(this is the first of two parts on Philippians 4:9-23)
A postal worker was sorting through the regular mail when she discovered a letter addressed as follows: GOD, c/o Heaven. The enclosed letter told about a little old lady who had never asked for anything in her life. She was desperately in need of $100 and was wondering if God could send her the money. The young lady was deeply touched and passed the hat among her fellow postal workers. She managed to collect $75, and she sent it off to the elderly lady. A few weeks later another letter arrived addressed in the same way to God, so the young lady opened it. The letter read, “Thank you for the money, God I deeply appreciate it. However, I received only $75. One of those jerks at the post office must have stolen the rest!”
This humorous story is a convicting example of how discontent and selfish most of us are. No matter how much we receive, it seems we are rarely satisfied. When asked, “How much money is enough?” the late John D. Rockefeller reportedly answered, “Just a little bit more.” Sadly, that response has been echoed by many Christians. We struggle to be satisfied with what God has entrusted to us. The irony is: We are some of the wealthiest people in the world. What? You don’t believe me? Do you have sufficient food, decent clothes, a home that shields you from the weather, and some kind of reliable transportation? If so, you’re in the top 15 percent of the world’s wealthy. If you have some savings, two cars (in any condition), a variety of clothes, and your own house, you have reached the top 5 percent! Today, you may not feel wealthy, but that’s only because you’re comparing yourself to the mega-wealthy. Consider someone who works from age twenty-five to sixty-five and makes only $25,000 a year. Forget the huge value of benefits, interest pay raises, and other income sources, including inheritance or Social Security. Even without these extras, in his lifetime this person of modest income will be paid $1 million. He will manage a fortune. Stop right now and reflect on the money that has come in and out of your home. You and I have been given so much.
Now, what’s sobering about our wealth is the fact that we will all eventually give an account of our lives to God. One day everyone must answer these questions: Where did it all go? What did I spend it on? What, if anything, did I support with it? What has been accomplished for eternity through my use of all this wealth? Make no mistake, we will be held accountable for what we do in this life with our money. If we are generous with our possessions, God will reward us beyond our imagination. If we live only for ourselves, hoarding our money, and focusing on our earthly comfort, we will lose the eternal rewards God has planned for us. As Christians, we are saved by God’s grace—but what we do in this life will matter for eternity. In Philippians 4:10–23, Paul assures us that God pays in many ways. In this final installment, Paul provides two insider trading tips on how to build our eternal portfolio.
1. Want what you already have (4:10–13). It’s been rightly said that contentment is “the hidden jewel of Christianity.” In this section, Paul explains how you and I can be content in Christ. In 4:10 he writes, “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity.” Paul sounds like Aunt Mabel who chides you for not writing her a thank you note for last year’s Christmas gift. But that is not his intent. Instead, he indicates that he rejoiced in the Lord greatly because the church at Philippi has been able to resume their financial support. This is the only appearance in the New Testament of the verb translated “revived” (anathallo), and it is a horticultural image of a plant that blooms again after a period of dormancy. It was not the Philippians’ concern that was dormant, but their opportunity to express it. It is important to recognize that the Philippians’ support of Paul is in addition to their regular giving to their local church. Here, Paul acknowledges the principle that there are times when generous Christians aren’t able to provide the “above and beyond” support that they might like. All God’s people go through challenging financial seasons. Yet, God knows our hearts; and He merely asks us to give in proportion to our income. Yet, if you have a burden to give more, ask God for the opportunity to do so. He may just provide.
Paul now assures the church that he is not after their money. (And all God’s people said, “Whew!”) Rather, he is content in Christ. In 4:11–12 he shares his experience: “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.” These verses make it clear that Paul wasn’t born content, nor did contentment happen easily or naturally. The apostle emphasizes two words in these verses: “learned” and “know.” He repeats both of these terms twice in these two verses. His point is that through his personal experience he has cultivated contentment. In 4:12, Paul gives three pairs of circumstances, each pair presenting the opposite extremes of a spectrum. The suggestion is that Paul has learned to be content at the extremes and everywhere in between. He knows how it feels not to be able to pay the bills, and also to have money left at the end of the month. He can sympathize with the worker who is greeted one morning with a layoff notice and identify with the one who gets a promotion. He knows how to live in feast or famine. What about you? When the Lord gives, it’s easy to be content, but what if He takes away? Do you still trust Him and consider Him sovereign? Are you presently satisfied with the amount of money God has given you? Are you satisfied with your job? Are you satisfied with the amount of house God has given you?
The story is told of a king who was sick with unhappiness and was looking for contentment. One of his astrologers told him that if his assistants could find a contented man, they should bring the man’s shirt back to the king and he would be cured of his sickness. So the king sent his men out, and they searched the kingdom for a contented man whose shirt they could bring back to the king. They searched far and wide, only to discover that the only contented man in the kingdom didn’t own a shirt.
We now come to one of the most well-known, yet misquoted verses in the entire Bible—Phil 4:13: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” This verse is embossed on boxing trunks, MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) warm-up robes, and athletic jerseys. It is cited for any and every purpose by self-help gurus. Yet, Phil 4:13 doesn’t mean that a particular fighter will knock out or submit his opponent. It doesn’t mean that an athlete or team can and will win the game. It doesn’t mean that you can achieve everything you desire in your hobby or career. In most cases, this verse is used illegitimately. The phrase “all things” limits the meaning of this verse and establishes its boundaries. “All things” can be defined by the previous two verses (4:11–12). Paul has learned to be content in every economic setting in which he finds himself. What he is saying is simply this: “I have the power through Christ to enjoy life no matter what comes my way.”
SO HOW CAN WE CULTIVATE CONTENTMENT IN CHRIST?
How can you “want what you already have?” The following principles are suggestions on how to cultivate contentment in Christ.
o Beware of the effect of greed. TV commercials are the capstone of greed. But of course commercials do not cause discontentment; they merely capitalize on what is inherent in each of us. Commercial are designed to create a need that you are lacking unless you purchase the product. Perhaps you need to watch TV online with no commercials, or radically limit your viewing.
o Give away your possessions. It is better to give than to receive. Instead of that next garage sale, how about giving your things to Hope’s Closet, Goodwill or Salvation Army? Go through your stuff and see what you don’t need. What is God calling you to give away today? Start here first – then look at the world with the mindset of “what does my neighbor need?”
o Simplify your lifestyle. I read about a successful Southern California businessman who swapped his luxury car for a clunker in order to help spread the gospel. This man now saves $600 a month on his car payment and puts this money toward missions and sponsoring four kids through Compassion International. When people tell him that they’d like to give more to charity or the Lord’s work, he asks, “How much are you spending on car payments?” What can you give up in order to help the cause of Christ? Do you really need that brand new car? How many CD’s, DVD’s and video games do you really need? How many sets of clothing are essential? How many times do you need to go golfing or out to coffee?
o Appreciate growing old. Instead of fighting age, welcome the approaching golden years. Recent research suggests that the happiest Americans are the oldest. Although many of them face health problems, they are generally more content with what they have than younger Americans. The research found that the odds of being happy increased by five percent for every ten years of age. Although aging is often looked at negatively in our society, age brings many benefits, including a greater likelihood of contentment. Christians should also look at aging as being one step closer to heaven and an eternity with Christ. Rather than worrying about aging, we should be celebrating each day that brings us closer to our treasures in heaven. God pays in many ways.