Sermon: Contentment & Concern

I invite you to open your Bibles with me to Philippians 4. Philippians 4:10-23. Philippians is in the New Testament – Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians. Philippians 4:10-23. This morning, we finish our fall study of the book of Philippians. As we have seen, the twin notes of joy and Jesus have rung together throughout this book. Rejoice. Rejoice. I Rejoice always. And Jesus, knowing Jesus, gaining Jesus, being found in Jesus. As the letter closes, those same notes ring again in the context of contentment and concern for others. But before we hear God’s Word this morning, please pray with me: 

Lord, dig out our ears to hear your word, soften our hearts to receive it, and strengthen our feet to walk in it. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress. 

You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with him in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone. For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs more than once. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account. I have been paid in full and have more than enough; I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The friends who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of the emperor’s household. 

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. 

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. 

I want to keep things simple this morning. As we listen and study these closing verses of the book of Philippians, we are going to listen to the answer to two questions: What does it look like to be content? and What does it look like to show concern? 

We are looking at Contentment and Concern because run through the heart of this passage, but also because they run through the heart of Christian discipleship. As we learn and grow in our contentment in Christ, we grow in our capacity to show concern for others. 

1. What does it look like to be content?

Contentment is the quiet confidence of the heart that God is our faithful Father no matter the circumstances. It is the trust that, as the Heidelberg Catechism says, 

“fruitful and lean years,

food and drink,

health and sickness, 

prosperity and poverty – 

all things, in fact, 

come to us

not by chance

but by his fatherly hand.”

Listen to how Paul describes it, starting in verse 11: Not that I am referring to being need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.

Contentment is the quiet confidence of the heart that God is our faithful Father no matter the circumstances.

Paul lists two opposite circumstances where we must learn to be content: little and plenty. 

I know what it is to have little, Paul says. Paul was imprisoned multiple times, he was beaten and kicked out of town. Paul talked earlier in this letter about all the gains he had from birth and accomplishment that he now considered worthless because of the surpassing value of knowing Jesus Christ. Paul knew what it was to have little. Even as he wrote this letter, Paul was in chains. His freedom taken, his ability to eat determined by the generosity of others. Yet, Paul was content. 

Through those times where he had little in the eyes of the world, Paul was not fearful or anxious. Every time he went through those seasons, God provided for him, so he learned from his life with God to be content. 

Some of us get anxious about money, about whether we will have enough. I confess to be one of them. Right after we moved to Canada, I was super anxious about our family finances. Not because we were not paid enough or didn’t have money in the bank, but because I, as an American, was disoriented by the exchange rate. Even if I knew roughly what it was in my head, I didn’t instinctively know how much things should cost. I didn’t intuitively know how far $20 would go anymore. I was anxious and discontent because my heart was fearful. The changing situation revealed a part of my heart that did not yet fully trust that God would take care of my every need, that he would make sure I had enough. 

I know what it is to have little, Paul says. Some of us know this firsthand as well. Some of us lived through the war and the harsh winters. Some of us came here to Canada with little to nothing, no job lined up, no knowledge of English, no turning back. We have had lean times in our lives since then, times where we have felt squeezed dry. It can be tempting in those seasons to murmur in our hearts, even if it never crosses our lips. It can be tempting to grow bitter at the ease of others while we struggle. It can be tempting to grow discontent with our life and with our God. Yet, God has provided. Every year, every day, in those times where there was little on the plate or little in the bank, God has been our faithful Father and has provided for us. 

Contentment is the quiet confidence of the heart that God is our faithful Father no matter the circumstances. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. Paul also knew times of plenty. There were times when Paul had more than enough, when his plate was overflowing and there was more to spare. Yet, even here he was content. 

If it can be difficult to be content when life is hard and thin, it is a strange truth that often the more we have the more discontentment grows. I think of what are called ‘First World Problems.’ This phrase is a way of talking about the type of problems that only happen to people who already have all their basic needs met and more. You see this on twitter or Instagram. Sometimes it is very frivolous. That time when you go to Starbucks, order your latte, and they are out of whipped cream. #firstworldproblems Of course, much of the world is still trying to make sure they have enough food to eat, but we can grumble about no whip on our latte. Some kids walk miles each day to get water, but we get grumpy because our Brita is broken. #firstworldproblems. Or a few just for 2020. I had to jump on a zoom meeting, but my internet was down. #firstworldproblems. Yes, yes, people even in our own city struggle not to live on the street, but I couldn’t build my deck because Lowe’s was out of treated lumber. #firstworldproblems. Even when we have more than enough, when we have plenty and are well-fed (as Paul says), we can grow to be discontent. 

The reality is our economy is driven by discontent. We have plenty, but it is not enough. If only we have this, then we will be happy – that is the promise of almost every single advertisement you will see. We are being trained for discontentment with what we have been given, so we will buy more stuff. 

Yet Paul says, Not that I am referring to being need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.

Plenty or little, Paul is content. Whether he has more than enough or barely enough, he has the quiet confidence of the heart that God is his faithful Father no matter the circumstances. Paul claims to have learned the secret of contentment. What is it?

Verse 13: I can do all things through him who strengthens me. The secret to contentment is resting in Christ. The secret to quieting our hearts when things go up and when things go down is Christ. Christ who strengthens us. Christ who redeems us. Christ who is our goal. Knowing Jesus is more valuable than all silver or gold, all honor or prestige, all glory or accomplishments. The secret is that little or much does not have a hold on us when our security, our hope, and our joy is in Jesus. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. The key to contentment is Christ. 

