SCRIPTURE: Philippians 4:10-14, NLT
10 How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. 11 Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. 14 Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty.
10 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. 11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. 12 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. 13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. 14 Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction.
The Secret of Contentment
The word translated content is autarkēs and it is used only once in the New Testament. There is good reason why we don’t see the word anywhere else in the bible: it was the word the Stoic philosophers used for peace or contentment. It literally means to be self-sufficient; to be strong enough or possessing enough to need no aid or support; to be independent of external things. Socrates said, “Contentment does not consist in possessing much but wanting little.” He also said, “The wealthiest man is he who is content with least.” It is true that you do not make men more content by adding to their possessions. Contentment does not lie in circumstances or possessions. Generally speaking, prosperity does more harm to our character than adversity. Paul lived in a Greco-Roman world. Greek philosophy was common to the culture. Most people thought in Greek.
Before I get into the message, I want to talk about the Stoics and their view of contentment. The reason for doing so is that it is not the same as Christian contentment: not even close. The stoics believed that you reached a state of contentment by mortifying all your desires. Over a period of time, they denied every emotion and desire. There goal was to abolish every feeling, every emotion to the point that you could watch your best friend die without feeling any emotion. The Ancient Spartan’s practice a similar philosophy. They called this discipline agôgê not to be confused with agape [divine love]. The Greek word agôgê means to carry away. Epictetus, the Roman philosopher defined it in two words, “endure and renounce.”
The Spartans put every male child age 7 into the school of agôgê. It was not a 4 year degree. The Spartan men did not graduate until age 30 and the weak did not survive. They had a 100% graduation rate of those who endured the training. They were trained in the strictest disciplines: forced to go without food, exercised hand to hand combat, trained in martial arts and were even beaten on a regular basic as a part of the program. The goal of agôgê is to destroy all emotions and feelings. The Spartans were fighting machines who knew no fear and had no weaknesses. We do not know if the stoics influenced Sparta or vice versa but the Spartans are good examples of stoicism. They were content because they and renounced every emotion.
Obviously, Paul is not suggesting that we renounce all our feelings. Neither is he teaching us to get into asceticism by punishing our bodies. Whereas there is some truth to the Stoic definition of contentment, it is not all together true. They are right when it comes to possessions and circumstances making us happy. No amount of possessions and no set of delightful circumstances can make us happy or content. Someone said, “More ills could be healed if gratitude came in pill form.” I concur, an attitude of gratitude is definitely in order.
Whereas the stoics believed in total independence, Paul did not. What he says to the Philippians sounds a little crude in the AV as if he is saying, “Thanks for the gift, it is appreciated but not needed. I have all I need without your help.” Moffat states it clearer, It was a great joy to me in the Lord that your care for me could revive again; for what you lacked was never the care but the chance of showing it. Not that I complain of want, for I have learned how to be content wherever I am. Some people have the opportunity to give but they don’t care. The Philippians cared but could not find the opportunity to give. So what is Paul saying?
I. WE FIND CONTENTMENT IN THE BODY OF CHRIST
I like John Donne’s Poem….
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory [cliff hanging over the sea] were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
Nothing in the N.T. encourages us to work independently of the body of Christ. There is no precedent for a “Lone Ranger” ministry. As a matter of fact everything teaches us to work together. In I Corinthians 12 Paul said…The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ…Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”
It would be ridiculous for the hand to say to the arm, “I don’t need you.” So we know definitely that Paul is not saying to the Philippians, “God provides for me, I don’t need you.” It is true that some churches refuse to provide for their spiritual leaders, in which case pastors should not become bitter because God is the ultimate provider. Here Paul is thankful for the gift. It came at a very good time and there is no doubt that it was a source of encouragement to the Apostle.
II. WE FIND CONTENTMENT BY ACCEPTING HELP FROM THOSE WHOM GOD HAS DIRECTED TO HELP.
It has always amazed me that Philippi, one of the poorest of churches, gave Paul the most financial support. On the other hand, Corinth, an affluent church, gave him nothing. There is no record of anyone from the church in Philippi being critical of Paul. On the other hand, Corinth was merciless in their criticism of Paul. Was Paul a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; was he one thing at Corinth and another at Philippi? No, Paul was the same every where he went but the churches were different. Paul did make the mistake of getting bitter toward the Corinthians for their lack of support. This fact simply reveals that Paul is human. Any preacher would have taken it personally. Dudley Hall taught preachers to depend upon the LORD for their needs. He quoted verse 19, And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. A pastor should never depend on his church to provide all his needs. Sometimes our needs exceed our salary. I was almost 30 years old before this truth took root in my life. We should not expect the church we serve to provide all our needs. This could tend to make us idolatrous. I have had to go to God with my needs. I have been doing this for 36 years and I can tell you it works. This doesn’t mean that I am ungrateful to the church. They have been a tremendous help and I am grateful but I know it was God who provided my needs. I am grateful that they have been a part of His provision.
