This sermon is number 23 in a series of 24
Philippians - Part 23
"The Secret Of Contentment"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2003 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Turn with me to Philippians 4, and I want to speak to you this morning on the secret of contentment. The last two studies on Lord's Day mornings have been looking at the path to peace of mind, and we saw in that first study that the way to the path of peace of mind and heart was to be anxious for nothing, in other words to subtract the negative things in your thinking, and to turn those negative things into prayers. We saw in our outline that particular Lord's Day that we were to be worried, or anxious, or over-careful about nothing, to pray about everything, and to be thankful for anything. Then last Lord's Day, the second part of that study 'The Path to Peace of Mind', we saw that not only could the peace of God be known to us, but the God of peace could be with us by not only subtracting the negative things in our thought processes and turning them into prayers, but learning the discipline of thinking upon positive things, godly things. Verse 8 really outlined that for us: 'Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things'. We saw in verse 9 that it's not just to think about the right things, but thinking about right things will determine doing right things in our life. What we think about, we will become - what we think we are, the proverb says, and that's so true. Depending on what our thought pattern is, that will determine what our actions will be - when we sow a thought we will reap an action.
Now this week it's related, you couldn't fail to see how it is related, but it's almost an analysis or an amplification of this peace of mind, this joy of heart that can be ours - and Paul encapsulates it within the thought of contentment, what it is to be content in our lives down here on earth. So we're looking at the secret of contentment from verses 10 to 13. Let's just read them again: "But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me".
One day Lord Condleton (sp?), a godly man, overheard his Christian servants remarking in the kitchen: 'Oh, if I only had five pounds I would be perfectly content'. Pondering her statement he decided that he would like to see someone who was perfectly content, so he went to the woman and said that he had overheard what she'd said in the kitchen, and he wanted to do something about it. So he proceeded to reach into his pocket and lift out a five pound note and gave it to her, for which she thanked him very gratefully. Condleton went out the door of the kitchen, and for a moment he paused at the door unknown to her, and as soon as the woman thought he had gone she began to complain: 'Why on earth didn't I ask for 10 pounds?'.
Now is that not the spirit that we live in today in our world and in our age? It is a spirit that lacks contentment, the spirit that never ever is satisfied - and even when it gets what it wants, it then wants more. It is a highly prized thing to be contented in our world, but it seems that it's a very elusive virtue. Everybody wants it, everybody strives toward it, everybody thinks they know how to get it, but nobody ever reaches the goal of perfect contentment. Probably the reason for that is that they seek that contentment in the wrong places, and we don't need to look too far to see men and women trying to find contentment in money and possessions and power, prestige and their relationships with one another, and even in the attempt to be free from all difficulties and problems and strains and stresses. Now if those things were the places where contentment could be found, that would be great: but the fact of the matter is, because we live in a fallen world you can never have enough money, you can never have enough possessions or power or prestige, you can never have the perfect relationship, and you can never ever be free from difficulties. Therefore, if that is what contentment is, contentment is unattainable. It cannot be had if it is to be found in those things.
So what is contentment? When we talk as Christians about this, what is the definition that we have of contentment? Now we're going to spend time outlining all of this and teasing out this definition that Paul gives us here, but just to get a little quip, one sentence of a definition of what contentment is, we can do no better than to look to Jeremiah Burroughs, who was a puritan who wrote that famous book: 'The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment' [PDF]. He said within that volume, listen: 'Christian contentment is that sweet inward quiet, that gracious frame of spirit which freely submits to and delights in God's wise and fatherly disposal in every condition'. Let me read that to you again: 'Christian contentment is that sweet inward quiet, that gracious frame of spirit which freely submits to and delights in God's wise and fatherly disposal in every condition'.
