Saturday, October 17, 2020

The Joy of True Contentment in Christ - Philippians 4:10-23


The Joy of True Contentment in Christ

Philippians 4:10-23

Introduction: We arrive at the end of this series in Philippians, and at a point of transition after 10 and a half years of serving God together. As I read and reflect on these final words of Paul to this church which he knew and loved, I hope I can share from my heart with you as well. The dominant theme of this letter has been joy in serving Jesus, and that is my prayer for you and I hope your prayer for Mary Ann and me, that we will continue to rejoice in Christ, and serve Him faithfully.

       Here Paul emphasizes that no matter what the circumstances, if we have Jesus we have enough, He is sufficient to fill our every need. Paul talks about contentment in Christ in these verses. Remember the context, contentment is not complacency. Paul has talked about pressing on, striving for more depth and intimacy in his relationship with Christ. Yet even as a prisoner, with an uncertain future, Paul is filled with joyful contentment in Christ. We are facing some uncertainty as a nation at this moment in history. The upcoming election, the deep divisions in our country… We are also facing a time of transition as a church. In God we trust. He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion in the Day of Christ Jesus. Paul closes this letter by sharing a lesson God had taught him, that is finding contentment through trust in God, no matter what the circumstance might be that we are facing.  

The Maine* Idea: God is pleased when we are good stewards in every aspect of life, both content and generous with the things he has entrusted to us. True contentment is found in trusting God’s providence and so being independent from circumstances, which allows us to seek to meet the needs of others and so, to bring glory to God.

I. A Contented Person is Confident in God’s Providence (4:10).

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.   

       First, we see one aspect of the occasion of Paul writing this letter – to affirm the generosity of the Philippians in sending along with Epaphroditus an offering to meet Paul’s needs in his imprisonment: “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again…” (NKJV). He expressed thanks for their partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now back in 1:5, and he now returns to that subject. God’s provision through the church brought joy to Paul’s heart. We have tried to care for the church, and have experienced your care for us as well. That is cause for rejoicing!

       Secondly we see Paul’s recognition of the sovereign hand of God in his circumstance: “…though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity.”  Paul knew the truth of Proverbs 16:9 where it says “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” Or, as it sometimes it seems, “Man plans, and God laughs.”  We have our ideas, our goals, our plans for the future, but God knows what’s best for our good and for His glory. Providentially, He works through the circumstances of our lives to accomplish His purpose in us. Paul learned to be content through the different circumstances of life. It might be helpful to reflect on what God might want to teach us, not only when things are going well, but maybe especially when they aren’t, when it seems are prayers are unanswered or we hit bumps on the road, struggles in life. He is in it, working for our good and His glory. For a time at least, circumstances did not allow the Philippians to minister to Paul in the way they wished. They lacked opportunity. Those circumstances did not surprise God by the way!

       The story of Joseph in Genesis is a great example of this truth (see 45:5,8; 50:20). Think about the things Joseph endured.  Jealousy, hatred, betrayal, (and all that at the hands of his own brothers!). And then being falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife and imprisoned. And there forgotten by one who he had helped! But God didn’t forget Joseph. He was paving the way for Joseph to be exactly where he intended in order to preserve life and fulfill His promise to the Fathers. I am not sure how I would have reacted in Joseph’s situation—What about you? Do you understand that God is present and working in every situation of life?  Do you trust that whatever we go through God is there, and He will work it out for our good and for His glory?  God enable Joseph to see the big picture, Joseph understood that God was present and working even in the most difficult times of his life. God is good ALL the time, not just when things go the way we want!

       Paul was convinced that life was not a series of accidents, but rather a series of “divine appointments.” God told the psalmist “…I will guide you with my eye…” (Ps 32:8.   Abraham called God “Jehovah Jireh,” “The Lord will provide” at Mount Moriah when God himself provided the lamb (Gen 22: 14).  Jesus said in the Good Shepherd discourse, “And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them” (Jn 10:4).  We have a good Shepherd, a loving Father, who is present and working in the good times and even through the difficult times. Are we confident in His providence, that His overarching sovereignty guides to the details of our lives for our good, for our spiritual formation? True contentment is found in trusting God’s providence and so being independent from circumstances, which allows us to seek to meet the needs of others and so, to bring glory to God. Because we are confident in God’s providence, godly contentment…

II. True Contentment is Independent from Circumstances (4:11-13).

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.

