Always Content

Philippians 4:10-13

Who would like to make $1 million per year? The average MLB player’s salary today is $4.9 million per year, and the average NBA player’s salary is $9.7 million. That’s a lot of money to earn in one year!

And can you name the three richest people in the world? (Hint: Warren Buffet is #5 and Bill Gates is #6). Jeff Bezos is #3, with a personal net worth of $161 billion, and Bernard Arnault, a fashion and luxury brands businessman, is #2, with a personal net worth of $187 billion. But Elon Musk is #1, with a personal net worth of $241 billion.

As impressive as these numbers are, American businessmen from more than a century ago, Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, were even wealthier. If we translated their net worth into today’s economy, they each would have been worth $340-370 billion each.

Worldwide, there are 2,640 billionaires with a 10-digit net worth or more. More live in the U.S. (735) than any other nation, with China as second (562) and India as third (169). If all the billionaires attended a Fargo Force hockey match at the Scheels Center, they wouldn’t fill even half of the seating capacity in the arena.

If you possessed just $1 billion, you could do some impressive things. You could buy 5,000 houses, buy a new castle every day for a year, or fly to space every day for a decade. What would you do if you had a billion dollars?

A new reporter once asked John D. Rockefeller, “How much money is enough?” Though his personal wealth equaled 1% of the entire U.S. economy, his answer was, “A little bit more.” Though we may excuse ourselves for saying so simply because have far less wealth than Rockefeller, how many of us might secretly say the same thing within our hearts if asked, “How much money is enough?” “A little bit more.”

In this part of Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi (Phil 4:10-20), he speaks about the specific topic of money and financial resources. And in doing so, he teaches us two important principles that we should practice in our lives as we manage the money God provides for us.

But first, what is a “principle”? A principle is a basic guideline or rule that we should follow in life. It is a concept which should serve as a guideline that helps and motivates us to make good choices. Though such principles are godly and wise, they are often contrary, different, and opposite of our natural, normal desires and tendencies. So, we need to be taught and reminded about these things and encouraged to follow them intentionally.

  • The first principle Paul teaches and models for us here is the principle of contentment. According to the principle, you should learn to prosper in any economic and financial circumstance. Whether you have much or little from a financial standpoint, you should experience a productive and satisfying life no matter what. We will look closely at what Paul says about this principle today.
  • The second principle is the principle of generosity. According to this principle, you should partner financially with people who are doing effective gospel ministry, and you should do so liberally, regularly, and strategically. We will look closely at what Paul says about this principle next Sunday.

But by way of overview, we must remember that with this letter, Paul is teaching the members of the church at Philippi how to live a joyful life. By joyful life, we mean experiencing a “calm, confident, and contented enthusiasm that’s focused on Christ.” And we mean that we should experience this type of peaceful happiness even when the circumstances of our lives and the lives of those we love are experiencing hardship.

As we consider these two principles, we should acknowledge that our natural tendencies are the exact opposite of what Paul teaches here:

  • Rather than choosing contentment (which is choosing to be happy and joyful within your current economic situation), we naturally covet and long for greater financial success and wealth, believing that “more” will solve our problems and bring us joy.
  • Rather than choosing generosity (which is choosing to contribute financially to people who are effectively serving Christ), we naturally hoard our resources for ourselves.

Ironically, coveting better financial success and hoarding more financial wealth for ourselves, neither provides the happiness and peace that we hoped they would provide. Such joy comes instead when we learn the principles of contentment and generosity.

Today, let’s hear what Paul teaches us about contentment, not only from the words of his lips but from the example of his life, as well. As we do, we must ask ourselves the question, “Am I content?” Or will I only be calm, confident, contented, and enthusiastic once I get “a little bit more”?

Show appreciation for others’ generosity.
But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity.

Here Paul refers to a financial gift which the church at Philippi had given to him. When they heard that he had been imprisoned in Rome for his gospel ministry, they wanted to provide financial assistance that would help meet his needs during that difficult time.

Being imprisoned meant that he would be unable to carry out his usual ministry activities, and he would also be unable to do any supplemental work – like tent-making – to meet his own needs.

