CONTENT WITH CHRIST Philippians 4
“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Phil. 4:11).When you have it all, more means little.
Paul exhorted his friends (4:1–9), put their gift to him in unique perspective (vv. 10–20), and added final greetings (vv. 21–23).
Understanding the Text
“Therefore . . . stand firm in the Lord” Phil. 4:1. Most connect this exhortation with the teaching in chapter 3. The reason is the “therefore.” As the old preacher observed, “Whenever you see a ‘therefore,’ you gotta look back to see what it’s there for.” What is this “therefore” there for? Paul had just explained the futility of trying to relate to God through works, and reminded the Philippians of the resurrection power available to those who rely completely on Christ, and who “press on toward the goal” Christ sets for His own. In view of the supernatural character of the Christian life, believers are to “stand firm in the Lord,” and resist every effort to shift the focus of their faith from Jesus Himself. The verse contains another of those 14 occurrences of “joy” or “rejoice” found in Philippians. Here Paul called the Philippians “my joy and crown.” In this he reflected a theme found in 3 John 4: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” When you and I stand firm in the Lord we do give our leaders joy. More important, we give God Himself joy, for we fulfill His purposes for us. “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche” Phil. 4:2–3. Paul knew the hurt caused by misunderstandings and sharp disagreement. His own stubbornness had caused a break with his dear friend Barnabas (Acts 15:36–41). Paul didn’t condemn these women who for some reason found themselves at odds. He instead pleaded, “Help these women.” There’s a vital lesson here. In Philippians 2 Paul described the attitude of humility which alone is capable of melding believers together (2:1–4). Paul might very well have bluntly accused each of these women of abandoning this attitude, and bluntly demanded they get right with God and then get right with each other. But Paul did not! Instead he was sensitive, caring, and—please note, respectful! He pleaded, not ordered. He asked others in Philippi to help, not demand or discipline. And he showed respect for these two women by praising them for contending “at my side” for the Gospel. He carefully numbered them along with the “rest of my fellow workers.” We make a great mistake if in trying to cure we condemn, or in trying to help we disparage. Belittle a person whom you hope to help respond positively, and you’re almost sure to harden him or her in his position. But appeal with respect, as Paul did, to the better self others have displayed, and you free others to make right choices. Really, having faith in God’s people to do the right thing is having faith in God. As Paul has said, “It is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose” (v. 13). “Rejoice in the Lord always” Phil. 4:4. It is significant that Paul burst out with another expression of joy just after mentioning the conflict between two good women in Philippi. Charles L. Allen tells about the manager who took a pen and put a black dot in the center of a large sheet of white cardboard. “Your trouble is,” the manager told his employees, “that the moment one black spot appears you fix your attention on that, and fail to see all the clean white space.” We Christians are like that too. When a black spot, or a dozen black spots, appear, we spend all our energy thinking about them rather than on the vast white space that represents what we have in Christ. Paul wasn’t going to let conflict between Euodia and Syntyche pull his eyes away from Christ! And so he tells us, when the black spots appear in our lives, as they surely will, to “rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice.” “Do not be anxious about anything” Phil. 4:6–7. Psychologists have defined anxiety as a feeling of apprehension, cued by a threat to something we hold essential. Some, however, are chronically anxious: fearful and nervous even when there is no apparent threat. Whatever the source of anxious feelings, they’re no fun to have. I suspect that the real cause of anxiety is a sense of powerlessness. We feel threatened, but don’t know what to do about the threat. Paul reminds us that we can not only do something—we can do the most effective thing! We can place the problem squarely in the hands of the one Person in the universe who can deal with every threat. So Paul said, “In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” The thanksgiving is important. It is our affirmation of faith that God will surely deal with the situation we have just handed over to Him. “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding” Phil. 4:7. Why does the peace of God “transcend understanding”? Simply because, on the surface, our circumstances will not have changed. Something we hold dear will still be threatened. We’ll still be out of work. Or our child will still be bullied on the school bus. Or our spouse will still face a battle with cancer. We could explain the peace we feel to others if we could announce, “I have a new job!” Or if the bully was kicked off the bus, or the doctor announced the cancer cured. The thing that’s