A Fond Farewell (Philippians 4:21-23)

Well, today we get to the final portion of Philippians, Paul’s benediction in Philippians 4:21-23.

21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

In many ways Paul, here in this final passage, recapitulates several of the themes that have been woven through this epistle from the very beginning.  Paul has emphasized fellowship and grace throughout this epistle.

Five times Paul has mentioned the fellowship that he shared with the Philippians and the fellowship they had amongst themselves.  It was a precious thing they were in danger of throwing away through conflict.

Together they were a community of brothers and sisters in Christ bound together by a great quest that was nothing less than the evangelization of the Gentile world—a quest they had pursued from the very first day.  They need to hold that dear.

Someone has written concerning the early church,

What that first century world saw was the phenomenon of people of all walks of life loving one another, serving one another, caring for one another, praying for one another.  Slaves and free men were in that community.  Rich and poor were in the fellowship; Roman citizens and non-Roman citizens were in that community. Members of the establishment and those violently opposed to the establishment were part of that community.  The intelligencia and the illiterate were members of that community.  To the utter amazement of the world outside they were bound together in an inexplanable [sic] love and unity. (Source unknown.)

God’s grace was mentioned in the very beginning (1:2) and forms the backbone for every exhortation Paul gave.  The indicative—what God has done for us—always forms the motivation and power for the imperative—what God calls us to do.  Without grace there would be no ability to be a fellowship.

Paul sends his own greetings, then the greetings of his team mates, and even all the Christians there in Rome.  The “brethren” who were “with” Paul in Rome included Epaphroditus, and probably Timothy.

He doesn’t mention them by name, like he does in Romans 16.  Perhaps, since the church at Philippi was so dear to him, the list would have just been too long.  Coffman says, “If Paul saluted a few friends by name at the end of this epistle, it would have been an insult to a hundred others whom he personally knew in Philippi.”

But even so Paul instructs the leaders of the church to greet each and every one, individually and personally.  Each one is an important partner in his ministry.  Each one has an important part to play.

By the way, by greeting “every saint” it includes Euodia and those who sided with her, as well as Syntyche and those who sided with her.  We don’t know how this conflict turned out, but Paul still considered them worthy of a greeting because they were still “saints in Christ Jesus.”

What he does call them, as well as the believers in Romans is “saints,” in fact, “saints in Christ Jesus.”  That is our most important identity.  If we could just live in that identity, we would find greater joy, security and power to live our daily lives.

So often today people want to identify themselves by their problems (their victim status) or by their rebellion against God.

But if you are a Christian, you are a “saint in Christ Jesus.”

You didn’t achieve that sainthood by living a good life or doing some great deed.  You are a saint precisely because you are “in Christ Jesus.”  You were placed into Christ Jesus—baptized into Christ—by the Holy Spirit the moment you believed the gospel.

Always remember who you are in Christ Jesus.  That is the most important thing about you.

Notice also Paul’s mention of “Caesar’s household.”  Remember that back in chapter 1 Paul had said that his imprisonment in Rome had allowed him to advance the gospel so that “it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.”

These handpicked soldiers, the cream of the crop, had been assigned to guard Paul and throughout the weeks and months of his imprisonment had been exposed to the gospel so that many of them came to faith in Christ.  That word then got out into “Caesar’s household.”

So it was that some soldiers and cooks and housecleaners and civil servants in Caesar’s house had come to Christ.  Here John Calvin cuts to the chase: “it is evidence of divine mercy that the Gospel had penetrated that sink [pit] of all crimes and iniquities.”

Yes!  Though both the Philippians and Paul were under Roman oppression, there were brothers and sisters even within Caesar’s walls who were on their side and praying for them.  Since Philippi as a colony had close ties with Rome, it is likely that some of the Roman Christians had friends in the Philippian church.

Robertson seems amazed at the ending here.  He remarks how, “…this obscure prisoner who has planted the gospel in Caesar’s household has won more eternal fame and power than all the Caesars combined.  Nero will commit suicide shortly after Paul had been executed. Nero’s star went down and Paul’s rose and rises still.”

Thus this innocuous final greeting trumpets the grand reality that one day the very seat of imperial power will bow its knee and “confess that Jesus Christ [Messiah]) is Lord [Yahweh], to the glory of God the Father” (2:11).

The mention of Caesar’s household must have been a huge encouragement to the church at Philippi.  Barclay enlightens us on this saying:

It is important to understand this phrase rightly.  It does not mean those who are of Caesar’s kith and kin.  Caesar’s household was the regular phrase for what we would call the Imperial Civil Service; it had members all over the world. The palace officials, the secretaries, the people who had charge of the imperial revenues, those who were responsible for the day-to-day administration of the empire, all these were Caesar’s household.  It is of the greatest interest to note that even as early as this Christianity had penetrated into the very center of the Roman government.

Thus, the very words of Acts 28:30-31 are in play here:

30 He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

And we can be thankful that God’s Word is not bound.  Almost a year ago we thought it would be.  Churches had closed due to COVID, treated as “non-essential.”  But the Word of God was never bound.

Paul later wrote a letter to Timothy from prison.  Locked up in Rome again, expecting to die, Paul senses his preaching days are over.  What can he do while locked up in prison?

But Paul knows something about Scripture and it fills him with confidence, even as he’s lost his freedom. “The word of God is not bound!” he writes (2 Timothy 2:9).

But even when the preacher is silenced, God’s Word continues to spread.  The more you try to stop it, the more it seems to do its work.  Centuries later, after many attempts to stop it, it still continues to take new ground and capture new hearts.

You can lock up the preacher, whether by prison or by social distancing.  But you can never lock up God’s Word.  It always runs free.  It always accomplishes what God wants it to do.

“God’s Word can no more be chained than God himself,” says Kent Hughes.

The Word of God isn’t bound.  It can never be quarantined.  It’s still doing its work no matter what happens to the rest of us.  Nothing can stop it: not prison, not persecution, and certainly not a virus.

God’s Word will accomplish its purpose.  It always has; it always will.  In Isaiah 55 we read:

10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. 12 “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the LORD, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

God’s Word is performative.  It will accomplish God’s purpose.  It can bring radical transformation.  Whoever heard of a cypress growing up out of a thornbush, or a myrtle out of briers?  It doesn’t normally happen.  It is not natural, but supernatural.

But that is what God’s Word can do.  It changes lives.

Finally Paul says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

Paul did not say this to simply fill up space at the end of his letter.  To him, the Christian life begins and ends and is filled throughout with the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, so it was appropriate that his letters began and ended with grace also.

I like what MacArthur wrote concerning this, “Believers are not only saved by grace, but also sustained by grace.  They are governed by grace, guided by grace, kept by grace, strengthened by grace, sanctified by grace and enabled by grace.  They are constantly dependent on the forgiveness, comfort, peace, joy, boldness, and instruction that comes through God’s grace.”

Grace not only saves us but empowers us.  It justifies and it transforms.  Grace is at the center of our lives.  It is the unearnable, undeserved favor of God.  Grace is the very opposite of merit… Grace is not only undeserved favor, but it is favor shown to the one who has deserved the very opposite.

Martin Luther explains how this gift, which we couldn’t possibly purchase, was paid for at great price:

Although out of pure grace God does not impute our sins to us, He nonetheless did not want to do this until complete and ample satisfaction of His law and His righteousness had been made.  Since this was impossible for us, God ordained for us, in our place, One who took upon Himself all the punishment we deserve.  He fulfilled the law for us.  He averted the judgment of God from us and appeased God’s wrath.  Grace, therefore, costs us nothing, but is cost Another much to get it for us.  Grace was purchased with an incalculable, infinite treasure, the Son of God Himself.”

Jerry Bridges notes:

Grace is God’s free and unmerited favor shown to guilty sinners who deserve only judgment.  It is the love of God shown to the unlovely. It is God reaching downward to people who are in rebellion against Him.

Or, as Sam Storms puts it:

The first and possibly most fundamental characteristic of divine grace is that it presupposes sin and guilt.  Grace has meaning only when men are seen as fallen, unworthy of salvation, and liable to eternal wrath… Grace does not contemplate sinners merely as undeserving but as ill-deserving… It is not simply that we do not deserve grace; we do deserve hell.

Grace is receiving God’s absolute best when we deserve the absolute worst!

Without grace, we could not receive the gospel, because none of us can ever earn or deserve it.  Without grace, we could not grow in holiness, because we are so selfish and sinful that if God gave us what we deserve, we all would have been wiped out long ago.  We stand daily, constantly in need of God’s grace.  Without it, we would be quickly consumed.

William Farley, in his book Gospel Parenting, writes:

Grace is reward, or favor, given to those who deserve judgment.  If a judge found a serial rapist guilty, and then stepped down from his bench, agreed to take the death penalty in the criminal’s place, and sent the rapist on an all-expense-paid vacation to Hawaii for thirty years, that would be grace.  The severity of the criminal’s crimes would be the measure of the judge’s grace.  In the same way, the knowledge of what we deserve, and what it cost God to be gracious, is the measure of His fatherly grace.  When it is said and done, the cross is the tape that measures the length and breadth of God’s grace.

Grace is what builds fellowship as well.  It was at the center of the Philippians fellowship with one another.

God’s grace is something we all want for ourselves, but we don’t want to extend it to others, especially to those who have offended or wronged us.  But grace motivates us to forgive others and bless others.  It is when we understand and appreciate the grace shown to us that we will be more quick to forgive others.

Charles Spurgeon and Joseph Parker both had churches in London in the 19th century.  On one occasion, Parker commented on the poor condition of children admitted to Spurgeon’s orphanage.  It was reported to Spurgeon however, that Parker had criticized the orphanage itself.

Spurgeon blasted Parker the next week from the pulpit.  The attack was printed in the newspapers and became the talk of the town.  People flocked to Parker’s church the next Sunday to hear his rebuttal.  “I understand Dr. Spurgeon is not in his pulpit today, and this is the Sunday they use to take an offering for the orphanage.  I suggest we take a love offering here instead.”  The crowd was delighted.  The ushers had to empty the collection plates 3 times.

Later that week there was a knock at Parker’s study. It was Spurgeon. “You know Parker, you have practiced grace on me.  You have given me not what I deserved, you have given me what I needed.

Moody Monthly, December, 1983, p. 81.

We owe everything to the grace of God.

I hope this series on Philippians has encouraged you.  It is an epistle of joy and I hope that your joy in Jesus Christ and His good gifts has grown.

This is a book that calls us to a magnificent vision of life, to live for Christ and to want to know Christ, to pursue Him with all our strength as one leaning towards the finish line.

We are also called here to imitate Christ, to humble ourselves and put others ahead of ourselves.  That isn’t easy and that is why we continue to need the grace of God throughout our lives for every thought, affection, word and deed.

Paul ends this letter with a word of grace, because that is what the gospel is all about: the grace of our Lord Jesus who gave himself for you and for me.

Thus, Paul ends his short but joyous epistle to the first church in Europe, the church of the Philippians.  Barclay says, “It was to be another three hundred years before Christianity became the religion of the empire, but already the first signs of the ultimate triumph of Christ were to be seen.  The crucified Galilean carpenter had already begun to rule those who ruled the greatest empire in the world.”

I hope you will join me again next week as we tackle that difficult book called Ecclesiastes.

Until then, soak yourselves in the amazing grace of Jesus Christ.

What’s It All About? (Philippians 4:20)

In 1965 Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote a song to promote the film Alfie, entitled “What’s it all about Alfie?”  Remember that song?

What’s it all about?  That’s an even more important question when we ask Paul, or Moses, or David.  What is life all about?

Paul tells us in Philippians 4:20:

To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

That kind of statement is so common in the Scriptures as to become almost trite.  Yet it points out the most important issue in all of our lives, in all of history, throughout the whole universe—the glory of God.

God’s glory is the most important thing to God, and it should be the most important thing to us.

Here Paul is saying that the Philippians’ lives—their ability to trust in God rather than the flesh, to put others’ needs ahead of their own, and to give to his needs—these things bring glory to God.

But what do we mean by glory?

The Hebrew word for glory is kavod.  It means something that is weighty, heavy, substantial.

Physically it can be used to describe someone who is heavy, like Eli in 1 Samuel 4:18.

Figuratively it can be used to describe Abraham being “wealthy” in livestock and in silver and gold in Genesis 13:2.

Eventually it came to refer to someone’s honor or recognition, that they were an important person.  Warriors, princes and judges were society’s “heavyweights.”  Of course, the biggest heavyweight is God Almighty.

“No one is more substantial than He is.  No one has more influence.  No one has a higher position or a weightier reputation.  No one is more deserving of honor, recognition and praise.  However weightless he may seem in the postmodern church, God himself is heavy” (Philip Ryken).

In the last part of that quote Ryken is pointing out a problem in our current culture.  Although God is objectively the most important, most substantial Being in the universe, we are treating him as weightless, unimportant and trivial.

God just isn’t tipping the scales the way He used to.

In his book God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a Land of Fading Dreams, David Wells describes this curious condition he calls “the weightlessness of God.”  He writes:

“It is one of the defining marks of our time that God is now weightless.  I do not mean by this that he is ethereal but rather that he has become unimportant.  He rests upon the world so inconsequentially as not to be noticeable.  He has lost his saliency for human life.  Those who assure the pollsters of their belief in God’s existence may nonetheless consider him less interesting than television, his commands less authoritative than their appetites for affluence and influence, his judgment no more awe-inspiring than the evening news, and his truth less compelling than the advertisers’ sweet fog of flattery and lies.  That is weightlessness.  It is a condition we have assigned him after having nudged him out to the periphery of our secularized life.… Weightlessness tells us nothing about God but everything about ourselves, about our condition, about our psychological disposition to exclude God from our reality.”

