ON THE WARPATH AGAINST CONFLICTS – James 4:1-10

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INTRODUCTION:

Can you remember a time, or times, when your parents were really upset about something you did or said?  Can you remember words being said to you in anger?  Words like:  “How could you do such a thing?”;  “What’s the matter with you?”;  “You know better than that!”;  “Now listen to me!”;  “I want you to say you’re sorry!”;  “Don’t you ever do that again!”.  Do those words bring back memories?  Didn’t those words make you hang your head in shame?  Didn’t you want to go to your room or find a corner somewhere and cry?  The fact that you remember those words is evidence that they made a lasting impression on you, and that’s what they were intended to do.  We often call that “scolding”.  If you can’t ever remember hearing those words, or words similar to that, you must have been a much more well-behaved child than myself!

Why am I bringing those words back to your minds?  Because the apostle James, the writer of this letter, has some “scolding” to do!  You are going to find some similar questions and statements in this passage of Scripture because he is very angry.  And this won’t be the last time he does some scolding to the churches addressed in this letter, and for good reasons!  When I was a kid we used to say that a person was “on the warpath” when they were really angry about something, and were venting their anger at others.

I encourage you to read James chapter 4 several times slowly.  Read it as if you were the apostle James, and you were scolding the churches for their sinful behavior.  Then read it slowly again, as if you were a member of one of the churches, and you just received a copy of this letter from James.  You might even want to read it outloud, as if you were the parent, scolding your children!  Put some feeling and emotion into it!  If you have children, don’t say it within ear-shot of them.  They might think you’re talking to them!

You’re probably familiar with this verse of Scripture:  “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brethren dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133:1).  And how bad and unpleasant it is when they don’t!  Wouldn’t’ you agree?

Remember that this letter was written by James to groups of Christians who were scattered throughout the surrounding nations because of the persecution.  He knows that this letter will be read aloud at the church gathering.  Then it will be copied and sent to other scattered groups of believers, where it will also be read aloud.  The Spirit of God is not only telling James what to say, but also how to say it.  So James isn’t just writing a letter.   He’s preaching a sermon!  You may want to take notes as James continues to reprove and correct.

I.  CONFLICTS WITH OTHERS:  THEIR SOURCE AND REMEDY (verses 1-3)

James begins by asking a question:  “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” (NIV)  He wants his readers to think about it for a second.  Then he answers his question with a rhetorical question:  “Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?”(NIV)  James is saying, “doesn’t that make sense?”, or “wouldn’t you agree”?  He wants them to think it over and be honest with themselves.  He wants them to be true to the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus said, in Matthew 5, that sin begins in the heart, and He exhorted people to love one another, be reconciled to one another, and serve one another unselfishly.  The recipients of this letter know these things!  That’s why James is reminding them so strongly!

James is saying, in verse one, “the desires that battle within you”.  That’s where it starts, isn’t it?  Our selfish desires are battling inside us, seeking a way to express themselves outwardly to the world around us.  If those desires aren’t met the way we want them to be met, others are going to hear about it and suffer for it!  James uses words of warfare here; words like:  “quarrel”, “fight”, “kill”, “battle”.   But in the context of his letter, it’s obvious that James isn’t talking about punching and stabbing people, or putting them to death.  He’s talking about the way we use our words to destroy people’s reputations or get even with them.  If you don’t believe that words can kill, you’ve probably never been in a heated argument that has lasted for hours, and has had lasting results for days, weeks, months, and even years.

Here in the United States we have a sharp increase in such activity every four years.  It’s called an “election year”!  And we’re in one right now!  Turn on the news on your TV or radio and you’ll see and hear what I mean!  This activity also goes on in workplaces, schools, public places, and homes where people are trying to promote the “candidate of their choice”.  Sorry, my purpose is not to “get political”, but to give a “down to earth” illustration that we can relate to.

