The Secret of Contentment
Topic: Default Scripture: Philippians 4:10–4:23
Good morning! Well, this is our last sermon in our series in Philippians which feels like somewhat of a milestone, to me at least, in my tenure here. In this last passage Paul finishes where he began by thanking the Philippian church for the way they provided for him financially while in prison. I don’t know how many of you have either received financial support for mission work or given financial support for mission work, but I have been on both sides and I can tell you that there can be a real awkwardness to it all.
On the receiving end, you want to communicate deep gratitude for the support, but you don’t want anyone to feel any pressure to give either. You’re thankful for the support, but you never want to give off the vibe that you’re mainly in it for the money. And, if you have any kind of authoritative leverage or spiritual leverage over a person, you want to be all the more careful that you aren’t abusing it in some way. I think this is what we are hearing from Paul at the close of his letter. Paul says, I rejoice 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. - Philippians 4:10
So, he’s showing deep gratitude for their financial support. And I know that in the
English, especially in other translations, it can sound like Paul isn’t appreciative. The
NIV says ‘at last you have renewed your concern for me.’ Well, that’s some thank you Paul. All Paul is saying is that he knows how hard it is to keep up geographically with where Paul is. There was no internet or find friends back then. Not even a postage system. The Philippian church just didn’t know what was going on with Paul. Then, at last, they found out he was in prison in Rome and had an opportunity to help him and for that Paul is deeply grateful.
So, that’s Paul’s grateful side, but, on the other hand, he knows they are giving sacrificially and doesn’t want them to feel undo pressure to continue to give. He says Not that I am speaking of being in need...Not that I seek the gift...I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied…. Paul’s doesn’t want to be one of those televangelists asking for seed money from people’s’ retirement accounts so they can fly around on private jets.
So, there is this tension in Paul between being in real need and deeply grateful for the help, but also totally fine. So, how can you be in real need and totally fine at the same time? This is exactly what Paul wants the Philippians and us to know. Paul, in this passage, is teaching about a Christian view of contentment. Being in real need and at the same time, totally fine. Paul says I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. Philippians 4:11
Contentment is hard to find! As a culture we spend billions of dollars every year looking for contentment. And all our studies show that the more affluent our culture gets, the less content we become. It doesn’t matter if we have more comforts than 99.9% of the history of the world (and we do). That’s out the window if we see someone with more.
My youngest turned four last week and we had a great birthday party for him at our house with family. We had a bounce house and toys and cake and a piñata. He had the time of his life until the piñata broke and some other kids got more candy than he did. Do you know what his response was? “This is the worst day ever!” It didn’t matter what all he had, all he could see is that someone else had more.
And I’d like to say that this kind of discontentment is limited to four year olds, but I experience it as well. Once I was flying home from Europe and, because I chose the really cheap flight, I had to sleep on the floor of a German airport and as my flight was boarding the next morning, I asked the lady checking me in if I could have a seat where I could get some sleep. She handed me a ticket and I walked onto the plane looking for seat 2A. And if you fly much, you know that when I saw seat 2A, my jaw dropped. I was in first class. Not business class, but the old school first class. Leather recliner, filet mignon and enough buttons to press to keep me occupied over most of the Atlantic.
I was fine with economy before that. But now that I know what other people get to experience, do you know what happens every time I board a large jet? I am totally discontent because I know how much better they have it. I don’t even want to look at them as I board. Bunch of jerks.
The more our culture progresses, the more discontent we will be unless we hear what Paul is saying. There is a secret to contentment. So, this morning I want to look at this passage and find out three things about the secret of contentment. First, why we need contentment. Second, the secret to contentment. Third, what contentment does to us.
- Why we need contentment
In short, we need it because we are fallen. We are looking for something we lack and something that this world will not give us. C.S. Lewis famously said, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
We long for something we can’t explain and we will not be content without it. Have you ever been anxious about something and not known why? Something happened that made you anxious, but you’ve since forgotten what that thing was, but the anxiety continued. That’s similar to what is going on in our discontent. Something has happened to make us discontent, but we can’t remember what is was.
And because we don’t know what it is that we lack, we look to fill that longing with things that won’t ever satisfy us. John says that we look instead to the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life… - 1 John 2:16
So, what is it that we really desire and why don’t we have it? We desire a thriving relationship with God and we lack it because of our desire of the flesh, desire of the eyes and pride of life. And this becomes really clear if we go all the way back to Genesis 3. Eve, who was enjoying a relationship with God, began this discontent that we now perpetuate.
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food (desire of the flesh), and that it was a delight to the eyes (desire of the eyes), and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise (pride of life), she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. - Genesis 3:6
Tim Keller defines contentment as soul satisfaction. Our soul was made to be eternally satisfied, but we lost that soul satisfaction when we decided that our way is better than God’s way. At that moment satisfaction was stripped from our souls and discontentment would rule from that moment on. Our soul desires satisfaction in God, but if we don’t know that we will just cope by looking to relationships, houses, jobs, money and status instead.
