Kevin A. Pierpont
Higgins Lake Baptist Church
We come today to a new theme introduced by Paul that I think you can see clearly as you read Philippians 4:10-19. The theme that he brings to the attention of the Philippian believers in the next few verses is contentment. We are just leaving the section beginning in chapter 4 verse 1 and ending in verse 9 where we’ve learned what it takes to stand fast and be stable as followers of Christ.
And as we move into the closing remarks of Paul’s letter to the Philippians what we find here is an expression of gratitude to them for their support—their heartfelt, loving generosity on his behalf. And I think as we study these verses over the next few weeks we’ll see a perfect picture of contentment that Paul paints for us.
We’ll see by his example how we can be content.
We need examples of contentment don’t we? Contentment is rare. Contentment is unusual. So few today know what real contentment is.
Philip Parham tells the story of a rich industrialist who was disturbed to find a fisherman sitting lazily beside his boat. “Why aren’t you out there fishing?” he asked.
“Because I’ve caught enough fish for today,” said the fisherman.
“Why don’t you catch more fish than you need?’ the rich man asked.
“What would I do with them?”
“You could earn more money,” came the impatient reply, “and buy a better boat so you could go deeper and catch more fish. You could purchase nylon nets, catch even more fish, and make more money. Soon you’d have a fleet of boats and be rich like me.”
The fisherman asked, “Then what would I do?”
“You could sit down and enjoy life,” said the industrialist.
“What do you think I’m doing now?” the fisherman replied as he looked placidly out to sea. (Our Daily Bread, May 18, 1994)
Leaning on his fence one day, a devout Quaker was watching a new neighbor move in next door. After all kinds of modern appliances, electronic gadgets, plush furniture, and costly wall hangings had been carried in, the onlooker called over, “If you find you’re lacking anything, neighbor, let me know and I’ll show you how to live without it.”
Josiah our soon to be three-year-old, several months ago, when he was just learning to speak, had two little favorite two-letter words in his vocabulary that really sum up for us what a lack of contentment is.
When we serve ice cream at one of the many birthday parties at our house, there are usually toppings. One particular time Josiah had been given a bowl of ice cream but it had not been topped with anything. So the two words he used to notify his mother that he needed toppings were, “On it”. You had to be there but he began to say “on it”, “on it”, “on it”.
That pretty much sums it up for most of us doesn’t it? When we are discontent we’re pretty much just saying; “on it”, “on it”, “on it”. “I want more out of life than this. I want more. I’m not satisfied, I want more.”
Contentment is rare, it’s unusual—that makes examples of this kind of living rare. We desperately need Godly examples of contentment today.
I think the central idea to this portion of verses is summed up in Paul’s statement in verse 11—in the NIV it says, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Can you say this—is this true of your life? “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Is that kind of attitude a part of your life? Can you say that?
I’ve found in my own life that learning to have this kind of an attitude is a process—a long process.
I’m very excited about what I’ve been learning from the following verses and I’m so looking forward to sharing with you about this because I think that this kind of an attitude is so rare in today’s world. We’ve been conditioned by the world around us for discontentment.
The world that we live in is so heavily marketed too and sold to and that breeds discontentment. Television breeds discontentment. Those stacks of catalogs you get in the mail every week breed discontnentment. As youngsters who remembers getting the Sears or Penney’s catalogs and sitting down with it and just going from page to page to page to learn of all the things you “needed”?
Contentment is something everyone wants but few people attain. Most people are pursuing contentment. Many are pursuing contentment to the detriment of their family relationships—to the detriment of their health—to the detriment of their marriages—to the detriment of their financial well-being—to the detriment of their contentment.
The problem is that when we don’t have a proper perspective of life we fail to learn the only way to truly achieve contentment. So we tend to go in all directions trying our hardest to find it but never really succeeding.
What about the person who thinks he needs a different job. He certainly won’t be content with the one he has. Or the person who’s home isn’t quite right? Or, you name it – there are a multitude of ways our contentment is ruined.
