Three words could characterize our present age: Grasping. Going. Groaning. People everywhere are attempting to get hold of something illusive that will bring an inner peace, and so they are grasping for this and grasping for that. Others are going here and there trying to escape and get to some better situation or find relief in relaxation. Still others know better and in this disillusionment they are just groaning.
However, a Christian can be growing and glowing. It is sure that a believer in Christ who knows deep in his heart an inner contentment and rest can really know that he doesn’t have to escape difficulties in order to find peace and contentment in his Lord.
I have something unusual and special with me today: I brought a letter which an elderly man wrote while he was in jail. This fellow wrote this and it is open for us to read. I refer to the book of Philippians. This fellow tells a story that has a secret in it. This particular secret will tell you how you can have contentment and a quiet in your heart — a quiet calm that will go throughout the year and it won’t have to depend upon having smooth water and blue skies. Even in storms and difficulties, you may know an unruffled type of contentment and deep inner peace and quiet.
This secret is found in the letter of Philippians. The Apostle wrote this letter for two reasons: 1) He wanted to say “thank you” to them because (as you will observe in 4:18) Epaphroditus had come from Philippi to Rome where Paul was in prison and brought him a loving gift which really lifted his heart and met some of his needs.
In addition, he not only wanted to write to thank them for that but he wanted to encourage their warm fellowship not to allow those hair-line cracks to begin to develop and to fracture one from another. He knew what the devil was going to do. The devil could not pollute them any other way, so he would try to have them have a difference of opinion and fracture the one from the other.
Satan might stop a man like the Apostle Paul from traveling about, but he could not stop him from triumphing in Jesus Christ. Because the Apostle had this secret, he could not be ruffled or ruined. In 4:11, the last word is that word “content.” In all of the New Testament this is the only place this exact word occurs. It means “self-sufficiency.” It has the idea that a person is at rest, no matter what is going on outside. He doesn’t have to be propped up. He is able and sufficient for whatever comes upon him. Therefore, he is at peace because he knows he is “all set.” This self-sufficiency is not that type of crusty independence that resists help from anybody else, feeling able to “go it alone.” The Apostle Paul knew where his strength was and it wasn’t that kind of strength. He had received this gift from them and that encouraged him.
There is a related word that comes from the same root In II Corinthians 9:8 where he writes that God has made so much grace abound toward him that he had all-sufficiency in all things. All-sufficiency is the root for this word “content,” knowing that what I have and what God has made me is sufficient. I am content. In I Timothy 6:6 –“Godliness with contentment is great gain.” There again is the related word, the cousin to this word “content” which
is here in our text. These are strange words coming out of a prison. Here is a man chained to a Roman soldier, in prison, on trial for his life, and he says (4:18) I have everything I need, I am abounding, I am full. Everything I need! How could a man feel that way who had had everything taken from him and he was chained “to boot.” He tells us that he learned something the hard way (v. 11). “I have learned in whatever state I am therewith to be content. (v. 12) “I know both how to be abased, how to be knocked down. I know how to abound, how to be lifted up, and I don’t get proud and heady and trip over my own feet. Or, if the going is really tough, (he says in the last part of the verse) when I’m hungry and suffering need, I’m just full and overflowing. If I look at my cup, if there is nothing or if my cup overflows — either way I’m content.
In the middle of v.12 another hint: “I am instructed”(KJ) or you will see the word “secret” (NAS) “I’ve learned a secret, I have been initiated (literal meaning). I have been introduced by experience into a secret and I want to share it with you. I have learned something and it is how to keep peace, how to go on with God, how to so trust God that you are free from self-care so that you can care for others and it will overflow to them.” Most of us exhaust ourselves in self-pity. For every pound of actual burden, that comes on a person, they will usually put two more pounds of self-pity. For every bit of effort you use to carry your load, you will use twice as much, if you are an average person, if you have self-pity and you become conscious of it. It wasn’t that way with Paul. He didn’t waste his energy thinking in self-pity. He said, in effect, “I have everything I need.” And he said, “I know God is going to take me through.”
