Scripture: Philippians 4:10-23
The more we lean on the strength of Christ, the more content we become for God to shepherd us through every peak and valley.
When he was done pouring out his heart to this church that he loved, he rolled up this letter. He handed it to his friend. And nothing changed for him. Think about this. The Spirit of God had just moved Paul and his heart and his mind to remember all of the love and joy that he had for this Philippian church community. See, when he was in Philippi, he was beaten with rods and thrown into prison to plant that church. He sang while sitting in prison with his friend Silas in that Philippian jail. And there was a movement of God’s spirit. There was an earthquake. All the doors flew open, and they sang with joy. And when they could have escaped, they didn’t so that they could stay behind and share Christ with the Philippian jailer. And he came to faith in Christ! And then the local officials came out and they apologized to Paul and to Silas and sent them on their way. Paul invested his time. He invested his sweat, his literal blood into planting this little church and preaching Jesus to the city of Philippi. He saw miraculous works. He saw unlikely people come to Christ. And now here he sits in another prison cell, unsure if he’s going to die. He’d just written a best seller, or at least part of a best seller throughout all of the generations following it. The letter we know as Philippians, it contains life-giving good news. It tells the church how to be the church that we’re called to be. It is a triumph of God’s word breathed out by the Holy Spirit preserved for us in the Scriptures, so that until Jesus comes back, we will have the blueprints for our life and our mission. And after the final stroke of a pen, he gives this letter to Epaphroditus to take back to Philippi. And then nothing. Nothing happens for him. There’s no earthquake, there’s no miracle, there’s no movement of the spirit to set him free. As I noted earlier in the series, we don’t even know if he got out of this cell. Maybe it depends on where he was jailed. But this may have been it for him.
Let me ask you, Church, would it be enough for you if God uses you exactly the way he intends to? And that means that your circumstances right now do not get better and they might even get worse. Would you be content? Could you receive that from God without losing your joy? Today, as Paul concludes this letter, he is once again going to tell us how to have that kind of joy. He’s been telling us all through the letter, but here he’s going to do it by talking specifically about his relationship with the Philippine church. He’s going to use this moment of Christian Brotherhood to describe the attitude of contentedness that every follower of Jesus can have if you think about your life in relation to what God is accomplishing in you and through you. You can have this kind of contentedness.
You know those line graphs that you see sometimes on TV, sometimes you see those line graphs that show the peaks and the valleys of the stock market. Right? You see them going up and down. Right now, it’s just straight down. Right. But eventually it’s going to go up again. Right? And so you see these peaks and these valleys. I find it very helpful to think of your life circumstances like that line graph. Sometimes things are really trending up. Sometimes you feel like you’re in the valley of the shadow of death. It’s just kind of all over the place, isn’t it? How content we feel tends to follow that line. So our contentment usually goes up and down just with that line. Why? Because we’re humans. Because we’re frail and we’re sinful people that tend to give more weight to our emotions than we do to God’s word. We’re going to see something pretty remarkable today. We are going to see an example of joy and contentedness that is detached from circumstances. It doesn’t follow that line. So the more we lean on the strength of Christ, the more content we become for God to shepherd us through every peak and through every valley. This is something that we learn over time as we walk closely with Christ. This is a teaching of the Gospel. The gospel trains us in contentment. If you are a frequently dissatisfied person, this is going to be a good sermon for you. This is a great passage for you today. If you find yourself pretty frequently not very happy about how things are going. Not very excited about what’s next, this will be good for you today.
So if you would, please, open your Bibles to Philippians 4:10, you probably will want to have them open; it takes a little bit longer a passage. Philippians 4:10. Paul’s letters sometimes end on some sort of personal remarks or greetings. And this one does too, but it does so with a focus on the gift that the church sent to Paul when Epaphroditus visits him. He uses this final personal thank you note to leave the Philippians with one last word about contentment. We’re going to look at this in two parts. The first part, Paul shares the secret of how to be content and that even though the gift is very generous that the Philippians sent him, that it wasn’t actually necessary for his contentment. And then the second part, we’re going to see that there’s an even greater gift than the supplies that Paul can buy with the money that was sent. There’s something far greater that will always leave us content. And then I want to share with you something very exciting, something I’m very excited about this week. But we’ll get there. Let’s begin. Let’s begin in verse 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. 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 every and any circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance, and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” So here we have the occasion of the letter. Letters are what they call occasional documents. Meaning there’s a reason you wrote; no one ever writes for no reason at all. And so here we have the reason. Paul mentioned the partnership that he has with the Philippines back in verse 5, right at the very start of the letter. And here we have the specific example of that partnership that he was referring to. In chapter 22, Paul refers to Epaphroditus as your minister to my need, so the Philippian ministers to his need, but he didn’t really say what that need was, there in chapter 2. Now we know he’s referring to a financial gift. The Philippians heard that Paul was in jail, and they said, This is our partner in the gospel. This is our church planner. This is our brother in Christ. We have to help him out. So if you didn’t get help in a Roman jail, you were dead. Jail back then wasn’t three hots and a cot. It was bars and chains. And if you didn’t have friends, you just died there. And this church saw their brother in need, and they jumped in. They got involved in his life. Now don’t be thrown by how this starts. He said he’s rejoicing in the Lord that at length, they remembered or revived their concern for him. If you get a raise at work and you go to your boss and you say ‘Thanks for finally remembering to give me that raise’. That doesn’t sound very much like thank you, does it? Sounds more like a reason to polish up that resume. This first sentence, though, kind of sounds like Paul has been impatiently waiting for them to revive their concern. Thank you for finally reviving your concern for me. And he realizes, I think, that they could have taken it that way. So he explains in the next sentence that he knows that they’ve always been concerned for him, but they haven’t had the opportunity to do anything about their concern. We don’t know what prevented the Philippine church from being able to give to Paul, but when the opportunity arose, when they were able to do it, when they said, now we can help out, they jumped in and they did.