It’s so critical that followers of Christ learn contentment. Otherwise we will tend to flounder and be miserable and waste our lives.
But I believe there is hope for those who follow Christ—there is hope for those who believe in God’s Word—because God’s Word holds the ingredients to contentment. It’s important to get the ingredients right in the Christian life.
Kristi made some muffins the other day but when they came out of the oven they were flat—she had forgotten one of the main ingredients—they were tasty but flat—they weren’t quite right.
Without the right ingredients to contentment in our lives our contentment won’t be quite right either. So we’ll need to understand what the ingredients to contentment are if we truly want to experience contentment.
Over the next few studies, Lord willing, we’ll discover how we can learn to say, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Let’s discover together the secret of contentment. Let’s line up the ingredients to contentment and apply them to our lives.
So let’s look at verses 10-19 together to get an idea of where we’ll be in our next few studies and then we’ll come back to verse 10 for our study today.
Philippians 4:10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. 14 Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress. 15 Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. 16 For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. 18 Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God. 19 And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
Let’s look at verse 10 again. Paul says,
But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly – Paul is rejoicing over their care for him and the evidence of their love for him. Much time has passed since they’ve been able to provide care for him. And now through Epaphroditus (4:18) they send provisions for his needs once again.
But I want you to see that his rejoicing over their care for him is rejoicing in the Lord. I rejoiced in the Lord greatly. And here begins what I believe is the first ingredient to contentment. What I see here in verse 10 is the first ingredient to contentment and we see it in Paul’s example here.
Paul’s thankful attitude comes from his complete confidence in the power of a sovereign God. Paul’s gratitude is based on the fact that he knows who’s in control.
This is the first ingredient to contentment—and we’ll look at the others in studies to come—but here’s the first—Paul had confidence in God’s power.
Now, you’re thinking, “where do you see that?” Well look at it again with me and follow along because though it may not jump off the page I think the idea is here in what Paul says.
Paul rejoiced in the Lord—his confidence was in God.
First Paul says, I rejoiced in the Lord greatly. Paul was certainly thankful for the love shown him by the Philippian believers. He didn’t take them for granted. He was grateful for their care for him and he was pleased to see this demonstration of their love for him.
But he rejoices in the Lord. Paul’s confidence wasn’t in the Philippian believers and what they could do for him. They couldn’t even continue to help him as is indicated in this verse because they had just resumed their support of him.
His confidence wasn’t in himself and what he could arrange for himself—in human terms he was helpless—he was being held captive—he couldn’t provide for himself.
But his confidence was in the Lord. Paul knew all about the fact that all things happen to fulfill God purposes. In Ephesians 1:11 Paul wrote; “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.” He knew that God worked all things according to the counsel of his will.
Paul wasn’t anxious about God’s provision.
That now at last – had he been waiting for a long time for his needs to be met? Had he grown impatient? Was he saying, “Well it’s about time”?
No. Because he’s quick to say—I know you still cared—I know you just lacked opportunity.
Paul wasn’t anxious. He knew in whom he should trust. We learned where Paul’s trust lie back in Philippians 4:6. He said, Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.
Paul wasn’t anxious or concerned about his needs and he wasn’t concerned about whether they cared for him or not any longer.
Look, he says, Your care for me has flourished again. This word translated as flourished here in the NKJV comes from the Greek which meant to sprout again, to grow green again, to shoot up again. It’s kind of like the grass that’s been turning green again in the last week or so. It’s like the trees that will bud soon. They are not dead—they still have life—it’s just not too obvious until the buds begin to show and the leaves appear and the tree is fully green again.
So it was for the Philippian believers. Paul knew their desire to care for and provide for his needs had not died. But what he does know is that they did care for him but lacked opportunity.
Paul had not panicked. He wasn’t trying to figure out what he would do next.
