We have been dealing over the last couple of weeks in some pretty polemical messages, hitting pretty hard on some of the issues that are important to us. We’ve gone through a series on the authority of the Word of God. On Sunday nights we’ve talked about attacks on the Bible. A rather hard-hitting message on Easter Sunday morning, and then again this morning talking about some things that are very, very distressing in the evangelical world and how we can sort them all out by having a proper understanding of the truth of God. And so as I said it’s been polemical, and I really want to shift gears tonight and just come to you with a Bible study that I hope is encouraging.
And I want you to open your Bible to fourth chapter of Philippians – Philippians chapter 4. There are things in this chapter that are familiar to anyone who’s been a Christian very long. There are verses in the chapter that perhaps you know very well. Some of them you have memorized. Certainly when we read through them, you’re going to recognize these verses as verses that are often a part of Scripture memory plans. There are many wonderful commands in this chapter and many wonderful promises in this chapter that all of us lean on as believers. But I don’t want to get caught up so much in the parts. And very often, honestly, I do that because we go so slowly through chapters. If I were to give a normal series on Philippians chapter 4, there probably would be ten messages here. But rather than get too deep into the minutia, even though it is important and critical I want to take a look at the big picture here if I can.
And I want to talk about the subject of contentment – of contentment. Basically if you’d look at verse 11, that’ll be a good launch point for us. Paul says, “I have learned to be content.” I have learned to be content. What a great thing to learn. What a wonderful reality to be content. “Content in whatever circumstances I am.” Therefore his contentment was unrelated to those circumstances. At the time that he wrote this, he was in the direst of circumstances. He was a prisoner. He was in the worst possible situation. He had been taken prisoner because he had been faithful in the proclamation of the gospel. He was under tremendous pressure to change the form of his ministry or lose his life. He had been ridiculed and slandered not only by enemies but by other believers. He was chained to a Roman soldier. And there he was living in captivity, in chains, despised by the world and criticized by the church – many in the church. And it was in the midst of that kind of situation, the worst of situations, that he talks about his contentment. And he tells us in that verse that it’s not related to his circumstances. And that’s true contentment.
Obviously we live in a world that wants to breed discontent. Everything in our society is geared to make you unhappy with your current circumstances: your job, your wardrobe, your car, your house, your wife, the place you live, whatever it might be. Everything in the advertising world is designed to breed discontent, to make you unhappy with what you have, make you miserable with what you have with the current circumstance. And of course Satan feeds this, because it essentially winds up in the violation and break down of every relationship. And that serves his purpose very well, because it’s contrary to God’s design. So we’re living, I think, in a time when we might be able to say that there is a more massive assault on our contentment than in any other time in human history because the sophistication of the attack has never been quite this extreme. So I want to talk about this matter of contentment. And built around the verse that I just read, verse 11, is a lot of information in this chapter that feeds into why Paul was content and how we can be content.
But a little bit of background biblically. The psalmist wrote in Psalm 36 verses 7 and 8, “How excellent is thy loving kindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Thy wings. They shall be abundantly satisfied.” There’s a synonym for contentment – satisfaction. And the psalmist said that based upon the loving kindness of God, based upon the protection of God – we are under the shadow of His wings – he was abundantly satisfied. In Psalm 63 verses 3 to 5 we read, “Because Thy loving kindness is better than life, my lips will praise You. Thus will I bless You while I live. I will lift up my hands in Your name. My soul shall be satisfied.” Here again the psalmist says, “Because of your loving kindness,” same thing as we saw in Psalm 36. Loving kindness means grace, mercy, love, all that’s bound up in God’s goodness to His own. Because of this, he says, my soul is satisfied. Two psalms later in Psalms 65, the psalmist writes, “We shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house ... O God of our salvation.” And then in Psalm 107 verse 9, “He satisfied the longing soul and fills the hungry soul with goodness.” And so the psalmist says that it is part of belonging to the Lord and being under His protection, under His care, under His provision to be satisfied.
Contentment is a beautiful word; satisfaction is an equally beautiful word, one that needs emphasis today. That word satisfaction, that word contentment, is behind the statement of Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd” – what’s the next line? – “I shall not want.” It’s another way of saying, “I’m content. I’m satisfied.” It’s enough for me to know the Lord is my shepherd. There is no need that I have that escapes Him. There is no need that I have that is beyond His compassion or His provision. There is no enemy against which He will not protect me. He will lead me in the green pastures that I might be fed. He will lead me beside the still waters that my thirst might be quenched. He will provide a feast for me, a table in the midst of my enemies where, though they surround me, I am protected. And He will even lead me into eternal life.