Now let me say just for a moment what this contentment is not. Sometimes I hear people ignorantly saying: 'Well, Paul tells us that we are to be content in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in', and they apply this to their spiritual condition. 'I am what I am, I try my best, I can't do any more, I've made a few mistakes in my time - but here I am, and I'm content with what I am as a Christian. I'm not to get too uptight about how spiritual I am or am not' - that is not what Paul is talking about when he says that he is content and we ought to be content also. His contentment was certainly not complacency with himself. To believe that you would have to believe he was contradicting himself in what he says in chapter 4 from what he said in chapter 3. Was it not he who said that he hadn't already attained unto that for which Christ had apprehended him for? He hadn't fulfilled the full potential of all that Christ had bought for him at Calvary's cross, and so he says: 'I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, that I may attain unto the resurrection of the dead'. He felt that he hadn't got there, and he wasn't content until he was serving the Lord and worshipping the Lord in spiritual attainment, that which came to the mark of Christ Himself.
So if you like, looking up into the face of the Lord Jesus, seeing the Saviour in all of His perfection and in all that He won for him at Calvary, he wasn't content until he achieved that prize and got to glory and had finished the race. But as he took his eyes off heaven and looked down onto earth into all of his circumstances, he looked at the prison bars on the window of the house - he was under house arrest then - he looked at the jailer that was beside him, shackled to him by handcuffs, he was able to say: 'I am content with the lot that God has given to me, I am absolutely satisfied'. I hope you can see the distinction. James McIntosh put like this: 'It is right to be contented with what we have, never with what we are'. So you see the difference, we're not talking about our spiritual development and maturity, we're not to get anxious about it to such an extent that we make ourselves sick, we're just to do what we ought to do and what we are commanded to do in the power of Christ. But what Paul is talking about here is his circumstances and his supplies, his resources in life.
Now the Bible has much to say about contentment, and we wouldn't have a hope of getting through it all this morning - but what I do want to say, if we could sum it all up, we see that contentment, just like joy and peace, and the fullness of the Spirit, and the fruit of the Spirit within the scripture, contentment is given to us in the final analysis as a command. Something we ought to be, not something that comes through a kind of supernatural charismatic revelation to us when we're struck down by some kind of divine lightning - nothing like that! It is a command, because we have had given to us as a deposit potentially within our soul, as we saw last week, God has worked into us His salvation and everything that we need. We ought to therefore work out our salvation with fear and trembling, and we are commanded in this life to be joyous, to be at peace, and to be content.
Now for ten years, we are led to believe, the Philippian church had been unable to send material resources and aid to its beloved founder, Paul the apostle. That's why he says in verse 10: 'I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again'. They were able now, in this verse, to give him some financial resources - but for ten years or so they hadn't been able to do so. Now Paul tells us very clearly: 'wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity', in other words, it wasn't that you didn't care about me any more that you didn't send the help, but you just didn't have the opportunity to do it. It may be that they didn't have the financial resources to do it, they were so poor that they had nothing to give whatsoever. But Paul is rejoicing now that they've been given a new opportunity by God to give him resources, and to help him even here in the prison in Rome. But even though he had been so many years without their financial help, and even though that financial help had been known to him in miraculous ways throughout the Acts of the Apostles, and now has been revived, the word is, again to him; he wants them not to be under any illusion that he is dependent upon their help in anyway.
Now it's very important that you understand where Paul is coming from here, he wants them to know very definitely that he never ever was in personal want in all of the decade that they never lifted a hand to help him, even though they couldn't. The reason why he was never in want was not because he didn't need anything, or he could have been doing with anything, but because he had found within his inner man the secret of contentment. He could say, like David, 'The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want' - or as another translation says: 'The Lord is my shepherd, I shall lack nothing'.
What is the secret to contentment? Well, it's found in these three things that I'm going to share with you from this passage. The first is this: the secret to contentment is found in the stillness and the stability of contentment, the stillness and the stability of contentment. In other words, a contented person is a person that is confident in God, and still knowing that God is God. We sang it, didn't we, at the beginning of our meeting: 'Be still and know that I am God'. So we could put like this: a contented person is a person who is still and stable and confident in the providential dealings of God. God's providence, how God leads and plans and guides and protects. Now we've already said that the Philippian believers had generously supported the apostle when he left Philippi to minister in the Macedonian cities of Thessalonica and Berea. You can read about that in Acts chapter 17. Then when Paul moved south to Achaia, they continued to support him as he ministered in Athens and Corinth - but when that support stopped, and the support was essential and needed at the time, when it stopped Paul's attitude didn't change at all, his boat wasn't rocked, his inner peace didn't deplete into a ravenous storm!
