16 The Secret and the Substance of Christian Contentment

Philippians 4 v 10 – 20

We’re now getting to the end of Philippians and Lord willing next week it will probably be the last message in our series on the book of Philippians. Tonight we’re going to look at the penultimate paragraph in that wonderful letter.  Last week we saw that we need to rejoice in the LORD always and we need to be anxious for nothing and the way to not be anxious, to overcome anxiety and to rejoice in the LORD is to pray right to think right and to live right.  That means that God will be present with us and we’ll experience a peace that no man, no woman can understand and that’ll bring joy to our hearts.

Tonight we come to this passage that we find in Chapter 4 verses 10 to 20. Let me give you the title of my message this evening so that you can see how it runs through this passage. You can entitle this in other ways as well – different preachers do a different ways, but for me the following theme I think, runs like a golden thread through this whole passage.  It teaches us something important:  “The Secret and the Substance of Christian Contentment”.  Read with me from verse 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. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 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. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 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. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 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. And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Now, as I said this text teaches us about the secret and the substance of Christian contentment. Now what is contentment?  We need to know what it is that we talking about before we can understand it.  One definition of contentment is happiness with one’s situation in life.  But wait a minute now – if it’s happiness with one situation in life, then that means that you’re only supposed to have contentment when you have everything you need.  I’m content; I have so much, I’m so happy.  But that’s not really what contentment is.  Contentment as we’ve already seen in the text is not tied to circumstances.  It’s not tied to where you are.  It’s not tied to how you are and it’s not tied to what you have.  Contentment is not tied to that only it is in whatever situation in life.  Now, I’m going to show you three things that stand out in this text and then open up its parts to you and I’ll give you the three-point outline first and then we’ll back up and we’ll go through it.  

What we see in verse 10 is the Christian concern of the Philippians, then from verses 11 to 13 we see the Christian contentment of Paul and then from verse 14 through to verse 20 we see the Christian communion of the Philippians.  So those are the three things and I start out there because there’s something important here.  As Paul says in the text it’s not what he’s getting that’s making him content – it’s the fact that there are people who are concerned for him.  It’s the fact that he has a spiritual family and that’s what makes him content.

  1. The Christian Concern of the Philippians
    It is something that every Christian Church must have – a concern, and we know in this case Paul is speaking in particular about their concern for him as an Apostle – as a preacher – as somebody who is proclaiming the Gospel – as an evangelist.  He is commending them for their concern for himself.  Now many preachers have abused this text saying “you see there – I need a new Cadillac here!”  That’s not what Paul is doing. He’s commending them for their concern. And we as a congregation, I have seen your concern for others as well.  I have seen it in the years that I’ve been here. Now, they three things that we need to see about their concern and then we need to apply those to ourselves. What are the three things we see about the Christian concern of the Philippians?
    a. Paul’s Rejoicing in its Revival
    Paul is rejoicing in the revival of the Christian concern:  “I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that now at length you have revived your concern for me”.  Notice he’s rejoicing not in the stuff that they sent.  Let me give you the brief background to that:  They sent it there with Epaphroditus.  He was in prison in Rome, awaiting probable execution and the Philippians knew that Paul was in trouble and in need and they said Epaphroditus all the way to Rome to take these gifts to him and Paul sent the letter to the Philippians back with Epaphroditus. You see – he rejoices in the Lord.  He sees that the Philippians have sent me things.  I have plenty now and he says “you used to be concerned about me earlier on but I know you couldn’t do it any longer, but I rejoice in the Lord that you have revived your concern for me”.  You see our concern can grow cold.  Providences may prevent us from giving to people what we really want to give and I’m going to tell you later on why it’s important that we remember that.  But we see Paul’s rejoicing in its revival in their concern for Paul.
    It starts out a little bit like:  “I’m glad you’re finally getting your act together” until you read further you see that’s not what Paul is saying.  Look what he’s saying.  
    b. Paul’s Recognition of its Reality
    Paul says “you were indeed concerned for me” and we see later on as we come to verse 18 that he says “I know you were the only people (in verse 15 and on) when I left Macedonia and even in Thessalonica, you sent me stuff.  I’ve received all the gifts you’ve given.”  So he rejoices in its revival, but immediately he recognizes its reality.  And then here’s an important thing in the same verse.
    c. Paul’s Recognition of its Restraint
    Something restrained the expression of their concern.  They had the concern, but they couldn’t act upon the concern.  There was a restraint, a constraint to it – something that prevented it.  What was it?  It was God, the Giver of all things.  Paul says “you had no opportunity to send me anything.  I haven’t heard about you for a long time, and now suddenly I have.”  You see, Paul recognizes when there is a restraint or a constraint to people’s generosity.  He knows that there are a lot of people who would love to give but just cannot.  In this case there were logistical problems.  It was very far that they would have had to send somebody with so much stuff.  But that’s what we see – they had a concern.  Look at them – and we’ll get there later on again – He says “you were the only one who entered into partnership with me. You’ve helped my needs once again.”  He recognizes the reality of their concern for him.

