Last year, during the riots in Kenosha, Wisconsin, CNN made a ridiculous assessment of the situation. In a screenshot that has now become the subject of thousands of memes, reporter Omar Jimenez, is front and center. He had goggles on his forehead and a gas mask hanging around his neck. Behind him were several hollowed out vehicles and structures still engulfed in flames and smoke. The caption beneath the scene said: “FIERY BUT MOSTLY PEACEFUL PROTESTS AFTER POLICE SHOOTING.”
Matt Whitlock, senior adviser for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, commented, “‘Fiery but mostly peaceful protest’ is so absurd that if it were satire you’d think it was lazy and unimaginative.” It was an absurd statement that deserved the relentless mockery that followed. It is difficult to understand how any of that was pulled off with a straight face.
It is like the Wizard of Oz being exposed as phony, but carrying on in the desperate hope that he could still convince them he was real. “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” When the circumstances are so clearly out of alignment with the message, it is right for us to be skeptical.
We know Paul’s circumstances. He wrote this letter after what appears to be several years of enduring strict house arrest. Yet, readers might be excused if they assumed he was writing from a comfortable location enjoying the ongoing fruit of his thriving apostolic ministry. Paul has not focused on his hardship at all.
But his primary occasion for writing the letter was to thank the Philippians for their generous gift. He begins to transition to that purpose in this section.
On the one hand, Paul wants to express his appreciation for the Philippians and their concern for his wellbeing. But, on the other hand, he wants them to know that Christ has supplied all that he needs to be content in all of the challenges he has faced.
He knows that his own expression of joy will alleviate their concerns, but he also wants them to be prepared to face the trials that are sure to come their way in the future. He is continuing to model for them, through his own life, how to grow in godliness.
Although the content of the letter doesn’t seem to fit with the circumstances in which Paul finds himself, there is a very honest reason behind it. Paul is not playing fast and loose with his words, but he has learned the secret of contentment.
Read Philippians 4:10-13.
We have a tendency to allow our circumstances to determine the level of our satisfaction. But Paul wants us to realize that Christ supplies all we need to be content in every circumstance.
I. Learn to Be Concerned (10)
Why has Paul written with such joy? Their concern for him revived. They have shown a renewed interest in his ministry. Paul understood their concern for him never went away, but now that they had an opportunity to show their concern, they did so through action.
The “concern” that has been revived is most likely a reference to their financial support that Epaphroditus brought to Paul (Phil 4:18). The generosity of the Philippians is what caused such joy. We cannot be certain as to why their “concern” had waned. Maybe they did not have someone available to deliver their gift. Or maybe their “affliction” and “extreme poverty” forced their support to be intermittent.
2 Corinthians 8:1–2 ESV
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.
Regardless of the reason, Paul assures them—through his joy—that he is grateful for their support.
Although our circumstances should not determine our satisfaction, they will at times require different reactions. The night prior to Jesus’ crucifixion, when his sorrow was nearing its peak, his reaction reveals the epitome of his humanity.
Matthew 26:38 ESV
Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.”
Octavius Winslow, in The Sympathy of Christ, makes some helpful comments on this verse:
“Our Lord was now in the garden which lay at the foot of the Mount of Olives, just outside, and north of the holy city. He was in solitude and sorrow. His mental anguish, His spirit-grief, had now in reality begun. The “hour of darkness” had flung its first cold shadow upon His soul, and the cup, that must not pass undrank, now pressed His lips. Listen to His touching words, “my soul is exceeding sorrowful.” And to whom, in this hour of unknown agony, of crushing grief, of overwhelming sorrow, does He turn? He is man- and to man He looks. He is human- and to the human He repairs. He is the Friend of man- and upon the friendship and sympathy of man He now casts Himself. “And he took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee.” Favored men! honored disciples! And what did He ask of them? -their words? -their protestations of loyalty and friendship? Oh, no! But simply their quiet presence, their silent sympathy- “tarry you here and watch with me.”
Express your concerns and joy to one another in word and deed. Don’t isolate yourself from the community that seeks to encourage you and build you up. It is critical that we learn to express our emotions in order to form the kind of familial bonds we all need.
Think about the relationships that you have formed in this church. It is those folks with whom you have been vulnerable and have earned your trust, that you build the deepest connections with. Those relationships can deteriorate just as quickly as they formed through lack of concern.
Don’t assume others know how you feel. In fact, if you never share your concern or joy, it is safe to assume others will naturally think you don’t care. Look for opportunities to express your care. Find ways to show your joyful gratitude.
