Preached in Upton 11/2/18 Welland 18/2/18 Hanley Castle 22.4.18
10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were 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 all this through him who gives me strength.
Let me tell you about a friend of mine, and there was just something about him. He had a peace, a confidence about his place in the world that enabled him to handle all the tough times that came his way.
And he really had been through the mill. About ten years ago, his wife died suddenly, and to make matters worse, his own health isn’t great. which effectively ended his working life –So anyway, you’d think that health problems, and struggles at home, and the loss of work would have got him down. And to be fair like any of us he’s had his up and down moments – but as I said, there’s something about him, an underlying joy and contentment, all of which comes from his faith in Jesus Christ.
Our reading from St Paul’s letter to the Philippians spoke of that contentment: in v11,
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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.”
Now Paul writes that from a Roman dungeon. We’d call him a prisoner of conscience now, as he awaits sentencing from the emperor. He’s isolated, lonely, worried about the growth of the churches he’d established all through modern-day Turkey and Greece, and yet he claims to be content. How can that possibly be the case? I mean he lacks everything the modern world tells us brings contentment. The Daily Telegraph did a survey recently listing the things people need for contentment. Apparently.
- 65% experience contentment through getting the housework done.
- 73% of people find alcohol is the way to contentment.
- 6% think it’s birdwatching. They’ve obviously never met a Twitcher.
- 9% think dancing is a route to contentment.
- 14% think its sex.
But Paul is writing from a Roman dungeon, where dancing and birdwatching and the other things on that list, just weren’t on the extra-curricular programme. And yet he’s content. Happy. Joyful. How can that possibly be? What’s the secret of contentment that Paul– and my friend – found?
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. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Phil.4:12)
Through him who gives me strength. The secret to contentment isn’t a hobby or an activity, it’s relationship with Jesus Christ. And the measure to which you have that is the measure to which you can cope with any circumstance. The more of Jesus we have in our life, the more hardship we can cope with.
And when you look at the sort of life Paul experienced, the hardships and so on, you realise just how much Jesus can help us cope with. Here’s how he describes his life as an early Christian missionary:
I have been in prison …, I have been whipped, and I have been near death [several times]. Five times I was given the thirty-nine lashes by the Jews; three times I was whipped by the Romans; and once I was stoned. I have been in three shipwrecks, and once I spent twenty-four hours in the water.
In my many travels I have been in danger from floods and from robbers, in danger from my own people and from Gentiles; there have been dangers in the cities, dangers in the wilds, dangers on the high seas, and dangers from false friends.
There has been work and toil; often I have gone without sleep; I have been hungry and thirsty; I have often been without enough food, shelter, or clothing. And not to mention other things, every day I am under the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”(2Cor.11:23-28)
And the key to enduring all that is his personal relationship with Jesus.
I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Now before we think how we can discover that contentment for ourselves today, let me say what it isn’t promising.
You see you’ll hear some Christians saying that “I can do all things through Christ” – means they can do absolutely anything they want – you know, like one of those American schoolkids high on self-esteem and ambition, “One day I’m gonna’ be president” and so on.
Now they might well one day be President, best of luck to them, but this verse isn’t about our ambitions for ourselves. It’s about God’s ambitions for us. It’s about the things he’s rescued us for,the purpose he’s set out for our life.It’s a promise that as you pursue God’s purposes for your life,you’ll find a contentment and peace that can endure any hardship. Or to put it another way – God will give us everything we need to do the things he wants us to do. And all starts with relationship with Jesus. And if we haven’t go that – and we’ll know we haven’t – then we’ll never know the contentment he offers.
I remember from my own Christian journey the day the penny dropped andI realised that there’s a difference between knowing about God, and knowing God. Its a bit like those d-list celebrities that appear on Love Island or Big Brother, we could look them up on the internet and find out all the intimate details of their lives, if we really wanted to, but no matter how much we know about them, we don’t know them, personally. And it was the same with me and God. I knew little bits about him, but I didn’t know him. We simply hadn’t been introduced.
And then I heard someone talking about how we could be introduced, how the barriers I’d put up to keep him out of my life could be taken down, and I just knew I had to do something about it, and it changed my life forever. It was like starting life over again. But this time for a reason bigger than myself. But to make that fresh start with God – I had to make some changes in my life, get rid of some of the distractions, say sorry to God for them. And it’s an ongoing process. All Christians are a work in progress. And the more opportunity I give Jesus to work in me, the more progress I make. Jesus put it like this,
Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
That’s why once you’ve begun that relationship with Jesus, you’ve got to
i) develop the relationship
It’s like any relationship – when you invest time into it – it prospers. So if we want to know that contentment Paul is talking about, we’ve got to make time to pray,make time to say thank-you, and make to sit silently before God listening to what God he has to say to us,
ii) invest time in the Bible
The most reliable way we’ll hear what God has to say to us is through the Bible. Why not set yourself a challenge for Lent- to dip into it every day. And ask God to speak to you – you’ll be surprised what you hear him say!
iii) Put it into practice.
And don’t just be readers, be doers of what you read. Jesus’ brother James wrote that if we want to know God’s blessing in our life, don’t just read the Bible, put what you read into practice! (James 1:25) I love the way the King James translation puts it,
be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only.”
iv) don’t do all this alone.
Make a priority out of church. It can be a bit cold and hard work here in the winter – but meeting your brothers and sisters in Christ is good for you – and it’s good for them too. We can spur one another on, and we can do something together that really warms God’s heart…We can…
v) worship together
There’s something powerful about us coming together to worship God in song. Maybe it’s because as we sing God’s praises,some of those British inhibitions that we have get set aside and we can begin to feel the love of God more clearly. And the more we experience that love of God the more we’ll find ourselves equipped to face any and every circumstance in our lives. And the more we let God equip us, the better it gets.
We sometimes talk about vicious circles in life, well this is a virtuous circle. The more I let God into my life, the more he transforms my life, and the more I want to let him into my life to transform the rest of it. A virtuous circle leading to contentment in any and every circumstance.I’m going to stop there…in a moment I’m gonna’ just invite you to pray with me and we’re going to invite God to give us that peace and contentment he promises.