Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on May 31, 2015
Open your Bibles to Philippians 4:10-13. We are nearing the end of our 6 month journey through the book of Philippians. For those of you of have joined our Church since January 1st, or for those who have missed Sunday’s due to travel or sickness, I want to remind you that you can go to our website and find the sermon’s online. They exist in written form and some of them are also on video. The reason I mention this is because when you work through such as we are today we need to understand the context surrounding the text. Obviously, due to time we cannot cover the entire book each Sunday so if you are interested you can fill in some gaps by means of our resources online. With that said, let us read out text, pray and exegete our text.
Today we are focusing our attention on the disposition of contentment. In verse 11 we see the Apostle Paul say, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” So let us start with the question, what does it mean to be content?
If we look around the text we can get a picture of what Paul means by being content. We see in verse 11 that contentment is the absence of being in need. This being is, however, modified by verse 12 which tells us that this being does not mean that you are born with a silver spoon on your mouth, for it says this being may include a circumstance of lowness, a circumstance of hunger. Therefore you can be content and have absolutely nothing.
Likewise, being content does not mean the absence of circumstantial swings. Paul speaks of being low and then abounding. He speaks of hunger and plenty. He speaks of need and then abundance, through it all, he can say like we sang earlier, “It is well.” For Paul is content dispute the highs and lows of life.
And don't forget the current condition of Paul as he pens these words. He is without a job, no money, without a family, chained to a Roman guard 24 hours a day, and waiting to find out if he will be killed. It is in this circumstance that Paul has contentment. Therefore the contentment that Paul is speaking of is not conditional on one’s external situation, it is conditional on one’s internal state of mind.
For those who were here last week you will recall how we spent a fair amount of time discussing the effects the Fall had on the mind of man, and how at conversion the curse of the mind is reversed through Christ. A verse that summarizes what we discussed last week and transitions nicely in our discussion for today is Ephesians 4:20-24. Just briefly turn with me to this passage. It is the book right before Philippians.
Prisoner of Discontent
With that said I want to spend some time talking about the old you. The person you were before you learned of Christ, before your eyes were opened to your need for a Savior. The understanding of who you were pre-conversion will help us wrap our minds around this idea of contentment.
This old self is described in Ephesians 4:22 as “corrupt through deceitful desires.” Prior to the renewal of your mind, you were a slave to your passions and your desires. Your hard heart craved to be satisfied with the things of this world. Some of you sought satisfaction in experiences, for some it was money, for it is your business, for some it was American Dream, for some relationships.
Having said this, the pursuit of these pleasures never produced in you a satisfaction. Your corrupt heart cried out for more food, more alcohol, more money, more stuff, more success, more independence, more education, but none of these things fulfilled what they promised. With each addition to your life came more discontentment. Your heart still cried out for more. You were still unsatisfied, despite the world being your oyster. This is the reality of every person on this planet that does not have Christ. Everyone, apart from Christ is a prisoner of discontentment. I realize I use this parable a lot but it speaks so well to the plight of the unsaved.
The Unveiling of the Secret
I believe a great picture of this state of discontentment is seen in the life of the Samaritan women at the well described in John 4. This Samaritan women was drawing water out of Jacob’s well in the middle of the day, an indication that she was an outcast from her own town. The reason for this most likely is that in her life she had five different husbands and she was now shacking up with someone she was not a married to, and Jesus confronted her about it her sin. And he said to her these words in John 4:13,
Oh how many married couples need to hear this message! Do not be deceived, the grass is not greener on the other side of the fence. Leaving your spouse to find satisfaction in the arms of someone else will not produce in your contentment, it will only produce brokenness. Stop looking for satisfaction in the well of your sin, and look up and see Christ! This is the beginning of the secret of contentment, only in him will your heart be satisfied.
And this is the secret in which Paul speaks of in verse 12 of our text. It is the secret of facing our present reality, not through the futility of our minds, or the ignorance of our hard hearts, but through Christ. Paul says in verse 13, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” This may be one of the top five wrongly quoted verses in the Bible. People love to post this verse In relation to climbing Mount Everest, or winning some pointless sports event, or losing weight. This is not the point of this text, the point of this text is being content no matter what your circumstances are.
And the fundamental starting point is Jesus Christ. If you do not have Christ in your life, you will never be content. So square one of contentment is Christ. You must repent and place your faith in the sufficiency of Jesus Christ as your Savior and your Lord. If you do not, then you have zero hope for your weary soul, and you will forever be a slave to discontentment, wandering this broken world before you plunge into Hell for all eternity.
The Lessons of Contentment
For those who have placed your faith in Christ, God has started a good work in you and has begun the process of the renewing of your mind, however, we must admit that you still struggle with discontentment from time to time. We still find our minds drifting towards the things of this world. We still complain, covet, and crave for something different. This discontentment is the sin that still clings to you, that Christ want's to free you from.
To you I say, first, take heart, for Paul was not without his moments of discontentment. Look at verse 12, “I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” Behind this statement of learning is a process. I think it is wrong to understand this teaching of Paul to be one time event. God doesn't regularly work this way. The Seminary of God is usually through the trials of this life. This secret of contentment was taught to Paul over a period of time, and we can see this in 2 Corinthians 12.
Lesson one, God is not absent from our circumstances. When Paul cried out to God, it was as if God was saying, “Paul, I know your circumstances. I ordained them.” The sovereignty of God over all things, circumstances, and conditions is so crucial for your life. When you recognize that what you have in that moment is not random, but planned out by an all knowing God is foundational to your contentedness. The next time you feel discontent and want something more, look around and realize that your circumstances are ordained by your father. He knows what you need and as verse 19 in our text today says, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
Lesson two, in the moment of difficulty all that we do have is a gift from God. Yes, Paul had a thorn in his life, and yes it was annoying, and yes there was pain, but Paul was forgetting all that God had provided. Paul, in that moment, had forgotten about the grace of God. His life, his breath, his heartbeat, food, water, clothes, a roof over his head, and most importantly salvation through Jesus Christ, all of this was God's grace. How selfish is it for us to receive all that we have and then complain about it. We are acting ljust like Israel after the were freed from the slavery of Egypt. Constantly complaining and discontent. They were acting like divas, like spoiled brats, and we act the same way when we are unsatisfied with the Grace that God has given us.
Lesson three, through our circumstances, God is doing something for His Glory. Too often we walk through this world totally ignorant of God's purposes. Paul's thorn was a powerful, and crucial instrument for God's purpose. It kept Paul humble, and it magnified the Glory of God. Too often, when things aren't going right for us, we throw ourselves a pity-party. What a waste! God has given you your trial and tribulation so that God's power can be displayed through your life. You should not be discontent, you should rejoice in your difficulties, because it is in these difficulties, you can display the power of Christ in you. In fact, this is the point of the monotony of your life. For many of you, God has placed you in the midst of a bad job so that you can display your contentment in Christ despite the humdrum of life.
Lesson four, pray. The only reason Paul knew any of these things is because he cried out to God, and God answered him. Paul started praying with a discontent heart, asking God to remove the thorn. God did not answer Paul's prayer the way Paul wanted, but instead gave him eyes to see the rose attached to the thorn. We likewise need eyes to see all that God has done and all that God is doing through the ups and downs of our lives, and be able to sing “It is well” without being hypocrites.