Contentment is the quiet confidence of the heart that God is our faithful Father no matter the circumstances. That quiet confidence is rooted in Jesus – his strength, his faithfulness, his goodness. 

In his excellent book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, Jeremiah Burroughs says this about learning to be content in Jesus:

“I see that it is not necessary for me to be rich, but it is necessary for me to make my peace with God; it is not necessary that I should live a pleasurable life in this world, but it is absolutely necessary that I should have pardon of my sin; it is not necessary that I should have honor and preferment, but it is necessary that I should have God as my portion, and have my part in Jesus Christ, it is necessary that my soul should be saved in the day of Jesus Christ. The other things are pretty fine indeed, and I should be glad if God would me them, a fine house, and income, and clothes, and advancement for my wife and children: these are comfortable things, but they are not the necessary things; I may have these and yet perish for ever, but the other is absolutely necessary. No matter how poor I am, I may have what is absolutely necessary.” (49)

When we are secure in Jesus Christ, when we know him, the one thing absolutely necessary – as Burroughs says – then we have the key to contentment. When what matters most in life is secure – our relationship with Jesus – then whether we have little or plenty will not shake us. Instead, we will be content and, by the strength of Jesus, enabled to live in service to God. 

Burroughs uses the image of an axle to describe the contented heart. The wheels of a carriage (or car) may move up and down, but the axle stays steady. The wheels turn around the axle, but the axle holds steady. So too with the human heart. Circumstances of life move up and down, but when our heart is steady upon the Lord, we are able to move in service to God. 

One thread that runs through the heart of our passage this morning and the heart of the Christian life, is contentment. Contentment is the quiet confidence of the heart that God is our faithful Father no matter the circumstances. That quiet confidence is rooted in Jesus. 

But there is a second thread: concern for others. 

2. What does it look like to show concern?

Concern for others can exist without opportunity to show it, but concern looks for opportunity to show itself in concrete ways. 

Verse 10 says, I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Paul knew the Philippians cared for him. Throughout this letter, Paul’s heart for this church and their heart for him has been on full display. He knew their heart, even if they hadn’t done anything for him lately. Paul understood that their lack of help was not a lack of concern, but happened because there was no opportunity for them to show it. Concern for others can exist without opportunity to show it.

This happens to us as well. There are times where we care deeply for other people but do not know the best way to show it. Especially right now, when the usually means of showing we care for people are more difficult or not possible. Each of us can be left feeling like our concern, our love, our care has nowhere to go. We care but have no opportunity to show it. 

At other times, we can believe others are not concerned about us because they have not been given the opportunity to show it. Our congregation here at Bethel is great at showing concern and care for one another, when we are given the opportunity. The key is opportunity. We often don’t want to burden each other, so we end up saying nothing, robbing our brother or sister of an opportunity to care for our needs, and feeling like no one cares. 

Concern shows itself when there is opportunity. It exists there in the heart, but shows up when there is opportunity. Sometimes that means we need to be willing to open the door for others to show their care and concern for us. 

Concern for others can exist without opportunity to show it, but concern looks for opportunity to show itself in concrete ways. In prison, Paul had no means of supporting himself. As a missionary, Paul occasionally worked as a tentmaker, but he was strengthened by the financial gifts of the church. The church in Philippi had shown their concern for Paul by taking a collection and sending him funds to support him. They had done it from the beginning, the only ones. Additionally, they had sent one of their own, Epaphroditus, with the gifts to serve and strengthen Paul. When Paul talks of their generosity, he says he has been paid in full, he has more than enough, and is fully satisfied. He calls their gift a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 

Concern can exist without opportunity, but concern looks for opportunity to show itself in concrete ways. The Philippians did this through sending financial gifts and sending Epaphroditus. In doing so, they strengthened Paul for his work in Rome. Out of their contentment in Christ, the Philippians were equipped for generosity for others. 

Friends, just as the Philippians sought an opportunity show their concern in concrete ways, we should do the same. Look for an opportunity to show concern with what you have. It is fitting to be hearing this passage on the day we dedicated the shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child and with the Angel Tree sitting here in the sanctuary. Look for an opportunity to show your concern for others in concrete ways. One of the things I have loved most about supporting Why Not is seeing that basket full each week, knowing that vulnerable teens in Brantford will eat better this week because of it. Our light not under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand. 

Perhaps what you have is financial resources, so you show concern by your giving to the church or to special missions. Look for an opportunity to show concern with what you have. 

But I also know that some of us have the resource of time. I know a couple ladies in the church who acknowledged this and said, “What if we just picked up the phone and called people right now, since it is so easy for us to feel disconnected.” If you have the resource of time, look for opportunities to show your concern for others. Maybe you have gifts and talents like encouragement, mercy, or even administration. Look for opportunity to show your concern for others in concrete ways. 

The Philippians were concerned about Paul. They loved and cared for him. For a time, that concern just kindled in their hearts. Yet, when an opportunity arose, their concern took concrete form as they gave to help Paul in his time of need. 

As we close, I want to return to the image of the axle and the wheel. The wheel of concern turns upon a heart content in Christ. When we are content in Jesus, then life can move up and down, the things of this world can move into our hands and then out again in care for others and our hearts will stay steady. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. When we are content in Jesus, we can do all things, including showing concern for one another. 

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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