If I have the Lord as my Shepherd, I have everything I need. I have everything I want. I have enough. Nothing more is needed nor desired. Now that is the truth of contentment, satisfaction. Yet, in spite of that, Christians are filled with discontent as they fall victim to the world’s disease of consumption, which is built upon the idea of breeding discontent. And discontent and dissatisfaction is self-destructive. The message that I want you hear tonight is a simple call. It’s a call to contentment, to say, I have enough. What I have is enough. With it I am content. With it I am satisfied. I will accept what God has given me and be satisfied.
At the very outset of the ministry of Jesus, He gave the great Sermon on the Mount. And in that Sermon on the Mount, chapter 6 of Matthew’s gospel in verse 25 Jesus said, “For this reason I say to you, don’t be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food and the body than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, they do not sow, neither do they reap nor gather into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life’s span? And why are you anxious about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow. They do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory did not clothed himself like one of those. If God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more do so for you? O men of little faith. Do not be anxious then saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or, ‘What shall we drink?’ or, “With what shall we clothe ourselves?’ For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore, do not be anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself. Every day has enough trouble of its own.” Be satisfied today and leave your contentment and your satisfaction for tomorrow to the same God who’ll provide today. This is a righteous kind of contentment.
Now there is – just a little bit of a contrast – there is a sinful kind of contentment. Some people are content with their sin, and that’s not the kind of contentment I’m talking about. Like the wicked brothers of Joseph who hated Joseph. You remember they threw him in a pit and they waited for an appropriate moment to get rid of him altogether to sell him into slavery. And Genesis 37:27 says they sold Joseph into slavery, and then the text says, “And his brothers were content.” That’s an evil contentment. They were content with their wickedness. They were content because their evil plot was successful they thought. Some people are content with evil. Some people are content with less than God’s best. We’re talking about a true and pure kind of contentment.
There’s an illustration in Judges 17 of a man who decided to compromise in a serious way. You can read the story for yourself. And so he did and he went directly against what God had designed for a priest to do. He violated the law of God but he found in his violation a certain kind of contentment. It says he was content. Again, that’s an illustration of a sinful kind of content. You will find other occasions that that is indicated in the Scripture. Another one is Pilate, who, according to Mark 15:15, gave Jesus over to be crucified and it says, “Because he wanted to bring content to the people.” Well there is an evil kind of satisfaction. And unregenerate people can find a certain satisfaction in their disobedience. That’s not the kind we’re talking about.
I want to focus on the pure kind of contentment that God desires of us. And it is true that there is a disturbing amount of discontent among Christians. And it’s not just material discontent. It’s discontent with life partners. It’s discontent with family circumstances. It’s discontent with the way you look or the way you’re shaped or the way your circumstances are falling out in life. There is just this incessant beleaguering assault to make us discontent. More things, we think, will make us content. Different circumstances will make us content: living in a different place, having a different job, being surrounded by different people, having a better environment, having a different partner, having freedom from problems. So there is this brooding discontent, this lack of satisfaction in the provision that God has given to us. And this is a very serious sin. Discontent with what God has given, with the lot that God has chosen for us is a serious sin. The Word of God overtly and specifically calls us to contentment.
For example, 1 Timothy 6:6, “Godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.” If you really want something to gain, if you want to pursue something, pursue Godliness accompanied by contentment. Paul goes on to say you brought nothing into the world you’re not going to take anything out either. So if you have food and covering with these be content. Godliness with contentment is great gain. Very similarly in Hebrews 13:5 we read, “Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have.” Why? “For He” – God – “has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.’ So that we confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What can anybody do to me?’” We find our contentment then in God and the promises of His provision.
Now with that sort of introduction in mind, let’s go back to the text of Philippians chapter 4. I’ve worn out this book in my Bible. It’s sort of falling apart because of its wonderful practicality. And there are some indications in the Philippian letter that the Church at Philippi was under some serious pressure, that there were circumstances that had fallen upon them and made life pretty hard. Back in chapter 1 verse 28 Paul talks about being alarmed or not being alarmed by your opponents. There were opponents of the church. There were those who were against the church, persecutors of the church, apparently, and Paul says, you don’t need to be alarmed by your opponents. The fact that they oppose you is a sign of their destruction not yours. Then also in verse 29 he says, “It has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only that you should believe in Him but also suffer for His sake.” And then in verse 30, “That you should experience the same kind of conflict which you saw in me.” Now we all know the severity of the conflict that Paul experienced. We all know the severity of the suffering that he experienced. We all know how his opponents came against him. And Paul is saying essentially to the Philippians, “You have experienced the same thing.”
