I Have Learned To Be Content
Key Verse 4:13
“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
This last part of this letter is Paul’s thank you note. He had intended to write them a thank you note because they sent him some support funds with their beloved Pastor Epaphroditus. But when Paul learned about the conflict two women leaders in the church were having with one another, Paul’s thank you note turned into a full fledged letter filled with gospel teachings on grace and truth. In this letter we find some of the most beautiful teachings of the New Testament. And after he was done giving the Philippians instructions on Christian faith and living, Paul ends his letter with an elaborate thank you note here at the end. But in this final thank you note we also find some insight into Paul’s personal financial affairs. We can actually see what his philosophy of life— or faith— was in regards to receiving financial support. We also see his philosophy of life— or faith— in regards to giving and receiving within the church.
Read verse 10. “I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.” Paul is now expressing his own joy that the Philippian church was deeply concerned about his situation, especially his financial situation. His words “at last you have renewed your concern for me” may sound as if they had abandoned their concern for his wellbeing, but now had renewed it. But that wasn’t the case at all. For a few years now (15-16), the Philippians had not sent Paul any financial support. But it wasn’t because of their lack of concern. Paul says that they had no opportunity to do so. This is what happened: After he was arrested in Jerusalem for the gospel, they had lost touch with him, until much later after his transfer from his prison cell in Jerusalem to his present prison cell at Rome. In that sense, then, they had no opportunity to show their concern for him by supplying him with financial support as they had often done after their conversion and the church was established at Philippi.
We cannot however, ignore Paul’s words in verse 10. Twice he mentions their concern for him. Concern comes from love. That they loved him dearly is evident throughout this section here. But before we can talk about their love for him, let us think about his love for them. Paul loved them because they were his spiritual children. You cannot but love your children dearly even if they are the worst children in the world. That gift of love is God-given. It’s more than a instinct. Rather it’s very much part of your human constitution because God made you in his own image or essence. And God’s very essence is love. The Bible tells us that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). We cannot ignore this fundamental quality or essence of God, especially not while we live and breath. Those who recognize the very essence of God which is love find life eternal and everlasting happiness. Those who don’t will live out eternity knowing that God’s love was within reach yet they spurned it. No wonder our Lord Jesus describes hell like this: “… the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 22:13) There is no greater regret in life and later in death than the regret of rejecting the love of God. God made us in his image so that we might recognize love and embrace it. All love comes from God. Paul was loved by God and embraced that love even when he was the last person on earth to imagine that God loved a murderer like him. When he embraced the love of God, he too could freely love others, how much more then his own spiritual children! Paul loved these Philippian Christians dearly as his own children. His love for them always , burned brightly in his heart, even years after last hearing from them.
But as much as Paul loved them, they too loved him as well. That is also not an instinct. It’s part of their constitution especially that they were Paul’s children born to him in Christ. They loved him as their spiritual father. They were concerned for him. The saying goes: “out of sight out of mind.” But that doesn’t— shouldn’t— be a part of the Christian experience! Years had passed by, but they hadn’t lost their concern for him and for his wellbeing. They hadn’t forgotten that he was a mere man dedicated to God’s work, and would often be in need of support as he served God’s purpose. They hadn’t forgotten to love him and be concerned for him! When we are born of God, divine love is born in us as well, a love much stronger and enduring than human love. This divine love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” This divine love that we bear each other, “never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:7-8) It’s the kind of love that’s born in us— to us— when we’re born again in Christ. This divine love loves in spite of itself. It’s weak and immature love at first. But it grows in essence to emulate that highest form of love in the universe— the divine love of God. That Paul loved them and they loved him is a testimony to how the church bears the burden of revealing Christ to the world. They hadn’t seen him in years. But they loved him because they were bonded through the gospel of life and hope he had given them— the best gift we can give others— Jesus Christ.