James now gives the solution to this belligerant activity.   At the end of verse 2, he says,  “You do not have because you do not ask God.” (NIV)  But don’t stop there!  The rest of the solution is found in verse 3:  “When you ask,you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”(NIV)

Irving Jensen, in his “Self-Study Guide on James”, asks us to think about the logic of James’ words in 4:1-3:

a.  What you really need, you may have.

b.  You may have what you need by asking for it aright (or rightly).

c.  Wars and fightings, waged in order to get, are therefore unnecessary.

The Epistle of James is closely related to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  When Jesus’ disciples asked Him:  “Teach us to pray”, He gave them principles of prayer in Matthew 6:9-13.  It is often referred to as “The Lord’s Prayer”.  I often wondered why Jesus didn’t include prayer for others when He gave these instructions.  Now I realize that this focus on others was there all along.  Jesus  begins by saying, ” Our Father”.  I’m not an “only child”, and neither are you!  Through faith in Jesus Christ, we are all members of God’s family.  We are brothers and sisters in Christ.  When we approach “our” Father, let’s be reminded of “the rest of the family”, and include them in our prayers.

The Lord Jesus also said “give us this day our daily bread”, not “give me this day my every desire“.  Bible scholar, William Barclay, in his commentary on Matthew’s Gospel, had these words to say about this verse;  “The problem of the world is not that there is not enough to go around; there is enough and to spare.  The problem is not the supply of life’s essentials; it is the distribution of them.  This prayer teaches us never to be selfish in our prayers. It is a prayer which we can help God to answer by giving to others who are less fortunate than ourselves.  This prayer is not only a prayer that we may receive our daily bread; it is also a prayer that we may share our daily bread with others.”

This may seem like a side-track, but I think you’re beginning to see how this information relates to what James has to say in verses 2 and 3 of chapter 4.  On this subject of prayer, there is much to be learned from little children because their prayers are often so honest and free from hypocrisy.  The following is one example.  A little boy had the habit of sucking his thumb and was told he must stop.  One evening in his bedtime prayer he was heard to say, “O God, help me to stop sucking my thumb.”  After a pause, he continued, “Never mind, God, because I don’t want to stop sucking my thumb!”  How’s that for being honest to God in prayer?  How often have we prayed to God for something, but we didn’t really want God to answer our prayer, at least not the way we prayed it.  That can be especially true when we  are praying outloud in the presence of others.  God is not going to answer our prayers if we don’t mean them, or if we are trying to impress others by our prayers.

Little children can also have a very simple and keen sense of logic when dealing with problems.  A farmer whose barns were full of grain which he was holding for a rise in prices, was accustomed to pray for the poor and needy, and constantly repeated his petition, “Oh God, remember the poor and needy and supply their wants and needs.”  But he never offered them any help himself.  He expected God to do it all.  One day, after hearing his father pray, his little son said to him, “Daddy, may I have half of your corn in the barns?”  Astonished, the father replied, “Why my son, what would YOU do with all that corn?”  The boy replied, “I would answer your prayers!”  (Our Daily Bread 12/20/1958)

II.  AT WAR AGAINST GOD (verses 4-6)

Here comes the scolding again in verse 4!  “Adultresses!  Don’t you know that friendship with the world is enmity with God!”  That’s the literal translation!  If somebody called you an adultress, wouldn’t  you feel like smacking that person for saying it?  James is writing to men and women, so why does he use the feminine form of the word?  His readers know the reason!  This isn’t the first time this word has been used, and several Hebrew words and phrases came to their minds immediately.  Most of the readers or hearers of this letter were Jews that had become Christians.  They were educated in the Law of Moses and the Prophets ever since childhood, and the words of the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea came to mind (specifically, Isaiah 54, Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 16, and Hosea 2).  In Isaiah 54:5-7, Isaiah says to the nation of Israel:  “Your maker is your husband, the Lord Almighty is his name . . . “.  In Ezekiel 16 God says to Jerusalem:  “You adulterous wife . . . you prostitute!”

