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Theme: How to be content
Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy-- meditate on these things. 9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. 10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Contentment is the lost virtue in our culture. It’s often no longer pursued by people and even more so not understood. Yet, the law of God in our hearts beckons us for contentment, the problem is that we’re looking for it in the wrong ways and in the wrong places. We often think of contentment as being okay with life and the attendant circumstances around us. It’s often used in unfortunate or less than suitable situations – where we have to deal with something that is beyond our control. There is certainly an element of contentment that fits this mold.
However, what Paul is speaking about here, and more importantly when the Bible uses the idea of contentment, it means to be self-sufficient and independent of external circumstances. That’s a similar idea to dealing with something beyond your control but it emphasizes even more – that you are in control in a way. That may seem like a foreign thought to a Christian. How can we strive for independence and self-sufficiency when the essence of faith is to trust and rely upon God? The answer is that those gifts come from God, as Paul eloquently summarizes in the last verse of our text: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Like so many virtues from God, the world and our sinful nature take the concept hostage and turn it into something that it isn’t. This is what happens with contentment today. This is why people aren’t pursuing it. They’re looking for the same thing in a different way.
We’ll come back to that thought in a moment but first let us consider what contentment is from Paul’s words here. Two important thoughts come to mind – meditating and doing.
Meditating is a term that needs a bit of further explanation because it has become a spiritual aspect of other religions. When we see meditating in our text today it’s not talking about spiritual thought apart from the true God or Jesus Christ. Christianity also has its own form of meditation and it centers upon the Word of God.
Paul lists a string of good things upon which to mediate. Things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, and containing anything virtuous or praiseworthy. Paul is not leaving it up to the individual to decide what these things are. It’s true that we can have different opinions at times about what is lovely or of good report, but anything worth meditating upon comes from God. That’s why the very next verse follows up by saying, “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.”
Paul had dedicated his life to teaching the Word of God to the Philippians and many other Christians. He helped found this church. This was the congregation of Paul’s supporter and friend, Lydia. This is where Paul was in prison and granted a miraculous escape, an opportunity God used to bring a jailer and his family from Philippi to faith. Paul had a history with these Christians and this was his final message to them. Part of his plea to them was to continue meditating on what they learned from God’s Word. That was the way to peace from God.
Another aspect of meditation that is worth explaining is that it involves activity of the mind. Again, the classic image of mediation that comes to mind, often from other religious practices, is that it involves freeing oneself from thought – sort of like focusing on nothing is that’s even possible. In this way meditation is seen as something that seeks to undue mental activity. The Biblical sense is quite the opposite, though. Strictly it means to think about something even more – to devote more mental activity to a given topic. While it is certainly helpful to block out other distractions when doing this, meditating upon God’s Word means having a sharper, not looser, focus on what we learn and understand. Meditating by faith in Christ also does not mean we let whatever thoughts we want drift into our consciousness. Rather, it more astutely zeroes in on the truth of God, and the blessings that Paul lists in our text. So, one key to contentment is to meditate on God’s truth.
The other thing mentioned in our text is the attendant result of meditation – doing. Again, Paul writes, “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.”
As we know when it comes to faith – action always follows belief. So also, it is with meditating upon God’s Word. The mental activity of the mind or the heart is followed by the physical activity of the body. It is hypocritical to think about what is right or even to confess it with one’s words, and not do it in your life. So, Paul instructs the Philippians to do the things they know are proper and fitting from God. Don’t just think about them – do them too.
Paul unlocks the key to contentment with these two concepts. Mentally consider what God has said and then practice it in your life. Paul described how that worked in his life. Although he was faced with tremendous adversity, he was always content because thinking about what God had done and practicing the blessings of his faith kept Paul firmly centered on Jesus – the source of Paul’s contentment.
Contentment is elusive for our culture because this is a difficult thing to continue in. Paul lays out the process but the result is hard to come by. Difficulty arises when we are given supposedly better options by the world or by our flesh. Difficulty continues when we fall from God’s path in our sins and transgressions. Difficult envelops us when we lose a sense of what true contentment is by faith in Jesus. But the two steps that Paul lays out can always bring us back to God. Meditate on His Word and follow that Word.
These steps do not work as rigid laws that must be followed. That kind of thinking will only lead us to further despair and failure. The hope of these two steps is found in Christ, as Paul closes this section and his letter. Christ is what unlocks the mystery of contentment for us. In fact, that’s the very terminology Paul uses. As he talks about learning to be content in verse 12 the actual wording indicates understating the mystery of something. It’s the only place in Scripture that this Greek word is used. It is the root of where our English word of myth or mystery comes from. That fits well with something like contentment, which so often seems too good to be true or realistic for our lives. It’s akin to a myth that teaches a lesson but isn’t actually a substantive goal.
Paul explains how the mystery is made known – “through Christ who strengthens me.” The strengthening of Christ is empowerment. It’s the fulfillment of what true contentment really is according to the Christian faith. It’s not just about bearing under bad circumstances, but being free and independent in Christ. Contentment by faith is being able to get through any setting, not because you’re scrimping by at the bottom, but because Christ lifts you out of the mess and changes your life.
Just like Paul said, this affects us both mentally and physically. There is no greater message of liberation than victory over sin in Jesus. There is nothing stronger that can positively influence your thoughts, words, and actions than the power of the Gospel. There are plenty of physical hindrances from sin in our lives, but they all stem from the corruption of our hearts. If a person’s heart is right, actions will align; but an equal warning exists through sin. Sometimes we focus so much on what is outward that we forget the impact of the heart – what is inward. Empowerment from Jesus starts in the heart, by a quiet and confident faith in His work as our Redeemer from sin. This is the truth that changes how we live our lives. John likewise wrote, 1 John 3:20 For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.
The question of contentment for you is not about whether it is possible in your life. Instead it’s about who you follow. In Paul’s final thought, it’s either Christ or you that receives greater emphasis. Sadly, many people use this very passage to push for their own rights and power. The lingering thought becomes what I can do in my life instead of what Christ has done for me. This is how we lose contentment. This is how we take a verse from God’s Word that is teaching us about peace in the heart and in our actions and it becomes a means to get more and more. And this is how we lose contentment.
There is no peace without Christ. Peace of forgiveness or peace of contentment. You lose Christ and contentment when you believe something else and when you emphasize something else. Yet, everyone still has a pressing need to feel fulfilled, at peace, and independent of worry and need. There are examples all over our culture. Although contentment is not lauded, the quest for it is abundant.
Take NBA star Stephen Curry as an example. Curry has exploded in popularity in the last 5 years. He has won multiple championships and become a global icon through it all. He has also become a champion of sorts for Christians in the process. You see, before every game, Curry takes a sharpie and writes out “I can do all things” on his shoes. His inspiration is Philippians 4:13 and he uses it an expression of his faith, but without the most important part of the passage Curry’s ritual becomes deflated of true meaning and merely an expression of self.
How quickly the path to contentment in Christ veers off into a different direction. Instead of using this verse as God intended it, as a message of hope that Christ is the one who empowers us to a position of independence by faith – free from the attachments and bondage of the law and its condemnations, it becomes a message of personal choice and determination to get what I want. Within that is encapsulated our cultures’ problem with contentment. We need it, we desire it, but we cannot find it, let alone understand it, without Jesus.
God wants you to be sufficient and content – but not on your terms or on the world’s terms. Let all things – empowerment, contentment, truth, joy, nobility, and every other virtue – be through Him who loved us and washed us from our sins – our Lord and Savior Jesus. Meditate on Him. Follow Him. Amen.