What Wells is saying is that God is still objectively all-glorious and extremely substantial, we just don’t think so.  We don’t live that way.

And it is this weightlessness of God—or more accurately, our own tendency to minimize Him in our thoughts and affections—that more than anything else explains the failings and weaknesses of the evangelical church. 

Philip Ryken says,

“It is because God is so unimportant to us that our worship is so irreverent, our fellowship so loveless, our witness so timid, and our theology so shallow.  We have become children of the lightweight God.” (Discovering God, pp. 15-16).

Because we don’t take God seriously we are not urgent about repenting and pursuing God, it is why we don’t turn off the television to read our Bibles or turn off our phones to pray.  It is why we don’t fast.

Again, this current minimizing of God says nothing about God.  He is as all-glorious and highly exalted as He ever was.  But it impoverishes our lives.

What do we mean by “the glory of God”?  What are we talking about?

God’s glory is so far beyond our ability to comprehend that it is somewhat difficult to put into words.  It is not so much an attribute or perfection of God, but the sum of all His perfections.  It is the—sometimes visible—display of all His beauties and perfections—His blazing holiness, justice, righteousness, kindness, mercy and truth—all of these and more.

Sam Storms defines glory…

As the beauty of God unveiled.  Glory is the resplendent radiance of His power and His personality.  Glory is all of God that makes God God, and shows Him to be worthy of our praise and our boasting and our trust and our hope and our confidence and our joy.

God’s glory is vitally important to Him.  And well it should be.  For God to not be vitally concerned about His own glory would be idolatry—putting another more important god before Himself.  Sam Storms writes:

What is the pre-eminent passion in God’s heart?  What is God’s greatest pleasure?  How does the happiness of God manifest itself?  In what does God take supreme delight?  I want to suggest that the pre-eminent passion in God’s heart is his own glory.  God is at the center of his own affections.  The supreme love of God’s life is God.  God is pre-eminently committed to the fame of his name.  God is himself the end for which God created the world.  Better, still, God’s immediate goal in all he does is his own glory.

God relentlessly and unceasingly creates, rules, orders, directs, speaks, judges, saves, destroys and delivers in order to make known who He is and to secure from the whole of the universe the praise, honor and glory of which He and He alone is ultimately and infinitely worthy.  According to the Westminster Confession of Faith, ‘The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’  At the heart of the Christian world-view is the fact that ‘-The chief end of God is to glorify God and to enjoy himself forever.’

So glorifying God is to be our great purpose as well.  Glorifying God is what it’s all about.  It is the supreme purpose of God and should be our primary purpose as well.

God is glorious in what He does—in the works of creation, redemption and return.  Psalm 19:1 tells us that “the heavens declare the glory of God,” God receives glory in Israel’s redemption from Egypt in Exodus 15 and our redemption from sin in Ephesians 1.  Three times in Ephesians 1, as Paul is declaring the vast spiritual blessings we have in Christ—our election, justification, redemption, adoption—Paul breaks out in praise saying…

“to the praise of his glorious grace” (Eph. 1:6)

“might be for the praise of His glory” (Eph 1:12)

“to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:14)

And Jesus will return in glory, according to Matthew 25:31.

But God is glorious in who He is in and of Himself.  Even if God had never created, He would still be all glorious.  Even if He had never saved anyone, He would be all glorious.

We try to make ourselves look glorious, but our glory fades.  God’s glory never does.  He is by nature glorious.

How do we glorify God?

God, throughout history, makes His glory known through His acts of creation, redemption, providence and return.  Jesus’ disciples could occasionally see the glory of Jesus as He lived among them.

Of course, we all wish we could see the glory of God like Isaiah did in the temple.

We CAN see God’s glory in creation, if we just look.

God wants us to observe, and be changed by His glory, thus reflecting that glory.  In 2 Corinthians 3:18 Paul tells the Corinthians:

18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

As we “see” Christ through the mirror of God’s Word, as we “behold the glory of the Lord” we are changed.  We become more and more like Him and reflect His glory.

And realize, we don’t objectively make God more or less glorious by our actions.  He remains all glorious no matter how we live. 

C. S. Lewis said: “A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling “darkness” on the walls of his cell.”

But we can live in a way that makes others see God’s glory.

This is why the New Testament again and again calls us to do all to the glory of God.

Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Let your light so shine among men that they may see your good deeds and give glory to your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

God’s glory is manifest in creation simply by creation doing the job God created it to do.  Likewise, we manifest God’s glory when we do what we are called to do—be salt and light in this world.

John Piper gives a helpful illustration:

Now, here’s a little bit of ambiguity in the word glorify or magnify.  Let’s take magnify.  

Telescopes magnify and microscopes magnify.  If you think of your magnifying of God as doing what a microscope does, you’re a blasphemer.  If you think of your magnifying God doing what a telescope does, you’re a worshiper.

How does a microscope magnify?  It takes a teeny little thing and makes it look bigger than he is, than it is.  Okay, you going to do that for God?  I don’t think so.  Teeny little God and you’re going to make him look bigger than he is.  No way.  Don’t magnify God like a microscope.

What does a telescope do?  A telescope takes something that looks teeny, like a star.  Teeny little prick in the sky.  Bigger than our solar system.  And it makes it look like it really is.  That’s what a telescope does.  That’s what you do. Right?  That’s what our lives are for.

In most the people you relate to God is small.  Zero almost.  Little teeny God.  Pull him out of your pocket when you need him every now and then.  He’s a very small factor in their life.

What are you here for?  You are to live in a way, talk in a way, feel in a way, act in a way toward them so that God gets bigger and bigger in their lives.  You make him look good.

Philip Ryken explains further that we are like the mirrors inside the telescope:

“A person who glorifies God is like one of the mirrors in a powerful telescope.  When an astronomer looks through his telescope, he is not trying to see the mirrors inside.  Yet actually that is what he is looking at—not stars, but mirrors.  By their reflections, those mirrors enable him to see the bright stars of the heavens.  In the same way, the followers of Christ reflect the glory of God.  We have no glory of our own.  Whatever glory we have is a reflection of God’s glory.” (Ryken, 24).

“Glorifying” means feeling and thinking and acting in ways that reflect his greatness, that make much of God, that give evidence of the supreme greatness of all his attributes and the all-satisfying beauty of his manifold perfections. (John Piper)

“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied with him,” says Piper.  In other words, He is most glorified in me when Jesus Christ is my greatest treasure and greatest pleasure, when nothing means more to me than him.

Sam Storms says…

Pleasure is the measure of our treasure.  How do you measure or assess the value of something you cherish?  How do you determine the worth of a prize?  Is it not by the depth of pleasure you derive from it?  Is it not by the intensity and quality of your delight in what it is?  Is it not by how excited and enthralled and thrilled you are in the manifold display of its attributes, characteristics, and properties?  In other words, your satisfaction in what the treasure is and what the treasure does for you is the standard or gauge by which its glory (worth and value) is revealed.  Hence, your pleasure is the measure of the treasure.  Or again, the treasure, which is God, is most glorified in and by you when your pleasure in Him is maximal and optimal.

What are some ways we glorify God?

I like to define worship as “treasuring Christ above all things, trusting Him in all things and thanking Him for all things.”  In those ways I show His extreme value to me.

Our worship can glorify God, but sometimes it doesn’t.  Did you know that?  There are plenty of cases in the Old Testament where God told His people, “Stop worshipping me.”  God was deeply offended by the way they worshipped him.  So not all worship is created equal.

We worship Him by ascribing glory to Him for what He has done from pure and holy hearts.

We can also glorify Him by trusting Him.  Anytime we are going through lack or difficulty or pain, we can admit to God that we need Him, that we are powerless, ignorant and incapable and we need His strength, wisdom and authority.

We are saved when we admit that we cannot be good enough for God, that we have no spiritual capital to commend ourselves to God, and that salvation is depended wholly upon Him.

We glorify God by confessing our sins.  When we acknowledge that we have transgressed His laws (thus declaring them good and Him right), we glorify Him.

We also glorify God by our good works, when they are done in His strength and for His glory.  We can serve for our own glory and in our own strength.  That doesn’t glorify God.

In John 15:8 Jesus says,

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

Of course, we can also glorify God by telling others about Him.  This is true not only in witnessing, but also in parenting.

“The great battle of parenting is not the battle of behavior; it’s the battle for what kind of awe will rule children’s hearts” says Paul David Tripp in his little book Awe: Why It Matters for Everything We Think, Say, and Do.  Listen to David in Psalm 78:

4 We will not hide them from their children [God’s ancient deeds], but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. 

Make much of God—in your own heart, in your own home, and to the world.

Being a Great Missions-Giving Church, part 2 (Philippians 4:17-19)

Last week we noted that in this final portion of the book of Philippians Paul is writing a “thank you” letter to the Philippian church.  Why?  Because they noticed that Paul was in need and they provided another gift to meet his need.

In short, they had been concerned for his needs, contented with what they possessed and consistent in their giving.  These characteristics should mark our giving as well.

This week we pick up in verse 17:

17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 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. 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

In these verses Paul speaks about some motives for giving.

First, giving helps those in need.

Giving to missionaries enables them to more effectively spread the good news.  Paul had said back in v. 15 that they had been partners in the gospel ministry.

This should be our primary motivation when giving—promoting gospel ministry.

Frankly, there are those on TV who are raising money primarily to enable them to live lavish lifestyles.  Don’t give to them; give to those who are involved in gospel ministry.

The famous British preacher, C. H. Spurgeon, once received a request from a wealthy man to come to their town and help them raise funds for a new church building.  He told Spurgeon he could stay in his country home there.  Spurgeon wrote back and told him to sell the home and give the money to the project.

Give to those who emphasize ministry, not money.  Paul’s focus was on preaching the gospel, not on his need for money.  While he genuinely appreciated the gift from the Philippians, he was more excited about what it signified about their heart for God, that it represented fruit accruing in their account in heaven (4:17). 

When we give to missions, we meet real financial needs that enables their ministries and encourages them.  Your giving makes a difference.  It may not seem like much, but added with the gifts of others, a great deal can be accomplished.

Remember that this was a partnership (Philippians 1:3-5).  Paul considered that although he was doing the work, they were just as much a part of the team as if they were really there working alongside him.  Their gifts are what made full-time ministry possible.

This is why Paul encourages churches to support their preachers.

To Timothy Paul wrote:

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. (1 Timothy 6:17)

And so there was no confusion about what Paul meant by “worthy of double honor” the next verse puts together two sayings from the Old Testament and from Jesus to show that he meant that they should be paid.

18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”

Likewise, Paul says in Galatians 6:6…

6 One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches.

Again, that is most likely referring to financial remuneration that allows the teacher plenty of time to study and minister the word, instead of having to work to pay for his needs.

So look for faithful servants or ministries who are focused on the furtherance of the gospel and give faithfully to them.

Whatever the Philippians gave to Paul must have been generous.  In v. 18 Paul piles us three words to express just how overwhelmed he was with their gift.  He received “full payment” so that he had abundance (“and more”) and was completely filled up (“well supplied”).

This reminds me that although the tithe might be a good starting point for your giving, God never intended for us to be limited by that set amount, but to give generously, even sacrificially, as God has enriched us.

So giving benefits those in need, but it also benefits us.  It brings reward to the giver.

Paul wasn’t trying to manipulate the Philippians’ generosity for his own sake, but indicates that it is for their sake.

“Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit” (v. 17).

Let me just clarify for a moment here that heaven is not something we gain by giving.  We aren’t forgiven because we are financially sacrificial.  We are not talking about being justified by our works, or made acceptable by God by something we do.

However, throughout the New Testament we have this teaching that there is more for us in heaven than merely being present there and forgiven of our sins.  We can win reward and have a “rich entrance” (2 Peter 1:11) into heaven.

Although cast in commercial language, this is obviously talking about spiritual credit.

When you give to the Lord’s work, you are giving to God and making an eternal investment.

And Paul had support for this from Jesus, who told the rich young ruler, “Go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21). Jesus, in fact, composed a proverb to help his followers remember this: “‘Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven’” (Matthew 6:19, 20).

The truth is, the only money that we will see again is that which we give away. And that money will return with compounded interest!

You and I have open accounts in heaven.  If we are smart, we will “lay up treasures for ourselves in heaven.”

This reflects one of the most important principles regarding giving in the Scriptures: that we are never the poorer for having given.  God will never be our debtor, and as my father used to say, “we can never out-give God.”

Many of us have earthly investments.  We know that when we can put away a little extra into these investments we will likely reap better returns in the future.  That is fairly certain.

Heavenly investments are similar, but much better.  First of all, we know that our eternal rewards are certain.  No plunge in the stock market can take away our heavenly reward.  Also, the investment rate is much, much better.

The present participle “increases” signifies continuing multiplication that creates compound spiritual interest credited to our account.

Jesus said,

give, and it will be given to you.  Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.  For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. (Luke 6:38)

When you invest in God’s work, there is no risk and you get the highest possible return on your investment, guaranteed by the very Word of God!

One man has written on his tombstone: “What I spent, I lost; what I saved, I left; what I gave, I have.”  We can’t take anything with us, but we can send it on ahead.

This is why Jim Eliot so famously said:

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.

