Contentment In God’s Presence
Philippians Lesson 5
CENTRAL THEME: Contentment in God’s Presence
INTRODUCTION: What picture comes to mind at the mention of contentment? We might picture a dog soaking in the sun while laying on green grass. Others might think of relaxing in a favorite recliner following a delicious meal. Still others might envision a healthy infant lying cozily in its mother’s arms or cuddled in its crib. Most of us have this picture of contentment, but we somehow rarely see ourselves in that picture. Paul challenged the Philippians to pursue contentment. He wasn’t promoting laziness or a lack of ambition. He was challenging them to find peace in Christ and joy in every situation.
What are some common “thieves” that steal a sense of contentment from our lives?
UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT: PHILIPPIANS 4:10-23
In the opening words of his letter to the Philippians, Paul expressed joy over their partnership in the Gospel (Phil. 1:5). Now, toward the conclusion of the letter, Paul gave a more detailed expression of appreciation for their generosity. Their gift during his imprisonment amounted to the Philippians’ sharing with him in his hardship (4:14). Paul assured them he knew contentment whether in abundance or in need. Contentment in all circumstances was a major contributor to his unflappable joy. That contentment was rooted in Christ who strengthened Paul in whatever situation he faced (vv. 10-14).
Paul understood that their concern for his ministry had not lagged, but they had for some time lacked opportunity to send him additional financial support. Then Epaphroditus came from them bearing what he considered a fragrant offering and an acceptable sacrifice to God. Paul knew and wanted the Philippians to understand that more was at stake than meeting his need. The act of generous giving was being posted to their heavenly account (vv. 15-18).
In return for their generosity to him, God would bless them by supplying all their needs. God’s supply would come from the riches of His glory that centered in Christ. They gave material gifts to Paul, but God would supply their spiritual needs according to His riches made available in Christ Jesus. In a closing doxology, Paul reminded his friends that the ultimate purpose of life is to bring glory to God (vv. 19-20).
Almost as a footnote, Paul followed his exalted doxology with an expression of greeting to those in Philippi as well as including greetings from fellow believers in Rome. He ended the letter with the prayerful desire that the grace of Christ would be with them (vv. 21-23).
OBJECTIVE STATEMENT: Christians can find contentment in God’s presence because of three purposes found in our text.
Purpose #1 – God intends for us to have contentment in every situation. (Phil. 4:10-14)
Purpose #2 – God uses other believers to help us choose contentment. (Phil. 4:15-18)
Purpose #3 – God displays His glory through our contentment. (Phil. 4:19-20)
PURPOSE #1 – GOD INTENDS FOR US TO HAVE CONTENTMENT IN EVERY SITUATION.
Verses 10-14 10But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity. 11Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. 12I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. 14Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction.
In verses 10-11, Paul reported his initial reaction when Epaphroditus arrived in Rome with the financial support from the Philippian church. Simply put, he rejoiced in the Lord greatly. Evidently, it was not the first time that the generosity of the Philippians had evoked Paul’s gratitude and rejoicing. He labeled the gift that came to him in Rome as a once again gift of support. Just a few verses later he recalled gifts sent to him after he left Philippi to minister in Thessalonica (v. 16).
In the intervening years, the desire remained with the Philippians to assist Paul by means of financial support, but they lacked an opportunity. What contributed to the absence of opportunity is not expressed, but it could have been that communications of the apostle’s whereabouts as he traveled in ministry were sparse or nonexistent. It could have been that no one from Philippi was available and free to travel to deliver a gift on behalf of the church.
Of course, it could have been that the Philippians’ desire was not matched by sufficient resources to contribute such a gift. The point, however, is that Paul was aware of the heartfelt desire of his Philippian friends and also of their lack of opportunity to act on that desire.
Three things are needful in supporting God’s work: 1) available resources; 2) the heart to help; and 3) a channel through which to dispense the resources. Any one of the three can sabotage our support of God’s work through others. We might have the desire to help but cannot come up with the money. We might have the money but lack the heart to care. Or, we could have both the heart of the giver and the resources for the gift but lack a channel through which to get the gift to the places where it can be of help. In the case of the Philippians, the freedom of Epaphroditus to travel from Philippi to Rome furnished the occasion for them to act on their generous concern for Paul and his ministry.
Paul was quick to assure the Philippians that his awareness of their lack of opportunity to get a gift to him was not mentioned in respect of want. What overshadowed any awareness of need was what he had learned with unshakable confidence, namely, to be content in whatsoever state he found himself. Paul’s sense of self-sufficiency was actually Christ-sufficiency.
