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Philippians 4: 1-13: Being Content
We live in an age which promotes discontent; adverts show we shouldn’t be content with what we’ve got, we should want more. Scripture commands us to be content, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5). Often, the more we have, the more we want. The media shows us what it’s like to be in a war situation. We look at the tragedy of people’s lives in the Ukraine. You would think we would be thankful for what we have got.
The apostle Paul established a church in Philippi. A cross-section of people were converted – the Philippian jailor, the lady who was possessed. But there was also Lydia, a lady of means. She had a business and a property which was big enough to house a church to get thing going in the area.
Now, Paul is writing this epistle back to the church. He knows the majority are poor; they are less able to give than others but give more than most. He doesn’t give the impression he is sucking up to them and needs support. He thanks for sending Epaphroditus to help and support practically. He has learnt and he wants them to learn to be content. He doesn’t want them to be envious. Envy is discontent with what we have in our own situation. We are bombarded to become envious. We should be those that realise we have the most important thing in life – newness of life in Christ Jesus.
Despite them being very supportive, Paul wants the Philippians to be very careful to be content with what God has done for them. If anyone is in a situation that isn’t conducive to contentment it is Paul. He is in prison. Most of the time he is chained to a guard. Paul sees this situation as an opportunity to witness to that man. He sees the situations that God has put him in as opportunities to witness for the Lord Jesus Christ. The situation in Ukraine has touched our hearts. Here is a real need. The people in Philippi gave to Paul, providing for him. He is thankful for this. But he wants them to understand that whatever his situation, he is content.
In verse 9, Paul speaks of the need of following his example, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
In verse 10, Paul is not writing for more gifts. He is stressing that in his situation, as bad as it sounds, he is content. Paul had to learn the lesson of being content. It is easy to be content when everything is rosy in the garden. We learn when the hardships come. Paul has learnt to be content, that he has enough. In our materialistic, Western society it is important to learn this lesson of contentment.
“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
At times we may feel weak, but the apostle says when we feel weak, we cast ourselves upon the grace of God. It is then we actually feel stronger. The circumstances in Paul’s life, which were not conducive to contentment, actually were the means of strengthening him in his faith. They were teaching him that God is supreme and sovereign and Lord of our life. Paul has known what it is to go through hardships, and he’s learnt to be content. This is about true faith that works out in action.
Paul gets though difficulties in life because he has peace from God, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7). God is in control of all things.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6). In our situation, if we believe in the sovereignty of God, why should we be anxious? He works out all things in this world for the good of His people. The more we learn of the sovereignty of God, the more we should be content.
We have people who have tremendous knowledge of scriptures. We have got everything at our fingertips. Yet people can react to situations in a confused way, in a panic. Paul believed he had God to order and provide for all his needs. It’s not easy to trust God when everything is going wrong. People in Ukraine have found their homes suddenly gone. Careers gone. All they have is a suitcase. How would we react if this happened to us? As Christians, what God has blessed us with, we can bless others with. If we have the means, it is more blessed to give than to receive. The Church at Philippi was not wealthy, but they supported the apostle Paul in the best way they could. They were seeking to bless by giving, thanking God for all that He had done. Jesus says it is not impossible, but it is hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of heaven. It is hard because there is so much that draws us away from God.
Sometimes, God puts us through difficult times to teach us to be content, to show us that our joy, our contentment and fulfilment is not governed by circumstances. Our circumstances do not govern how we feel.
True contentment is found in Jesus Christ. We are surrounded by pain and loss, but our contentment is to be found in Christ alone. Paul says circumstances no longer contribute to his contentment. He has come to faith, he has had difficulties, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” (Philippians 4:12).
Some of us, perhaps more than others, have know a difficult upbringing. But God has a purpose. Some may have had a good upbringing in life but may have a hard time now. But if we know Jesus Christ, it doesn’t matter if it’s hard times or easier times. If we know Jesus Christ, we can know peace in our hearts. He has come to remove hostilities. God sent His Son to take the punishment I deserve. We are adopted into the family of God, taken from a dire situation, and brought into the family of God.
By God’s grace, He changes people’s lives. We are justified by faith alone. We are legally put right, the debt is paid. We have broken God’s law, we deserve judgement, yet the price has been paid through Jesus Christ. By faith in Him we are justified and accepted. Once sin has been removed, we believe He rules our lives, therefore, we are content with our lot. We are able to submit to His will. Christians are to rest in Him, whether we are wealthy or not. We learn to rest in the providences of God. Believe God provides.
Normally, God works through normal people in normal situations. God in heaven oversees everything, even in the war in Ukraine. Internationally, He has control. Yet, He has control of the minute details in our lives too. (Story of Ruth – everything was in God’s control). “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28).
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” (Philippians 4:11). Paul was content and satisfied with a little food, a little clothing and somewhere to sleep. Paul was a man who was confident God would supply all his needs. Be thankful for what God has given us. We find Christians complaining ‘We haven’t got what we want.’ Yet, we have what we need. Paul believed there was a purpose for hard times. Paul was close to death, in poverty, yet all the time he was happy. He believed that there was a purpose behind his affliction. If God was sending hard times, there was a purpose.
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13). Paul is telling us God gives us the strength to cope where we are, in every situation we find ourselves in. God won’t call you to do what you can do on your own. He calls us to do what we cannot do without His aid.
The Christian joy of contentment is independent to happenings of life. Contentment is learnt in the school of God’s providences. Whatever is happening in your life, in my life, we are where we are by God’s appointment. We are given the abilities to cope with what God has given us to go through.
“It has always been my aim, and it is my prayer, to have no plans with regard to myself, well assured as I am, that the place where the Saviour sees meet to place me must ever be the best place for me.” Robert Murry McCheyne
The Bible teaches us to be content with what we have, where we are. God puts people across our path to develop us and to cause us to rest on Him.
Pray to God to help us to be content in all things, that we learn that our content is based on what Christ has done for us. Christ has died for us and adopted us into His family. By faith in Him, by confessing our sins, by turning away from that way of life, as we seek and follow Him, that brings contentment in life.