Read verses 11-12. “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” All these years they had lost touch with him, they had been concerned for him. And he rejoiced at that, because in it he realized that the Spirit of the Life and Divine Love still filled their hearts to overflowing. But he wanted to make it perfectly clear that his joy was in their love and concern, and not in the material support that he would receive from them. He had not rejoiced because they had finally sent him funds. So he said: “I am not saying this because I am in need.” It’s clear that Paul had never made an appeal to them to send him any financial support. And here’s why he had never felt that he needed to appeal to them to support him. Listen to his words in verse 10: “I have learned to be content in whatever the circumstances.” He again says in verse 11: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” In his words, we really find great insight and truth and wisdom that we should adopt ourselves for our Christian pilgrimage. Let’s consider his faith then.
He made it clear that he had not asked for their financial support. And here’s why. It’s because he’s learned something. He says that he’s learned to be content in all circumstances; in any and every situation, he has learned to be content. Let’s define content here and we’ll define it again later because it’s necessary to fully comprehend its meaning. Actually, the word Content is very closely related to joy. We saw in the last passage that joy has nothing to do with one’s circumstances. And so is contentment or being content! It’s like a child who’s content just to be in the arms of his parents. He doesn’t understand their struggles and suffering in life. Their circumstances, good or bad, do not bear on his contentment, on whether he is content or not. He is content in all circumstances as long as he is with them. Paul’s sense of contentment was the same. The only difference is that Paul understood his own circumstances but they had no bearing on his contentment; they didn’t change his state of contentment. Most people let their circumstances dictate whether they are content or not. They are often dissatisfied and discontent and upset about many things. When things are going their way, they seem content for a while until things aren’t going their way anymore, then they’re greatly disturbed. But Paul was different. He didn’t let the circumstances of his life decide whether he is content or not. The circumstances of his life as the Bible bears witness to were often unfavorable. As often as he was in good and favorable circumstances he was also in difficult and unbearable circumstances. But this is his confession: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances…. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.”
As much as circumstances should not dictate our sense of joy, so also our circumstances must not dictate our sense of contentment. How then can I be content in any and every situation? Only when I’m fully comfortable in my circumstances— when I’m not greedy for more than what I already have— when I’m trusting God’s love for me even when my circumstances aren’t so favorable— when my heart is full— when I know that I’m not lacking anything that God has not already given me. The word content in Greek is “self sufficient”. But that’s not the Christian meaning of the word content. Content has the meaning of being satisfied, appeased, or at ease with my situation. Self-sufficient is a good definition for the word content, but we have to understand it from Paul’s— or the Christian perspective. A Christian cannot be self-sufficient in and of himself. He is only self-sufficient [or for lack of a better word— full] when he is in Christ. Because Christ lives in us we are sufficient or adequate in the demands or needs of life. Because Christ lives in us, we are not greedy for more, nor are we distraught at the little we have. Those who experience Christ daily in their lives find that they are full and in need of nothing more. It may be hard to digest such a truth but it is truth, nonetheless. People don’t usually experience real contentment not because their needs are not met, but because they lack Christ in their daily lives. We’re not talking about salvation. If you’ve made that confession you have eternal life. But it’s not a guarantee that you will experience the fullness of Christ and of eternal life and wellspring of contentment every day. To do that you have to remain in Christ and Christ remain in you. Those who do not let a day go by without Bible reading and prayer are usually a living testimony of contentment. They taste of Christ and his goodness daily. Those who study faithfully and reflect on the word of God go even further than that. They experience the fullness of Christ because the word of God is that powerful weapon that cuts through the daily rubbish of life, and leaves us at peace in any and every situation. Others, who do not take those steps of faith, often find their lives full not with the fullness of Christ, but full of anxieties and discontentment, bitterness and regret.
How did Paul ever learn such contentment? He learned it by experience. And experience doesn’t happen overnight. Through many trials a Christian either learns to be content or he ends up justifying his unbelief with Christian platitudes and innuendoes such as “God helps those who help themselves.” We have many prayer topics. But one prayer topic that should be of great important in our lives is this: “Lord, teach me to be content whatever my circumstances.”