Over in verse 14 of chapter 2 Paul talks about doing everything without grumbling or disputing, “Therefore proving yourselves to be blameless and innocent children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.” So there they sat in the midst of a crooked perverse generation. And verse 16 says, “They were holding fast or holding forth the word of life in the midst of this perversity.” This is what generated the hostility and the persecution which they were experiencing. So we learn from just those little insights that life wasn’t just a bed of roses for the Philippians either. It was very much like the life that Paul was living, the life of hostility and persecution. “No matter what,” Paul says, “I have learned” – verse 11 – “to be content.” I have learned to be content, and it has nothing to do with my circumstances. In verse 12 he says, “I know how to get along with humble means. I know how to live in prosperity. In any and every circumstance I’ve learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, of having abundance and suffering need. And I can do all of this to the One who strengthens me.” It’s not about what I have it’s about who has me.
Discontent is always a sin. Let me put it simply. Discontent is a sin, because it denies the right of God to do with us as He will. Okay? Discontent is a sin, because it denies the right of God to do with us as He will, and it ignores the promise that God will never allow us to suffer more than we are able. “There will no temptation come to us that is more than we can endure,” 1 Corinthians 10:13. It is a sin, not only because it denies the right of God to do with us as He will. It ignores the promise that He will never give us more than we can bear. But it is a sin also because it fails to believe that this is God’s best for us. It is His best for us.
We are promised in the Scripture that God is concerned about our best. Whatever He does in our lives, He does for the purpose of making us spiritually mature. Is that not true? It’s the same thing with the correction of a child. As we remember from Hebrews, “Whom the Father loves He chastens,” as we read also in Proverbs 3 this morning. Correction and discipline is for perfection. It’s for maturity. For any of these reasons or all of these reasons discontent is a sin. And you may be wondering why things aren’t going well in your life and you may not be able to identify some categorical sin of immorality or theft or some overt violation of a specific commandment of Scripture, but you just wonder why your life isn’t what it should be. It may be that you are literally being sapped in your spiritual energy, your spiritual strength, and therefore your joy and blessing by the sin of discontent. It is a sin and a serious sin. Contentment is a kind of bliss. Satisfaction is a kind of euphoria, a legitimate kind. It is a kind of joy; it is a level of peace that just rides across the top of all of the trouble that surrounds us. Paul this prisoner, Paul chained, Paul captive, Paul ridiculed, Paul slandered, Paul persecuted, yet absolutely content, untouched by the circumstances.
And so that introduces the question to us, how do you get to this point? What are the components of contentment? How do we understand practically how to become content? And as I look at this chapter I think the whole chapter sort of folds in on top of verse 11, speaks to it. So let me give you some things to think about, just a list of things that feed into contentment. Number one, contentment comes from cultivating the love of others. It comes from cultivating the love of others. It’s about giving your life away. Discontentment is primarily the product of self-preoccupation. Discontentment comes because you’re sucked up into yourself. And this is only implied, but I think it’s implied in the opening 3 verses. You could even stretch it beyond that.
Paul experienced contentment and satisfaction in any circumstance, because he didn’t define his life by the kind of circumstances he experienced. He defined his life by the kind of relationship that he had with people. If he could preach the gospel and people would be converted, that was contentment and satisfaction, regardless of his physical condition. If he could have a ministry in the lives of people to bring them to a deeper knowledge of the things of God, a ministry that brought about their sanctification through the truth, that was enough to bring him contentment. If he could bring a word of comfort to a troubled soul, if he could bring a word of instruction to an ignorant mind, that was enough. It was about the people. It was about the people. If he could lovingly pour out the truth of God to a congregation, he would suffer anything to get that privilege. And you see this in the opening of this chapter.
Let me read you the first 3 verses, “Therefore my beloved brethren whom I long to see,” now those are very, very intense words that speak of Paul’s affections. “My beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown so stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.” And then he says, “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. Indeed” – suzugus, true comrade – “true yolkfellow, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” And just reading that you’re just caught up with the fact that this man’s life was all about people. It was about a congregation in Philippi who were beloved brethren to him. So beloved, were they, that he calls them that twice in the same verse. They were brethren. He didn’t see himself as somebody over them but somebody among them. He didn’t talk of himself as a father he talked of himself as a brother. He found in those people his joy. He found in those people his crown, that is the epitome of life, the ultimate end of life. To be crowned is to top everything off. And the top for Paul was the people.
