In our latest in the series 'Letters from Lockdown', Ben preaches from Philippians 4 10-13 on Paul's secret of contentment. In this passage Paul teaches us that contentment comes from the worth of knowing and loving Jesus.
Society today takes the very self-centred view that God can only exist if he gives us what we want in life, such as money, and success, believing these things to be the source of true happiness.
But these verses in Philippians are teaching us a different way to live.
In verses 12 and 13 Paul says: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Paul is here talking about the strength we need to be content in Jesus, to experience his peace and not to be anxious.
It’s not a passive tranquilising contentment. It’s the life-giving contentment which brings the peace of God to Christians as they strive to live for Christ day by day.
Verses 11-13 of Philippians provide us with what amounts to a ‘Jesus-help’ manual, which might be entitled ‘The secret of contentment’, and would contain 3 ‘chapters’.
Rags and Riches
12 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.
Paul has experienced both extremes of the spectrum of life. He has known wealth, comfort and power, and he has known poverty and pain.
From the world’s perspective poverty naturally leads to discontentment and riches lead to contentment. So, the world would encourage Paul to try to regain all his wealth in order to be happy.
But Proverbs 30 is Paul’s standard
8“keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, “Who is the Lord?”
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonour the name of my God.”
Riches are a kind of falsehood because they make us question our need of the Lord. We become too comfortable and start to forget that God has given us our wealth. It is only when crises happen, such as coronavirus, that we suddenly realise our need of God. This has been demonstrated recently in the sudden surge of internet searches on the topic of prayer.
When things are OK in our lives we feel in control of our own destiny. But in a crisis, we cry out to God in prayer. So, this proverb says, ‘Don’t give me riches because I will turn from God’.
Riches don’t bring contentment, and they certainly can’t protect you from a pandemic.
But the secret isn’t in poverty either, because if you have to steal to survive, this dishonours God, and makes you think, ‘What’s the point of relying on God for anything? I’m better off on my own, in a state of misery.’
What is the secret of finding your joy and contentment in Christ?
V13 “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Paul isn’t saying that he is better than anyone else. He hasn’t learnt some secret principles from a book and taught himself how to apply them.
No. The secret lies in the person of Jesus Christ who died for Paul and clothed him in righteousness; who dwells within him and will bring him into a glorious inheritance.
Paul’s situation in life has been so elevated through his relationship with Christ, that poverty and riches have become equally worthless in terms of bringing him contentment.
If you remember Philippians 3: 7-8, Paul shows how his values have been transformed through knowing Christ:
7 “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ”
The parable in Matthew 13 illustrates Paul’s sentiments:
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”
In this parable everything of worth in the merchant’s life has been sold in order to get the most precious pearl of knowing Jesus. This surpasses everything!
Paul is not saying that the secret to contentment is in his own strength. He is saying it is Christ ‘in him’ who is bringing contentment. When you’re in Christ, you will be taken up with your new identity in him. You will be able to rejoice in Christ, to bring your anxieties to him, and your sufferings will not be worth comparing to the joy of knowing him.
Learning the secret
Yes, it has to be learned.
Paul had learned the secret of contentment over many years of suffering from the time of his conversion when the Lord had revealed, in Acts 9:16 “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
God similarly reveals himself slowly to us through his word. As we study scripture, the Holy Spirit works to open our eyes to see Jesus. The more we see him, the niggles of this world will become less and less. Our contentment will be found in knowing Jesus and in being part of his family and that foundation will remain true.
We will still stumble but it is good to remind ourselves of verses such as Psalm 42:5
“Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Saviour and my God.”
We have to keep teaching ourselves these truths for the peace of God to be gained. The phrase ‘being content’ is continuous, and ongoing. Knowing Jesus soothes the discontent day by day.
Of course, there will be ebbs and floes but keep looking at the pearl of greatest price, Jesus Christ, who will give you an inheritance which will never fade.
Jesus is the mystery made known, and it is not to be kept hidden. God is a God of revelation, and the secret is to be proclaimed. Christ died for sinners to buy them back and to give life in all its fulness, thus providing the secret of contentment.
Christ is the reason.
If you don’t know Christ and are vainly searching for something in this life to bring you contentment, come to Christ.
If you’re battling with anxiety, look to Jesus. Delight in him. Preach these verses to yourself. Look at your brothers and sisters around you. Delight in them. Don’t settle for a life of discontent. Keep going.
We need to learn to love Christ more and more.
Then we can say, with Paul, “We can do all these things through Christ who gives us strength.”
Philippians 4:10 - 4:13
10 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. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 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. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (ESV)
Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Text provided by the Crossway Bibles Web Service.