He says, though you surely did care—he says I know you cared—I never doubted you cared—but I know you lacked opportunity. You didn’t have the opportunity—otherwise I know you would have been giving me aid.
And here’s what we need to understand about Paul’s attitude and how he could rest knowing that he had not been forgotten.
Paul rested completely in God’s power.
Paul could say with confidence that though he may have had times of difficulty it wasn’t part of God’s plan that they should provide for that need. But now it is part of God’s plan and for that I rejoiced in the Lord greatly.
Paul knew that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Paul knew that—Paul wrote that. Paul knew contentment because he knew that God was completely in control. Paul’s understanding of God and how God works made it possible for him to learn the secret of contentment. That’s why he could say in verse 12, I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. (NASB)
Paul could rest assured that whatever happened or didn’t happen to him was all a part of God’s purpose being fulfilled. And his understanding of God allowed him to experience contentment.
And that’s what we need to grasp today.
Our understanding of God—our confidence in God’s power—shapes our contentment or lack thereof.
Do you see that the first ingredient to contentment, the foundation to contentment is complete confidence in God’s power?
Maybe you’ve never grasped the idea that God is completely in control.
At times we speak of the providence of God. The word providence is never used in the bible but it’s no less an important biblical doctrine.
If we’re ever going to be content we need to understand the power of God and how he works all things to fulfill his purposes.
Everyone wants contentment—but many people believe that contentment is achieved as a result of their hard work, or by having the right house or the right car. The problem is that puts us in control and what we need to understand is that we can’t control everything and even those things we believe to be under our control God is using to fulfill his divine purposes.
Until you understand that God is working everything out to fulfill his purposes—and you are a part of those purposes—until you understand that, you will be completely frustrated, dissatisfied and discontent.
You will be dissatisfied, you will be frustrated and you will lack contentment when you can’t control it all because you’ve failed to realize that God is at work and you will be discontent because you’ve failed to trust completely in God’s power.
Our lives are not ruled by chance or by fate. If we think that they are then we do not understand God.
I think it would be good to look at a few passages that will help us understand the providence of God.
Proverbs 16:9 The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps. (NASB)
Proverbs 19:21 Many plans are in a man’s heart, But the counsel of the Lord will stand. (NASB)
And Acts 4:27 and 28 speaks of the crucifixion of Jesus when we find,
“For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. (NASB)
And we saw it in Philippians 2:13,
for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
The providence of God deals with his sovereignty. He is sovereign, he is in control, and if we are ever to be content we must understand that. God’s providential hand directs all things even to the extent of allowing evil—he is not involved in evil—but it’s all to fulfill his purposes.
We can never be content if we believe we are in control. But when we understand how God works we’ll learn the secret of contentment.
God is working his plan. Our sovereign God providentially moves throughout all people and circumstances to accomplish his desires—to accomplish his own purpose.
When you are completely satisfied that God is in control—he’s in charge of it all—when you are completely reliant on the power of God—then you can be content. You can be content because you will understand that what God allows in your life is for his divine purpose. What you have he has provided and what you don’t have he has withheld.
When we understand the providence of God—when we have complete confidence in God’s power then we can begin to say with Paul, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”
Maybe today you’re realizing that this doesn’t come easy. Maybe you’re realizing you have a complete lack of contentment in your life.
You may need to ask yourself today: What kinds things negatively effect my contentment. Do I lack contentment because I believe I need things I don’t have? Why do I think I need those things? Am I being influenced by a desire for more than what I have? Is there some negative outside influence that’s making me think I need things I don’t need?
Once you’ve determined what those things are that have a negative influence on your contentment you’ll need to understand that God may not change that outside influence but he may desire to change you. What is it he may want to change in you?
And this may take you back to where we were in our previous two studies when we determined that to be stable Christians we need to think right and that right thinking should show itself in right living.
If you desire to experience real contentment—if you want to be able to say with Paul, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances”—you’ll need to be certain your confidence is in God’s power and not in yourself.