(Greek words can be viewed using the Symbol font)
Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
November 28, 2004
The Secret of Contentment, Pt. 2
How many of you are content this morning? Some of you may answer that
differently this morning than you did a couple of weeks ago considering the
definition that I gave then based on Paul’s statement in Phil. 4:11 that he has
“learned to be content.”
Webster defines contentment as: “the state or quality of being satisfied,
not dis-pleased,” but as we saw two weeks ago, that is not the meaning of
the Greek word translated as “contentment” in Phil. 4:11. The word used
there is autarkhV / autark‘s,
from autoV (self) + arkew)
(satisfied/sufficient). It means to be “Self-sufficient.” “Not needing
assistance from outside.” In the context of Paul’s usage there, he is saying
that he had learned to be content – self-satisfied, not needing anything
additional – in all circumstances whether they be humble means or prosperity;
being filled or going hungry; of having abundance or suffering need.
In essence what Paul is saying is that he had learned to be in charge of
himself. He was no longer bound by circumstances like a puppet being manipulated
by what was occurring around him or even to him. He did not need any changes to
occur in order to fulfill the purposes of his life. Paul had learned the secret
of no longer being someone who reacted to his environment with his response
being determined by what was going on around him.
Have you learned this secret yet? Are able to be
in control of yourself regardless of circumstances while still feeling all the
personal, sympathetic and empathetic emotions available to us as humans? This is
living life to its fullest, life on the ragged edge of emotion and experience,
and still being fully in control. Or do the things that go on around you
determine your response?
I also explained in my last sermon why most people in America, including
Christians, do not have this kind of contentment. This contentment is impossible
for those who are apart from Christ, and it is extremely difficult for those
Christians who in practical terms continue to live with a world view other than
a Biblical Theistic. It requires a firm trust in a loving and merciful sovereign
In our brief look at Ephesians 2 we found out that those who are not true
Christians are … dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly
walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the
power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.
3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the
desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even
as the rest.
The non-Christian is dead in trespasses and sin and separated from God. They
may have spiritual feelings of one sort of another, but they are in reality
spiritually dead and have no personal relationship with God. Their spiritual
feelings are towards some entity, most likely a demon posing as God. Unless the
individual has been made alive together with Christ (vs. 5) by being saved by
God’s grace through faith alone in Jesus Christ (vs. 8), there is no personal
relationship with God. And being spiritually dead, the non-Christian does not do
what God has commanded. They cannot please Him. Instead, their lives are lived
“according to the course of this world.” That is, they live like everyone
else in pursuit of what the world offers. They also live “according to the
prince of the power of the air” which is an euphemism for Satan. Satan sets
their agenda because he is the “spirit working in the sons of disobedience,”
and everyone here was in that position at one time, and perhaps some of you
here today are still in that position, but you don’t have to remain there.
As humans we have a natural tendency to indulge the “lusts of the flesh,”
that is we have a “strong desire” to make life comfortable for our physical
bodies and to satisfy its cravings in the most enjoyable manner possible. We
also “indulge the desires of the mind.” We seek to gratify our personal mental
appetites which is anything that absorbs our mental attention and energy. That
can include fame, reputation, knowledge, talent, position, power, etc. Apart
from Christ, these lusts and desires easily control you and make you their
Without Jesus Christ you are spiritually dead, controlled by Satan and by
nature a child of wrath. You have no hope of true contentment, yet the desire
for peace, joy and happiness is strong, so some means must be formulated to try
and achieve it. Spiritually dead man, along with help from Satan, has developed
various world views to try to make some sense out of his existence. None of them
can bring about Biblical contentment, but they offer a substitute to quell man’s
search for meaning and purpose.
The tragedy is that so many professing Christians either continue in or
succumb to the influence of these world views inspired by Satan. Though they
might state that they reject them and believe the Bible, in practical terms,
they live according to them. Let me quickly review and remind you of them.
1) Deism. God exists, but He is impersonal. He created everything, but
He is no longer involved. Contentment is sought by trying to figure it all out
and make it work. The futility of this is expressed well in Ecclesiastes 1.
There is no real gain to man’s work. Generations come and go with nothing
changing. There is nothing new under the sun. You will eventually be forgotten,
and even increasing wisdom and knowledge there is only grief and pain.
Many Christians end up as practical deists. They lose the sense that God is
personally involved with them, and they live out of duty rather than a personal
relationship with the living God. They may fall into just trying to get by and
survive, or they may even descend into fatalism and its accompanying complacency
and indifference. Have you fallen for practical deism?
2) Naturalism is the philosophical basis of evolution. God is removed
and only nature exists. Life has meaning only in the here and now. Contentment
comes from circumstances, so life becomes an effort to control your
circumstances so you can be happy. This world view has promoted the hedonism and
materialism rampant in our society. If you live life in the pursuit of pleasure,
or if you think life will be satisfying once you get ahead a little bit more,
then in practical terms, you are naturalistic.