A Christian can have this unruffled contentment if he learns God’s two methods for bringing him through the deep waters. When you go through this year, there will be times for every person to pass through difficulties. For some, the water will be very dark, stormy, and almost overcoming. But God has two methods of bringing you through that. If you see that and understand in advance and learn as Paul learned, then you can have contentment through it all.
What are these two methods? 1) God’s method of giving strength from Christ to match the need. (v. 13) “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” This indicates that there is need that has to be met, but it is the presence of the strength of Christ to meet that need, whatever it is. You will note that the need in v. 11 is met through Paul’s learning that his state changed to be content.
When funds did not come in, he refused help from the Corinthians because he felt that they would get the feeling that he was there for what he could get out of them. And, he wouldn’t take that.
In Acts as Paul kindled a fire, you learn something about him. They were shipwrecked and barely made it with their lives. They had been pounded and driven for a couple of weeks in the high seas until the ship was utterly destroyed but everyone of them survived and reached an island.
And there in the cold of winter, the Apostle Paul had sense enough not to just sit there and pray “0 God will provide somehow.” He got up, God strengthened him and he was the only one who got the sticks together for a fire and then a snake came out and bit him, meanwhile, which he shook off in the fire without any harm coming to him (which dazzled everybody) as they watched that. “I can do all things through Christ”—–
He built the fire and got them all warm. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” After two weeks of being pounded and going without food, he built the fire, warmed and encouraged the whole bunch to get moving. God will sometimes strengthen us that way — to get up and do the thing ourselves. You may think I can’t go any farther. He will help you to go on farther.
II Timothy 1:15 — Paul is writing his last letter in the New Testament. He is an older man, in prison, and he says “This you know, that all those in Asia have turned away from me… ” Imagine that! All the human support is taken away and he is left alone, having great privation but he said, God is going to help me somehow.
II Timothy 4:6 — He says, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand.” “It’s nearing my death hour,” and he says, “I am ready.”
II Tim. 4:16 – “I am going up for hearing again; but at my first hearing, I stood there but no man stood with me, but all men forsook me. I pray God it may not be laid to their charge.” This man was without any visible means of support and here is where this contentment would come in – where this sufficiency God would give him. There was nothing he could do to stand up for himself. His hands couldn’t do anything now. He is a prisoner and yet God strengthened him just the same.
II Tim. 4:17 – “Notwithstanding, the Lord stood with me and strengthened me. That by me the preaching might be fully known and all the gentiles might hear, and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion and the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom, to whom be glory for ever and ever, amen.” Do you expect, if you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, to be able to get all the way through? The Lord Jesus said, “My sheep follow me and I give them life.”
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (4:6) Paul fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord the righteous judge shall give me at that day, and not to me only but to all them that love His appearing.” The apostle, then, could be strengthened by Christ to match the need. Either, the Lord enabling him to get up, to gain, and get for himself or simply to go without. The Lord would strengthen him and hold him anyway. He’ll do that for you. Now there was a man in Philippi, who when he read this letter, I believe his eyes filled with tears. For he had seen the apostle actually act that way in his own experience. I am referring to the jailer who once beat the apostle. This jailer laid many stripes on the apostle Paul. This was when Paul first came into Europe, his first visit, and he was convicted and thrown into prison. The jailer beat him and put him into the inner dungeon and there the apostle with Silas began with bleeding back to praise God in the dark of the midnight hour. And then, suddenly God brought up the bass good and loud and shook the whole place ~ a great earthquake.
And the jailer heard Paul singing, the jailer knew he had a secret, and when Paul wrote this letter from Rome in another prison, he is still saying, “I have everything I need. I’m content in the Lord.” That jailer knew and he must have wept, “That man, that man has an unbeatable secret!”
II Tim 1:21: “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” You can’t stop a man like that! As long as I am alive, I can show Christ and His sufficiency. “If l die, it’s only gain.” And that is the very pattern that Jesus lived out as he shows it in the second chapter. That is why all through this epistle the apostle keeps saying, “Rejoice and again I say rejoice. Show people your contented, unruffled condition.”