This sense of contentment did not come automatically; he had learned it. For most of us, contentment is not native to our natures. We also have to learn it. The school in which we learn it is our ongoing relationship with Jesus who provides us strength for every circumstance.
Genuine contentment is rooted not in things material but in the spiritual realities that are ours through Christ Jesus. If we spend time worrying about material things, we may well dwell in discontent at times. However, if we dwell on things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable, we will be learning continuous contentment at its highest and best (v. 8).
In verses 12-14, Paul shares the breadth of his contentment. The contentment that Paul had learned applied to all circumstances. Whether he had a little or had a lot, whether full or hungry, or both to abound and to suffer need, he had learned the secret of being content. Paul’s contentment covered every where and in all things. Thus, in any specific situation, whatever it might be, he was able to be content. That contentment also extended across the board to all situations. His contentment was a matter of the heart, not a matter of material goods or external circumstances.
This testimony gains force when we read it alongside his testimony written earlier to the Corinthians: “24Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. 25Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.” (2 Cor. 11:24-27).
Having asserted the fact of his contentment, Paul quickly revealed the secret of that contentment. The secret had to do with the strength Christ supplied him. He could do all things through Christ. Paul’s strength did not flow from the outside in but from the inside out. Thus, he was not seeking gifts from the Philippians, since he knew from experience that Christ would give him more than human strength for whatever his circumstances might happen to be.
Verse 13 is a marvelous verse that many of us have committed to memory. However, we must understand it within its context. The “all things” are not necessarily everything I might think of or wish to accomplish. Paul’s declaration in the setting of this letter refers to all things involved in being obedient to God in service to Him and to others in His name. To read this verse as a “name it and claim it” testimony is to force it to cover a far broader spectrum than that in which Paul used it or the Bible intends it.
Paul evidently did not want his friends to feel their gift had been unnecessary. He did face difficult times. Lest his testimony of Christ’s sufficiency in all circumstances come across as minimizing the generosity of the Philippians, in verse 14 he commended their act of sharing in what he termed as affliction. Since he did not describe his current hardship, we can only imagine what fed into it. Maybe it involved the limitations his arrest placed on his service of the gospel. Maybe it was being separated from Christian friends and associates in ministry. Maybe it involved times of hunger or the absence of his basic life needs being available.
The heart of his secret for contentment was that he had learned he could do all things through Christ who strengthened him. Heaven’s supply is more than adequate for earth’s challenges. Christ intends for us to have contentment in every situation.
QUESTION: Can you recall an occasion when you typically would be anxious or upset, but on that particular occasion felt an unusual sense of calm? How would you describe what made the difference?
PURPOSE #2 – GOD USES OTHER BELIEVERS TO HELP US CHOOSE CONTENTMENT.
verses 15-18 15Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. 16For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity. 17Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account. 18But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God.
Lest his sufficiency in Christ in all circumstances suggest their financial support was unnecessary or at least being minimized, Paul assured the Philippians that he remembered all the previous occasions when their generosity had been shown him. He recalled the time when he left the province of Macedonia and the Philippian church had shared with him in giving and receiving. At that time, the apostle had moved into the province of Achaia and began ministering in cities of Athens and Corinth (Acts 17-18).
When Paul was still in Macedonia, having moved his ministry from Philippi to Thessalonica, the Philippians had sent him gifts once and again. That meant the Philippian church was still in its infancy, having only recently been planted. Even so, the Philippians were mission minded and generous from the church’s beginning.
Paul used a business or accounting term to express giving and receiving. In his case, the Philippians were the givers and Paul the receiver. Later, in his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul recalled for them how he labored among them night and day so as not to be a burden to them (1 Thess. 2:9). Surely the gifts from the Philippians met a real need while the apostle had coupled ministry with working to meet his basic needs in the hostile environment of Thessalonica. His bivocational ministry there had been notably enhanced by financial support from Philippi. Of significance to the apostle was the fact that he did not take monetary gifts from the Thessalonian believers while he was serving among them.
Recalling the prior occasions when the Philippians contributed to his ministry, Paul did not want the church to feel he was hinting that they should pick up where they left off and continue sending financial support (v. 17). After all, he had gone great lengths to assure them that he had learned to live and serve both when he was needy and when he abounded. It was important to Paul for the Philippian believers to understand that his expressions of gratitude for their gifts were not veiled attempts at more fundraising.
