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Right Choices, Choose Contentment Daily
Now, if you would, please take out your Bibles and turn in them in the New Testament to the book of Philippians and chapter number 4. If you don’t have a Bible, there should be one under a chair in front of you, you can grab that Bible, and turn in the back portion to page 156, and you would find yourself at Philippians, chapter 4.
Now, it has been said that America is the land of opportunity, and indeed it is. By coming here, you have an opportunity to do much and an opportunity to have much. But it could also be said of America that it is a land of discontent, and all too often, even followers of Jesus struggle with being discontent. We could be discontent with how we look, what we have, discontent with our lot in life, discontent we are stuck in school, or stuck single, or stuck being a parent. We can be discontent with the type of weather out there. We can be discontent with what we drive, and the media in our culture reinforces discontent.
About a week or so ago, last weekend, I was watching some sports on TV, and so, I just began to write down some of the messages that were coming at me, and here are what a few of them were…Harmony between man, nature, and machine: Toyota Prius Hybrid car. Implication being there’ll be harmony missing in my life if I don’t have one of those hybrids.
Here is another one…Ahead of the Curve: the Acura RL automobile. Implication: I’ll be behind the curve somewhere if I don’t have an Acura. And I like this one…Own the exhilaration of the world: an Infiniti. So, implication: if I don’t have an Infiniti, I’m missing a lot of exhilaration in my life. And then, how about this one…Peace of mind: the ADT security system. Implication: if I don’t have one of those, I’ll be missing some peace of mind in my life.
I like this one…Achieve my vision for the future: Invest in Pacific Life. So, there really isn’t going to be much hope in my future if I don’t invest with Pacific Life. That is the implication. And then, this was an interesting one…If you desire to have more fun than I am, check out Breezeresorts.com. I mean, who wouldn’t want to have more fun? Anyone here wouldn’t want to have more fun? Sure, we all would like to have more fun, but that doesn’t mean we need to end up at Breezeresorts.com.
All of these messages come at us, implying we’re discontent if we don’t have this or we don’t have that, and there is a downside to discontent. You know what discontent will do in your life? Discontent will corrode your joy. Discontent will drain your inner spirit. Discontent will rob you of gratitude in your life, and God’s message to us is…Don’t live there. But too often, we do.
We’ve come in our study of Philippians to chapter 4, and we have said the thrust in the chapter is…Maintaining right choices is vital to the spiritual life. If you’re going to have a joy-full life, you need to make right choices, and we’ve been saying that the choices you make, make you, and they make me. And we’ve been giving some quotes on choices. Last week, we gave this one from Eric Allenbaugh. He said, “Every choice moves us closer to or farther away from something. Where are your choices taking your life?” And then a quote for today: “I discovered I always have choices, and sometimes, it’s only a choice of attitude.” And by the way, the choice of attitude is one that is always with us.
We’ve seen a number of choices laid out for us in chapter 4. In verses 2 to 5, he says, “Choose to diffuse disharmony.” In verses 6 and 7, he says, “Choose prayer over anxiety.” In verses 8 and 9, which we looked at last week, he says, “Choose to focus wisely.” Now today, as we come to verses 10 to 13, he is going to say this, “Choose contentment daily.”
So, if you have your Bibles open, I would like to read verses 10 to 13. I invite you to follow along in your Bible as I’m reading what Paul has to say to us today. He says in verse 10, “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. 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. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
Now today, we’re going to have a very simple plan as we look as these verses. First, we’re going to look at our struggle with contentment, and we want to be honest about that. Then the second thing we’re going to look at is Paul’s secret for contentment. So, we’re going to look at our struggle with contentment, and then, this is really exciting, we’re going to look at Paul’s secret for it. What is the secret for contentment?
1. Our struggle with contentment. And what I want to just do is to come completely clean. Let’s all come clean this morning that we struggle with contentment. So, here is what I want you to do. I want you to turn to the person next to you right now, and I want you to just say this, “I struggle.” Alright? Let’s just do that now. Go ahead, turn to the person next to you…I struggle. Yeah. We struggle don’t we with contentment? I struggle with contentment. Men and women, it is a daily challenge for me. We all struggle with contentment.
Now, here is the key question…why is that? Why do we really struggle with contentment? And I want to highlight two reasons I think why we struggle with contentment. Here’s the first reason…we struggle with what I like to call the “if only” syndrome. Oh, we have a real problem with this syndrome. We tend to live our lives by “if only’s.” It goes something like this…
If only I had more free time, then I would be content. If only such an event hadn’t happened in my life, then I would be content. If only I had a different spouse or a different house, then I would be content. If only I had heated seats in my car, then I would be content. If only I had more money, then I would be content. If only I lived in a warmer city, if only I lived near the mountains or near the ocean, then I would be content. If only I had a better pastor, then I would be content.