In spite of these prophesies, God’s people continued to worship and serve other gods.  Finally, in Hosea, God gives them a visual aid!  He tells Hosea, in chapter 1, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children by her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.”  So you can see why the Hebrew Christians addressed in James’ letter knew exactly what James meant when he said, “You adultresses!”  Not only that, but the apostle Paul in Ephesians 5, and the apostle John in Revelation 19 and 21, declare that the Church is the bride of Christ.  Therefore, to pursue the world’s sinful pleasures is to commit adultery against our Husband, the Lord Jesus Christ

Let me write the rest of verse four again in “scolding-mode”:  “You know that friendship with the world means enmity against God, don’t you?”  James is saying:  “You know better than that!”

I asked myself this question, and you should ask yourself the same question also:  “What does it mean to be a ‘friend of the world’?”  When we determine the answer to that question, there is a second question you and I need to ask ourselves:  “Am I a friend of the world”?

In attempting to answer the first question, the word translated “friendship”, in verse 4, is the Greek word “philos”.  The word acturally means “love”.  It is the love you would have for a close friend, someone you enjoy being around, and with whom you share much in common.  The word translated “world” is the Greek word “kosmos”.  We often use that word to speak of the universe.  However, James uses “kosmos” to refer to the human world system that is self-seeking and in rebellion against God.  And who is the “lord” of this world?  It is Satan, the devil!  And his goal and efforts are directed toward getting people to exalt themselves and become jealous of others (John 8:44; II Corinthians 4:4).  Bingo!  Now we see all the elements involved in these conflicts!  James is going to address that in verse 7.  So to be a friend of the world, the “kosmos”, is also to be a friend of Satan, helping him to accomplish his objectives in your life and in the world!

More will be coming soon!  Are you becoming convicted by God’s Word?  I am! James gives some remedies to this situation.  They are just a few verses away!

This “work in progress” is progressing slowly but surely!  I’m showing you each step of the construction process in the hope that it might encourage you to work on your own right along with me.  I’m noticing that this sermon is really getting long, and I’m only on verse 4!  So I’m going to start a James 4:1-10 (Continued) sermon, and I’ll see you there next time.  Same sermon, different page!

The foundation for this passage of Scripture has been laid and some of the structure has been built.  Keep your hard hats on because there could be some more dust falling from above!  More reproof and correction are still on the way!

 

 

 

THE TRUE MINISTER – I Corinthians 4:1-5

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INTRODUCTION:

How do you evaluate a pastor?  All kinds of criteria have been used to determine who are the most successful, the most influential, the most gifted, and the most effective ministers.  Some magazines take surveys and write extensive reports, ranking pastors by church membership, attendance at worship services, sizes of church staff and Sunday school, academic and honorary degrees, books and articles written, numbers of messages given at conferences and conventions, and so on.  As popular as this practice may be, it may not always be true to God’s Word.

I Corinthians 4:1-5 focuses on the true nature and marks of God’s ministers.  Paul is not speaking here of the traditional concept of a full-time employee of a church who  is hired to do the preaching, the teaching, and the counseling, as well as officiate at other church functions.  This concept is unknown in the New Testament.  It came into the church only within the past 500 years.  A minister of Christ in the New Testament was anyone, “anyone”, who, because of the gift of the Holy Spirit, was a preacher or a teacher of the Word of God.  That is what Paul is talking about here.  And Paul gives basic guidelines and standards by which ministers are to minister and be evaluated.  He also gives us the characteristics of a true minister.