The jailer saw that. I think of the old-timer who wrote these words. He said, “It is wrong to murmur at the allotment of Providence.” Whatever God puts on the platter of Providence and serves to you, you should reach out and take with confidence, and rejoice in what God has given you. You should look forward with confidence to what is ahead of you. Nothing evil will befall one of God’s children. Though he walk through the valley of the shadow of death, God will put a light there at the other end. It may be dark at the beginning, but “the path of the just is as a shining light, that shines more and more unto the perfect day.” The apostle Paul said, “I have learned, I have been initiated, an extreme thing–step by step and degree by degree–and I have learned. You see there are lessons that are not accomplished by just being converted. Not even just by growing, just getting older as a Christian. There are some things that you go through by hard experience. You are initiated in them and you learn this contentment through troubled waters. Look at II Corinthians 11:23 (this is a place where Paul opens his heart–a real autobiography).
Very personally, Paul speaks of his abundant labors, beatings he had above measure, often thrown into prison, often facing death, (v. 24) five times of the Jews received 40 stripes, save one.” I was beaten five times officially by the Jews, thrice I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned (they figured he was dead that time), three times shipwrecked, a night and a day out at sea drifting, in journeys often in perils of water and robbers, in perils by my own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, perils in the city and in the wilderness, in the sea, among false brethren, in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often and in hunger and thirst and fastings and cold and nakedness and exposure. Besides those things that are without, that which comes upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Can you imagine that? This man said “I learned and I am content. I have what I need, in Christ. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
That kind of contentment says a lot for the God of the heart. Other people look at that and get an idea of how sufficient this God is. How good a shepherd he is. But a self-pitying, complaining heart speaks against God. Not only that, it is harmful to you as well because “a merry heart rejoicing in the Lord has a continual feast.” (Proverbs 15: 15) I said earlier that we need to learn both God’s methods of bringing us through these times of deep trial.
The strength of Christ to match the need, and more briefly I’ll discuss how God supplies from Christ through others to meet the need. God will actually give you a supply through others. Now you see, what would happen if Paul didn’t have enough to eat and when he actually had to go through winter and he didn’t have enough clothing, not even a coat. Would God say, “Just pray harder and you won’t shiver so much.” I don’t think that exactly is the way God always works. He brought something to him from over there. The cycle is completed. Sometimes God strengthened Paul to get up and gain it or to go without it. But sometimes He will supply the need practically. Definitely, He will supply it on the horizontal from another friend. God will do that for you. It may be that you will be surprised that the word of real deep encouragement you will need, and you have been praying about, is likely to come to you by your opening your heart to somebody else. You need to go and talk to some, make yourself available for the horizontal input God can give you. If you become a crusty, independent person, and you escape that involvement with other people then you are going to be the loser. God can not reach you and touch you if you are like that.
The Apostle Paul knew how to get along when he had to go it alone, but his heart was open and he said, “I thank you for sending Epaphroditus. God bless you for that. Now I am full and I praise God …. ” and then he began singing in another prison. That was good. The same God that meets the needs either way. Either of these methods he chooses.
Paul says I have learned to go it alone, but notwithstanding, you’ve done well that you communicate (that word is from the word “communion”) tonight we’re going to have a communion service. This is where we communicate, commune with each other and with God. It means participate, communicate, commune, fellowship – are all from the same word, in the Bible.
Paul says there is the communion of joy – – this exchange with believers, when I am on the receiving end — when my heart is broken and when I am burdened, 0 how you have lifted me and I had these material needs and you have met them.” And he just sat back there and praised God as he was chained to that soldier. He wrote it right down. I thank God he kept that letter, right out of the prison, right out of the trial. “You’ve helped me and I thank you for it.”
II Timothy 4:15 – And you know and remember when I left Macedonia, you may not have realized, but you are the only ones who sent me off with a gift when I went out from you and then I arrived there in Thessalonica (v.16) and ever so often your gifts kept coming. I lived right from your hand although you did not know it then.” That must have encouraged them. There are people reading this who are just about to go under. The water level is high. Speak that word to them. Notice other people. Hear their inner spirit. Speak the Word in Season. How good it is! Pray for each other and give to one another that Scripture verse, write that note. People distant from here have been encouraged by a letter.