And he not only spoke to them in general but, he spoke to them in specific. He spoke of Euodia and he spoke of Syntyche, who apparently were in some discord, encouraging them to live harmoniously. And then he spoke of true comrade, true yokefellow could be a proper name, Syzygus. And says to Syzygus, “I ask you to help those women who shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel and they shared with Clement also and the rest of the fellow workers whose names are in the book of life.” He’s very concerned that these two women, who are wrangling about something, get into harmony, and he asks Syzygus to go to their rescue and go to their aid and bring about the kind of harmony that is appropriate to the gospel.
Now all of this is so typical of Paul. When you start out in any Pauline letter, you’re introduced to whoever is in his company. And when you come to the end of the Pauline letters, he’ll give you a list of who’s there or the people he’s concerned about. And every one of his letters expresses a concern, either for a church or, in the case of his letters to individuals, in the case of that individual, Timothy and Titus. Paul was literally swept up in the fellowship.
In fact, if you go back a little bit into the third chapter and verse 20, Paul says, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” We don’t even belong here. Our citizenship is in heaven and we’re waiting for our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, to come from heaven and to “transform” – verse 21 – “the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” So we’re waiting for our transformation. Our home is not here our home is in heaven. We’re strangers here. We live as strangers in the world. We live as foreigners who are citizens of a heavenly land. We’re waiting for the Lord to glorify us. And what he’s talking about here is we’re a part of an eternal family. It’s with that in mind that he says, “Therefore my beloved brethren” – because we don’t belong to this world, because we belong to heaven, because we are the children of God we have to express our love to each other. You’ve got to help those women get their act together. You’ve got to stand fast in the Lord. Stand fast in what? Stand fast in love. Stand fast in unity.
Same as back in chapter 1 verse 27, “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel.” Paul was the last person on the planet to be preoccupied with his own personal circumstances. His own personal condition didn’t enter into his mind. He was driven to give his life away for the sake of others, and he sought that the church would experience the fullness of that fellowship, which was so precious.
In fact go back again to the first chapter of Philippians and let me show you how selfless Paul is, utterly selfless. Philippians chapter 1 – some very interesting things. He’s in prison. Look at verse 12, he says, “I want you to know brethren, my circumstances” – being in prison – “have turned out rather for the progress of the gospel.” That’s a better translation than the NAS has. “Have turned out rather for the progress of the gospel.” In other words, he looked at his imprisonment and said it’s a positive. It’s a positive. “So that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard.”
In other words, what happened was Paul is a prisoner. He’s chained to a Roman soldier. Do you think that’s a problem for Paul? No. That is a problem for the Roman soldier. That is a serious problem. He has the apostle Paul chained to him. This is an unregenerate sinner’s worst nightmare. And consequently, because he’s under the care of the praetorian guard – very, very significant group. The praetorian guard would be the guard assigned to the governor’s palace. The word is spreading through these guards, because the guards would be switched to different ones chained to Paul, and everybody else is hearing about this testimony of the apostle Paul as he evangelizes every guard that is chained to him.
If you’ll notice chapter 4 verse 22 he says, with a smile on his face, no doubt, as he closes out the letter, “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.” What was happening was the praetorian guards were becoming evangelists in Caesar’s household. This was not a problem to Paul. And further in verse 14 he says, not only is my ministry flourishing, “But most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.” Because Paul, being in prison, was having such a great ministry, others who feared being taken prisoner no longer feared it, because they could see what a tremendous blessing it was for Paul. They could see it just as another evangelistic opportunity, and so they were becoming more courageous to speak the Word of God without fear, knowing that if they too were taken prisoner that would just be a new audience for them.
And then he says this – it’s really sad. “Some,” verse 15, “to be sure are preaching Christ even from envy and strife.” There were those people who were criticizing Paul out of envy, out of strife, saying, “Oh, you know, Paul, God had to put him on the shelf. God had to put Paul in prison because, you know, he’s over the hill. His days has past.” Some were even, out of their envy and strife, accusing Paul of some sins and that this was some punishment from God. And these were the jealous people who were so eaten up by envy over the success of Paul that they were glad when he was put in prison, and they wanted to make sure people thought that that was the judgment of God on Paul and they were the new heroes. It’s amazing how jealousy can come in among preachers.