And it’s easy to think that the contentment Paul is talking about is some lofty Christian ideal that, yeah, maybe some Christians might experience, but probably not me. Well, contentment isn’t a lofty Christian ideal, it’s the tenth commandment. You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's." - Exodus 20:17
We are commanded to not covet which is another way of saying, “Be content!” So, now that you know it’s clearly commanded, problem solved, right? Are you all now content? No! It’s not that easy. The 10th commandment isn’t supposed to fix our problem, it’s only supposed to show us our problem. This was, apparently, a big part of Paul’s journey to Christ. In Romans 7, he says, Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet (or not be content) if the law had not said, "You shall not covet." 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness (or discontent). - Romans 7:7-8
Ok, so Paul is saying that this is a commandment and a secret. Is God then commanding something and at the same time witholding the resource to carry it out? No. The word ‘secret’ in English means hidden, but the same word in Greek means hard to find. There is a subtle difference. The secret Paul is holding isn’t purposely hidden from us, it’s right in front of us, but most of us don’t have eyes to see it.
So, what is that secret?
- The secret to contentment
The secret to contentment is two fold. First, we need to recognize that we need it. Do you realize that you long for something that no amount of money, sex or status will ever give you? So few people in this world can answer yes to this because so few people have experienced seasons of want and plenty the way Paul has. Paul says, 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.” - Philippians 4:11-12
Paul has experienced seasons of real plenty. Paul knew what it was like to be at the top of the ladder. To have status and money and power...and to see that none of it would provide what he longed for most. The problem in our culture today and the reason we are increasingly discontent is that we are surrounded by so much. We can think that we are just one job, one raise away from true contentment. Do know that a major poll was taken in the US on contentment and a majority of people said they would be content if they had $20,000 more a year. People making $60,000 said this, people making $80,000 said this and people making $150,000 said this. So, what does it tell you about the hope of $20,000 more a year? That it won’t actually provide the contentment we want it to.
But let’s go all the way to the top. Why is it that there are superstars who seem to have it all, but still have enough discontentment in their lives that they have to cope with drugs and alcohol abuse. There are people who seem to have it all, but in their misery take their own lives. The lottery winners whose lives are ruined by the money.
And I know there is someone here thinking, “Jim, I’m actually pretty comfortable. I don’t have any financial stress, my job is ok and my family seems to be doing fine. I think I am pretty content.” If that’s you, I just want to say praise God things are going well right now, but the contentment you feel is a fragile one. It’s a shell of what Paul is talking about. You are just one phone call away from a very different life. You just haven’t lived long enough yet to realize it.
And that brings us to the other end of the spectrum, Paul has experienced seasons plenty and of true want. He has been brought low. I’m not talking about I don’t like my job low. I’m talking about I have lost everything low. I’m losing my family low. I’m in jail low. I might lose my life low. Look at what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; - 2 Corinthians 11:24-25
It’s only in those seasons of deep want that things begin to come into focus. As one pastor said, “In these seasons, all the things that we thought were so important begin to look like icing on a cake.” Icing is fine. I like icing, but it won’t sustain us. We can’t live on icing and sometimes it takes being at the bottom to realize that.
Paul has been in both of these seasons and can attest to the world’s inability to satisfy our souls. But, since most of us aren’t and won’t be in seasons of true plenty or seasons of true want as defined by our culture, I want to test our contentment. If you drive down Park Avenue or Interlachen or Palmer and you look at these incredible mansions on these amazing lakes. How do you react? If you think, “If I only had that, things would be fine” you have a contentment problem. On the other hand, if you look at them and think,
“I hate these people for how much they have and how they use it” you have a contentment problem. We all have a contentment problem, the first step is admitting it.
Then, and only then, is the door open to true contentment. And the secret is found in verse 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. - Philippians 4:13
In our walk through Philippians we have seen some of the most famous verses in the
Bible, but this one could top them all. I mean, it isn’t just any old verse that ends up on Tim Tebow’s face. And how many youth group shirts do you have with this verse on it? I can do all things through him who strengthens me. And how misunderstood this verse can be if we don’t see it in its context! It’s not saying that Jesus is the vehicle through which we can accomplish anything we want to. Sprinkle a little Jesus dust on it and it’s yours. The football game, the job, the grades.
One of the most famous pastors in America right now said that this verse means that when we are in seasons of want, God, through Christ is promising a season of plenty just around the corner. There is a season of plenty coming, but not in this life. That couldn’t be further from what Paul is saying here.
This verse isn’t talking about the strength we need to change our circumstances, but the strength we need to be content in our circumstances. When our job isn’t going the way we want, when we lose the game or don’t even qualify for the team, when our kids aren’t going the direction we want. And we can have contentment because the secret is in the two words ‘through him.’ Literally, this phrase is ‘in Him.’ In Christ. A phrase Paul uses over and over in the New Testament. So, how does being ‘in Christ,’ give Paul the strength to find contentment in all circumstances?
As you read the New Testament you see Paul saying that he has ‘died with Christ,’ ‘been raised with Christ,’ is ‘seated with Christ’ and ‘lives with Christ.’ What exactly does this mean? I’m going to give you a fancy word here. Have you ever read Fancy Nancy? We read it with our daughter. Fancy Nancy gives you fancy words for simple things. The simple thing here is being ‘in Christ’ and the fancy word is ‘federal relationship.’ We are in Christ because we have entered into a federal relationship with Him. So, what in the world does that mean?
