We have been in 1st Peter, but today I have a surprise for you: we will not be in 1st Peter. We had a busier week than normal, and I got sick starting Thursday night. So I didn’t get to spend ample time studying for 1st Peter. I think I’m on the mend today, but don’t mind me as a I sneak out after preaching. I don’t want to risk getting any of you sick. And I apologize if I cough. Hopefully I will not. But today I wanted to turn to a passage I know very well, and next week we’ll be right back in 1st Peter.
We’ll be in Philippians 4:10-23. Paul is finishing up his letter to the Philippians with some powerful words on contentment. And as I read, we will hear from Paul why he was so thankful for the Philippians and his secret for contentment. So jumping right in, follow along with me as I read Philippians 4:10-23.
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.
As you probably noticed, Paul is grateful for the Philippians. He has a strong affection for them. And as he’s closing out this letter, he thanks them especially for a monetary gift they’ve sent him. That’s really his goal in these last verses of this letter.
But, in the midst of thanking the Philippians, he also writes some really important things about contentment. In the midst of telling them how grateful he was, he 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.”
Why is Paul putting out these disclaimers? It’s because Paul did not want to risk people wondering about his motives! He didn’t want anyone to think he was travelling and starting churches and then going back around to encourage them—all for money. He was concerned not just because he didn’t want people to think badly of him; he was concerned because he did not want people to miss the message he was preaching. He wanted to make sure they weren’t skeptical about his motives! And that makes sense, doesn’t it? The quickest way for a preacher to lose influence is for it to come out that he’s just doing it for the money, or for the attention. Right? No one wants to listen to a preacher like that.
And so, Paul is making it clear that, yes, he’s thankful for this support from the Philippians— and yet at the same time, he had no absolute need for it. He has learned to be content no matter his situation. We can learn a lot from Paul here. I don’t know about you, but there are times in which I struggle with contentment. Human beings are prone to struggle with always wanting more, or thinking they need more. Part of this is because…
Life is inconsistent.
That’s the reality of life, isn’t it? Life is inconsistent at best, crazy at worst. Circumstances in our lives change. Good things happen, bad things happen; sometimes we’re happy, sometimes we’re unhappy. Life as a human being is inconsistent. I know that even in a single week it can feel like a roller coaster of emotions with how things are going. Things are going great, then terrible, then “meh” (that’s my word for “so-so”), then terrible again. Life is inconsistent!
Paul himself knew this. He wrote in verse 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.” He knows the ups and downs of life. And he’s probably talking about things far lower and far higher than the things we usually experience. Most of us do not go hungry. I’d venture to guess that none of us have ever been flogged.
But even so, we know that life is not easy. We’ve seen in 1st Peter, and we’ll see this again next week. Perhaps especially for the Christian, life is not easy. But listen: letting your temporary circumstances control you; that is not a life of contentment. That is not a life of true, lasting satisfaction. Even though this is how the vast majority of people live their lives—making decisions and letting their entire lives be driven by their emotions or whatever is happening that very moment. Paul gives us the secret. Paul knew about ups and downs, and yet he wrote here of being content.
In the midst of the craziness, how do we experience this contentment? How do we become steady people who imitate our steady God, and who are satisfied in Him? 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”? Here’s the answer Paul gives:
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 andthe downs, hunger and plenty. How does he remain content. I can do all things, meaning I can go through the good and the bad, through Christ who strengthens me.
Christ is our JOY, amen? Christ is our ROCK, amen? Christ is our King, amen? Not only do we have our eyes set on him in the middle of all the craziness of life, 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, purpose, 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 a remarkable verse, not only for when life is going well, and this is certainly not only a verse for football games or while trying to bench 300 pounds: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” We apply this verse in interesting ways. Certainly, God can do as he pleases, including a miracle like me benching 300 pounds, but my point is that that’s not what this verse is about. God cares far more about you pressing on toward the goal in Jesus than all the other things that we so often use this verse for. We can press on toward Jesus in all things, no matter what’s happening, through Christ who gives us strength.
I think it’s important to note that being content does not mean that we’re carefree, or that we have everything perfectly balanced and in order. Contentment doesn’t mean you have absolute control of everything your life. It doesn’t mean that. Can I tell you a secret: no one has full control of their lives. Truly. Life can be crazy, you can struggle with having things balanced, and yet still be content, still be pressing on toward Jesus. It doesn’t even necessarily mean that you’re not stressed at times! It means that in the midst of the stressful times, you can still rest in Jesus. Satisfied and filled, knowing that he strengthens you.
It reminds me of a very similar verse in Romans chapter 8. In verses 36 and 37, this is what Paul writes, quoting from Psalm 44: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ And in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” He’s writing about facing death, and he says, “in all these things.” Meaning all experiences in life: Death, sickness, job-loss, betrayal, in all these things we are more than conquerors. We can do all things through him who gives me strength.