I.  THE IDENTITY OF THE MINISTER (verse 1)

In verse 1, the first characteristic Paul gives us is the identity of the minister.  When Paul says, “Let a man regard us in this manner”, he is referring to all men, both Christians and non-Christians.  He wants them to see God’s ministers according to what God has called them to be, that is, “servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.”  The word “servants” is a translation of the Greek word “huperetes”, which literally means “under-rowers”.  Everyone in Corinth understood what that word meant.  Corinth was where the war ships of the Roman Empire crossed the isthmus that separated the Ionian Sea from the Aegean Sea, and the Corinthians knew that the lowest deck was the place where the lowest class of slaves sat.  Then, on a little deck, raised up about them all so that all could see him, was the captain of the ship.  It was the rowers’ task to row according to what he said.  If he wanted the ship to move,  then they were to row.  If he wanted them to stop, they were to stop instantly.  Their whole business was to obey his orders.  That is the word that Paul chooses to describe those who are teachers, preachers, and ministers of the Word of God within the congregation of the church.  They are “under-rowers” of Christ.

A young pastor at a pastor’s conference once asked an older pastor whom he respected, “What would you do if you were in my shoes?  My church board called me in and said to me, ‘Look, there are some things we want you to understand.  One is that this is our church;  it is not your church.  We were here before you came and we are going to be here when you leave.  Therefore, we expect you to do what we want you to do and not what you think you ought to do.’  What would you say to a church like that?”  The other pastor told him that he would call together the elders of the church and would say to them, “Brothers, I think you are suffering from two very serious theological errors.  One, you think this is your church, but it is the Lord’s church.  Churches belong to Him.  They do not belong to the people.  They are not a democracy, owned by the people.  Jesus said, ‘On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.’  So all of us are under the authority of the Lord of this church and it is His work to tell us what He wants the church to be, and not our job to tell Him what we think it ought to be.”

“The second error is that you think you hired me to work in this church, but you have not.  I did not come on that basis.  I have joined you to share the ministry with you.  I appreciate the fact that you have set me aside and given me support from the congregation so that I don’t have to spend time earning a living but can devote my full time to the study of God’s Word, and to the ministry of preaching and teaching His Word.  If you will not accept those terms then I will have to look elsewhere.  I cannot work on any other terms because that is what the New Testament says.”

He went back to his church, shared these principles with them, and they fired him.  But now he has another church, and he made his stand clear from the beginning, and things are working out very well with him.  So, to look first of all at men’s needs is to fail men as well as to fail the Lord.  A minister who becomes so occupied with counseling and helping his congregation and community that he spends little time in the Word is unable to meet those people’s deepest needs.  To serve Christ is to serve His Word, which is the revelation of His will.  As a servant of Christ, his function is to obey God’s commands as revealed in His Word, serving Him with all humility.

Ministers of the Gospel are also “stewards of the mysteries of God”.  The word for steward is “oikonomos”, meaning “housekeeper”.  When you are on an airplane you find a stewardess or a steward who serves coffee, tea, milk, and other beverages, as well as serving a tray of food at the proper time.  They are entrusted with certain valuable commodities which they are responsible to give you.

A minister of Christ, whoever he or she may be within a congregation, is to be a steward entrusted with what Paul calls “the mysteries of God”.  These are the secret truths and the hidden wisdom which can only be found in God’s Word and nowhere else.  As a steward of God’s mysteries, a minister is to take God’s revealed Word and dispense it to God’s household, so that lives are changed and are lived on the basis of these remarkable truths.  A preacher or teacher’s concern should not be to please his hearers or to dispense his own views.  As the apostle Paul said to Timothy in II Timothy 2:15, “be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.”

II.  THE REQUIREMENT OF A MINISTER (verse 2)

In verse 2, Paul says that the most important requirement of a good steward is that he be trustworthy or faithful.  God does not require brilliance or cleverness or creativity or popularity.  He can use servants with those qualities, but only trustworthiness is absolutely essential.  So the main issue is not, “Is Paul popular?”, or “Is Apollos a better preacher than Paul?”  The main issue is, “Have Paul, Apollos, and Peter been faithful to do the work God assigned to them?”