These are the relationships that matter forever! Don’t let your present stubbornness prevent you from enjoying the friendships that will continue in the New Heavens and New Earth. God has blessed you with a community of saints to bolster your faith and sustain you in the joy of your salvation.
Ask the Lord to revive your concern for others. Pray that he teaches you to look out for the interests of others. When you receive love, learn to rejoice in it without wholly depending upon it.
› What I mean is that, in addition to expressing our concern for others, and receiving the concern of others, we must also…
II. Learn to Be Content (11-12)
While Paul wanted to express his gratitude for the Philippians’ concern, he also doesn’t want them to get the impression that he is desperate for financial support. He trusted the Lord, which was why he was able to be content.
Paul learned to be content. This does not come naturally. Paul studied, practiced, and experienced various circumstances. He discovered the secret of being content in all of them.
Contentment is difficult in every circumstance too. We are shocked by the fact that Paul can experience contentment in the midst of feeling hungry and being in need. But, his contentment was just as challenging in the midst of plenty and abundance. In fact, it is these latter circumstances which oftentimes try our faith the most. Those are the times we think we are self-sufficient.
The Stoic concept of “contentment” is not what Paul has in mind. Although this trait was considered a virtue, it was the result of a self-sufficiency that is out of accord with Christianity (see v.13 and 2 Cor 9:8).
William Earnest Henly characterizes a Stoic contentment that the world often strives to achieve in his poem Invictus:
“Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
If we are going to experience a godly contentment, we must learn to be satisfied with whatever God has supplied. You are never in need of what is most necessary for life and godliness. He has supplied it all to you.
1 Corinthians 2:12 ESV
Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.
We seek fellowship with God the Father through God the Son by the power of God the Spirit. Our communion with a triune God is the foundation for every other relationship we have. When you are secure with God, you won’t depend upon others to provide what they are incapable of providing.
Being secure means that we have listened to Jesus when he said,
Matthew 11:28 ESV
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
We find our ultimate rest in Christ alone.
› And once you have entered into that rest, you must…
III. Learn You Are Capable (13)
This verse has often been misapplied as meaning believers can do miraculous works. Or that we can do whatever we put our minds to. “You can do it. Just believe.” Paul is not saying that if you trust enough, you can start flapping your wings like a bird and will be able to fly.
Read in context, “all things” has to do with the contentment he learned in every circumstance. Paul writes a parallel thought to the Corinthians.
2 Corinthians 12:9–10 ESV
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Paul understood that God supplied his strength, especially in his weaknesses. But think about what that means in terms of what we can actually accomplish for God. We probably think too little about what God has enabled us to do.
David Platt’s Radical encourages Christians to reject the comfortable and prosperous Christianity of America. He says that we have allowed our culture of independence and self-sufficiency to influence our faith. He argues that we have replaced the radical nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ with a comfortable and easy faith that merely compliments our pursuit of the American Dream. There are some commendable aspects in this book worth considering.
Michael Horton’s Ordinary was essentially written in response, and it focused on encouraging Christians to be faithful. We have lost sight of the biblical, ordinary gospel in pursuit of some flashy, radical. This book makes no audacious calls to action. It focuses the reader on resting in the greatness of God. It is less about what we should do for God, and more about delighting in God for who he is. The gospel frees us from self-condemnation as well as self-justification.
Horton writes, “Sometimes, chasing your dreams can be ‘easier’ than just being who we are, where God has placed you, with the gifts he has given to you.”
Not everyone is called to sell all of their goods and become missionaries overseas. But some of you could be. On the one hand, we need to avoid falling into self-condemnation. But on the other hand, we need to avoid falling into complacency.
I’ve brought up both of these books to setup one of my favorite quotes from William Carey, the father of modern missions. He once quipped,
“Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God!”
If our tendency is to underestimate what God can accomplish through us, it is encouragement like this that we need to hear. I think it is consistent with what Paul wrote to believers in Ephesus.
Ephesians 3:20 ESV
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,
If you knew that you could accomplish something great for the glory of God, what would you attempt? It is not wrong to think and pray about doing something great. Don’t let your idea of contentment become synonymous with complacent. Pursue something great for his glory!
If money and opportunities were in abundance, what would you do? If you could serve the Lord anywhere, where would you go? Since God has already supplied everything you need, the only question is: What are you waiting for?
Sometimes, greatness is being faithful in the daily grind. And we need to know that Christ has supplied all we need to be content in that.
But God has also uniquely gifted and equipped you to be useful for his kingdom purposes in ways beyond what you currently imagine. Magnifying the glory of God is worth giving everything to achieve (Lk 14:33).