       “And not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstance I am…” (4:11). Even chained to a Roman soldier, Paul? Apparently so! Was it one of the Rockefellers who, when asked, “how much is enough?” replied, “Just a little bit more…” Bigger house, boat, car, then I’ll be happy, content… no you won’t! We need to learn the truth that a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of things that he possesses. Moving helps you take a look at your possessions, and in many cases we’ve had to ask, “Why were we saving this?” Stuff!

       Paul says, “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.” (4:12). I’ve seen people with almost nothing, filled with joy and contentment. And I’ve seen wealthy people who were the opposite. Here, Think of Paul’s biography to this point: He had been cast in prison, shipwrecked in a terrible storm,  beaten and stoned and left for dead,  and yet God also gave him opportunity to stand before kings and testify for Christ.  His contentment was not in things, not in possessions or wealth, it was in Jesus. He had Jesus, so he had enough. It is easy to trust God, and rejoice in his goodness when things are going well. I have heard many people say, after an answer to prayer or an unexpected blessing, “God is good!” And He is!  But let me ask again, is he less good when the news is bad or when times are difficult?  Do you remember the prayer of Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20:12.  12 "O our God, will You not judge them? For we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You."  When crisis comes, when the threat is imminent, when our comfort and our security is in question, God is still good.

       I’ve told you the story of Al Groves, one of my seminary professors, just a couple of years older than me, who was diagnosed with a terminal, incurable cancer in 2006. He continued to preach and teach, and while he was able, still continued to giving some classes. He kept a blog, journaling his experience of walking with his family, and with God, through his final months… There were tears and sadness… death is an enemy, but several times over those months he confirmed that though this was not the course he would have chosen, because of what he learned about God’s love and grace he would not change any of it (Let me recommend the book his wife Libby wrote, Grief Undone). When crisis comes, when the threat is imminent, when our comfort and our security is in question, God is still good.

       It is then, strengthened by God’s power and indwelt by His presence we can still find contentment in Christ (4:13).  Our ultimate sufficiency is in Christ. No matter what our situation, if we have Jesus, we have enough, it’s going to be ok.  This is actually a tricky verse to translate – “everything” “I am strong” “in the one who empowers me”.  What things?  What is he talking about in the context? In plenty or in want, in poverty or in prosperity, we can live victoriously, in Christ. He is our life, our strength. To live is Christ! True contentment, Christian contentment, is not complacency. It is a quiet confidence found in trusting God’s providence and so being independent from circumstances. It is a contentment that allows us to seek to meet the needs of others and so, to bring glory to God.

III. A Contented Person is Preoccupied with the Well-Being of Others (4:14-19).

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. 

      There is support in Christian Fellowship. If we know true contentment in Christ we are free to get the focus off of ourselves and onto others. Paul was grateful for the Philippians. He clearly affirms that he had been blessed by their generosity. He recognized how they had sacrificed and sought to support him as he served God. Paul was thankful, and God was pleased with their generosity. 

       They “did well” in ministering to his current need (v.14). Their generosity and care for Paul was a good work that resulted from their genuine faith. In 15,16 he affirms that they had done well in the past, from his earliest time in Macedonia they sent offerings to help with his support. This is the shocking affirmation Paul makes here: his motive in lauding their generosity toward him was not “gain” for himself, but that they might experience the blessing of giving. It’s an old saying “it’s more blessed to give than to receive.” That was clearly Paul’s perspective. Is that your perspective? As a missionary on support we depended on God supplying through the gifts of his people. I was sharing with the guys Tuesday morning that we were grateful that God consistently met our needs, but I think my focus was exactly that—our needs were met. How much did I really think about the blessing God would give the givers? Paul really did that. That was his focus, his joy.