God supplied His Word, His Spirit, His gifts, and His power.  All that the minister can supply is his faithfulness in using those resources for God’s glory.  George Washington Carver once asked the Lord to tell him all about the universe.  According to Carver, the Lord said, “George, the universe is just too big for you to understand.  Suppose you let me take care of that.”  Humbled, George Carver replied, “Lord, how about a peanut?”  The Lord said, “Now, George, that’s something your own size.  Go to work on it and I’ll help you.”  George discovered over 300 uses for peanuts, and he helped farmers by showing them how to take care of the soil.  Carver used what little he had, and God rewarded his faithfulness.

III.  EVALUATION OF A MINISTER (verses 3,4)

In verses 3 and 4, Paul uses his own situation as an example of the evaluation of the minister.  Paul is not bragging or placing himself above other ministers, or above any other Christian.  What he said about his own attitude about himself should be said by every minister and every Christian.  It should be “a small thing” to any of us when our ministry or our spiritual life is examined by other Christians or “by any human court”.  The word “examined” means “to investigate, question, evaluate”.  It does not mean to determine guilt or innocence.

It is important to remind ourselves that in the spiritual realm, outward appearance means nothing.  You cannot fool God!  That’s what Paul emphasizes here.  He declares that he is not concerned about the judgment people place upon him and his work.  This doesn’t mean that a sincere word of appreciation from others or a helpful criticism can’t be useful and even a blessing.  But no minister can remain faithful to his calling if he lets his congregation, or any other human beings, decide how true his motives are, or whether he is working within the Lord’s will.  Because their knowledge and understanding of his motives are imperfect, their criticisms and compliments are imperfect.

In fact, Paul says that even his own evaluation of himself isn’t really important.  What matters is the Lord’s verdict.  A person can do things that make him look good before men, and in the process even fool himself into thinking he is pleasing the Lord;  yet, in reality, he may be motivated by selfishness and greed.  Men see only the outward deeds and may be favorably impressed, but God sees the intentions of the heart.  Therefore He alone can judge with complete fairness.

There is the story of a young composer whose music was being performed.  He kept his eye fixed intently on one man in the audience, watching every expression that appeared on his face.  It was his teacher.  He cared more for the slightest mark of favor on his face than for all the applause of the large audience.  In our own lives as well, we should watch the face of Christ, as mirrored in His Word, caring only that He should be pleased.

Whenever you are tempted to speak insincerely, or do a good deed only for the praise of men, remember that the Father in Heaven is watching.  In His sight it’s what you really are that counts.  God alone is the judge of the true spiritual value of our service.

IV.  GOD’S EVALUATION (verse 5)

In verse 5, Paul looks ahead to God’s evaluation of His people.  Paul tells us not to go on passing judgment before the time.  We need to remember that our brothers and sisters in the faith are at different stages of growth and come from many different backgrounds and cultures.  Conversion to Christ is just the beginning, and a lifetime of replacing old thoughts, attitudes, habits, and actions with new ones follows after it, through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, who continually works to change us.   We must take the time to understand people, get to know them, learn their backgrounds, and ask for God’s wisdom to discern each one’s stage of spiritual development.  We should never draw hasty conclusions.

God has a day when He will “bring to light the things hidden in the darkness”.  I do not believe “things hidden in the darkness” refers to sins or anything evil, but simply to things presently unknown to us.  We know from this Scripture that the rewards and praise that God will give to his servants will not be based on the degrees behind our names, the numbers we have preached to, taught or witnessed to.  It will also not be based on the programs we have planned and directed, the books we have written, or even the number of converts won to Christ through us.  It will be based on one thing alone:  the motives of our hearts.

According to a legend, a desert wanderer found a crystal spring of unsurpassed freshness.  The water was so pure that he decided to bring some to his king.  Barely satisfying his own thirst, he filled a leather bottle with the water and carried it many days beneath the desert sun before he reached the palace.  When he finally laid his offering at the feet of his king, the water had become stale because of the old container in which it had been stored.  But the king would not let his faithful subject even imagine that it was unfit for use.  He tasted it with expressions of gratitude and delight, and the loyal man went away with a heart filled with gladness.  After he had gone, others sampled the water and expressed their surprise that the king had even pretended to enjoy it.  “Ah”, he said, “it was not the water I tasted, but the love that prompted the offering.”

