A story is told of a large, multinational company that was looking for cheap labor and large profits. The company built a factory near a small, poor village in an impoverished country. They hired the villagers to work in the factory. The first couple of months everything went well, but after the fourth month fewer villagers were coming to work each day. By the sixth month almost all the villagers had stopped working. Frustrated and confused the supervisor from the factory went into the village to find his employees and see what had happened. Their answers went something like this, “We made enough money to buy what we needed. Why should we keep working?” The company thought about it and came up with a strategy. They started sending catalogs and advertisements into the small village. Eventually all the villagers came back to work because they had looked at the catalogs, become discontented with their lives, and now had become aware of all the things they supposedly “needed.”
We are not that much different than the villagers in the story. Our desires and ways of life have been so influenced by the culture around us that many times we have wandered away from contentment in God and now covet the things of the world.
In Philippians 4:10-20 Paul is inviting us back to contentment, generosity and provision.
10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.
Here we see that Paul was rejoicing for the concern that had been shown him by the church in Philippi. It was the sweetness of loving and being loved. These believers in Philippi held a special place in Paul´s heart and by their actions they were showing that he held a special place in their hearts as well. Verses 14-16 then tell us more about their relationship.
14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. _____________________________
The apostle Paul was in prison in Rome. The church in Philippi had sent one of their own, Epaphroditus, who had traveled a great distance to bring their financial gift to Paul and to update Paul on the condition of the church in Philippi.
The church in Philippi had heard of Paul’s needs and had responded by gathering their money and sending it to Paul. We see in scripture how they also supported Paul when he moved on to Thessalonica (Philippians 4:16) and when he arrived in Corinth (2 Corinthians 11:9). They loved Paul and he loved them. He was their spiritual father and their gift was a sign of their appreciation of all that Paul was and all that Paul had done for them.
He rejoiced in the Lord in the midst of their gift because it was God who had stirred their hearts to give. It was God who had blessed them so that they could be a blessing to Paul. In reality the Philippians were merely the conduit of God's grace and provision. Paul was so familiar with God's way of providing that when receiving the gift from the Philippians he turned his attention and gratitude and joy to God.
It would be similar to a wife receiving a very nice Christmas gift that said on the package it was from "her young children." In the midst of her big hug and “thank you” to her children, she turns her gaze towards her husband and gives a grateful nod knowing him to be the true source of the gift.
The Philippians loved Paul and God had prepared their hearts to be ready to give. They now expressed it through their financial gift once the need had become known to them.
In verses 11-13 we then read some of Paul´s clearest teaching on contentment.
11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
How could Paul say that he had learned in whatever situation he was to be content? He was a man who was educated, came from a good family, and who had had power and prestige. He had spoken before kings and the greatest thinkers of his day in Athens. From the world’s perspective he was a young man who had so much until he decided to leave it all behind for the sake of Jesus Christ. For sharing the love of Christ he was whipped, beaten, and almost stoned to death. He was imprisoned unjustly numerous times and shipwrecked more than once. There were days without sleep, shelter, or food for the sake of Christ, but yet from this Roman prison cell Paul was able to write “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” (Philippians 4:11)
To answer the question about where Paul found his contentment we first have to understand what contentment is and is not. The opposite of contentment is discontentment or covetousness. It is not being happy with what one has. It is grudgingly wanting something that someone else has. It is often a feeling that life is not fair. That God has not treated you justly. That you deserve more. It is always accompanied with a focus on self, believing that you will be happy if you can have what you want.
Paul was satisfied in what he had. He had the essentials. He had grown accustomed to living and being content and thankful for the bare minimum. Realizing that he deserved nothing, every moment of life was a gift. He was content, even as he sat chained in a Rome prison.
The money from the Philippians was helpful, but Paul´s deepest longings and needs had already been met in Christ long before Epaphroditus ever arrived. It is true for us as well, but we often do not realize it.
We work desperately for recognition when we already have been declared valuable by Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. We work hard to control life when God already sits on the throne sovereignly in charge. We are exhausted under the weight of life’s burden when He stands ready to help if we will but ask. We stress over the unknown while peace is available to all who will cast their cares upon Him. We work desperately to hide our faults when we have already received unconditional love. We spend vast amounts of money on entertainment forgetting that true joy comes from the inside, not the outside. We focus on the appearance when God focuses on the heart. We go through life looking for meaning when in Christ we now have a life of purpose.
Can we not see that we have made life so complicated as we chase after the world to take hold of that which we already have in Christ? As one reads in 2 Peter 1:3, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness.”
It is much like the American tourist who was taking a vacation on a cruise ship. At one point in the trip the cruise ship docked in a Mexican village on the coast. An American tourist, who was a successful businessman, left the ship and went out for a walk in the village. He came across a simple fisherman cleaning his fish after a morning’s work. The man complimented the fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.
"Not very long," answered the simple fisherman.
"Well, then, why didn't you stay out longer and catch more?" asked the tourist.
The fisherman explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.
The tourist asked, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"
"I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, play the guitar, and sing a few songs. I have a good life."
The tourist interrupted, "I have a business degree from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat.
"With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second boat and a third boat and so on until you have an entire fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant.
"You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles or even New York! From there you can direct your huge enterprise."
"How long would that take?" asked the fisherman.
"Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years," replied the tourist.
"And after that?"
"Afterwards? That's when it gets really interesting," answered the tourist, laughing. "When your business gets really big, you can start selling stocks and make millions!"
"Millions? Really? And after that?"
"After that you'll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late . . . play with your children . . . catch a few fish . . . take siestas with your wife, and spend your evenings drinking, playing the guitar and enjoying your friends.”