  2. The Christian Contentment of Paul (verses 11 to 13)
    I want you to learn from Paul now to learn contentment because contentment needs to be learned.  Notice three things about Paul’s Christian contentment.  The Silence of it, the Substance of it and the Secret of it. Those are three things we need to notice very carefully.
    a. The Silence of it
    Contentment is quiet.  He said “not that I’m speaking of being in need”, but he is speaking of being in need, but he’s telling them he shouldn’t be doing it, because contentment is quiet – it does not run around moaning all the time “I wish I had a little more but I just have to make do with what I have” and let everybody know that – then you’re not being contented you’re being sneaky and manipulative.  Contentment is quiet – it never goes about complaining and moaning about circumstances, about what I have, what I don’t have, how I feel, how I don’t feel – there’s a silence to contentment and that silence flows from the Holy Spirit.  That silence is: you speak to God, you don’t speak to people about needs.  
    b. The Substance of it
    What did Paul’s contentment consist of?  He said “I’ve learned” – and here is the substance of it – “whatever situation I am to be content” – in whatever situation!  You know what a situation is don’t you?  You’ve had situations in your life – good ones and bad ones!  Life can set us in certain positions – in situations.  They’re the realities of life – you need to deal with them.  Sometimes you have plenty and it’s going well and sometimes you don’t.  Whatever situation – I am to be content.  So that’s the substance of it firstly – it doesn’t discriminate in circumstances.  He uses the word circumstance in the very next verse “in any and every circumstance”.  Contentment is not tied to situation or circumstance.  Your joy for what you have in life is not tied – shouldn’t for the Christian ever be tied – to any situation or any circumstance.  He says in any and every circumstance – that’s the substance of his content.
    c. The Secret of it
    Contentment has to be learned.  He says “I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” You see there again the circumstances and situations whether you have plenty, whether you’re hungry, whether you have abundance or whether you’re in need – you need to learn the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need in every and any circumstance in whatever situation.  There’s a secret that you need to learn.  We’re going to learn that secret when we look at the Christian communion of the Philippians now, what is the secret of it? How do we become that contented?

