: And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. Another translation puts it this way: And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. Hear that. What we’ve learned last week and this week: Jesus is our Joy, Jesus is our Rock, Jesus is our Burden-Bearer, Jesus is our Contentment, and now Jesus is our very TREASURE! He will supply all our needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us, how?!, in Christ Jesus. He is enough, church! He’s infinitely more than enough.
When we forget the value of what we have in Christ, we start to become less than satisfied. We start looking elsewhere, craving other things to fill a void that nothing else can truly fill except Christ himself. And when we do that, the exact opposite of contentment starts to show itself, and the exact opposite of contentment is covetousness. A desire for wealth or possessions, or really anything that we don’t have because we think that’s what we need in order to be satisfied. Our stomach becomes our god, if you remember back to Paul’s language in Philippians 3:19. We keep feeding ourselves from everything the world has to offer thinking it will satisfy, when in fact it only brings temporary, false, relief. Then, before we know it, we have to feed it again! And on and on and on this goes, this craving for satisfaction.
When we’re brought low, going through a rough time, we think the only thing that will satisfy is getting out of this lowness, fixing whatever it is. So that’s where our minds are, and where our focus is. But then even when good things happen, it’s usually not enough! If this is what we’re looking to to satisfy our longings—getting up here in the high times, the better times—then we’ve forgotten that it won’t deliver! It can’t deliver! Because even when we’re up here, guess what? We want more! Or all we want is to protect what we’ve gained so that we will never be brought low again! Again, that’s not a life of contentment. Even if we feel like we have enough while in the good times, we’ll be constantly afraid of losing it because that’s all we’re holding on to.
Listen, this is something we all struggle with. This isn’t a select few of us; this is all of us. And most of these desires aren’t bad in and of themselves. I want more children, which is a good desire; there’s nothing wrong with that. I want to be out of debt; kick out those stinking student loans. Maybe you want to be married. Maybe you want your husband or wife back. Maybe you want to provide for your family better. We all have many other wants and desires, and guess what? There’s nothing wrong with wanting things that you don’t have. There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself.
The problem comes when desire turns into covetousness. When you’re not content or satisfied until you have these things. It starts taking up your thought life. You think about it a lot. Perhaps it really becomes a distraction from what matters most.
It’s at that point that there’s a problem. And the problem is that we have forgotten or at least been distracted from the TREASURE we have, who is Christ Jesus.
How to Find Contentment
So what should we do to find contentment? And what should we do to stay content? It’s a simple answer, and yet it’s profound and we need to hear it every single Sunday when we gather. How do we find contentment? We look to Jesus. Lift your eyes and set them on Jesus. Every year, year month, every week, every day, look to Jesus! God will supply all our needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. Look to him! He is more than enough.
And listen, don’t miss the framework in which Paul writes this entire letter. He’s writing to a local church. Paul’s explicit about this, but it’s also implied everywhere that Christians need to actively be part of the local church. In every phase of life, before and after and during every big shift in life, and when nothing seems to be going on in life! We need the church to help us in setting your eyes on Jesus. The one who saves us AND sustains us!
Please hear me: the most important time to gather with the Body of Christ and set your eyes on Jesus is when you do not feel like it. No matter where you are at on this spectrum, the ups and downs, the best thing for you is to be here with God’s family! Maybe we can help to bear your burdens, maybe we won’t do that too well sometimes. Maybe we can encourage you; maybe we don’t do that well at times. But listen, the one thing we will absolutely do is point you to Jesus! And if we don’t do that, find another church! The people around you will fail you. I, your pastor, in some way or another, will fail you. But we don’t come here to find our hope in each other. We come to set our eyes on our only true hope and joy: the God-Man Jesus.
Paul writes to this church at Philippi because he knows them well, and loves them! The affection that he has for these people is intense! It’s everywhere in this letter. I don’t want us to miss, as we finish this letter from Paul, the significance that it’s a personal letter to a local church. I don’t want us to miss that of the vast majority of references to a church in the entire New Testament refer to a local gathering of believers.
The universal church matters greatly to God, of course, and you can find so many resources online from the universal church that will help you in your faith, but listen: nothing can replace the significance of the local church in the life of a Christian. You know why? Because this kind of contentment, finding ultimate satisfaction in him, it takes times and it takes effort. Just pressing on to the goal, in general, it takes time. But contentment, specifically, takes time. Paul says in verse 11, “I have learned to be content no matter the circumstances.” Then in verse 12: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.”
This is the apostle Paul, and yet he had to learn contentment! Learning takes time! And guess what? He learned it with the love and support of the Philippian church, even as a missionary. He wasn’t even a resident member, and yet guess what? He was loved and supported, and spurred on by the Philippians. We too need each other to help with setting our gaze on Jesus! I love putting verses 13 and 14 together: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Yet it was good of you to share my trouble.” Did you catch that as we read it earlier?
I can do all things through Christ. He strengthens me, but man, is it good to have the church here for me. Christ’s bride to point me to Jesus, week in and week out. When we feel like it and when we don’t! In the good times and in the bad! When the church is good at encouraging you, and when we’re not so great at encouraging you.
Listen, we are imperfect and we will fail you. Guest, welcome to Raintree—we will fail you. But let me tell you the one thing we will not fail at. We will not neglect in pointing you to the only One who will never fail you! Because he’s the only fountain here! My bucket has a bottom. Your bucket has a bottom. We can only give and love and serve so much. But there is no bottom to the love of our Father for his children. For you and me. There is no end to it! That’s our supply! He will supply all our needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.
Don’t just feel guilty when you want something different than you have because you know that you should be content. Instead, move your gaze to Jesus. Everything else is loss compared to the surpassing value of knowing him. He is the only Treasure we have to offer here. He is our JOY.