Second Reformed Church

Monday, November 17, 2014

"Be Content" Sermon: Philippians 4:10-20

“Be Content”

[Philippians 4:10-20]

November 16, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            Last week, we saw Paul urge the Philippians to be centered on the joy of the Gospel – that they would always have a reason to rejoice – no matter what their circumstances – because of the hope of the Gospel – that Jesus Alone accomplished our salvation through His work on earth.  That is our hope as we live our lives – as we run the race of faith – that in good times and bad, in times when we know exactly what is happening and in times when we are perplexed – Jesus is the Sovereign Savior of all of Creation.  Nothing can upset the victory that Jesus has won for all those who believe in Him.

            Because that is true – we endure suffering for the sake of Christ, we seek to be in agreement with our fellow Christians on the Gospel for the Gospel witness, we don’t sinfully worry – as though God were unable to provide for us, and we continually come before God in prayer with thanksgiving.

            And so, we focus on doing and being all those things which are spiritually excellent – we strive to do and be all that God has told us is right and pleasing in His Sight.  We watch other Christians and imitate them in the ways they imitate Christ.  In the ways we see others doing and being what Christ has called us all to be, we follow their example.

            In this morning’s text, Paul turns to thank the Philippians for the financial gift that they sent to him with Epaphroditus.  We will remember from the beginning of the letter that the Philippians had sent Epaphroditus to Paul in Rome with a financial gift from them – and that Epaphroditus had almost died on the journey, but was now returning with this letter, having become healthy again by the mercy of God.

            “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.”

            In thanking the Philippians, Paul tells them that through Christ’s strength, we are content in every situation.

            Paul rejoices in their concern for him and their willingness to give him this gift.  Remember that Paul is in prison in Rome at this time.  And at first, we might think Paul is disappointed with them for taking so long to send him the gift, but that is not the case.  What Paul is saying is that they had given him gifts in the past, and their concern for him had continued – theirs was a continuous loving friendship with the Apostle – but – for whatever reason – they had not had the chance in recent times to send him a gift.  It isn’t clear as to what the lack of opportunity was, but Paul is not putting them down – he is expressing his great thanks that they had supported him in the past, continued to be concerned for him, and now had the opportunity to give again.

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”

            However, Paul tells them that he was not pining away waiting for their gift.  There is no negativity in what he is telling them.  He wants them to understand that as much as he rejoiced in their gift, his contentment – his peace – his satisfaction – was not based on their gift, but something else.

            For example, it is a good and right and joyful thing that we support the work of the ministry in this church.  It should be a joy to each of us to be able to give financially for the continuation of the proclamation of the Gospel in this place.  It should give us joy to take part in financially supporting Second Reformed Church, because the Gospel is being preached.

            I surely rejoice when the ministry is affirmed through your faithful stewardship in giving generously to support the work God has for us here.  Understand, although there are bills to pay, our financial giving is an act of worship and thanksgiving.  We are not just taking part in paying the bills – much less rating the sermon – by our giving.  No, we are worshipping God by giving God back part of what He has given us in thanksgiving for the blessings that God has given us.  We are showing God how much we are thankful – how much we trust Him – how much we believe His gifts to us are worth – as we give financially.

            But, the giving that we do is not the reason we as a church can be content – it is not the reason we can be at peace and satisfied with our condition.  As I mentioned last week – our giving is far below what our weekly expenses are.  Still, we ought to be content – not uncaring – but content.

            Paul probably benefited from the financial gift they sent, and yet, Paul says he wasn’t in need.  By that, he meant what I just said by way of example:  his being content was not based on their gift.  Our being content is not based on the offering plate being scant or overflowing.

Paul explains, “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.”

Paul tells them that he had experienced the extremes of life:  he had lived in poverty, he had lived with more than he needed, he had learned to cope with having plenty; he had learned to cope with not even having food.  He had learned the secret of being content everywhere along the spectrum from having nothing to having more than he needed.