Now, Paul could have just said ‘thank you’. This could have been a very short ending to the letter. He could have said, thank you, and he does in so many words. In the next section, he’s going to say that it was kind of them to share in his trouble. But this is an opportunity to go beyond ‘thank you’ and explain spiritually what’s taking place. This first part is a little confusing because Paul is clearly in a situation where he’s in need. Right. You can all see that. That’s why they sent the gift. He’s clearly in a situation where he’s in need and yet he goes to great lengths here to describe the fact that he’s actually not in need. So what’s going on here? What’s happening here? What is the gift helpful or is it totally unnecessary? Well, let’s unpack this and you’re going to see how Paul thinks. And when you see how Paul thinks, then you’ll get it. Paul says that he’s not speaking of being in need, because he has learned that no matter what situation he’s in, he can be content. So when Paul says that he has no need, he’s not describing his situation. I know that’s really strange, because if we think about needs, we’re thinking about our situation. But when Paul says I don’t have any needs, he’s actually not thinking about his situation, he’s describing his state of mind.
Picture two guys in a car on the side of the road, broken down. Two guys. Same car. Side of the road. They’re broken down. One of them, probably the driver, probably the owner of the car is frustrated. Right? Frustrated. He needs to make his appointment. He’s got to get where he was going. He’s weighing out the cost of the tow that’s coming and the repairs that are going to be made. He’s worried about the traffic. He doesn’t know what to do. He feels the need for help and for rescue. The other guy knows that this is going to work out somehow. It’s a setback. Yeah. It’s going to change their plans. There’s going to be some disappointment. The extra expense is not great. But it’ll be okay. Both guys have the exact same external need. Both are in the exact same situation. Their circumstances are identical. But the second guy doesn’t feel the need as strongly as the first guy. He might not even voice his concern, because internally he’s processing the situation differently. Now, look at Paul. It’s in his mind and heart. Paul is processing his circumstances, but he’s processing them as something other than need. And almost unbelievably, he says that what he feels is contentment. He’s processing as contentment. I have learned in whatever situation I am, to be content.
Now he learned this. This is not just innate to Paul., he learned this. This is a developed state of mind that has a source outside. This isn’t just for the default setting for super chill people. All right? This is not a character trait of Paul. This is something he has learned over time. And we know Paul is not actually naturally like this. He’s a dedicated evangelist. He is a driven visionary leader. He wanted to go to the hardest places where the gospel had not yet been preached to make disciples and to plant churches in that in those places. So sitting here in a prison cell with more limited opportunities is not how he’s built. It’s not how he’s described himself or even how he’s demonstrated his life throughout the Scriptures. He doesn’t usually stop traveling and preaching. He’s usually got to get to the next place. But as he sits here now in chains, he’s not thinking, I need to get out of here. I need food to survive. I need someone to help me. He has learned how to take this new situation and be content with it. In fact, it’s not even just this situation. He says it’s every situation. I know how to be brought low. I know how to abound.