There is no greater strength to be found than in Christ. Why? Because Christ died for us, absorbing the wrath of God on our behalf, and rose again defeating death. This not only saves us from our sin, but it also SUSTAINS us through all the twists and turns of life. This new relationship with God the Father that he accomplished for us! It sustains us toward the ultimate goal of meeting Jesus face-to-face.
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! Please hear me this morning. Your job can be taken from you. Your house can be taken from you. Even your family can be taken from you. But Christ Jesus can never be taken from you! This is why Paul follows up what we just read in Romans 8—he says, “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 is our strength! That is our contentment! That is our JOY. The more you rest in Jesus and find your identity and self-worth 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 won’t be anguish at times. And it certainly doesn’t mean you have everything perfectly balanced and in control. It means you are content resting in Jesus as he strengthens you, in the midst of all the craziness.
The Enemy of Contentment
So, here’s the question. Because maybe we know that. Maybe this isn’t new for you. 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. This is the enemy of contentment:
We don’t believe Jesus is enough. Maybe we “acknowledge” in our heads that Jesus is enough. We get it, intellectually. Maybe you can sing it, and even tell others that Jesus is enough. But, in our heart of hearts, we struggle with resting in the sufficiency of Jesus. I mean, God has promised us eternal life, life abundant and life eternal. He promised us everything we need in Jesus.
But sometimes we often don’t really believe this promise. We struggle with believing in our heart of hearts that God is everything we need! Christ is our treasure, but we think we need more treasure! Even though we see God’s promises fulfilled always throughout all of Scripture, we struggle with really believing it. Aren’t you grateful that we have a God who is faithful even when we are faithless. This is why this isn’t a shame thing. I hope you’re not hearing this morning, “You’re not content. Feel guilty.” No no! My hope this morning is that you hear this: “You’re not content, but God is still faithful.” In fact, this is why we can be content! You can be satisfied in Christ this morning, because even when you’re not content, God is still faithful.
Verse 19 right here in Philippians 4, we see his faithfulness: 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 see in all of Scripture: Jesus is our Joy, Jesus is our Rock, Jesus is our Burden-Bearer, Jesus is our Contentment, and now Jesus is our very TREASURE! God 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 think we need more. We start looking elsewhere, craving other things to fill a void that nothing else can truly. When we do that, the exact opposite of contentment starts to creep in. 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 happy and satisfied. The definition of covetousness: “I want more!” Our stomach becomes our god, if you look back a chapter at Philippians 3:19. We keep feeding ourselves from everything the world has to offer thinking it will satisfy—money, possessions, notoriety, influence, leisure. When in fact all those things only bring temporary, false relief. Before we know it, we have to feed it again! And on and on and on this goes, this craving for satisfaction, this craving for more!
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. It’s ok to want things you don’t have. Maybe you want more children, there’s nothing wrong with that. Maybe you want to be out of debt. Maybe you want to be married. Maybe you want your husband or wife back if you’ve lost them. Maybe you want to provide for your family better. We all have desires, and guess what? There’s nothing wrong with wanting things that you don’t have, in and of itself.
The problem comes when desire turns into dissatisfaction. When you’re not content until you have those other things. It starts taking up your thought life. It 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 the greatest possible TREASURE there is. And that’s Jesus.
How to find Contentment
So, what do we do to find contentment? And what do we do to stay content? It’s a simple answer, and yet it’s profound one, and we need to hear it and say it and do 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, every hour, every moment—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.
Paul writes to this church 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 the significance of the fact that this is a personal letter to a local church. In fact, I don’t want you to miss that of the vast majority of references to church in the New Testament refer to a local gathering of believers.
The global church matters greatly to God, of course, and you can find so many resources online from the worldwide 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 Jesus, it takes times and it takes effort. Pressing on toward the goal takes time. Contentment, especially, takes time. Notice again what Paul wrote 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, guess what? It takes time! And guess what else? Paul 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 must help each other set our gazes upon Jesus!
I love putting verses 13 and 14 together. This is a great thought to close on. Look at 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 also to have the church. Christ’s bride to point me to Jesus, week in and week out, day in and day out. When I feel like it and when I don’t! When I want to and when I don’t. In the good times and in the bad! When the church is good at encouraging me, and when they’re not so good at encouraging me.
Listen, we are and imperfect church, and we will fail you. I say this every once in a while on person. So let me say it again this morning: If you’re a guest this morning, welcome to Lamar Baptist Church—we will fail you. We will. But thank God there is someone who will not! And we are here to point you to Him and Him alone!
If you’re not content this morning, don’t just feel guilty because you know you’re supposed to be content. Instead, shift 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. And please hear me when I say it: He is enough.