Contentment in Christ
Topic: Expository Passage: Philippians 4:10-14
Read vv. 10–20
We’ve made it to the tail-end of Philippians. Paul has essentially said everything he wants to say regarding theology and Christian practice, and the only thing left is to thank the Philippians for the gift they had sent to him in prison and to close out the letter.
Therefore, Paul’s primary purpose in the passage we just read is to thank the church for their generous support. But this is Paul we’re talking about. He’s so full of Christ that he could never just say “thank you.” His theology add passion seep out everywhere.
For example, in context, vv. 11–13 are nothing but a clarification or a parenthesis. You could even call it a rabbit trail. But this rabbit trail provides a vital perspective on contentment that we all need, though maybe for different reasons.
For example, I am naturally very ambitious. I want to win, and I want to be successful, so my struggle for contentment is against selfish ambition. For others, your struggle for contentment has to do with materialism. You want stuff, and you want it now. Maybe you are even stuck in loads of debt because of that drive for things.
For others, your struggle with discontentment is tied to loss, such as failing health, family strife, or the loss of stable employment. Maybe your struggle is tied to perception. You want to be noticed, respected, and well-liked, so you long to be seen as fashionable, cool, attractive, smart, or funny. We could go on, but I think we get the point.
We all struggle with wanting more of something, so we all need to learn contentment. Therefore, the first lesson we need to learn about contentment is that…
I. We should rejoice in God’s blessings (vv. 10, 14).
We’re going to see that the main point of this passage is that Christ offers a bullet-proof contentment that is immune to unpredictable circumstances. But this does not mean that we shouldn’t enjoy the blessings of this life (read v. 10).
Remember that when Paul wrote Philippians, he was a Roman prisoner. And the Romans didn’t provide food and clothing for their prisoners. Instead, they depended on family and friends to meet their needs.
Therefore, the Philippians had sent a gift to provide for his basic needs. And it’s worth emphasizing that collecting this gift probably required genuine sacrifice by the saints, because the Philippian congregation was unusually poor. They didn’t give “out of their abundance…but…out of (their poverty)” (Luke 21:4). As a result, I’m sure that Paul was overwhelmed when the gift arrived, so before he closes Philippians, he takes a moment to thank them.
Paul’s Thanksgiving (v. 10): And Paul doesn’t just say he was happy when the gift arrived; rather he says, “I rejoiced in the Lord.” That’s significant wording, because 3:1 commands Christians to “rejoice in the Lord,” and 4:4 repeats this command (read).
Therefore, when Paul says in v. 10, “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly,” it’s more than a trite expression. Rather, he is describing sincere, deep-seated, Christian joy. And the reason for his joy is because, “Your care for me has flourished (or literally, “blossomed”) again,” speaking of the gift they sent.
And this wasn’t the first time they supported Paul. Verses 15–16 will state that the Philippians had supported Paul at other times, but v. 10 says it had been a while since they had sent a gift. But it wasn’t because they didn’t care; instead, they “lacked opportunity.”
Most likely Paul’s imprisonment and his journey from Jerusalem to Caesarea and then across the Mediterranean over the course of several months had made it impossible for them to help Paul. However, once he was planted in a Roman prison, they eagerly sent a gift.
And Paul says in v. 14 that they, “have done well (when they)…shared in my distress.” In other words, it was appropriate and right for them to help bear the burden of Paul’s imprisonment by meeting his physical needs. And I see 2 important applications for us from the example of the Philippians and of Paul in vv. 10 and 14. 1st…
We should generously partner in the advance of the gospel. Very often when we receive a generous gift, we say something like, “Oh you shouldn’t have.” It’s our way of saying that someone has been too generous. But Paul doesn’t say anything of the sort. Rather, he says something that we have a hard time saying. He says they should do this.
But it’s not because Paul was so worthy; instead it’s because Paul was their partner in the gospel mission and because caring for Paul meant participating in Paul’s gospel mission.