The tourist then hesitated as he thought to himself. Then he said to the fisherman, “Forget everything I said. You already have all of that. Keep up the good work. Have a great life.”
In a similar way, do we not do the same. We are busy and exhausted, spending so much time using the world’s schemes to chase after our desires, when in Christ, our deepest needs have already been met. Think of the fruit of the Spirit, in Galatians 5:22-23, that are available to every Christian. In the Spirit we find love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. In Christ, Paul had these priceless gifts and not even Caesar could take them away. Even in the face of possible death Paul was still content.
In Paul´s day there was a group known as the stoics. They sought contentment as well, but they believed that the way to be content was by learning to desire nothing. One was to lower his or her expectations and be led by apathy. Quit caring. That is the opposite of what we see in scripture.
God calls us to desire fully. Our mistake is that we are often too easily satisfied. We grow content with the counterfeit pleasures of this world, instead of persevering whole-heartedly until we take hold of the priceless riches that Paul had taken hold of. As Pastor John Piper has said, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”
It is when we turn away from a love for the world and finally find our greatest desires met in Christ that contentment can be ours. Any other manner of fulfilling our longings in the world will always prove vain, futile, and temporary.
Jeremiah 2:13 describes this same idea in a different way. “For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
This verse is the picture of one who instead of drinking from a pure, unending spring of water, has decided to install gutters that catch runoff rainwater from the roof and pour into a barrel. They have turned from the pure spring water and instead trusted in their own faulty strategies to drink stagnant, poisonous water that leads to sickness and maybe even death.
Our desire for the world’s version of contentment will result the same way. It will bring brokenness and regret. This is what Jesus is talking about in John 10:10. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” This is a description of the battle for our hearts and our minds. Satan has come to destroy life and Christ has come to save it. The prince of this world is wooing our hearts with all of the messages of the world, but Jesus has come to expose the lie, to set the captives free, and to offer an abundant life to all who will believe.
We naturally long for deep things like love, joy, and peace, but the problem comes when we try to take hold of them through money, materialism, popularity, pleasure, and ease of life. God’s Word already promises these blessed things of life are found in Christ. We don’t have to bow to the world’s methods to find contentment.
We often dream of the future when life will be better, believing that “the grass is always greener on the other side.” We believe that once we are richer, more popular, more loved, more comfortable, more pain-free, or more entertained we will find contentment, but that is not true. In the Christian life the true riches are at our finger tips every day. They are right in front of us. The truly priceless, precious things of life are always within reach because Christ is in reach.
We were not created for this world. We were created for eternity in heaven. Our longings give testimony that we were created for something more. On earth, if we choose to live life surrendered to Christ, we can get a small taste of what it will be like in heaven with Christ. Our home is in heaven, and only there will our deepest longings be fully realized. This is how the apostle Paul can say. . . (Philippians 3:8) “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him. With this mindset even death itself was a welcomed friend. “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Paul then continued.
17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
God had given the Philippians hearts of generosity. As they had matured in their faith and understood the abundance that they had in Christ they were compelled to give. As they heard of Paul´s need they had responded as an act of gratitude, concern, and faith. They knew that Christ was their provider. Their confidence was that the same God who led them to give would also meet their every need in the midst of their giving.
Paul now rejoiced in the gift, not because of what he got out of it, but because of the blessing that he knew the Philippians would now receive because they gave. As we read in Acts 20:35, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
God´s response to our giving may be material or spiritual blessing. As we find in the words of Solomon, “One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed” (Proverbs 11:24–25).
Our confidence is in the fact that those who give as God leads, will be blessed by God in one way or another. That is what Paul was rejoicing in. Because the Philippians had given to Him in his time of need, God would bless them.
“Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him.” (Psalm 41:1)
“Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.” (Proverbs 22:9)
We are imitating Christ. We give to others as He gave to us. It characterizes a people who live in an abundance mindset. God is generous to us. We should be generous to others. Like Paul, this abundant mindset applies even when we don’t have much. It is much like the story of Elijah and The Widow of Zarephath, found in 1 Kings 17:8-16.
8 Then the word of the Lord came to him, 9“Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” 10 So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.” 11And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” 12And she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.” 13And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. 14For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’” 15And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days. 16 The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.
This story is a clear picture of God’s provision for those who by faith give to others in need. The Philippian´s gift to Paul had been given with such purity and sacrifice that it was pleasing and acceptable to God. Because of this, in the midst of their generosity they had nothing to fear. God led them to give. They then responded by giving out of faith and obedience. God would then supply their every need “according to His riches and glory in Christ Jesus.”
Paul here lays down a principal for giving. Where God calls, He provides. We cannot outgive God. For those who give as they are led by the Spirit, God will meet their every need. We ought not fear being generous. Our main responsibility is to walk intimately with God so that we sense His leading to give. Then we can be confident of His provision. Without intimacy with God we either refuse to give because of fear, or we give with an impure motive or in ways that God did not lead.
As we nurture our relationship with Christ we will grow to look at the world and the needs of others as God does. God will shape our faith, our priorities and our understanding of need and provision. God will hone our sensitivity to the Spirit´s leading. When we seek first the kingdom of God, we will be confident that God will meet our needs (Matthew 6:33). As we begin to see contentment, giving and His provision from a biblical perspective we will be made ready to be a channel of blessing as he blesses us so that we can be a blessing to others.
In 1 Timothy 6:17-19 the Apostle Paul instructs Timothy to teach the people to not “put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. . . do good, be rich in good deeds, and be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.“
May we be people and a church who will mature in our faith and be characterized by contentment, generosity and the provision of God for many years to come.