       In v.19 notice that Paul affirms his confidence regarding God’s provision of every need of the Philippian church: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Is that not the testimony of BBC? As I read the story of our 200-year history I can see that there were times of struggle and times of growth, but in all of it, God proved faithful. He supplied. Over the last 10 ½ years that we’ve been with you, even as we faced some capital projects: converting the youth house into offices and a parsonage before we came, the renovation of the sanctuary, putting in an elevator, replacing the boilers, etc. God is faithful, He has supplied for this church for over 200 years, that’s quite a testimony to God’s faithfulness! True contentment is found in trusting God’s providence and so being independent from circumstances, which allows us to seek to meet the needs of others and so, to bring glory to God.

IV. A Contented Person seeks God’s glory and lives in His grace (4:20-23).

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. 

       Our goal in stewardship is to be faithful, and so to bring glory to God (v.20). He get’s the glory because every good and perfect gift is from above (James 1:17). Paul asked the Corinthians, “…What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? (I Cor 4:7). We trust God, we recognize His provision and are grateful for His grace. And so, He gets the glory.

       We should be generous, faithful stewards because in Christ we’re set apart from the world. We were created for eternity. The suffering of this present age is not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us. Here Paul alludes to what God was doing in his imprisonment. Greet the saints, and, by the way, “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household (21-22). Paul had been a prisoner for four years in all, two in Caesarea, then the voyage to Rome after appealing to Caesar, and two more years in chains. But the mission went on. There were saints, that is, genuine believers in Jesus, in Caesar’s household. Paul was still able to write letters, he had a few brothers like Timothy and Epaphroditus visiting him, but he had a guard chained to him, and perhaps contact with others. He seized the opportunity to give a reason the hope that was in him!  He was content, but not complacent. He had joy in what God was doing.

       As he began the letter, Paul again affirms the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil 1:2,7).  We are saved by Grace, God’s unmerited, undeserved favor. He sent Jesus to die for us – he has made us his children – instead of judgement we are forgiven, we have eternal life through faith in Christ! Of Him we are in Christ Jesus, to God be the glory!

What is God saying to me in this passage? True contentment is found in trusting God’s providence and so being independent from circumstances. That allows us to seek to meet the needs of others and so, to bring glory to God.  Paul found his sufficiency in Christ. As Psalm 73:25 says, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you…” Jonathan Edwards in a sermon on that verse said,

“…whatever changes a godly man passes through, he is happy; because God, who is unchangeable, is his chosen portion. Though he meet with temporal losses, and be deprived of many, yea, of all his temporal enjoyments; yet God, whom he prefers before all, still remains, and cannot be lost. While he stays in this changeable, troublesome world, he is happy; because his chosen portion on which he builds as his main foundation for happiness, is above the world, and above all changes. And when he goes into another world, still he is happy, because that portion yet remains. Whatever he be deprived of, he cannot be deprived of his chief portion; his inheritance remains sure to him. How great is the happiness of those who have chosen the Fountain of good, who prefer him before all things in heaven or on earth, and who can never be deprived of him to all eternity!” 

What would God have me to do in response to this passage?

     1. Do you believe that God is with you, that life is not a series of accidents, but rather a series of divine appointments? God is working through the circumstances of life to accomplish His good purpose in you. Have you seen the statement, “No Jesus, no peace. Know Jesus, Know Peace.” If you have Jesus, you have enough! This letter talks about a peace that passes understanding – a godly contentment that is not bound by circumstances.

     2. If that is true, you are freed to seriously think about others, and so being a steward of all that God has entrusted to you. Paul said in I Cor 4:2 “It is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy…” Your material possessions, your finances, your time, your spiritual gifts… If we are content in Christ, we are freed to use wisely what God has entrusted to us.

     3. Stay in the Word. Insist on biblical teaching. Pray without ceasing. Walk in the Spirit. Love God. Love one another. Know Jesus, know peace, that is godly contentment.      AMEN.

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