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The Secret of Contentment
07/13/2008
Scripture: Philippians 4:11-20; Genesis 45:5; Genes...
Track 6 of 6 in the Philippians-A Life of Joy series
Running time: 1 hour, 02 minutes, 24 seconds.


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Mike Nobis Speaker: Mike Nobis
Sunday School Teacher, Former Elder at Madison Park Christian Church. Mike is President of JK Creative Printers & Mailing in Quincy, IL. He is married to Pam and has three children, Tom, Tyler and Jennifer. Mike has three grandchildren: Ryne, Ivy and Alicia.

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“The trouble with him is that he’s a thermometer and not a thermostat!”

This was a statement made by one of the elders in a church who were considering the qualifications of a man nominated to be an elder. Any idea what these guys were talking about? What does this statement have to do with finding contentment?

A thermometer doesn’t change anything around it – it just registers the temperature. It’s always going up and down. But a thermostat regulates the surroundings and changes them when they need to be changed. For many Christians, they are thermometers – they lack the power to change things. Instead, it’s the circumstances, people and things that change them. They go up or down based on what is happening around them. If things are cool, they are cool. If things get hot, they too become hot.

From our study in Philippians, Paul was a thermostat. Instead of having spiritual ups and downs as his situations changed, he went right on, steadily doing his work and serving Jesus. His closing remarks, at the end of his letter to the Philippians, indicates that he was not a victim of his circumstances, but that he was the victor over his circumstances. Things didn’t change him, he changed things around him.

What role does pampering play in your life to help make you more content? Are you a content person? Are you happy with what you have or do you need more? When do you think you will be content?

Paul did not have to be pampered to be content. He found his contentment in the spiritual resources abundantly supplied by Jesus. This leads to the question, what is contentment. For many Christians, they don’t really know what contentment is because they never experienced it. Many misunderstand what it is and end up looking for the wrong thing.

What is contentment and how do we get it? Contentment is not complacency, nor is it a false peace based on ignorance. The believer who is complacent is unconcerned about others, while the content Christian wants to share his blessing. Contentment is not an escape from the battle; in fact, contentment is an abiding peace in the midst of the battle.

Philippians 4:11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

There are two words in this verse that are vitally important if one is to experience contentment.

Learned: It means learned by experience.

When Paul became a Christian, contentment didn’t just pop into his lifestyle. He had to go through many difficult experiences in order to learn how to be content.

Content: This actually means to be contained.

The Greek definition describes a man whose resources are within him so that he does not have to depend on substitutes without. The Greek word means self-sufficient. This was a popular word with the Greeks and was used a lot by the Greek philosophers. BUT the Christian is not sufficient in himself; he is sufficient in Jesus. Because Jesus lives within us, we are adequate for the demands of life.

Principle: The measure of contentment in a Christian’s life usually is a good barometer of the personal relationship that a Christian has with Jesus. It is very difficult to be content in life and have a lousy relationship with God. Both go hand in hand.

Contentment is a direct result of the resources God gives us. At the end of Paul’s letter, he gives us three wonderful spiritual resources that make us adequate and gives us contentment.

The Overruling Providence of God:

Philippians 4:10 I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.

Here is a fact about God that most Christians have no idea what it means or understands how this plays in their lives? It is a very important fact and one that gives comfort to the believer who knows it. Today we have scientific achievements happening around us all the time. Sometimes the church gets the idea that the world is a vast natural machine that even God himself cannot interrupt the wheels as they are turning. But when we look into the Bible, we find that this is not at all true.

The word “providence” comes from two Latin words:

“pro” meaning before
“video” meaning to see

God’s providence simply means that God sees to it beforehand. It does not mean that God simply knows beforehand, it involves much more. It is the working of God in advance to arrange circumstances and situations for the fulfilling of His purpose. Notice he doesn’t step in and arrange free will or mans will to choose. He arranges situations that allows man to make a choice.

A great Biblical example of this is the account of Joseph and his brothers (Genesis 37-50).

• At 17 Joseph’s brothers envied him and sold him into slavery
• He ended up in Egypt and there God revealed to Pharaoh a dream concerning 7 years of plenty and 7 years of famine. Joseph’s interpretation elevated him to the second highest ruler in all Egypt.
• 20 years later his brothers were reconciled to him and they understood what the Lord had done.