Look at verse 12 again. Paul had many difficulties in life. He reminds us that he’s often been “in need”, especially after he had embraced Christ and began to follow the Master. His life had not been easy going. It had been fraught with difficulty and at times extreme poverty. Not that he didn’t experience “plenty” as a Christian either. Paul was beloved by many who often treated him like a VIP. That wasn’t easy for him either. It’s hard for a true Christian to be treated with the luxuries of life, because we feel it’s unnatural for us to be comfortable and have too much, especially when others are suffering. But like Paul it’s necessary to learn how to be content in God, when we have little and especially also when we are in plenty. The secret of being content is to always trust God’s providence— to fully trust the Lord’s sovereignty in our lives. In other words, to live in Christ and to experience him in our daily lives. Experiencing Christ in all situations— that’s the secret of contentment.
Read verse 13. “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” How can we understand this verse when so many and so often this word of truth is taken out of context and abused to one’s own benefit? So many people take this verse out of context and it becomes a crutch or a snare to them. When Paul said these words, he was talking about the strength he needed to accept and live in the circumstances God put him through in life, whether good or not. All things or everything should be translated within the context of God’s will for my life. It doesn’t mean that I can go jump off the roof because in everything God gives me strength. It doesn’t mean that I can get an A on my exam even though I do not study just because God strengthens me, and if I fail then either God had not strengthened me or I didn’t have enough faith to believe he will give me strength. Yet, of course I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength! But I can only do those things that are within his will for me.
You too need to function within the context of his will in your life. If Christ is your Lord and Savior then he is your head and you need to go where the Head wants you to go. The moment your life leaves the context of his will, you can be sure to shipwreck your life. Like a train that derails if it decides to jump track. Yes you can do everything— everything within his will for your life. Now that’s a tremendous encouragement in a way. Whatever God has designed for you, you can surely do it. You can do anything and everything the Lord has already determined for your life. If God wills you to be an evangelist or a teacher or a speaker; if the Lord wills you to rise to be the president of the USA; if the Lord wills you to be the man of God who will lead America back to the Lord; whatever he wills for you and puts it in your heart in divine conviction, you can certainly do it! But not alone nor on your own. He himself will strengthen you to do it. How much more then to stand tall in all and every situation he puts you in! That’s the beauty of this word of God
At the same time, this verse does not promise unlimited power for you to do whatever you want to do. But if you’d open your ears to hear him and eyes to see what he’s teaching you, you will surely do everything and anything he’s planned for your life. But not in your own strength, but in his. When you abide in him and he in you and his strength drives your life, nothing can stop the Lord’s will from being fulfilled in your life. Let me emphasize this again. It is essential that you remain in his will. And his will depends on your knowledge of his word. You won’t find it in a dream or in your heart. But it’s in his word. How’s your knowledge of his word? Do you know the word of God or do your think you know the word of God? Unless you know the word of God you will not know his will. People want their problems solved but they want to solve them in their own way. There is no way to solve them except in the word of God. How much Bible reading do you do? How much time do you give to Bible study? To know his will you have to know his word. And to know his will you can be strengthened in Christ to fulfill it too.