Even if this is a new term to you, it’s not a new concept. If you are married and you share a bank account, you are in a federal relationship. Whatever is true of your spouse is financially now true of you. If you spouse is in debt, you now owe that money. If you spouse is rich, you’re now rich. Or, if you have ever had to hire a lawyer to represent you, you entered into a federal relationship. If your lawyer is smart, you are now smart in the courtroom. If he’s an idiot, you are now and idiot in the courtroom. Does that make sense? Whatever is true of the other person is now true of you.
When we believe in Jesus, we enter into a federal relationship. What is true of Him became true of us and what is true of us became true of him. Look at how Paul fleshes this out in 2 Corinthians 5 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. - 2 Corinthians 5:21
Does that mean that Jesus actually became sinful? No. It means that on the cross our sin was accrued to Him so that everything He earned with His perfect life could be legally true of us. Jesus took on the legal penalty of our sin so that we could get the legal benefit of His perfect life. Because we are in Christ, in a federal relationship with Him, we can one day stand in front of God as if we have never sinned in our life because we have traded places with Him who knew no sin.
I really want this to be clear, so let me say it a slightly different way. I haven’t had a moving violation in over 20 years, that is, until two weeks ago. I was at a red light that wouldn’t change, there was no one at the intersection so I ran the light. Yes, I’m not proud of it. I thought it was all fine until a picture of me running the red light showed up in the mail. That’s not something someone coming from Mississippi really has a category for. The fine was about $100 and I paid it and now the law has no hold over me. Yes, I committed a violation, but the penalty has been paid and no one can ever hold that over my head.
In the same way, Paul says to the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ.” I deserve eternal punishment, but Christ paid that penalty. Whatever I did wrong was paid by my federal head, Jesus, and God will treat me as if I have already died for my sin. Not only that, but now we are raised with Christ, born into a new life and promised an eternal life. And not only that, we get Jesus! Jesus has redeemed us not just to get us off the hook, but so we can enjoy Him!
Can you see how being ‘in Christ’ gives Paul a strength in all circumstances? We can’t reduce the Christian life to simply to what Jesus did on the cross. That’s just the beginning. We now have a treasure in Jesus so rich that every hardship in this life can look like a stubbed toe by comparison. I’m not saying that Christ makes suffering enjoyable, but He does make it worth it. This is why Paul could say to the Romans about seasons of want For i consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. - Romans 8:18
Or to the Philippians about seasons of plenty But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. - Philippians 3:7.
Paul had experienced the highs and lows of this life and he knew this life would not provide him what he longed for. He knew that only ‘in Christ’ would he find the satisfaction his soul longed for and this satisfaction changed everything about the way he lived his life.
Do you know that this life will not give you what you truly long for? Do you know that if you follow Jesus, you can be content in any season? If you do, you will be content and this contentment will change you? So, I want to finish by looking at what this contentment does.
III. What contentment does.
When we have contentment we will be on mission. I do think that at some level the Philippian church understood what Paul is talking about. And I think we can see this in verses 14-19. They supported Paul when no one else was. They gave sacrificially. They accepted persecution and triasl to see the mission go forward because their contentment wasn’t connected to their comfort. 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. - Philippians 4:14-19
The Philippian church knew that God would supply every need. Does that mean that we will have all the things we want? No. There are many Christians around the world who won’t have a fraction of the comforts we take for granted. What we see in the Bible is that our needs are not the material, but the mission. Paul prayed for his thorn to be removed and God said what? My grace is sufficient. It’s good for the mission. That’s the same promise Paul is writing about in verse 19. God will supply every need.
The English reformers Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley were burned at the stake for their faith. Some might have thought their greatest as the fires were being lit was a strong thunderstorm to blow through. What they really needed, though, was grace to get through the next ten or so horrible minutes. As Ridley burned slower than expected, Latimer leaned over to him and, now famously, said, “Be of good comfort, and play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”
And it wasn’t. In that moment, their greatest desire was for God to be gloried, that reoriented their priorities and put them on mission. And as they were on mission God provided every single thing they needed and we are still talking about them today.
Our needs have to do with the mission, not the material. That’s what Paul is talking about and that is what the Philippians, by and large, were doing.
And as I finish my first series here as the teaching pastor at Orlando Grace Church, I want to say that this is the main prayer I have for all of us. That we would increasingly see our doctrine go to work. We are so blessed as a church. We have great people who love each other. We have more seminary degrees in this church than most cities around the world have. We have a great facility. Statistically speaking (and I got this statistic from Third Mill), every one of you in this room knows more doctrine than 95% of the pastors around the world. We are poised to be a very fruitful church.
I think I have said this twice already, but at the end of the day, the local church is a missions outpost. We don’t simply exist to preserve doctrine of Jesus Christ, but to spread it. We are to be a church that shares in the trouble of the mission, that partners with others and that gives sacrificially of our time and money knowing that there will be fruit laid up for us in the next life. That was what marked the Philippian church and that is what I hope will mark ours as well.