Every time we get a paycheck we can decide whether to use it for materially beneficial ways for ourselves and our families, or rather for spiritually beneficial ways as we give it away to others.

Have you been laying up treasure in heaven?  You can invest in your eternal future by giving to the Lord’s work here and now.

Should we give in order to enrich our eternal future?  Yes!  But that is not the only, and not even the primary reason.  Ultimately, we give because…

It brings pleasure to God.

Paul moves from accounting imagery to that of sacrifice.  There is a spiritual dimension to giving that he does not want the Philippians to miss.

Paul says that the Philippians’ gift serves as a “fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (v. 18).

Sounds a little like Romans 12:1, doesn’t it?  There we offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.  Here the Philippians offer their resources.

The language Paul uses here is the language of sacrifice, reminding us that giving is itself an act of worship.  Sweet-savor (“fragrant”) offerings in Israel were sacrifices made in worship, not so much to atone for sin.

In other words, if all we did this week was go to church and take up an offering, we could still say that we worshipped.  Giving is an act of worship.

Giving is not just a financial transaction, but an act of worship—an act of defiance against the god Mammon and the kingdom of darkness.

By the way, the language here is also similar to Ephesians 5:2, but it is applied to Christ giving himself for us.

And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

His self-giving and our giving of our money is an act of worship.

An “acceptable sacrifice” is a sacrifice that is prescribed by God and when done in the manner he commands becomes acceptable to Him.

In the case of the Philippians whose hearts were committed to Christ and to their apostle, and whose gift was generous by any measure, their sacrificial offer was very pleasing (euareston) to God.  It was given to Paul, but it was as if it had been offered directly to God.

Ralph Wilson notes:

The idea of a sacrifice that is pleasing to God has an ancient history that goes back to the tabernacle in the wilderness (Exodus 28:38; Leviticus 1:3; 7:18; 22:19-20; Proverbs 21:3; Jeremiah 6:20).  “Pleasing to God” is another rich sacrificial theme.  The purpose of sacrifice is not selfish — to remove our sin — but Godward, to please God and express our love to him (Hebrews 13:16).

Fourth, it reflects trust in God’s provision.

The promise, for givers like this, is that God will “supply every need” (4:19).

The first half of this grand promise is closely linked with and echoes the preceding context. Just as the Philippians had kept Paul “well supplied” (v. 18), so now God will most certainly “supply every need” of theirs. 

We all want our needs met.  We also usually want our wants met as well.  God doesn’t promise to meet all our wants, but he does promise to supply every need.

What we fail to recognize is that the best way to meet our own needs is to become givers…to give things away.  Then, we don’t have to scramble and manipulate our way to have our needs met.  God Himself becomes the One who guarantees that our needs are met.  That is the best guarantee and comfort we could have.

How many needs do you think you have?  A study done by a sociologist in 1890 identified 16 basic needs that were necessary for life.  A similar study done 100 years later yielded quite different results!  By 1990 our basic needs had multiplied to 98!

Do we really have more needs today?  Or have we simply elevated more of our wants and greeds to that level?

Kent Hughes says…

“Every need” compasses the breathtaking range of everything that is vital to living for Christ.

God is committed to supply every need, even ones we are ignorant or unaware of.

2 Peter 1:3 tells us that “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness,” everything we need for life and godliness.  Ephesians 1:3 tells us that God “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…”  Nothing else is needed.  We are “complete in Christ” (Colossians 2:10).

Sometimes, however, it may not seem like God is meeting our relational, emotional or financial needs.  But maybe that it because God is working to meet deeper needs in our lives so that he allows us to go through times of “want” so that we can learn to trust God on deeper levels, to recognize how much we need him and are not strong in ourselves, and how to sympathize with others who go through want.

Paul promised the generous, “And my God will supply every need of yours” (v. 19).  This was intensely personal for Paul.  His God, who had repeatedly displayed his power in every conceivable circumstance, would supply the Philippians’ needs—just as he had done for Paul through them!

Paul had a relationship with “my God” that we need to have in order to benefit from this promise.  It is not a promise to everyone, but to those who have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

And how does God do this?  How does He meet our needs?

The answer is equally expansive—“according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (v. 19b).  As Gordon Fee explains, “The Philippians’ generosity toward Paul, expressed lavishly at the beginning of verse 18, is exceeded beyond all imagination by the lavish ‘wealth’ of the eternal God, who dwells ‘in glory’ full of ‘riches’ made available ‘in Christ Jesus.’”

God’s “riches” are inherent in his being as the Creator and the God of the universe.  So his riches include and infinitely exceed the aggregate wealth of the universe.  God’s incalculable wealth together with the ineffable splendor of his glory form the treasury and the dazzling context from which he lavishes his children “according to his riches.”

Unlike us, God is never a stingy giver.  He has no reason to be.  Giving away everything doesn’t diminish God a bit.  He always gives from a perspective of abundance, not scarcity.  He can afford to give away anything and everything and delights to do so.

Notice that we do not receive help “out of his glorious riches,” but “according to his glorious riches.”

The difference is this:  If, for example Bill Gates were to write you a check for 1 million dollars, he would be giving out of his riches.  But if he were to hand you a signed blank check, allowing you to write in however much you needed, he would be giving to you according to, or in accordance with, his riches.

But God does far more because his riches are infinite and cannot be diminished by the endless zeroes of a celestial blank check. 

The fact that his riches are “in glory” sets up the ultimate locus “in Christ Jesus,” which describes in whom and how the riches that come from God’s glory are given to His people.  Paul began this letter by addressing it “To all the saints in Christ Jesus” (1:1) and concluded “in Christ Jesus” (4:19).  For Christians, every need is met in Christ.  He is our beginning and our end.  All things come to us in him and through him, and according to v. 20, for him, for His glory.

The Scriptures tell us that if we sow sparingly, we’ll reap sparingly, but if we sow liberally, we will reap liberally (2 Corinthians 9:6).  We can’t outgive God; nor can we ever bankrupt his account.

Being a Great Missions-Giving Church, part 1 (Philippians 4:14-16)

Over the last few weeks we’ve been examining Philippians 4:10-13 and how Paul shares the secret of being contented, no matter what the circumstances.  But Paul doesn’t want them to imagine for a moment that he is not thankful for their financial support.

Although totally content even in want and need, Paul begins v. 14 with the word “yet” or “nevertheless” because he doesn’t want the Philippians to think that, after all, Paul really didn’t have any financial needs and that their gift to him was a mistake, or unnecessary.  In fact, he will say that they had done something “good,” something “beautiful.”

Verses 14-19 are a thank-you note from Paul about their recent gift, and in it he shows us several characteristics of a great mission-giving church.  I hope you are part of a mission-supporting church, because we are blessed to be a blessing to others.

Generosity is singularly beautiful and, when remembered, will prompt a genial smile.  This is what the latest example of the storied generosity of the Philippian church prompted in the imprisoned Paul in faraway Rome, as we saw in the last study: “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me” (4:10).  And the apostle’s smile still lingered as he said, “Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble” (v. 14).

So here is Paul’s thank-you letter to the Philippians:

14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 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. 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

One characteristic of commendable missions giving is concern for the other person.  Notice back in v. 10 that Paul had said,

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.

This concern speaks to the emotional and mental attachment they had to Paul, one that was always willing to seek out information about his welfare and then respond in a tangible way to meet his needs.

The word “concern” shows that their giving was from the heart.  It wasn’t a requirement, or a sense of duty, that motivated them, but hearts moved by Paul’s needs.

Remember how Paul says in 2 Corinthians that our giving should not arise out of a grudging sense of compulsion, but rather out of a cheerful heart, one that is truly glad to give, because after all, “God loves a cheerful giver.”

Great giving comes from the heart.  It doesn’t look at the bank account first to see if it is feasible to give, but begins with a desire to give.

But that concern wasn’t still born as just a desire, or as tears and prayers, but turned into tangible aid.  They didn’t just say, “be warmed and be filled” but showed their concern “in deed.”

Someone has said that there are three kinds of givers: the flint, the sponge, and the honeycomb.  To get anything out of the flint, you have to hammer away at it, and what you receive is only chips and sparks.  To get water out of a sponge you must squeeze it; the more pressure you use, the more you receive.  But the honeycomb overflows with its own sweetness.

Which kind of giver are you?  Is your heart attuned to the needs of others, looking for opportunities to give aid?

Paul viewed the Philippians’ generosity as evidence of their partnership or fellowship with him in the gospel ministry.

Recall that Paul began this letter to the Philippian church celebrating their partnership: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (1:3-5).

The word he used for “partnership” is the word koinonia , from the koinon word group, and means “fellowship” or “partnership” or “active participation.”  And then he drew from the same word group two verses later in 1:7 where he said, “You are all partakers with me of grace.”

Now, notably, here at the end of the letter he dipped into the koinon word group again as he declared, “Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble” (v. 14, italics added) or more exactly, “Yet you did good to become partners in my affliction.”

Note also that in the following sentence Paul said, “no church entered into partnership [or fellowship] with me in giving and receiving, except you only” (v. 15).  Therefore, Paul wanted his readers to understand that giving to support his ministry was taking up fellowship with him as a partner in his present tribulations.

Though the Philippians were not in prison with Paul, they participated in his afflictions by their sympathy and monetary sacrifice.  And as they thus participated in his afflictions, they were doing so amidst the context of their own sufferings in Philippi (cf. 1:29, 30).

Paul is saying to the Philippians: “You did good.  Your gifts reveals your partnership in my ministry.”

A second characteristic of great givers is contentment with what you have.  Of course, that was exemplified by Paul as the receiver of the gift, but it is also necessary in the heart of a giver.  As long as a person is trapped by the need for more, the need to possess for the purpose of security or prestige, they will be unable to freely give.

It is difficult for us to develop a habit of giving when our discontent drives us to spend our money to match what others have or give us a sense of security for the future.

The Macedonians showed that they had a contented spirit because they gave out of their “extreme poverty” (2 Corinthians 8:2).  Listen to this amazing example:

1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 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. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints–5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.

Despite a “severe test of affliction” and “extreme poverty” they begged to take part in helping out saints who were in the midst of a famine.  As a result, they “overflowed in a wealth of generosity.”

Contentment is the key.  If you are content, you can give out of your poverty, or out of your plenty.  If you are not content, you will be able to do neither.

It’s not the amount of money in the bank account that determines a giver, but rather the amount of love in our hearts (concern) and trust in God’s care (contentment) that determines whether or not we will give.

Perhaps you’ve heard the story about the guy who went to church with his family.  As they were driving home, he began to complain about everything.  “The music was too loud, the sermon was too long, the announcements were unclear, the building was too cold, and the people were unfriendly…” and on and on he went.  Finally, when his took a breath, his observant son said, “Dad, you’ve got to admit, it wasn’t a bad show for just a dollar.”

Did you realize that only 2.6% of the average household income is given either to the church or other religious organizations?  However, during the Great Depression, 3.2% of the average household income was given to charities.  And although we are 450% richer today after taxes and inflation, than those during the Depression, the percentage of household income given to charities has decreased.

Being rich doesn’t drive giving, concern and contentment do.

Another characteristic of great mission giving is consistency.

“And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only.  Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again” (vv. 15, 16).

Paul taught that it is proper for a man who labors in the gospel to receive his support from the gospel (1 Cor. 9:1-181 Tim. 5:17-18).  But for the sake of avoiding the charge that he was preaching for the money, Paul chose not to receive support from a new church where he was ministering while he was there.  Instead, he supported himself by making tents.  But if the funds came from another church outside the area, he would stop making tents and devote himself full time to the work of the ministry (compare Acts 18:1-112 Cor. 11:7-12).

Paul never seemed to make his needs known, even as prayer requests, but trusted in the sovereign God to provide.  When funds ran low, he would go back to work until God met the need.

Paul mentions in v. 15 that the Philippians had not only recently sent him a gift through Epaphroditus, but that after he had left Philippi (in Acts 16) and traveled to Thessalonica (Acts 17), during that two weeks that he had been ministering there, they had sent gifts more than once.  (Notice Paul says “once and again” at the end of v. 16.)

This kind, beautiful act was something no other church had done.

When Paul left Philippi and traveled ninety-five miles down the Egnatian Way to Thessalonica, the poverty-stricken Philippians repeatedly sent representatives to Thessalonica with gifts to meet his needs.  And when Paul left Macedonia, they remained the only church to support him.

Even when Paul went to wealthy Corinth (from whose proud people Paul would accept no money), it was the Philippians of Macedonia who helped him, as Paul explained to the Corinthians: “And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need” (2 Corinthians 11:9). 

Many Christians are good at receiving.  Paul and his team had planted churches, supporting themselves through tent repairs and these new believers would benefit through all eternity because of Paul’s ministry.  Yet only the church at Philippi stepped up to give so that others could benefit from Paul’s ministry.

The Philippians had started giving early—a good principle—it is important to start now to give and to teach your children to give.

A preacher asked farmer, “If you had 100 cows, would you give 50 of them to the Lord?”

“Yes.”

“If you had 1,000 chickens, would you give 500?”

“Yes.”

“If you had 2 hogs would you give one?”

“Not fair, Preacher, you know I have 2 hogs.”

It is easy to imagine what we would give if we had more money.  But God asks us to start giving now, out of what we have.  And God calls us to be sacrificial in our giving.

As some anonymous person said:

It’s not what you do with the million if fortune should ere be your lot, but what are you doing at present with the dollar and quarter you got.

