August 16, 2020
Are you content this morning? Do you have everything you want in life? Are all your relationships working out the way you hoped they would? Do you wake up every morning saying, “Life doesn’t get better than this?” Have you arrived at the place where no matter what happens for good or bad, you can say, “I am content?”
Now I ask these questions today because being content is one of the more elusive characteristics of life. None of us are born content. However, there are days when we find ourselves full of contentment, “Life is good,” we say. Then there are those days when we hear ourselves echoing that old Mick Jagger line: “I can’t get no satisfaction.” In fact, if we are honest with ourselves, most of us struggle finding contentment because we are looking for contentment in what the world offers us.
If you listen to what our world has to say, contentment is found when you have everything you want. When you have the house of your dreams, a full bank account, the best car money can buy – then you will be content. But if that is true, then how is it that children living in third world slums with nothing but the clothes on their backs can be perfectly content playing with a stick and some stones?
So then, if contentment is not found in having lots of stuff, then maybe contentment can be found in relationships? After all we are told that having a good marriage, loving children and great friendships are the true wealth in life. And for the most part this is true. But like wealth, people were never designed to give us complete satisfaction. Spouses, well, we are far perfect. We say and do things that disappoint and sometimes hurt the ones we love. And our children, well they don’t always agree with us or make the kind of choices we’d like them to make. And great friendships – they are extremely rare. So like wealth, relationships don’t always give us what we are looking for. And the reason why is that relationships exist beyond our control – they outside of ourselves. And contentment – well contentment is something found within. That’s why there are so many restless, angry and discontent people in our world today. They want someone outside themselves to make life better for them. And as long as they are looking for contentment outside themselves, they’ll never find it. So the question for all of us today is this: Where do we find contentment?
That’s what we’re going to look at today from God’s Word. For as we return to Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he reveals to us where true contentment is found. So if you brought your Bible today, let me encourage you to find Philippians 4:10-13, where Paul spells out for us where he found contentment. So, where is contentment found?
The first thing Paul tells us is this: 1. Contentment is not found in what others can do for us. Contentment is not found in our relationships Look at verses 10-11 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. Philippians 4:10-11
Now Paul starts of sharing his joy “in the Lord” for the Philippians renewed care for him. For the longest time something had prevented the Philippians from helping him. But now with the arrival of Epaphroditus and their generous gift, Paul rejoices, NOT BECAUSE OF THE GIFT, but because of what the gift represented: their care for him. You see, it had been 10 years since Paul and the Philippians had partnered in ministry. But the Philippians had never forgotten Paul. And now with this gift, Paul rejoices in the Lord, because he sees God working through them. His joy is not in that he can now eat better, have new clothes or better prison conditions. No, his joy is in God’s love expressed to him through their gift. He rejoices because God is working through them.
But Paul also goes to great lengths to make sure they know that his well-being was NOT DEPENDENT on their kindness. And so he says, Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. So this is what Paul had learned: His contentment was not dependent on the concern of others. His contentment was not dependent on what the Philippians could do for him. And the same should be said of us. Otherwise, if we lived this way – if our contentment was always at the mercy of what others could do for us, then we would rarely ever find contentment.
Let illustrate this from marriage: If your contentment was based on what others can do for you, then you would marry for what you could get out of your spouse. As men, we would find wives who could cook and clean, look good on our arms, and provide us with a good sexual relationship. But then when she didn’t keep a clean house, starts losing her looks or fails to satisfy our sex drives, we’d become discontent, and soon we’d find someone to replace her. Sounds pretty ugly doesn’t it? But this way finding contentment happens every day in our culture, and it’s pretty selfish.
But we don’t just do this in marriage, we do this in our families, in the workplace and even in our churches. What happens is this: we become deceived into thinking that our relationships exist for how they can benefit us. And when that mindset takes hold in us, we go through life using people, not loving people. That’s why Paul went to great lengths here making sure the Philippians knew, that their gift was not the source of his contentment. Now let’s make this personal. Do we ever do this? Do we ever look to what others do for us as our source of contentment? Here’s a little test:
- Do you find yourself happy with your spouse only if he or she agrees with you?
- Do you only call a friend or relative when you need something from them?
- Do you find yourself avoiding a friend if he or she fails you or falls into sin?
- Do your friends have to treat you a certain way in order to stay your friend?
Now if you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you may be looking for contentment in what others can do for you. Your sense of well-being may be dependent on how well others treat you. And if that is your mindset, you will inevitably struggle discontentment in your relationships, because the people around you will never be able to fully satisfy you.
The point Paul is making here is that our contentment was never meant to be dependent on what others can do for us. That’s why Paul says he has learned to be content apart from their gift to Him. Oh he rejoices in the Lord over their expression of care. But he has learned that contentment isn’t dependent on relationships. That’s the first thing we need to grasp about finding contentment. today. Contentment is not found in what others can do for us. Now what else does Paul say?
Contentment is not found in having our circumstances line up for us. Look again at verse 11, 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. Philippians 4:11-12 Now, twice in these words Paul says he’s learned contentment. Contentment wasn’t zapped into his heart. Through all his experiences, the good and the bad, Paul had learned the secret to contentment.
