“Content In All Circumstances” Philippians 4:10-14 December 12, 2010
SI: Please open your Bibles to Philippians 4.
We’re nearing the end of this wonderful letter that Paul wrote to his favorite church.
In these verses Paul finally gets around to thanking them for the financial
gift they gave him.
But typical of Paul, he can’t just say thank you,
he’s got some other important things to say.
Listen to God’s Word.
INTRO: Once upon a time there was a farmer who had lived on the same farm
all his life. It was a good farm, but with passing years, farmer got tired of it.
Every day he found a new reason to criticize the old place.
He longed for a change. He longed for something better.
Finally, he decided to sell and listed the farm with a real estate broker,
who promptly prepared an advertisement.
Before placing the ad in the newspaper he called the farmer, read it to him,
Ad spoke of farm’s ideal location, fertile soil, modern equipment, healthy stock.
when finished reading the farmer shouted,
“Hold everything! I’ve been looking for a place like that all my life.”
A preacher said:
“True contentment is a scarce commodity in the world. Our world is fueled by discontent. It runs the engines of government, economy, and society. Everyone wants more than he has or wants something else than she has. They want to be happier, wealthier, prettier, whatever. Enormous amounts of time, energy, and money are devoted to seeking this elusive contentment and for its sake sacrifices are made, families are divided, the law is broken, great risks are undertaken, and pleasures hotly pursued.”
And what’s true in the world is too often true in the kingdom of God.
There is certainly more contentment found in Christians than the people of world—
but there is not nearly as much as there should be.
In 1648 the English Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs wrote a book titled:
The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. So even in the 17th century,
at the high tide of Puritanism, Christian contentment was a rare jewel.
And even in the early church, Paul felt the need to preach contentment.
Remember when Paul wrote this letter, he was in prison in Rome, awaiting trial.
He had been a free man all his life, now he was in chains facing great uncertainty.
The Philippian church found out about his circumstances and sent him
a financial gift that was delivered by a church member, Epaphroditus.
Paul wrote this letter to thank them for the gift,
and he finally gets around to that here at the end.
But Paul was faced with a pastoral dilemma.
He wanted to thank them for their gift, he wanted them to know how moved
he was by their kindness and generosity.
At same time, wanted them to know that he was completely content.
In thanking them, didn’t want to detract at all from the reality of his
experience of complete contentment in Jesus Christ.
So it’s a strange sort of thank you. It almost sounds rude in our ears.
Thank you for your gift. My heart is warmed by your concern for me.
But I hope you understand that I didn’t need your gift to be content.
Whatever my circumstances, whether in plenty or in want, I’m content in Christ.
Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.
Paul wasn’t being rude, he was simply expressing this tremendous reality
of his Christian experience.
And he was holding it before the Philippians as something they could have too.
He wanted them to experience the same thing.
He wanted them to have this amazing contentment in all circumstances.
Now, let’s get personal. Are you content?
Are you content with your life in every area?
Can you say of yourself what Paul said about himself:
That he had learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.
Wouldn’t that be amazing?
To be able to look at your position, your accomplishments, your work,
your spouse, your family, your checkbook balance,
the clothes in your closet, the car in your garage,
your health, your stage of life—whatever, and say:
I’ve learned to be content. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
Yes, that would be amazing. That would be wonderful.
So how do you get there? Three points for note-takers.
1. The beginning of contentment
2. The secret of contentment
3. The way of contentment
Let’s look at each and apply them to our lives.
MP#1 The beginning of contentment
True contentment begins in a strange place.
It begins with the recognition that you can’t get contentment
by the things you accomplish or acquire.
Paul alludes to this in a thought-provoking way. He says:
“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation,
whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”
See, Paul is saying that contentment doesn’t come naturally when you go from
being hungry to being well-fed. Or when you go from plenty to want.
It doesn’t just come with a change of your circumstances.
In fact, it would be an interesting debate to have: When is it harder to be content?
Is it harder when you are hungry and in want,
or when you are well fed and in plenty?