Paul's attitude when it stopped reflected his patient confidence in God's sovereignty and God's providence as an Almighty, all-powerful, omnipotent God in his life. He was certain that sometime, in some place, through some circumstances, God would arrange his circumstances to meet his needs. In other words, he didn't panic, he didn't go berserk, the bottom didn't fall out of his world! He didn't take matters into his own hands, he didn't manipulate other people to get what he wanted or to get what he felt that he needed, but he was content because he knew that in his life God doesn't just - as Mueller said - order the steps of a righteous man, but God also orders the stops of a righteous man too.
God knew and had communicated to Paul that his times and seasons, opportunities of life, were all controlled by Him, that God who works all things together according to the counsel of His divine will, the God who exercises this and engages this counsel to such an extent in the life of the believer that Paul could say that he knew therefore that all things work together for good to them that love God, to those that were the called according to His purpose. Now believing friends today, let us not give lip service to these promises of Scripture that we quote so freely and magnificently in the prayer meetings and from the pulpits. Do we believe these words? Do we believe these verses and texts and promises? Do we have a confident, constant, unshaken, still and stable faith in the providence of God? Because that is foundational to this type of contentment.
You need to believe that God is in control, you need to have that stillness, that stability that is not rocked when the resources that supply your need are stopped - because you believe that God has oversaw that, and God is in it, and God will weave the ways of your life round it. Providence and miracle are two ways in which God works and leads and acts in this world. A miracle is something that is unnatural, it's against the laws of this universe in a sense, and there are no reasonable rational explanations to it - and praise God, some of us still believe in miracles. But then there is providence, and that is God using the natural means, the normal elements in life - it is supernatural, yes, but it is supernatural in the sense that God weaves together all these natural and normal things to fit into His perfect plan exactly - everything! You could read about it in Proverbs 16 verse 9, where the wise man said: 'A man's heart', or a man's mind, 'deviseth his ways: but the LORD directeth his steps'. In other words, every day you can't always be seeking God to give us our need and to lead us and direct us, but when you come to a road and you want to go left or go right you can't always get on your knees and pray and ask God's guidance - there are many decisions in life that we take, and we hope that because we're in communion with God, walking in fellowship with Him, and there's no sin between us and God, that God will order our steps, and in the big picture that it will all weave together according to His will. That's His providence.
Sometimes He stops us in our tracks, like Paul going into Berea. Other times He opens up a door that seems to be impossible, and He works a miracle and we go across the Red Sea, and all the natural laws of man's thinking are stopped and we move into the supernatural, into the miraculous. But every day working of God often is in this providence where, if we could see the panoramic view, we could see God's Holy Spirit weaving together all the mundane and seemingly insignificant events and elements of life for His purpose and His will. Now we don't have time to look at biblical characters today, but one man whom you can see this in in the Old Testament surely is the patriarch Joseph. Can you not see him? God obviously appoints him to arise to the position of leadership in the land of Egypt, and the purpose of which that has been called for is to preserve many people alive, and eventually deliver the people of Israel and preserve the Messianic seed - but you say: 'But how can that be in God's will? Sure, wasn't he despised by his brethren? Wasn't he thrown down the pit? Wasn't he sold into slavery? Wasn't he forgotten by the jailer, by the butler and the baker and all the rest of them? Wasn't he in Potiphar's house and sinned against by his wife?'. You could go through all those things and say: 'Where is God providence in that?', yet at the end of Joseph's life he turns to the brothers who betrayed him, and he says: 'But as for you, you thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good to bring to pass as it is this day to save much people alive'.
