[Sorry, there is no audio for this sermon.]
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 (vv. 11b-13).
Is Contentment Possible?
The apostle Paul concludes his letter to the Philippians by thanking them for a gift (probably money) they had sent him. In his expression of thanks, Paul wants the Philippians to know that he would be content whether he received their gift or not.
Have you started your Christmas shopping? According to BMO Financial Group, Christmas spending by Canadians is projected to climb for the third consecutive year. Canadians expect to spend (on gifts, trips, entertaining, etc.) an average of $1,810 this Christmas season—up from $1,610 (12 percent) in 2012 and $1,397 (30 percent) in 2011. Atlantic Canadians anticipate spending $759 on Christmas gifts. That’s higher than the Canadian average ($678).
But Canadians do have good intentions about their Christmas spending. According to Deloitte’s “2013 Holiday Retail Outlook,” 59.1 percent of Canadians plan to spend the same amount on Christmas as they did last year and 34.5 percent plan to spend less. Only 6.5 percent say they will spend more. However, what we plan to spend and what we actually spend are two different things.
So why do we often end up spending more than we planned. One reason is TV commercials. (By now I’m sure you’ve seen lots of Christmas TV commercials.) The purpose of TV commercials is to create discontentment within us. Businesses don’t want you to be content with what you have. (I didn’t realize I needed a Duck Dynasty Chia Pet until I saw them advertised on TV.)
Think of all the things we were once content without, but now we think are necessities.
- We used to be content with a standard definition TV; now we need a high definition TV.
- We used to be content watching TV shows when they air; now we need a DVR.
- We used to be content with 20 TV channels; now we need 200 channels (but we still only watch 20).
- We used to be content with a regular coffee maker; now we need a Keurig Brewing System.
- We used to be content with a regular telephone; then we needed a cell phone; then we needed a Blackberry; then we needed an iPhone; now we need an iPhone 5S.
When we think about all the things we don’t have, it’s easy to be discontent. But Paul writes, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (v. 11). When Paul wrote this letter, he was a prisoner and execution was a possibility. His circumstances were bad, but he was content. Paul was someone who could be content whether his Christmas stocking was full or empty, whether he went home for Christmas or stayed in prison, whether he enjoyed a turkey dinner or ate prison food.
Circumstances change, but contentment is always possible for the Christian.
How to Be Content
Contentment is possible, but it doesn’t happen instantaneously. Twice Paul says that he had “learned” to be content (vv. 11, 12). He had learned it in both good and bad circumstances. (Good circumstances don’t guarantee contentment. Ecclesiastes 5:12 says, “Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.”) He says, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound” (v. 12). (Those who think that Christians should expect to be healthy and wealthy need to examine the lives of the NT’s two main characters: Jesus and Paul.)
In 4:10-23, there are six truths that can help you be content regardless of your circumstances.
1. In every circumstance, God is still in control.
The Philippians had helped Paul financially in the past (vv. 15-16). Now they had “revived [their] concern for [Paul]” (v. 10; cf. v. 18). Why hadn’t they helped Paul for several years? We’re not given the reason. Paul simply says, “You had no opportunity” (v. 10). Instead of being bitter about the lack of help coming from the Philippians, he trusted that God, in his sovereignty, would provide for him in other ways.
2. In every circumstance, Christ can give you strength.
The word “content” (v. 11) was used by Stoic philosopher’s of Paul’s time to mean “self-sufficient.” But unlike the Stoic, Paul does not find the resources for contentment in himself. Instead, the strength the face all circumstances is found in Christ. Paul wasn’t someone who claimed to be strong (cf. 2 Cor. 12:8-10), but he writes, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (v. 13). This is the “secret” (v. 12) to learning contentment.
3. In every circumstance, we are to think of others.
Even in bad circumstances, we are to have the attitude of Christ (2:5-8). We are to “look not only to [our own] interests, but also to the interests of others” (2:4). Paul is more concerned about how the gift will benefit the Philippians than how it will benefit himself: “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit” (v. 17). Being self-focused during times of trouble will only increase our unhappiness.
4. In every circumstance, God will give you want you need.
Paul gives the Philippians a promise: “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (v. 19). Is Paul referring to material needs, spiritual needs, or both? Probably both. But we may need to reassess our “needs.” (In verse 12, Paul says he has been in “need.” Perhaps sometimes we need to be in need.) In his first letter to Timothy, Paul writes, “There is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Tim. 6:6-8). Discontentment with what we have (“the love of money”) can lead us away from God (1 Tim. 6:9-10).
5. In every circumstance, it’s possible to glorify God.
Paul includes a doxology in verse 20: “To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.” This is a reminder that our purpose is to glorify God, and he can be glorified in both good and bad circumstances.
6. In every circumstance, you can be grateful.
The letter ends with a benediction: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit” (v. 23). When we go through difficulty, it’s helpful to think of the blessings in our lives. The greatest blessing is salvation by God’s grace through faith in Christ. Though circumstances change, God's love remains, and our hope in Christ remains.