3) Nihilism is the child of naturalism. It boldly asserts that there
is no ultimate meaning to life. Life is an absurd accident and therefore why
try. The “I quit” mentality leads some to check out of society by various means
including drugs and alcohol, while others check out completely from life through
4) Existentialism also views life as absurd, but you need to go on and
make your choices anyway. Contentment and meaning come from doing your own thing
and not subjecting yourself to the world, for it is stupid. It results in the
pursuit of self-autonomy and indifference to others. If you think that life will
finally be satisfying when no one can tell you what to do, and you are the
captain of your ship, the master of your fate, then in practical terms, you are
5) Pantheism is a multifaceted beast and hard to succinctly describe.
But simply put, physical life is relatively unimportant, so only the bare
essentials for it are done. Nirvana will be reached when you have become one
with the universe. Peace and tranquility are gained by withdrawing from the
world through meditation and solitude. A satisfaction can come from this, but it
is one of indifference. As one person put it, you become a happy rock.
The contentment Paul speaks of involves active interaction with this sin
sickened world and feeling both the pleasures and the pains of human existence.
True Christianity is for thinking people, not those longing for a mystical
experience where their minds are turned off or left behind somewhere. It wrongly
elevates the spiritual over the mind and actions. Are you affected by pantheism?
6) Humanism is latest step in this progression of world views. Rather
than losing yourself in the universe or the gods as in pantheism, you will find
meaning to life with in you by going deeper into yourself and tuning into your
deeper conscience. Man ultimately becomes his own God. This is the view
advocated by many modern psychologists and philosophers. It can also be found in
its full expression in some of the cults and fringe elements of “Christianity”
in which you too can be a god. Within Christianity you can find its ideas
expressed in some of the self-help books.
The only world view that can bring the kind of contentment Paul speaks of
here in Philippians 4:11 is Biblical Christian Theism. There is a real
and true infinite, personal, creator God who has revealed Himself in both what
He has made and in the Bible. He loved me while yet a sinner and has provided a
means to take care of my sin problem and bring me back into relationship to Him.
I belong to God. My life makes sense living for His purposes in everything. Only
Biblical Christian theism allows for contentment as Paul describes it.
What then is the secret of this contentment? Turn again with me to Phil. 4:10
But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your
concern for me; indeed, you were concerned [before,] but you lacked opportunity.
11 Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever
circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also
know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the
secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering
need. 13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. 14 Nevertheless,
you have done well to share [with me] in my affliction. 15 And you yourselves
also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I
departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and
receiving but you alone; 16 for even in Thessalonica you sent [a gift] more than
once for my needs. 17 Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit
which increases to your account. 18 But I have received everything in full, and
have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what
you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.
19 And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in
Remember, that Paul writes this while in jail not knowing if he will get out
or die. He is truly thankful for the gift sent to him by the Philippians, but
more for what it demonstrates about them than for the gift itself. In verse 11
Paul tells them that he had learned the secret of being content. He reached a
condition of Christian maturity in which he could remain completely in control
of himself and even rejoice regardless of present circumstances. He still felt
the full range of emotion, and he still had likes and dislikes, but
circumstances no longer hindered him from living a fulfilling life. Whether
abounding or suffering need, having little or a lot, getting good news or bad,
he would be content because he had matured enough to learn the secret of the
The secret is not hidden or concealed. It stares at you right from the text,
yet most people miss it. It is something we should understand and begin to do,
at least to some degree, when we first become Christians. Paul says in verse 13,
“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
Too many of us memorized this verse apart from its context, and so we
have never thought of it or applied it correctly. The context here is being
content in all circumstances, and going back to 4:4, rejoicing in all
circumstances as well. Yet, for the most part we think of verse 13 in terms of
either doing some great thing for God or enduring through some tough time. Moses
crossing the Red Sea or Azariah, Hannaniah and Mishael (Shadrach, Meshach and
Abendego) in the Fiery Furnace. While both of those elements would be included
in the “all things” you can do through Christ, the context is larger and broader
than that. I have also heard many misapplications of this verse over the years
as people try to make it fit some personal thing they want to achieve ranging
from “I can get an ‘A’ on this test” though I have not studied, to “I
can win this race” though I have not practiced. Such is foolish selfishness.
What is the “all things” you can do? It is defined in the context. It is to
live content whether in humble means or prosperity; of being filled
or going hungry; of having abundance or suffering need. The
“all things” extends to every area of the Christian life in living in such a way
that you are fulfilling the purpose of your existence and bringing glory to God.
Only in that will there and can there be true contentment.
