Before we dig into this morning’s message, I like for you to take out your message card. If you don’t have something to write with, raise your hands, and we’ll get a pen to you. Take a minute or two to write down what are the 5 most important things in your life. No one will see what you write, so be honest.
Don’t write what should be the most important in your life, but what has been the most important in your life, based on your priorities and based on how much you would grieve if you were to lose them. These items can be your wife or husband, your house, your career, anything. Take a minute or two to do this.
The optimist in me wanted to title this morning’s message as "Thriving with What You’ve Got," but that would only apply for a small number of people who have not had a family member die recently, whose health is solid, whose career is advancing and whose walk with the Lord is passionate. Even in the case of such people, I’m not sure "thriving" would be appropriate. Maybe "fortunate" and "blessed" is more appropriate descriptions.
I’m not excusing us from responsibility for our present condition in life, but I also know that there are many factors outside of our control. Marriage is an example where two people marry the best of each other. After the first year, or the first month in some cases, one or both individuals in the marriage may decide no longer to put their best forward, or the care of children and the demands of work competes with the effort needed to demonstrate love to one another.
There are other examples illustrating life situations that are less than ideal, that are disappointing, even crippling: The couples that desire to have their own children but cannot, the death of a husband leaves behind his wife to care for their young children, the women whose abusive parents leaves her emotionally scarred. As a result bitterness, envy, selfish ambition and other wrong thoughts fill our minds and paralyze our lives. Satisfaction, fulfillment, peace and contentment in life and relationships appear to be out of reach.
As we look at this morning’s passage, we will look briefly at the Apostle Paul’s reason for contentment in life (even in a prison cell) and the process through which he gained this contentment. We won’t find instructions from Paul for coping with life in this morning’s passage, but we will observe a life that has coped well in every circumstance.
The Apostle Paul leaves his role as their pastor and rejoices in their common friendship with Jesus Christ, their Lord. What we read this morning is not so much instruction from Paul as much as his voicing out loud his thoughts about his current condition in prison. For a time in prison, he received no help from other Christians, not even from the church he loved, the Philippi Community Christian Church.
Unlike the past messages from Philippians, where you received several key take-home applications from Paul’s instruction, this morning, we will simply affirm the realities of life, one to another. Sometimes, affirming reality is the best help for moving on with one’s life and toward contentment. Someone has said, "Denial is not a river in Egypt, but a rut in which many choose to walk in life." Christians are not perfect; they are forgiven by God and given the truth, even the Holy Spirit, to guide us through life. Therefore, denial is not encouraged in the Christians life.
Let’s begin this morning’s journey toward contentment by reading Philippians 4:10-13.
Before we look at what Paul had to deal with in his life, let me explain what the Philippians had to deal with in their setting in life. Remember they lived under Greek and Roman religious and philosophical influence. As Paul spoke about his own contentment, he exposes the wrong value for contentment and the wrong process for attaining contentment that was often taught by Greek Stoic philosophers.
The Greek Stoic philosophers taught that one could attain contentment by denial of one’s needs. In other words, if your child dies, it’s okay, because your child is external to you and should not effect you. If your company goes bankrupt, it’s okay, because, after all, it’s only a business. If you have cancer, it’s okay; everyone dies eventually.
This form of contentment denies the God-given ability to feel and discern injustice and evil. This form of contentment denies the presence of the ideal. And this form of contentment denies the value of effort and the value of human life, including self. The Stoics value the ability to transcend the harshness of life. Sounds a bit like Buddhism.
Paul, on the other hand, gives the reason that one can be content because God is in charge. Paul also gives the process for attaining contentment, which involves experiencing and seeing God’s faithfulness in times of need and in times of abundance. Let’s take a closer look at what Paul experienced on his journey toward contentment.
FIRST, Paul experienced discouragement, as all of us must in this life. We read this in verse 10.
We read in Philippians 2:25 that the Philippians finally had the opportunity to send Epaphroditus to take care of Paul’s needs. Yet, Paul faced great discouragement and great need prior to receiving Epaphroditus.
To lose contact with your church because you’ve moved away might cause you to wonder how deep the friendships were, but to lose contact with your church, when you’ve been their pastor and is now unjustly imprisoned, will certainly cause you to wonder if your church ever cared about you and if your church knew anything about love.
