David Jeremiah - The Joy of Serenity
As we turn our attention to this last section of Philippians, we've already learned about the peace of God which passes all understanding and the God of peace who's promised to be with us. We've discovered that blessings can be ours, which we learned right praying and right thinking and right living; and now Paul, at the end of this letter, is gonna take a few moments to voice his gratitude to the Philippians because they had continued to care for him, and they'd sent money to him while he was doing his ministry. He was not rejoicing simply because they had sent him a gift. He was not hinting that he wanted another gift. He was going on record as being content, and this is what he said in verse 11. "I have learned to be content".
I've learned it. The word "content" means self-sufficient, but Paul goes beyond that. Paul tells us that our sufficiency is not of ourselves. "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God," 2 Corinthians 3:5. The Christian views contentment both as something that's independent and something that's dependent. The things of the world that we are told are necessary for contentment don't matter to the Christians, they don't. If you see somebody who's really walking in the center of the will of God, money is just a tool to get them what they need so they can serve God better. On the other hand, all of the things the world says are unimportant are of vital importance: the family, time alone, building your own life, your faith in God.
So, here is Paul at the end of this letter giving us this little tutorial on how we can develop the spirit of contentment. Let me remind you again this is not something you're born with. I have never seen a contented baby. Have you? Contentment is not something that's in your genes. It's something you learn. You learn to be content. Now, that's possible, I'm sure, that some people are just more normally contended than others, but for those of you who have a spirit of discontent, let me give you this encouragement. Here's what the Bible says: you don't have to stay that way. You can learn to be content. If the Apostle Paul can do it, you can do it, I can do it. Here is his first principle to help us: contentment in the place where God has stationed you.
"But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased. I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and suffer need". Paul's contentment was something he possessed. He said he had learned how to be content when he was in poverty. He did not say he was content with poverty. He said he was content in the midst of it. What he's saying is, "Whatever life has dealt me, whatever time it deals it to me, I'm gonna be content because my contentment has nothing to do with what's going on around me, but everything to do with what's happening within me". And Paul is the most incredibly personal testimony guy for this story. He's not writing this letter from a penthouse. He's writing this letter under imprisonment. He's a house prisoner in Rome; and as he looks back over his life, he doesn't look back over a life that's easy, one that would normally be thought to be a life that produces contentment.
He'd been stoned and dragged out of a city. He'd been beaten and thrown into jail. He'd been plotted against by the Jews. He'd been in tribulation and trials and distresses and stripes and tumults and labors and sleeplessness. There's just about anything you can think of that could happen to a person happened to Paul. He experienced trouble on every side, accompanied by outward conflicts and inward fears. He had known abundant labors and frequent imprisonments and close encounters with death. He was beaten 5 times with 39 stripes. Three times he was beaten with rods. Once he was stoned. Three times he experienced shipwreck. He spent a night and a day in the water. He faced death from robbers and countrymen and Gentiles, from false brethren. He'd experienced weariness and sleeplessness and hunger and thirst and fastings and cold and nakedness; and yet, in the midst of all of that, he said, "I have learned how to be content".
I don't know about you, but I'm saying, "Come on, Paul. What are you doing here"? It might seem a lot easier for us to find contentment in times of abundance than in times of stress. There are many who would not agree with that statement. Thomas Carlyle would be among them. He said, "Adversity is sometimes hard on a man, but for one man who can stand prosperity, there are 100 that can stand adversity". Paul knew how to live in good times, as well as in tough times. He uses the word "abound" to describe his life. He grew up, I am quite sure, in a moderately affluent home and. even after his conversion, he had experienced God's abundant provision for his needs.
As we learned at the beginning of this study, when the church in Philippi started, he was somewhat financed by a group of wealthy women who took it upon themselves to make sure that he had everything he needed so that he could continue to teach and preach the gospel. We are told that he went to a banquet at the home of the Philippian jailer on one occasion. He was entertained by the natives in the Island of Malta after he survived a shipwreck. The whole story of the Philippians' relationship with Paul was one of caring and giving and ministering, and it didn't really matter what was going on with Paul. They loved him, they wanted to serve him, and so they did. And whether he was feasting or fasting, whether he was rich or poor, he had learned how to be content in the midst of it.
