The Secret of Contentment Is Christ
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 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. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
What a joy it is to be with you today! This has become one of my favorite holiday traditions. This marks the 8th consecutive year that I’ve had the privilege and pleasure to preach and worship with you saints at Christ Lutheran Church. We have come this day to give the Lord our thanks and praise, and rightly so, given this is a National Day of Thanksgiving. But more than that, we have come to receive from the Lord through His means of grace. In this Word, given through the apostle Paul, the Lord has something very special for us, a treasure that most people don’t have: the secret of contentment.
To receive this gift, join me in your hearts and minds as Thanksgiving pilgrims on a trip to a place called Philippi. “What’s so special about Philippi?” you might wonder. I don’t know, but it has certainly produced a few contented people.
People like Lydia, Paul’s first European convert. Lydia was apparently well-to-do, since she sold expensive purple cloth; but don’t think her wealth was the reason for her contentment. Do you remember how when Lydia and her household heard Paul’s Gospel message, they believed in Jesus and were baptized? Then immediately, Lydia wanted to help. She invited Paul and his companions to work out of her home and, according to Luke, she wouldn’t take no for an answer (Acts 16:15). Lydia seems to be a very contented woman.
Or how about a man named Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25-30)? He seems to be quite contented as well. He couldn’t do enough to help Paul’s work! No expense was to great! Earlier in his letter, Paul even writes that “he [Epaphroditus] nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me” (Philippians 2:30). To be willing to die on behalf of Christ and His people? You must be very content to be willing to do that.
How about the Philippian congregation itself? No other letter from Paul rings with such joy! They are his partners in the Gospel (Philippians 1:5). Of all the places Paul traveled, of all the congregations he served, he accepted support from only—you guessed it—only these Philippians.
And when the Jerusalem Christians were suffering severe poverty because of drought and persecution, “in a severe test of affliction, [the Philippians] abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints” (2 Corinthians 8:2-4). The Philippians were having a rough time of it themselves, but they insisted on helping “beyond their means,” Paul says. Like Lydia, they just wouldn’t take no for an answer. They must have been very contented people to give so much away when they were barely scraping by.
The generosity Lydia, Epaphroditus, and the Philippians displayed can come only from contented hearts. If you aren’t content, you can’t be generous with anything. Rather, you guard it with your life, like a dog protecting his last bone.
There’s one more contented person you must meet, although his actual time in Philippi was very short. He’s Paul. He wrote these words, and he wrote them from a prison cell in Rome, in chains for the Gospel. Nothing new for him, as the Philippians could attest. They had seen how Paul and Silas were arrested, brutally flogged, and thrown in prison right there in their own town (Acts 16:16-24).
It’s amazing that Paul and Silas were willing to suffer that kind of treatment! More amazing still, they filled their prison cell with hymns of praise to God! And when an earthquake broke open their prison cell, rather than escaping and letting the sleeping jailer pay for it with his life, they stayed put, a witness to the Gospel that God would use to save not just the jailer’s earthly life, but his eternal life and the eternal lives of his whole household as well (Acts 16:25-34). That’s quite contented—especially after a beating and a night in jail.
And now, back in prison, this time facing the very real possibility of never getting out, but being executed instead, Paul writes to the Philippians about as contented a letter as one could imagine. At least eighteen times in this one little letter he says something about joy or rejoicing. He even repeats it for emphasis: “Rejoice… always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). To rejoice even in the midst of prison, persecution, and poverty? That’s extremely contented!
What an astounding list of contented people! What have you found, Lydia and Epaphroditus, that you so gladly throw yourself, your money, and even life itself, into the service of the Gospel? What do you know, O Philippians, that makes you beg Paul to take your offering, promising even more, when you’re barely scraping by yourselves? What’s your secret, O Paul and Silas, that you sing from your prison cell, with bloodied backs and shackled feet? That you, Paul, write such a contented letter while facing death? Where do you get such contentment?
Where, indeed! Despite recent economic problems, we are the wealthiest nation history has ever seen. We revel in freedoms many have never even dreamed of. We have more and greater comforts than ever. We have traveled to more places and done more exciting things to do than past generations would have imagined possible. We have indoor plumbing and outdoor carpeting, water softeners and air conditioners, central heating and accent lighting, cars with digital sound and cruise control. Our pets have more to eat than many people do in other places.
But are we content? It sure doesn’t seem so. Families are disintegrating. Drug abuse climbs, and with it, the crime rate. The suicide rate is horrific. Those with political opinions different are demonized rather than debated. Our courts are backlogged with litigation and criminal trials. College graduates despair as they look at mountains of debts and dwindling job prospects. Is that what a contented people looks like? I don’t think so.
So tell us, Lydia and Epaphroditus, people of Philippi, Paul and Silas—what is the secret of contentment? We want to know too. How, Paul, can you say, with bloodied back and shackled feet, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned that secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Philippians 4;11-12)? You’ve learned the secret? So, what is it? Please, tell us now!
As we stand here, anxiously looking into an unknown future, St. Paul speaks on behalf of all the faithful Philippians: “I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). When you finally get down to it, Thanksgiving is not just about wealth and abundance, or at least it shouldn’t be. Neither is contentment. True, God has flooded us with these blessings, and there are few sights sadder than a church only half full for Thanksgiving. God has blessed us with so much stuff that we don’t know what to do with it all. But you won’t find contentment buried in that pile of stuff. Paul had no such pile, nor did the Philippians, yet they were content! How so?
They had more than just a pile of stuff. They had the God who owns it, and who promises to give it, if ever it is needed. Listen again to Paul: “My God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
The Philippians and Paul didn’t have all that much stuff; but they did have the God who gives all that stuff and a great deal more. Or should we say, He had them! He purchased them back from sin and death by the blood of His Son, Christ Jesus. If that doesn’t give contentment, nothing will! “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:32)? “For you know that grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). The secret of contentment is Christ!
Contentment? You can’t find it in earthly things, and if you try, you’re asking them to be your god, something they can only pretend to be. They can’t handle the pressure! But when you have the real God, the one who lives to give because He loves to forgive in Christ—this God “will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
Will the Lord’s gifts always come in the form of material blessings? Of course not! That would not be good for us! Besides, that would be way too small. All the material things in the world can’t made us content. No, sometimes suffering is God’s very good gift to us. Sometimes hardship. Sometimes loss. Sometimes pain for the sake of His Gospel. True, we don’t think of these as gifts; but from His hand, that’s what they become—good gifts from the Father who only knows how to give good gifts to His children (Matthew 7:7-11).
The secret of contentment is Christ! Through Him, the Father is eternally for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). In Him, we come to know what Lydia, and Epaphroditus, the Philippians, Silas, and Paul had learned so well: “My God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Philippians 4:19-20).
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.