July 5, 2015
Are you satisfied with life? In a 2003 survey, 57% of Americans said they were very satisfied with life. 34% said they were fairly satisfied with life, and 8% said they were not satisfied with life. In the United Kingdom only 32% said they were very satisfied with life, and in France only 14% said they were satisfied with life. We must have it pretty good in the United States.
I take this to mean that life is going fairly well for 57% of the population in the United States. But when life takes a turn for the worst and things are not going well, I wonder what the satisfaction level is then.
In Phil.4:10-12, Paul speaks about contentment. How can a person be content in all the circumstances of life? There is a way, and Paul talks about it in these verses. But let me ask you: Have you learned how to be content?
I. MANY ARE DISCONTENT IN LIFE. 4:10-11
As we have looked at Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi we have noted a number of reasons for why he wrote this letter. For one thing, the church in Philippi was experiencing persecution perhaps because the believers refused to acknowledge and honor Caesar as lord and savior. Well Paul could speak to that. He understood what persecution is all about. A second reason for his letter is that he was concerned for the unity of the congregation. In Phil.4:1 we read about two women in the church who were committed to gospel ministry, but who could not get along. Paul wanted to address that situation. A third purpose for this letter was to thank the church in Philippi for a financial gift that they sent to Paul in Rome. So as he comes to the end of the letter he pours out his deep thankfulness to them.
But when we read v.10-11 it seems like an odd way to show gratitude. In v.10 it sounds as if Paul is saying, “Finally you guys got around to sending me some money.” And then in v.11 it sounds as if Paul is saying, “Thanks, but I’m doing just fine. Thanks, but no thanks.”
Of course this is not what Paul is saying at all. Paul was deeply grateful to this congregation. After all, he planted the church in Philippi. He came preaching the gospel and the new believers loved Paul. They cared for him deeply and on a number of occasions sent him money for his ministry. Notice that Paul emphasizes their concern for him. That meant more to Paul than the money. In 2Cor.8 we learn that the churches in Macedonia, where Philippi is located, had experienced a time of poverty. We don’t know the circumstances but things were tough and perhaps they couldn’t help. But by the time Paul was in prison they were better able to send something.
And when Paul says that he is not speaking of being in need, it doesn’t mean that Paul had no needs. He surely did. Instead Paul is saying, “I want you to know that I do not think about you in terms of money. My need is not driving my thanks. I’m not trying to get as much out of you as I can.” This is why Paul goes on to say that he has learned to be content.
Many people, including Christians, are discontent in life. Discontentment arises when we don’t have what we think we should have. In Lk.3:14, John the Baptist is preaching and some Roman soldiers asked, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” Be satisfied with what you have. This is reiterated in Heb.13:5, where we read, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have."
Some of us are not content because we want more money, we want recognition, we want a nicer house or car, we want a better job or a promotion, we want to have our way, we want a better spouse, or we want to be married. It’s not that these things are wrong. But our discontentment is usually rooted in want, envy and jealousy. We covet what we don’t have. Discontentment is an expression of self-centeredness. This kind of discontentment will eat you up and breed resentment.
And then we often experience discontent when we are facing difficult situations. Maybe you are between jobs and money is tight and tempers are short. Maybe someone at work is making your life difficult. Maybe you feel unappreciated or unloved. Maybe you have not realized your career ambitions and you are just not satisfied in life. Maybe you are discontent with your employer or the government. Difficult circumstances breed discontent. And we are tempted to do something or say something about it which usually is not wise. So discontentment can get us into trouble.
Now there is a kind of discontentment that is acceptable. Holy discontentment! In Phil.3:12 Paul notes that when it comes to knowing Christ in the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, that he has not yet obtained that. In other words, Paul was not content with his level of Christian maturity. He was still on the journey of becoming like Christ. There is nothing more important than being like Christ in this world. So, yes, be discontent in your Christian progress. Be discontent over sinful habits, unkind words, laziness, etc. That’s the kind of stuff to be discontent about.
Are you discontent in your life? How have you been handling it? Paul was not discontent. In v.11 he says, “for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. And this leads me to say that...