When writing to his young disciple, Paul instructed Timothy like this. He said, "Godliness with contentment is great gain". He was saying if you get to contentment, along with godliness, you've arrived. You're home. It's what you've been looking for, and he goes on to talk about what happens when we don't do that. He said, "Those who desire to be rich," or those who throw themselves after money, "fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition". And that's where you get this famous line, that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Remember, it's not money that's the root of all evil. It's the love of it that's the root of all evil, and Paul said to Timothy, "If you go down that road, it can get you into a lot of trouble".
And I've watched that over the years as I've pastored this church. I don't have any one person in mind but I do have a number of people in view who started out with the right intentions to serve God and there were going to use their money to serve God and all of the sudden the pull of materialism got into their heart and the things of God got less and less important, and before you knew it, there were living a life outside of God doing their own thing, enjoying their riches and not at all in fellowship with God. The Bible is very clear that we should have everything we need, and in Philippians 4:11 and 12, there are four basic things you need. Let me tell you what they are. They're real simple. You need something to put on: clothes. You need something to put in: food. You need something to put up: a house. And you need something to put away: a little money for the future. That's it. Pretty simple.
Paul's contentment was inclusive of any situation and any location. He learned to be content everywhere and in all things, the Scripture says. May I remind you that Paul was not writing this from any kind of a place where you would normally think such a writing would come. He was writing it in between being chained to Roman soldiers. And I just want to stop and say that it's such a sad thing, and it's so easy for this to happen, that so many people go through life thinking that if they could just relocate they'd be content. If they could just go to another church, they would be content. We have a name that we call people who do that, they're called church-hoppers. They go from church to church to church to church trying to find something, and here's the key phrase, "I didn't get my needs met," whatever that means. That's not in the Bible by the way. And if we would stop trying to get our needs met and start trying to help other people who have needs we would never say anything like that, we'd be so busy helping others and in the process we'd be discovering everything we wanted was always there.
A man once came to Socrates and asked him about the unhappiness of one of his friends and Socrates answered, "The trouble with that man is this: everywhere he goes he takes himself with him". And that is a problem. Contentment's not a place. It's not a job. It's not friendships. Contentment's what's in your heart; and Paul said, "I have learned that whatever state I'm in, whatever is going on in my life, whether I'm way up here or way down here, my contentment doesn't have to change because my contentment was never about those things in the first place". Contentment in the place where God has stationed you.
Here's the second principle: contentment because of the power of God that strengthens you. We don't always realize that the next verse comes before the one just before it in this text, but the next verse says this, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me". What kind of all things can you do? Listen to me. You can learn to be content. Did you know that? You say, "Well, I can't do that". Probably not by yourself, but here's a Scripture saying that if you allow God to strengthen you, he will. Now, this verse means a lot of other things, but connected to the passage, it surely means this: if you're not contented, if you're not happy, if you're not doing what you want to do, if you feel like God has looked over you and you're not where you should be, you need to fix that. You need to learn how to be content.
Paul tells you you can do it; and if you need some help, here is God's promise: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. He was not talking about an outward set of circumstances. This is not contentment in a place. This is contentment in a person. James Stewart wrote it this way, he said, "Christ is the redeemed man's new environment. The human body, by the acts of eating and drinking and breathing, is continually drawing for its strength upon the resources of its physical environment, so the Christian spirit by prayer and worship and surrender makes contact and keeps contact with its spiritual environment, which is Jesus Christ. So, the soul draws for its strength upon the supplies of power, which in Christ are inexhaustible".
You'll never run out. I have been all over the country and met all kinds of people, and I'll tell you the happiest people I have met have not been the wealthiest people I've met. I've met some wonderful, successful, wealthy people who have it all together, but some of the people that I have met who are the happiest are people who are humble, living in humble situations, some on the mission field. And you know what, when I'm there with those people, they're the happiest people I've been around in my life. They have the person of Jesus Christ, and everything goes to him. Contentment in the place where God has stationed you. Contentment because of the power that God has given you that strengthens you.
