“Christian, how did you enjoy comfort before? Was the creature anything to you but a conduit, a pipe, that conveyed God’s goodness to you? ‘The pipe is cut off,’ says God, ‘come to me, the fountain, and drink immediately.’ Though the beams are taken away, yet the sun remains the same in the firmament as ever it was.” -Jeremiah Burroughs
I finished preaching through the book of Philippians yesterday. In the second half of chapter 4 we find some of the most counter-cultural words in the New Testament.
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 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. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. -Philippians 4:11-13
I believe these words are counter-cultural because we live in a place and time where many of us have much more than we need. If you want some perspective on how much we have here in America compared to other parts of the world go HERE. Perhaps I don’t need to state the obvious, but I will anyway. It’s hard to be content when we have so much. Having lots of good things makes you desire more good things. It’s just the way it works.
In Philippians Paul is telling us that even in the midst of great difficulties, like being in prison, we can experience supernatural contentment. So I wanted to share with you 5 truths that I believe we learn about contentment from God’s Word. But let’s start by defining contentment. Jeremiah Burroughs in his book, “The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment” defines contentment like this, “Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.”
FIVE TRUTHS ABOUT CONTENTMENT
- Contentment is one of the hardest battles you will ever face. The consequences of not being satisfied and content in Christ leads to all kind of idolatry. If we are not finding satisfaction in Jesus we will find it some other place. Career, fitness, image, spouse, family, money, sex, porn, food, sports. All of these can become substitutes for finding true contentment in Christ. The tendency we have to self-medicate ourselves against the heartaches of life is an enormous, life-long battle we are all engaged in. We have to realize that we will have to fight, through prayer and God’s Word, everyday to find true fulfillment.
- Contentment is not based on how well life is going. This is such a clear message from the life of Paul. Paul was content when he had plenty and Paul was content when he was facing execution. This Biblical truth is one of the reasons I despise the prosperity gospel. Faith does not keep us from difficulties and suffering. Often times it is precisely because we do have faith, and get out of our comfort zone, that we will face challenges in life.
- Contentment can be temporarily confused with pleasant life circumstances. I don’t think I am being redundant at this point. What I am trying to say is that I believe it is possible to confuse the fact that life is going fairly well with gospel contentment. We need to examine ourselves. Are we merely happy with how life is going or are we finding contentment and joy that only comes from abiding in Christ? Are we truly enjoying God himself or the good gifts that he gives us?
- Contentment will not be complete until we are in heaven. We can make ourselves, and others, miserable if we communicate that we can be completely content in the here and now. I have written about THIS before. Paul wrote this in 2 Corinthians 5:2, “For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.” Until we are finally home there will always be that ache that awaits the return of our Lord and Savior.
- Contentment comes from understanding and treasuring the gospel. What do we truly deserve? The wages of sin is death, right? Death and hell are what we “deserve.” But what have we graciously received in Jesus Christ? Forgiveness of sins. The promise of being with our heavenly Father for all of eternity. Unspeakable joy. Freedom from sin. When we understand what we deserve, but remember what we have received in Christ, we will experience contentment. So yes, the gospel is the only way to understanding and experiencing contentment. With that said, a great resource for feasting on the gospel can be found HERE.
Here are a couple other resources to consider in regards to finding contentment:
“Discontentment begins when I start trying to be God. Discontentment happens when I attempt to displace God from his rightful place at the center of the universe. When I think that everything should run according to my plans instead of God’s plans. When I forget that God is God and that he is allowed to do with me whatever he wants, whatever will bring him glory. Discontentment results from a big view of myself and a very little view of God.” -Stephen Altrogge, The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence
“I don’t need the church to be a Christian.”
“The church is filled with hypocrites, that’s why I don’t attend.”
“I’ve been hurt by the church, that’s why I stay away from it.”
“All I need is Jesus.”
“I love Jesus but not the church.”
