Grace Bible Church
The Secret of Contentment, Part 1 – Philippians 4:10-16
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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
November 14, 2004
The Secret of Contentment, Part 1
Webster defines contentment as: the state or quality of being satisfied, not displeased. How many people, including yourself, feel that way? – Satisfied, not displeased.
Here are some interesting statistics that should result in us concluding that the average American is content. The U.S. is the largest, most technological, and powerful economy in the world. The following figures are from 2003. The per capita GDP was $37,800. The budget revenue was $1.782 Trillion with an unemployment rate at or below 6%. There were 182 million fixed phone lines, 159 million cell phones, over 10,000 radio stations, 1,500 TV stations, 9,000 cable channels and 15,000 airports. Life expectancy at birth has risen to 75 for men and 80 for women. We all should be pretty happy about that, yet Americans are not a very content people.
Consider the following: Discontentment with jobs – wanting more pay, more vacation and time off along with working less. Discontentment with spouses shows up in affairs, divorce and domestic turmoil which are still at epidemic proportions. Parents complain about kids. They have too few or too many. They are expense so extra income is needed and / or you have to stay home to watch them. Then so many kids are disrespectful and cause heartaches. With the amount of time and money people put into trying to change something about their bodies you have to conclude they like little about themselves – hair, face, size, shape, fitness, or age. Consumer credit / debt levels are astronomical, yet Americans are still not satisfied with material things. There is always something more to get. Americans usually find something to complain about in church too. The sermons are too long or too short while also being too intellectual or too simple, and the music is either too loud or soft, fast or slow, old or new. Never has a country had so much and yet been so discontented. Our basic needs are met, even for those below the so called “poverty” level, so the focus changes to frivolous unmet desires, especially methods of escape and diversion in order to find satisfaction.
Now in saying all this, we must also recognize that discontentment is a great motivator. It is used in most advertising to motivate you to buy their product. Your breath is bad, so take this mint and you will be satisfied. Your hair is a mess, so use this product and you will pleased with your looks. Is your car all that you would like it to be? Buy or lease this one and you will happy, etc.
Discontentment can also be good in your spiritual life as a motivator to greater spiritual maturity. Are you satisfied with your prayer life? Your habits of personal Bible study? Your service to the Lord? That desire for more in these areas can and should drive you on to gaining what is really needed in order to be content with all the other areas of your life.
But should the Christian be marked by the common discontentment that characterizes everyone else? Should Christians be like non-Christians in being anxious, angry, jealous, hurt, vengeful, lonely, and discouraged? Should believers feel like they are either missing out on something in life or are just failures? The sad fact is that many professing Christians pursue the same things the world is after in the effort to find satisfaction in life – higher income, more things, bigger house, nicer car, more comfort, exotic vacations, sports and hobbies, continually changing relationships, etc. I don’t think anyone here enjoys being discontent, but these things should not be. But if God wants us to be different from the world and be content, and He does, then why are Christians so much like the world, and how do we change to be different?
Turn to Phil. 4:10-19. I will briefly point out what it means to be content and how it is gained before I then look at the reasons that so many people, including Christians, are not content. Finally, I will point out the secret of being content and talk about how to implement this secret into your own life.
Remember that as Paul is writing Philippians, his situation is not good. He is imprisoned and there are other Christians who are purposely seeking to cause him distress. Yet, Paul is rejoicing in the Lord. He has received a gift from the Philippians, and he desires to encourage them by showing God’s provision for him and for them.
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. II 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 Christ Jesus.
In this passage we find that Paul thanks the Philippians for their concern demonstrated in such a practical manner in both the present and the past. He encourages them by pointing out that their gift was well-pleasing to God, a “fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice” (cf. vs. 10, 14, 16, 18). In addition, we find that Paul is glad to get the gift, but it is not because he was seeking after it even though there were times the only gift he had received was from them. He was more excited about what the gift meant in terms of their spiritual growth and partnership with him than what the gift might do for him personally (cf. vs. 11, 15, 17). We also find that Paul wants the Philippians to know a secret that He had learned. The secret of contentment in all circumstances. A secret by which Paul had come to understand and live so that he was rejoicing in the fact that God would meet all his needs, and that He would meet all their needs too (vs. 11,12). “He shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (vs. 19). How much is that? An infinite abundance, but it will be according to need, not want or desire.