It’s really interesting how much we struggle with contentment because of the “if only” syndrome. I came across this piece. It’s really great. It’s very right on. Here is the way it goes. It says this,
It was spring, but it was summer I wanted-
The warm days and the great outdoors.
It was summer, but it was autumn I wanted-
The colorful leaves and the cool dry air.
It was autumn, but it was winter I wanted-
The beautiful snow and the joy of the holiday season.
It was winter, but it was spring I wanted-
The warmth and the blossoming of nature.
I was a child, but it was adulthood I wanted-
The freedom and the respect.
I was 20, but it was 30 I wanted-
To be mature and sophisticated.
I was middle-aged, but it was 20 I wanted-
The youth and the free spirit.
I was retired, but it was middle-age I wanted-
The presence of mind, without limitations.
Then my life was over, and I never got what I wanted.
See, one of the problems is is that we struggle with contentment because of the “if only” syndrome. Now, I want you to assume something for a moment that if in the next 15 seconds you had to fill in the blank, how would you fill in the blank? If blank, then I’d be content. Now, I’m not going to force you to fill that in, but just think about it. What would you put in that blank? What would you put there? If blank, then I’d be content.
See, men and women, the key to contentment is not what is in our IRA or our 401(k), especially in these recent days. It’s not in a large checking account. It’s not having a house, a nice car, and sharp clothes. It’s not having the latest and the best electronic equipment. You see, there are tens of thousands of people who have all of those things, and they are not content. Why is it that we struggle with contentment? Well, the first reason is we struggle with the “if only” syndrome.
Here’s the second one, and it’s just as important, if not more so…we struggle in trusting God. We lose sight of the fact that God, as I like to say, is large and in charge. We lose sight of the fact He carefully calibrates every circumstance that ever comes in our lives. We lose sight of the fact there are no accidents with God. We struggle with trusting Him, and not only that, but we underestimate the life of Christ that lives inside of us. We underestimate that God has promised to give us grace for whatever place He puts us in, and so, we not only struggle with the “if only” syndrome, we struggle in trusting God. We lose sight of who He is, and we underestimate who He is inside of us.
Now, that is going to become clearer as we move to the second thing we wanted to look at today.
2. Paul’s secret for contentment. We first want to just remind ourselves of how much we need to be contented, and now we want to look at the secret for contentment. So, look in chapter 4 at verse 10. He says this, “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.”
Look at that first phrase there…”I rejoiced in the Lord greatly.” What strikes you as out of place by that statement? Well, remember what his circumstances were? He is imprisoned. He is chained between two soldiers. He doesn’t know if he’s going to be executed or if he’s going to be set free. He doesn’t know if he’s going to be stuck being imprisoned and in chains for who knows how many months or how many years, and yet he is able to say despite all those circumstances, “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly.”
You see, the person who says “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly,” is not someone who just won the lottery, or someone who just got a big inheritance, or someone who signed a significant business deal, or signed a 10-year, multi-million dollar athletic contract. He is not someone who is headed on a dream trip to an exotic locale. He is not someone who just moved into a huge, new home. He is someone who is in adverse circumstances in his life, experiencing what many would call frustrating circumstances, and it’s interesting he does not choose to wallow in self-pity,…Oh, it’s just so bad I’m here, and oh dear, I’m so down and out…rather he is positive, and he has an upbeat outlook. And I believe the reason why is he had a sense of confidence in God’s providence in his life.
Now, there is an element of something that really had caused him to rejoice greatly, and then, he says, “Now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity.” Now, he is making reference here to a financial gift that had come to him from the Philippians by way of Epaphroditus who had traveled with that financial gift to give it to Paul.
He says some interesting things here, interesting language that is found here. He says, “You have revived your concern for me.” It’s a word that means to sprout again or to blossom again. And he is saying, “You have concern for me, and that was expressed to me, and now it’s just sprouting out again. It’s blossoming again.”
He says, “What has been part of the problem is that you lacked opportunity.” We don’t really know exactly what he meant. He may have meant that the Philippians didn’t have any resources they could send to Paul. We know that the churches of Macedonia were very poor.
Maybe they were just unsure of where Paul was. In those days, it wasn’t like today where you could text somebody or call somebody and find out where they’re located. Paul had moved around a lot and had been in a lot of different places. Maybe they had no idea where he was, so there was no opportunity to give.
