Monday, October 15, 2012

Philippians 4:10-13 - The Nature of Contentment


TEXT : Philippians  4: 10-13

TITLE: The Nature of Contentment
Date :  14/10/2012

“I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 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. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”  (Philippians 4:10-13 ESV)

For a number of years  now, during the month of October[1]  I have sought to be mindful of the  fact,  that as the seasons change, and  as the heat sets in,   and  as the end of the year  rapidly dawns  upon  us  with all its pressures,   and as people grow tired,  that   there is a tendency  among  Namibians  towards frustration, despair and depression.   
What shall we say  about these things? Shall we  throw up our hands and capitulate to these inevitable facts, or shall we   be wise and with the help of God and His Word  gain understanding concerning these things?  
Primary truth: We are  not in the hands  of the weather  or  our circumstances. We are in the hands of almighty  God! Yesterday, a Pakistani pastor  speaking on behalf of the persecuted church in Pakistan  said  to us: “We are not here to show you our wounds , we are here to show Christ!  What  a God centered  perspective!  Christ is with us  in October  2012  and through the rest of the year and forevermore!  

With that in mind,  I want to  address  an issue  at the heart  of the matter. It is the matter of  being content  or being discontent with where we are at, at  this time. Nobody wants to be  miserable and discontented. Obviously the desired goal is to be content. The problem is that we only want to be content  with those things that suit us , and not in  ‘whatever situation’  as our text would  indicate!  With that in mind  let us  learn the following  from  Scripture:
1.      The danger of discontentment
2.      You  can be content
3.      You need to learn to be content
4.      You need  to learn to be  content in every  situation
5.      Christ really helps  you to be content

1.      The danger of Discontentment
Speaking from Paul’s perspective here,   he might have been severely tempted  to be discontented  with his plight  in  this  Roman jail, facing  the real possibility of  execution. But we  find nothing of the kind  in this letter. Itis anything but  a ‘moaning session’ ,  a ‘ get -me -out -of –here’  plea! It is a letter noted for its joy, and  Paul’s joy  was   rooted in  the profound perspective  that he understood that  God was  in all this: “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.” (Philippians 1:12-13 ESV)
“Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” (Philippians 1:18-20 ESV).
You  will not find  a trace  of discontentment  in the apostle Paul  as  he  reflects on his imprisonment. Quite on the contrary  in  our text  in Phil 4:11 he says:  I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”  
So,   how is it going with your soul in this matter? What are you currently  facing? Are you content? If not, what is making you discontented? Is  what you are currently experiencing  worse than what the apostle Paul  is going through? Is it worse with you than the  man whom I have seen in hospital  with  the gangrenous intestines over these past few days?
Sometimes  it is just a  matter of altered  perspective! 

2.      You can be content  
Contentment  is attainable! Paul has learned it. If you are tempted to think   that it was  easy for  Paul, then think again. He was not a super spiritual being. He plainly confessed that he did not achieve the state of contentment  in his own strength. He freely confesses  that  he is helped in this matter:  I can do all things through him who strengthens me”. The God who strengthens Paul is  the Gods who also  strengthens you!  The secret of Paul’s contentment  is the knowledge of God’s  power working in and through Him. So don’t look for  the right attitude in yourself; don’t  think that you have it in you to be content. Look  to  Him who strengthens you. This  is true  for all things  -  whether you  have an extreme situation (unfairly accused and put into prison)  like Paul, whether you  have a  chronic illness,  or difficult relationships at home,   a less than ideal  or difficult job or financial challenges  - you can be content through God  who gives you  the  ability  to do that.

3.      Contentment  can be learned
Twice in this  passage Paul says that he has ‘learned’ to be content. Two different words are used. The first word  I have learned  (Gr. ‘manthano’) in whatever situation…”  is the conventional word  for the  learning process, whereas the second word  I have learned [2] ( Gr. mueō) the secret of facing  plenty and hunger…  refers  to being  initiated into a mystery … hence translated,  I have  learned the secret”. Paul was trained and instructed by God  in the secret of being content. This indicates  that this does not come naturally. It is contrary to our  natural  logic.  The world, for instance,  tells you that  in order  to become content, you must get out of the bad situation that you are currently in. Biblical logic  tells you that you can be content in a sticky situation, with God in charge and at the center  of your  life. Daniel in the lion’s den ( Dan 6) is a great example.  This contentment in  whatever  situation’ does not come naturally, but if you will  trust God for it, you will see that God  does indeed give you a peace such as  the world cannot give  ( Jn  16:33; Phil 4:7 ).
This does not necessarily mean  that  when we have  experienced contentment  in a matter once, that we will  have it  forever. It is very likely that  you will  be tested  again and again, but  the beauty  is this, that as you see God  helping you with  your situation   time after time, you begin to see the reality  of it, and  then you  are able to say with experience … “I have learned the secret.” 