  3. The Christian Community at Philippi
    We become that contented when we’re part of the Christian Community and communion of the loving local church.  What happens then, why are you able to be content in whatever circumstance?  Because you’ve learned the secret and here is the secret:  The Christian communion of the Philippians had three characteristics.  It had a tenderness, it help in trouble – and here’s the secret – it relied on a treasure store.
    a. It’s Tenderness
    Notice how tender it was – it had a tenderness like Constantia Park – “it was kind of you”. The world so needs that – just that kindness, that tenderness – sparing somebody a thought a tenderness and kindness.  You see in the world we live in there so much harshness and selfishness and unconcerned for others. People are hard towards one another I have seen in one of my careers. Here’s our art people can be how they can lack kindness and possess exactly the opposite.  But there is a kindness with the Philippians, but you’ll see why.
    b. It helps in Trouble
    That’s what kindness does – it helps those in trouble.  He said “to share my trouble and you Philippians yourselves know” – and then he tells them that whole thing that I told you earlier on – “how in the beginning you, when I left Macedonia,  nobody wanted to partner with me in giving and receiving, only you and even in Thessalonica!”  You see, concern helps – that caring Community has a tenderness, but it’s not just a tenderness and an “O shame feeling” that you have for people – it makes you do things.  It makes you give up stuff. It makes you obey the Lord Jesus when He says “if you have two coats give one to someone else”.  If anybody asks you for something to drink, you give him something to drink or something to eat, or get visited – there needs to be help in trouble.  And we live in a world where there are a lot of people in a lot of trouble. Have you seen it? I was driving this afternoon going somewhere and there was an elderly black lady walking down the street trying to get to where the taxi should pick her up.  She could barely walk.  She was limping along – probably cleaning somebody’s house while they possibly were even in church.  Where’s the tenderness?  You see, a lot of people are in trouble and she looked like one of them. You don’t have to look very far to see the people in trouble whom you need to have a tenderness towards and whom you need to help.  Here’s why we should and can – here’s the secret to Christian contentment and Christian concern.  Here’s the secret to it:
    c. It has a Treasure Store
    What we have to give will increase to our credit.  He said “I’ve received full payment and more – I’m well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent – a fragrant offering – a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.  You see the secret is, these Philippians weren’t just giving because they wanted to give to Paul. Here’s the secret. They wanted to make a sacrifice well pleasing to God – that’s the secret of it.  And here’s the secret of Paul’s contentment – a secret that he learned.  How did he learn to be content in every situation – in every circumstance, whether he had plenty or whether he was in need? What’s the lesson that he learned? How did he learn that contentment?  That’s in verse 19. It’s the secret of Christian contentment:  “My God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”  The secret is: the Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof – that God who takes care of the birds of the air – how much more will He not take care of you – and then he says – oh ye of little faith!  The secret of contentment is to know that God is in the first place and the final analysis the only one alive able to give anything good.  You and I are never the givers – we are the conduits.  We are the camels that He loads it on and sends it to those He wants to love.  You and I have nothing – the Word even tells us – you came into the world with nothing and you’ll walk out with nothing.  Nobody who has anything is going to hang onto it forever.  It’s the Lord’s – it all belongs to Him!  That’s why Paul is content – he’s saying to himself “if I have plenty, that’s God – God gave it, if I am hungry, that’s God – it’s God who wants to teach me something”.  That’s the secret of Christian contentment.  When you go through difficulty, trouble, tribulation and trials – when you go through any one of that you need to know that the Lord is in control.  He knows what He’s doing.  He knows how to supply for you and carry you through lack. That’s the secret of Christian contentment.  It’s actually Faith, Hope and Love – faith in God, knowing He’s the one who will supply – He’s the one if you have too little who has a reason for that.  The secret of Christian contentment is that we need to love the Lord and trust the Lord in every circumstance – in every situation.

So that’s what we see very briefly in this passage this evening:  The Secret and Substance of Christian Contentment.  We learn it along this line:  We see the Christian concern of the Philippians, Paul’s rejoicing in its revival, Paul’s recognition of its reality, Paul’s recognition of its restraint.  We see the Christian contentment of Paul – the silence of it, the substance of it, and the secret of it. The Christian community of the Philippians – we see that it had a tenderness, it helped in trouble and it had a treasure store, and that treasure store is the riches of God in glory.  And notice this: “In Christ Jesus”. What bank does God use for His riches in glory?  His bank is the Christ of Calvary.  He’s the treasure store of everything we may ever need. I was trying to find a poem here by John Newton and I somehow lost it. He asked the Lord to clean him up and to set him right and he says and the Lord didn’t do it – the Lord put him through all kinds of things before the Lord brought him to a place where he said: “I know You wanted me to know that I must find all that I need in life in You.  I must look nowhere else – must look to God.”  Because I can tell you if anything good is ever going to come your way, it’ll come from God.  It can have no other origin and when some of those bad things happen, you need to also have contentment, knowing He only means, as the hymn says: “my dross to consume, my gold to refine”. He knows what He’s doing with you.  He knows when he can trust you with little, He knows when He can trust you with much and you and I need to live in the contentment of that, knowing that all these things come from the Lord.  He’s in control.  He knows what He’s doing, and that is the secret of Christian contentment, that is the substance of it: to face plenty and hunger, to face abundance and need and to know that you can only even do that through Him who strengthens you.  That’s the Secret and the Substance of Christian Contentment.