Our service to God may be marked by many imperfections, but the Master looks at our motives.  He rejoices in our loyal actions, no matter what others may think of them.

Have you become discouraged in your work for the Lord?  Remember the parable of the water and let it motivate you to keep on serving the King of Kings, being faithful to Him and His Word.  Someday your faithful efforts will receive God’s praise.  What is done for Christ now will be rewarded in eternity.

 

TRUE FREEDOM – 4th of July message

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Americans celebrate Independence Day on the 4th of July as a public holiday with fireworks, barbecues, flags, and expressions of gratitude for the freedom we have as Americans.  Most celebrations of national independence mark the day of “final victory” in the struggle  for freedom.  Perhaps it’s a mark of our American pride and boldness that we celebrate, on July 4th,  the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which occurred   seven years before the final treaty ending the Revolutionary War on September 3, 1783.  That Declaration’s adoption on July 4, 1776 burned the final bridges of England’s authority over America. The signers of this Declaration of Independence recognized that liberty could not be preserved unless this new nation recognized its dependence on God.  The brave men who initiated and signed it realized that genuine freedom comes only through reliance on the Almighty. Do you consider yourself to be truly free?  Whether you live in a free country or not, are you free on the inside?  Are you free from guilt and fears?  Are you free from the fear of death,  and from the eternal consequences of your actions?  Are you free from greed and other “sinful” passions that have become beyond your control? The sad thing is that the world often describes sin as the essence of freedom.  “I can do what I please because it’s my life, and I am the master of my fate.”  This is also what Satan told Eve in the Garden of Eden when he said, in effect, “Don’t be bound by God’s command!  Be free!  Eat the fruit and become as God, knowing good and evil!”  When Eve ate the forbidden fruit, and also gave some to Adam, and he ate it, what happened?  They died!  They immediately died spiritually because their fellowship with God was broken and they hid from God.  Their personalities also began to decay because they began to lie and shift the blame to one another.  And eventually their bodies died.  They certainly weren’t the masters of their fate, were they? The Bible teaches that true freedom can only be found through a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.  He set us free at the cost of His own life.

ILLUSTRATIONS:  TWO ACTUAL RESPONSES TO ONE’S FREEDOM

A heathen girl was bought at a slave auction for a large sum of money.  The Christian man who purchased her did so in order to set her free.  When he came to get her the next day, she said simply, “Master, I am ready to serve you.”  He replied, “While it is true that I bought you, I did so only to relieve you of the bonds of slavery.”  Then, with a smile he handed the surprised girl her freedom papers.  She looked at him for a moment in sheer astonishment.  Then, seeing that he meant what he said, she cried out, “Am I truly free?  Am I my own?  May I go where I wish?”  “Yes”, he said.  “That’s why I bought you, so that you could be freed from the restrictions of slavery.  “Sir”, she said as she fell at his feet in heartfelt devotion, “my greatest joy will be to dwell with you and go wherever you direct me.”

I’m closing with another true story that made a tremendous impression on me.  A young convert on the west coast of Africa, who was saved out of the most horrible savagery, came on Christmas Day into the little chapel on the mission compound to offer her sacrifice of praise in the form of a gift of money.  As a rule, the natives in that area were so poor that only a handful of vegetables was considered a generous offering.  Some, in fact, could only bring a  bunch of wild flowers to show their good will.  If anyone ever managed to bring a coin worth a penny or two, it was considered as a tremendous gift.  This girl of sixteen, however, drew from under her tattered outer garments a silver  coin worth about a dollar! The missionary was so amazed at the amount of the offering that he refused, at first, to accept it, for he thought she must have gotten it dishonestly.  In order to avoid confusion and embarrassment, he finally agreed to accept it.   But at the end of the service he called her aside to ask her where she obtained such a fortune.  She explained very simply that, in order to present to the Lord Jesus Christ an offering that satisfied her own heart’s love for Him, she had gone to a neighboring plantation and  sold herself to the plantation owner as a slave to him for the rest of her life!  She had, in effect, brought the whole financial equivalent of her life and laid it down in a single gift at the feet of her Savior and spiritual Liberator, the Lord Jesus Christ.