Paul also tells us something else in these words. Paul is taking about his circumstances. Either way his circumstances had been changeable considering the hectic Christian life he led. Sometimes they were good and sometimes they were terrible. He needed strength to endure those circumstances— to withstand them. At that time Christ himself strengthened him and he endured them with God’s strength (2 Corinthians 1:8-) He mentions both poverty and plenty— both being hungry and being well fed. Of course there were other times that were much more difficult. But at times like this, it takes strength. It actually takes strength to endure both, the good and the bad, the need and the plenty! Most people think it takes special strength to endure the hardship of poverty and of hunger. But no one thinks of strength to endure plenty. But the truth is that in most cases the plenty can easily consume the hearts and souls of people. People not excluding Christians are weak to money and to material ease and comfort and end up selling their soul to the devil to secure for themselves a better life, better circumstances than the ones God has put them in. It really takes a special kind of strength to overcome the lure or deception of wealth and of the comforts of this worldly life. If you’re experiencing plenty, its from the Lord and you need strength to understand it and live in it according to his will and purpose. If you are having hardship, it’s from the Lord and intended to strengthen you to endure it and to rise from it a greater servant. But you will not endure it by your own strength nor by borrowing the strength or others, nor by getting a theology degree. You must stand in Christ’s strength alone to fulfill your destiny in Christ Jesus.
Read verses 14-16. “Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need.”
Paul was happy that they renewed their concern for him as well as for the gospel work he was doing— because you cannot separate the man. These people had been with him from the start, sharing in his hardship. Every since they received the gospel, young as they were spiritually, they had fulfilled the word of God which commands us to share in the Lord’s blessings with those who are serving the gospel of life. They shared with him by supplying his needs. They shared with him therefore, in the work of life he was doing.
Thus church was a jewel. There are churches like this everywhere. People who are deeply concerned about the work of God. People who are deeply concerned that the gospel is reaching the unreached. People who are concerned that by any means the word of God will reach those who are dying in their sins. We were once such a church deeply concerned with God’s suffering flock, a church deeply concerned with world mission and being those who would go to the end of the earth if the Lord wills it. A church who didn’t count the cost of discipleship but spent anything if only it promoted the gospel of God’s grace. But we’re no longer that church anymore. Now we are more concerned with ourselves and have forgotten the mission field of God. Our hearts no longer beat with the passion of spreading the gospel, with teaching the bible, with the students whose lives are no longer our concern. But we can be that church again. A church that knows how to humble itself before God with loud cries of repentance. A church that once again would forget is own problems and engage fully in with what pleases the Lord. I have examined my own heart and have seen that I need God’s forgiveness because I am the first who has strayed from our mission and calling. I repent before God and God’s people. And I put my self in faith before the mercy seat of the Lord. Will you join me as I pray for a renewed heart and a willing spirit to raise this church from slumber to full wakefulness?
This church was indeed a jewel because though they were young spiritually, as soon as they received the gospel in their hearts they knew the value of what they had received. they had received Christ and his kingdom and life eternal. What more could they ever want! And their concern was that this gospel be preached everywhere. They were quite young spiritually but they shared in supporting Paul’s needs while Paul went around preaching the gospel. Actually this is typical of the Christian spirit. In most cases young converts either don’t think about offering to the work of God, and the support of the church and have to be taught, or most are too eager to offer without even being told, because Christ himself is the Spirit of Sacrifice. Eager offering to the work of the gospel is natural. Eager desire for world mission is natural. Unwillingness to give and to share in gospel work is unnatural. It is not of the Christian spirit.
Read verses 17-18. “Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.” Paul certainly did not look for gifts from them nor for material support. He was content in all that God blessed him with whether in plenty or in want. But Paul was happy that they were participating in the gospel work by supporting his needs and the needs of those who accompanied him in his missionary journeys. He tells them however what he was looking if not gifts from them. He tells them that he was looking for what will be credited to their account in heaven. He is talking about the heavenly treasures that the Lord Jesus talked about in living this life. We can either build up wealth here for our own comforts and security. Or we can build up treasure in heaven. How precious are those who freely give so that the church of the living God may not suffer a lack or need but have enough for the work of God to continue unhindered. Their sacrifices are a fragrant offering acceptable to God. Paul assures them in verse 19: “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Surely our God who loves us and cares for his church will supply all our needs and the need of his church so that we might engage fully in Bible teaching and world mission as he has called us to do. Read verses 20-23. “To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen. Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me send greetings. All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.” Amen And Amen.