Maybe there was just no one who was going to travel to where Paul was who could carry the financial gift to bring it to him. Whatever the situation was, they were now sprouting again and blossoming again in their concern for him.
As I was reading through this section and studying through this, I thought about you and me. And maybe there is somebody you know in vocational ministry or someone you know who is a missionary, and you have supported them or prayed for them in the past, but your concern has lagged, and maybe what we need to do is allow it to blossom again. Maybe you need to send them an email and just ask them about the latest thing that is going on in their ministry area, or maybe ask them how specifically you could pray for them.
Or maybe it means you should send a gift to them, a financial gift, or maybe find out what their favorite treat is, and package that up, and send it to them. Because just as Paul found comfort and encouragement in receiving this gift from the Philippians, so some who we know would also be encouraged.
But it is when you get down to verse 11 though that it really starts to grab my attention. He says, “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” I think the NIV says, “I’m not saying what I’m saying because I am in need.” But he says, “I have learned…” By the way, if you underline in your Bible, you want to underline the word learned, “…to be content whatever circumstances I am in.”
See, part of this spiritual learning process, men and women, as followers of Jesus is that we learn about being content. Are you learning that right now in your spiritual life? That is part of developing as a follower of Jesus. “I have learned,” he says, “part of the spiritual learning process to be content in whatever circumstances I am in.”
And then, he expands all of that thought in verse 12. He says, “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity.” Humble means, literally, I know how to get along when I’m brought low in times of poverty. And I know how to live in prosperity…literally, to abound in times of plenty. Whether they’re times of poverty or times of plenty or anything in between, I have learned to get along with that situation.
Now, I just want to freeze frame that for a second. Just because a person has a lot does not mean they are content. Just because someone has a nice house, or a new car, or money to spend, or a pretty wife, they can and often do, fail to be content. Why is that? Here is one of the problems. We understand somewhat…Okay, when I don’t have much, well, that would be a struggle with being content, but if I had a lot, I would be content. Well, that is not the case oftentimes. And why is that?
And that is because sometimes prosperity will feed our discontent. See, we can have a lot, but then we can always think about…Well, I could have better, or I could have bigger, or I could have newer! Each situation, whether you’re talking here about times of poverty or times of plenty, whether you’re being brought low or whether you’re abounding, each one brings unique temptations to us, and by the way, each one can be destructive.
You can jot down Proverbs 30, verse 8 because the saying of wisdom there says this to God, “Give me neither poverty nor riches.” “Don’t give me poverty, God,” because see, there is a particular temptation that can come with that, and you might be tempted to do something dishonest because you have so little. But also, he says, “Don’t give me riches,” because there is a temptation with that, that temptation to forget God and to start to worship stuff.
He says, verse 12, “I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.” By the way, underline the word learned again…a different verb this time for learning. And this is a verb that is in a tense that means that you learn something, and the ramifications of the lesson go on in your life.
Being content is not an automatic thing. It is part of growing spiritually. And so, the question I need to wrestle with, and you need to wrestle with, is…Am I progressing in learning to be content? It’s a mark of growing up spiritually that we’re learning that.
“I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.” Paul experienced it all, and he says, “I know the secret.” And you’ll notice, in the middle of the verses…this is probably the most important phrase…”in any and every circumstance.” Translation…”No matter what is happening in my life!” And when we talked about choose contentment daily, it’s built around this phrase in verse 12. Whatever the circumstances are, no matter what the situation is, he says, “I have learned to be content.”
Now, in college, I was trained in the area of journalism, and journalism is built around about five or six questions you ask. And I’m asking some of them right here. How did he do that?How did he learn to be content whatever the circumstances might be, no matter the situation? Why could he be content given some of the circumstance he went through? How does he do it? Why is he able to do that?
I mean, is he just a positive thinker, one of those positive-thinking type people? Bad things happen, and they just think positively? Is he just simply a tough-minded guy, one of those tough-minded people? How could he be content in whatever circumstance or whatever situation? Why was he able to do that?
Well, I do know this…it’s all about attitude. See, Paul wasn’t just being passively indifferent…Oh, good things have happened to me, bad things have happened to me. Who really cares? No…What we see out of Paul, men and women, is an active reliance on the reality of his relationship with Jesus Christ. It has to do with attitude and his relationship with the living God.
Keep your finger here in Philippians and turn with me in the Old Testament to the book of Jeremiah and chapter 9. I want you to see a couple of verses that are some of my favorite verses out of the Old Testament. If you go to the middle of your Bible, you have Psalms and Proverbs. You go to the right a few books, you’ll find Isaiah, and then you have Jeremiah, chapter 9 and verse 23.