special about the peace God gives, and the thing we can never explain to those who have never had the experience, is that we experience peace before the situation changes in any way. God’s Spirit calms us, and whispers in our hearts, “It’s all right now. God will provide.” “Think about such things” Phil. 4:8–9. The word translated “think” here (logizesthai) means to “continually focus your mind.” But more is implied than considering. We are to concentrate on expressing these qualities in our lives, so that as we dwell on them, they in turn dwell in us. Paul’s list includes: * the true—meaning the truthful in thought as well as every aspect of life. * the noble—meaning that which wins respect; the honest, honorable, worthy. * the right—meaning that which fulfills all our obligation to God and to other men. * the pure—meaning that which fits us for fellowship with and service to God, including but more than freedom from bodily sins. * the lovely—meaning that which is attractive and winsome. * the admirable—meaning that which is kind and likely to win others. These were considered excellent and praiseworthy qualities in Greek culture as well as among Christians. The Christian is not to be the “odd” man in society, but the ideal man (see DEVOTIONAL). “I have learned to be content” Phil. 4:10–20. Paul had received a money gift from the Philippians, which he appreciated. It revealed their continuing love for him, and this was important to Paul. And as an expression of love for God, the gifts are “a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice.” Paul also shared his own unique perspective on money. During his 25 years of ministry Paul had known times when money was plentiful, and times he was “in need.” And Paul had learned that neither condition made any real difference: “whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” Paul had learned to be content. His independence from circumstances grew out of the conviction that his God meets all our needs “according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (v. 19), and the conviction that “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” (v. 13). This is one of the greatest gifts that is ours through our relationship with Jesus. We have a God whose endless resources will be used to meet our needs. And a God who will give us strength to meet every challenge. If we constantly remember who our God is, we too will grasp the secret of being content, whatever our circumstances.
Hear, See, Do(Phil. 4:6)
My wife is one of those naturally good cooks. I say naturally, but I don’t really know whether it’s a gift, or the result of practice. On the other hand, I have a hard time trying to cook, largely because I don’t have the patience to follow a recipe’s instructions. I look at a list of ingredients, throw them all together, and somehow don’t notice that the shortening wasn’t supposed to be melted before being mixed in. Or if I’m making the gravy, I plop the flour and milk I’ve mixed so carefully into the broth in one great glop, creating some of those wonderful lumps that my mom’s gravy—or Sue’s—never has. Sometimes we Christians make a similar mistake with the Bible. We read it and get all the ingredients straight. But then we don’t notice just how they are supposed to be blended together. And what we sometimes get is a disaster instead of a tasty dessert. Philippians 4 is like this. Paul gives us ingredients for a vital and joy-filled Christian life. He writes about bringing our anxieties to God (vv. 6–7). He reminds us of the qualities we’re to nurture (vv. 8–9). He even tells of the contentment that comes as we rely on God rather than our current bank balance (vv. 10–20). And there, right in the middle, he tells us how these ingredients are to be combined! Paul said, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put into practice” (v. 9). It’s dangerous to leave out any of these steps. If you’re a parent or a teacher or preacher, it’s not enough to speak the truth. To translate what is heard, most people need to see it put into practice by others. So those of us who teach in any setting need to open our lives to others, so they can see how the truths we share find living expression in our thoughts, attitudes, and actions. Preachers can’t just proclaim the truth and expect their people to go out and practice it. God’s recipe calls for a vital intermediate step. If you and I are learners, there’s a reminder for us here too. We can’t just “learn and receive and hear” the truth from our teachers, or just see it in other’s lives. We have to go on to personally “put it into practice.” Truth we don’t practice is about as useful as a tire without air. We won’t get very far on either! So let’s remember as we try to put together the ingredients God gives us for a truly Christian life that we have to follow His recipe carefully. We have to hear, see, and then do. Then, and only then, will we experience what Paul knew so well: the joy of knowing that “the God of peace” is with us.
What you don’t know, you can’t do. But what you don’t do, you cannot truly know.
“There is only one golden rule for spiritual discernment, and that is obedience. We learn more by five minutes’ obedience than by ten years’ study.”—Oswald Chambers