Philippians 4:10-13 March 4, 2018
The last verse of our passage today, Philippians 4:13, is one of the best known verses in the entire Bible, which I’m sure is the result of its promotion by so many professional athletes.
Evander Holyfield had it on the waistband of his boxing shorts. Tim Tebow had it on his eye black. Fighter Jon Jones has it tattooed on his chest. And Steph Curry has it printed on his shoes.
This verse also, probably for the same reasons, is one of the most misunderstood verses in the entire Bible. But Lord willing, toward the end of this sermon, we’ll get it right together.
Paul basically says three things in vv10-13. Here they are: 1) Paul is grateful for the Philippian’s generosity (v10), 2) Paul is not expecting more Philippian generosity (v11), and 3) Paul has learned the secret of contentment. (v12-13)
Those are the three things Paul says in this passage, and here is how Paul relates those three things to one another. I’ll just add a couple words: Paul is grateful for the Philippian’s generosity, (But) Paul is not expecting more Philippian generosity, (Because) Paul has learned the secret of contentment.
Are you content today? Content in your life? Content in your home? Content in your job? Content in your marriage? Content in your family? Content in your church? Content with your circumstances? Content in your suffering? Content in your sickness?
Contentment is a state of mind that many of us find very elusive, and so let’s look to God’s Word this morning and see if, by his grace, we can discover, along with Paul, the secret of contentment.
But before I preach this sermon, we should pray together. Please bow your heads with me.
Please open your Bibles to Philippians 4, which, if you’re using one of our church Bibles, you’ll find on page 637. Let me read the text in its entirety one more time before we begin. Philippians 4:10-13. This is the Word of God:
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. Amen.
- Paul is grateful for the Philippian’s generosity
Paul is grateful for the Philippian’s generosity. That is the first thing Paul says in this passage, and we find it in Verse 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’s been blessed by this church. When others stopped praying, they kept praying. When others stopped sending people to encourage him, they kept sending. When others stopped supporting him with finances and practical help, they kept supporting. Philippians 4:18 “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.”
Paul expressed this gratitude in the first few sentences of this letter, in 1vv3-5, “I thank my God ….. 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all …. 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”
They are still partnering with Paul, and he’s grateful. But now that he says that, Paul wants to make sure there isn’t a misunderstanding. This brings us to the second thing Paul says…
- Paul is not expecting more Philippian generosity
Paul is grateful for the Philippian’s generosity, but he’s not expecting more of it. He’s not saying “Thank you for sending me some money. Could you please send me some more.” Here’s a quote from Don Carson on this verse: “Some people voice their thanks in such a way that it is hard to avoid the inference that they are hoping for another gift. Perhaps they grovel; perhaps there is nothing tangible in their thanks that you can put your finger on, but you feel slightly manipulated anyway. Once in a while missionary prayer letters sound this way; very often the thank-you letters from non-profit organizations sound this way.” [i]
Have you ever received a letter of gratitude like that? “If it wasn’t for your gift, we wouldn’t be able to continue as an organization.” Or “If it wasn’t for your gift, this village would not have fresh water.”
That’s not what Paul is doing here. He’s not trying to guilt the Philippians into more gifts. This is why he says in verse 11: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”
Paul is saying – “I appreciate your gifts. I’m grateful for your gifts. But I want you to remember, whether or not you send more support, I’m good. I’m okay. And I’m okay, (he says at the end of verse 11), because “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” Which leads to our third point this morning.
- Paul has learned the secret of contentment
Here, again, is a summary of what Paul is saying in vv10-13: Paul is grateful for the Philippian’s generosity, but he does not expect more of it. In fact, he doesn’t need more of it because he’s content. And Paul is content because he has learned to be content. In fact, he says, he has learned “the secret of contentment.”
He says all that, (and more), in verses 11-13: 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.”
This is where I’d like to spend the rest of our time together, which will be easy, because Paul packs these verses with truth. We could spend weeks thinking about this text. In fact, Thomas Watson, in the 17th century, wrote an entire book, called The Art of Divine Contentment, which is a 200 page exposition of just verse 11.
Paul says, at least, four things here regarding contentment. Here they are, and then we’ll think about them one at a time.
- Contentment is commanded.
- Contentment is learned.
- Contentment is not helped by favorable circumstances.
- The secret of contentment is… knowing Christ.
- Contentment is commanded.
God wants his people to be content. This is why Paul says what he says here – to encourage contentment in the Philippians, and to encourage contentment in you. He is commending himself as an example to them, as he has done throughout the entire letter. Verse 11: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”
And because Paul is an example, from God, set before us, we also must be content.
Other verses tell us the same thing, not the least being Hebrews 13:5 – Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have,…
And 2 Corinthians 12:10 says “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities…
And finally, listen to 1 Timothy 6:6-8 – But godliness with contentment is great gain, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.
The Greek word used for content here means self-sufficient or independence. Biblically speaking, if someone is content, there is an abiding peace and happiness that is not dependent on people or circumstances.
