Philippians 4:10-23 The Secret of Contentment
One of my heroes died last week - doing what he enjoyed best. Giuseppe
Sinopoli was beginning Act III of Verdi's opera Aida at the Deutsche Opera in
Berlin, when he collapsed and died of a heart attack. Sinopoli was a hero of mine
because he was passionate about life and about serving people. Internationally
known as a musical conductor, Sinopoli was also an accomplished composer and writer.
Before entering the world of music he trained as a medical doctor and practiced
both as a surgeon and as a psychiatrist. His doctorate was in criminal anthropology
and he was also in later life an avid archaeologist. Last Monday he was due to
collect a degree in Egyptology from the University of Rome, instead at the age
of 54 he was buried there. Sinopoli excelled as a conductor, composer, novelist,
surgeon, psychiatrist and archaeologist. I admire him because he had a passion
for life, a passion for bringing life to others - whether through medicine, counselling,
therapy or music.
He seems to have been able to do anything he put his mind to. My question however
is whether he found contentment? The Aida programme notes recorded Sinopoli's
feelings about his return to the Berlin opera house. His last recorded words were
a quotation from Sophocles. Oedipus says: "You and this city... May fate be
merciful to you both and may you remember me with pleasure when I am dead."
Today we have come to the last words of Paul written to the Philippians.Probably
from prison awaiting trial in Rome with his own death on his mind. One thing is
clear. After a similarly diverse but short life Paul had found the secret of contentment.
It is clear at the close of this letter that Paul does not see himself as a victim
of circumstances but as a victor over circumstances: Paul writes "I have learned
to be content what ever the circumstances." (Phil. 4:11). Two words in that
verse are vitally important"learned" and "content." The verb "learned" means
"learned by experience." Paul's contentment was not something he had gained when
he first became a Christian. He had to go through many painful experiences of
life to learn how to be content. The word "content" actually means "contained."
It describes someone who does not need to depend on
external circumstances or resources to find contentment. The Greek word means
"self-sufficient" . Paul gives it new meaning to show that our self sufficiency
comes from the all-sufficient one. When we trust and believe in Jesus Christ he
lives within us, and then we have all the resources we need to handle the demands
of life. Paul describes three ways in which God enables us to experience the secret
of contentment, irrespective of our life circumstances.
1. Rejoicing in the Unlimited Providence
of God (1:10)
In this day of scientific advances when, for example, an aircraft ejector seat
can shoot the pilot to 120 miles an hour within one second and still protect the
entire body from disintegration, we are amazed at human ingenuity. But we don't
hear much about the providence of God in bringing us to life from a seed to a
unique human life in 9 months. Reading our newspapers we get the impression that
the world is a vast self contained ecosystem in which even if there is a God he
is locked outside, far away. But the Word of God clearly teaches that God is providentially
at work in every person's life. The word "providence" comes from two Latin words:
pro, meaning "before," and video, meaning "to see." pro-video.
God's providence simply means that God sees to it beforehand.
In his providence he provides for all our needs before we need them. It is the
working of God in advance to arrange circumstances and situations for the fulfilling
of His purposes. Paul experienced this divine providence and wrote to the Christians
in Rome, "We know that all things work together for good to them that love
God, to them that are the called according to His purpose" (Rom. 8:28). God
in His providence had caused the church at Philippi to become concerned about
Paul's needs, and it came at the very time Paul needed their gift most! Life is
not a series of accidents; it is a series of appointments. "I will guide you
with my eye" says the Lord in Psalm 32:8. That is why Abraham called God "Jehovah-Jireh,"
meaning "the Lord will see to it" (Gen. 22:14). This is the reason Paul could
say in verse 10. "I rejoice greatly". He recognised the providential hand of God
behind their gift.
A wonderful source of contentment. Let me ask you, are
you rejoicing greatly this morning? If not, take some time later today to reflect
on the 'pro-video' providential hand of God at work in your life. The secret of
contentment? Rejoicing in the Unlimited Providence of God. Secondly Paul was,
2. Content in the Unfailing Presence
of God (Phil. 4:11-13)
Paul's happiness did not depend on circumstances or material possessions; his
joy came from something deeper. Something apart from either poverty or prosperity.
There is a world of difference between contentment and complacency. Most of us
have learned what it means to "be in need" at some time in our life, because when
difficulties come we immediately turn to the Lord! But many of us have yet to
learn how to handle "plenty". You may not have made it into the Sunday Times Rich
List this year - the definitive guide to the richest 1000 people in Britain and
Ireland, but it is a fact that prosperity has done more damage to believers than
has adversity. Why? Because prosperity can lead to self-sufficiency rather than
a Christ-sufficiency. Independence rather than dependence. The Lord warned the
Church in Laodicea when they said "I am rich, and increased with goods, and
have need of nothing" (Rev. 3:17). What a contrast to Paul's contentment.