Paul gives us an overview of his life as he countered the so-called “super apostles”:  “Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:23-28, ESV).

As a Christian, Paul had endured more for the sake of Christ than most of us – he had learned to be content under trying circumstances.

What is the secret?  How can we be content in every circumstance?

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

This is probably the best-known verse of the book of Philippians, and it is often misused – and that is because we read the verse by itself and understand Paul to be saying that “nothing is impossible for me” – which is not what Paul is saying at all.

Paul is saying that through the strength of Christ, he is content in every circumstance.  He was always satisfied with his life because his strength was found in Christ – Christ was his strength to find joy and hope in every circumstance.

There is a philosophy called “Stoicism” which says that you ought not to allow anything to effect you – you just accept everything the way it is because it is the way it is – you never get happy, you never get sad, you always stay on an even keel.  That is not what Paul is saying.

Paul is also not saying that we ought to just accept things the way they are and not try to make them better.  As he has just said – we are to be focused on spiritual excellency.  If we are not employed and we need money and we can work – go work.  If we have more than we need – if we have been gifted in abundance – give away as much as possible.  Our hope is not in our things – we do not despair in the lack of things.  And we continue to strive to be holy and to steward everything we have – no matter how little or great it may be – to the glory of God.  We are to be striving to make everything as it will be in the Kingdom.

Paul is telling us that if we have more than we need, we should be content, not because of our things, but because of our salvation in Christ – the hope that He gives us for the future – the Power of the Holy Spirit working in us to make us more like Jesus.  And if we have very little – the same thing is true – and for wherever we are in between.  Our finances can change in an instant – if we are setting our contentment on our things, we will be tremendously disappointed – or worse.

Jesus told the parable: “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16b-21, ESV).

And let us not think that if we are living on Social Security that we cannot be fools with our money:  you can have very little money and be greedy and put your hope in what little you have.  That makes you a fool.  Our hope and contentment is always and only in Jesus Alone.

For example:  if we only looked at the offering, we might despair about the future of this church.  But, if we are content in Christ, we will hold fast in faith to Him, believing that He will keep us here as long as He has work for us to do.  That is not to say that we ignore or be foolish about the money that is coming in.  We ought to look at our hearts and pray that God will make each of us a faithful and thankful steward of all God has given us.  Everything we have is His, and we are to steward it wisely.

So, Paul tells the Philippians how thankful he is for their gift, for their ongoing care of him, for the opportunity that allowed them to give to him again.  But, he stresses that his contentment is in Christ who strengthens him.  May we be content whatever circumstance we may be in through Christ’s strength.  May we be thankful and generous with the blessings God has given us.

            Paul continues:  “Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 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. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 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.”

            Paul uses the language of an accountant to show the Philippians that there is a giving and receiving in the church.  We give our offerings in thanksgiving to God and God gives us His Grace through the Word and the Sacraments.  But we dare not think that we are paying for God’s Grace.  God’s Grace is freely given to us, and we freely give offerings of thanksgiving to God.  In fact, not matter how much we give to God in thanksgiving, He always gives more to us, because everything we have is His.  He has given us all we have on loan – to steward wisely for Him.

            So, Paul tells them that he was not looking for the gift – he was not seeking a payment to him for his service to them – just as our offering in the church is not a payment to me or the church for our service, but a thanksgiving to God.  And as we steward God’s gifts to us better, God sees the fruit and increases our credit.  That is, we do not earn our salvation, but we are called to holiness – to do the good works that God has set before us – to seek after spiritual excellence – and as we give rightly – as we steward rightly – those good works are credited to our accounts – God is pleased with what we have done.  The primary reason we as a church should be thankful for each other’s giving in thanksgiving is that we are maturing and pleasing God as we do so.

            Paul explains that it is right and expected that we as Christians will steward our blessings well: “If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?” (1 Corinthians 9:11, ESV).

            And the author of Hebrews affirms this as well:  “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16, ESV).