The Philippians had continued to give whenever they had news of a need from Paul.  They had given to Paul because this new “opportunity” to give had arisen.  Good giving churches, and Christians, scan the horizon looking for opportunities to give.  They are consistent because they are consistently praying for and looking for opportunities to give.

So Paul is telling them how much he treasures their giving.  Given the opportunity, he is confident that the Philippians would have given even more often.

Sure, it is great to send that first gift.  But it is the second and third and the fortieth and the hundredth gifts that are really appreciated.

The first gift is easy…and we get excited about that.  We usually do it because we know where that money is going to come from.  We do it because we have a little extra this month.  But after we’ve given for awhile, the excitement wears off and the money dries up and we’re tempted to write and say we can’t give anymore.

Missionaries face this all the time—individuals, or churches, can’t continue to support them.  It isn’t easy on them…and they are very thankful when people can be faithful and consistent in giving.

Before we move on in our text, let’s just contrast these good-giving practices with some typical excuses to put missions giving on the back burner.

For example…

“That’s their problem”—sometimes we act as if the problems of our Christian brothers and sisters, and churches are the other side of the world, are not our problems and should be of no concern for us.

But good missions-minded churches count others’ pains as their own pains and are concerned about their needs.

We are blessed to be a blessing to others.

Or we might say, “We’ve giving as much as other churches are.”  In other words, let’s not increase our giving.

But the fact that other churches were contributing little to nothing to Paul’s needs did not matter to the Philippians and did not stop them from giving time and time again.  If the Philippians had been giving “like everybody else,” then Paul would have received nothing.

The question is not “What are other churches doing?” but “What is God calling me (or us) to do?”

Someone might object “We pushed missions last year.”  But the Philippians gave more than once, they gave consistently, whenever they discovered an opportunity.  Missions minded churches treat missions as a priority, not a novelty.

Finally, one might say, “That’s part of the budget we get no benefit from.”  Money given to the general budget funds ministries and pays bills so we can stay open and meet each week.  When money goes overseas, we get no direct benefit.

But we shouldn’t focus on seating capacity nearly as much as sending capacity.

In reality, we do benefit from giving our money away to ministries that don’t benefit us.  In fact, we receive greater reward in heaven.

The money we give away is really the only money we really keep.  It is credited to our eternal accounts.

One more thing about this passage.

Do you remember your mother telling you how important it is to write thank you notes to people who give something to you (like for graduation) or who do something for you?

Well, that is what Paul is doing here.  He is thanking them for giving.

John Brug says…

“We know that God loves a cheerful giver, but I believe we also need to stress that God loves a cheerful receiver.  Cheerful receivers make giving and receiving a joy.  It is especially important that the called workers of the church learn to be gracious, cheerful receivers.  This is not necessarily an easy task.  The art of being a gracious, cheerful, thankful receiver may be even more difficult than being a cheerful giver.  If we learn to accept the compliments and the special personal gifts which we receive in a gracious, cheerful manner, we will help make giving and receiving a joy for ourselves and for our people.”

This gift itself may not have been very much, but Paul takes special care to thank them for it.

Learning the Secret, part 4 (Philippians 4:17)

So, we’ve been talking about learning the secret to contentment these last few weeks.

First, to delight in the Lord and in his present provision.  No matter how large or small, rejoice in what he has given you now.

Second, free yourself from an obsession with pleasant circumstances.  Just because you rejoice in your present circumstances doesn’t mean that they have to be on the pleasant side.

Third, remind yourself of the sufficiency that you have in Christ.  He lives in you to strengthen you so that you can be content no matter what the circumstance.

Finally, Paul tells us another step on the road to contentment.

Paul expresses this in Philippians 4:14-17…

14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.

The fourth steps on the road to learning contentment is…

4. Preoccupy yourself with the welfare of others.

Another key to learning contentment is to think about others more than yourself.  Back in chapter 2 Paul had laid out this principle when he said, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Then he identified Timothy as a good example of that disposition when he said

20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

All throughout the epistle to the Philippians Paul has been telling them that their joy, their contentment, their unity and their capacity for gospel ministry depends upon their ability to be others-focused instead of self-focused.

Paul expresses this here in vv. 14-19, which we will examine in more detail in the coming weeks.  I just want you to see here how Paul advocates this others-focused mindset as a way to become more content with life.

In verse 14 Paul expresses again his appreciation for their gift.  In doing so they have “shared in my trouble.”  As one person said, “He had joy in their concern, not in their cash.” And in vv. 14-16 he commends them as being the only church to do so.

Verse 17 is the key.  There Paul says “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.”  His ultimate desire is not to have his needs met, but for the gain that came to the Philippians in giving.

“Whenever you minister to me, you gain,” Paul says.  That is what brought Paul the most joy—not because his needs had been met, but because of the reward they received from giving.  Using an accounting term here (“credit”) he is saying their interest in him actually accrued to their own heavenly bank account.

Paul trying believed what Jesus had said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

D. A. Carson says, “Paul is more delighted with the blessings they will experience…than with the help that has come his way.”

Imagine being in prison and receiving a gift from someone outside—a family member, a good friend, or even a stranger—and being able to focus on how much that gift to you goes to benefit them!  That doesn’t happen naturally.  It only happens through practice.

Paul was genuinely and consistently preoccupied with the welfare of others.  His focus was not on himself.  That is why he flourished in his life.  That kept him from depression, anxiety and bitterness.  That enabled him to have joy, contentment and to be productive for Christ.

This is such a key to learning contentment.  Don’t miss this.

So much of the time when a person is depressed, they need to turn their thoughts away from themselves and the problems they have, and focus on how they can minister to the needs of others.

So much of our discontentment flows out of a preoccupation with my own needs, desires and welfare, especially in comparison to the blessings of others or in view of the difficult circumstances I am now facing.

The Veggie Tales “lesson in thankfulness” tells the story of Madame Blueberry, a very depressed blueberry who resides in a tree house.  She is not content with anything she owns: her dishes are chipped, the knives are too dull, the spoons are too small.  Madame Blueberry sings a mournful ditty about her neighbors, all of whom have more wonderful things than she.

She sings to her butlers, Larry the Cucumber and Bob the Tomato: “I’m so blue, blue, blue, blue.  I’m so blue I don’t know what to do.  My friends all have nice things.  I’ve seen them myself.  In fact, I keep pictures up there on my shelf!”

Framed pictures of her neighbors’ belongings line her shelf.  There are pictures of one neighbor’s Crock-Pot, one neighbor’s flatware, and another neighbor’s ceramic jars with all kinds of sauces.  Although her two-story tree house appears attractive and well furnished, Madame Blueberry is hopelessly dissatisfied.

One day a new megastore called Stuff-Mart moves across the street.  The sign glitters like a beacon of hope to Madame Blueberry.  She has only just see the sign when three “helpful representatives” from Stuff-Mart show up at her door to confirm her suspicions that her stuff is outdated and that she needs some more.

These dapper sales-vegetables tell her about Stuff Mart’s remarkable line of stuff: refrigerators that store extra mashed potatoes, giant air compressors that blow fruit flies off your dresser, and solar turkey choppers.  They sing, “Happiness waits at the Stuff-Mart.  All you need is lots of stuff.”

No wonder she was “so blue she didn’t know what to do.”

How different was Paul’s attitude.  He was able to experience deep joy and contentment because he took his eyes off himself, off others (as far as comparison) and onto Jesus Christ.  Then he could turn his eyes onto others with a heart for their good and their blessing.

So forget about yourself, at least for awhile, and focus on others.

As long as we are preoccupied with ourselves, we will never learn to be content.  So turn your eyes first on Jesus, then upon others.  Seek the good of others and rejoice in their blessings.  You will find your heart growing more and more content.

So get out and help somebody else.  If you are depressed, anxious, discouraged, I guarantee you that if you get up and help someone else, you too will be helped.  If you encourage them, you will be encouraged.

Jesus was like this, when he was on the cross he said several things, struggling to get His breath just to breathe.  But in three of the seven sayings His focus was upon others.

If I had been hanging on the cross, struggling to breathe, I probably wouldn’t have said anything, much less taking care of the needs of others.

But there on the cross Jesus said:

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” — Luke 23:34

“Today you will be with me in Paradise.” — Luke 23:43

“Woman, behold your Son.” — John 19:26

Jesus offered forgiveness for His torturers, acceptance to a brand new Christian, and took care of his mother, while hanging there on the cross suffocating.

He was thinking of others, probably most of the time while He was hanging on the cross.  He was in excruciating pain, but He thought of others.

In an article entitled “Lay Aside the Weight of Self-Preoccupation,” Jon Bloom suggests these three steps in overcoming of self-focus:

1. Deny yourself by getting your eyes off yourself.  But remember, Christian self-denial is hedonistic because you’re denying yourself of what robs life in order to gain real, lasting life.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24–25)

2. Look to Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) and all that God promises to be and do for you through him.  Only he will satisfy your soul (Psalm 63:1-3) and only he has the words of eternal life (John 6:68).

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2)

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)

3. Serve others.  Strike a blow at self-preoccupation by focusing on others’ needs and concerns.   Our Lord’s commands to love one another (John 13:34) and serve one another (John 13:14) have a double-edged benefit for us: they give us the blessing of giving and liberate us from the tyranny of self.

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3–4)

Worldly hedonists believe that narcissism [focusing on yourself] is the path to joy.  That is a horrible lie.  Christian  Hedonists know that narcissism is the death of joy, because only God is our “exceeding joy” (Psalm 43:4Psalm 16:11).

So join me today, for the sake of God’s joy, our joy, and others’ joy, in laying aside the weight of self-preoccupation by denying ourselves lifelessness, looking to Jesus who is our life (John 14:6), and giving life to others by serving them.

Aside from Jesus, we sometimes see this played out in society.

Several years ago, Sara Tucholsky of Western Oregon University smacked her first home run in her college career with two runners on base in a playoff game against Central Washington University.  While rounding the bases, she missed first base. As she started back to tag it, she collapsed with a knee injury.  All she could do was crawl back to first, and if her teammates helped her, she would be called out.

Central Washington first baseman Mallory Holtman reportedly asked the umpire if she and her teammates could help Tucholsky.  The umpire said yes, so Holtman and shortstop Liz Wallace put their arms under Tucholsky’s legs, and Tucholsky put her arms over their shoulders.  The three rounded the bases, stopping only to let Tucholsky touch each bag with her uninjured leg.

“The only thing I remember is that Mallory asked me which leg was the one that hurt,” Tucholsky said in a story from FOX Sports on MSN.  “I told her it was my right leg and she said, ‘OK, we’re going to drop you down gently and you need to touch it with your left leg.’”  Added Wallace: “We didn’t know that she was a senior or that this was her first home run. That makes the story more touching than it was.

We just wanted to help her.”  Holtman told FOX Sports that she and Wallace weren’t thinking about the playoff spot, and didn’t consider the gesture something special.

They may not remember the heroics they did to help their team win that season, but I doubt they will ever forget helping Sara Tucholsky.  And I’m sure it gives them great joy to reminisce on that act of self-forgetfulness and kindness.

There is a Chinese saying that goes: “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap.  If you want happiness for a day, go fishing.  If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune.  If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.”

I don’t know about the others, but it is scientifically proven that you receive more joy by helping others than by tending to your own needs.

An article in Time magazine reports:

“Through fMRI technology, we now know that giving activates the same parts of the brain that are stimulated by food and sex.  Experiments show evidence that altruism is hardwired in the brain, and it’s pleasurable.  Helping others may just be the secret to living a life that is not only happier but also healthier, wealthier, more productive, and meaningful” (https://time.com/collection/guide-to-happiness/4070299/secret-to-happiness/# )

It is what psychologists call “the helper’s high.”

Stephen Witmer points out a paradoxical truth that can liberate us for sacrificial service: the less we need others (whether it’s securing their praise or avoiding their censure), the more and better we will serve them.

He takes that from Colossians 3:23-25 and says this in an online article entitled “Love Them More, Need Them Less”:

Colossians 3:23 is the apostle Paul’s intriguing command to Christian slaves: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”  Not for men.  That’s intriguing, because just one verse earlier Paul instructs slaves, “obey in everything those who are your earthly masters” (Colossians 3:22).  Which is it, Paul?  How do these back-to-back commands fit together?

Somehow, even when we’re serving another person (Colossians 3:22), we’re not to be working for them (Colossians 3:23).  So, what does it mean to work for someone?  The context helps us here.  Verse 22 instructs slaves not to be motivated by a desire to please other people, but rather to fear the Lord.  Verses 24–25 remind slaves that their reward for service will come from the Lord, and that punishment for wrongdoing will also come from the Lord:

. . . knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. (Colossians 3:24–25)

It seems that to work for someone means to serve them in order to secure their praise or avoid their punishment.  Paul says we’re to serve others, but not because we hope for their reward or fear their wrath.  It’s the Lord we’re looking to as we serve them. (https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/love-them-more-need-them-less)

We serve others better when we realize that we are really working for our Lord.  We don’t have to be rewarded by them, because ultimately He will reward us.

So we learn content by getting our eyes off of ourselves, our own needs or struggles, and first putting them on Jesus Christ and rejoicing in what He has provided for me today, then by freeing ourselves from an obsession with pleasant circumstances, recognizing the blessing that comes from adversity, then we draw strength from our union with Christ to be content, and finally we focus on others—serving them and rejoicing in the reward they receive from helping us.

I hope you will learn the secret of being content this week.

Learning the Secret, part 3 (Philippians 4:12, 13)

Over the last few weeks we’ve been talking about contentment, which Jeremiah Burroughs defines as

“…that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every situation.”

