The Secret Of Contentment

Philippians 4:10-13 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. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 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. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Good morning, it’s good to be with you this morning and to have the privilege to preach God’s word. I want to thank Kyle, Mat and Grant for helping with the preaching load this Summer. I know many of you have been fed and helped through their preaching. I appreciate Kyle’s ability to really zero in on one truth and drive it deep. For Mat, I don’t know if you know this, but he’s very passionate. But what I really appreciated about his preaching was the way he was able to take his passion and marry it to the texts he preached. And Grant did a great job articulating our need for unity in a clear, organized way. I appreciate each of you and the ways God has gifted you all to preach.

We are well into chapter 4 of Philippians. Only two weeks left in Philippians. I’m sure if feels like we should slow down and camp out in select spots, but the schedule was tight for the Summer and we have to keep going. I would encourage you over the next 2-3 weeks to spend time reading Philippians. Find those areas where you wish we could dive deeper, and either by yourself or with someone else, dive in.

Next week I hope to do a wrap-up of the book and cover the final section. The week after, August 25th, we will have friend of Grace Church, Darren Carlson from TLI preach. Then in September Pastor Dave will be back in the pulpit. Pastor Dave has only two weeks left of his sabbatical. I talked to him this week and he feels like this has been the right amount of time and he and Gerri are both ready to get back into ministry here at Grace. Would you join me in prayer as we pray for the VanAckers, but also that God would speak to us through his word this morning?

As Paul has done several times in Philippians, he begins this final passage in the letter by returning to his personal update. But he takes the opportunity to make a parenthesis and jump into a teaching moment. We’ve seen this at other spots too. In chapter 1 he had a personal update about his imprisonment and how the gospel is advancing, but then he moves into a teaching on his willingness to die for Christ. Chapter 2 he tells the Philippians, “have the same mind, the same love and be in full accord.” Which reminds me of Christ’s humility. And he expands on that. Eventually he returns to his personal update on Timothy and Epaphroditus. Then chapter 3 he begins warning the church of the dogs who insist on circumcision. And Paul jumps into a discussion of treating his resume as rubbish compared to knowing Christ. Chapter 4 he implores the church to agree in the Lord, which gives Paul a chance to talk about peace and anxiety, thinking and practicing excellent things. It’s not that he has a short attention span, he just has a lot to pack into a short letter and uses his personal relationship with the church to unpack other related thoughts and actions.

Now, in verse 10 we have another of these springboards. He gives the personal update to commend the Philippians for their concern for Paul, but then gets into a discussion on contentment.

That’s what verses 11-13 are, and where we’ll spend most of our time this morning. The title of the sermon is The Secret of Contentment, which is the focus of Paul’s springboard. The main point of the text this morning is In life’s changing circumstances, the secret of contentment is found in the unchanging power of God.

My outline tries to first set up the background and how Paul gets to a discussion on contentment, and then answer four questions in each of the remaining verses:

Verse 10: Springboard to contentment
Verse 11: What is contentment?
Verse 12a:Why do I need it?
Verse 12b: How can I learn contentment?
Verse 13: What is the power for contentment?

Since the heart of our text is the focus on contentment, I’m not going to spend much time on verse 10 this week, but I do want to address a few quick things before we really get in to our passage rather than completely ignore verse 10.

Background for Paul’s rejoicing

4:10   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.

As we have seen multiple times throughout this letter, Paul rejoices. Paul rejoices that the Philippians are proving their concern for Paul.

This word concern is another form of the like-mindedness we have seen in the book. Paul considers the Philippians partners in the gospel because they have fellowship with Christ. As a result he calls them to have the same mind. A mind that seeks the interests of others. That seeks the humility that Christ displayed. The mind that seeks unity and puts divisions aside. And now this idea shows up in the church’s concern for Paul. Paul is rejoicing not because they merely think of Paul or have sympathy. It’s because they put their concern into action by sending him a financial gift. It wasn’t mere words or thoughts, but in deed.

On a first glance, it might look like Paul is ungrateful for the Philippians’ gift. Thanks for becoming concerned about me again. And thanks for being concerned about me, but I don’t actually need your money. It might sound like Paul is being harsh. But that’s not quite what Paul is saying. It’s not that the Philippians’ concern waned, it was their opportunities to act out their concern weren’t possible. We don’t know exactly the circumstances for this, but it could be that there was a time when Paul was traveling or unable to accept a gift. Or it was dangerous to try and send a letter to Paul for a season. But now, their financial gift has reached Paul through Epaphroditus. This is what Paul is bringing attention to when he says they have revived their concern for him.

And now Paul makes his leap into a discussion of contentment. He rejoices at the church’s actions and wants them to know that he is content regardless of the financial gift. This brings us to the main purpose of this text.