So the first thing I want you to understand is that contentment is something that must be learned. It does not come automatically with becoming a Christian. Yes, you are a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), but like a new babe, you must learn and grow into maturity. While there is a radical change, the most radical change imaginable, that occurs when you become a Christian, God does not wave a magic wand and make you instantly mature. He does not “zap” you at some point in life by which you suddenly live a holy life that matches your positional righteousness in Christ.
There are many Christians who think that is going to happen and so they remain passive in their walk with the Lord awaiting some supernatural anointing by which they would from that time on actually live for Him. This is called the “second blessing” in many groups, and in pentacostal and Charismatic churches this “second blessing” is to be evidenced by speaking in an unknown tongue. That is why there is such an emphasis upon that gift. Those of you who have come from that background already know from personal experience that this supposed “second blessing” is not all that it is cracked up to be. You do not become instantly holy, nor does it bring contentment.
How do we define this contentment that Paul says he learned in Phil. 4:11? As I already stated, Webster defines contentment as: the state or quality of being satisfied, not displeased, but that is not the meaning of the Greek word translated as “contentment” in Phil. 4:11. The word used here is autarkhV / autarkês, from autoV (self) + arkew) (satisfied/sufficient). It means to be “Self-sufficient.” “Not needing assistance from outside.” In the context of Paul’s usage here, 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? Or do the things that go on around you determine your response?
How do you react or respond to any of the following situations? All of these are from real life. All of them have happened to people I personally know. 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, terminal disease?
Could you still be content in those situations? Paul could. Consider what Paul wrote some 5 or 6 years earlier describing some of things he had suffered. 2 Cor. 11:24-28. “Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine [lashes.] 25 Three times I was beaten -with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. 26 [I have been] on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from [my] countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; 27 [I have been] in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 Apart from [such] external things, there is the daily pressure upon me [of] concern for all the churches.”
What would your reaction be to these things? Could you be content, self-satisfied, in those situations? I am not asking if you would like any of it, but could you be content? Have your reached a level of Christian maturity in which you can remain completely in control of yourself regardless of circumstances? You still feel all the emotions, but you are not falling apart, and you are still going on toward your lifetime goals regardless of circumstances.
Before I explain the secret, I need to explain to you why contentment of this nature – being self-satisfied, and in control of yourself regardless of circumstances while still feeling all the personal, sympathetic and empathetic emotions available to us as humans – is impossible for those who are apart from Christ, and very difficult for those who are not mature in Christ.
Turn to Ephesians 2:1-10. “And you -were 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. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly [places], in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, [it is] the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
If you do not know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and savior, then you are dead in your trespasses and sin. That means that you are separated from God, and you are living in sin. Some people have spiritual feelings of one sort of another, but if you have not been made alive together with Christ (vs. 5), if you have not been saved by God’s grace through faith alone in Jesus Christ, then you are in reality spiritually dead. You do not have a personal relationship with God. Your spiritual feelings are towards some entity that is posing to you as God. Being spiritually dead you do cannot do what God has commanded, nor can you please Him. Instead, your life is lived “according to the course of this world.” You live like everyone else. “According to the prince of the power of the air,” a euphemism for Satan, and he is the one that sets the agenda for you because he is the “spirit working in the sons of disobedience,” which is you.
Paul explains further in verse 3 that you live and indulge the “lusts of the flesh.” Lust simply means “strong desire,” and coupled here with flesh, it is talking about what ever your physical body craves – food, pleasure, comfort. That is why people struggle so much over a healthy diet, or give into sexual temptations, or are busy trying to find whatever it is that would make life comfortable for their body including / a comfortable environment ( temperature, humidity, amount of sun light, etc.), comfortable surroundings (soft clothes, well padded chairs, heated water bed, etc.), and conveniences like remote controls so they do not have to physically get up change things.
Paul also says you “indulge the desires of the mind.” You cater to whatever comes to mind that you would like. You seek to gratify your personal mental appetites, which is anything that absorbs your mental attention and energy, which includes fame, reputation, knowledge, talent, entertainment, amusements, position, power, etc.