So, here’s another instance where Paul emphasizes the importance partnering together for the proclamation of the gospel. And he doesn’t just say it’s a nice idea if you have extra cash lying around. Rather, he says that the Philippians were right to give sacrificially for the advance of the gospel. Therefore, God is saying that we must sacrificially use our spiritual gifts, and our financial resources for the advance of the gospel. And since our theme is contentment, I’ll emphasize that you’ll find more contentment investing in the gospel than you will in spending on yourself. 2nd…
We should rejoice over God’s work in fellow-saints. This is important, because we are going to spend the majority of our time emphasizing that Christian contentment is not ultimately rooted in circumstances but in our relationship to Christ.
However, v. 10 is clear that this does not mean that we cut ourselves off from people, because of the potential pain of relationships. No, Paul cared deeply. He rejoiced over God’s work in the Philippians. And we should too. When God works in your children, people in this church, and out in our community, we should rejoice. We should give thanks.
Christianity is a community religion. We share each other’s burdens. We rejoice with those who rejoice, and we weep with those who weep. And if you pursue contentment by cutting yourself off from these things, you are not pursuing truly Christian contentment; you are just shielding yourself from pain. So, we should rejoice in God’s blessings, but Paul proceeds to give an important and very practical qualifier. Notice in vv. 11–12 that…
II. We must develop Christian contentment that rises above earthly cares (vv. 11–12).
Again, it’s essential that we see these verses in context. Paul just said that he “rejoiced in the Lord” over the gift the Philippians had sent. But now he quickly qualifies it by saying, “Not that I speak in regard to need.” That’s interesting, because by any human definition, Paul had a need. We need food to survive. However, Paul believed that our life in the Lord is far more significant than our life in this world.
I’m reminded of Jesus’s words when Satan tempted him to turn stones into bread after he had fasted for 40 days. Matthew 4:4 states, “He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” In other words, we need God far more than we need physical things.
Paul understood this; therefore, he did not need the Philippians gift in order to “Rejoice in the Lord always.” He understood that his greatest need was to walk with the Lord, because in him, we can find a contentment that we won’t find anywhere else. Notice in v. 11 how Paul describes…
The Nature of Christian Contentment (v. 11b): Paul says, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.” To fully appreciate the force of Paul’s testimony, we have to hear it how the Philippians would have heard it.
Specifically, Paul uses a word for contentment (autarka¯s) that was well known in that day as the supreme virtue of the Stoics. For example, Seneca was the preeminent Stoic philosopher of Paul’s day, and he is quoted as saying, “The happy man is content with his present lot, no matter what it is, and is reconciled to his circumstances; the happy man is he who allows reason to fix the value of every condition of existence.”
In other words, the Stoics wanted to become completely self-sufficient and thereby detached from both the pleasures and pains of life. And they believed that through reason and a simple, rigid lifestyle they could essentially cut themselves off from all sorrow.
On the one hand it sounds incredibly boring to reject all temporal pleasure. But I think we can also see the appeal of being immune to the sorrows life, that you could even face death without feeling any grief.
So, when the Philippians heard Paul say that he had learned “to be content” “in whatever state I am,” they would have immediately thought of Stoicism. And that picture was partially true. Paul will say in v. 12 that he had learned how to enjoy a stable contentment that didn’t rise and fall with the ever-changing circumstances of life. He had learned, in a sense, how to enjoy a contentment that is immune to both blessing and hardship.
However, Paul’s primary purpose is not really to compare Christianity to Stoicism; rather, Philippians proves that Christ offers a contentment that is far greater than anything the Stoics hoped to achieve.
Again, remember that Paul that is writing from prison. He was facing the things that often break men’s spirits—physical suffering, hatred, and death. Yet Paul says in 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Paul was content in the face of pain and death.