Did you know that we have to learn how to be in both of those situations? We have to learn how to be brought low and we have to learn how to abound. If you ever hear stories of lottery winners, you’ll see a lot of tragedy because they were suddenly thrust into abundance, and they didn’t know how to abound. Have you ever read stories of people who lose everything? You’ll see a lot of tragedy because they were suddenly thrust into a situation where they didn’t know how to operate with what they don’t have and they don’t know how to cope with that situational poverty. Paul says his learning has given him the ability to be content in the full spectrum. In the full spectrum, every situation that you can conceive of. He’s got it. He’s able to be content from having far more than what he needs, to having nothing. His contentment stays the same because of what he’s learned in the gospel. So his circumstances, they go up and down just like ours. His contentment stays the same. All the way across. Plenty. Or hunger, abundance or need. He says there’s a secret that you need to learn so that your heart can be settled in this. There’s a secret that you need to learn so that that contentment is not tied to your circumstances. I feel like Paul is hosting one of those infomercials where they save the secret for the product, like later into the into the show. Right. Let’s talk about how great this is. And then he says there’s this secret and you need to learn this secret. Ok Church, here is the secret. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Okay, now hear me out. Okay. Hear me out. You know how I have this habit of taking, well, loved Bible verses and stories and debunking wrong interpretations so that it causes you to question your life, verses and everything you learned on a flannel graph. You know that. Brace yourself. Philippines 4:13 is up there with John 3:16 and Jeremiah 29:11 on the Mt. Rushmore of Bible verses. I understand that. I get that. And I’m not saying it shouldn’t be there. But it may not mean exactly what you think it means. And that’s important to know. That’s important to know. The context of everything is clearly every circumstance. Paul is not saying that he can physically perform any act. What he’s saying is I can endure and be content in every circumstance. There is strength that allows him to remain content regardless of whether he’s got an abundance of wealth or whether he’s lacking even the most basic needs. The secret of that contentment is that it comes from the one who strengthens him. It’s not coming from himself. It’s not coming from something that he’s conjuring up within himself. He’s content because there’s a strength to endure that’s been given to him, that’s coming outside of him. And the source of this strength is Jesus Christ. This is why Paul wants to know Jesus and the power of his resurrection. He wants to walk closely with Jesus. It’s because it results in strength to endure every situation that God has placed him in. This verse is not a promise to be able to accomplish any task with God’s power. It’s a promise that with the strength of Christ at work inside of you, there is nothing you can go through, no circumstance so dire that you will not find contentment in Christ. And you say, but Kyle, I drink from this mug every day. I drink from this mug every day before I go in and perform surgery. And I have never lost a patient. What are you saying? I’m saying, keep that up. Let the mug do its magic. I’m not breaking that streak. You just continue to do that. Just keep it going. But for the rest of us, the rest of us, I’m saying there’s a secret remedy to your discontented heart and mind. That there’s a secret antidote. And this antidote? It does two things. It will preserve your joy and hope and peace when you’re in a season of desperate need. And it will teach you to think about and to use abundance for God’s glory. And the secret antidote is dependence on the strength of Christ. The Holy Spirit brings to mind the truth of God’s Word, and it fills you with peace that defies understanding. It’s the strength that David had when he wrote “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. Because you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me”.
See, when you have Christ, you have an understanding that your circumstances are not random outcomes. That the universe isn’t just pumping out random things to you. What you’ve got are designed experiences. And God is using your circumstances to cause you to rely on His strength in different ways. And if you do this long enough, if you think this way long enough, if you experienced life like this long enough, if you train in the school of reliance on Christ strength, if that’s the message that you’re constantly learning and hearing and teaching and remembering and drawing to mind and meditating on that, it’s through Christ’s strength that you will endure this, you will eventually find that your contentment is circumstance-proof. Something that’s fireproof means that the fire can’t get to it. It can’t burn it, can’t touch it. When you have fully learned contentment through strength in Christ, your circumstances can’t damage that contentment. This is what Paul is saying. Church, I can tell you that my own contentment is not yet circumstance-proof, but I can see it growing in my life. It’s part of growing in Christ to see your contentedness slowly move from what’s happening to me, to what is Christ doing in me and through me.
Okay, so what about this gift? If you didn’t need it, was there good reason to send it at all? What’s the point of it? Well, there is a point to it, but it’s not exactly what it seems. “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. 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.”
