Study 9: The Secret of Contentment
Sermon Date: February 26, 2017
Reading: Philippians 4:10-23
As Paul draws his letter to a close, it is significant what he writes. He begins by again encouraging the Philippians to “rejoice in the Lord”. One of the reasons why Paul rejoices is the church in Philippi. This is one of the many churches that he founded (see Acts 16) and which occupies a special place in his heart. In this letter, we have considered why.
Paul is greatly encouraged by the Philippians faithful concern for him. Their financial generosity, prayers and witness in Philippi convey that they understand what it means to be a partner in the gospel. What’s more, Paul commends their sincere motivation (verse 18b) that he likens to the Old Testament sacrificial offerings that were given to praise God.
Drawing upon his earlier teaching of what it means to be in Christ, Paul now writes about the contentment that a believer experiences in Christ. Given his circumstances and history, this is powerful teaching. Paul has learnt how to be content, no matter what the circumstances, because he knows who Christ is and that he can depend on God to provide for him. Paul has his mind set on Heaven and on bringing glory to Christ in whatever he does. This is evident throughout the letter and in the closing section where he gives glory to God, greetings to and from the Saints (his Christian brothers and sisters) and concludes with the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In Paul’s opinion, what is the secret of contentment?
Paul’s contentment did not depend on earthy things and how he was feeling. His joy, his peace (shalom) came from something much deeper, something that is not linked to our material, physical and emotional circumstances. Paul’s contentment came from knowing Christ personally and deeply and living for Him.
Questions: (see Helpful Hints at the end of this section)
1. It is easy to forget that God is always at work in our lives and to miss How he is present and active in our daily lives. Can you think of an example when something in your life came about by what could only be described as divine intervention?
In your opinion, what is God’s purpose for us in our lives?
2. Read Revelation 3:17. Have there been times in your life when you have felt self-sufficient? Was God more or less prominent in your life at this time?
3. How often do you stop and consider where you help comes from? Read Psalm 121. Share with each other ways in which you try to remember God is our provider and strength.
4. Is there a genuine need that you can fill right now? It doesn’t have to be just financial, although that may be exactly what God wants you to do. It could be spiritual or emotional. Is there someone you can help?
5. How often do you give glory to God and your Christian brothers and sisters who have helped you along the way?
Either play or read the words of the worship song “My Jesus, My Saviour” [Shout to the Lord].
This song reminds us that God is our tower and strength, either quietly contemplate or openly share times when God has been your tower and strength.
Reflect on the discussion you had about helping others and consider what actions you may take.
Conclude by sharing the Grace together.
Helpful Pointers for discussion questions:
1. In our scientific, post modern world we can easily be fooled into believing that we understand most things and we have no need of God and what he provides. We can forget that God has a purpose for our lives [read Jeremiah 29:11-13] and that we are put our trust in Him at all times. God had plans for Paul as He has for everyone. But God’s plan (which is always good) may not always be according to our expectation and desires.
Read what Joseph says to his brothers in Genesis 45:5. Even after all the harm they have done to him, Joseph realises that it was God’s will and He was using him for greater things. God is always at work in our lives just as he was in Paul’s life and it was through God’s providence that the church in Philippi renewed their concern for Paul.
God’s purpose for our lives is to enjoy life in relationship with Him. As we allow the Lord, through the Holy Spirit, to refine and lead us we bring honour to Him and increasingly live in the fullness of life with Him.
2. At this time, many other “religious people” were offering their teaching and soliciting financial support. Paul recognises this and is anxious to differentiate himself. He is not concerned for his own material welfare. Paul is joyfully confident in God (see verse 13 and 19). Paul’s focus is not on himself but on living to glory God (see verse 20). He has a heavenly perspective. What’s more, his faith has been depended by his dependence on God in many situations (see verse 11-13).
Paul thanked the church at Philippi for their generous gift but he viewed it as not only coming from them but from heaven. Paul’s trust and strength was in the Lord. In verses 18 and 19 Paul likens the gift to a fragrant offering. This refers back to the sacrificial system in the Old Testament when the Jewish people gave offerings in the Temple to praise God. It is also the expression that was used by Paul to describe Christ’s offering himself on the cross (Ephesians 5:2). Paul also used it again in 2 Corinthians 12:14.
(You may want to consider what a fragrance is and does and relate this to the gospel?)
Back to the passage: Note that the support of the Philippians (prayer and regular financial giving (which was probably sacrificial) to Paul was important to him (see verse 14). In this way, Paul was encouraged because they demonstrated their understanding of what it means to be “in Christ” – to be a citizen of the kingdom of God working to advance the kingdom.
4. When you reach out to someone in want, God will provide all that you need, but he does it according to His riches in His time and ways - not according to our need. In some instances we may think that God does not provide in the way and time that we would like [read Exodus 16:4-8]. However, God’s way of providing means that the person’s needs will be more than satisfied and there will be an abundant of blessings on top of it.
When we reach out in love to others in God’s name, people’s lives are changed, obligations are met, the gospel is advanced, and God is praised. But faith is required both to respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to act and secondly, to trust and accept God’s response in our situation.
5 Paul had a very strong relationship with God. He knew that his strength and provision came through the Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul knew and rejoiced in the ways in which God had helped him - especially through the people who supported him financially and by showing loving concern for him. In return, Paul was very keen to turn the focus back on to them and to God and pray for God’s blessing upon them.