Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
The Secret to Contentment
Today we complete our journey through the book of Philippians. And I love how Paul ends his letter. It isn?t by settling theological arguments or by ending disputes between factions or people; it is by encouraging his friends to give freely and live contentedly. How we need to hear those words today. Our society is completely focused on always having more. In fact, Madison Avenue, which creates many of the advertisements you see, read, and hear?has a strategy of creating a need you didn?t know you had, that can only be fulfilled by buying a product you probably don?t need anyway.
Our culture teaches us to always want more and never be satisfied once we get it. And, heaven forbid, if we suffer loss?either of a job, a house, or lose money in the stock market?we panic. One infamous example occurred in 1929 with the stock market crash. Men literally flung themselves out of high-rise windows to their deaths because fortunes of money had been lost.
Jesus Himself said: ?Watch out and be on guard against all greed because one?s life is not in the abundance of his possessions? (Luke 12:15). Your life consists of who you are, not what you have.
So today we are going to talk about how to counteract that pressure to always seek more and panic when we don?t have. The answer is one word: contentment. And it?s a secret that only Christians have available to them.
10 ? 14
10 ? Paul rejoices because just as the Philippians had helped him financially some years before (2 Corinthians 8) now they had the same opportunity once again as they sent Epaphroditus to him in Rome with a second gift. In between times they still wanted to support Paul but Paul didn?t have a need. Now when he was in need?they could show their love in a tangible way.
As we?ll see as we move through these verses?Paul was not angling for funds as we see many people do these days. You can?t turn on Christian TV these days without being flooded with pleas for financial giving. Some ministries send out urgent emails claiming that their ministry will go under unless you rescue them. Others send out trinkets that promise spiritual blessings or promise that God will give them back a hundred fold of what they give so they should use giving as a monetary investment scheme.
This is a misreading of Scripture and misses the point entirely of being in need and of giving to support a need. Paul and the Philippians were connected. They loved one another. They cared for one another in many ways both tangible and intangible. No matter the need, these good friends watched out for each other. But in no way was Paul demanding gifts from this church he founded, nor were the Philippians expecting some sort of financial return for their gift to him.
What connections do you have? How can you support those connections regardless of the return to you? Paul clearly didn?t really need anything:
11 ? Paul was not in need (though he had nothing financially to support himself) because he was content. The Greek word autarkes means: ?sufficient in oneself?. The Greek stoic philosophers loved to use this idea. ?I?m a self-made man? would be a way we might use it today. But being content as a Christian isn?t having everything in yourself by yourself. For the Christian we have everything we need in ourselves because of Jesus in our lives. We are reliant on Christ in us. The verse says Paul ?learned? this. The idea here is to learn by experience. It takes years of trusting in God for what we need. I remember on several occasions when we didn?t have enough to pay the church bills. I prayed and trusted in God to provide and on the very day when I had to decide which bills not to pay, the exact amount needed came in.
12 ? We feel like we can be content when we have plenty, but what about when we have need? Paul says he?s learned a secret to being content in every and all circumstances. This word means ?initiated into a secret?. It was used by pagan religions to talk about their inner secrets. Here, there is a secret to contentment for the Christian that works when you are poor and when you are rich?and we need that in both circumstances! You know, it is just as important to learn contentment when you have a lot as when you have a little?maybe more important. When we have a lot we tend to forget God, so the Lord teaches us how to have a lot and still depend on Him and work to become like Him. James talked at length about what can happen when prosperity takes over.
- Stratified (James 2:1 ? the rich get favored status)
- Litigious (James 1:6)
- Stingy (James 2:15-17)
- Leads to selfish ambition, and cravings in those who don?t have (James 3:16-4:3)
- Hostility towards God (James 4:4)
- Pride (James 4:6)
- Self-sufficiency (James 4:13-17)
- Corruption, arrogance, abuse (James 5:1-6)
13 ? Here?s the key verse of the passage. The secret to contentment is that our needs are fulfilled in God. If it doesn?t come from Him, we shouldn?t have anything to do with it. J.B. Phillips translates it this way: ?I am ready for anything through the strength of the One who lives within me.? The Living Bible says: ?I can do everything God asks me to do with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power.? The key is to recognize something I?ve been emphasizing all through this study: as a disciple of Jesus, you become a soldier and an ambassador. Your job is to partner with the Holy Spirit in a character transformation so that God can send you on assignments to rescue people from the clutches of an enemy by sharing the love of Jesus.