(read 4:12). The word 'secret' here was used by the pagan religions about their
"inner secrets." Through trial and testing, Paul discovered the wonderful secret
of contentment. In spite of poverty or prosperity. "I
can do all things through Christ which strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13). It was
the power of Christ within him that gave him deep contentment.
Being content in Christ is not the same thing as being content with ourselves.
Let me explain. This week, after much prayer and fasting I was awarded an English
Golfing Union handicap of 28. It means I can now play on the big boys and girls
golf courses at Wentworth. Does that mean I am content? I was for about 10 minutes.
But now I want to aim for a handicap of 24 so I can play on the West Course as
well. In chapter 3 Paul explained to the Philippians that he was not content with
his life. Read 3:7-14. Very likely you were not one of the 32,000 people who competed
in the London Marathon last Sunday. Perhaps you were a spectator - on television.
Had I been running I would not have had a hope in heaven of beating the Moroccan
Abdelkader El Mouaziz who ran the 26 miles in 2 hours 7 minutes and 11 seconds.
I would have had a hard time beating him even on a bicycle. But with practice
and hard work I could have achieved a personal best.
I may not be much of an athlete but I do want to excel
as a disciple of Jesus Christ, which is why I take my spiritual diet and my biblical
exercises very seriously. All of nature depends on hidden resources. The great
trees send their roots down into the earth to draw up water and minerals. Scottish
rivers have their sources in the snow-capped mountains.
The most important part of a tree is the part you cannot see, the root system,
and the most important part of the Christian's life is the part that only God
sees. Unless we draw on the deep resources of God by faith, we will fail under
the pressures of life. Paul depended on the power of Christ at work in his life
(see Phil. 1:6, 21; 2:12-13; 3:10). "I canthrough Christ!" was Paul's motto,
and it can be ours too.
"I am ready for anything through the strength of the One who lives within me,"
is the way J.B. Phillips translates Philippians 4:13. The Living
Bible puts it this way: "I can do everything God asks me to with the
help of Christ who gives me the strength and power." "I am self-sufficient
in Christ's sufficiency" (Phil. 4:13, amp). So let me ask you, are you content
this morning? Not complacent but content - at peace with God, trusting him to
provide the resources you need to serve Him. Rejoicing in the unlimited providence
of God. Content in the unfailing presence of God. Because
in Christ we experience God's unlimited providence, His unfailing presence, he
calls us to be generous and share it.
3. Generous because of the Unchanging
Promises of God (4:14-20)
Paul thanks the church at Philippi for their generous
gift. He uses three vivid illustrations to describe their giving which transform
our understanding of our own giving.
3.1 A Budding Tree (4:10)
The word "renewed" carries the idea of a flower or tree
budding or blossoming just as we see all around us today. Often we go through
times that feel like the "winter" but just as Spring always follows Winter, so
at the right time God brings new life and blessing. The children in our Sunday
school are being invited to collect a mile of pennies for Christian Aid this month.
For some it is the first time they are thinking about giving instead of receiving.
Their faith is budding like the blossom on the trees outside - may ours also.
A budding tree.
3.2 A Sound Investment
Paul looked on their missionary gift as an investment that would bring them
dividends. The church entered into an arrangement of "giving and receiving"; the
church gave materially to Paul, and received spiritually from the
Lord. The money we have raised for Rachael our new youth worker is an investment
that we trust will pay dividends in the lives of young people brought to faith
through her ministry in the years to come. Our giving to Christian Aid and other
agencies is an investment that will bring life and hope to others who at this
moment may be living without hope. A budding tree, a sound investment and thirdly,
3.3 A Fragrant Sacrifice (4:18)
Paul looked on their gift as a fragrant sacrifice, laid on the altar to the
glory of God. Paul sees the Philippian believers like priests, bringing their
offering as a sacrifice to the Lord.
Do you see your financial gifts to the Lord's work as
a fragrant offering? That is why we need to present the very finest that we have
to the Lord. He has given us his most excellent Son. He deserves our most excellent
best. That is why we are committed to excellence in all we do as a church. There
is an interesting contrast between Philippians 4:18 and 19. We might state it
this way if we were to paraphrase Paul: "You met my need, and so God is
going to meet your need. You met one need that I have, but my God
will meet all of your needs. You gave out of your poverty, but God
will supply your needs out of His riches in glory!"
Hudson Taylor often said, "When God's work is done in God's way for God's glory,
it will not lack for God's supply." Giving our time, our talents, our treasure
to the Lord's work when done as a response to his unlimited providence, his unfailing
presence will be like a budding tree, like a sound investment, like a fragrant
Lets experience the secret of contentment today. Lets