And that contentment; that state of mind; that abiding peace and happiness that is not dependent on circumstances, is commanded by God.
- Contentment is learned.
Paul says that twice. In v11 and in v12: 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.
Here’s what this means – contentment does not come naturally for us. Not even as Christians. It’s not as if you are saved by God and then made content. It takes time. And you must be committed to your growth in it. You must learn contentment.
Aren’t you encouraged to read that even Paul had to learn contentment?!
Have you ever felt guilty for feeling discontent? Here you are, a Christian, saved by God, adopted into his family, blessed by him, provided for, and yet your discontent with something – and you think “What’s wrong with me? How can I be discontent?”
It doesn’t come naturally. It is elusive. It is as elusive today as it was in 17th century when Jeremiah Burroughs titled his classic work The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. We can’t preach a sermon called “Five Steps to Contentment.” It’s a battle to be content. Sometimes the battles are momentary and sometimes they are abiding. It must be learned.
- Contentment is not helped by favorable circumstances.
That’s the lie isn’t it? If this situation were different, I would be content. “Once I have this, I’ll be content.” “When this changes, I’ll be content.” “If only I had that, I’d be content.” Fill in the blank. What is it for you?
Listen to verse 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.
Do you hear what Paul is saying? He had to learn to be content when he was “brought low” and when he “abounded.” He had to learn how to be content in the face of “hunger” and in the face of “abundance.” He had to learn to be content “in any and every circumstance.”
In other words – abundance did not bring contentment; abounding did not bring contentment. Paul had to learn to be content in poverty AND IN plenty. Riches are not the way to contentment. Possessions are not the way to contentment. Favorable circumstances are not the way to contentment.
Paul is telling us that his circumstances, when it comes to contentment, don’t matter. They do not add to, or take away, from his contentment.
I think this is why Paul uses the word “secret” or “mystery” here when talking about contentment. You don’t get it the way you think you’d get it. As a Christian, you have to pursue it in ways contrary to the ways around you. It won’t be achieved simply by getting out of whatever it is that is making you discontent.
Abundance is not the way. Hunger is not the way. “I’ll be satisfied if I have more stuff!” No. “I’ll be satisfied if I get rid of all this stuff!” No. It’s deeper than that. It’s more mysterious than that. Contentment is not helped by favorable circumstances. Contentment is not helped by manipulating your circumstances.
Okay, so what’s the secret Paul? How do we learn this divine art of contentment?
Paul gives the secret in verse 13. Let me read it, in context, with v12: “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. [and now here’s the secret} 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Let me say a few things that Philippians 4:13 doesn’t mean. When Paul says he [and we] can do “all things” through Christ, he doesn’t mean “pummel Mike Tyson.” He doesn’t mean “score a touchdown.” He doesn’t mean “become league MVP.” He doesn’t mean “do anything you set your mind to.” He doesn’t mean “ace a test you didn’t study for.”
No. When Paul says he can do “all things” through Christ, he is saying he can be content no matter where God has him. The “all things” is looking back to the “in any and every circumstance” of verse 12. Anywhere God puts him, he can be content. Anything God has him do, he can be content. Anything God brings his way, he can be content. Plenty? Poverty? Abundance? Need? He can do all things through Christ.
- The secret of contentment is knowing Christ.
William Barcley, in his book The Secret of Contentment, says “The contented Christian is the one who knows Christ but who has a restless pursuit to know him more.” Jeremiah Burroughs said the same thing in his book The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment: “The contented Christian is the most contented man in the world, and yet the most unsatisfied man in the world [because he wants to know more of Christ].”
Listen to Paul’s discontentment in 3:12-14 – Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Paul wants to know Christ, and it’s through knowing Christ and his strength, he can do all things.
Paul knows Christ and presses on to know him more. When we know Christ and are pressing on to know him more, we rest in his providence and provision.
Tim Tebow actually gets it right. Good for Tim Tebow. I really like Tim Tebow. In a 2009 interview with BP Sports, he said: “A lot of people know Philippians 4:13 — ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ — but a lot of people don’t interpret that verse the right way. Most people think it means I can do anything … on the football field, or I can make a lot of money. But that’s not exactly what it’s talking about there. It’s [saying] I can be content with anything. When you’re a Christian, you can [be content] because God has put you where you are. That’s really a different view…. I know that I have Christ in me, so I can do whatever He wants me to do, and that’s how I approach everything.”
Everything that comes your way, everything that threatens your joy, that threatens your contentment – have you grasped that all those things are from the hand of God, and they are for your good. Everything that happens to you and around you is in accordance with God’s providence, which is the unfolding of his will and plan.
Pleasure and pain from God; all circumstnaces from God; condition ordained by God.
Romans 8:28 (Psalm 115:3)
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Okay, in conclusion, are you content? If so, is your contentment in Christ?
[i] D. A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996), 118.