This ability is something you learn, but it is not something you do on your
own, for you can not do it on your own. You must do it through Christ. That is
the first requirement for contentment. Recall again Eph. 2 that we were born
dead in our trespasses and sin. The only way out of that hopeless condition is
to “be made alive together with Christ.” You have to be transferred out of
Satan’s kingdom and its bondage of sin and brought into the kingdom of Christ
and its slavery to righteousness. Only Jesus Christ can do that in your life.
You also have to have your mind changed so that you no longer live according
to one of the many worldviews Satan has inspired. Again, this is not something
you do on your own but something God must do in you. We have seen before from 1
Cor. 2:14 that the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of
God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because
they are spiritually appraised. But when God does the work of regeneration
in you and you come to believe and place your faith in Jesus Christ, the Holy
Spirit begins to teach you (1 Jn 2:27), and illumine your mind so that the
Christian can have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). Certainly there is work we
must do in this as we resist the world’s effort to conform us into its image and
as we study and learn so that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds
(Rom. 12:2), but again, without the working of the Spirit in you, you can not
understand spiritual things.
I can do all things through Him WHO STRENGTHENS ME. I do not live the
Christian life in my own power, but in the power of God which indwells me. The
power of God is available to me to live for Christ in all circumstances. 2 Peter
1:13 – His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and
godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and
excellence. How often we hear of Christians praying that God will give them
the power to live for Him, but God has already given us that power. All power
was given to Jesus, and so He sent us into all the world to make disciples for
Him (Mt. 28:18). We received the power to do this when the Holy Spirit came upon
us as salvation (Acts. 1:8; Rom. 8). We are not ashamed of the gospel because it
is the power of the God for salvation of everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16). We
are to live strengthened with power through His spirit in the inner man (Eph.
This is the secret of contentment. I can do all things through Him (Jesus
Christ) who strengthens me. I can live my life in such a way that regardless of
circumstance I can fulfill the purpose of my existence in bringing glory to God.
God has made His power available to me that I can do what honors Him in any
situation. My life is no longer controlled by what happens around me but by the
Holy Spirit within me. I may not like what is happening. I might prefer
something else. My emotions might even be extremely strong, but I am no longer a
thermometer fluctuating with the changing temperature in sinful response.
Instead I am a thermostat that affects my environment with my demonstration of a
Christ like character in all situations.
But wait a minute you say. I understand that, but it has not seemed to have
made a difference in my life. Why is this power in my life so weak? You say I
can be Christ-like in all circumstances, but I struggle with even simple
temptations. What is wrong?
Flip over to Matthew 17:14 quickly and let us look at an example. Jesus had
given the disciples power to cast out demons earlier, and they had done just
that on previous occasions. But here we find a man with a son who is demonized
begging the Lord for help because the disciples were unable to cast out the
demon (vs. 14-16). Jesus casts out the demon in verse 17-18 and then in verse 19
the disciples ask Jesus, “Why could we not cast it out?” Jesus answer is
Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you if you have
faith as a mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to
there,’ and it shall move; and nothing shall be impossible to you.”
The disciples already had the power, but they could not appropriate it
because their faith was so small. That is the same problem that we have with the
power of God in our life. It is available to us, but we do not use it because
our faith is so small.
How then is this power made available and put into use? 1) By remembering who
God is and what He has done. 2) By doing what He commands. The hymn writer put
it simply, but well, “trust and obey.” Faith is not passive. It acts upon what
is says it believes. If you want to see the power of God active in your life
then you need to act upon what you say you believe. You have to remember who God
is and what He has done and then you have to believe and obediently follow Him.
Our knowledge and trust in God increases with our experience with Him. That is
why we learn to be content instead of becoming content instantly when we become
Consider Joshua as an example of someone that had faith in God and therefore
also learned to be content. We first find Joshua mentioned in Exodus 17. Joshua
had lived through the slavery of Israel in Egypt and was a first hand witness to
what God did in breaking the power of Pharaoh and bringing the nation of Israel
out from Egypt. This was the first important aspect of Joshua’s living faith. He
knew who God was and could remember what He had done. Folks, if you do not read
your Bible you will not know the first thing about who God is or what He has
done. And if you are not a true Christian, you do not know God personally nor
have you experienced personally what He can do in your life. That is the first
point. You must remember who God is and what He can do.
The second point is that you must then obey God. In Exodus 17 we find that
Joshua is the general of the Israeli military force. Moses tells him to choose
men and then go fight Amalek. Joshua did not shy away from this task. He
remembered who God is and what he had done to Egypt, so He knew that God could
take care of Amalek too. Therefore he boldly went forward with his band to see
how God would use him and his small army to deal with Amalek. And Joshua did see
Amalek defeated. This was not because Joshua was such a great general or his men
so strong and brave, but because, as the text tells us, Aaron and Hur got on
either side of Moses to hold up his arms because Joshua prevailed while they
were up and Amalek prevailed if he dropped them. God does not have to use
conventional methods to accomplish His will.