Paul has taught them two steps on the path to contentment so far:

First, to delight in the Lord and in his present provision.  No matter how large or small, rejoice in what he has given you now.

Second, free yourself from an obsession with pleasant circumstances.  Just because you rejoice in your present circumstances doesn’t mean that they have to be on the pleasant side.

Paul says in our passage today

10 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. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 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. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

We weren’t quite finished with the second point last week.

Contentment is not based on what is going on outside of me, but the focus I have inside me.

Unless we learn the secret of contentment we will remain a slave to our circumstances.

H. A. Ironside tells the story of how one Christian asked another Christian friend how he was getting along.  He answered, “Of, fairly well, under the circumstances.”  Ironside responded, “I am sorry you are under the circumstances.  The Lord would have us living above all circumstances where he can satisfy our hearts and meet our every need for time and eternity.”

That is the key—to live above the circumstances and focus our joy in Christ and Christ alone.  The gifts He gives us—spiritual blessings—are ours now and will never be taken away from us.

Even at its best this world cannot satisfy, as the book of Ecclesiastes reminds us over and over again.

A man once went to a minister for counseling. He was in the midst of a financial collapse. “I’ve lost everything,” he bemoaned.

“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve lost your faith.’

“No,” the man corrected him, “I haven’t lost my faith.”

“Well, then I’m sad to hear that you’ve lost your character.”

“I didn’t say that,” he corrected. “I still have my character.”

“I’m sorry to hear that you’ve lost your salvation.”

“That’s not what I said,” the man objected. “I haven’t lost my salvation.”

“You have your faith, your character, your salvation. Seems to me,” the minister observed, “that you’ve lost none of the things that really matter.”

We haven’t either.  You and I could pray like the Puritan.  He sat down to a meal of bread and water.  He bowed his head and declared, “All this and Jesus too!”

Can we honestly say?

12 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.

Contentment is learned.

Doug McKnight could say those words.  At the age of thirty-two he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.  Over the next sixteen years it would cost him his career, his mobility, and eventually his life.  Because of MS, he couldn’t feed himself or walk; he battled depression and fear.  But through it all, Doug never lost his sense of gratitude. Evidence of this was seen in his prayer list.

Friends in his congregation asked him to compile a list of requests so they could intercede for him.  His response included eighteen blessings for which to be grateful and six concerns for which to be prayerful.  His blessings outweighed his needs by three times.  Doug McKnight had learned to be content.

So had the leper on the island of Tobago.  A short-term missionary met her on a mission trip.  On the final day, he was leading worship in a leper colony.  He asked if anyone had a favorite song.  When he did, a woman turned around, and he saw the most disfigured face he’d ever seen.  She had no ears and no nose.  Her lips were gone.  But she raised a fingerless hand and asked, “Could we sing ‘Count Your Many Blessings’?”

The missionary started the song but couldn’t finish.  Someone later commented, “I suppose you’ll never be able to sing the song again.”  He answered, “No, I’ll sing it again.  Just never the same way.”

Those who can be content when they are “brought now,” when they experience “hunger” and “need” are a great testimony to us that we can learn to be content as well.

Such contentment is learned.  It isn’t natural.  We’re not born with it.  It is not a gift.  It is a skill that must be learned.

We have to learn that even at its best this world cannot satisfy us.  No one knew this better than John Bunyan, who was imprisoned for 12 of the first 13 years of his married life for preaching the gospel.  Listen to what John Bunyan said, “If we don’t have quiet in our minds, outward comfort will do no more for us than a golden slipper on a gouty foot.”

If you want to learn the secret of contentment, you must rise above your desire that outward circumstances bring joy, for it never delivers on its promise.

The billionaire J. D. Rockefeller was once asked how much money it would take to make him happy.  His answer: “Just a little more.”

Discontent says, “Never enough.”  Contentment says, “I have all I need in Jesus, everything else is just the cherry on top.”

We need to express our contentment especially in four essential areas.

First, we need to be content where we are.  We don’t need to have “destinitis,” thinking that “If I only could move there I would be happy.”  Acts 17:26 tells us that God determines when and where we live.

Second, we need to become content in what we do.  Instead of comparing ourselves to what others do and either the salary or the skills they have, we need to be content in the job or mission God has given us.  We can be content in any career IF we remember that the ultimate purpose of our life is to become like Jesus and make His glory known.

Third, we must express contentment in what we have, rather than being greedy for more.  Ecclesiastes tells us to just enjoy the simple things.  Don’t wear yourself out grasping for more.

Fourth, be content with who we’re with.  Instead of wishing you were married to someone else who is better looking or better behaved; instead of focusing on your spouse’s weaknesses, thank God for the spouse God has given to you.

Paul’s balanced sentence, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound” means that Paul knew how to share in Christ’s humiliation and how to share in his glorious riches (v. 12; cf. 4:19).  

In this life Paul had been repeatedly beaten to within an inch of his life, but he had also been caught up to the third heaven (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:24, 25; 12:1-6).  Paul also came to gladly boast, as he says, “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” (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10).

Having stated the larger principle, Paul elaborated on the extremes of his contentment: “In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (v. 12b.).  On the downside “hunger” and “need” echo the extremes of the hardship lists from Paul’s letters to the Corinthians.

  • “To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. . . . We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.” (1 Corinthians 4:11-13)
  • “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.  For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.  So death is at work in us, but life in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-12)
  • “. . . but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger. . . .” (2 Corinthians 6:4, 5)
  • “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27)

Paul had learned to experience contentment in the extremes of deprivation from hunger to homelessness to being in rags to beatings to labor and exhaustion to intense humiliation.

On the upside “plenty” and “abundance” echo the apostle’s experience of those times that were the good times by comparison.  While we know much about his deprivations from the hardship lists, we know little about his experiences of abundance, but we can imagine what they were.

For example, in Philippi when the church was born, likely there were feasts in the home of his first convert, Lydia, a prosperous seller of purple, and perhaps also in the home of his other notable convert, the Philippian jailer.  Certainly there were times in Ephesus and Corinth when the sun shined brightly over the pleasures of friends and feasting amidst the beauty of God’s creation and especially the beauty of his people as they honored Paul for bringing them the gospel.  And during these times also Paul was content.

What is remarkable, of course, is that Paul knew the secret of being content in either extreme—whether hunger or a sumptuous Mediterranean repast.  Indeed, it may be more of an accomplishment to be content with plenty. As John Calvin explained:

He who knows how to use present abundance soberly and temperately with thanksgiving, prepared to part with everything whenever it may please the Lord, giving also a share to his brother according to his ability, and is also not puffed up, that man has learned to excel and to abound. This is an excellent and rare virtue, and much greater than the endurance of poverty.

Paul had come to know the secret of contentment over a period of time. His learning was part of his spiritual growth and sanctification. The question for us is, have we learned the secret?

Finally, Paul comes to a third step on the road to contentment:

3.  Remind yourself of the sufficiency that is yours in Christ.

As you seek to reach a level of contentment that is independent of your circumstances, whenever you feel like it is beyond your reach, then remind yourself that Christ will provide the necessary strength in the midst of your battle.

How was Paul able to be content in all circumstances?

Because Jesus Christ enabled him.

13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Now, I have to say from the start—this verse has been ripped out of its context many times by athletes and students and anyone else who has tried to do something beyond their own strength or apart from their own preparation.

How many times has a student who didn’t prepare ask Jesus Christ to help him or her make a good grade?  After all, doesn’t it say “all things,” meaning anything I ask God’s help for I will get it?

“All things” is placed first for emphasis.  “ALL THINGS I can do…” Paul says.

But the “all things” is defined by the context as all kinds of circumstances, the heights and depths that Paul has just listed.  It means that I can be content whether I am “brought low,” with “hunger” and “need.”  Or whether I am “abounding” with “plenty” and “abundance.”

Thus what Paul says is that in whatever circumstances I find myself, in whatever extremes—whether experiencing abundance with the wealthy or fellowshipping with the poor or struggling to proclaim the gospel to people who don’t want to hear or enduring the wrath of the establishment or bringing peace to the church or languishing in prison—I can be content and “can do all things through him who strengthens me” (v. 13). 

By extension it has a secondary application to being able to live according to the will of God in daily life, no matter what the obstacles, NOT to become a millionaire or win the Super Bowl.

Paul is confident that he will be divinely strengthened to do anything and everything that God calls him to do.  Not only could Paul be content and confident in every circumstance, he could also be sure that he would be equipped with divine power to deal with it.

Paul says much the same thing in Colossians 1:28, 29 where he reveals that it is Christ who sustains his active ministry: “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”

Paul toils and struggles, straining with all his might, but it is the energy and power of Christ that strengthens him!

A better translation than “through Christ” is “in Christ.”  In other words, because of my union with Christ through the baptism of the Holy Spirit, His power works through me.

Although Paul says “I can do” he is not depending upon his own willpower and mighty efforts, but Christ working through him.

Christ is the one who continually empowers and strengthens the believer for all kinds of challenges.  He energizes him or her and enables them to be content in all kinds of circumstances.

Whatever comes Paul’s way, he has the strength to meet it.  If he is brought low, he is a man in Christ; if he abounds, he is a man in Christ.  In any and every circumstance he is a man in Christ.  As a man in Christ he can do all things.  As a man in Christ he is content regardless of the situation.

John MacArthur said, “Contentment comes to believers who rely on the sustaining grace of Christ, infused into believers when they have no strength of their own.”

That’s actually a good place to be—no strength of our own, because then we can draw from the strength of Christ.

Jeremiah Burroughs said, “A Christian finds satisfaction in every circumstance by getting strength from another, by going out of himself to Jesus Christ, by his faith acting upon Christ, and bringing the strength of Jesus Christ into his own soul, he is thereby enabled to bear whatever God lays on him, by the strength that he finds from Jesus Christ.… There is strength in Christ not only to sanctify and save us, but strength to support us under all our burdens and afflictions, and Christ expects that when we are under any burden, we should act our faith upon him to draw virtue and strength from him. (The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, 63)

If you want to be like Paul, having sweet contentment in any circumstance, there is hope.  But it’s not in you.  It comes from Jesus Christ.

Too often we forget about all the spiritual power and riches we have in Jesus Christ.

A few years ago in West Palm Beach a 71-year-old woman died in utter squalor.  She had been living in the seediest part of town.  She was known in that part of town as a beggar.  She would rummage through the Salvation Army bins trying to find something to wear, begging for food behind the restaurants.  At age 71 she died of malnutrition.

When officials got into her apartment they found two keys to safety deposit boxes in her name in Florida.  They went in and found in one of the boxes $200,00.00 in cash and several hundred thousand in certificates, deposits and bonds, etc.  In the other box was $600,000.00 dollars.  She was a millionaire living as a pauper.

I hope you don’t live that way.  You don’t have to.  But you need to look to Christ living in you, and live by the power He gives so that you can flourish as a Christian.

Learning the Secret, part 2 (Philippians 4:11-12)

Steve Cole introduces his sermon on Philippians 4:10-13 with these words:

An airline pilot was flying over the Tennessee mountains and pointed out a lake to his copilot. “See that little lake?” he said.  “When I was a kid I used to sit in a rowboat down there, fishing.  Every time a plane would fly overhead, I’d look up and wish I was flying it.  Now I look down and wish I was in a rowboat, fishing.”

Contentment can be an elusive pursuit.  We go after what we think will make us happy only to find that it didn’t work; in fact, we were happier before we started the quest.  It’s like the story of two teardrops floating down the river of life.  One teardrop said to the other, “Who are you?”  “I’m a teardrop from a girl who loved a man and lost him.  Who are you?”  “I’m a teardrop from the girl who got him.”

Our discontent drives consumer debt, a high divorce rate, rioting, drug and alcohol abuse, the hook-up culture, changing sexual identity or preferences and many other societal ills.

Paul says in our passage today

10 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. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 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. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Last week we quoted Jeremiah Burrough’s definition of contentment:

“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 situation.”

Contentment is not a state of life in which you are propped up by artificial protections.  It is not a security which assures that you will not be buffeted by ups and downs.  Contentment is that inner sense of self-sufficiency which says, “No matter what comes along, I have the capacity to meet it head-on because I have Jesus Christ.  Whether it be joy or sorrow, sickness or health, plenty or want, I will continue on.  I have all the resources I need in Christ.  I will carry on with an internal fullness of life.”

Last week we noted first that Paul delighted in the Lord because of the present provision of his need through the Philippians’ gift.  He acknowledged to himself and to them that this was God’s provision.

The second step in the path of contentment is:

2. Free yourself from your obsession with pleasant circumstances.

Maybe “obsession” is a little bit strong, but the typical American Christian at least struggles with being consumed about having things go their way in life.  We want things to go our way…in the worst way.  But you have to free yourself from this kind of obsession and learn to live above your circumstances.

Some people do live as if their life was all about having an abundance of possessions or having everything work out positively in their life.

Kent Hughes reminds us of Zacchaeus:

WHEN ZACCHAEUS, the miserly little kingpin of the Jericho tax franchise, strode off to his home for a lengthy conversation with Jesus, no one anticipated the change that would be announced from his own lips for all to hear: “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor.  And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (Luke 19:8).

For starters, he gave away 50 percent of everything he had to the poor. And from the remaining half of his fortune, he pledged to make restitution at four times the amount of what he had extorted.  In effect, Zacchaeus lived out Jesus’ command that had earlier caused the rich young ruler to depart from Jesus: “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Luke 18:22).

