Well we’re now halfway through our new year sermon series on the Church, titled ‘We’ve Got Issues’, in which we’re examining what we think have been the biggest issues we here at SonRise and Christians in general have struggled with throughout the past few years.
Today, we turn to relationships and the various issues we have faced in them over the past few years. Relationships…that’s a bit broad though, right? Let’s narrow it down. Every single one of us is in relationships: with family, with friends, at work, with acquaintances, we’re all in relationship to one another, and we could even speak about the relationship each of us has with ourselves. The issue before us today isn’t the fact that these relationships exist, no. The issue we’ve seen time and time again, here in our own congregation is a discontentedness and strife in these various relationships. What do I mean?
On more than just a few occasions many have been quick to look on the relational status of others as better than their own. In the past two years a married person has said, ‘Marriage is too hard, I could do more for the Lord if I were single.’ A single person has said, ‘My problems would go away if I just got married.’ A parent has expressed, ‘So and so seems to have such perfect kids, I wish my family looked more like that.’ An employed person said, ‘My horrible job is the source of all my problems.’ A vaccinated person has said, ‘If only so and so would stop being so hateful and get vaccinated the church would be safer.’ An unvaccinated person has said, ‘If only so and so would see that this is all just a government overreach trying to take away our freedom.’ And many have looked in the mirror and said something like, ‘I hate myself, if only I could be more like him or her.’
At the root of all these relational issues lies one gargantuan sin: discontentment. Specifically, discontentment with where our Sovereign God has us in this season of life. So Church, if relational discontentment has been the source of many of our issues, the answer is contentment in Christ. And when that’s in view there’s no better place in Scripture to linger over than Philippians 4:10-13.
So, go ahead and open your Bibles, let’s examine this passage, ask one large question of it, and apply it to our issues.
The Text (4:10-13)
“I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 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.”
Now, that we’re just jumping into this passage without having walked through all that leads up to it in Philippians means we must for a moment look at the context in order to rightly understand what is here. As Paul was going around the Roman Empire preaching the gospel God moved mightily in power saving many and birthing many churches. It was these new and maturing churches who largely funded Paul’s journeys. Naturally then, Paul was very close to these churches who gave to meet his needs. And on one particular occasion, 2 Cor. 8:1-5, Paul even comments about how the churches in Macedonia (where Philippi was) joyfully supported him even in the midst of extreme poverty. This was something Paul would not forget.
Many years later Paul writes this letter to the Philippians as a ‘thank you note’ for their financial support. He mentions this as he closes the letter in 4:18 saying, “I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.” That’s v18, our passage today, v10-13, shows us more of Paul’s gratitude to them for their support. But it also shows us more.
Let’s begin in v10. “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly…” is how he starts v10, showing that he is doing what he called them to do back in 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, rejoice.” But why is Paul rejoicing? The rest of v10 shows us, “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.” It appears that there was a period of time when these Philippians desired to but could not support Paul because of how little they had. But it also appears that this time is over because they’re ability to support him again has been “revived.” This is an important word to notice in v10. In Greek it’s a botanical word, anethalete, which means blossom again, or burst into growth, giving us the picture of flower budding and coming up through the ground after a long winter. This word is important because is making much of the fact that they’ve returned to him again, to come alongside him in this work, which gives him great joy. But while Paul says he’s certainly thankful for their gifts to him, he also doesn’t want to shame them or scold them for the period of time they couldn’t give. He knows they had a great concern for him, but he knows they had no opportunity to give. He didn’t have to say this, but he did, and that he did shows his care for and kindness toward them. That’s v10.
Now see v11. Paul is truly rejoicing that they’re supporting him once again. But he doesn’t want to so overstate his joy in this that it seems like all he wanted was their support. So he clarifies in v11 by stating he has learned something in this. Something, no doubt, he wants them to learn. And something, no doubt, God desires us to learn as well. What did Paul learn? “…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” In v12 he explains what he means, “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.” So because of the lack of support from the churches Paul experienced what it was to be low, to be hungry, to be needy. And because of the generous support of the churches Paul also experienced what it was to abound, to have plenty, to have abundance. From having experienced both poverty and prosperity, Paul learned the secret of contentment.
How though, could he find contentment in low times and abounding times? v13 gives us the answer, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” The secret to being content whether starved or stuffed wasn’t found in his own self-sufficiency, he found it in Christ!
That’s Phil. 4:10-13 in context. Before we apply this passage to ourselves and our issues, let’s ask a question.
The Question (2:5-11, 3:1-11)
Now that we’ve understood what’s going on in the context of v10-13, one large question is begging to be asked. How in the world can Paul say such a thing? To answer this question we could say many things, and many people have said many things. But, because this statement about him being content in Christ comes from this letter to the Philippians, let’s see if we can find an answer in it as well. That would further stick us in the right context once again, wouldn’t it? Well to me, two answers (at least!) are easy to spot.
First, see 2:5-11. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
This passage carries a monumental importance. It stands near the top as one of the clearest texts on the work of Christ. It covers the humiliation of Christ and the exaltation of Christ, and uses Christ’s work as a model of the posture we ought to have in all of life. So, let’s ask our question again. How can Paul say he is content in any situation? This passage is one answer to that question. Simply put, if Jesus can be content in going through utter humiliation even to the point of dying on a cross for the sake of those He came to save, Paul can certainly be content in any situation he faces for the sake the churches he’s laboring with. The loving and sacrificial heart of Christ is the single most important factor contributing to the contentedness of Paul.