We are part of a dissatisfied world. We endlessly scroll until we find what we want next. We have Amazon lists to keep track of our desires. We daydream about better circumstances. We reminisce about the past and the better times we had. We apply for new jobs, just to keep our options open. Our home improvement project list never ends. We post things to get likes. None of these things in themselves are sinful. But what is our attitude behind them? What do we really want in life? Our culture is based on consumption and wanting and obtaining more. Advertising tells us your life is not complete without the product we are pitching. And getting stuff has never been easier. Credit is easy to obtain, so we can buy more now. I could stand here right now, swipe my finger in an app and get almost anything delivered tomorrow. We want the latest upgrade with more features. If I have version 2.0, I want 2.1 and 2.5 and on.

Are we content in whatever our circumstances are? or are all just looking for that little bit more that would push us over into perfect satisfaction?

What is contentment?

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

The word content can describe a self-sufficiency or independence. In other words, I don’t need anything else in order to be satisfied. But a bald self-sufficiency is not what Paul has in mind. In Paul’s case he is using the word not to claim his independence from his circumstances within himself. He is not dependent on things outside his circumstances, but is actually dependent on the one who strengthens him.

There were groups of people called Stoics during Paul’s time. We’ve heard this kind of attitude in our culture as well. A stoic thought that contentment was found in simply enduring their circumstances. They couldn’t control their circumstances, but life had meaning if you simply lived your life without emotion or fuss. That’s different than what Paul is saying.

Others sought avoidance from their situations through pleasure. That’s not what Paul is saying either. Nor is it ignoring his circumstances and pretending they don’t exist. Or some kind of wishful thinking or a positive spin on his circumstances without any grounding in truth.

He is not saying he has no needs. We all have actual needs, and Paul is not saying, ignore your need for food. He just isn’t concerned about them because he is satisfied with God and the provision he brings. Paul got hungry, but it wasn’t necessary for him to get food at any cost. As we will see in the following verses, Paul’s contentment was not reliant on his circumstances, but it was reliant on something outside of himself.

So here’s my definition of true contentment: It’s a God-given inner satisfaction regardless of our outer circumstances. It’s an internal satisfaction. Hang on to this, we’ll come back to it.

Why do I need contentment?

12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.

Why do I need contentment? Because living in a fallen world will bring all kinds of circumstances that will tempt you to ignore God. We will face low moments and seasons and times of abundance. These circumstances will change, continually. They will tempt you to chase after other things and trick us into a false sense of contentment. A writer in the Proverbs provides the two ditches we can fall into.

Prov. 30:8-9
    give me neither poverty nor riches;
    feed me with the food that is needful for me
9   lest I be full and deny you
    and say, “Who is the LORD?”
    or lest I be poor and steal
    and profane the name of my God.

There are risks to both situations and the Proverb helps us to see the risks.

The dangers of being brought low

You might sin to get what you think you need.

Why are these things happening to me? It might cause anger or resentment towards God.

You might say ‘curse God and die’ like Job’s wife did.

Imagine how differently things would sound in Philippians if Paul was only concerned about getting out of prison by any means possible. He wasn’t willing to break the law to escape prison or lie about the gospel in order to be released from his trial.

I mentioned briefly the dangers of being brought low. We have spent a lot of time on suffering and the right perspective in suffering during the series on First Peter, in Ruth and even earlier in Philippians in chapter 1. It’s not that it’s not vital to understand contentment in the midst of low seasons. It is. But for this morning, I wanted to devote more time to abundance. We are blessed with abundance. And there are serious dangers to receiving abundant blessings.

Again, the point is not that one circumstance is better or more godly. The point is that each circumstance presents danger and the temptation towards forgetting God. And how we respond to our situations is the test. As I said, neither situation is inherently sinful, but as you look at the two ditches, our natural tendency is to lean towards abundance. Who doesn’t want abundance? But realize that the Bible spends a lot of time warning on the dangers of abundance.

The dangers of abundance

The danger of plenty is that you might forget God. The bible warns in several places about the dangers of abundance.

Think about Israel. God blessed his people in numerous ways: Miraculous rescue from slavery, numerous victories against more powerful armies, riches, land, blessing. And almost as quickly as God brought blessing and abundance, the people would forget God and chase after idols.

In the New Testament Jesus says in Luke 12:15 “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Here’s a practical example for us as a church. Grace Church has money in the bank. That’s an incredible blessing. But there is danger in abundance too. Do we risk not seeking God for provision? Do we risk simply moving forward with projects or ministries without prayerfully considering them? Or we satisfied simply with a nice looking building and cash in reserves?