And they were preaching Christ, that’s true, but with a note of envy and strife against Paul. And others, he said, are preaching with good will toward me. “The latter do it out of love.” They love me. They know I’m in prison because I was appointed for the defense of the gospel. They’re preaching the gospel. They shall love toward me because they know I’m here for being faithful. But there are those jealous ones who are using this as an opportunity to criticize me out of their jealousy. Verse 17, they are proclaiming Christ, but they’re doing it “out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.” They want to inflict more pain on me. How ugly is that? How ugly is that jealous, envious kind of attitude?
But look how Paul responds in verse 18, “So what? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice, and I will rejoice.” Now there’s a man who lives above criticism. People are ripping and tearing into Paul, saying untrue things about him, saying he’s in prison because of sin in his life, because God had to put him on the shelf. This is some kind of chastisement and punishment. They’re stepping on his neck to elevate themselves out of selfish ambition and impure motives. But because they’re preaching Christ Paul says, “I rejoice that they’re preaching Christ. Leave the issue of their motives to God. I just rejoice they’re preaching Christ.” There wasn’t any circumstance in life that affected his contentment. Whether it was a physical circumstance of being a prisoner or whether it was the emotional circumstance of being attacked by your own friends and discredited publicly. there wasn’t anything that could strike a blow at Paul’s contentment, because his contentment had nothing to do with circumstances, nothing whatsoever.
In fact, in verse 21 of chapter 1 he says, “For me to live is Christ to die is gain.” I don’t have anything to fear. If things got as bad as possible that would mean I would die, and that would be the best thing that could happen to me. But if the Lord wants me to live on, verse 22, and it means fruitful labor then I’ll live on. I can’t make the choice, he says. “I’m hard pressed in both directions,” verse 23. “I’d rather go and be with Christ, that’s very much better; yet to remain in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.” Paul had absolutely no regard for his own circumstances. He lived in this amazing kind of contentment. And I think what bred that contentment – back to chapter 4 – in part was that he was so caught up in the wonder of the lives of people.
In a small way, we can understand that. I can understand that. There are always circumstances in life that can produce this content. There are always assaults and attacks and misrepresentation that can threaten contentment and satisfaction and you could wish that that would go away like Paul wished that the messenger from Satan, who was destroying the Corinthian Church, would be removed, the thorn in his flesh. There are always circumstances that might be preferable to the current ones. But in the end, in ministry, my satisfaction and my contentment, in part, is based upon the fact that you always go back to the wondrous reality of the fellowship – of the fellowship.
The richness of having brothers dearly beloved and longed for, as he talks about in chapter one; the joy of a true comrade. The joy of a true yokefellow who stands with you, who contends together with you, who shares in your struggle, somebody else – others whose names are written in the book of life. Life for the believer is not about things; it’s not about circumstances; it’s about people. It’s about the family of God. It’s about the people whose names are written in the book of life. And the more you give yourself to that fellowship, the more you lose yourself in the lives others, the more you will find a true contentment, a true satisfaction. Contentment grows in the soil of selflessness, from loving others.
Secondly, there’s another element here that feeds into our understanding of contentment. Contentment comes from giving your life in the fellowship, but it also involves cultivating a spirit of rejoicing – cultivating a spirit of rejoicing. We know that because of verse 4. “Rejoice in the Lord; again I will say, rejoice.” And that’s a command. That’s a command. And if it’s a command, then it can be obeyed. Is that not true? Why would God give us a command if we couldn’t obey it? It is a present imperative. Keep on rejoicing. Make a continual, habitual practice of rejoicing. In one way or another we’re told to do that 70 times in the New Testament. Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice, rejoice, be happy, be joyful. And it doesn’t have to do with your circumstances because in Acts 5:41 it says that they called the apostles – the Council, the Jewish Council – and the flogged them, they whipped them, and then they ordered them to speak no more in the name of Jesus. And then they released them with a warning, obviously, that it could be worse next time. “So they went on their way from the presence of the Council” – next word – “rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus.” They never stopped. That made no dent in them. They whipped them. They said, “Don’t ever do it again.” They went out rejoicing that they had the privilege to bear that kind of punishment for the name of Christ, and they kept right on preaching. They cultivated an attitude of continual rejoicing, incessant rejoicing independent of circumstances.
But please notice, verse 4, carefully, “Rejoice in the Lord.” It doesn’t say rejoice in your circumstances. It says rejoice in the Lord. That is rejoice that God is the God of goodness and power and mercy and grace and provision. Rejoice that the Lord is your shepherd and you shall not want. In other words, your rejoicing is not in the circumstance. It’s not in your own ability to evade the most fatal blows. Your rejoicing is in the Lord. Jesus said, John 16, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament. The world will rejoice,” – superficially – “you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned to joy.” And that’s the promise of the Lord, that He’ll always be there to provide what we need to turn sorrow into Joy.