This is the first way we can answer our question on how Paul learned to be content.
Second, see 3:1-11. “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
As with the first passage, this second passage shines out with a particular brilliance as well. In it we learn that Paul sees everything in his life as loss, as rubbish, in comparison to Christ. Paul could only make this statement if he believed, truly believed, that Jesus Christ is not only more beautiful but more satisfying than everything this life has to offer. So, let’s ask our question once again. How can Paul say he is content in any situation? This passage is another answer to that question. If Christ, if knowing Christ and gaining more of Christ, is better than everything in life, nothing that happens to Paul in life can remove his happy contented delight in Christ. So Paul’s heart is secure and at home in Christ whatever his life looks like.
This is the second way we can answer our question on how Paul learned to be content.
Having seen the context and having asked our large question of the passage, we finally come to application. While the direct and immediate application of Phil. 4:10-13 ought to come right out of the situation Paul was facing, finding contentment in plenty or poverty…we can and we ought to take Paul’s words about contentment into all of the Christian life. And so, let’s see how all of this applies when it comes the various relational issues we’ve seen and faced here recently.
First, contentment must be regularly learned. I find it so encouraging that twice, in v11-12, Paul mentions contentment is something he learned. Do you find that encouraging? I hope you do. We often struggle with being content and tend to give up easily and quickly. We get frustrated, and can believe we’re hopeless and will never be content people. And…that’s true! Contentment isn’t our natural default position, as if it’s the pre-installed software our hearts run on. Our default position is restlessness. It seems wherever we are, wherever the Lord has us in life, we’re ever eager to be somewhere else. And we fool ourselves by thinking if we were somewhere else than we’d truly be happy. This means we must be frequent repenters, for our arrogance of thinking we really know better than God about what our hearts need. This means in all we learn in life, contentment must top the list, as we seek to learn it again and again and again. How do we learn to be content? We learn contentment over time as we encounter the various forms of discontentedness in our hearts. I don’t think we’ll graduate from this school until Christ returns, but slowly, one step at a time, as we honestly face our discontented hearts and seek to be at peace in Christ exactly where we are, we will learn contentment.
Second, contentment must be rightly aimed. Listen to Paul in Phil. 3:12-14, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Here we find that while Paul learned to be content in his situation, he was never content with his sanctification. He ever kept pressing forward towards maturity and growth in Christ. We often reverse this. See that? We’re often very discontent in our situation while we’re very content in our sanctification. I am honestly embarrassed at how I do this. I am often sitting back in neutral, content in my walk with Christ thinking I’m good where I’m at. I’m a pastor, I have a master’s degree in divinity, I’m working on my doctorate for heaven’s sake, of all people I should be good at where I am with Christ, right? Wrong. There is no neutral in the Christian life, we must always be pressing in and moving ahead, seeking to grow and mature in Christ. And yet, while I way too easily shift into neutral spiritually, I rarely seem to be in neutral with my situation in life. All it takes is a slight inconvenience in life…whether it’s 2-3 red lights when I’m running late, or a surprise car repair I didn’t plan for, or short cold when I need to get things done…for me to think I’m being given the short end of the stick by God. How foolish of me!? We do this all the time. Let’s return to the right path and follow Paul in this. Being content in our situation, and ever being discontent in our sanctification.
Third, contentment is Christ-centered. This last point is massively important. You could walk away from this sermon thinking Paul’s contentment is just a kind of stoic superpower Paul had that he could use to rise above all of life’s circumstances and live in serenity. That’s not it. Why? Because of v13. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” This verse has a long tradition of being misused and taken as if this verse were a blank check from God given to us for whatever we need strength for. No. The ‘all things’ of v13 in context is the poverty and plenty Paul experienced in his missionary journey’s. What then does it mean? v13 shows us how Christ-centered Paul was in all of life! He is a man in Christ, and so he embraces what Christ brings. If Christ brings poverty, he will be poor in Christ. If Christ brings plenty, he will abound in Christ. If Christ brings solitude in his work, if Christ brings many partners in his work, He is in Christ, through it all! Any kind of contentment we have in life apart from Christ, isn’t a contentment worth having. The only reason Paul can be content is because Christ is all he needs, Christ is more than enough, Christ is the only One who can satisfy his restless heart.
Which brings me back to our relational issues. Our restless hearts need Christ.
Are you married? Look to Christ! See His blessings right in front of you (husband, wife, kids) rather than the out of bounds desires you think will meet your needs.
Are you single? Seek Christ more than a spouse. All of your problems won’t go away when you say ‘I do.’ A spouse won’t give you what only Christ can give you.
Do you hate your job? The best job in the world won’t settle your heart. Seek Christ in your job and honor Him there.
Are you broke? Are you abounding? Are you lonely? Are you afraid? Are you vaccinated, or unvaccinated? Healthy? Sick? Where are you??
Wherever you are…Christ in the only One who can give our restless hearts true rest.
 Gordon D. Fee, Philippians – NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1995) 429.
 Dennis E. Johnson, Philippians – Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 2013) 292.
 Markus Bockmuehl, quoted in R. Kent Hughes, Philippians – Preaching the Word Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2013) 185.
 Johnson, 289.
 Fee, 434-435.