It is not uncommon for me to hear comments like these. Hey, I get it. I grew up as a pastor’s kid (PK). Probably better than most I know how easily it is to get hurt or offended by others in the church. As a teen I still painfully remember my father being voted out of a church. Ponder this for a moment. Our whole family needed to attend the congregational meeting where they were going to vote so that we had a chance of my father keeping his job. It didn’t help. My dad lost his job over petty issues and I have family members to this day who have stayed away from God because of the trauma that occurred in the church. In fact, it was painful moments like these as a child that led me to say to myself that I would never go into ministry. Surprise, surprise. So, yes, I fully understand what it’s like dealing with negative emotions when it comes to the church.
I am preaching through the book of Philippians and I love it. I love Paul’s spiritual intensity and his love for Christ/others. So this week I opened up Philippians 4:1 and read this:
“Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.”
At first I just cruised past this verse, but then I came back to it and started meditating on it. Stop for a moment and reflect on the way that Paul is talking about the church at Philippi:
- They are his brothers and sisters. Paul knows that these are not just people he worships with on Sunday. These are dear friends in the Lord. They are family.
- He loves them and longs for them. This longing means that Paul had a deep desire to be with them.
- They are his joy and his crown. Paul’s joy, first and foremost, is found in Christ. The entire book of Philippians makes that clear. But Paul also finds joy in knowing that these Christians are doing well and growing in their faith. Paul uses the metaphor of a crown to communicate the fact that he sees the church as a precious treasure.
- And finally he refers to them as his beloved. Paul is leaving no doubt regarding just how deeply he loves the Christians at Philippi.
Where did Paul get this kind of love for others? Why are his emotions so strong for this local church? The answer is that Paul had a deep love for Jesus Christ and from this overflowed a deep love for Jesus’ family.
Paul reminds us in a very powerful way that God is not calling us just into community with Him, but the moment we are saved we are also brought into community with his other sons and daughters. We can’t say that we love Jesus and at the same time reject his bride (the church). Are you struggling when it comes to finding a church where you can make deep relationships? My hope and prayer for you is that Paul’s love for Christ and others will inspire you see the church as your ‘beloved.’
I am joyfully preaching through the book of Philippians. There are a number of different themes in this amazing epistle such as joy in Christ, suffering, humility, unity, etc.
I must confess I was surprised when I really looked into Philippians 1:27, “Only let your manner of LIFE be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that your are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.”
No doubt what Paul is saying is that the gospel needs to be at the very center of our lives. Everything we do needs to reflect the beauty, grace and power of the gospel. What was surprising to me was when I began looking into the Greek word “life” in this verse.
Here is what Christ Centered Exposition Commentary wrote about this word:
The phrase “your life” doesn’t capture the idea of citizenship imbedded in the verb politeuesthai (the verb is built on the noun polis-city). He essentially says, “Live as citizens in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” The same idea is conveyed later in Philippians 3:20, where Paul reminds the church that they’re citizens of heaven. Paul uses this political word only here in Philippians. He probably uses it because of the Philippians’ pride over their Roman citizenship.”
Philippi was a Roman colony and the temptation would have been great to live more like a Roman citizen then a follower of Jesus Christ. As I prepared my sermon for this past Sunday I was asking God how I could apply to this truth to our everyday life. What came to mind is the recent controversy regarding the American flag and the NFL players. Many people were very upset over the fact that players were kneeling during the National Anthem. I get it. I am a patriot at heart and love my country. But it got me thinking. Maybe this “flag controversy” reveals something about our heart. Perhaps it reveals something about where our true allegiances lie. Here is the question I asked on Sunday. What has brought you greater emotional distress over the past few months, the way that the American flag has been treated or the fact that we have so many people in the city of Watertown that do not yet have a relationship with Jesus Christ?
I believe the way in which we honestly answer this question will begin to reveal to us if we are living more as American citizens or as citizens in the kingdom of God. To live a life worthy of the gospel means that in all that we do that Jesus Christ is always seen to be our greatest and most precious treasure. Is this true in my life? In yours?