A primary source of that joy is obedience – obedience. I don’t think a disobedient Christian is going to experience joy but an obedient one has the promise of joy. “If you abide in me, Jesus said in John 15, “If you abide in Me” – verse 7 – “and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, it’ll be done for you. By this is My Father glorified that you bear much fruit and prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father loved Me, I have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you that My joy may be in you and your joy may be made full.” So if you want full joy then obey the Lord, obey the commandments, obey the Word. And that’s part of being in the Lord. Rejoice in the Lord. That is in your confidence and trust in Him and in obedience to Him.
So happiness is a choice, it really it. There was a book by that title. I don’t know that the book quite understood the biblical theology of it, but happiness is a choice. It’s not a game you play with your mind psychologically. I remember there was a psychological thing that I read about one time and it was really very popular for a while. You were to mail in to receive a coin, and this coin had sort of a Braille kind of thing on both sides. And the idea was to put it in your pocket, and every time you felt it and your fingers ran across that, you were to tell yourself how wonderful you were. And that by using this coin repeatedly day in and day out, you would eventually come to believe the lie. We’re not talking about that. We’re not talking about some kind of a gimmick. We’re not talking about training yourself to rejoice by simply tampering with your psychological patterns of thought. We’re training the heart to rejoice in the glorious truth that the Lord is your shepherd and you shall not want. And you’re going to know the fullness of His blessing when you obey Him – when you obey Him. And that’s the simple path to joy.
“For the kingdom of God,” Romans 14:17, “is not eating and drinking but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” You walk in the Holy Spirit, you walk in obedience to the Scripture, you trust in the Lord, and you will train yourself to rejoice. You can always look at the positive side, knowing God is working all things together for your good. Even the bad things that happen are to make you weak so that he might be strong in you, as 2 Corinthians 12 says. Even the chastening that comes is for your spiritual perfection. And so you train yourself to be joyful by trusting in the provision of the Lord and staying in the place of obedience. Contentment then comes from cultivating love in the fellowship, cultivating diligence in the habit of rejoicing.
Thirdly, contentment comes – and this is really very similar to what we’ve been saying – contentment comes from learning to accept less than you are due. It comes from learning to accept less than you are due. This whole deal in our culture about rights, everybody wants to talk about their rights, is destroying our entire society in almost maniacal egotism and self-centeredness. Everybody wants their rights. If you violate their rights, they’re going to sue you silly and try to extract from you every dime they can get as compensation for some violation of their rights. Everybody thinks that they can define for themselves what they are due. But that is the opposite of how true contentment comes. Those people are never content when they get what they think they want.
I want you to notice verse 5, first statement, “Let your” – and the NAS says forbearing or forbearance. Spirit is in italics because that word itself is not in the original. The King James says, “Let your moderation be known to all men.” The word is epieikēs – epieikēs. It is sometimes translated sweet reasonableness, which is a wonderful way to translate it really. You could translate it your generosity, your magnanimity, your humble willingness to be disgraced, your humble willingness to be treated unjustly or mistreated without hatred, without bitterness, without retaliation, with self-justification, without even discontent. It is a kind of meekness and gentleness in the face of hostility. It doesn’t talk about its rights.
This is the attitude of Christ. Second Corinthians 10:1, it says, “I, Paul, urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.” I think one of the most amazing things about Christ is that He was willing to take less than He was do. Wouldn’t you think that’s true? Well He was due absolute and total worship as God, but He was willing to accept far less than he was due with a meekness and a gentleness that really is astonishing and exemplary. That’s what he’s saying here. Let all people – let it be known to all people how humbly, patiently, enduringly, steadfastly, unselfish you are. Let it be known that you are very content to be given less than you deserve. Some suggest that the actual root of epieikēs is the word eikō, which means to yield. Not demanding rights, not demanding privileges, not demanding recognition, not demanding possessions, not demanding health, not demanding wealth, not demanding anything, even though you might think you deserve it. You see contentment belongs to people who are willing to take less than they’re due.
I often tell pastors that. You hear about pastoral burnout, pastors being discontent and leaving churches. It usually has nothing to do with work. You know, you never met a ditch digger who had burnout. It’s not a physical thing; it’s an emotional thing. And what drives pastors out of churches is this ridiculous notion that somehow they’re not being treated the way they should be treated. Well if we got treated the way we should be treated, we’d be sent to hell. Wouldn’t we? It’s essential to contentment to have a sweet reasonableness that doesn’t demand anything, doesn’t expect anything, and therefore anything that comes is received with surprise.
