(By Pastor Tim Redfield)
Philippians 4:10-20 – I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. 17 Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. 18 I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
20 To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
As we look at the words of this text, we should also look a little bit at the circumstances Paul was in as he wrote these words. Since Paul talked about being content no matter what kind of circumstance he was in, it is interesting to note that he was sitting in prison. Paul had been put in prison because of his mission work. He had been boldly proclaiming Christ crucified and because of that message he was now sitting in a Roman prison. This was not the imprisonment right before Paul’s death. This was his first Roman imprisonment. At this time he was simply under house arrest. He was able to receive guests and he was able to send out a number of letters to congregations and individual Christians.
We might wonder how a man in prison could say that he is content. That would not be our first response. We would want our freedom. Perhaps we might think that Paul was content because this was only a house arrest and he wasn’t in chains. And yet, Paul would have had the same kind of contentment if he were in chains awaiting a death sentence. Paul had insight that we too can have. Paul had the solution to all of life’s problems. He was certainly tempted to despair because of his circumstances but he remained strong in his faith. As he tells us, he knows the secret of contentment.
Paul wrote in verse 12, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether will fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Paul started the text by expressing his joy over the fact that the Philippian congregation was showing their great concern for him. The Philippians had sent him a gift and Paul was very grateful. Even though Paul gave thanks, he did not want the Philippians to think that he was in need. Paul was content in his present circumstance. As he said, it didn’t matter if he had plenty of food or not enough. It didn’t matter if he had an abundance of possessions or just a little bit, he was content.
Being content with what we have is an important part of what God commands in the 9th and 10th Commandments. The 9th Commandment says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.” The 10th Commandment says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, workers, animals, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Coveting starts in the heart. Coveting starts when people are discontent with the blessings that God has placed in their lives. Think about how easy it is for us to sin by coveting. We look at what other people have and we desire those things.
Think about the list of things that we can covet in the 9th and 10th Commandments. We can covet our neighbor’s house, spouse, workers, animals or anything that belongs to our neighbor. We might look at our neighbor’s house and become jealous because it seems to be nicer than ours. We might look at our neighbor’s spouse and compare them to our spouse. We unfairly look at the qualities that seem to be an improvement over our spouse. We could think that our neighbor’s workers are harder working than ours. We perhaps view their animals as better than ours. We become jealous of the possessions that others have – perhaps because it is more expensive than what we have.
The reason these sins of coveting are so serious is because they are ways of telling God that we don’t appreciate the blessings that he has given us. We want to have an attitude that fully appreciates everything that God has done for us. Examine your hearts. Have you been guilty of coveting? Have you looked at your neighbors possessions and harbored discontent in your heart? We have certainly fallen into sins of coveting and discontentment. Paul had learned the secret of being content no matter what. We too have this secret.
Paul reminds us where this contentment comes from. Paul said in verse 19, “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Paul understood that God would meet all of his needs. He knew that he would have the necessities for this life. We also will be well provided for. We will have food, shelter, clothing, and the other things that we need to survive in this world. All these needs are met “according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” The necessities of this life are not nearly as important as our spiritual needs. We have been given incredibly glorious riches for our soul through the work of Christ.
Jesus forgave all of our sins of discontentment as he lived perfectly as our substitute. He faced every temptation that we have faced and unlike us, he perfectly obeyed the law. Hebrews 4:15 reminds us, “We have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.” Jesus was completely content for all our times of discontent. Jesus never was jealous of what his neighbor had. Jesus did not covet. Having perfectly obeyed the law in our place, Jesus then went to the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. He died for our sins. Jesus provided for our greatest need by forgiving all of our sins. Since he has forgiven us and promised us eternal life, we trust that he will take care of all our other needs.
Paul could be content no matter what the circumstances because he understood the grace of God. God shows us that he has met all our needs – most importantly he forgave us because of Jesus. Now we are motivated to give him the glory forever and ever.
Paul’s contentment leads him to see that God’s grace is the motivation behind everything he does. In verse 13 he writes, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Because Paul knows about the certainty of his salvation in Christ, he is empowered to live for God. Christ’s forgiveness gives him the strength to trust that God is working for his good even during his imprisonment. His guaranteed eternal life gave him the strength to proclaim God’s Word even though he was persecuted repeatedly. Christ had worked faith in Paul’s heart and that faith gave Paul the strength to be content no matter how terrible things were in this life.
Just like Paul, we too can do everything through our Lord Jesus Christ who gives us strength. Jesus gives us strength every time the Spirit works in our hearts through the Means of Grace. Faith is created through the waters of baptism and through the hearing of the Word. Faith continues to grow through the gospel message in the Scriptures and in the Lord’s Supper. We are given the forgiveness of sins over and over because it is entirely contrary to the works righteous attitude of our sinful nature. The gospel message strengthens us in our faith and helps us to do everything from a heart of faith. We are strengthened so that all our actions are performed out of thankfulness. We serve God and obey his commands because we want to do so.
Paul pointed out the generosity of the Philippians. The Philippian congregation had been strengthened in their faith so that they realized the importance of supporting Paul in his ministry. They sent aid to Paul again and again. Paul points out that he is commending them for their fruits of faith. He is not just speaking kind words to them so that they give him more gifts. Rather, he wants them to know that he appreciates them and he can see the Holy Spirit producing good deeds in their hearts.
We ought to follow Paul’s example. We are thankful for our fellow Christians who generously give to the work of the Lord. We are thankful for those who give their time and energy toward the ministry of our congregation. I’m not just talking about those who preach and teach. We also give thanks for those who make our building and property beautiful. We give thanks for all those who donate generously to our church and synod. We are grateful for all the wonderful cooks who provide generously any time we have a potluck. We could give many examples. Just like Paul, we don’t just say these things because we want more gifts. Rather we are thankful that the Holy Spirit continues to work fruits of faith in his people.
We can be truly content because of the forgiveness and eternal life that we have in Christ. Verse 20 says, “To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever.” We praise God now on earth and we will praise him forever in heaven. As we look at all our blessings, we certainly remember our greatest blessing. Jesus was our perfect substitute. He obeyed the law in our place and died on the cross in our place. He did everything for us and he makes us completely certain of our eternal home. Jesus’ work to save us leads us to always praise our God. We give God the glory that he deserves and we will glorify him for all eternity.