Here's the third one: contentment because of the people of God who support you. One of the things I love about Paul is he's a people person. I mean, I don't know how he did everything he did, all those churches he started, and all those letters he wrote, all those conflicts he was involved in, but in every place you look in his letters, you see people's names. You don't know who these people are, and maybe there's not anything in the Bible about them. I don't know who a lot of these people are that were Paul's friends, but I do know this: they were his friends. And in this letter in verses 14 through 17, he says this, "Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress". He's talking to the Philippians. "Now you Philippians know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account".
Paul's main purpose, as I mentioned, for writing this letter was to say thank you to the Philippians because they had sent him a ministry gift. He begins this section by telling of his own joy at receiving this gift. He notes the interruption that had occurred somewhere along the way, and we don't know what that was all about, but he knew they had tried to minister to him, and it wasn't happening, but now it is happening again. And the gift that they sent to Paul from Philippi was delivered by a guy named Epaphroditus, and in verse 18, we read, "I have all and abound. I am full. I have received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God".
I love this little passage because it teaches us that when we give to the things of the Lord, three great things happen, and it's right here in the text. Giving brings blessing to the one who receives the gift. Paul's very thankful for their generous gift. "Because they gave," he said, "I have all and I abound. I am full. I have everything I need. Thank you for your gift". Giving brings blessing to God. Did you see that? From God's perspective, the Philippian gift was a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God. When we give to the work of God, the Bible says God takes note of it, and it's like a sweet-smelling sacrifice that comes to the throne, but here's the one that we don't often think about. It's not only a blessing to the people who get the gift, it's not only a blessing to God, but it's really a blessing to the one who gives the gift.
Paul told the Philippians they had done well, and he described their gift as a fruit that abounds to your account. He says when you give like that, God is remembering what you're doing, and you are blessed and you have done well. Every time you do something that's generous, every time you do something for the kingdom, every time you support the work of God, whatever it might be, you get blessed, God gets blessed, and the people that get the gift get blessed. Three-fold blessing. Here's something that you probably wouldn't pick up if I didn't just kinda point it out to you. I almost missed it myself, but this is so cool.
In Philippians chapter 4, Paul has been writing to these believers, and he's about ready to sign off; and here in the end, he's gonna give a little end greeting, and I just wanna read this greeting to you and then explain to you why it's so exciting to me. "Greet every saint in Christ Jesus," verse 21. "The brethren who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, but especially those who are of Caesar's household. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen".
Now, let me back up just a little bit and tell you that when Paul writes this letter, he's in Rome, and he wanted to go to Rome. I'm not really sure, I never have been able to figure out why he wanted to go to Rome so much, but Rome was like the big city. It was the number-one place, so he prayed and prayed and prayed, "Lord, I want to go to Rome, I want to preach in Rome". And all of a sudden Paul's arrested, and he goes to Rome and he's a prisoner. I just point that out 'cause when you pray, you should be really specific about what you want, you know? Because if you don't, God isn't obligated to answer anything other than what you say, right?
So now, Paul's in Rome, and he's a prisoner. He's in chains, and he's a royal prisoner, which means he's not in a dungeon. He's not looking at bars. He's chained to Roman soldiers on four-hour shifts every day. Paul wanted to win Rome, and he knew that he could never win Rome from the bottom up. He needed to win Rome from the top down; and if you remember your history in high school, the Roman legions, the military, that was it in Roman culture. The military was everything. It was the hierarchy of existence. If you wanted to go to the top of Rome, you had to go to the top of the Roman army. That was everything, so God in his wisdom, he puts Paul in chains. He gets to go to Rome. All of a sudden he wakes up one day, and he's under arrest, and he's preaching, but not to very many people at a time. Just four here and four there.