Now listen, the first secret to contentment is a firm, still, unshakable dependence upon the providence of God in your life - being in God's will, and when you're in it believing you're in it. I love the writings of F. B. Meyer, listen to what he says about what it is like being in the will of God and knowing it, no matter what happens: 'All is of God, and God is good. Every wind blows from the quarter of His love, every storm wafts us nearer the harbour, every cup - though presented by the hand of Judas - is mixed by the Father of our spirits. It is not possible for a man to be thrust by his brethren into the pit unless God permit it, and therefore we may say with Joseph: 'It was not you that sent me hither, but God'. Habituate yourself, oh Christian soul, to believe that not only what God appoints, but what He permits is in the sphere of His will. It is His will for you to be full today and to be empty tomorrow, to abound today or to be abased tomorrow' - this is wonderful - 'He has a reason, though He may not tell it to you, and because you know that the reason satisfies Him, you may be content!'. Because you know that the reason satisfies Him, you can be content.
That is a stillness and stability in contentment, then the second secret is found in the sphere and the scope of contentment, the sphere and the scope. He says in verse 10: 'wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in respect of want', not that I lacked anything, 'for I have learned', verse 11, 'in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need'. A contented person, Paul is saying from his own experience, is a person that's satisfied with both little and much in life. If I could boil it down to two things: he is satisfied whatever his circumstances, and he is satisfied whatever the supplies in his circumstances. Throughout them all, whatever they are, he has this peace, this transcendent joy that is unshakable and unaffected by his circumstances and by his supplies, whether the lavishing of them or the lack of them.
Let's look at the first: whatever his circumstances. Verse 11: 'For I have learned, in whatever state', some translations say circumstances, 'I am, therewith to be content'. 'I have learned' - do you see this? This is something of his will, this wasn't something that he sat down and received as a theory in an academic Bible College or classroom, but it was found and learned in the school of life. He learned it at Jerusalem by the things that he had suffered that the Lord had told them he would suffer. He had learned about it in Arabia in those years seeking God's face and having those revelations, the mysteries that were not revealed through all time that we have in our New Testament. He learned it at Lystra and Derby and Antioch and Ephesus where he was persecuted, and now in a prison in Rome he's still learning in his circumstances how to be content.
Do you remember what it said of our Lord in the book of Hebrews? He learned obedience by the things that He suffered - our Lord! It doesn't mean that He was sinful in any shape or form, He could do no sin, neither was sin or guile found in His mouth - but what it is telling us is that in His humanity He suffered, but that suffering brought forth the fruit, the wonderful fruit of continual obedience to God so that He could say: 'I will do the will of my Father who has sent me', and He set His face as a flint to go to Jerusalem. Even in that type of suffering and circumstances, reminiscent of His Saviour, Paul could say: 'I'm content, and I have learned contentment through that type of suffering circumstance'.
I wonder do we learn anything from our suffering circumstances? Some of us might learn how to moan more, how to be pitied more, pampered more - where do we learn how to suffer more with contentment, with this stillness and stability in our lives? Paul says: 'Whether I live in fullness or emptiness, whether I experience pain or pleasure', and he had experienced both, 'whether', and this was common language and illustration in Paul's day, 'whether the river is running low, being abased, or whether it's running at floodtide, bank to bank, and abounding. Whatever my life is bringing to me I am content - I've learned it, I wasn't always like that, but I've learned that that's how to cope'. He knew life in every extreme, when the river was low, its resources were a bare trickle over its pebbly bed; when they were high, running over, and everything looked promising. In the comfort of the home of Priscilla and Aquila, or in the prison here in Rome - whether he had a pillow of down to put his head on, or a pillow of stone; whether he had carpet or a damp cell floor - whatever it was, Paul had learned this in plenty, in poverty, in sickness, in health, in joy and sorrow, in weakness and strength, evil report, good report. In all these extremes he had learned, and he says: 'I was instructed in the art of contentment through the varied and many experiences of my life'.
