Philippians 4:10-20 “Being Content” January 29, 2023
A little girl was walking in a garden and noticed a particularly beautiful flower. She admired its beauty and enjoyed its fragrance. “It’s so pretty!” she exclaimed. As she gazed on it, her eyes followed the stem down to the soil in which it grew. “This flower is too pretty to be planted in such dirt!” she cried. So she pulled it up by its roots and ran to the water faucet to wash away the soil. It wasn’t long until the flower wilted and died. When the gardener saw what the little girl had done, he exclaimed, “You have destroyed my finest plant!” “I’m sorry, but I didn’t like it in that dirt”, she said. The gardener replied, “I chose that spot and mixed the soil because I knew that only there could it grow to be a beautiful flower.” Often we complain because of the circumstances into which God has placed us. But then we fail to realize that He is using our hardship and difficulties to bring us to a new degree of spiritual understanding. Contentment comes when we accept what God is doing and thank Him for it. It was something the apostle Paul grasped. Believers in Philippi couldn't believe their eyes when they read what he wrote to them, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” They must have had thoughts of “Really Paul? You have lost everything! Don't be in denial; face your reality!” And after the Philippians many have questioned Paul's secret of contentment. One scholar in particular said, “To me it seems that he needed a mental evaluation. He was getting old. He didn’t have any money - once he was rich. His health was beginning to decline - he once was strong. He found himself in prison - he once was free. Yet he said, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.”
What is the secret of contentment? What makes a person say, “It’s not what I have around me that makes me happy, but what I have in my heart.” ? Is it possible for all people to be content? I remember having a conversation with a woman telling me that she had no reason to be happy – not even the gift of children and grandchildren gave her personal contentment. She was suffering from depression for many years and had all the treatments one can think of, but still everything was dark around her. There are things keeping us from having fulfilment in life. I don’t think we can say that some people just want to be miserable about life and themselves. An unrealistic expectation in the lives of many people can be the most prominent reason for discontentment. We are driving ourselves insane to do better. We raise our children with that thought – the 80% you got for Math isn’t bad, but you have to get well in the 90’s. I counselled a 17 year old boy who hated his father for any reason you can think of, but we got to the bottom of his problem – his best was never good enough to his father. My dear friends, the psalmist puts it so beautiful, “...for God knows how we are formed.” We have to be ourselves and accept the person God created and live to the ability He gave us. Another reason for discontentment is unnoticed blessings. We are blessed on a daily basis with everything we receive from God, but we take those for granted. I remember the story of the man who had self-pity, because of his poverty. He lived in a small apartment with just the basics. One morning he went to the bus stop to catch a bus into town. He sat on the bench and looked down at his worn shoes and thought by himself, “Poor wretch, things can’t be worse than what you have it.” But then he saw a man in a wheelchair next to him who didn’t have feet. He stared and the man felt uncomfortable. He said, “I lost both my feet in an accident.” The poor man apologized for staring and rushed back to his apartment. He went on his knees and prayed, “God, I was so wrong. I am so rich, because there are still so many things I have to be grateful for.” Have you and I noticed the blessings we received just this morning – food, clothes, a family, health and a church family? We can’t take those for granted – they are gifts from God.
There are some secrets that will help us to always be content. The first one is that we have to have An Attitude Of Gratitude. All the way through Philippians Paul talks about attitude and he is saying, “If you have an attitude that causes you to be grateful for everything God has given you, you’ll find contentment.” Now, you can begin each day by saying, “God, this is going to be a tough day. I hate my life. I hate my work. I hate all the people I’m going to be in contact with today. I don’t know how in the world I’m going to make it.” Or you can get up each morning and say, “God, thank you for the new day You have given me. Thank you for people I will be meeting today and opportunities that are before me. Help me to be Your instrument.” St. Paul had the right attitude. He did something we would not have done if we had his life. From a prison cell with open wounds on his back and starvation that was reality for someone in prison, he wrote to the people in Philippi about the wonderful love of God and His care for people. We want to ask the question, “Wasn’t Paul just pretending; more than that - wasn't he dishonest? Perhaps it was his way of escaping his reality.” No, Paul was sincere, clear-minded and honest. He had enough reasons to thank God for – he wasn’t the type that did it only when the sun was shining. He was looking at the whole picture from the beginning of time about how God was bringing His plan into realization and that it reached its climax in the sacrificial death of Jesus. Paul didn’t have tunnel vision.
A second secret of contentment is To Please Jesus Through Our Service. Verse 13 says, “I can do everything through Him Who gives me strength.” Through Him has the meaning of doing everything for God without keeping record of all the appreciation of others or the trophies of achievements some people tend to collect. Jesus spoke wise words to His followers earlier about just pleasing God and forgetting about the worldly expectations, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteous and all these other things will be added unto you.” Does it mean that we have to stop caring about others or that we have to be insensitive? No, it means that when we serve others with the gifts we received from God, we will have an understanding – I feel content, because I did it to God’s glory. It was a sacrifice well pleasing to God. That was the answer mother Theresa always gave when people thanked her, “I did it for God.” Can you remember the words of Matthew 25: 35 and 36, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” For thousands and thousands of Jesus' followers there was contentment far above anything else this world can offer for just being there for someone, but then they have been there for God. A man who managed a shelter for the homeless and who lived on the contributions of others had a visit from a representative of Social Services. The man asked him about his credentials and he told him about all his degrees and accomplishments. The man shook his head in disbelief. With what you have you didn't need to waste your time in a hole like this. The man of the shelter felt a bit offended and said, “It is in a place like this I feel most content that I'm doing what God wants me to do.” What is the most prominent contentment of your life? What you do to satisfy your needs and personal life or what you do in God's service?
A third and last secret for contentment is Love People, Not Possessions. In Philippians 4:14 we read, “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…” So Paul thanked the church in Philippi for being so concerned about him, not just for the money they sent, but the fact that they really cared about him. He was in prison. He was in need. He was sick. So they wrote to him, they sent people to him, people to comfort and help him. Have you ever been at a point in your life when you desperately needed someone to reach out to you? If you have someone who cares about you, someone who really loves you, someone who prays for you and with you, someone who encourages you, then treasure that relationship. Some of us are in a position to have more than one such a relationship of support and care. That my friends give contentment no money can buy. Now, we understand why St. Paul was contented under the most difficult circumstances. No, he hasn’t lost his mind. He just found reasons to be content for. When you step for a moment out of your life situation and you look at it from the outside, what do you see? Yes, it's true you might see some negatives life realities. But my friends, isn't it true that the blessings outweigh the negatives things by far? Don't we all have to agree with Paul, “I have learned the secret of being content.”