Paul describes the financial support from the church at Philippi this way:

  • “Your care for me” describes their gift to him as being motivated by a personal, intentional focus on his material and ministry needs. This means they paid close attention to his ministry efforts and effectiveness, as well as to his financial needs. As such, their financial contribution was not a momentary, unplanned donation but rather the result of careful observation and planning. Their giving was part of an intentional and purposeful partnership in which they felt a personal connection and obligation to assist Paul financially. An intensive study of Paul’s ministry in the NT reveals that after the church at Philippi had begun through the ministry of Paul, he continued on to other cities to start and serve other churches, too. Early on, the church at Philippi had provided him with financial support multiple times, but by the time Paul had been imprisoned in Rome, their support for him had waned.
  • “Now at last” indicates that there had been some delay or holdup which had prevented the Philippian church from providing this financial support. The rest of v.10 explains this more clearly. First, Paul acknowledges that the delay in providing him with financial assistance was not due to a lack of concern or care on their part; they had been aware of his need and had been wanting to help for a period of time. Despite their desire to help Paul, however, they did not have a means or occasion for doing so. This probably means that either they did not have the financial means to provide financial support for a while, that they had lost contact with him and were unaware of his needs, or that they did not have anyone available to carry their gift on the long, difficult journey by foot and boat from Philippi to Rome. According to Phil 2:25-30, we know that they did eventually find someone to do this – a man in the church named Epaphroditus.
  • “Has flourished again” reveals to us that this was not the first time the church at Philippi had contributed to Paul’s financial needs. Another way of translating this is “you have renewed your care for me,” meaning that by providing this financial support, they were resuming something they had already done before, but which they had ceased or paused in doing for circumstantial reasons.

So, can you see what Paul is doing here? He is not just saying “thank you,” which for some is a positive step forward! He is saying “thank you” in such a way that acknowledges the difficulties which the church at Philippi had experienced. He does not want the church to feel guilty for their delay or interruption in providing him with financial assistance. He is assuring them that he knows their care and love for him, and his ministry had never wavered even though their financial support had been interrupted. And it was this personal care which they felt towards him that meant more to him than money.

At the same time, he did not want to minimize the financial gift which they had provided, so he tells them that he “rejoiced greatly in the Lord” when the financial gift arrived. From this description of Paul’s response to receiving this gift, we learn several things:

  • “I rejoiced” means that Paul felt happy, enthusiastic, and encouraged by receiving their generous financial support.
  • “Greatly” means that Paul wanted the church at Philippi to understand that his gladness for receiving this gift was not subdued or mediocre – his happiness was intense and large. It was very great.
  • “In the Lord” clarifies and qualifies what he means by this, however. His happiness did not arise ultimately from the money or the amount of money which they had given, or from the things which that money could accomplish, or even from the partnership that the affirmation which this gift provided for his ministry, knowing that the church at Philippi believed in what he was doing. No, his enthusiasm came from the Lord, knowing that through the financial support of the church at Philippi, Jesus Christ himself was caring for Paul’s needs and enabling him not just to survive but to thrive during his imprisonment in Rome.

From this verse, we learn that a joyful believer is a grateful believer. In other words, there is a vital connection between happiness and thankfulness. When we choose to rejoice, our thankfulness rises. And when we give thanks, our joyfulness rises. Most importantly, when we choose to rejoice in Christ, our thankfulness rises. And when we choose to thank God, our joyfulness rises.

Can you look at your financial situation today and rejoice? Can you look at your financial situation today and be thankful? Can you thank Jesus Christ for what he has provided for you, and can you thank God for those people through whom he has provided for your financial needs? A joyful person is a thankful person, and a thankful person is a joyful person! And ultimately, we must recognize that all we have comes from God.

Do not presume upon others’ generosity.
Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:

As Paul continues to speak, he makes an important clarification which does two things. First, this clarification provides a sense of freedom and liberty to the church at Philippi who was providing for his needs. Second, it reveals the spiritual condition of Paul’s heart towards his economic and financial position.

First, he says, “Not that I speak in regard to need.” By saying this, he is letting the people at Philippi know that he is not helplessly reliant upon them for financial support. He is not “in desperate straits,” as it were, unable to cloth and feed himself without their aid. You see, in this passage Paul uses two words translated as need.

  • The first word for “need,” which he uses here in v.11, describes actual poverty, which is being unable to clothe or feed oneself – to be unable to meet the basic needs of life and in danger of starvation, sickness, and death.
  • The second word for “need,” which he uses in v.12, describes someone whose basic needs are met, but nothing more. In other words, they may have a very basic lifestyle compared to others but they are not helpless and hungry.

So, by making this crucial, helpful clarification, Paul lets the church at Philippi know that they do not need to feel as though his life is in their hands or that if they are unable to provide him with any further financial support that he will suffer and die or that his ministry will cease. We should appreciate and respect this kind of financial transparency. It would have been easy for Paul to leverage his suffering in prison at Rome in such a way that churches felt sorry for him and felt obligated to give him money. Paul wanted no one to feel this way, so he made his financial situation public and clear.

Having clarified his financial position, Paul also explained the reason why he could be so transparent. He had “learned in whatever state I am, to be content.”

