Summary: Learn how to experience contentment when life is not fair
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.