It’s hard to be content when you are suffering want—
Whether it is a lack of material possessions or money, or success or approval or
love or whatever. It’s hard to be content when the old family car is falling apart
and you barely have money to get it fixed.
It’s hard not to feel bitter and worried when things are tight and you feel pinched.
On the other hand, it’s hard to be content when you have plenty.
Because it’s never quite enough. Not exciting enough. Not new enough.
You compare yourself with those who have more and you feel bored and trapped.
Brides and grooms promise to be faithful to one another
in plenty and in want, in sickness and in health.
But do people have marriage problems only in times of want and sickness?
Is that the only time when people say, I’m not happy and I want out?
Not at all. There are a great many divorces in times of plenty and health!
Paul is making a comment about the natural human heart.
There is a tendency to be discontent, no matter what your situation.
So no amount of changing things or accomplishing things or acquiring things
will bring about true, lasting contentment.
The 10th Commandment gives us a great insight into this:
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.
Nor his manservant, nor his maidservant,
nor his ox nor donkey, nor anything that belongs to your neighbor.
And the way the commandment is worded shows that there are generally
three sorts of things that people pursue to try to find ultimate happiness.
The first is your neighbor’s house.
House in the sense of your neighbor’s place, his position, his status.
And so for many people, that is what they pursue with all their might.
That’s what they daydream about and long for—status, position, a place.
If I could only be accepted by the people who matter.
If only I was on the inside. If only my kids were popular.
If I could just get out of this town. If I could just go back home.
If I could just get to a place where people appreciate me.
The second is your neighbor’s wife.
And this of course refers to those who believe that marriage or romance
or erotic love will meet their most profound and deepest longing.
This is how I find contentment—by finding my soul-mate.
By finding the person who is going to complete me and meet my needs.
But, of course no relationship can bear the weight of those expectations.
I’m reminded of a pastor who said that one day two women came to see him.
The first was bitter and angry at God because she wasn’t married.
The second was bitter and angry because she was.
Third is your neighbor’s maidservant, manservant, ox and donkey.
It’s simply possessions. Acquiring and accumulating things.
The driving force behind that is that if I just have more,
or if I am able to get this new thing, or more things then I’ll be content.
If I can only go on vacation. If I can only get the job. The new car, whatever.
And this is perhaps the most shallow of all but the most common.
God has created us with all sorts of physical and emotional needs,
and he’s given us good things to meet those needs.
But if you try to make them bear the weight of your ultimate happiness.
If you try to find in them contentment for life, they will collapse.
And so the beginning of real contentment is to come to a point where you
recognize that. You really believe it. These things that I dream about and covet,
won’t bring me true contentment. They might for a time, but they are not enough.
An old Scottish minister said:
“You cannot fill a bottomless bog with any number of cartloads of earth. And you know as well as I can tell you that ‘he that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver, nor he that loveth abundance with increase,’ and that none of the good things here below, rich and precious as many of them are, are large enough to fill, much less to expand, the limitless desires of one human heart.”
Let me ask you a question: Have you learned this first lesson?
Do you understand the beginning of contentment?
If you are discontented and unhappy, if you are bitter and full of self-pity,
then I challenge you to trace it back to the source.
And at the source you will find you aren’t happy because you don’t have
your neighbor’s house, wife, or possessions.
You need to then take that to the Lord and repent.
Ask him to forgive you for coveting those things.
Then ask him to teach you the first lesson of contentment.
And lift you your eyes to something better.
MP#2 The secret of contentment
Paul says: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.”
So what is it? What’s the secret of contentment?
Paul doesn’t tell us exactly what the secret is.
He expects us to know what he’s talking about—but do we?
The secret of contentment is compatible with feelings of sorrow and pain.
Paul was a man who deeply felt the troubles of life—
his own troubles, and the troubles of other people.
He was never complacent or detached when it came to feeling painful emotions.
He felt painful things about himself. “Oh wretched man that I am . . .”
He once wrote about his failures to be the man he wanted to be.
In 2 Corinthians he said that he and those with him suffered so much on their
missionary trip to Asia that, as he put it: “We despaired even of life.”