Tiny Zacchaeus had become huge!  The compulsive drive to make money and keep it was gone.  He went to Jesus mastered by the passion to get; he left mastered by the passion to give.  He went in as the littlest man in Jericho; he left as the biggest man in town.

Something wonderful had happened inside that house with Jesus.  And Jesus made it forever clear for all to hear: “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham” (19:9).  Zacchaeus had been regenerated—saved!  And the immediate evidence of his new heart was his desire to give. His newfound generosity was prima facie evidence of his salvation.

Jesus told several parables about money as well.  In one of His parables he warned about those who thought their lives consisted of an abundance of possessions (Luke 12:15).

At the beginning of verse 11 Paul makes a disclaimer about his situation.  He said, “Not that I speak from want…”  He wants to make it clear to the Philippians that although he is glad that they have sent a gift as evidence of their renewed concern for him, he is not saying this from a position of discontented want, as if he lacked something essential.

The reason he can say that is “because I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.”

Just reading Paul’s words exhibits a glorious freedom not to be controlled by the things of this world, but to be focused on things above and on Jesus Christ.

Notice Paul did NOT say, “not that I speak from want, because I’ve gotten everything I want.”

Certainly their gift had met a need, but even if the gift had never come Paul would still say, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstance I am.”

Paul’s present condition—not lacking anything—flows out of his learning to rise above all circumstance and by content regardless of what those circumstances are.

Now notice that Paul said, “I have learned to be content.”  Contentment doesn’t come naturally, arising accidentally; nor does it come magically, in a special moment.

Gerald Hawthorne notes:

“It [the aorist tense of the Greek verb emathon, translated “learned”] implies that Paul’s whole experience, especially as a Christian, up to the present has been a sort of schooling from which he has not failed to master its lessons.”

Learning to be content is a lifelong process, something we learn each and every day as we walk with Jesus Christ.  It doesn’t come suddenly, in a flash, but over a lifetime of learning.

Now, that doesn’t mean we won’t experience contentment until we are very old.  But we will be learning more and more to be content throughout our lives.  That is why we need to start young.  It is so important to teach our children to be content.

Contentment is contrary to human nature since the Fall.  Just think about it: Adam and Eve had the perfect environment, and they were not content in it. They had perfect health, a perfect marriage, a perfect garden, and daily fellowship with God Himself, yet they soon believed the lie that God had not provided everything they needed for their present and future happiness.

If Adam and Eve were not content in the Garden of Eden, what hope is there for us, apart from the spiritual insight that comes from God? May we, with Paul, be able to say, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.”

Contentment begins by learning the purpose of our existence.  The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks the question, “What is the chief end of man?” and the answer is, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

Certainly, God is the greatest joy that meets the need of every human heart.

Not every heart seeks after Him, but He can meet the deepest needs of any human who turns to Him.  That is why Paul great desire was to “know Christ.”

Contentment also learns to distinguish between needs and wants.  There are few things in life that are really necessary.  In fact, God identified just two: food and clothing, and says in 1 Timothy 6:8 “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.”

Paul goes on to warn:

9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

This is the danger of confusing wants for needs.

God has promised to provide for our needs; however, He has not assured us that we will get all our wants.  We have a tendency to spend our resources on wants and then worry about our needs. Jesus warned about such concern in Matthew 6:

31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Learning to be content is learning to trust God for your needs.

George Muller proved the sovereign faithfulness of God in the matter of finances.  He lived in 19th century Bristol, England, where he founded an orphanage.  He and his wife had taken literally Jesus’ command to give away all their possessions (Luke 14:33), so they had no personal resources.

Also, he was firmly committed to the principle of not making his financial needs known to anyone, except to God in prayer.  He was extremely careful not even to give hints about his own needs or the needs of the orphanage.  The children never knew about any financial difficulties, nor did they ever lack good food, clothes, or warmth.

But there were times when Muller’s faith was tried, when the Lord took them down to the wire before supplying the need.  On February 8, 1842, they had enough food in all the orphan houses for that day’s meals, but no money to buy the usual stock of bread or milk for the following morning, and two houses needed coal.  Muller noted in his journal that if God did not send help before nine the next morning, His name would be dishonored.

The next morning Muller walked to the orphanage early to see how God would meet their need, only to discover that the need had already been met.  A Christian businessman had walked about a half mile past the orphanages toward his place of work when the thought occurred to him that Muller’s children might be in need.  He decided not to retrace his steps then, but to drop off something that evening.  But he couldn’t go any further and felt constrained to go back.  He gave a gift that met their need for the next two days (George Muller: Delighted in God! by Roger Steer [Harold Shaw Publishers], pp. 115-116).  Muller knew many instances like that where God tried his faith.

In his journals, Müller recorded miracle-after-miracle of God’s provision and answered prayer:

One morning, all the plates and cups and bowls on the table were empty.  There was no food in the larder and no money to buy food.  The children were standing, waiting for their morning meal, when Müller said, “Children, you know we must be in time for school.”  Then lifting up his hands he prayed, “Dear Father, we thank Thee for what Thou art going to give us to eat.”

There was a knock at the door.  The baker stood there, and said, “Mr. Müller, I couldn’t sleep last night.  Somehow I felt you didn’t have bread for breakfast, and the Lord wanted me to send you some.  So I got up at 2 a.m. and baked some fresh bread, and have brought it.”

Mr. Müller thanked the baker, and no sooner had he left, when there was a second knock at the door.  It was the milkman.  He announced that his milk cart had broken down right in front of the orphanage, and he would like to give the children his cans of fresh milk so he could empty his wagon and repair it.

If you are walking with God and you find yourself in a desperate situation, you can know that you are not there by chance.  The sovereign God has put you there for your training in faith, that you might share His holiness.  It may be a small crisis or a major, life-threatening crisis.  Submit to and trust the Sovereign God and you will know the contentment that comes from Him.

Every Christian needs to learn to be content.  When Paul urged his readers to “rejoice in the Lord always” (v. 4), he was preaching what he practiced (vv. 5-8).  The apostle’s contentment and joy—even in prison—indicate his spiritual maturity, and it challenges us all.

Paul goes on to explain in verse 12, using a series of opposites to illustrate the variety of circumstances, using both ends of the spectrum when it comes to our physical needs.

On the one end he speaks of “brought low…hunger…need.”

On the other end of the spectrum he mentions “abound…plenty…abundance.”

Paul is reminding the Philippians that he was not talking in the abstract, but he had actually lived through these fluctuations of life.

About being “brought low” Adam Clarke comments:

“See here the state to which God permitted his chief apostle to be reduced! And see how powerfully the grace of Christ supported him under the whole!  How few of those who are called Christian ministers or Christian men have learned this important lesson!  When want or affliction comes, their complaints are loud and frequent; and they are soon at the end of their patience.”

And regarding “abounding,” Charles Spurgeon makes this statement:

“There are a great many men that know a little how to be abased, that do not know at all how to abound.  When they are put down into the pit with Joseph, they look up and see the starry promise, and they hope for an escape.  But when they are put on the top of a pinnacle, their heads grow dizzy, and they are ready to fall.”

Most of us would have to admit that we are only happy when most circumstances fall on the side of abundance and prosperity, when our circumstances line up with our desires…that’s when there is a spring in our step.

But I’m afraid few of us would declare that we are most happy when we are “brought low” and suffer “hunger” and “need.”

The reality is, we have made an idol out of comfort and convenience.  When our comfort is disrupted, complaining begins, shoving contentment out the door of our hearts.

But Paul is saying, “It really doesn’t matter what is taking place in my life…I can be at either end of the spectrum…things can go my way or not…in ANY and EVERY kind of circumstance I have learned to be content.”

Every time we go to Haiti I come away amazed that these people, who know so little of the world’s riches, are rich spiritually.  They are content and happy in what God has given them.

Do none of them complain?  I doubt it.  But it just shows that contentment has nothing to do with “having” things, as long as we “have” Jesus.  It depends not upon our external circumstances, but our inner heart disposition.

Learning the Secret, part 1 (Philippians 4:10)

Historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., observes that our society is marked by “inextinguishable discontent.”  We have a yearning for more and a drive for what is new.

We want a better job with better pay and a better boss.  We want better relationships and a better car and a better backhand in tennis or a longer drive in golf.  

And, we have a propensity to live endlessly for the next thing – the next weekend, the next vacation, the next purchase, and the next experience.  We are never satisfied, never content, and envious of those who have what we have not attained or accumulated.

Walter Kerr, in his book titled The Decline of Pleasure, analyzed the discontentment of our age.  He pierced through the superficiality of much we do.  He noted that the very things that we do that should be pleasurable for us are void of joy.  Why?  Because they are being used as a means to an end.  We do not treat them as enjoyable in and of themselves.  He wrote, “We are all of us compelled to read for profit, party for contacts, lunch for contracts, bowl for unity, drive for mileage, gamble for charity, go out for the evening for the greater glory of municipality, and stay home for the weekend to rebuild the house.”

That sounds a lot like the book of Ecclesiastes, which will be our next study once we finish Philippians.

A 1944 newspaper article addressed the issue of what it was to be a wife in the U.S. during World War 2, and the article begins like this:  “Marna Wilkins thinks she needs a more considerable husband, more money, more domestic help, less nervous strain, less housework to do, fewer children, a kinder mother, more sympathetic friends, but what she really needs is a finer character.”

I don’t think you’d find a 2020 newspaper article to suggest that!

But most of us can relate to Marna Wilkins: we think we could do with more of this or less of that.  We’ve bought into the lie that our contentment is dependent upon our circumstances.  We’ve bought into the lie that in order to be content, I need more of A, B, or C and the immediate removal of X, Y and Z.

We think, “If I only had better…or only had more…or less” then I would be happy.

So many times we find ourselves in less than ideal circumstances and what really needs to change is not our circumstances, but our character, our attitude.

Paul tells us that we, like him, needs to learn to be content no matter what our circumstances may be.

In Philippians 4:10-13, a man who sits in prison because of corrupt officials awaiting possible execution over false charges tells us how to find contentment.  The answer lies buried in the midst of a thank-you note.

As a prisoner in Rome, possibly awaiting a death sentence, few things turning out as he had planned, he models contentment for us.

We will look at four steps on the path of contentment in Philippians 4.

Here in this passage, Paul is going to answer the question, “How can I cultivate contentment?  What steps can I take to insure that I am content, right here and right now, regardless of what God has provided for me in terms of my circumstances, my possessions, my relationships, my career, my future, or my health?”

Here is what Paul says…

10 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. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 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. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

The first thing I want you to see is that contentment is a secret that can be learned.  Do you see it there in v. 12?  “I have learned the secret…”  It doesn’t come naturally, or magically, but in the very context of the ups and downs of life it can be learned.

Before we begin, let’s define our terms.

What is contentment?  In his classic book The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, Jeremiah Burroughs provided this definition:

“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 situation.”

Contentment is not loud and complaining or grumbling, nor is it mere resignation or fatalism, it “submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every situation.”

Contentment is an act of faith, trusting our Father to take care of us as He promised He would.

John Stott wrote, “Contentment is the secret of inward peace.  It remembers the stark truth that we brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out of it.  Life, in fact, is a pilgrimage from one moment of nakedness to another.  So we should travel light and live simply.  Our enemy is not possessions, but excess.  Our battle cry is not ‘Nothing!’ but ‘Enough!’  We’ve got enough.  Simplicity says, if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”

For the Christian: Contentment knows that if we have Jesus we have enough.

This is what Asaph learned in Psalm 73.  At first, he envied the wicked.  They were rich, fat, healthy and had life easy.  Asaph was troubled by that, wondered what use it was to keep his life pure before God and almost voiced his defection from the faith.

But Asaph did something very important, and this was the turning point.  He went to the temple.  There he focused on truth, and on God.

God showed Asaph that the end for this wicked rich people would be terrible, while he would be with God in glory.

25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. 27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. 28 But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.

Did you notice v. 25, “There is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.”

Corrie Ten Boom, the Dutch young lady who was taken to a Nazi prison camp because she and her family were hiding Jews, once said: “You can never learn that Christ is all you need, until Christ is all you have.”

It is in our times of need and want that we if we remind ourselves that we still have Christ, that He then becomes all we really need.

And John MacArthur put it this way: “If you have everything but Jesus, you have nothing.  If you have nothing but Jesus, you have everything.”

When God gave us Jesus, He gave us not just His best, but also everything.  We are truly rich because we have Christ, our all in all.

When we have Jesus, we truly have everything.  Jesus is our wisdom, our righteousness, our sanctification, our redemption and our success.  In Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Now, we too can learn the secret of being content no matter what our circumstances are.

  1. The first step is to delight yourself in the Lord and his present provision.

Look at verse 10.

10 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.

Paul is referring to a financial gift that Epaphroditus brought to Paul from the Philippians when he first arrived in Rome, a gift that really helped him.  They had heard of his need and sent a gift (cf. v. 18).

You “revived your concern for me” Paul says.  This is a word used of horticulture—of trees and flowers sprouting again in Spring, to grow anew.  That’s a good manifestation of this care and concern—the evidence that their concern had blossomed again.

They had provided a gift for Paul before, and now again they had renewed their concern.  It had been awhile, but they came through for Paul again.

Gerald Hawthorne writes: “Like a person rejoicing over the first signs of spring after a harsh winter, so Paul rejoiced to see again the signs of personal concern from Philippi after a long interval of silence.”