Seeking to avoid any suspicion that he was hinting for the Philippians to continue supporting him, he went a step further to expressly assure them he was not seeking gifts. In fact, he changed the focus from the gift to the givers. In doing so, he gave a brief insight into his theology of giving. Giving in the right spirit enriches the giver.
Mission giving helps make the missionary task possible, but it does more. Such giving, Paul reminded the Philippians, may abound to your account. Contributing to the spread of the gospel on earth does not go unnoticed in heaven. Christian giving, done with the right motives and a cheerful spirit, is earning heavenly dividends that will one day earn the divine accolade “Well done, good and faithful servant,” not to mention what heavenly rewards themselves might be like. In short, giving on earth equates to banking in heaven or saving for the future.
We learn from verse 18 that not only had the Philippians’ gifts been helpful to Paul and appreciated by him, they were an odour of a sweet smell and a sacrifice acceptable that were altogether wellpleasing to God. Put this way, Paul’s “thank-you note” to the Philippians was one of high praise. The reminder that giving to the advance of the gospel is also a sweet-smelling gift to God is a needed one that all believers in all ages need to hear.
Not only had the Philippians’ contribution to Paul garnered heaven’s notice, it had fully met his needs and even resulted in an abundance. A contented heart and a discontented one will have different definitions of what abundance means. These verses remind us that Christ oftentimes uses other believers generosity to move us to a place where we can choose contentment.
QUESTION: Can you describe a time when someone else’s generosity toward you moved your heart from a place of frustration, worry, or concern to genuine contentment?
PURPOSE #3 – GOD DISPLAYS HIS GLORY THROUGH OUR CONTENTMENT.
Verses 19-20 19But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. 20Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
As Paul drew his letter to its conclusion in verse 19, he anticipated God’s blessing the Philippian believers in return for their generous gift. God could do what Paul was not in a position to do, namely, repay his supporters. Even as God had met his needs, so the Philippians could trust God to meet their needs. He expressed that anticipation in a wonderful promise. The promise began with a clear statement of the Provider of its fulfillment: Paul pointed to “my God” as the One who provides. Behind his confidence in God’s care and provision was his own relationship with God and experience of Him in the varied circumstances of his own apostolic ministry. God promises to supply every need but not every wish.
Paul expressed the provision contained in the promise as the supplying of all your need. Some needs might be material in nature and many will be spiritual. In either case, God is more than adequate to meet those needs. The proportion in which He would do so is described as according to his riches in glory. God’s provision is not limited to the size of our needs, the fervency of our asking, or dispensed in proportion to our merit.
This wonderful promise is undergirded by the Person of the promise – Christ Jesus. God does not apportion His beneficence by a predetermined plan or formula. Neither does God measure His provisions merely by the amount needed but by the limitlessness of the Person of His Son and the riches associated with Him and His saving work.
Verse 20 redounds to the glory of God! The very mention of God’s provisions in Christ and His willingness to make His riches available to His redeemed children evoked for Paul a closing doxology. Unto God, his heavenly Father, Paul ascribed his prayerful desire and expectation that glory would be His for ever and ever.
Paul had learned to be content in all circumstances because he learned to trust God to supply all he needed to experience true contentment. He had learned that contentment is not tied to the abundance of material or earthly treasures. Rather, it is to be found in a robust faith in God’s essential goodness and wisdom. Consequently, glory belongs to God throughout the endless ages. Eternity will not be sufficient time to fully exhaust the praises that belong to Him.
A serious understanding of these things is to be heard in the closing Amen, a common, oft-used term that affirms what has just been said or written. It is the “so be it” or the “I also believe it” of one whose heart beats in harmony with the truth or desire just expressed. These verses remind us that our choice to live in contentment results in God’s glory on display in our lives.
QUESTION: As believers, our goal should be to bring God glory and make His known to a lost and dying world. How does discontentment hinder the display of God’s glory in our lives?
APPLICATION: As you consider what has been presented from the Scriptures this morning, how would you answer these questions:
- Do I believe God wants the best for me in every situation?
- Do I allow God to use others to teach me His lessons?
- Do I desire for God to be magnified in my life?
Through Paul’s final encouragement to the Philippian believers, it is evident that
Christians can find contentment in God’s presence because of these three purposes…
God intends for us to have contentment in every situation.
God uses other believers to help us choose contentment.
God displays His glory through our contentment.