And once when he was speaking about the Jews, his own people, and how they
and crucified Christ and how so many of them refused to believe, he said:
“I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart for them.”
Paul was content and at the same time he felt wants and needs and the sting of life.
And the secret of contentment is also compatible with intense desires and drive
and purposeful action. Paul worked all his Christian life to change things.
He wanted to leave the world a better place than he found it.
He worked hard to change things in his own sinful heart.
He worked hard to change things in the church, to make it strong and influential.
He worked hard to change things in the world, to spread the knowledge of Christ.
The contentment Paul is talking about somehow goes hand in hand with
dissatisfaction and frustration with the way things are.
It goes hand in hand with hard work to make things better.
So what is it? What’s the secret? Here it is . . .
Agreement in your heart with the ways of God.
Agreement in your heart with God’s plan for your life and for the world.
It’s placing your faith in Christ, and looking up to your heavenly Father,
and being confident of his love and perfect care for you in all things.
It’s an inward work of God’s grace so that your whole frame of reference changes.
You look at every circumstance of life and say, God’s hand is in this for my good.
So I have everything I need for whatever I’m facing.
That’s the secret.
James Wodrow was a 17th century Scottish covenanter.
The covenanters were Scottish Christians who signed their names to important
documents calling for religious freedom. It brought them into conflict with
the English monarchy and they were persecuted.
James Wodrow was a faithful Christian man during that hard time,
and he was also a faithful Christian father.
One of his sons grew up to became a famous theologian and church historian.
But another son, Alexander, they called him Sandie—died as a young man.
And one day, not long after Sandie’s death, some friends came to visit Mr. Wodrow
and they found him sitting alone at his son’s grave, weeping.
They asked him what he was doing and he said:
“I have been adoring holy, spotless and absolute sovereignty . . .
and I was thanking God for 31 years’ loan of Sandie, my dear son.”
His heart was broken. He was in deep pain. But he knew some things.
He knew his son’s death was God’s perfect will and plan.
It wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t bad luck.
He knew he couldn’t begin to understand the infinite wisdom of God.
But he knew that his heavenly Father loved him
and would never bring heartbreak without a good reason.
He knew that as much as he grieved for his son and missed him,
that his son, who was himself a Christian, was in a world of joy and love..
And he knew that he would be with his son again one day, to love and be loved.
Do you have that contentment?
When you sit and weep over the hard times, are you also able
to adore holy, spotless, and absolute sovereignty?
The reason Paul calls this a secret is not because it’s hard to know—
but because it’s hard to do. It’s hard to look at the sorrows and disappointments
of life, at the times of want, and at the things that need changing—
And to agree in your heart with the ways of God.
And to completely believe that the Father’s hand is in this for your good.
So how do you do it?
That brings us to the last point . . .
MP#3 The way of contentment
So how did Paul become content in all circumstances?
vs. 11 “I have learned . . .”
vs. 12 “I have learned the secret . . .”
That should be encouraging to you. If Paul could learn it then you can learn it.
Paul was a proud, sensitive, and active person—contentment was not easy.
But there was a way, there was a path that Paul followed.
Paul learned contentment by arguing it with himself until he became convinced.
Romans 8:18 is a great example of Paul doing this.
“For I consider that our present sufferings are not worthy to be compared
to the glory that will be revealed in us.”
“For I consider . . .” The King James Version is better, “For I reckon . . .”
This word has the sense of weighing the reasons, deliberating,
It’s a word from which we get the word logic.
Paul learned contentment by thinking it through.
No doubt looked at life and made these arguments.
1. Circumstances in life are always changing, therefore I must not depend on them.
2. What matters most is my soul and my relationship to God.
3. God is concerned about me as my Father, nothing happens apart from Him,
Even the hairs of my head are numbered. Can never forget that.
4. God’s will and God’s ways are a mystery, but I know that whatever He wills
is for my good, not for my harm.
5. So every situation in my life is an unfolding of some aspect of God’s love and
goodness. I must look for, be prepared for His blessings, even in strange places.
6. I must look at all the circumstances of my life, not by themselves, but as part
of the Holy Spirit’s work in perfecting me, making me like Christ.