What's he saying? Well, I think one thing he's saying is: contentment comes not because we have conquered our circumstances, or we have learned how to change our circumstances, but we have learned how to live with our circumstances. A man on one occasion was justifiably proud about his garden, until one year he found a heavy crop of dandelions appearing all over the lawn. He tried everything he had ever heard of for getting rid of them but without any success. At last he wrote to a school of agriculture giving a list of the remedies he had tried, and he ended with this appeal: 'What shall I do now?'. In due course the reply came: 'We suggest that you learn to love them'. I'm not suggesting that you love maybe what's happening to you, I'm not suggesting that you even embrace it in love, but there is a joy and contentment that transcends life's circumstances to the extent that you can learn to live with the peace of God in your heart through these circumstances.
Whatever his circumstances, then he says 'whatever his supplies'. Whether his resources are abating or abounding, whatever they may be doing he rejoiced, and he was content. The reason why material things can never make a man content is because he's never able to get enough of them to satisfy his need and, really, his greed. John D. Rockefeller, the great multimillionaire, was asked how much money would be enough to him. He thought for a moment, and then he said: 'Just a little more than one has'. Isn't that it? Just a little more than one has - and the world's wealthiest man has yet to say: 'I have enough to be satisfied'.
Now here's the crux of the matter, what Paul has been leading up to, talking about these circumstances and supplies. He's saying: 'If you want to be a man or a woman who is happy don't look for more possessions. If you want to make a man happy don't give him possessions, take away his desires!'. What are your desires? This isn't a matter of possessions, or what you have, or what you can achieve, it's a matter of desire. Augustine put it like this: 'One man may have much money on him, but no greed in him; whereas another man may have no money on him, but much greed in him'. It's nothing to do with the possessions that you have, it's whether these possessions have you! Contentment means that whatever we do not have we do not need, contentment doesn't depend on what you have or where you are, but it depends primarily on who you are and who you're in. It's not an economic quality, it is a spiritual attainment, and when we read in 2 Corinthians chapter 11 - we haven't time to do it - all that Paul suffered in his missionary journeys and in his Christian life, to think at the end of it all, with constant sufferings, he learned the secret of rising above them and being content, it's amazing!
In fact, before in chapter 4 of 2 Corinthians verse 17, he says: 'For our momentary light affliction, is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison'. He couldn't fail to be content with a perspective like that, could he? Now let me remind you for a moment that Saul of Tarsus knew what it was to be wealthy - I believe he came from a wealthy background. He was educated at the feet of Gamaliel, he was a Jew of the Jews, and in fact he says in Galatians that his position as a Jew in Israel brought great monetary rewards - so much so that he excelled in his religion far above anybody of his own age. We know from historical records that when you were a Pharisee of that kind it brought great monetary rewards to you. When he said in Galatians that he profited in the Jewish religion above many my equals in mine own nation, he was talking about religious esteem - but we could equally say that He profited financially from it. Affluence was the station of his life, yet when we come to Philippians chapter 3 and verses 7 and 8, what did he say? 'But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ'. That is the testimony of a satisfied man, that is the witness of a man who is happy.
We could say the opposite to what we've already said, which I suppose is like this: believer and unbeliever, if you're not satisfied with Christ, you'll never be satisfied with anything. The first secret is the stillness and stability of contentment, the second is sphere and scope no matter what's going on in your circumstances and with your supplies; and thirdly: the source and supply of contentment. As we go, and we have gone, through Philippians these weeks - it's not too hard to find the secret of Paul's contentment, is it? Chapter 1 verse 21: 'For to me to live is Christ' - you remember we paraphrased that: 'As far as I'm concerned, Jesus Christ is the sum total of my life. For me, Jesus Christ is the foundation of my life, Jesus Christ is the goal of life, Jesus Christ is the fullness of life, Jesus Christ is life'. In chapter 2 what's he saying? In humility we need to have the mind of Christ. In chapter 3 what's he been saying? 'That I might know Christ, that I might fellowship in His sufferings, that I might be made conformed to His death, that I might win Christ, that I may be found in Christ'. And now he says in this chapter, verse 13 - how can I live in contentment? Three guesses at the answer: 'I can do all things', or could be translated 'I can do anything God asks me to do, be anywhere God wants me to be through Christ who strengthens me'.