  • “To learn” means to learn by practice or experience, to acquire a custom or habit” (Mounce). So, Paul had made intentional choices throughout his life of following Christ and serving the church to adapt to whatever financial situation he found himself in at the moment.
  • “In whatever state I am in” does not mean whatever U.S. State he was in, of course! It means something like “no matter what economic or financial circumstance, position, or situation” he found himself in at the moment.
  • “To be content” is the key to this passage, here. And this attitude describes someone who is able to look at his or her economic, financial situation and say, “I believe I have enough, so how can I make this work?” To such a person, making more money or getting more money from someone else is not the solution to their challenges. The solution is, instead, discovering and figuring out how to make the most of what they already presently have. In other words, a content person believes that the key to happiness is not getting more but doing more with what they already have.

So, what Paul is saying here is that even if the church at Philippi had not provided him with more financial support and even if they could never do so again, he was fully capable of and mentally prepared to make the most of what he had already. He knew that God would make a way for him to eat and clothe himself and that God would give him wisdom to know how he might serve Christ best within the resources that God had already given.

Is this your mentality today? Assuming that you are doing what you can to work hard and to also serve Christ – that you are not being lazy – are you convinced that you have what you need not just to survive but thrive in living and serving Christ? Or are you on a quest to get “more” as the solution to your dissatisfaction and difficulties in life? To:

  • To Roman soldiers, Christ said, “Be content with your wages.” (Luke 3:14)
  • To the church at Ephesus, Paul said, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Tim 3:6)
  • To them he also said, “Having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.” (1 Tim 3:8)
  • To believers in the first century, the writer of Hebrews said, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” (Heb 13:5)

The problem for many if not most Americans (even American followers of Christ) is that we are far more focused on getting more – more money, experiences, and things – and increasing our standard of living to ever larger heights than we are on discovering just how happily, peacefully, and successfully we can live for Christ right now with what God has already provided. To us, the solution seems to be “get more” rather than “do more” with what God has already provided.

You can adapt to any economic scenario.
I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

Paul leans even more firmly into what he is saying here because he wants the church at Philippi to see how deeply he believes these things. He does not want them in any way to feel guilty or obligated to provide him with financial support. If they do so, he wants their support to be motivated by an opportunity accomplish even more for Christ, knowing that (a) Paul does not crave or require their support and (b) when they do provide him with financial support, he will use that support effectively, strategically, and wisely. To explain his mentality towards financial circumstances, he offers two examples, one that is broad and general and another that is specific:

  • “I know” means that Paul has paid close attention in life and gained real, practical understanding of how to size up and evaluate his financial situation at any given time so that he can figure out a way to “make things work,” not just to survive but to be happy and effective for Christ. “How to be abased, and I know how to abound” describes two opposite financial cases. The first is “how to be abased,” which means to find yourself in a “humble” or “limited” or “reduced” financial situation. This does not describe having no food or clothing, but it describes having minimal food and clothing – just enough to get by. So, Paul had though long and hard about how to handle such financial situations and was fully prepared to live that way when such a situation arose. When this happened, we know that Paul would either move on to a different ministry situation, find ways to support himself through other means of employment (like tent-making), or simply trust God and live as carefully as possible (like when he was in prison).
  • “How to abound” describes the opposite of being very limited financially. It describes having more financial resources than necessary, having a surplus. In such cases, Paul had learned to be generous towards others, set aside money for future times of need, and use additional resources to explore and expand more opportunities for the gospel.

Having describes a general overview of two possible financial scenarios Paul had found himself in throughout his life of serving Christ, he now offers two opposites of a specific scenario – what to do about them.

  • “To be full” describes having the ability to eat and drink whatever he wanted at any time.
  • “To be hungry” describes having the ability to live and serve Christ despite having inadequate food and drink.
  • “Everywhere and in all things” applies and extends what Paul had learned about adapting to various food budgets and supplies to any other life situation, whether that be clothing, housing, health, etc.

Finally, Paul here repeats his ability to live and serve Christ well when God had provided him with far more resources than he needed, then he also re-emphasizes that he could be just as content and enthusiastic about life and serving Christ if he “suffered need.” Here the word “need” is the word for having less than necessary – being in poverty. So, though Paul has clarified to the Philippian church that he was not, in that moment, experiencing such lack or poverty, even if he were in that economic position, he would still be able to rejoice in Christ and serve Christ happily.

Does this describe your approach to life? Are you able to easily adjust your standard of living to “live within your means”?

  • Are you able to cut or reduce expenses, eliminate debts, accept fewer luxury and discretionary experiences, or even work harder to make ends meet and serve Christ joyfully?
  • And when God provides you with more than you need, are you able to accept a realistic standard of living anyway that refuses to live opulently, focusing instead of being more generous towards others, better prepared for the challenges of the future, and investing in the kingdom of God and supporting gospel ministry?

You can rely on Christ in any situation.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

In closing, we have to ask, “How can we be so content and flexible?” Paul answers that question here by saying, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Let me make very clear here that this statement, this verse, stands out as one of the most often misquoted, misunderstood, and misused verses in the Bible today. How frequently and popularly do we hear affluent, prestigious, and wealthy athletes quote this verse as why they believe they will win a big game or competition and why they will succeed in their athletic endeavors? But that is not what this verse teaches.