4.      Learn to be content in every situation
“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content”.  Many times  we  appear to be content  with  a particular difficult  matter, until another  matter comes along, and then  discontentment strikes you hard.  Paul wants us to know that  God is  in charge of  all our situations -  whatever situation”. We must  recognize every providence which God brings into our lives . We must remember  that  nothing happens to the child of God  which  his /her loving heavenly Father has not allowed. This forms the background to Paul’s  famous  and oft quoted statement  in Rom 8:28:  And we know that for those who love God all things  work together   for good, for those that are called according to His purpose”. Even in the most oppressive  and mysterious  and unexplainable, ‘Job –like’ circumstances  we must  be ultimately content   to know that God knows what he is doing.

“All the way my Saviour leads me, what have I to ask beside,
Can I doubt His tender mercy who through life has been my Guide
Heavenly peace , divinest comfort, here by faith in Him to dwell,
For I know that  whate’er  befall me, Jesus doeth all things well.”  

Fanny Crosby ( 1820 – 1915), who wrote this hymn , was  blinded by a medical  mistake  at 6 weeks old. She  became   one of the most  famous Christian  Hymn writers  of the church.  Her fist composition  at the age of eight  read:   
"O what a happy soul am I ! Although cannot see,
I am resolved that in this world contented I will be;”

This  became  her life philosophy. She admits  that had it not been for her affliction she might not have  had so good an education, nor so great an influence, and certainly not so remarkable a memory. She  had committed to memory the first four books of the Old Testament, and also the four Gospels before she was ten years of age. She was content, although  I would venture to say that  this  took time !

Unfortunately,   some  professing  Christians, in their  hour of trial  have not  been able  to resist discontentment  and have  developed intense anger (e.g. at the loss of a spouse or a child)   which  in some cases had led to an abandonment of  faith. In such instances one wonders  whether  there had been grace in the  soul at all.
William Barcley reminds us that,  Contentment does not come  by finding  conditions suitable to us, but by God’s fashioning our  spirits to our conditions.”[3]

5.      Christ really helps you to be content
This is the leading thought which really runs through Paul’s  statement , and I thought that it is worthwhile to  end on this note as we come to the Lord’s table. Resting in Christ is what  makes us really content. I did not exegete that word translated in v.11  as  ‘content’ (Gr. autarkēs) which actually  literally  translates as  being self sufficient’  when I could have done so at the beginning. I  did that deliberately, because I did not want you to get the wrong impression about this self sufficiency, as if  it  would prove   that  after all   ‘contentment’  is your choice ! It all  depends on you.  Not at all !   This ‘self sufficiency’ , this ability to be content,   is  really a gift from God!
When  Paul   spoke  for instance about his thorn in the flesh (2 Cor  12:7), which  was  aggravating him , and which had the real potential to make him discontented, God spoke  to him saying, ‘My  grace is sufficient  (Gr. arkē) for you’.
In 2 Cor 3:5 Paul says that ‘our sufficiency is from God’. To be self- sufficient as a Christian  means to be well supplied by God, who in Christ Jesus  and  by ‘His divine power has granted us  all things that pertain to life and godliness…’ (2 Peter  1:3).
In Matt 6 :25ff Jesus speaks about the sin of anxiety  (discontentment)  and   He gives us  a way  to deal with it when  He says : “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt 6:33). Bring God into the center of your discontentment and you will be surprised  how well you will be enabled to  be content.    

And so we can really say : ‘I can do all things through him who (sufficiently and according to my need)  strengthens me’. Thank God that we  can look to  Christ in all things  pertaining to our contentment. Amen !


[1] October is also known as “ Suicide month”  in Namibia
[2]  “mueō  - Only used in the  NT here ; but used  of Greek writers outside the  NT
[3] William Barcley : The Secret of Contentment, p.30  ( Christian Art  Publishers  2012)

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