Fourthly, contentment involves, not only love in the fellowship, not only joy in the Lord, not only a sweet kind of reasonableness that seeks nothing, but it involves a confident faith in the Lord and we’ve already hinted at that. It involves a confident faith in the Lord. Please notice verse 5, “The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing.” What a great statement. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing. That is really practical. Don’t forget the Lord is near. How near? He’s in you. That’s how near. And the word here, “The Lord is at hand,” in the King James, isn’t talking about His eminent second coming. No. It’s saying He’s near. It can mean He’s near in space and time. He’s nearby. The intent here is personal presence. Oh sure, the Lord is near in terms of coming back to take His church. The time of that is nearer now than it’s ever been. But the idea here is personal presence. He is near. I don’t want to take the time to go back through all the places: Psalm 118, Psalm 144, 1 Samuel 21, all kinds of places in the Old Testament, Psalm 125, where we are reminded of the nearness of God. But He is near. He is sticking closer than a brother. He never leaves us or forsakes us. He is near, so be anxious for nothing.
He’s your true security. Your security is not in your money. It’s not in your career. It’s not in your reputation. It’s not in your land, your house, your investments. Your true security is in the Lord. No matter how you try to safeguard all of that, it can be gone in a flash. Right? Don’t be anxious, not because you’ve got a bank account, not because you’ve got yourself secure in terms of your financial plan and your retirement or because you’ve just put in a multi thousand dollar security system in your house or whatever it might be. No, just realize this, that your security comes because the Lord is near you, so don’t be anxious for anything. What’s there to worry about? Therein is the heart and soul of your contentment. The Lord is near and this is what makes you sleep well. Why should I worry? The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing and stop worrying about anything. Just stop worrying about anything.
Paul Reese used to relate the story of a man on a ship. It was in World War II and the ship was being torpedoed. And this man jumped into the ocean because the ship was being torpedoed, and he was picked up by a German freighter. The experience is one of tremendous fear and stress on the nerves of the man. He was down in the hold of this German freighter. Obviously the Germans were the enemy. And he writes this little biography, which Paul Reese related, “I began to commune with the Lord. At first I couldn’t sleep,” he wrote. “Then I remembered the words of Psalm 121, ‘My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth. He that keeps thee will not slumber. Behold, He will neither slumber nor sleep.’ So I said, ‘Lord there is no use both of us staying awake. I’ll thank you for some sleep,’ he said, ‘And I got it.’” Don’t carry God’s burden. Don’t lose sleep. Trust the Lord. Don’t carry the burden of the future for the people that you love, for the people around you, for the issues that fill your life. Go to sleep. God doesn’t – ever.
Contentment then is the product of living in love with the saints; cultivating joy in your heart in the Lord; facing life with a patient, humble, sweet, reasonableness that accepts very little and never makes demands and never articulates rights; all built on a confident trust in the God who is near and who is sufficient.
Number five in my little outline, contentment calls for reacting to your problems with thankful prayer – reacting to your problems with thankful prayer. Verse 6 says, instead of worrying, “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving” – isn’t that interesting? You don’t wait till God answers the prayer the way you want Him to answer it to be thankful. You ask with thanksgiving. You say, well how can I do that? You can do it very easily. Lord, here is my prayer and I thank You that You will do what is best. Right? In everything, he says. In everything. Instead of worrying, pray. Take your supplication. Take it with thanksgiving because you know God will give you the answer that is best. Just leave it there. Thankful for His purpose, plan, providence, power, promise, perfection. Contentment comes from just taking all your needs, as Peter said, and casting all your care on Him and leaving it there. Because you can trust Him with it. You can trust Him with all of it. Just take it there and leave it. And even if it doesn’t turn out the way you would like, you can trust Him to take care of you in spite of it.