An interesting statement, by the way, from God Himself recorded by the prophet Jeremiah. And it says this in verse 23 of chapter 9, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this,…'” And what is it? “‘…that he understands and knows Me.'”
That is awesome! It’s the most important thing in all of the world. It’s a whole lot bigger than piles of wisdom, and being strong and influential, and having all the wealth in the world. “‘Let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,’ declares the LORD.” Do you see what the idea here is? Contentment is a matter of attitude, and it involves an active reliance on the reality of our relationship with the living God, men and women.
Turn back in the New Testament. I want you to see another passage that underscores this idea in the book of Hebrews, chapter 13, several books to the right in the New Testament. Hebrews, chapter 13. By the way, this is a great chapter. It’s a great book. A lot of great things in this chapter, but notice chapter 13, verse 5. He says there, “Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have.” So, we have contentment coming up here.
But notice the rest of the verse. Why should we be content? “For He Himself has said, ‘I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,’ so that we confidently say, ‘THE LORD IS MY HELPER, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID.WHAT WILL MAN DO TO ME?'” Contentment is tied back to the reality of a relationship with the living God. Do you see how that works? Very, very important. It has to do with attitude, and it goes back to appreciating the relationship we have with God.
Go back to Philippians 4. He says, “I have learned the secret.” And I believe there are two dimensions that embody the secret. One is implicit. It’s woven into this whole section in Philippians 4, and the other is explicit. It’s openly stated. And both of them, men and women, don’t miss these. These two dimensions are key to learning to be content. Let’s look at them.
1. The reality of God’s providence. To remember that God is large and in charge, that He calibrates every circumstance in our lives. There are no accidents because we have a relationship with the heavenly Father. He is truly in total control of everything. God, the person of Jesus Christ, is in the middle of our everyday lives, and we need to remember the reality of God’s providence in our lives.
Maybe the greatest illustration of that in all of the Bible comes out of the life of Joseph. You remember Joseph in the Old Testament, and you remember the story. It was out of envy and jealousy that his brothers sold him to slave traders. And you might remember the story has all kinds of ups and downs, and suddenly it comes to the point where Joseph is really the number two person in control in the country of Egypt.
And there is a great famine in the land of Israel, and they need food, and Egypt is there available to them. And you might remember the story when his brothers finally come and get a chance to interact with Joseph, and Joseph is actually going to speak to them directly.
Here is what Joseph says to them, “You sold me, but God sent me.” See what he is saying? He is saying, “You even did something very negative and mean…way mean, incredibly mean, but God had a purpose in it.” He’s basically saying, “God knew about what was going to happen to me before I was born.”And what may appear to many people as some sort of a random thing that happened out of the hand of God, what Joseph was saying is, “It wasn’t. God has providence in everything in my life. He is in charge of everything. He calibrates everything. He is in total control of everything that happens.”
The reality of God’s providence. You might jot down Ecclesiastes, chapter 7, verse 14. And there, Solomon talks about how in our lives there are times of prosperity and times of adversity. You’ve noticed that in your life, right? But here is what he says there in that verse. He says, “In the day of adversity consider – God has made the one as well as the other.”
What was he saying? He said, “God is in providential control.” It’s a prosperous day, God is providentially in control. It’s an adverse day, God is providentially in control. See, the life of a believer is not a series of accidents, men and women. It is a series of divine appointments. And here is what I want you to think about. Because He is so totally in control, and His providence rules in every dimension of your life and mine to the extent that I am not content. What am I really saying to God? I’m saying to God, “Where You have me is the wrong situation.” Implication: “Your plan, God, is flawed. Mine is far superior to Yours.”
See, what is the secret to being content whatever the circumstances might be? The first dimension is the reality of God’s providence.
2. The sufficiency of God’s provision. That is verse 13. He says, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Very interesting verse. It’s been a standalone memory verse for many people. It’s been a verse that has been misapplied by a number of people. Some people look at verse 13 and they say, “Well, you know what that means? That means I can fly an airplane even without having lessons. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” No, no, that is not what he is talking about here.
Let’s look at it in context. And by the way, again, if you mark your Bibles, the words all things are in the original emphatic. That means it ought to be underlined like three times. “All things I can do through Him who strengthens me.” What are the all things in context? Whatever the circumstances are…verse 11…in any and every circumstance…verse 12…I can operate through Him who strengthens me. See, that is the thrust of the verse.