Maybe you hear some of these examples and it doesn’t seem that bad. You’ve already justified that next purchase you have in mind. I get it. I have played the same games to justify buying something new. And I’m not saying we all must never purchase anything ever again. But let’s listen to the bible’s warnings about abundance and start seeing the dangers of plenty. If we are placing our hope for satisfaction in anything other than the Creator God, then we will be disappointed. Whether that hope is in a vacation, something new for our garage or kitchen, or even people who will never let us down.

Let me turn the screws a little tighter. Our corrupted hearts look for whatever wiggle room we can when our sin is in view. When we are discontent we are breaking the tenth commandment. God commands us to not covet what someone else has. Coveting is the opposite of contentment. It’s an internal desire for more, particularly what someone else has that would take us away from our contentment in God.

Compare that with true contentment: It’s a God-given inner satisfaction regardless of our outer circumstances. It’s an internal satisfaction.

Please hear me, it’s not the items that are bad. I’m not commanding you to sell all of your possessions, or giving you license to acquire more without thought. God is warning us because it’s not good for us.

It’s not the things. It’s our disposition towards them. That means it’s not just expensive or fancy things. It means spending hours and days on Craigslist or desiring to make it yourself in the name of saving money or the pride of doing it yourself. If this causes you to focus so much on the thing that you forget God, that’s where trouble starts.

It’s not just accumulating things. It’s also discontentment with immaterial things we have. Our accomplishments, the production we have prove to others, seeking comfort and quiet at all costs even at the expense of relationships or being harsh with your kids. Maybe it’s dissatisfaction in your marriage that makes you seek out a coworker who listen better or laugh at your jokes. Kids, maybe you are wanting attention more than anything and that makes you disobey to get mom or dad’s ear.

James 4:1-2 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.

In the end, what discontentment and coveting are is a failure to trust God to provide, whether in low times or abundant times. It’s not about actual stuff as much as it is how our hearts desire things.

How can I learn contentment?

12b In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.

Notice the language Paul uses to describe his contentment. He uses words like learn and know indicate that the secret of contentment is a process. It’s not a switch. It takes time, patience and humility.

How do we learn the secret of contentment? The short answer is knowing the gospel. When we break it down further, it requires us to begin with an understanding of who we are and who God is.

  1. Know your true condition: Our sin merits us nothing. Apart from Christ we can do nothing.

    When we feel discontentment, it’s a sign that we think we deserve more. As Paul says in 1 timothy 6:7-8: for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.

    Heb. 13:5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

  2. Acknowledge God as the giver and controller of all things.

    God is the creator of all things, and we as part of creation are creatures who depend on the Creator. We are completely dependent on God as provider and sustainer.

    Our tendency is to act like any prosperity we experience is a result of our effort, goodness or skill. Our abundance we tend to strongly protect and preserve. And conversely we often treat our hardships as undeserved or something to escape from as quickly as possible.

    When we realize that God is sovereign over all things, including our current circumstances, we might be slower to escape and quicker to recognize his goodness. Sometimes that will mean being brought low, either voluntarily or through God’s providence. Paul chose suffering for the sake of the gospel. He faced prison, beatings, shipwrecks, poverty etc.

    God may bring us low through circumstances. We might lose a job, have to foreclose on our home, get a terminal diagnosis, lose a loved one

  3. Focus your desires on Christ.

    Start to recognize your desires, and line them up with who Jesus is, what he accomplished in his life death and resurrection. When we set our minds and our affections on Christ, things tend to fall into the right proportions.

    A few years ago, we drove as a family to Yellowstone. It was the end of a long day, the kids were getting impatient and tired, the volume in the car was rising as fast as my anger. In that moment all I wanted was for everything to be quiet and for me to get my way. However that happened. Then it rained hard for 30 seconds and then the Wyoming sky became this glorious rainbow. And we all stopped and were amazed. And I no longer wanted my own way. We all saw something more satisfying than our own desires.

    The things that tempted us before were still there. The same is true for you: All your stuff is still there. More stuff is in other’s houses, and advertised all over. When you fill your soul with the gospel, the satisfying love of Christ and receive grace, what happens to your selfish desires? Why don’t you care as much? It’s because something better came along for you to set your satisfaction on.

  4. How can you glorify God in your circumstances?

    If you are brought low, see it like Paul sees it. It’s an opportunity to glorify God, see the gospel advance and a chance to suffer for the sake of Christ. Can you see it, not as something to escape or worry, but where you will find satisfaction in Christ?

    In his book The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, Jeremiah Burroughs, gives this illustration: when we think of our circumstances and worry about them it is like a man on a large ship, running around in worry. That doesn’t affect the boat at all. It still sails in the same direction and isn’t affected by the person’s flailing about in worry. The ship is God’s providence and it is not changed at all by our worry. “Whether or not you are content, the providence of God will go on. (p112)”

    If God sees fit to bless you abundantly, how can you bring glory to God? Can you hold them loosely enough that if the abundance disappears you are not wrecked? Can you be generous out of your abundance?

