As Paul prepares to close out his letter to the Philippians, he is taking care of some housekeeping items, namely, thanking the Philippians for the gift they sent him through Epaphroditis, But as he does, it is almost as though he breaks up the thanks for the gift, which he picks back up in V 14. and he reminds them that his thankfulness for the gift has less to do with the gift itself than it does with what their gift means to him. Look at what he does; first of all, he rejoices in the Lord that they have shown concern through giving to him. He recognizes that they did have concern, but weren’t able to show it in a tangible way before now. But before they get the idea that he is guilt tripping them, he says he’s not trying to make them feel guilty, or fear their own poverty, because he has learned to be content in whatever situation he finds himself in. Paul wants to thank them for their gift, but also place it in the right category for them. He uses this opportunity to share a secret with them. He wants to convey something that he has learned, and that he wants them to learn also. The secret that he has learned is that He can do all things through Him who strengthens him.
Now, most of the time when we see this passage of scripture, it is ripped out of context and plastered on a coffee mug or a tee shirt with some cheesy mountain vista, or a BMX biker in mid air on it. Now I don’t what you to feel bad if you have one of those, but I do want to point out that there are some serious implications behind that scripture, and you better be ready to experience the depths as well as soar the heights, and say the same thing, ‘cause that is what this passage says. What he is not saying is that with Jesus, I am invincible. This secret is not about what he does, it is about who is with Him.
So, what is the secret of contentment? What do you need to make you content? What do you go to when you are stressed out? What is it that Paul is talking about here, what does it mean for us in our economy that thrives off of discontentment? What is the secret that all people everywhere are seeking, whether rich or poor, wealthy or destitute? Or more importantly, what do you do when you realize the thing you thought you needed, or were about to get, or was just around the corner gets pulled out from under you? What do you do with expectations for this holiday season that just won’t be met? Or what if all your expectations are met just the way you want them to be?
Contentment is ‘acknowledgement and satisfaction of reaching capacity.’ The level of capacity reached may be sought after, expected, desired, or simply predetermined as the level in which provides contentment.
Paul is saying here that the secret to contentment is this: “I can do all things through him (Christ) who strengthens me.” So here it is, that’s all you need to know right? Just keep repeating this mantra and you will experience contentment. Do we think it’s that easy? All too often, I do. I don’t realize the important things that this passage teaches about contentment. What are those things you say? Well among others, I want to focus on this progression of the passage: The secret of contentment is Learned; Through Trials; To display Christ.
1. Contentment is Learned:
I get this because he says so twice, once each in verses 11 and 12. Now I am sure that may seem obvious to us but before we move on to the fun part of this passage where we get to do all things, lets think for a minute about “learning”.
What do you know bout learning?
- Takes Time: not the same day, top athletes have coaches. Be patient
- Never second Hand: Hear the chains clank. He knows how to be brought low, and how to abound because he has been bought low, he is being brought low. The man is in jail. He has been shipwrecked, beaten, bitten by a snake, arrested, stoned, tormented by a messenger of Satan. Look with me for a minute at 2 Corinthians 11:23. This man learned the secret of contentment in the school of persecution, over years, and it was first hand. Even Jesus had to learn things. Hebrews 5:8.
2. Through trials: He says he has learned this secret in “any and every circumstance.” Here he says he has “faced” plenty and need.
a. Trials of plenty: Lottery Winners, always wanting the next thing, ie. Iphone. Also self sufficiency, and self righteousness. Phil 3:4 He is saying here that when he had it all, he considers it rubbish, not as some kind of jedi mind trick, but because he has realized that the seeming fleshly righteousness that he had only led to pointing to himself as the source of his contentment, and when you are the source of your contentment, you will fail yourself every time. In fact, I would dare say that if you think about it, you and not someone else have been the greatest source of your own discontentment. What does it mean for you to be filled to capacity when there are other options for you out there, and they are within your grasp?
b. Trials of need: don’t gloss over pain. Get personal. “you know, all things work together for good…” don’t you just want to punch them? I mean, honestly, there’s a reason proverbs 25:20 says singing songs to a troubled heart is like going naked on a cold day. So many examples:
(An aside) Face your trials: look them in the eye, don’t plaster or pretend. Wrestle the contentment out of our situation. be ok with sitting there and learning all that Christ has for us in our trials. To ask him questions, and bear your soul to him, and cry out with the Psalmist that as the dear pants for water, my soul is dry and aching and thirsty Lord.” How long oh Lord? Will you cast me off forever?” And let the truth of His word and his purposes wash over you in those times until you see Him in them. That’s what Jesus did in the garden of Gethsemeny. He wrestled with the father. He was facing down the fact that he was headed for the cross.
3. To display Jesus’ strength: The point in this is not what we do; the point is about who it is through. As he has been entreating them throughout this book, to walk in a manner worthy of the Gospel, to be unified with Christ, and to rejoice in Him alone, to deny confidence in the flesh and trust only in Jesus; Just as this entire Book is one giant billboard for Jesus, so this verse is saying that we, in our circumstances, whether in plenty or in need, need to see Jesus. And so, he teaches us contentment through trials, so we can see Jesus. And not only so we can see Jesus, but also so others can see Jesus.
a. others see Jesus: “all things”
b. we see Jesus: “He strengthens me.” Learning this secret has to do with seeing Christ’s power put on display when we are at our weakest, and our most vulnerable, its about seeing Christ’s power displayed in our lives in ways we could never dream. The secret is not that we say with a loud voice, “I am being made much of!” it is that we get to proclaim with all the purposes of all of God’s works that “God, in Christ has freed me to make much of Him, forever!”
Its all about Jesus!
Now, I know it’s not Christmas, but go with me if you will to the room of a little girl named Mary, who had it all going for her. She was engaged to a Godly man, she had kept herself pure, and was eager to fulfill the dream that all little girls have, to fall in love, get married and start a family. So what happens to this world of plenty? It gets turned upside down. She gets a visit from an angel who tells her that she is going to be a teenage mother and conceive a child out of wedlock. Then her fiancé finds out and decides to divorce her, but the Lord teaches him something through an angel. They face down this trial that the Lord has set before them, and yet another one when they are forced to make a journey to Bethlehem, and yet again when they are forced to deliver their child in the filth of a stable. They are learning, through a process of trials that they must face down. And through it all what is the result? The world gets Jesus. He is put on display for Mary to see and for the world to see as the angels declare his arrival to the shepherds in the fields.
So, what do we do with this passage? How do you approach the abundance in your life? How do you approach the need? Do you see that God is teaching you this secret of contentment, through trials, that Christ’s power might be put on display for you and for the world?
Three things I want to charge you with as we go from here this week.
- Be patient. You’re learning. Don’t let discouragement tempt you to fake contentment.
- Face your trials: look them square in the eye, and see Christ in them.
- Walk with your eyes open. Paul’s language is active. I can Do!!