Here is the recap from this week’s study on Philippians 4:10-13.
Paul was sitting in a Roman jail with only a Roman soldier for company. Then one day Epaphroditis showed up, his friend from far away Philippi, with gifts and encouragement from the Philippian church. That must have meant the world to Paul. It had been ten years since he had heard from these friends as they had lost track of Paul. This visit and gift made Paul “rejoice greatly”. (The word for “greatly” in the Greek is “mega”. Paul had mega-joy when Epaphroditis came.)
The Philippian church was held up as a model in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. “In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people.” (2 Cor. 8:2-4)
These were people who experienced severe trials, yet had overflowing joy. These were people who lived in extreme poverty, yet gave beyond their means. In fact, they begged Paul to let them give!! Can you imagine someone standing up in church after the offering and saying, “Pastor, please pass the plate again! Please let us give more!”
Paul talked a lot about contentment in this passage. What is contentment?
Dictionary: – satisfied with what one is or has, not wanting more or anything else.
We tend to think of contentment as that feeling when our stomachs are full and we can relax and enjoy a day off. That’s not the kind of contentment Paul was talking about. Paul said he “learned” to be content in times of plenty and in times of great need. He even said there was a secret to being content, which means it’s not easily found in this world. Contentment is something that has to be learned over a long period of time through many experiences, as God shows Himself faithful to provide.
This world is set up to make us feel dissatisfied. That’s what the advertising culture is all about — to make us believe that happiness is hinged on having a Lexus with a bow on top sitting in our driveway on Christmas morning. The truth is, God is the One who set it up this way, making sure that the accumulation of satisfactions other than Him will NEVER satisfy. We are made for more than this earth. We are made for eternity. That longing for more is really our longing for relationship with the Creator and the promise of spending a mind-blowing forever on a new earth.
Paul spoke from experience. In 2 Corinthians 11, he recounted some events from his life in ministry:
- 5 times he was whipped 40 lashes minus one. (It was believed that 40 lashes would kill a man, so 39 were given to ensure maximum suffering. Paul endure five of those violent floggings.)
- 3 times he was beaten with rods. (He remembered exactly how many times — you don’t forget things like that.)
- 1 time he was stoned. Paul knew what the intended result of stoning was: death. He himself had watched over and approved of the stoning of Stephen. People hated him so much that they threw rocks at him to kill him. (Read about it in Acts 14.)
- 3 times he was shipwrecked. What is it like to have your ship go down? (Personally, after the second shipwreck, I probably wouldn’t get on a boat for a third voyage.)
- One of those shipwrecks put him out on the open sea for over 24 hours.
- He was constantly on the move. No home, no bed of his own, no vacations.
- He was constantly in danger.
- He went without sleep, food, and adequate clothing.
How many of us would keep going in the ministry
if we had to put up with this?
Yet, it was through these very experiences that Paul learned contentment. It didn’t matter what was going on externally. Contentment came from the inside — a peace from God that never quit even if there was chaos all around. The reason many of don’t have that kind of contentment is because we give up when things get hard and so we don’t get to experience God coming through for us in the midst of trials. If God let His chief apostle experience times of great need, we should expect to go through a similar training process “for, as citizens of heaven, God wants to wean us from dependence upon the decaying delicacies of earth.” (Spurgeon)
Paul was a thermostat. He set the temperature and made everything around him conform to his setting. Most of us are more like thermometers. When circumstances are good, we ride high. When situations are troubled, we sink down. Up and down, up and down we go, depending on the externals.
This passage ends with a “coffee-cup verse” — one that is often taken out of context. “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” This is often used by athletes to inspire them to run fast, jump high and score lots of touchdowns. Unfortunately, that’s not what Paul had in mind. Instead of claiming this verse to enable us to do whatever we set our minds to, the context is saying, “I’ve learned to be content when I received everything I want; I’ve learned to be content when I got nothing I wanted. I can do either one by the power of Christ.”
God will indeed give us the strength to do the things He asks us to do with the power available through Christ.
What does a mature believer look like? A growing Christian is learning how to be content in any and every situation.
How can we shine like stars? In this world of greed, dissatisfaction and materialism, a contented person will stick out like a beacon in darkness.
One more week and our study of Philippians is complete. It takes 15 minutes to read the entire book of Philippians, but it has taken us 15 weeks to dig deep into Paul’s letter. I’m sure we could keep going for 15 years and still find treasure there.