The apostle is encouraging them. They met his need so he took time to write 4 chapters—what a letter! Do the thing you need to do, meet other people’s needs. Take time for other people, too.
As Epaphrodites came, Paul had his need meet by this that was sent from them. Notice what God did in return (v. 19), God in return met their need. “But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” It is all from God.
I I Corinthians 9 — Paul says it is really this way. The farmer goes out to sow, and in the old days when he could not order things from the seed company, what did he want out of the ground? He had to have not only produce to meet his needs, but he wanted also some seed so that he could in turn keep on planting. This is the cycle God completes and the apostle says God is going to do that for you. He is going to supply seed for you so that you can keep right on helping other people.
II Timothy 1:16 — As the apostle was writing his last epistle, facing possible death at any time, he said “everyone turned away from me in all Asia.” There was comfort sent to him. A man Onesiphorus – Paul says, “The Lord have mercy on the house, the family of Onesiphorus for he oft refreshed me, was not ashamed of my chains, and when he was in Rome he sought me out very diligently and found me. The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that great day of judgement. And how many things he ministered to me at Ephesus you know very well. Timothy, remember that fellow Onesiphorus? That is the man who kept lifting me up back in Ephesus when I was in great need; and do you know here in Rome as I am waiting to die, an old man, I’m ready to go, that man showed up in Rome and found me and at great risk identified himself with me. I’m a notable prisoner in this place and he came and took my place and stood with me and encouraged me. May God bless that man.” And God will! God would keep meeting Onesiphorus’s needs so that he could keep on meeting other people’s needs. Do you want you heart blessed? Then you bless somebody else’s heart and God will give you seed to keep on planting that encouragement in other lives.
If you pinch your pennies, you are shutting off the supply. Give, and it will be given to you full measure, running over. That is what the apostle means when he says, “You bless me so I send you back this word of encouragement (Philippians 4:19) and God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” And then he says in addition, (v. 10) “I rejoice, I’m happy, I’m offering praise now to God.” Now, if I were going to complete that wonderful picture, I would fill it out this way: I’d picture God there and write the words “God supplies all needs” and I’d picture this man standing representing you and me or the apostle with a need – hands open before God who supplies the need – I’d picture God supplying all that need in one of two ways: giving the strength to match the
need expecting the apostle to get up and do for himself or expecting Him to give him the enablement to do without. When he was weak, then he would be strong. God would get him through anyway. Philippians 4:13.
Or, I would see God meeting it in another way: by actually providing, giving the supply through another person, all from Jesus Christ just the same. Meeting that need through that other person. Then I would see this other person
being supplied again and again through God so that he would keep on giving, keep on planning, and given fruit. v. 17 – Paul says, “I want to see this cycle keep going – not so that I will just get everything I need, but so that it will be fruit to your account in eternity.
Verse 19: “God will supply all you need.” He will do that, He will supply to you. At the end of verse 10: Paul’s joy and thanksgiving go back up to God from Paul’s heart. What a completed picture. He is happy and rejoicing though he had these needs. The people are gaining fruit and having their needs met more and more as they keep giving to body life. This is what it is to be a living family – built in together in the Lord Jesus Christ. You can do all that you have to do – everything God expects of you – you can do it through Jesus Christ. We don’t have to wince and fear. You can bear any trial, you can perform any duty, you can endure whatever comes upon you and you can even profit from all the relationships that tear you and you can even successfully pray for your enemies and love those who would oppress you in the Lord. No need to go down and shrink from a trial – no need to yield to any temptation. It shall not overcome, if you rely on the faithful God. You don’t have to dread what is ahead, but you do need to learn these lessons. There are two key phrases: verse 13 – THROUGH CHRIST THIS STRENGTH; verse 19 — BY CHRIST JESUS THIS SUPPLY. It’s yours but you need to enter into a new relationship with Christ. Are you saved? If you will believe in the Lord Jesus Christ who died and rose again, how will God not by Him freely give you all things? So that you can say, “I am content.” It will be a contentment that will last all year.
Let’s pray. Our Father, help us to be weaned from care and self-concern and to rely upon our God. I pray this in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who ever lives to make intercession for us and to pour out His strength to match our need. Amen.