Genesis 45:5; 50:20 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

This is the providence of God: his hand ruling and overruling in the affairs of life. Paul experienced this divine providence in his life and ministry, and he was able to write the following:

Romans 8:28-30 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

The Old Testament is a history of the Providence of God. From Genesis 3 at the fall of man all the way to the birth of Jesus, God ruled and overruled creating situations and circumstances leading to our salvation at the cross of Jesus. There were those involved who made the right choices and those who didn’t, but God’s plan was accomplished. Today is no different. God’s plan is still at work and there are those of us who make the right decisions and those who make wrong decisions. But God’s plan will be accomplished.

Paul writes for us that God’s providence had caused the church at Philippi to become concerned about Paul’s needs, and it came at the very time Paul needed their love the most. They had been concerned but lacked the opportunity to help. Many Christians today have the opportunities, but they lack the concern.

“Life is not a series of accidents; it is a series of appointments.”

How can we use this statement and fact to lift us up and to spur us on when things become difficult? What should we be looking for and how should we respond? How does this create contentment?

The Unfailing Power of God

Philippians 4:11-13 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Verse 13 is a very famous and often quoted verse. But it is interesting that Paul writes this in the context of finding contentment. I find it really ironic that Christians will use this verse for all types of situations but still find themselves struggling with the issue of contentment in their lives. The reason is, this verse deals with the secret of contentment. Contentment is a “power of God” thing.

What message is Paul trying to convey to the believers in Philippi about his situation?

Paul is quick to let his friends know that he is not complaining! His happiness does not depend on his circumstances. His joy comes from something deeper, something apart from poverty or prosperity.

What is more difficult as a Christian, to live in poverty or to live in prosperity?

For many Christians, when difficulties come, they immediately run to the Lord. But few have learned how to abound. Prosperity has done more damage to believers than has adversity.

Revelation 3:17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

There is an interesting point to be made here in this passage. The “learned” in verse 12 is not the same “learned” in verse 11. The word used by Paul in verse 12 means “initiated into the secret”. The word was used by pagan religions with reference to their inner secrets. Through trial and testing, Paul was initiated into the wonderful secret of contentment in spite of poverty or prosperity. Verse 13 tells us that it was the power of Christ in him that gave him spiritual contentment. So be careful how widely you use verse 13.

We can learn a lot about God from nature. In fact, it is nature that understands God better sometimes than the believer does. All of nature depends on hidden resources. The great trees send their roots down into the earth to draw up water and minerals. The most important part of the tree is the part we cannot see; its root system. The most important part of the Christian is the part only God can see. Unless we draw upon the deep resources of God by faith, we will fail against the pressures of life.

Any idea what Paul’s motto in life was? I Can – through Christ
Think about all that we can accomplish if our motto was the same as Paul’s.
What dreams could we accomplish with that type of motto?
How would we have to change?

Jesus taught the same principle in his sermon on the mount. The believer in God who wants to produce for God has to be plugged in.

John 15:5-8 I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

The Unchanging Promise of God

Philippians 4:14-20 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Paul thanked the church at Philippi for their generous gift. What ever it was, the gift was more than they could afford thus making it a generous gift. They loved Paul a lot and they owed him for their salvation because it was Paul who first introduced them to Jesus. This was their bond between them.

How many of you invest in something. It doesn’t necessarily have to be financial; it can also be in time and talent. What do you consider before you decide to invest? Can a person invest spiritually? How and what benefits does one receive?

Paul mentions here that the church entered into an arrangement of giving and receiving; the church gave materially to Paul and received spiritually from the Lord. God keeps the books and will never fail to pay one spiritual dividends.

“The church that is poor is the church that fails to share materially with others.”

Explain what the statement means and is it a true statement? If true, why do churches do so poorly in this area of life? Where does MPCC stand compared to this statement?

Paul also described their gift as a spiritual sacrifice, laid on the altar to the glory of God. We see in several places in the New Testament the idea of the spiritual sacrifice Christians make. Here, Paul doesn’t just see their gift simply coming from Philippi; he sees it as the supply of his need from heaven. Paul trusted God and God used the Philippians to meet his needs. It is interesting the principle Paul states that happens in these situations:

You met my need and God will meet all your needs. You gave out of your poverty, but God will supply your needs out of his riches in glory.

Contentment comes from adequate resources. Our resources are the providence of God, the power of God and the promises of God. These resources made Paul sufficient for every demand of life, and they can make us sufficient, too.