The result of Joshua’ obedience to God was an even greater confidence in Him.
That resulted in the third principle of faith in Joshua’s life. He trusted the
Lord to work things out, so he accepted difficult circumstances without
complaint. Joshua learned to be content in his circumstances because of His
understanding of God and his own commitment to obey Him. Consider Joshua’s
assignment from Exod. 24-32. Go half way up Mt. Sinai with Moses and then wait
until he comes back. Forty days go by and Joshua is still patiently waiting.
Meanwhile, Moses has been talking with God, and the people in the camp have
fallen into sin. Not an easy place to be in. Joshua is between God and sin and
he patiently waits without complaint. It was this character of faith and
contentment that enabled Joshua to lead the Israelites in the conquest of
They key here in Philippians is tying verse 11 to verse 13. Remember that the
definition of “contentment” in verse 11 is to be “Self-sufficient.”
“Not needing assistance from outside.”
However, the context here makes it clear that Paul is talking about not needing
something from his circumstances. He is not talking about being sufficient in
himself as if he were autonomous. That is the quest of existentialism and
humanism. Verse 13 makes it clear that Paul sufficient in Jesus Christ who
strengthens him. It is as Paul walks in faith with Jesus that can he can be
content, for only then is he appropriating the knowledge of God he has gained
and applied it in practical trust of God’s great character and promises. You
cannot be content by yourself, but you can be content when it is you and Jesus
Christ together, for our God can overcome any circumstance, and when you are
walking with Him, He goes through them with you.
Folks, we must do the same thing as Joshua and Paul if we want the power of
God in our lives so that we can live fully in contentment. 1) You must know God
and remember who He is and what He has done. You must be a Christian. 2) You
must trust and obey Him. The result of this is that you cannot shy away from the
troubles and trials of life. You must face them head on with submission to the
commands, principles and precepts of God’s word. 3) You must bow the knee to the
sovereign God regardless of circumstances and rejoice. Your attitude has to
become one of “Lord, thank you that I am here,” not because you like the
circumstances, but because He is with you. Remember that as a Christian you are
buried with Christ and are now living in the power of His resurrection. You no
longer have to live life being controlled by your circumstances. The Lord is in
charge, and you belong to Him. Walk with Him and He will see you through
anything that comes upon you. Your attitude must be one of seeking the Lord’s
will and being thankful for the opportunities He gives you to demonstrate your
love and trust of Him. If you take your eyes off Him and put them on your
circumstances you will fall into murmuring and complaining which will block the
power of God in your life.
Consider the real life situations I presented two weeks ago. Could you live
content in those circumstances?
The people at work or school don’t like you? Your in-laws don’t like
you and try to interfere in your marriage? You go outside to get in your car and
find that someone had smashed into it? You find yourself suddenly unemployed?
Your house is burglarized? Your house burns down and you lose everything in it?
You are mugged? You are arrested and jailed for something you did not do? Your
spouse develops a severe physical handicap? You find out that you can not have
children of your own? Your child dies? You are diagnosed with an incurable,
In every one of these situations you can be content if you remember who God
is and what He has done, and will then obey His commandments and follow the
principles in His Word, while keeping in mind that we are living with eternity
in view, not just the present.
Next week I will go over each of these situations and how to apply these
truths to them in specific detail so that we can live content in Christ
ourselves, and then also be better at helping others walk with Christ so
they can also be content.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives.
Here is some help.
Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the
sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children –
Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the
sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times the term “contentment”is
used in the sermon. Talk with your parents about the meaning of contentment and
how you can develop it in your own life.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
How do you define contentment? Are you content? Why or why not? What causes
you discontentment? What are Paul’s major points in Philippians 4:10-19? How
does Philippians 4:11 define contentment? How does the Biblical meaning for
contentment here differ from the common English meaning? How do you respond to
difficulties in life? What is the state of the non-Christian (Eph. 2)? Can they
be truly content? Why or why not? What about immature Christians? Briefly
explain each of the following world views / philosophies: Deism. Naturalism.
Nihilism. Existentialism. Pantheism. Humanism. How do they differ from Biblical
Theism? Do any of these effect you? If so, how? What is the secret of
contentment? How does God manifest His power in His people? Give examples. How
do His people live in that power? Give examples. Are you living in God’s power.
Why or why not? If not, how can you start doing so. How is the relationship
between rejoicing always and being content?
Sermon Notes – November 28, 2004
The Secret of Contentment, Part 2
Biblical Christian Theism
The Secret of Contentment
It is Learned
God’s power in the Christian
Joshua – Exodus 17; 24-32
The Key to Contentment