There’s a special relationship that Paul has with the Philippine church. They’ve been his financial supporters throughout his ministry. The phrase ‘in the beginning of the gospel’ is just a way of referring to the time when the Philippians first believed in Jesus and then started to be the church together. So this partnership with Paul has been since the very beginning of the gospel coming to Philippi, the very beginning of this church. And this church is unique because it has supported Paul in a way that other churches haven’t. He’s not putting the other churches down so much as he’s just showing the uniqueness of this Philippine congregation. You guys helped me when I needed help. Even in Thessalonica, he says. There was a church in Thessalonica, but even in Thessalonica, Philippi was sending help. But what Paul wants out of this partnership is actually pretty interesting. When I was a mission’s pastor for several years, and now as sort of a missions-minded lead pastor here at Calvary, Paul’s explanation here has had a profound effect on how I see partnerships with other churches. See, ministry partnerships are not just exchanges of goods and services. That’s not what ministry partnerships are. They are opportunities to grow, to grow and to flourish in Christ for everyone involved, for both churches. When Paul gets a gift from the church, it helps him. But what he’s really excited about is the fruit of the church that goes to their credit or to their benefit. He knows that generosity is an example of Christ at work in them. So when he receives generosity from them, he sees that Christ is at work in them. They’re not holding on to their stuff. They’re not after selfish things. Paul says that he is well supplied, but so are they. He’s well-supplied now. So are they. They have a fruit going on. They have a net gain of increased godliness. Their bank accounts got smaller, but the blessings of God’s fruitfulness increased for them. And that’s what’s happening here. That’s what happens when you’re truly content in Christ. See, when you untie your contentedness from your circumstances, you become very sacrificial to the glory of God. When your circumstances are not tied to your contentedness, you become generous. You say giving to the point that it hurts for the glory of God is fine because I don’t want to be satisfied with money. I don’t have to be satisfied with money anymore. I want to be satisfied with Christ. And this is where missions, partnerships are so helpful. Partnering with missionaries and churches means giving money and time. It means sacrificing comfort for the sake of seeing the gospel advance. Now, of course, we have to be good stewards. We have to really think strategically about our resources. But when you find and you create a partnership that is focused on spreading the gospel and you build relationships and you work hard together, even if the resources only flow one way, the benefits flow both ways. They flow both ways, because the prize of the upward call of God is to attain Christ likeness for the glory of God. Sacrificial giving and service are a means to that end.
Many of you know I get to now tell you about the thing I’m very excited about. Many of you know Charlie and Cheryl Warner are partner missionaries who serve in Kyiv, Ukraine, with the Irpin Bible Church. One of the churches planted by Irpin Bible is called New Quarter Church. It’s led by pastors Andre and Victor. So they sort of co-pastor. New Quarters facility was hit with a missile during the war. So thankfully, I don’t think anybody got hurt, but they got hit by a missile and they are now rebuilding the small part of the building that still is standing. But a lot of their facility was completely destroyed. And that’s where we’re going to come in as a church. We’re going to come into this over Thanksgiving and Christmas. God has laid it on the hearts of your leadership to lead this church in helping new quarter restore its facility to help them get back to doing ministry in their in their building. Because we love churches, and we love church plants and we love churches that plant churches. And this is all of those things. All of it. There’s a need from one of our partners in the gospel and we’re going to set some goals. I don’t have all the details for you about this yet. I just want to let you know that start you can maybe start to pray for New Quarter and for pastors Andre and Victor and what they’re accomplishing there. We’re working out those details. Expect more details as we get closer to Thanksgiving. But let me tell you something else. That’s one thing that’s happening right now, the rebuild. But let me tell you something else that they’re doing in Ukraine right now. And it brought me to tears as I was reading about it this week in the email that Charlie sent to me. Urpin Bible Church set up six volunteer centers in neighboring communities. They looked at their communities and they said, these people are in need, they need help, and we have ties to help. And so they set up these six volunteer centers in neighboring cities to provide humanitarian aid to people who are suffering in the war. And by a movement of the Holy Spirit, each one of those volunteer centers has become a church plant. Every one of them, all six of them have become church plants. Yeah. Yeah. If there was ever a circumstance where someone could say, ‘Take a break, it’s okay to wallow in your discontentment, wait until the winds of god’s favor blow your way, and then get back to the work’. It would have to be when bombs are dropped on your country. When things are exploding all around you. When enemies are invading. But Irpin Bible Church said, ‘Hold my babushka. We’re going to plant six churches. Right. We’re going to we’re going to lean into this thing. We’re going to go after it. You cannot bomb the gospel out of a city, but you might bomb the gospel into it. And that is what’s happening there. They know God will supply every one of their needs. They know it. They know this thing didn’t come as a random circumstance. This is from the hand of a sovereign God who is at work. So, God, what will you do in our city? They said, Let’s go plant some churches. They know God’s going to supply, and so they can simply pour out their lives for the sake of spreading the gospel. And be perfectly content with whatever comes their way.
Church, that’s the contentedness that we want. It’s what I want, what I want for you. To have that circumstance ‘circumstance-proof’, contentedness. You won’t always be happy. Don’t hear me say that; no one is happy about buildings burning or sitting in jail or losing loved ones. When tragedy strikes, there’s godly sorrow. Godly sorrow exists. But to be able to say, Lord, I am going to praise you, whatever comes. If you bring me abundance, I will sacrifice it, if you give me suffering, I’ll lean on your strength. That’s the contentedness of the gospel.
Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. Wow. The Gospel had gotten all the way to Caesar’s house. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, be with your spirit. Let’s pray.