7. Whatever my condition at this moment, only temporary, only passing,
cannot rob me of the joy and glory that ultimately await me with Christ.
Whenever you talk to a Christian who is content in a great trial and ask how.
He or she will always speak of some Gospel truth, quote some Scripture.
I’m content because I know God is in control. I know I’m a child of God.
They’ve learned contentment. Argued the truth and worked it in.
You have to do the very same thing.
Yes, these are the circumstances. Yes, these are my emotions.
Yes, I have a tendency to become frightened, or bitter, or resentful, or regretful.
But—I know that the Lord’s hand is in this for my good. So whatever happens,
I am unmoved. Know God Father watches me, Know Jesus Christ is with me
Here we come to verse 13, that great and mind-boggling verse which is so precious.
“I can do all things through him who gives me strength.”
You may remember that Tim Tebow wore a reference to his verse on his
eye black—one side said Phil, and the other side 4:13. Why did he do it?
Did he think it was a promise he would win football games?
Listen to what Tim Tebow himself said about this verse.
“A lot of people know Philippians 4:13— ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ — but a lot of people don’t interpret that verse the right way. Most people think it means I can do anything on the football field, or I can make a lot of money. But that’s not what it’s talking about. It’s saying I can be content with anything. When you’re a Christian, you can be content because God has put you where you are. That’s really a different view. I know that I have Christ in me, so I can do whatever He wants me to do, and that’s how I approach everything.”
That’s exactly what Paul meant. Christ infuses so much strength in me
that I am strong for all things and circumstances.
Ultimately, the reason I am content in all circumstances,
The reason I am unshaken and always joyful,
The reason why I can write these things to you, even now in prison
Because I am intimately, inseparably united to Jesus Christ and
Christ Himself is constantly infusing His strength into me.
Is that true of you? Are you “in Christ”?
Is knowing him your highest aspiration?
Do you say with Paul:
“I want to know Christ, and the power of His resurrection,
and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings”?
Or, like so many in the church, do you just give Him lip service because hope
Jesus is going to fulfill your agenda for happiness and contentment.
Do you come to Him with list of things that must have to make life worthwhile?
Happy marriage, happy children, no financial worries, good health, fulfilling
work, never bored—Jesus help me, Jesus bless me.
I’ve got to have these things to be content.
If that is your idea of a relationship with Jesus—
He’s your butler not your Savior,
And you’re going to miss the greatness and glory of what He has for you.
He wants to infuse you with His strength, enable you to face all circumstances,
times of plenty and want—and agree in your heart with the ways of God.
What a precious message this is at Christmas time.
The holidays are bittersweet, aren’t they.
When you are a child, the are all fun and happiness.
But as you get older, they force reflection and remembrances—
and you see the empty chair at the table, and feel the empty place in your heart.
You see the effects of sin and a broken, fallen world.
And that’s good, because it makes you realize how much you need Jesus Christ.
And the more you know you need him, the more you will feel his strength.
Are you longing for him this Christmas? Do you want more of his life in you?
CONC: After the sermon, going to sing a beautiful Christmas carol—
It Came Upon A Midnight Clear.
First stanza is about a time in the past. It’s about the shepherds hearing the news
from the angels that the Savior has been born.
The second stanza is about the present, our time, life in a fallen world.
It’s about times of hunger and want.
It’s about the pain of loss and times of discontent.
But it ends with a command, Look now! Look up, something’s coming.
Third stanza is about the certain future, and Christ’s second coming,
and how he will set all things right in our lives and in the world.
If you are going to be content, you have to live in all three places.
You have to live in the past. Live in Bethlehem at the manger, live in Gethsemane
where he suffered, live at Calvary and at the empty tomb. Christ’s great work
for you must be real to you and part of your thinking.
You have to live in the present. Bringing your present sorrows and cares to God—
your times of hunger and want, your discontent in times of plenty.
Believing that he is with you by his Spirit.
And you have to live in the future, arguing with yourself, reckoning that your
present suffering is not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed.
Holding on to the great and precious promises.
If you do this, you will be content.