February 15, 2015
The Secret of Contentment
As we read this last scripture passage from Philippians, I’d like to take a few minutes to sum up lessons Paul has been teaching us these past few weeks. Paul has a close relationship with the believers in Philippi, and in this letter he strives to deepen their bonds of fellowship. Paul thanks them for their financial support and for sending their friend to him. Paul wants to encourage them in their Christian walk to imitate Christ in his humility and obedience. Most of all, Paul wants them to know joy despite whatever trials they face. Joy is not an absence of problems. Our joy is having a vibrant relationship with Christ, who gives us strength.
The advice Paul gives is relevant for us today. Like the believers back then, we too find it hard trying to live as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. We need tools to help us become more diligent in prayer, to be abounding in love and growing in knowledge and depth of insight. We want to discern what is true and best and blameless, filled with fruits of righteousness through Christ, to give glory and praise to God.
Paul can help us be united with Christ and find comfort in his love. Being united with Christ means we endeavor to take on Christ’s attributes of humility and obedience. This is key: making the decision to model our lives on Christ. Paul writes that Jesus is equal in stature to God but chose to be emptied of his majesty when Jesus was born on this earth. He gave up his right to power in order to become a servant. Even more, he willingly gave up even his desire to live, and accepted suffering and crucifixion in our place. If Jesus who deserves all praise was willing to give up his very life for us in humility and obedience, so he is our example on how to live. As we take on humility and obedience like Jesus, we are united with him.
But there is a second blessing in our unity. The believers at Philippi were blessed to belong to a community of love and fellowship. If we show humility in our relationships, if we are willing to elevate others above ourselves and consider their needs, we have the right attitude for fostering unity among our fellow believers. Paul says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but consider others better than you. Look not to your own interests, but care about what others need. Don’t complain or argue, so you may live without fault in a world that has plenty of faults.” I pray that we will so grow in our love and respect for one another that others cannot help but take notice and give praise to God.
In chapter 3 Paul shares his example of sacrifice. He gave up comfort, prestige and the faith of his heritage to become a follower of Christ. Things he once believed were important he now calls rubbish beside the joy of being found in Christ. Even so, Paul knew he hadn’t “arrived.” There is never a point when one can say, “Yup, done it all for Christ.” Every day we like Paul endeavor to leave behind former things from our past and stretch forward to the goal of our high calling in Christ.
Last week when we began chapter 4, Paul gave what we might call a formula for peace, the peace that passes all understanding. This is our peace to know that through Jesus Christ we are privileged to have a personal relationship with God. Paul says, “Don’t be anxious.” What a gift it is to be able to pray and tell God what is on your mind. You may trust that God hears you and cares about you. Our gift will be peace. Whatever is troubling you will be resolved in God’s good timing, if you are willing to trust him.
And now we come to the last portion of this letter, as Paul speaks about what it means for him to be at peace and content with whatever God has planned for him. Because Paul was living completely and totally for Christ, he could be at peace. This is what we want; this is what we need. Let us learn to be content with the lot that has been given us, and to find peace with God. I think this is a good way to close our series on Philippians as we learn Paul’s secret of contentment.
Let’s take some steps as we learn to cultivate contentment. The first is to give thanks in all things. It sounds simple, but in actual practice, it is really difficult. This is what Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 – Give thanks in all circumstances. When God’s Spirit dwells within us and overflows through us, we can’t help but give thanks to God for everything. Thanksgiving is the mark of a believer who knows God is always there.
I read an amazing testimony about this in an article about a New York Times reporter, David Carr, who died suddenly this week. He was well respected for his work ethic, intellect and writing, but also because he battled addiction and won. This is what a colleague, David Von Drehle, wrote about him: “He had a winning sense of wonder and gratitude for the way his life had turned out. David Carr believed in a God of second chances, and he accepted without question that he was among this God’s favorites… David Carr was the Prodigal Son ten times over. Feasting on the fatted calf of divine grace, every day was thanksgiving.”
Secondly, learn to rest in God’s care. This also has a tremendous blessing, but is equally difficult in practice. So many things happen on a daily basis that threaten to take away any sense of contentment. To know God, really know God is to trust that no matter what happens on a daily basis, God is unfolding his plan in ways that are good and give glory to God. In all things God works for the good of those who love him who have been called according to his purpose. That’s the promise of Romans 8:28. To rest in God’s care takes a tremendous burden off our shoulders.
Thirdly, find ways to be satisfied with less. In our consumer oriented society, this is another tough nut to crack. Do we really need the latest gadget? Paul made the choice to be content with less material goods and realized what freedom that gave him. Every single one of us probably has more than we need – our closets need emptying, because they are stuffed so full. Paul wrote to Timothy, “Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.”
Fourth, and I’m not sure how to put it exactly, but find ways to keep your vision above whatever life throws at you. Live so that your focus stays not on your problems but on God. Our strength comes not from getting past whatever impediments are in our way, but comes from God who is working through us. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12: “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Do you see how counter cultural this contentment is? We see contentment as an absence of care and having plenty of whatever we want. We’re happy to say thanks, God when all is going well, but we are too quick to base our contentment on external circumstances. For Paul, the core of his contentment came from trusting in God. Good things are not a sign of special favor from the divine gravy train, nor are bad things something that slipped under God’s radar. When we rely on God’s power and provision, we can continue to be content whatever the circumstances. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
The fruit of our contentment is that God can do his work through us. When we are not preoccupied with fighting God, so to speak, complaining and arguing with God about circumstances we cannot control, God can better work through us. Paul has learned to be content because then he can be more effective for God. He was willing to die to self in order to take up a fruitful ministry for Christ.
Whether we are in times of plenty or in times of want, God’s desire is that we should be content, trust him and allow God to work through us to the glory of his name. When you can face difficulty with grace and courage you are a powerful witness for Christ to those around you. Trust me, this is not the norm in today’s world.
Paul gives us a great promise when he says in verse 19, “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Then he can’t help breaking into another song of praise – “To our God and Father be glory forever and every. Amen.” May we learn the secret of contentment, give our frustrations and anxieties to God, grow to greater trust, and find the means in all circumstances to give God praise.