By the way, if you were unsaved, how would you have liked to have been chained to Paul for four hours every day? Have you ever tried to witness to somebody and they say, "I've had enough of that," and they walk away? Not this time. I mean, he had 'em for four hours, every day he preached. And you add that up, that's a lot of people. When Paul went to Rome, there weren't any Christians in the Roman Empire. Did you hear what he said? "I want to say thank you, and I want to greet you, and especially those who are of Caesar's household. I want to say hello to all the saints who got converted in the military, who are a part of Caesar's household". From all of them, he sends greetings.
Here's what I've learned from this. If you don't do what God calls you to do the way God calls you to do it, he'll do it anyway, and you might find yourself in some interesting circumstances. But, oh, how God blessed Paul, and you know what, if you take this back to our lesson today, do you think Paul could have won those men to Christ if he had been discontent? Do you think if he was complaining every day when he was chained to those guys about how bad the prison food was, anybody would have ever come to know Jesus?
If you think he was in there complaining... here's what most prisoners complain about. "I don't belong here. I didn't deserve this. I didn't do anything wrong". I don't think Paul probably ever talked about any of it. He was so committed to telling people about Jesus Christ, and in this moment that he had with these men, to make sure he used every moment. That at the end, he can send greetings to the Philippians from all the people that got saved in Caesar's household. That's where contentment will take you. I have to keep going here pretty quick, but there's one more.
Contentment in the place that God has stationed you, because of the power that God uses to strengthen you, because of the people of God that support you. And finally, contentment with the promise of God that sustains you. "And my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Now to our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen". Paul gets done thanking the Philippians for their wonderful gift, and then he says, "And, oh, by the way, I just wanna remind you you've helped me. Man, you are on God's A-list. My God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus".
This promise was reserved for people who had gone out of their way to collect a gift and send Epaphroditus with that gift to Philippi to make sure he had his needs there as a prisoner. That everything that he needed was there, and then the apostle says, "And, oh, by the way, you guys have got somebody that's looking out for you too. My God will supply all your needs". Not out of his riches, but according to them. Do you know the difference between that? If I have a hundred dollars and I give you 10 cents, I have given you out of my riches, but I have not given you according to my riches. That's not the right way to give. You should give according to your riches. If I have a hundred dollars and I give according to my riches, I have to give a gift that's worthy of what God has given to me.
A lot of Christians never get that right. They think they just have to give out of what God has given. No, the Bible tells us we're to give according. The Bible says as God has prospered us, according to what God has given us, that's how we give. What a great reminder, and God tells us that in all of this, we can find joy and contentment every day. Contentment can be ours in the place where God has put us. It's always the result of the power of God that strengthens us, it's usually bolstered by the people of God who support us, and it's guaranteed by the promise of God that sustains us. Contentment is knowing Jesus Christ as your Savior, knowing that all is well, that you have everything you need.
A bishop of the early church was a remarkable example of contentment was asked his secret, and the venerable old man said this: "My secret consists of nothing more than making the right use of my eyes. In whatever state I am, I first of all look up to heaven and remember that my principle business here is to get there. Then I look down upon the earth and call to mind how small a place I shall occupy in it when I die and I am buried. And then I look around in the world, and I observe how many there are who are so much more unfortunate than myself. Thus, I learned where true happiness is placed, where all our cares must end, and what little reason I have to complain. I look up to heaven and I know that's where I'm headed". Does it get any better than that? I don't think so.
The Bible says if you want hope, you'll find it in the resurrection. If you're looking for peace, it's in the shed blood of Christ. If you want joy, it's in the joy of the Holy Spirit. If you want power, you will one day rule with him forever. If you're hungry, he's the bread of life. If you're thirsty, he's the living water. If you're naked, he covers you with his righteousness. If you're looking for health, he's the Great Physician. If you want knowledge, he holds it in his hand. If you're looking for rest, he's the one who said, "Come unto me, all ye who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest". You want contentment, you got to get Jesus. If you don't get Jesus, you can't get contentment. You can have moments of it here and there. When you know Jesus and you love him and you serve him and you trust him, he is everything that you need.