Those who are spiritually dead, controlled by Satan and by nature a child of wrath, have no hope of contentment, yet the desire for contentment – peace, joy and happiness – is strong, so some means must be formulated to try and achieve it. Satan has guided the development of various world views so that the spiritually dead man can try to make some sense out of his existence. None of them can bring about real contentment, but they offer a substitute to quell man’s search for it.
But now you say, “wait a minute. That may all be true, but I am no longer dead in trespasses and sin. I have been made alive with Christ. I have received His grace through faith in Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross for my sins. What does this have to do with me?” While it may be true that you are a real Christian and that the power of sin is broken in you life so that you can now live unto righteousness (Rom. 6), the question remains whether you are or not. You may be a new creature with a new nature, but it must be asked whether you are living according to the new nature or still living in the flesh. Why do you think Paul had to make so many statements calling for Christians to quit acting like they did before they were saved, and to stop living as if they were still spiritually dead, but to instead move forward and live in the power of Christ day by day, moment by moment, as a new creature.
Consider these verses written to Christians. Romans 6. Vs. 1-2, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” Vs. 6,7, “knowing this, that our old self was crucified with [Him,] that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin.” Vs. 11-13, “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin [as] instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members [as] instruments of righteousness to God.”
Colossians1:2-10, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. 5 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. 6 For it is on account of these things that the wrath of God will come, 7 and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, [and] abusive speech from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its [evil] practices, 10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.”
The problem we face as Christians is that we easily slip back into old habits and ways of thinking, or we succumb to the pressure of society to mold us to take on their opinions and practices. This is why Paul is so strong in Romans 12:2 commanding that we not be “conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” You may be a Christian, but too often too many Christians live, act and think in practical terms like non-Christians. With that in mind, let me explain the major world views, and then you examine yourself to see if you are operating under a system other than God’s.
1) Deism. This world view became popular with the rise of rationalism in the early 1700’s. The belief that there was a God was still held, but He was now seen as impersonal. He created everything and then left it alone. God is not involved. Man’s hope for contentment is in figuring it all out and making it all work. Ecclesiastes expresses the ultimate futility of this view. There is no real gain to man’s work (1), generations come and go with nothing changing (2), there is nothing new under the sun (9,10), you will eventually be forgotten (II), and even with increasing wisdom and knowledge there is only grief and increasing pain (18).
Many Christians end up as practical deists. Their view is that “God is not interested in me, but I will keep trying.” As problems in life arise they may take the view that they will just hang in there, but tell me, what contentment can there be in just survival? Prayers are offered out of duty, but the sense of personal relationship with God is lacking or nonexistent. Or perhaps they descend in despair to a view of compliance and acceptance. This might be couched in some spiritual terms, but the bottom line is a resignation to “what will be will be, and since I cannot do anything about it, I might as well accept it.” Fatalism is the evidence that the person does not believe that God really cares, nor will He enter into their lives. The result is a complacency and indifference to actively living for Christ.
2) Naturalism. This is a major world view in our own society. In this view God is removed and only nature exists. This is the philosophical basis of evolution and evolutionary thought that has invaded so many areas of education. Naturalism leaves the meaning of life only in the here and now. Contentment will come from circumstances, so I need to live for myself with that in view, and then I will be happy. You live for pleasure – “Eat drink and merry for tomorrow you die.” Ecclesiastes. 2:3-10 describes Solomon’s attempt at this type of life. He used all his resources in trying to make his life as comfortable as possible.
“I explored with my mind [how] to stimulate my body with wine while my mind was guiding [me] wisely, and how to take hold of folly, until I could see what good there is for the sons of men to do under heaven the few years of their lives. 4 I enlarged my works: I built houses for myself, I planted vineyards for myself; 5 I made gardens and parks for myself, and I planted in them all kinds of fruit trees; 6 I made ponds of water for my self from which to irrigate a forest of growing trees. 7 I bought male and female slaves, and I had homeborn slaves. Also I possessed flocks and herds larger than all who preceded me in Jerusalem. 8 Also, I collected for my self silver and gold, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I provided for my self male and female singers and the pleasures of men, many concubines. 9 Then I became great and increased more than all who preceded me in Jerusalem. My wisdom also stood by me. 10 And all that my eyes desired I did not refuse them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart was pleased because of all my labor and this was my reward for all my labor. His conclusion in verse 11, “Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun.”
