Summary: The way of the world seems to focus on pleasing ourselves or pursuing a life of ease. But that brings no lasting satisfaction. God is so much bigger and has so much more for us, no matter our circumstances.
Years ago, Robert Fulghum wrote a profound essay. This is how it began. “Most of what I really need to know about how to live…I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand box at nursery school. These are the things I learned. Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you….When you go out in the world, watch for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.”
I think Fulghum, to a great extent, was right. Most of what we need to know about living we learned when we were young. But one lesson that’s not learned in kindergarten—and in fact is not learned ever by most people—is how to be content. This is unfortunate because contentment is key to joyful living. This is why I want to focus on contentment in this final message from Philippians. We’ve called this series Got Joy? It’s a question I hope you’ve asked yourself in the past nine weeks. Got joy? Do you? Today we’ll consider Philippians 4:10-23.
Contentment is a wonderful virtue. It comes from being rightly related to God and trusting in his sovereign love over our lives. Yet many of us, including me, have tried to find contentment in all the wrong places. We’ve tried to find it in money, possessions, power, prestige, relationships or jobs. But all those things left us empty, didn’t they? I love the definition of contentment offered by the Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs. “Christian contentment is that sweet, inward quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal of every condition.” In other words, contentment is being at peace with what God has assigned us; it’s to be at rest.
The Bible has a great deal to say about contentment. John the Baptist told some soldiers to be content with their wages. (Luke 3:14) Paul wrote to Timothy, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out of it.” (1 Timothy 6:6-7) This is repeated by the author of the book of Hebrews. “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have…” (Hebrews 13:5) But even though we’re frequently told to be content in Scripture, very few Christ followers actually experience contentment.
As Paul wraps up his letter he expresses his deep gratitude. As the founding pastor, Paul had a special relationship with the Philippians. The church had supported his ministry in the past and they’d recently sent another gift. The passage we’re looking at today is Paul’s thank-you note. But as we look beneath the surface at what he writes we discover a man who is utterly content.
Looking through the lens of Paul’s life let’s consider five important keys to contentment.
The first is….
1. Relax in God’s sovereignty.
Look again at verse 10. Ten years had passed since Paul’s ministry in Philippi. Right after he left the church the Philippians had sent Paul financial support. But even though they continued to be concerned they apparently weren’t able to help for a lengthy period of time. We’re not told why they weren’t able to help….maybe they didn’t know where Paul was. But recently Epaphroditus arrived in Rome bringing a generous gift. Because of this Paul says in verse 10 that he rejoiced in the Lord greatly.
I want us to notice Paul’s gracious attitude regarding the time when he didn’t receive anything from the Philippians. Notice he doesn’t scold them for not sending anything. In fact, Paul isn’t agitated at all by what may have been a ten-year lapse in their financial support. He didn’t get worked up. He didn’t fret. There was no panic even though he had experienced some times of real scarcity. How could Paul remain content in the face of those things? He was content because he knew the times, the seasons and the opportunities of life are controlled by God’s sovereignty.
We saw this earlier in chapter 1. Even though Paul was chained to a Roman guard, he still rejoiced because God used his negative circumstances to advance the cause of Christ. Because of his chains the entire palace guard heard the Gospel and the brethren were encouraged to be bold for Christ. We called this the Romans 8:28 mindset. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This mindset allows us to look beyond our immediate situation and relax…knowing that God is always at work.