It isn’t even the answer that is the issue. It’s taking the burden and leaving it there. And he says it in verse 7 – just take it there and leave it there and immediately – verse 7 says, “The peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Once you’ve unloaded that burden on the Lord, you’re flooded with – what? – peace. Peace comes from resting in the wisdom and the power and the purpose of God, and in the end nothing ever goes wrong ultimately. People make bad decisions, bad choices, things go wrong in life. But ultimately for God’s children all things work together for – what? – for good. You want contentment? Don’t worry, just thankfully pour out your heart to the Lord and leave it there, and walk away without the burden, and you’ll be flooded with the peace of God. Not peace with God – that’s salvation – but the peace of God. The very inward tranquility that God Himself possesses is transferred to us. These are fruit of the Spirit. Aren’t they? Love – we’ve talked about that. Joy – we’ve talked about that and peace and even long suffering. All four of we’ve talked about are all the fruit of the life lived in the Spirit. And then the peace of God will flood your life, and it’ll guard you. What does that mean? It’ll protect you. It’ll protect you from what? From discontent, from anxiety. It’ll protect your heart, the seed of your person, your mind, your thought patterns. It’ll protect them from discontent.
Well number six, and there’s no way to do this without coming to this point. If you want to have contentment in your life you have to think on godly things. And the more you cultivate the things of God in your thinking the more you’re going to be content. So in verse 8 he says, “Finally brethren” – this is my last word on the subject – “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good report” – or repute, that is good reputation – “if there is any excellence and if anything is worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.” You know how to get discontent? Just rehearse everything that’s wrong. Just keep reinforcing it all the time in your mind. Just keep going over it and over it and over it and you will feed your discontent. But on the other hand, if you think about whatever is true, that is to say the truth of God; whatever is honest, worthy of respect, noble, dignified, reverent, lofty; whatever is just or righteous; whatever is hagnos – morally pure; whatever is lovely, amiable, attractive, pleasing; whatever is of good reputation, praiseworthy, if you think about those things, whatever is virtuous, you’re going to enjoy contentment. So create this habit. Let your mind dwell on these things. Let your mind dwell on these things.
Discontent is the result of negative thinking about yourself, about your suffering, about what you don’t have, what’s not going right, what you don’t like. And it’s a monster that if well feed gets very large. It’s a bad process to get caught in. And Paul says if there’s any moral excellence, if there’s anything worthy of praise, then turn to the positive. And certainly there is moral excellence and there are things worthy of praise and they come to those who focus on the things of God, which of course are what all of those things are referring to there in verse 8.
So where do you get contentment? By being caught up in the love of the fellowship, cultivating joy in the Lord, accepting little with humble patience and sweet reasonableness – so basically essential – praying thankfully and offloading your burden on the Lord and receiving His peace, focusing on positive things, knowing that the Lord is ever present to supply all your needs. And one other thought, Paul says in verse 9, you need to follow a good example. It really helps to have an example. Paul says, “The things you’ve learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace shall be with you.” Paul finally says, look, just do what I did. You saw my life. He was an example, the greatest example next to Jesus, of contentment in the direst of circumstances. So he says, you saw, you learned, you received, you heard. Do what you saw, what you heard, what you learned, what you received. Do what I showed you to do and you’ll enjoy the God of peace in all his blessing.
Find a good example and pattern your life after a good example. Maybe it is Paul. And even though Paul isn’t a living human being today, I find that he is an example to me. In fact, I would certainly enjoy having human examples of these kinds of virtues, but I have come to know Paul so well, because of so many years of studying the Scripture, that probably among human beings who have lived on the earth Paul is my primary example. He said, you know, “Be followers of me as I am of Christ.” Paul has set the pattern for me to follow. And if in the horrific circumstances of his life he learned to be content, then I can certainly look at my life with far less strain and difficulty and find contentment in the same Shepherd that shepherded Paul. You can be satisfied in life. You can find contentment. And it comes through love, joy, humility, trust, thanks, righteous thinking, and following the right examples.
There is a sense, however, in which no matter how satisfied we are here we’ll never be finally satisfied until we get to heaven. Psalm 17:15, David said, “I shall be satisfied when I awake in your likeness.” Wow, that’s the ultimate satisfaction. And that will come to us, and they’ll never be another moment of dissatisfaction.
Father, thank You for the reminder that this wonderful portion of the Scripture is to us, that we need to have our thoughts centered in the right place. Thank You for encouraging us to be content, to enjoy the rich peace of a life that is totally cared for by the great Shepherd. Why should we fear? Why should we worry? Why should we be distressed? Why should we be discontent, dissatisfied, unfulfilled, when You are our Shepherd and we shall not want? You will lead us in every green pasture and by all the still water. You will anoint our heads with oil. You will give until our cup runs over and all our lifelong will be a story of goodness and mercy, and when it’s over we will dwell in Your house forever.
Help us to find our contentment in these great truths that we might live lives that demonstrate to the world what a great Savior You are to give such peace and contentment in such a discontented world. May our contentment be a testimony to Your saving power. In the Savior’s name we pray, Amen.
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