Then, almost as if Paul catches himself, realizing that they might take that last statement to mean that they hadn’t really cared for him during the long interval between gifts, he adds, “indeed you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity.”

He understands why they hadn’t helped in the meantime.

It doesn’t say how or why they hadn’t helped.  Maybe it was their own poverty, maybe it was the lack of a message from Paul of his need, or possibly they didn’t even know where Paul was.  Whatever the reason, Paul is clear that he was not attaching blame to them, but something outside their control had prevented their giving.

Now, however, their concern is shown by their donation.

The apostle rejoiced in the generosity of the Philippians’ monetary gift because prisoners in the Roman system were dependent upon outside support for everything.  But Paul’s joy went far deeper because the gift was indicative of the distant Philippians’ continuing authenticity and spiritual health. 

Now catch this:  Even though Paul is here expressing his gratitude to the Philippians for their concern and their gifts, his ultimate joy was in the Lord.  “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me.”

In other words, Paul is saying, “Your gift gave me reason to rejoice in the Lord again, because ultimately I know it came from his hand.”

This was important for both Paul and the Philippians to realize.  Paul saw anything that happened to him to be cause for him rejoicing in the Lord.  Back in chapter 1 Paul, knowing that some were preaching the gospel for selfish reasons, said this:

18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice,

But Paul also wanted the Philippians themselves to realize that even though they had given the gift, they could only do that because of God’s blessing in their lives.  Both the giver and the receiver need to remember that God is behind it all.

Paul knew that God was in control, God knew his need, and God would supply or not supply as He saw fit.  Paul was subject to the Sovereign God in this most practical area of his financial support.  I don’t think Paul let his needs be known to others, as we will see later in this passage.  That God therefore had moved their hearts to give, reflected His goodness to Paul.

Again, like Asaph, we need to learn to find our contentment in Christ.  A contented heart is a thankful heart, rejoicing in whatever God gives because we know that it is God’s good will for us.

Even if everything else is taken from us, we still have Christ.  Whatever comes to us comes because of our Father’s good pleasure.

When I preached through Philippians in 2007 at Grace Bible Church, I had just returned from a mission trip to Belarus.  While traveling I had plenty opportunity to watch people who had missed flights (as I had) and how they reacted as they tried to get help to fix their problems.

They would speak animatedly and earnestly as they plead for help in getting a new flight, then they would get angry and make threats when they could not, and finally they would resign themselves to a new reality with sullenness.

That’s not contentment.

Contentment is not saying, “Oh well, I guess that will do Lord…if that is the best you can do.”

We find this attitude often in marriage.  “Okay, so my marriage can’t be great,” so she resigns herself to mediocrity.  That’s not contentment.  Contentment is joyfully submitting to God’s providential plan, knowing that God has my best in mind, even when that means disappointment and trials.

Being content with our circumstances doesn’t mean that we cannot work to change them, it just means that we carry a contented attitude with us while we work for change.

What we see here is Paul’s underlying confidence in the providence of God.  Providence is that theological word which refers to God’s active and continuous involvement in this world by which He brings His divine intentions to pass.  God is constantly at work bringing about the things that he had planned in eternity past.

We know from Romans 8:28 that God’s purpose in both the good and the bad things that happen to us is to “works all things together for our good.”  Our problem is that we want to define “our good” as health and wealth and care-free living.  In that passage, God defines “our good” as being “conformed to the image of His Son,” to become more like Jesus.

When the Philippians had been unable to send a gift to Paul, that was all part of God’s divine plan.  But when they revived their concern and sent a gift, that too was part of God’s sovereign plan.

The Philippian gift, pointed back to the Philippians’ concern, that ultimately point back further to God’s providence, His good plan.  And so, Paul rejoices in the Lord.

John MacArthur writes this:

“Paul’s gracious attitude reflectsHis patient confidence in God’s sovereign providence.  He was certain that God, in due time, would arrange his circumstances to meet his needs.  There was no panic on his part, no attempt to manipulate people, no taking matters into his own hands.  Paul was content because he knew that the times, seasons, and opportunities of life are controlled by the Sovereign God who works all things after the counsel of his will, thereby causing all things to work together for the good to those who love God….Those who seek to control their own lives will inevitably be frustrated.  A confident trust in God’s providence is foundational to contentment.”

Thus, if you want to learn the secret to contentment, you must begin by delighting yourself in the Lord and in His present provision for your life.  Don’t worry about tomorrow’s provision or amassing enough to meet future needs.  Rejoice in the Lord and His ability to provide for your needs today.

Don’t say to yourself, “What I really need in life is this or that, a better this or a better that.”  Instead, realize that in your present circumstances, right now—is exactly what God has orchestrated for you.  All of this has been orchestrated by God himself.

The battle cry of a discontented heart is, “I don’t deserve this; this ain’t fair.  I deserve something better.  I deserve for things to go smoothly, to go my way, to meet my needs.”

The contented heart realizes that all I really deserve is hell.  It delights in the fact that God has called me His child and lavished every spiritual blessing on him, so I submit to what God has provided me first right now, realizing that He does all things well.

David, in his psalm that is precious to so many, started out by saying,

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

I like the way the New Living Translation puts it:

The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need.

Truly, if you have Jesus as your shepherd, you can know that he will lead you to green pastures and still waters, providing what you need today and tomorrow and the next day.  So enjoy His blessings today, enjoy Him, and trust Him for tomorrow.

A Beautiful Mind, part 4 (Philippians 4:8-9)

Today we’re finishing up four weeks on verses 8-9 I’ve entitled “a beautiful mind.”  A mind that is constantly focused on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy, will find their lives enriched.  Ultimately, what we think about affects how we feel, the choices we make, and our behavior.  Then, it radiates out into our relationships and all of life.

The great Puritan John Owens emphasizes the importance of what we think about:

The mind is a leading faculty of the soul.  When the mind fixes upon an object or course of action, the will and the affections (heart) follow suit.  They are incapable of any other consideration… the mind’s office is to guide, to direct, to choose and to lead.

As someone has well said “You’re not what you think you are; but what you THINK—you are!”

In other words, what your mind dwells on is what you become.  That is why it is so important for us to dwell on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy.

Tony Merida writes

“What we think matters, and it matters more than we think. We need God’s Word to saturate our minds that we may be renewed and kept from offensive ways.” (Exalting Jesus in Philippians)

Paul uses the word logizomai, which is a word that expresses intense and studious gazing upon these things, not merely a passing glance.

You see, our minds naturally drift towards negative thoughts.

Dr. Elinore Kinarthy in Homemade, Sept., 1988, stated “The average person has more than two hundred negative thoughts a day—worries, jealousies, insecurities, cravings for forbidden things, etc.  Depressed people have as many as six hundred.  You can’t eliminate all the troublesome things that go through your mind, but you can certainly reduce the number of negative thoughts.

What Paul is calling for here is the disciplined, intentional directing of our thoughts towards positive things—positive things about God, about the world, about one another, about ourselves.

Of course, we’re not to think “more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment.” Which means that we think about “whatever is true” as a grid for all our thoughts.

Thinking as we ought to think requires the discipline of refusing certain thoughts that are false, dishonorable, unjust, impure, unlovely, reprehensible, inferior and unworthy and choosing instead to focus our attention (and affections) on what is constantly focused on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy.

It is like going through security at an airport.  When you go through security, an alarm goes off when you have something that shouldn’t pass through.  You have to empty your pockets and take things away in order to go through.  Likewise, our minds should be alert and alarms should go off when we start entertaining thoughts that are false, dishonorable, unjust, impure, unlovely, reprehensible, inferior and unworthy.

Practically what that means is that we give time, dedicated, ongoing, concentrated time to reading, studying, memorizing and meditating on God’s Word.  The greatest danger in our busy, increasingly post-literate world is that we make little or no effort to think God’s thoughts after him, to hide his word in our hearts so that we might not sin against him (cf. Psalm 119:11).

Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God… It is an activity of holy thought, consciously performed in the presence of God, under the eye of God, by the help of God, as a means of communion with God.” (Packer, J I: Knowing God)

We cannot be profoundly influenced by that which we do not know.

Warren Wiersbe says…

If you will compare this list [in v. 8] to David’s description of the Word of God in Psalm 19:7-9, you will see a parallel.  The Christian who fills his heart and mind with God’s Word will have a “built-in radar” for detecting wrong thoughts. “Great peace have they which love Thy Law” (Ps. 119:165).  Right thinking is the result of daily meditation on the Word of God.

It is worth noting that in the preceding verse (4:7) Paul had assured the saints that God would guard their hearts and mind in Christ Jesus.  In verse 8 Paul is emphasizing that the saints themselves have a responsibility in the matter.  God does not garrison the thought-life of a man who does not want it to be kept pure.

Paul follows his verse on a beautiful mind with instructions on how to live a beautiful life.

9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Notice from that last sentence that Paul all along, from verse 6 to verse 9, has been telling us how to enjoy the peace of God, even in the midst of conflict, even in the midst of trials.

Warren Wiersbe entitles Php 4:8 “Right Thinking” and Php 4:9 “Right Living.” I think those are great, practical titles of these two great verses.  In his devotional Wiersbe adds “Right praying (Php 4:6-7), right thinking, and right living: these are the conditions for having the secure mind and victory over worry.”

It is true that orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy, right beliefs lead to right living.  If your thinking is off, your life will be off.

Sinclair Ferguson says: “How we think is one of the great determining factors in how we live.”

And A. W. Tozer, knowing that we sometimes have to give thought to our work or other matters, says this:

What we think about when we are free to think about what we will—that is what we are or will soon become.

Right thinking is what leads to right living for Paul.  And it will be for us as well.

This is another passage where Paul speaks of the vital importance of discipling others through your life, not just your teaching.  It is about imitation, not merely instruction.  This picks up what Paul had said back in 3:17 when he said, “join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.”

Too many would-be disciplers want to teach through a workbook and are satisfied if their disciple fills in all the blanks and does all the assignments.  But that does not a disciple make.

The spiritual life is more caught than taught, and what people need most is an example to follow.

If people can see a discrepancy between what you say you believe and how you live, they will not be attracted and eventually will call you a hypocrite.

How do we live a consistent, godly life and become an example to others?  By focusing our mind on the Word of God so that we focus on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy.

Paul had the integrity to present himself as an example of all these things to the Philippians.  He really could say, “Follow me as I follow Jesus.”

Paul had lived out each of the eight qualities that he was calling his readers to think about so long and so hard.

He contemplated whatever was true and then lived it; he thought and lived honorably; he thought and lived justly; he thought and lived purely; he thought of the lovely and lived in accord with it; he thought and lived commendably. (Kent Hughes)

These eight qualities were not exalted abstractions, but real-life down-in-the-dirt behaviors.

They had seen these qualities in the way that Paul had lived while he was with them.

The words “what you have learned and received” indicates that Paul had given them his personal instruction.  They had received the apostolic doctrine and the truth from God’s Word through Paul’s teaching ministry among them.

Now, that first word is the verb manthano, “learned.”  And it is related to the noun mathetes, which we often translate “disciple.”  Many people think of a “disciple” in terms of a student at school, learning through lecture.  I believe a better analogy is the apprentice, who learns through imitation and practice.

Wayne Detzler says:

“The emphasis on discipleship in Greek is not formal school learning, but rather fellowship with the teacher.  It is seen in two situations.  First, it refers to the followers of a certain philosopher.  They derived not just information from their teacher but also inspiration.  Disciples learned the teacher’s entire outlook on life, not just the facts which he taught.

Second, discipleship had a religious context.  It was seen in the pre-Christian mystery religions and in the Greek schools of the Epicureans and Stoics.  Discipleship involved two principles.  First, it meant that the disciples had fellowship with their teacher.  They lived with him as Jesus’ disciples lived with Him.  Second, disciples carried on the tradition of their teacher.  After he died they taught the same things that he did.  Disciples were the main means of perpetuating teaching in the ancient world, since many great teachers wrote no books. (New Testament Words in Today’s Language).

The verb “received” has the idea that the Philippians not only understood it clearly, but also accepted it and had given assent to it and in so doing they were now responsible to live out the truth.

This is always the principle when we learn and receive truth from a pastor or a teacher. God will hold us responsible to live according to the light we have received.

Another way of thinking about this word “received” is that it involves taking truth in and dwelling on it (like we saw in v. 8) until it becomes a part of our inner man.

This is the way Paul described what happened at Thessalonica…

And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

The word “received” there is the same word as in Philippians 4:9, but Paul adds “accepted,” which could be visualized as opening the door (of our minds) and welcoming in a long-lost friend, someone we are really glad to see.

That is the way we should treat the truth we hear from God’s Word, to receive it with joy and delight.

Along with this, Paul had given them his personal example, which they had “heard and seen” in him.  Both when Paul was with them and even when he was when away, the Philippians heard about Paul’s character and conduct — his bravery, how he faced trials, his devotion, his prayer, his patient suffering, his resiliency.

And when he was with them, they saw his godly example and his modeling of these eight qualities he was asking of them.  They had before their very eyes the pattern of an excellent and worthy life.

A. T. Robertson reminds us “The preacher is the interpreter of the spiritual life and should be an example of it.”

Edwards adds that “Paul now covers the spectrum of things he wants them to do.  We see Paul’s great heart for discipleship here as well as his total commitment of life to Christ… The truth is first demonstrated, then declared.  From that point the Philippians accept it and then finally embrace it.  This ought to be our pattern of discipleship.  We are responsible that the men we are working with see and hear the truth in us.  Then they must respond by accepting and embracing the truth we have transmitted.  The goal of all this, though, is that they do the truth they have embraced.  It is not enough for us to accept and embrace the truth, we must be equally zealous to do it also.