Paul’s discouragement was not due to unmet physical needs, as he points out in verse 11, but his discouragement was due to the thought that the Philippians didn’t care or had not matured in love as a result of his ministry with them. How do we handle the sense of discouragement when we see that our investment into significant relationships will not produce the intended result? You could be a teacher, a parent, a spouse, and find that all the time you’ve invested into your students, children or spouse have not made a difference in their lives or improved your relationship with them.
When this happens, where do we turn to find our sense of significance? The term, midlife crisis, describes an evaluation of a life possibly wasted up to that point and potentially meaningless in the future.
Do we start over? Do we set new goals? Do we give up in bitterness? Do we keep on doing what we are doing and lower our expectation for meaning and significance in life? Do we pick up a book on dealing with discouragement in the self-help section at Borders? I wouldn’t be surprised that Paul had some of these thoughts when he struggled with discouragement in his prison cell.
Paul not only experienced discouragement, but SECOND, Paul experienced the contrast of abundance to that of having very little of what was needed to live on, as all of us must in this life. We read this in verses 12.
Paul knew what having plenty meant. He was a pure Jew, highly educated and a member of the Pharisees, the Jewish leaders of his time. Paul also had Roman citizenship, possibly because his Dad was given such citizenship for his contribution to the Roman Empire. Paul had prestige, power and money, but he gave all that up when he decided to follow Jesus Christ after his encounter on the road to Damascus.
Maybe having very little to live on does not describe you at this point, but it may describe some people in your life, or even the people sitting next to you. They were doing very well in life, until an unexpected business failure or an illness in the family put them in a financial crunch.
Maybe some of you were very wealthy and successful in your homeland, but to escape the Cultural Revolution, you came to America. Your inability to adapt either because of language, culture and education requirements limits your employment opportunity and ability to provide for your family.
My Dad was a professor of metallurgy and my Mom a doctor, while in China. When they came to America, my Dad was employed as a busboy in a restaurant, a janitor in public schools and eventually a foam maker in a furniture company. My Mom worked as a seamstress for all the years before her retirement.
How does one provide for his or her family when so little of what is needed can be gotten? Do we maintain integrity or do we cheat the government? Do we fall into despair? Again, what about our sense of significance? How do we handle the feelings and put food on the table? How do we keep our negative feelings from hurting our spouse or children?
What have I done this morning? If you came this morning, so that you could feel good, you’ve come to the wrong place. If you came this morning so that you can face the realities in your life and your need for God, you’ve come to the right place. I hope I’ve taken us down some familiar but hard realities of life.
Can we have peace and contentment when some of these realities are our realities? I believe we can.
Let’s finish what we started before the message. Take your message card out, if you’ve put it away. Look at the five most important things on your card? If disaster occurred in your life, a fire, an earthquake, a break-in, an illness, or whatever else could take away or destroy four of the five things on your list, and you could choose which four you would loose, what would you be willing to lose? Cross these four items off your card now.
If what is left on your card is not a personal relationship with God, you will lose that item also, because only a personal relationship with God lasts forever. Everything else that brings you joy will be taken from you at one point or another in life, and everything at death. Only a personal relationship with God will be ours forever.
If we look closely at this morning’s passage, Paul had several resources as he made his journey toward contentment. He had a personal relationship with God. This was certain. He had an on-going relationship with his church. This was uncertain at times. And he was willing to go through the experience of discouragement and lack.
If we find contentment to be mind over matter, then contentment might be found through the willingness to experience or accept discouragement and lack. But the willingness to experience discouragement and lack does not bring heart-felt satisfaction and fulfillment in life, unless a personal relationship with God, the truth of His Word and the encouragement of His people are a part of your list of resources.
(If you don’t have a personal relationship with God, make time to talk with me or another person who has a personal relationship with God, so that we can help you. If you are not a member of a church, we welcome you to consider joining us.)
Let me close with one more piece of help for those who have a personal relationship with God but no contentment. This contradiction occurs when your primary purpose in life is not satisfied. If your primary purpose in life is happiness or having everything your way, you will never be content this side of Heaven. But if your primary purpose is what God’s word says, that is to glorify God with your life, then you can be content in whatever situation. Just as a painting and a sculpture glorify or give credit to their maker, so is our purpose to glorify or give credit to our Maker, God. Any other purpose will leave us without peace and contentment.
Paul is able to say, "I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength," because what he chooses to do is to glorify God. And God will give us the strength to satisfy that desire of our heart.
This is ours to take home.