No matter what the situation may be, God in me (he’s saying) is adequate. God will provide me grace for whatever place He puts me in. Whatever the circumstances may be, He will infuse with the ability to deal with it, and the ability to experience contentment no matter what the situation may be.
Ephesians 3:16 talks about how we are strengthened with power in the inner man. That means from the inside out. Ephesians 1:18 and 19 tells us this power we have that we’re strengthened from in the inside out, in the inner man, is the same power source that raised Jesus Christ from the dead. And what he is talking about here is trusting in the sufficiency of God’s provision, dependence on the indwelling reality of Jesus.
You do remember the God of the universe, if you know Him personally, resides inside of you and inside of me. That is why in 2 Corinthians 12:9…you remember the situation with Paul. He’s having these adverse circumstances. They were bothering him, and he kept saying, “God, would You take the circumstances away from me? Take it away.” And God came back and said, “My grace is sufficient for you. I will give you the grace for the place I have you in,” is what God said to Paul.
And really, when we are content, here is what we’re saying to the Lord, “Whatever You call me to experience, I believe You will provide for that. I believe that, I will rely on that, I will count on that, I will draw on that. Whatever You call me to experience, You’ll provide for, and I’m going to believe that, and I’m going to count on that.” The secret to contentment really is a vote of confidence in two things. It’s a vote of confidence in the providence of God and the power of the living God.
And here is an interesting thought. I don’t know if you’ve thought of it this way, but I believe this. Contentment at its core is an act of worship. Think about that one for a moment. Contentment at its core is an act of worship. It’s worshiping God for the reality of His providence in my life. There are no accidents; only appointments. And it’s an act of worship. Worshiping God for the sufficiency of His provision, the power He gives to us. Contentment is an act of worship.
See, here is part of the problem that we have, and I struggle with this. I understand how this works. See, deep down inside, if we’re going to be honest, here is how we tend to feel…I deserve better than I’m experiencing. I deserve more. But here is the interesting thing. When you realize you deserve nothing…See, God owes you and me nothing. When we realize we deserve nothing, then we can enjoy all we have as a gift from God.
And you know what is even more amazing to me? Contentment has ripple effects in our life. See, when we are content, temptation loses its power in our lives. Think about that. When we are content, it prepares us for any level of serving Him. When we are content, it will empower us to face varying circumstances.
Remember now, there is a downside to being discontent. When we are discontent, it corrodes our joy, it drains our inner spirit, and it robs us of gratitude. The quote we had earlier: “I discovered I always have choices, and sometimes it’s only a choice of attitude.” And God says this to you and me, “Choose contentment daily.”
Now, I want to talk very quickly about some life response. What can we do right now? How can we respond to this truth right now? Well, here we go.
1. Rejoice in your relationship with God. And I want to read a couple of the verses from the book of Habakkuk…if you go to Jonah, Micah, Nahum in the Old Testament toward the end of it. The book of Habakkuk, chapter 3, verses 17-19. You could look at the verses more later, but here is what it says. This is what Habakkuk says to God.
He says, “Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold And there be no cattle in the stalls…” Circumstances stink, in other words, “…Yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord GOD is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, and makes me walk on my high places.” In other words, he is saying this to God, “If I have nothing but You, I am rich, and I have more than enough in my life.” So, rejoice in your relationship with Him.
2. Keep your eyes on eternity. That is part of our problem. We take our eyes off of eternity. And in 2 Corinthians, chapter 4, verse 17, he says that the things we experience in this life, which he calls momentary light affliction, is producing for us an eternal weight of glory, far beyond all comparison. In other words, the stuff of this life that we get so discontented over is nothing compared to the riches and the reality of heaven. So, rejoice in your relationship and keep your eyes on eternity.
3. Count your blessings. Count your blessings because that is part of what we lose sight of. They are gifts from God. And if you really want to help yourself out, I would suggest you memorize a verse like Jeremiah 9, verses 23 and 24 because we can boast on whether how smart we are, or boast in how powerful we are. We can boast in our riches, but he says, “No, that is not what you want to boast in. What you want to boast in is that you know and you understand Me. That is the most important thing in all the world.”
Let’s pray together: Father, we thank You for this truth. We thank You for Your Word. We thank You for being so real with us because we are people of frailty, and we struggle with being discontent. We thank You that Paul has shared with us this secret, the reality of Your providence in our life. Oh, how we need that! Oh, how we need to remember that You are in control of everything, and then, the sufficiency of the power and the ability that You have inside of us due to the presence of the Holy Spirit in our life.
May we remember that You’re more than enough for us, more than enough, no matter what the circumstances may be that we experience. And we thank You that You’re more than enough. In Jesus’ name, Amen.