But unlike the Stoics, it wasn’t because he was calloused to all feeling. Instead, Philippians is filled with joy and happiness. So, Paul had something the Stoics thought was impossible. He could feel deeply while also having the strength to be content in the face of tremendous sorrow.
How could Paul have the best of both worlds? The answer is Christ! For Paul, “to live is Christ.” His hope was in Christ, and this hope radically reshaped how he looked at everything. Through Christ he could rejoice in the blessings of life. But through Christ he could also be content when tragedy struck. Praise the Lord that through Christ we can have “rejoice in the Lord always”! Then notice in v. 12…
The Fruit of Christian Contentment (v. 12): In this verse, Paul teases out Christian contentment with 3 sharply contrasting statements. Paul begins by saying, “I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound.”
The first verb is the same verb Paul used in 2:8 to describe how Christ humbled himself to the point of death; therefore, we he’s not talking about getting caught with your zipper down. He’s talking about the awful humiliation Paul often endured.
But Paul also knew how to “abound.” I’m sure there were times when people were incredibly generous with Paul, and he enjoyed the nicest things. But Paul’s contentment was stable despite either extreme. He had joy in the midst of suffering, and even the greatest earthly abundance couldn’t match the rest he had in the Lord.
Then Paul goes on to say, “Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry.” We to remember that for Paul “hunger” wasn’t merely missing breakfast and having his stomach rumble. No, he’s probably talking about going days with barely anything to eat. He’s talking about a poverty that we have never experienced. But again, whether Paul was eating Prime Rib and Cheesecake, or starving, it didn’t ultimately touch his superior joy in the Lord.
Finally, Paul says he knows how “to abound and to suffer need.” Paul is probably thinking more broadly of his living situation. I’m sure there were times when Paul was treated like a king, but there were other times when Paul suffered in ways that are hard for us to comprehend. But again, Paul had “learned in whatever state I am, to be content.” None of these things can penetrate true Christian contentment.
So, v. 12 paints quite the picture. So often we ride the emotional roller coaster of our circumstances. One day we are on top of the world, because we got a bonus or someone said something kind. But we despair the next day, because of an unexpected bill or a hurtful comment. And God says that’s not how he wants us to live. Through Christ we can enjoy a rest, stability, and contentment that is bigger than circumstances. It’s truly a marvelous gift.
But maybe you are sitting there thinking, “That sounds great, but that is so far from my reality.” Maybe you’d go so far as to say, “I cannot possibly experience what Paul describes.” If so, notice in v. 11…
The Process of Christian Contentment (v. 11a): It ought to be very encouraging to us that Paul doesn’t say that God zapped him with this kind of contentment. Instead, Paul says, “I have learned…to be content.” There was a time when Paul struggled just like you do.
But through the grace of God and lots of disciplined effort, he slowly rewired his heart and mind to “rejoice in the Lord always” no matter what life and the providence of God sent his way. And God is calling you to do the same. He is calling you to go on a lifelong process of radically rewiring your deepest values, emotions, and habitual responses to both blessing and hardship.
We’ve been talking about this process for the last 4 weeks. If you want to experience joy and peace, you must learn to look at all of life with eyes of faith through the lens of a good, wise, and sovereign God. It all begins with thinking rightly about God.
From there we must learn to see the best and the worst of this world with an eternal perspective (1 Tim 6:6–8). So often we crave the very best things this world has to offer. We think that if we just get that car, new house, nice vacation, or hit that financial benchmark that we will be happy. But God says that what we should really desire is “godliness with contentment” and that rather than dreaming of extravagance we should be content as long as we have “food and clothing.”
And why is this so? It’s because, “We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” All of this is a flash in a pan; therefore, we must learn to see both the joys and the heartaches of life in comparison to eternity. No matter how big they may feel today, they are very small in light of heaven.