It is vital that our thoughts turn into actions.  They will if we continually dwell on them.

J. Dwight Pentecost reminds us that…

“… maturity in the Christian life is not measured by what a man knows but by what he does.”

Truth is not only to be pondered, but to be practiced.

Steve Coles identifies in these four verbs—learned, received, heard and seen—four components of our sanctification.

(1) The intellectual–“What you have learned”; (2) The volitional–“What you received”; (3) The behavioral–“What you have heard and seen, which you must practice”; (4) The emotional–“The God of peace shall be with you.”

I think this order is correct.  We don’t start with our emotions.  We start with our minds.  We focus our attention on the truths of God’s Word, which will eventually cause us to choose obedience to God (the volitional), which we then do (behavioral).  All of that leads to good feelings.

So Paul encourages them to “practice these things” (these eight qualities).  It is not enough to be hearers, we must be doers.  There is always a danger that we might deceive ourselves into thinking that just because we’ve heard it, that that is enough.

The word “practice” (prasso) refers to repetitious and continuous action.  It is also present tense, which means that this is not just a momentary emotional response but is to become the saints’ way of life.

When we consistently do this “the God of peace will be with [us].”  This is a play on, and step beyond, what Paul said in v. 7 when he said: “And the peace of God…will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

The peace of God is a gift to us from God; but this is actually the promise of His very presence with us.

This must be a step beyond and deeper than merely God’s omnipresence.  By His omnipresence, we mean that God is everywhere, as Psalm 139:7-11 indicate.  I believe what Paul is promising here is a special sense of God’s presence.

It is that presence that we need when we walk through the fire or the flood (Isaiah 43:2) or the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4).  We need not fear because God is with us.  He is with us to calm us and support us and eventually deliver us.

In this case, the special sense of God’s presence is communicated to us as a supernatural peace, a calmness and serenity in the face of deep trouble and difficulties.

Elisabeth Elliot once overheard her young daughter singing to her cat, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like you!”  We’re all like that, aren’t we; the truth applies to the other guy!

“If just my wife and kids would apply this to their lives, we’d have a happy family!”

No, I need to apply the content of the Christian faith to my daily conduct. Then, the God of peace with be with me.  Let’s all practice being doers of the Word and not hearers only who deceive themselves!

A Beautiful Mind, part 3 (Philippians 4:8-9)

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve noted how Paul, in Philippians 4:8-9, emphasizes how vital the mind/heart is in our spiritual formation.  If we think about things that are false, dishonorable, unjust, impure, unlovely, reprehensible, inferior and unworthy, then our feelings, choices and behaviors will move towards those things.  But if we think about things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy, then our feelings, choices, behaviors and ultimately our lives will be characterized by these things.

Which do you want?  What destiny do you desire?

J. Dwight Pentecost has said…

“On the authority of the Word of God, I submit to you that the greatest conflict being waged is not international, not political, not economic, and not social.  The greatest conflict taking place in the world today is the battle for control of our minds.”

And he is right.

Paul says in these two verses…

8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Remember, we are to “love God…with all our minds.”  That is, our thoughts should be focused on Him.  HE should have our attention, not other things, nor other people.

What we think about is vitally important.

The fourth quality that we should focus our minds and heart upon is purity, “whatever is pure.”

This word comes from the Greek word hagnos, which comes from the ceremonial language of animal sacrifice.  Sacrifices were to be free from blemish.  Hagnos is that which is holy, morally clean, and undefiled. 

William Barclay adds that when hagnos was “used ceremonially, it describes that which has been so cleansed, so perfect that it is fit to be brought into the presence of God and used in his service.”

So we might ask: Are my thoughts worthy of being brought into God’s presence and used for His glory?

This is the word used in 1 John 3:2-3, which says

2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

In Psalm 12:6 David states:

6 The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.

In this context, it means that God’s word is unmixed and unadulterated.  When silver was refined, the impurities would rise to the top and be wiped off, creating a more pure metal.

So God’s Word is pure.  It does not have truth and error.  It is only true.

This word not only refers to the lack of spot or blemish in sacrifices, and the complete accuracy of God’s Word, but also to the moral purity of our lives.

It especially means keeping our bodies undefiled by abstaining from sexual sins, but we can only be successful by battling immorality and pornography at the thought level.  Ephesians 5:3-10 says…

3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.

In 1998 Joe Lieberman began giving out Silver Sewer awards.  His motive was to embarrass TV, videos and movies who visually lifted up the sordid.  Now, the things he was policing are considered tame compared with what it coming out today!

So we need to test what think about through the “grid” of hagnos and ask ourselves these simple questions – Will it defile or is it intrinsically pure?  Will it corrupt our thinking if we give attention to it?  Will it stand the scrutiny of God?  Will it make me more like Jesus Who is perfect hagnos?

One of the interests we really need to watch over, and likely to change, is how much time we spend on social media.  The typical teenager today spends over 7.5 hours each day connected to some form of media.  We adults aren’t far behind.

For today’s teens, technology and purity can be incredibly connected.  Twenty percent of all teens say they have sent/posted nude or semi-nude pictures or videos of themselves.  And there’s worse…but I’m stopping there.  The point is that today’s Internet makes moral sins incredibly accessible (and deceptive) to young people at one of the most vulnerable times in their lives.

Pray for yourself and your children, that God will protect them you temptation (Matthew 6:13), that you will purpose in their own hearts not to defile themselves (Daniel 1:8), and that you will keep yourselves pure (1 Timothy 5:22).

In Psalm 119:37 David prays…

Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.

To stay pure in our minds and hearts, we have to constantly turn away our eyes from alluring images that are placed on billboards, magazines, television, internet ads.

J. R. Miller writes:

We must be always turning—if we would keep our life true and according to God’s commandments.  There are some flowers which always turn toward the sun.  

There was a little potted rose-bush in a sick-room which I visited.  It sat by the window.  One day I noticed that the one rose on the bush was looking toward the light.  I referred to it; and the sick woman said that her daughter had turned the rose around several times toward the darkness of the room—but that each time the little flower had twisted itself back, until again its face was toward the light.  It would not look into the darkness.

The rose taught me a lesson—never to allow myself to look toward any evil—but instantly to turn from it.  Not a moment should we permit our eyes to be inclined toward anything sinful.  To yield to one moment’s sinful act—is to defile the soul.  One of the main messages of the Bible is, “Turn from the wrong, the base, the crude, the unworthy—to the right, the pure, the noble, the godlike.”  We should not allow even an unholy thought to stay a moment in our mind—but should turn from its very first suggestion, with face fully toward Christ, the Holy One.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus.  One glance is not sinful, but the continued gaze upon impurity is.

The fifth quality that we should focus our minds and heart upon is beauty, “whatever is lovely.”

By “lovely” Paul means those things that put themselves forward by their attractiveness.   “Lovely” includes not only what is morally lovely but that which is aesthetically lovely — “all that is beautiful in creation and in human lives”—from a sunset to a symphony to caring for the poor and powerless — all things beautiful. (Kent Hughes)

New Testament scholar Gordon Fee tells us:

“In common parlance, this word could refer to a Beethoven symphony, as well as to the work of Mother Teresa among the poor of Calcutta; the former is lovely and enjoyable, the latter is admirable as well as moral.”

We shouldn’t be attracted to what is evil and ugly, but we often are.  We shouldn’t be attracted to the Satanic and dark in literature and movies.  Nor should we be attracted to the violent and conflictual.

Once again, the most beautiful thing we can place the eyes of our heart upon is Jesus Christ.  He is “altogether lovely, altogether worthy, altogether wonderful to me.”

Listen to these words from Dane Ortlund, from an article entitled, “Are You Conveying the Loveliness of Christ to Your Kids?”

Have we considered the loveliness of the heart of Christ?  Perhaps beauty is not a category that comes naturally to mind when we think about Christ.  Maybe we think of God and Christ in terms of truth, not beauty.  But the whole reason we care about sound doctrine is for the sake of preserving God’s beauty, just as the whole reason we care about effective focal lenses on a camera is to capture with precision the beauty we photograph.

Let Jesus draw you in through the loveliness of his heart.  This is a heart that upbraids the impenitent with all the harshness that is appropriate, yet embraces the penitent with more openness than we are able to feel. I t is a heart that walks us into the bright meadow of the felt love of God.  It is a heart that drew the despised and forsaken to his feet in self-abandoning hope.  It is a heart of perfect balance and proportion, never overreacting, never excusing, never lashing out.  It is a heart that throbs with desire for the destitute.  It is a heart that floods the suffering with the deep solace of shared solidarity in that suffering.  It is a heart that is gentle and lowly.

So let the heart of Jesus be something that is not only gentle toward you but lovely to you.  If I may put it this way: romance the heart of Jesus.  All I mean is, ponder him through his heart. Allow yourself to be allured.  Why not build in to your life unhurried quiet, where, among other disciplines, you consider the radiance of who he actually is, what animates him, what his deepest delight is?  Why not give your soul room to be reenchanted with Christ time and again?

When you look at the glorious older saints in your church, how do you think they got there?  Sound doctrine, yes.  Resolute obedience, without a doubt.  Suffering without becoming cynical, for sure.  But maybe another reason, maybe the deepest reason, is that they have, over time, been won over in their deepest affections to a gentle Savior.  Perhaps they have simply tasted, over many years, the surprise of a Christ for whom their very sins draw him in rather than push him away.  Maybe they have not only known that Jesus loved them but felt it.

Again, keep your spiritual eyes, your thoughts, on Jesus.  He is truth, he is glorious, he is just, he is pure and he is lovely.

The sixth quality that we should focus our minds and heart upon is the reputable, “whatever is commendable.”

This refers to the kind of conduct that deserves the approval of your peers.  It is used of “expressing what is kind and likely to win people, and avoiding what is likely to give offense,” says Plummer.

We are to think of things and think of things about others that measure up to the highest standards.  We are to think of things that are praiseworthy.

Are we concentrating on the good things we see in others or are we dwelling on their faults and shortcomings?  Do we think about what we admire in the other person, or what we despise?

Again, notice how the content of what we are to be thinking about fits so well with the context of interpersonal conflict.  When we are in conflict with someone, do we think well of them and hold them in high esteem, or do we trash them?

As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, love believes the best about another person, it refuses to believe an evil report about a brother or sister until there is certain evidence to establish it.

The seventh quality that we should focus our minds and heart upon is excellent things, “if there is any excellence.”

By the way, the words “whatever” and “any” in this verse indicates that our minds are to reach out to “whatever” fits these categories, leaving nothing out, “anything” that fits.

The word “excellence” is the Greek word arete.  It means moral virtue of the highest quality.  Arete is a term denoting consummate ‘excellence’ or ‘merit’ within a social context. To the Greek philosophers, it meant “the fulfillment [or completion] of a thing.” 

It speaks of something that is fulfilling its reason for existence.  Land that produces crops is “excellent” because it is fulfilling its purpose.  The tool that works correctly is “excellent” because it is doing what a tool is supposed to do.  A believer demonstrates moral excellence or virtue by living the way He now has the potential to live (possessing everything necessary for life and godliness, His precious and magnificent promises, partaker of His divine nature).

Peter uses it as a quality of God and thus as the first quality that we are to add to our faith (2 Pet. 1:3, 5).  This means that as a new Christian, one of the first things you must do is to stop any behavior that is not in line with God’s moral virtues as revealed in Scripture, such as the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, and Paul’s list of the deeds of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21).  To continue doing such things will hinder your growth in godliness. We must focus our minds on moral virtue. (Steve Cole)

But remember, Paul in Ephesians 4:22-24 told us that just putting off behaviors that do not line up with God’s Word and God’s will is not enough.  We must put off old behaviors and put new ones in their place AND we must start a new way of thinking.

The examples that follow Paul’s outline of spiritual transformation in Ephesians 4:25-32 show that the “renewed mind” part means understanding why the putting off of old behavior and the putting on of new behavior is necessary.  We are always helped in changing behavior when we know the “why” behind it.

Finally, the eighth quality that we should focus our hearts and minds upon is praiseworthy things, “if anything is worthy of praise.”

The opposite of this is thinking critical things about others.  Instead of accentuating the positive (the praiseworthy), one accentuates the negative. We often refer to such a person as one who has a critical spirit. 

June Hunt offers this insight:

To look with a “critical eye” is to pay close attention to detail— and this can be most helpful.  But to look with a “critical spirit” means to microscopically focus on faults—and this is only harmful.”  The antidote for a critical spirit is a mindset that looks for that which is worthy of praise.

The Greek word epainos is used sparingly in Scripture, with the basic meaning of “applause.”  It speaks of expressed approval or public recognition.

Adrian Rogers offers this illustration:

I heard of a little boy who went out to see the Grand Canyon, and an old preacher went out to see the Grand Canyon.  The old preacher wrote back to his wife—he said, “Today I’ve seen the handiwork of God.  I’ve seen God as He put colors on His palette, and God as He took His fingers and sculptured a masterpiece.”  And, he went on, in grandiose words, to describe the Grand Canyon.  The little boy wrote back to his mother, and he said, “Guess what, Ma?  Today I spit a mile.”  You can be surrounded by beauty, and not see it.

What do you see in others?  Something to criticize or something to praise?  You might have to look harder, but you will enjoy it more when you find the good and the praiseworthy.