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(based on ideas from Be Joyful, by Warren W. Wiersbe)

Last week's lecture and today's lesson were on the first part of chapter 4 of Philippians which talks about a Joy that defeats Worry. Do you remember last week I questioned Paul saying "How can we Rejoice when we are so bogged down with Worry?" Then we talked about the prescription in chapter 4 for a worry-free mind -- Right Praying, Right Thinking, and Right Living. I'd like to add one more thought to that lesson before we leave it entirely. - How can we have time for worry when we are so busy Rejoicing?? Put that on the back burner and let it simmer.

Now we want to focus on the last part of Philippians 4, verses 10-23. Listen to verses 10 - 12. "I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me; you were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I complain of want, for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want."

Let me repeat the last part of verse 11. "For I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be CONTENT." That's nice that Paul can say that, but do you kind of wish he hadn't? Does this statement make you a little uneasy because now you have to ask yourself if you can say that?

Do you think Eve was a little discontent in a garden of paradise with only one rule? I don't know, but perhaps that is why she fell into Satan's trap so easily. But from early times, at least as early as Solomon's time, man has been asking himself, "What is contentment? Am I content? What determines if I am content?" Everyone wants to find contentment, we just don't agree on HOW to find it.

Is contentment based on material things? Here in Philippians, Paul is talking about contentment concerning material things. Have you thought about contentment lately? Can you say, "God, I can be content in whatever state I am in" or are you more apt to add a minimum requirement and say it like this?

"God, I can be content in whatever state I am in -- as long as it doesn't go below ... this level. Paul says I've learned the secret of facing plenty. Lord, if you want to send plenty to me, I'm sure I can learn that secret, too. On the other hand, I can be content living in a grass hut and drawing water out of a nearby stream - as long as everyone else has to do this, too. But, please, Lord, please don't ask me to live in a grass hut or cardboard box right here in America--in Fort Smith, Arkansas! I don't want to be too incompatible with those around me. All my friends have air-conditioned houses - some are more spacious or more luxurious that others, but we all have basically the same things. If you allow my possessions to be taken away, Lord, that's OK - if everyone else's is taken away, too."
Somehow we tend to think our material contentment is based on what we have compared to what those around us have. We can be satisfied as long as we fit in.

American society has set an extremely high standard of living requirement for us to meet. Since WWII or Sputnik we've been taught to push ourselves to be the best in the world. We've interpreted that to mean the best materially, too. You may have heard missionaries or others who have lived abroad say America is too materialistic. It's TRUE. No wonder the Muslim world hates us. We profess to be a nation of Christians trying to please God, yet our lifestyles say MONEY is our God. Isn't that one of the reasons we have so many two-income families today?

I don't mean to be putting a guilt trip on anyone this morning. I just want to challenge you to think about how much your contentment is based on the material things you have and the material things you have compared to those around you.

Brother Wendell Needham says in his book Salvation Through Christ, "The basis for Christian joy is in Spiritual things, not in material things." The entire book of Ecclesiastes stresses that the search for happiness and satisfaction in earthly pursuits apart from God always ends in vanity of vanities. So why was Paul discussing his contentment with material things? And how could he be content sitting in chains?

Have you noticed how much our children --even some adults-- all want to be wearing the right brand of clothing these days with some little emblem or tag on the outside? These companies want us to pay extravagant amounts of money so we can advertize these brands for them, don't they? They are suppose to make you feel like you "belong." There is suppose to be some kind of satisfaction or contentment in that. I remember the days when companies would pay people to advertise for them. Now it seems to have reversed from our heads all the way down to our Reeboks. These kids are looking for contentment in material things. They want to belong by having the right possessions. We recognize this as a sort of "harmless" (we hope) immaturity that they will someday outgrow. Maybe they won't if they follow some of our examples.

I imagine Paul never owned a Mercedes or BMW chariot or a toga with a little alligator on it. He was in chains in Rome, the city that all roads led to, and everyone with any ambition at all wanted to go there--in STYLE! Paul himself, in the book of Romans, was looking forward to going to Rome in style on his way to Spain. But that's not how it happened. Paul wasn't there in style. Yet we find him content. Why were these chains and lack of style of little importance to him? Because he understood those material things --even the chains-- were only temporary. They will pass away. He understood his citizenship was in a Spiritual Kingdom in a place called Heaven. He had a greater purpose than gaining material possessions and status and, therefore, a greater contentment knowing he was serving his Lord.

Notice Paul says he has LEARNED to be content in any and all circumstances. This didn't just come to him naturally now that he was a Christian. It comes with maturity and understanding that there is a greater purpose in life.

There were some situations in which Paul felt some degree of discontentment. For instance, we find Paul dissatisfied with the majority of the Jewish nation who had not accepted Christianity in the book of Romans. So how could he say he was content? Because he had done all he could for them. He was content with HIS efforts toward them. He realized he could not be responsible for their response. I wanted to point that out to emphasize that you cannot let your personal contentment be influenced by what others do, even in your own family. You might be discontent with THEM, but the only one you have control over is you. Your contentment should be based on how well YOU are working toward your main purpose in life. If you are doing your best to work toward your main purpose in life, then contentment will come to you no matter what you possess or what others do.

What is a Christian's main purpose in life?

  • Ecclesiastes 12:13 "The end of the matter; all has been heard. FEAR GOD, and KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS; for this is the duty of man."
  • II Corinthians 5:9 ". . . for we make it our AIM to PLEASE Him."
  • Ephesians 2:10 says we are created in Christ Jesus for GOOD WORKS.
  • Philippians 3:14, Paul writes, "I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." What is that prize? A home in Heaven. There are probably many scriptures we could point out that tell us what our aim should be, but this basically should be our purpose: to OBEY God, to SERVE Him and PLEASE Him and let Him work through us, and then we can have a permanent contentment, a SECURE MIND in spite of circumstances, people and things. And our prize will be a home in heaven.

    We want to serve and please God and we want to do His good works so we can lead others to Christ and have a home in heaven. But we're just ORDINARY PEOPLE! How can we do that? In verse 13 of Philippians 4, Paul says, "I can do all things in Him who strengthens me." The Christian has all the power he needs to fulfill his main purpose in life. We just need the faith to utilize it.

    In John 15 Jesus teaches this same lesson talking about the vine and the branches. A branch is only good for bearing fruit. In verse 4 we see that the branch cannot bear fruit on its own, but it must draw its life, or its strength and energy, from the vine. Who is the vine? CHRIST. Who are the branches? CHRISTIANS --we are. And just as the branch can do nothing by itself we see in verse 5 that we as Christians can do nothing without God.

    Hebrews 13:5 says, "Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for He has said, 'I WILL NEVER FAIL YOU OR FORSAKE YOU'." That's how we can do all things through Christ. Because He has PROMISED us His strength through Himself - the vine - and he tells us He will never fail us nor forsake us. He and His strength will always be there if we will just PLUG IN TO HIS POWER. Go back and review, if need be, the first lesson we did in September on Promises. We learned that God's promises were assured by divine ability and were UNFAILING. God's strength won't fail us if we'll stop trying to be our own vine and let the strength come from Christ.

    Paul had learned to do that. He had learned to put Paul out of the way and focus his SINGLE MIND on Christ and his main purpose in life. Christ's strength will be there for us, too, if we learn to put ourselves out of the way and get our material desires and earthly status out of the way and focus on our main purpose in life -- To serve and please God and let Him work through us. THEN we'll find we can say, "I have learned in whatever state I am to be content," and "I can do all things in Him who strengthens me" and even "I rejoice!"

    Jeannie Cole

    West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
    Ladies Bible Class, Spring 1988

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