    This is contentment that takes you from holding tightly to your abundance, to an open hand with your things because you want to use them for the gospel. Maybe it means going from surfing and thinking endlessly about a new couch that would perfectly compliment your furniture in the living room, to a new desire that hopes that couch gets trashed because the neighbor kids filled your home to hear stories about Jesus. It means hosting DG and your kids’ Legos will get strewn about the entire house. And teaching your kids why that’s a good thing. It might mean taking the money you had set aside for a big purchase, is now invested in missions or being generous among the saints.

I just gave you 4 steps to learning contentment. But there’s something else that we still need because we can’t do this on our own. We need power.

What is the power for contentment?

13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

The him refers back to verse 10, where Paul is rejoicing in the Lord. It’s through the Lord that Paul can do all things. The power is not for physical or material accomplishments. It’s the power of god who raised Christ from the dead. And now we have that same resurrecting power working in us.

While some have hijacked this verse and made it say that “all things” means anything we could imagine or desire and God will cosign it. He’ll bless it.

Hopefully going through the whole book and seeing the context, this is not what Paul has in mind. Verses 11 and 12 give us our clue. The “all things” are the various circumstances Paul has faced, and the same circumstances we face: plenty and hunger. Abundance and Need.

As I mentioned earlier, true contentment isn’t something we can do on our own. It’s not some kind of self-help that can be attained through positive thinking. This isn’t simply telling yourself to think happy thoughts or tricking your mind that you don’t really

Paul is reliant on God to actually change him in order to endure his circumstances. The power Paul is talking about is not the power to fulfill all our earthly desires, or even for miraculous abilities. It’s a supernatural power for sure, but it’s applied to very ordinary circumstances. Listen to Colossians 1:11 and 12:

Col 1:11 being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy;

Did you hear what the power was for? It was for endurance. It was for patience. These are things we are familiar with, but need in abundance. It’s not the power to change our circumstances. It’s the power to patiently endure our circumstances and experience joy.

Eph 3:16, Paul prays for the saints to be strengthened with power to know the love of Christ in a deeper way. And the purpose of that power to know Christ’s love is that they would have the fullness of God. If we are full of God, we won’t try to fill ourselves with other things.

Looking back at the rest of the letter, there are several ways Paul finds the power to be content.

In chapter one He finds hope despite his chains because the gospel is advancing. Then, in the power of Christ, he can have the perspective that death is greater because he would gain Christ. How could anyone find satisfaction in death, unless they had the power of Christ at work in them? 1:21

Later he is prepared to suffer and be poured out as a drink offering (2:17) for the sake of the gospel. In chapter three he considers everything as rubbish compared to knowing Christ. He was willing to lose everything if it meant gaining Christ and the power of his resurrection.

We are coveters. We are dissatisfied. And yet through Jesus’ death on a cross, our sins are atoned for. And there’s more. The cross opens up heaven to us. Apart from Christ’s death and resurrection, we are destined for eternal destruction. And through Christ we now have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. Eph 1:3

Contentment is possible in this world. That’s what Paul is describing. We can be satisfied at what God has provided. Either abundance or longing. However there is a tension with even this. The tension is that while Christians are called to earthly contentment, we can’t ultimately be content this side of heaven. The things of earth will not satisfy. That’s why Paul longed to see Christ, because that was far better. Paul has made clear in this letter that our citizenship is in heaven.

We will not be ultimately satisfied until we see the return of the Lord. We won’t be content until the day of Christ when we will be complete in him. The day when we will be pure and blameless. The day when death is gain. The day when we will bow our knees and confess Jesus as Lord. The day when we attain the resurrection from the dead. The day when he will transform our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body. Then we will be perfectly content. Faith will turn to sight and we will not want.

Grace, this is the power that transforms us, including our desires. The God who made us, knows how we will be best satisfied. We are most satisfied with Christ.


After I’ve answered various questions about contentment, you might have a question: How do I actually do this? What are the practical things I can do to seek greater contentment?

Practice the spiritual disciplines: Practice fasting. And when you stomach growls, remember that you are dependent on God for all things. Pray and spend time with Christ, and grow in your satisfaction. Journal and list all of the ways that God has provided, both through abundance and low times.

Paul learned the secret, which isn’t really a secret, for contentment. He could truly say ‘I can do all things through him who strengthens me”. The secret he found is that satisfaction is based on a person, Jesus Christ, who enables us to endure and find contentment in all settings because of Christ’s strength. Not our own. It’s a simple secret that’s found in an old hymn:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.