To be successful in those missions, God will supply everything you need. As Warren Wiersby says: ?God supplies our needs, not our greeds.? Feel free to ask God for anything, but be ready for Him to answer in a way that equips you for His tasks. Sometimes that means suffering lack. But because you belong to Him, trust that He has you just where He wants you. That doesn?t mean you should quit your job and just ?live by faith.? Paul later would say: ?If a man won?t work, neither shall he eat? (2 Thessalonians 3:10). The old saying is really true: it?s not bad to have things, but it?s bad for things to have you. One way to tell if you are falling into that trap is to picture your reaction if that thing was suddenly taken away. If life would be over and you would be distraught, maybe that thing has become your idol and has you!
14 ? Paul doesn?t want them to think their gift was wasted. In fact, it was the providence of God at work. The Philippians had an opportunity just when Paul had a need. Think how exciting it is to be a free giver?to be part of God?s providence in the lives of others. That what he focuses on next:
15 ? 19
We?re not sure exactly the historic circumstances that Paul refers to here. But we know from 2 Corinthians 11:8-9 that only the Macedonian churches supported Paul?meaning Philippi.
Paul focuses on three ways that their giving worked?the same ways it works in us when we freely give, whether we have abundance or not.
- A flourishing of character. Back in verse 10 Paul uses the word ?renewed? which is a Greek word that means a budding or blossoming flower or tree. Jesus said: ?I am the vine, you are the branches? (John 15:5). As branches, our job is to bear fruit that comes from Jesus as the vine. That fruit can also be giving?whether monetarily, with prayer, with time and presence?all are part of the idea of fellowship. In fact, the word ?shared? in verse 15 is our word for fellowship.
- An investment. In verse 17 he uses the word: ?profit? to your ?account.? Did you know that God never forgets when you give?
Luke 14:12 He also said to the one who had invited Him, ?When you give a lunch or a dinner, don?t invite your friends, your brothers, your relatives, or your rich neighbors, because they might invite you back, and you would be repaid. 13 On the contrary, when you host a banquet, invite those who are poor, maimed, lame, or blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.?
Luke 6:38 ?Give, and it will be given to you; a good measure?pressed down, shaken together, and running over?will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.?
- A sacrifice (vs 18). Our giving is like a sacrifice. Paul calls it a ?fragrant offering.? In Old Testament days the priests would offer up animal sacrifices to God and after killing the animal they would barbeque it and the aroma of that sacrifice would go up to God. Today your worship (Hebrews 13:15), our bodies (Romans 12:1-2) and our good works (Hebrews 13:16) are all sacrifices, pleasing to God. So too is when you give.
So now look at verse 19 again. What a powerful verse when used in context. If your aim is to belong to God and to be used by Him, there is nothing that you will lack. And even if you lack in the world?s terms, you have great gain and the ability to do whatever He calls you to do.
1 Timothy 6:6 ?But godliness with contentment is a great gain.?
20 ? 23
This is the aim of all this. In this age the idea of always wanting more is to bring glory to you. There is great pride in amassing great gain. But in Christ it is all about focusing everything on the reality of the person of God (?glory?). It?s so freeing when we realize all we are about sums up to something and Someone much greater than us.
So Paul finishes this letter of friendship with greetings back and forth. I love how he throws in this reference to ?those from Caesar?s household.? It?s thought that Paul?s imprisonment meant the gospel began to spread among those in the employ of the Emperor. In Chapter 1:13 Paul talks about how his imprisonment was for Christ ?has become known throughout the whole imperial guard.?
You just never know how far your part in sharing the gospel will go!
- Look for opportunities to give (verses 10-14)
- Look for contentment in God?s provision to do His work (vs 13)
- Look for a richness of life in the reality of the presence of God, not the presence of things (vs 19)
- Look for times of lacking as opportunities for your mission to be expanded (vs 22)