And BTW, when you see eternity clearly, it unlocks a new freedom to enjoy the pleasures of this world. Matthew McCollough says, “For the Christian, who is promised eternal life by the one who is the Resurrection and the Life...knowing our destination unlocks a new and purer joy in the passing pleasures we experience along the way. These things that don’t last don’t have to. They are only meant to whet our appetites.”
I like that, because so often even when we have abundance, we can’t enjoy it, because, like Scrooge, we are always worried about losing it. Or we desperately crave some incredible high, and we are almost always disappointed. But we don’t have to live with that kind of pressure, because we have all of eternity to enjoy God’s blessing. The blessings we enjoy today are just a foretaste of something far better.
So, if you are going to be content, you must learn to see all of life in light of the character of God and the hope of eternity. And it’s not just about knowing these things in your heard; it’s about disciplining the mind in obedience to v. 8 so that what we know in our heads slowly works its way down into our hearts and into our deepest values. Afterall, if you spend your whole life staring at the cookie jar, you are going to have a hard time being content without a cookie. But if you spend your life focused on Christ and eternity, the cookie looks less and less significant.
In sum, vv. 11–12 call us to learn a uniquely Christian contentment that rises above the circumstances of life. It’s a wonderful gift in a world that is always craving more and urging us to do the same. But maybe it still seems so far out of reach. Thankfully, we don’t have to get there on our own. Rather what sets Christian contentment apart from Stoic contentment is v. 13.
III. We must lean on the strength of Christ (v. 13).
Hopefully, by this point in the sermon, you already recognize that “all things” in context does not mean whatever selfish ambition you may have. God isn’t giving you a blanket promise of power that will enable you to pick up a car, become an astronaut, or get the prettiest girl. Rather, Paul is talking about the ability to be content in all circumstances.
And how is this possible? It’s possible, “through Christ who strengthens me” or more accurately, “in Christ who is continually strengthening me.” I prefer to say “in Christ,” because Christ is not your turbo charger, or that extra boost to your engine.
No, this verse is largely a restatement of 1:21, where Paul said, “For to me to live is Christ.” So, all of my life is to be in Christ. He is my hope, my joy, my passion, and my strength. All of life is in him.
The idea is very similar to Galatians 5:16. We experience the strength of Christ as we walk by the Spirit, meaning that we walk in obedience to the steps laid out in Scripture and we lean on the grace of God through prayer and the gospel. And when we do, his power enables us to overcome the flesh and to manifest the fruit of the Spirit, which is very similar to contentment.
So maybe you are really struggling to experience Christian contentment. You might feel really good today, but it’s not because of Christ; it’s because you had a good week. I hate to break it to you, but it’s not going to last. If you are building on the foundation of materialism, success, or relationships, your structure will come crashing down.
Or maybe you are on the other end of the spectrum. You feel crushed, because your week was terrible. You’re angry, bitter, anxious, or discontent. Regardless, just accept the fact that there is no true contentment in this world. You can’t build a high enough wall to shield yourself from pain.
But there is contentment in the Christ-life. His resurrection power is enough to sustain you through the hardest times, and his prize is better than anything you will ever achieve in this world. So, do you want to be content? Walk in Christ every day. Sink your roots deep into the soil of the gospel. Gaze on the face of Christ. And then through his power, work to reshape your mind and your heart and to obey all that he has commanded. If you do, God promises a contentment that the world will never offer.
But finally, maybe you’ve sat there through this whole service dumbfounded by Paul’s contentment. Peace and contentment seem impossibly out of reach. You are a train wreck of emotion and pain. And I pray that you will see that the only solution begins with bowing the knee to Christ. The great church father Augustine once said, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” The only place you will find rest and contentment in the Lord.
And this is not something you simply achieve or earn through your good works, because you can never earn your way into God’s rest. Rather, the only way you can know the Lord and know the grace Jesus provided on the cross is to receive it as a free gift (John 3:16). So, if you have never repented of your sin and believed the gospel, we’d love to share with you today how you can find rest and contentment in your Creator that you will not find anywhere else.