I am not an island. I need help and I have received a lot of help in these 46 years of ministry. Although I have worked hard and put in many hours, I do not deserve what has been given to me. I would be embarrassed matter of fact to tell you how much help I have received. Not many are blessed with friends who give us $6,000 at the blink of an eye. I have friends who give far more than I could ever hope to repay but they do it because they want to and in cases, this is what the Lord directed them to do. I do not go to them with my needs. I go to God with my needs and he uses others to help me. It is wrong for me to even hint. I tell Him and if it is legitimate, He tells them. At all cost, bitterness and ingratitude have to be avoided. If we are angry with people, it will hinder our fellowship with God.
Paul is independent but only in the sense that he does not make himself dependent on any person or church. If there are strings attacked to a gift, you need to decline the gift. I have had to refuse some gifts because I realized they were being given in an effort to control me and if I had continued to take them, I would have been obligated to please these folks instead of Christ my Lord. Some gifts have to be declined. Unfortunately, it can get tricky. If a check is made out to me, I assume it is for me and even if I put it in the offering plate, I have to put my signature on it and technically of legally, it becomes my contribution. I try to make it clear so there is no misunderstanding. You make a check out to the church and it goes to the church. I would have to commit a crime to claim it. When I have doubt, I put it in the offering. There have probably been a couple of times where people were putting me to the test. Every pastor must learn to receive but you do have to be careful. God’s way of providing for you is not limited to the church budget.
III. CONTENTMENT IS NOT RELATED TO CIRCUMSTANCES OR POSSESSIONS BUT IN A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS.
Philippians 4:13 is often quoted: “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” Barclay says, “I can do all things through Him who infuses strength in me.” J. B. Phillips says, “I am ready for anything through the strength of the Him who lives in me.” Dr. Taylor translated it, “I can do everything God ask me to do with the help of Christ who gives me strength.” The ERV reads, Christ is the one who gives me the strength I need to do whatever I must do. The VOICE reads, “I can be content in any and every situation through the Anointed One who is my power and strength.”
Jesus Christ is the invisible resource that gives us strength. We do not see the most important part of the tree. We see the trunk, the limbs and the leaves and we often admire their strength and beauty but without the roots, the tree would not survive. Not only do the roots provide the minerals and nutriments needed, the roots are the strength of the tree. I like to walk in the woods behind our humble cottage and I have noticed that pines are easily blown down by the wind. Rarely do I see an oak that the wind has blown over. The difference is in the roots.
Spartan’s and stoics may be self-sufficient but this is not our goal: our goal is to be Christ-sufficient. Jesus said in John 15:5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” The branch abide is the tree or vine just as the eye abides in the body. As the True Vine, Jesus is our all in all: He is the roots, the trunk, the limbs, the leaves and the fruit. A part from Jesus, we can do nothing. Paul’s statement, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,” does not imply that Paul is a wonder worker, a spiritual super-man who towers above the rest of the believing world as a paragon of strength. It implies that he was a man who had boundless confidence in the ability of Christ to match every situation and whose power [dunamis] is made perfect in human weakness.
Hudson Taylor was a devoted Missionary who served in China. No one questioned his devotion but he personally labored without joy then one day as he was reading a letter from a friend, his eyes were opened and he saw something he had missed. Hudson Taylor had been laboring in his own strength and suddenly he saw the victory in Christ adequacy, not ours. He stops relying on his faithfulness and began to rely on the FAITHFUL ONE. He learned to depend solely on Christ and everything changed.
This is the secret to contentment, rely solely on Christ. Do you need your sins forgiven–rely on Christ. Do you need direction–Ask Christ to guide you. Do you need financial resources–Depend on Christ, tell Him your need and trust His provision.
On an October Monday in 1971, June and I loaded up a U-Haul trailer and hitched it behind our Chevy-II and headed for New Orleans, Louisiana. We had $185 and a Gulf gas card [not a credit card]. We pulled on to the campus 10 minutes before the business offices closed. I had not made housing arrangements and for a while, I thought we were going to be sleeping in the car. Long story short, one of the office workers had mercy. I have not forgotten her name; it was Margie Griffith. She worked overtime without pay to get us into an efficiency apartment. Had we been ten minutes later or she been cold hearted: we would have had no place to go. When we got checked in; we had $11 to our name and neither one of us had a job. Everyone there thought I was crazy but I thought I was following the example of Abraham. I found a job the next day but would not get paid for two weeks. June found one the next week but our $11 had run out. Then on Saturday morning, after the Monday arrival. June got her last check in the mail from her previous employment; $243.00. We had to wait for the Seminary office to open on Monday to get it cashed but at least we knew it was in hand. I have a dozen or more Seminary stories of Christ providing out needs.
Bro. Calvin Inman told the story of the prospective Seminary student who called the Seminary and expressed his desire to enroll but confessed his doubts about starving while he was in school. The Dean of the Seminary said, “Son just take a drive and come to the campus and I will show you all the graves of the boys who starved while they were in seminary.”