Tell me Christian, is your life about a pursuit of pleasure? Do you really think life will be satisfying if only you can get ahead a bit more to make it easier. If so, then in practical terms, you are naturalist.
3) Nihilism. This world view is the child of naturalism. It boldly recognizes that naturalism gives no ultimate meaning to life. The fruit of your labor feeds your mouth, but soon you are hungry again and there is no satisfaction in anything. Life is an absurd accident and therefore there is no point in trying. The result is complacency or despair and “I quit.” This is the basis for most people who commit suicide. There is no purpose, so why bother to endure the pain of continued existence. Don’t think for a moment that there are not Christians that fall into this trap and opt out for suicide rather than continue to face the pain of continued life here on earth. I was the executor of the estate for a man that slipped into this, and at one time we had served together as Elders in the same church.
4) Existentialism. This philosophy also views life as absurd because life ends in the grave, 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 considered to be stupid anyway. Indifference to others develops. 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 own ship, the master of your own fate, then in practical terms, you are an existentialist.
5) Pantheism. This is another world view that has taken a strong foothold in our society. This is the view of Eastern mysticism. Physical life is relatively unimportant, so only the bare essentials for it are done. In this view contentment comes not from having or doing, but from being. The goal is to become one with universe, thereby becoming nothing yourself. That is the state of Nirvana. Peace and tranquility are gained by withdrawing from the world through meditation and solitude. As one person put it, you have achieved ultimate success when you no longer involved with the problems of life and you have become like a rock with a smile painted on it.
Christianity has been severely assaulted by eastern mystical thought. Mystical spirituality is elevated above the mind and actions. This is true with many Christian ascetics. Some professing believers have even come to substitute Biblical meditation, which is an active mind striving hard to understand the world from God’s perspective, to eastern mediation in which a mantra is used to open you up to whatever is out there. I need to be frank here, there is a direct parallel to this in the practice of some Charismatics who claim it is their private prayer language. 1 Cor. 14:15 states that we are to pray with the spirit and with the mind. Both spirit and intellect are involved in proper prayer. If you are seeking a relationship with God, but are leaving your mind out to lunch in the quest, then you have succumbed to the pantheistic world view of the eastern mystics.
6) Humanism. This philosophy has become the latest step in this progression of world views. Rather than losing yourself in God (pantheism), in this view you must realize that you already have unlimited power to reach a state of understanding where everything is wonderful. By going deeper into yourself, tuning into your deeper conscience, you will find meaning to life with in you. Ultimately man becomes his own god. This view finds a home with many secular psychologists, philosophers and the fringe elements of “Christianity” that are now teaching that you either are or can be a god like Jesus Christ.
7) The last world view I am mentioning is the only one in which real contentment can be found – 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 through the person and work of Jesus Christ, and through faith in Him I can be brought back into a personal relationship with Him. I belong to God. My life makes sense living for His purposes in everything, for both the present and eternity. Life is about serving the Lord.
If this last world view is not what you hold to in both belief and in practice, you will never be content. You will never be able to experience the fullness of life and still live above its circumstances. Is your world view solidly Christian theism, or is it mixed with other world views? This has to be corrected before you can apply the secret of contentment.
What then is the secret of contentment? We are out of time today, so you will have to come back next week to find out.
Sermon Study Sheets
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? How are Christians supposed to live (Rom. 6; Col. 1)? Briefly explain each of the following world views / philosophies: Deism. Naturalism. Nihilism. Existentialism. Pantheism. Humanism. Explain how they might effect a Christian. Are there any elements from these world views that effect you? If so, how? How can that be changed? Explain Biblical theism & why it alone allows for true contentment Explain how the previous world views differ from Biblical Theism?
Sermon Notes – November 14, 2004
The Secret of Contentment, Part 1
autarkhV / autarkês =
The State of the Unbeliever – Ephesians 2:1-10
The Command to the Christian
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