            Paul tells the Philippians that they don’t owe him.  Not that they had paid him enough to balance their accounts, but that Paul was paid by Christ for his work as a missionary to the Philippians, and the Philippians responded in partnership in offering gifts to Paul in thanksgiving to God – and such giving in pleasing to God and a credit to our striving after holiness in the race of faith.

            Paul gives them high praise for their gift – telling them that it is “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”  Paul uses Temple language of the sacrificial system – where, when offerings were made to God and God accepted them, they were to God as a fragrant offering.  Other times, when the offering was not acceptable to God, we are told that it was “a stench in the nostrils of God.”

            We must keep these ideas together in our minds:  Our offering is in thanksgiving to God, when we steward well – when we truly show trust and thanksgiving to God in giving to God with a right heart – a right spirit – God is pleased and accounts it as good works according to what He has called us to do – He is pleased when we give to the church in thanks to God, when our motivation is right – when we give thankfully and generously, recognizing that all we have is God’s – finding our contentment and satisfaction in Him Alone – not our things.

            And, we must not look at our offering as paying bills or rating the sermon or the worship.

            When we give, we must give thankfully and joyfully, relying, not on our things, but on Christ Who enables us to endure poverty and wealth and everything in between.  The issue is not how much we have, but recognizing God’s provision and blessing and the fact that everything you have is God’s.  If we truly trust God – if we are truly content in God – we will be free with our things for the sake of God and the proclamation of the Gospel.

            God has given each of us certain amounts of stuff at any given time.  Are we content with what He has given us?  Are we so content that we give thankfully and joyfully and generously to God for the continued proclamation of the Gospel?  If we are not, we ought to pray that God would so convict us that everything is His and nothing is ours – by any means – that we would be humbled to find our contentment in Him and let go of our stuff for the sake of the Gospel.

            Are we showing true contentment, thanksgiving, and trust to God through our giving of His blessings to us?  If we are, it is to our credit – God is pleased with us – our good fruits are showing to God.  If we are not, we ought to prayerfully consider what the Gospel is worth to us.  What is it worth to us that God has saved us by Himself and for Himself?  And how thankful are we that we are no longer under His Sovereign Wrath for our sin?

            Paul ends this section by reminding the Philippians that God will supply our every need.

“And 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.”

In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “give us this day our daily bread.”  We are asking God to give us what we need for this day.  We still ought to be wise about our future planning, but as Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, we’re not to worry about tomorrow.  Today, we are to pray for what God knows we need for this day – to be the people He has called us to be for this day.

And we are told that God will give us everything we need for this day.  God is the owner of everything – and out of His riches in glory in Christ Jesus – He will supply us with everything we need for this day.

The problem we have is two-fold:  first, we confuse what we need with what we want, and second, we do not know what we really need.  So, it is again a matter of trust.  Do we trust the God Who holds everything in His Hands, and loves us, and sent His Son for us, and is pleased with us when we do all that He has set before us – in faith and thanksgiving and joy, and has promised to provide us with everything we need for each day to be His people?

Sometimes what we need is to suffer.

Sometimes we need it to be a sun-shiny day with all the clouds smiling at us.

God knows what we need and God supplies us with what we need – each and every day.  Do we believe Him?  Do we trust Him?  Are we content with whatever comes from His Hand for us?

Paul ends this section rejoicing in God – the God Who makes us content through Jesus in whatever circumstance we may be in, the God Who provides for us and rejoices in our faithful giving, the God Who is our Only Savior – Who cares for us and loves us and provides us with everything we need each day.

To Him be the glory forever and ever.  Amen?

To Him be the glory forever and ever.

            Find your contentment in Jesus, not in your things, little sheep.  And respond to Him in joy and thanksgiving.

            Let us pray:

            Almighty God, help us to be content in You.  Let us look to You, to the riches of Christ and His Gospel, recognizing that everything is Yours and even our giving is made possible by You Alone.  Help us to believe that You are the Sovereign God and all things come to us from Your Fatherly Hand.  Oh Lord, keep us from being rebellious children – let us be satisfied in You.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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