Sermon Series: Lord, I want to be better
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. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength. 14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 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; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. 17 Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. 18 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. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
20 To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
God has granted us, through His grace, the opportunity to experience different states of being. God by His grace allows you and me to know happiness, but God also permits us to know sorrow. In addition to these two states of being there is a third more preferable state that often seems to elude us or is sometimes challenging to obtain. The third state of being is a middle ground between the extreme highs of happiness and the extreme lows of sadness. It is a state of being that Jesus no doubt occupied during His time living on earth. I am referring to the state of contentment. And, so, the question before us is how do you and I achieve and live in the state of contentment?
I find it interesting that in addition to dealing with the issue of contentment, the apostle Paul also discusses hurdles that need to be overcome on our way to discovering contentment. One such hurdle is the lack of concern for others. To be honest, sometimes it can be challenging to be concerned about the needs of others when our own needs are pressing. It is also equally difficult to find contentment when our entire focus is consumed with our own issues. The fact is we are not islands living an isolated existence. What affects the individual also affects the community. It is funny how it takes a community to shape an individual, but it only takes one individual to destroy a community. One of the commands that God gave Adam was to care for creation, not just vegetation and the animals but other people too. The apostle applauds the Philippians for their renewed concern for him.
How should we care for and about others? Paul says that we have to look for ways and opportunities to show others that we genuinely care about them. It is good to be concerned, but if we never show or express our concern for others how will they know? Again, this can be challenging sometimes because not everyone is open to receiving expressive displays of love, concern, and affection. However, according to the apostle the Philippians shared in Paul’s troubles. Investing in the lives of people is a concrete way to express our concern for them. It really does not cost us anything to inquire as to how people are doing and when we are aware that they are going through different situations and circumstances either listening to them or taking time out to help them cope can make a tremendous impact in someone’s life. Just this past week Jeremy asked how I was feeling and how things were going. The thing that struck me about his inquiry was, he really meant it. He was genuine in his concern for me and was willing to share in whatever I was going through.
Another way we can express our concern for others is in the area of giving and receiving. Paul pointed out that of all the churches he planted and worked with the only one that made a contribution to his ministry was the Philippian church. Giving can also be an area of challenge as well. What the Philippians did was they realized how the ministry had blessed them and gave in response to the blessing they received from the ministry. When we pledge support to a ministry as an act of gratitude we are acknowledging that God through that ministry has impacted us and/or our lives in some way. When we see ministry as a blessing then it becomes easier to see giving as us partnering with that ministry so that someone else can also be blessed. The Philippians gave from their heart and not from their pocketbooks. The realization that we have received from God triggers something in the heart that feels compelled to respond in some tangible way. Giving is a tangible way to say thank you.
The apostle Paul described the Philippians actions of giving, offering, and sacrifice as being pleasing to God and putting their account in the plus column with God. Paul actually uses the word “credit.” A credit means that we have over paid or put in more than what is required. A credit means that at some future point when you and I are in need we can go back and draw down on what we have in reserve and apply it to an outstanding debt or area of need. Have we built up a credit with God? In what areas have we done more for God then what God has required of us?
While Paul’s instruction on some of the things that can be an impediment to achieving contentment was nice, I want to know what is the secret to contentment. Paul has already established that contentment is a state of being, and as with all states of being there are some steps we must take in order to get there. The apostle offers us three things we need to know about contentment:
1. Contentment is a learned behavior – In verse 11 the apostle says, “I have learned to be content.” Think about this, from the time we come out the womb we already know how to express our discontentment. When we do not like something we cry, whine, pout, throw tamper tantrums, etc. Achieving contentment is a process. No one is born knowing how to be content, but rather it is one of life’s lessons that we must learn. Computers are fascinating tools. They are artificial reflections of human intelligence. A computer can only do what it has been programmed to do, and if the owner or operator wants the computer to perform additional operations and functions it requires the installation of additional programming. Contentment is a human program that before it can be performed it needs to be installed within us. Another way to look at this is, anything in life we want to do and be good at requires at least two-steps – a) learning how to do it, and b) putting what we have learned into practice by actually do it.
2. Contentment is an applied behavior – In verse 12 Paul says, “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.” Any skill or ability that you and I possess and do not use we will lose. A computer application only works if it is used. Any thing meant to be used and goes unused benefits no one. Contentment is like other skills and/or abilities we possess if we want to be proficient we need to practice it and use it frequently. The apostle point out that life offers us opportunities to practice being content and it is up to us to choose contentment over other states of being. When we choose to practice being content we discover the transcendent or overriding nature and power of contentment. Here is where an understanding of the word contentment comes into play. According to Paul contentment means that regardless of what is going on around me or in my life, I am okay. Contentment says, it really does not matter how others treat me, where I am in relationship to where I want to be, how much money I have in the bank, or whether or not I am getting what I think I deserve, because wherever I am and whatever is going on I am okay.
3. Contentment comes from God – Verse 13 says, “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” The reason you and I can be okay is because God makes us okay. The secret to contentment lies in the believer’s understanding of their position in Christ. When we face life and life situations outside of Christ, the more challenging the situation the more difficult it is to face, deal with and overcome. However, when you and I are in Christ Jesus, we are no longer operating in our own power but the power of Christ is programming and reprogramming us. Years ago before laser printers and copiers, bulletins were made on a mimeograph machine. It was a great big old thing. You would place the paper in a tray and the paper would be fed into the machine by turning a handle. The handle turned a wheel that was filled with ink and had a stencil or template of the information that was to be copied onto the paper. This was a time consuming, often frustrating and messy process. Very often it took several tries to get it right. Everything had to be just right. That is what it is like to operate outside of Christ. Today, with laser printers and high-speed copiers we can tell the computer what we need done, the computer sends a message to the printer and the printer does the work. That is what it is like to operate in Christ, tell Him what you need and let Him handle the work.
The primary reason you and I can be okay about whatever situation or condition we find ourselves in is because of verse 19. “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” The bottom line is wherever we reside or live, for as long as we stay there we possess that place. If we reside or live in Christ Jesus than we possess and can claim God as our own. It is on the basis of this claim and by God’s own word He pledges to meet and supply, not some or partially, but all of our needs. In other words, there is not a physical, emotional, material, relational, or other need that we have that God cannot provide for or meet. Why, because God dispenses His provisions not on the basis of our wants, but rather our needs. So, whatever we need God already has it covered. The truth is if we are honest with ourselves, everything we need has or is being provided. What you and I may be lacking are the things we want. Contentment says, if you and I learn to be okay with having our needs met then we will also learn that anything we receive beyond what we need is an added blessing.
What is the secret to contentment? Learning to be okay in whatever situation or circumstance we find ourselves because we know that by virtue of our position in Christ Jesus God has and will supply, provide for, and meet all of our needs, and anything beyond that is a blessing.