Furthermore, this verse does not teach that you can do “whatever you set your mind to.” You can’t simply decide to climb a mountain ledge and quote this verse for success, or you can’t just launch a risky startup business claiming this verse as your motivation anymore than you can jump off a building and quote this verse to help you fly!

This verse teaches, instead, that we can live joyful and successful lives for Christ no matter how much money, resources, and wealth we have. This verse teaches that the solution to our personal and spiritual challenges in following Christ is not more money. The solution to our challenges if focusing on and depending more on Christ. Let’s look closely at what Paul says to be sure we understand how this works.

“I can do” means something more than just “taking action” of some kind. It means having the inner ability or strength to do hard things. So, this word is active in that to experience what Paul is saying here does require you to take action, make changes, make choices, make adjustments to your lifestyle and priorities. But in taking action, you must do so in complete, confident reliance upon the inner strength which only Christ provides.

 Jesus himself used this word when he confronted the apparent weakness of his disciples after they fell asleep while praying with him the night of the crucifixion: “Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, ‘What! Could you not [were you not able to] watch with me one hour?” (Matt 26:40). Soon after that, he explained how this inner strengthening occurs, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt 26:41).

So, we are physically, emotionally, and physiologically weak as human beings, even if we are followers of Christ. When we face financial limitations, our fleshly nature recoils. We feel overwhelmed, weak, restricted – perhaps even fatigued or unhealthy. Yet, in these very circumstances in life, we are able to receive strength from Christ not only to survive but to thrive. This word for “I can do” implies something like the ability to “overcome” or “prevail” over a difficult, powerful challenge.

Paul emphasizes the source of this inner strength when he says, “through Christ who strengthens me.” So, while we must exercise personal character, determination, and discipline to live this way, the ability to experience true joy in any financial situation cannot and will never come through mere human, personal determination alone. Why is this so? Because even if we can somehow exert enough human willpower and determination to live well through difficult financial hardship, in the end we will remain dissatisfied and disappointed because no amount of perseverance, circumstantial change, or financial success in the end will satisfy the deepest longings of our heart. We were made for Christ and only Christ can satisfy our deepest need.

The challenge, perhaps, of depending upon Christ is that we cannot see him. Though he is exalted at the throne of God today, above all things in heavenly places, we cannot see him. But such is the nature of how God made the world. Listen to how Warren Wiersbe describes this phenomenon of that which is invisible being crucial to the visible world:

All of nature depends on hidden resources. The great trees send their roots down into the earth to draw up water and minerals. Rivers have their sources in the snow-capped mountains. The most important part of a tree is the part you cannot see, the root system, and the most important part of the Christian’s life is the part that only God sees. Unless we draw on the deep resources of God by faith, we fail against the pressures of life.

“All things” means that there is absolutely no financial situation whatsoever in which Christ is unable to provide the inner strength to survive and thrive with joy. There is no economic position in which a follower of Christ or a church is unable to experience a calm, confident, contented enthusiasm that’s focused on Christ.”

Do you believe this? Or are you convinced that there are exceptions - that your situation is somehow an exception to this principle? Are you convinced that more money and wealth will solve your difficulties in life? Or are you convinced that you have all the strength you need in Jesus Christ to adapt to and thrive in your current economic and physical situation – with joy?

In 1887, a lady named Eliza Hewitt wrote the words to the song called “More About Jesus.” She was an intelligent and accomplished person who graduated as valedictorian of her high-school class, entering immediately into the public-school teaching field after graduation. Shortly after she began her promising career, a student struck her violently with a heavy slate, causing a severe back injury which required her to be bedridden for a long period of time. During this time, she was not only unable to work but was also unable to do normal, everyday things. It was during this time of physical and financial hardship that she learned to rely upon the inner strength of Christ rather than grow frustrated and bitter. It was during this time of deep, personal reliance upon Christ in her suffering and hardship that she penned these words:

More about Jesus would I know,
More of His grace to others show;
More of His saving fullness see,
More of His love who died for me.

More about Jesus let me learn,
More of His holy will discern;
Spirit of God, my teacher be,
Showing the things of Christ to me.

More about Jesus in His Word,
Holding communion with my Lord;
Hearing His voice in ev'ry line,
Making each faithful saying mine.

More about Jesus on His throne,
Riches in glory all His own;
More of His kingdom's sure increase;
More of His coming, Prince of peace.

More, more about Jesus,
More, more about Jesus;
More of His saving fullness see,
More of His love who died for me.

Friends, no matter what your economic, financial, or physical situation may be today, you need more reliance upon, more wisdom, more strength from Christ far more than you need more money.

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