II. THE SECRET OF CONTENTMENT IS FOUND IN JESUS. 4:12-13
It is interesting to observe that the word for contentment found in this verse was borrowed from the ancient Stoic philosophers. Stoicism was developed in Athens in the 3rd century B.C. In Stoicism the word originally meant “self-sufficiency.” It expresses, “the contentment of the wise person with a ‘life in accord with nature’ which is achieved by long training and severing any dependence on human society or material goods.” Dr. Dennis Johnson writes, “The key to contentment, said the Stoics, was to become emotionally self-sufficient by insulating oneself from the variables of pain and pleasure.” New Testament scholar, Dr. G. Walter Hansen writes, “By the exercise of reason over emotions, the Stoic learns to be content. For the Stoics, emotional detachment is essential in order to be content.” We might say, “That person is so stoic.” Or, “Don’t be so stoic.” We mean, don’t be so aloof and disconnected. You need to get in touch with your feelings.” Well, Paul borrows this word from Stoicism, but he redefines what it means.
Paul had experienced many highs and lows in life. He describes it in v.12. He says, “I know how to be brought low, (to be humbled), and I know how to abound, (to have prosperity.) He says, I have learned the secret of facing plenty, (to be filled, satisfied), and hunger. I have faced abundance, (to have over and above), and need, (to be behind, to come up short). Paul was content in every situation, but his contentment was not that of the Stoics. His contentment did not rest in his ability to control his emotions and to keep himself aloof and insulated from life. Paul was fully engaged in life. And in v.13 we see where Paul’s contentment came from. It came from his being in a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ.
Men and women, our natural inclination is to live a self-directed life in which we are in control. That’s what the Stoics were doing. They were seeking to have control. We all want control. We all want to live life in whatever way we choose. But we do this at the expense of knowing God our Creator. When we live a self-directed life, we call the shots. And when we call the shots we ignore God. Not only that, we disobey God and his good rules for life. In disobeying God we are separated from him. The Prophet, Isaiah said, “but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”
When Jesus was born into this world he came to reveal God. He came to make a way for us to have our sins forgiven so that we might enter into a living relationship with God, having the very life of Christ in us. It is eternal life. When Paul heard this good news, he repented, turned from his sins and surrendered his life to Christ. He began to trust in Christ for his life. He became a follower of Jesus Christ and Jesus came to live in Paul. For Paul, contentment is not found in self-sufficiency, but in Christ sufficiency. Paul is trusting in Jesus to strengthen him and provide for him in every circumstance.
But notice in v.11 that Paul says, “I have learned.” In v.12 he says, “I have learned the secret.” We learn to entrust ourselves into the careful hands of Christ as we exercise faith in him in every situation of life. It is a journey of faith, of putting our confidence in Christ.
Now think about this. In Phil.2:5-11, Paul describes the attitude of Jesus when he came to this earth. When God came to earth in the form of a man in Jesus Christ you would think there would have been a warm reception. Some did receive him, but most did not. Very quickly Jesus experienced the rejection and hostility of this world. Jesus did not reveal himself as a tyrant, rather he came in love, doing good. He taught the truth about God and man. But the reality is that people just do not want God interfering in their lives. They put Jesus to death. Jesus willingly died on the cross because it was the only way sin could be atoned for.
Anyone who would follow Jesus will eventually experience the same treatment in various ways. This is why Paul says in 3:8, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.
So if we as followers of Christ are going to experience the same contentment that Paul speaks of here, it means we will turn to Christ in each and every circumstance of life. If we are wealthy, we surrender it all to Jesus and seek to know Jesus and use our wealth for Jesus. If we are poor, we surrender ourselves to Jesus and trust him to provide for our needs, crying out to him. If we are in a sad marital situation, it means that we seek to embody the love of Jesus in our marriage, extending our selves to our spouse day in and day out, through the strength that Jesus supplies. If we are in a lifeless job or a difficult work setting, it means we surrender ourselves to Jesus and ask him to strengthen us every day that we might do our work as unto him. And if we are being persecuted for righteousness sake, it means we cry out to Jesus trusting him to see us through to the very end.
In Gen.32 we read about Jacob. Jacob is preparing to meet his brother Esau. But Jacob is afraid because he deceitfully robbed Esau of his father’s blessing. The night before the brothers were to meet, we read of how Jacob wrestles with God who comes to him in the form of a man. They wrestle all night. After a night of wrestling together, the man simply touches Jacob’s hip socket, and Jacob limps for the rest of his life. But Jacob would not let go. At day break the man tells Jacob to let go, but Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me. God said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.”
What kind of God is it who will patiently wrestle with a person until that person comes to the end of themselves and just holds on to God for his blessing? It is a God who loves us and who is willing to go to the mat with us until we surrender to him in faith and trust.
In the circumstances of life we are often wrestling. We want our way. But that does not lead to contentment. It is only as we surrender our lives and circumstances to Jesus that we are given his strength and his blessing. That is the secret of contentment. Amen.