He is the source and supply of contentment. Listen to what Jeremiah Burroughs says in his book: 'Contentment is realising that God has already provided everything we need for our greatest happiness'! It's all there! Where? Christ! Yet many of God's children have not learned this secret of contentment, they haven't learned what Jesus said: 'Take heed and beware of covetousness, for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth'. He came alongside a woman at a well who was wrecked, her soul was thirsty, and He said to her: 'Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again, but whosoever drinketh of the water of life freely that I shall give shall never thirst. The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life'. A paraphrase: 'In these material things is no lasting satisfaction, only in that which I provide can there be found satisfaction and contentment!'.
Paul had drunk deep in the wells of this life, but he found the greatest contentment and satisfaction with Jesus - so much so that he would rather go hungry with Jesus than ever be found at a banquet table with any wealthy man. Child of God, is there restlessness in your heart? Do you long for that peace, that joy that cannot be found in career, materials, holidays, prestige, religion? Do you long to have that satisfaction and contentment which Paul testifies he found? I can say to you on the authority of God's word: it is only to be found in Christ, a saved life in Christ, a life centred around the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ must be your goal, He must be the fullness of your life, He must be all in all, and you must turn to Him for Him to complement your need, whatever that need may be - and He, praise God, has been found to be by Paul and every saint of God that has turned to Him, to be sufficient for every need that you have. The greater your lack is: to them that have no might, He increases strength.
One put it like this beautifully: 'To the ignorant He is wisdom; to the unholy, sanctification; to the enslaved He is redemption. His miracles manifested the supply of His royal nature to the need around Him. his purity cleansed the polluted flesh of the leper. His life poured into the arteries of death. His strength made good the helplessness of the paralysed - receive from Christ grace upon grace, and look upon the emptiness and need of your spirit as the greater reason why you should claim all from Him'.
Not only can we do all things through Him, but there's not really an option: we must do all through His strength. Most of you are familiar with Isaiah 40 verse 31 which says: 'They that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength' - well the margin in the Authorised Version has this alternative rendering: 'They that wait upon the LORD shall change their strength'. Moses thought he could get out of Egypt into the promised land and save his brethren with a clenched mailed fist, but it was God who taught him that he would have to drink and get strength from the divine supernatural water from the rock. Peter, with his big mouth, his verbose claims, thought he could be held in great esteem with the Son of God, and even stand at His right hand one day - but he found at Pentecost that it was only through the anointing of the Holy Ghost, that still small Spirit, that he could be bold as a lion.
Paul no longer speaks of his pharisaic ancestry, and all the qualities which he had counted so much gain, but he's content to be weak, to be naked, to be stripped, to be starving, to be the offscouring and despised of all things, that he might depend upon the power of God. Can you depend upon it? I don't seek to underestimate what you're going through, or what your need is, or what your circumstances are: but take the word of God for it, you can do anything, you can experience anything through Christ who is that dynamite strength of God.
Oh, we thank Thee Lord Jesus that Thy riches are so vast; that whatever we are called to go through in this life, that we may follow Thee through the wilderness. We remember that Thou wast led up to the wilderness by the Spirit of God to be tempted of the devil, and we know that God never tempts anyone with evil, but we also believe that Thou art guiding us, holy Saviour, through this pilgrimage - and whatever steps we may falter, whatever path we may tread, whatever tunnel we may pass through, we thank Thee, Saviour, Redeemer, that Thou art able to take us through, to sustain us, to keep us and to present us spotless before the throne of Thy Father with great joy. Lord, may every heart and soul and mind and body find Thee sufficient for their need now and forever, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the twenty-third tape in his Philippians series, titled "The Secret Of Contentment" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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