First, Paul learned the secret of contentment through the school of hard knocks. Paul knew hardship. He knew what it was like to go hungry. He knew what it was like to sleep in the cold, and truly be in want. Here’s a sample of his hardships from his Corinthian correspondence: Up to this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 1 Corinthians 4:11
Three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 2 Corinthians 11:25-27
So Paul had experienced some pretty difficult circumstances in life. BUT he learned to be content no matter how hard life got. Here is where some people misunderstand contentment: they think that when bad things happen, you just resign yourself to the outcome. Like saying, “Oh well,” I’ve just got to accept my misfortune and carry on.” That’s not contentment. That’s SURRENDERING to your circumstances. That’s letting your circumstances control your well- being. That’s not what Paul is saying here. What he is saying that he’s learned NOT to be mastered by misfortune – not to let life’s difficulties get him down, not to let them steal his joy. He’s learned that he can be content even when life throws its worst at him. And so can we…
That’s the beauty of the weirdness we’re experiencing right now. We can complain about things beyond our control – like these Covid-19 restrictions or we can be thankful, that no matter what our God is ALWAYS in control. We can fret about all that’s wrong in our country right now or we can REST in the knowledge that we belong to Jesus and this world is not our home – we are kingdom citizens who are part of a forever family! You see, sometimes God allows crisis like the ones we are experiencing today to teach us that contentment is NOT found in our circumstances. Sometimes crisis like this ARE A GIFT, because they remind us where true satisfaction is found. Perhaps some of you here can relate with Paul. Maybe sometime in your past you lost everything. Maybe you experienced a tragedy that ripped your heart out. Maybe you know what it’s like to have nothing. But in going through some of the worst life can throw at you, YOU ARE REMINDED that you have something more precious than anything the world can offer. You have in Jesus, and what you have in Jesus is priceless. That’s what Paul learned as the secret of contentment: Jesus is enough! Circumstances may fail you, but Jesus will never leave you nor forsake you.
Now Paul didn’t just learn contentment from the school of poverty, he also learned it in the school of prosperity. He knew what it’s like to have it all. In verse 12, he says, “I know how to abound.” Literally, he knew what it was like to have a life overflowing with abundance. At one time Paul had been a wealthy and well-respected Pharisee. He’d reached the pinnacle of human achievement for a man of his stature. He had wealth, he had position, he had power, he had prestige. He had it all. But now, he considered all of his wealth and power as worthless in comparison to knowing Jesus. He now understood what Solomon wrote about in the book of Ecclesiastes: “The one who loves money is never satisfied with money, and whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with income.” Ecclesiastes 5:10.
One thing we should learn from what Paul is teaching us here is that you can still suffer discontent even if you have everything you ever wanted. Having wealth doesn’t guarantee contentment. Ask any wealthy person if their wealth gives them contentment and they’ll tell you, “NO!” Even John D. Rockefeller, one of the richest men ever, when asked, “How much money does it take to make a man happy?” He answered, “Just a little bit more than he has.” All you have to do is read Solomon’s letter of Ecclesiastes to see how acquiring more doesn’t bring satisfaction. In fact, God allowed all the circumstances to line up for Solomon so he could experience everything under the son. And what was his response? IT’S ALL MEANINGLESS. (Read Ecclesiastes 2:1-11) Solomon learned that contentment was not found in having it all, Paul had learned this. Have we? Here’s another test to see if you are still trying to find contentment in wealth:
- Do I buy on impulse or after thought and prayer?
- Do I get upset if something is lost or destroyed?
- Do I need to buy something for myself in order to be happy?
- Do I give my “first fruits” to God or what is left over (or maybe nothing at all)?
Paul is teaching us here what most of us already know: wealth doesn’t guarantee contentment. Having your circumstances line up so you’ll have all you need, will never really satisfy. So then, if contentment is not found in having our circumstances line up so that we have all we need, then where is it found?
Finally Paul tells us: 3. Contentment is found in Jesus. Paul now shares what he’s learned about contentment. He writes: “I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me.” The secret of contentment is the strength we as believers receive from the indwelling Christ. Literally this verse reads: In all things I am able through him who impowers me. What that means is this: Paul was able to face all things – the circumstances of hardship, the temptations of wealth – not in his own strength, but with the strength provided by the indwelling, resurrected and living Jesus Christ.
You see, we’ve been taught all our lives to rely on ourselves, our education, and our own resources. We’ve been told to suck it up. “Take it like a man.” We’ve bought into the messages that say, “Work harder, work smarter.” “It’s up to you.” We’ve been taught to pursue our own contentment, to purchase our own contentment, to create our own contentment. But that’s not what God’s Word teaches!
God’s Word teaches us that true contentment is found in believing that Jesus is enough. Paul learned this truth about Jesus through the school of life. As a result he had a joy that his circumstances could not steal. He had a contentment that money couldn’t buy. So the question he brings up for us today is this: Have you learned that Jesus is all you need? Is Jesus enough?
People will never be able to provide us with contentment. Friends will let us down. Even the most loving of people will fail us. Those who we look up to and count on to be there for us – won’t always be there. Your spouse can fail you; your children can disappoint you, and your friends won’t always be there, but Jesus will always be with you and in you to give you the strength to face life’s challenges.
And circumstances can never provide us with the contentment we’re looking for. Who knew that when this year started that COVID-19 would change everything? Who knew that racial protests would turn our world on its head? Who can guarantee that life will go back to normal? We cannot know what tomorrow will bring, but with Jesus living in us, He can give us the strength we need to face anything! That’s the good news about Jesus: Jesus is enough! With him we can say, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Christ empowers us to be content. He is enough. You see, you may have come here today struggling with discontent, but Jesus doesn’t want you to leave that way. He wants you to lean on His strength to carry you through whatever you are facing. So let Him. For Jesus is enough! Let’s pray