Summary: Paul, Pt. 21


2008 was the year of bad year. Unemployment is up in the States – as high as 7.1% locally. Bloomberg reported 1.9 million jobs were lost through November. Low price leader Wal Mart is number 1 among Fortune’s 500 companies in 2008. Gas marched toward $150 a barrel and more than $4 a gallon. Stocks and home values were down 40% from a year earlier. Even my gardener got into the act, asking for $10 more. Pork prices were up 59.1 per cent at one point from last year, trailed by beef, which rose 50.8 per cent, and other meat at 29.5 per cent. Eggs could reach $4 a carton. Washington Post estimated Wall Street lost $6.9 in 2008.

And how about rice? Global prices for rice have more than doubled in 2008, as countries such as India and Vietnam placed limits on exports to safeguard domestic supplies and keep inflation in check (“Specialty Rice Sales Limited,” Press Enterprise 4/25/08. From $385 per metric ton in mid-January of 2008 - $200 in 2003, Thailand rice peaked at $1,100 in late April 2008, according to New York Times (May 9, 2008 “High Prices for Staple Foods Dip, but Violate Markets Persist”) Asian restaurant owners’ mad rush to Costco and Sam’s Club for imported rice caused one of the bulk retailers to issue this statement in respond to global supply and demand issues: “Due to increased demand, we are limiting rice purchases based on your prior purchasing history. Please see a supervisor to find your limit.”

This is as good a time and age for a lesson on contentment. The church in Philippi contributed more financially and emotionally to Paul’s ministry than all the churches he had founded or known. When Paul was in affliction (thlipsis), they shared or fellowshipped (koinoneo) in his sufferings (Phil 4:14), sending Epaphroditus with a gift (v 18) to take care of the needs of the imprisoned Paul (Phil 2:25). Even in the early days of Paul’s ministry in the region of Macedonia, not one of its church except the church in Philippi shared with him in the matter of giving and receiving; and when Paul was in Thessalonica, the Philippians sent him aid again and again when he was in need (Phil. 4:15-16). While Paul was cheered, he was careful to be content.

What is contentment? What is its benefit? Who are the discontented and why are they discontented? What is the secret to contentment?

Contentment is an Attitude to Learn

10 I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. (Phil 4:10-11)

The famous Aesop story of “The Boy and the Nuts” tells of a little boy who once found a jar of nuts on the table. ‘I would like some of these nuts,” he thought. “I’m sure Mother would give them to me if she were here. I’ll take a big handful,” so he reached into the jar and grabbed as many as he could hold. But when he tried to pull his hand out, he found that the neck of the jar was too small. His hand was held fast, but he did not want to drop any of the nuts. He tried again and again, but he couldn’t get the whole handful out. At last he began to cry.

Just then his mother came into the room. “What’s the matter?” she asked. I can’t take this handful of nuts out of the jar,” sobbed the boy. “Well, don’t be greedy,” his mother replied. “Just take two or three, and you’ll have no trouble getting your hand out.” “How easy that was,” said the boy as he left the table. “I should have thought of that myself.”

The Chinese liken a discontented heart to a snake swallowing an elephant.

First, contentment is an issue of the mind, not the heart. Paul expressed his great (megalos) (v 10) joy at discovering how eager the Philippians were to contribute to his ministry in financial ways and other means, sending gifts to him through Epaphroditus (v 18). His huge sigh of relief at their generosity was not due the monetary gift they sent, but the moral support they gave and the emotional concern they have for him. “Concern” (phroneo), which occurs twice in verse 10, is more “head” than “heart.” It is not one’s “heartfelt” expression, but “thoughtful” consideration in Greek, exercising one’s “mind” and “thinking” of others.

The apostle Paul reiterates he was not in want or “need” (v 11), needy or poor. This Greek word (husteresis) occurs one other time in the Bible, describing the poor widow who gave out of her “poverty” (Mark 12:44). The contrast to “need” or “poverty,” surprisingly, is not rich, but contentment (aut-arkes), which is from “autos” (self) and “arkeo,” the latter occurs eight times in the Bible, translated thrice as “enough” (Matt 25:9, John 6:7, 14:8) and “content” (Luke 3:14, 1 Tim 6:8, Heb 13:5), and once for “sufficient” (2 Cor 12:9) as well as “satisfied” (3 John 10), but autarkes occurs only once in the Bible, in verse 11.

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