This Fourth of July, may we celebrate with joy the freedoms and privileges we possess, both as citizens of this great nation and, hopefully also, as citizens of heaven.  If you are not sure whether or not you are a citizen of heaven, please read the ABOUT PAGE on this blog site, and the section entitled “Question”.  In John’s Gospel, chapter 8,. and verses 31 and 32, Jesus said:  “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

THE SECRET OF CONTENTMENT – Philippians 4:10-23

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INTRODUCTION:

A deacon in a church once said to his pastor:  “We Christians are either thermometers or thermostats”.  A thermometer doesn’t change anything around it.  It just tells the temperature.  It’s always going up and down.  But  a thermostat regulates the room or building it is in.  When you turn up the thermostat, the heater comes on and the room gets warmer.

The apostle Paul was a thermostat.   Instead of having spiritual ups and downs as his situation changed, Paul went right on, doing his work and serving the Lord Jesus Christ.  Here in Philippians 4:10-23, Paul gives the reasons for his contentment, and gives the glory to God.

I.  PAUL’S CONTENTMENT (verses 10-13)

In verse 10, the apostle Paul rejoices that the church at Philippi had become concerned about his needs.  He had been praying for them.  Now Paul rejoices at the way God had answered his prayers and provided an opportunity for them to be of service to him while he was in prison at Rome.  Then Paul says in verse 11, “For I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.”  The word “learned” means “learned by experience”  Paul had to go through many difficult experiences in life in order to learn how to be content.  When Paul wrote these words, he was deprived of almost everything – except contentment.

I may have shared this illustration with you before , but it’s so appropriate for this verse.  Leaning on his fence one day, a devout Quaker, who believed in simplicity of life, was watching a new neighbor move in next door.  After all kinds of modern appliances, electronic gadgets, and plush furnishings had been carried into the house, the Quaker called over to his new neighbor and said, “If you are lacking anything, neighbor, let  me know, and I’ll show you how to live  without it.”  That Quaker and the apostle Paul had at least one thing in common – they had learned the secret of contentment.  We may not always be able to choose our circumstances in life, but we can choose our attitude toward them.

The opposite of contentment is dissatisfaction or greed.  I’m sure we’ve all met greedy people, but people aren’t the only ones who are greedy.  An animal that is almost impossible to capture is the ring-tailed monkey of Africa.  But the Zulu people have a method that’s both simple and effective.  It’s based on this little creature’s love for a particular melon that grows on a vine.  The seeds are its favorite food.  Knowing this, the Zulus cut a small hole in the melon, just large enough for the monkey to put his hand inside to get the delicious morsels.  The little fellow reaches through the hole and grabs as many seeds as he can.  But pulling his clenched fist out of the melon is impossible because now it is larger than the hole.  He will pull and tug and scream and struggle to get free, but it’s no use.  As long as he holds on to his prized seeds, he is trapped by the melon – and the Zulus have captured one more ring-tailed monkey.

All too often we also become the victims of our own selfishness and greed.  Lured by the  attractiveness of material things, we strive to get more and more.  Then one day we realize  that what we have been living for is the cause of our frustration and unhappiness.  Our hand is in the “hole” and we can’t seem to get it out because we won’t let go!

Happy is the person, whether wealthy or poor, whose greatest satisfaction is in the Lord Jesus Christ!  That person can say with the apostle Paul, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.”

Paul’s motto is found in verse 13:  “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  A father found his little boy one day trying to lift a heavy stone.  The youngster pushed, pulled, and struggled to get the boulder to move.  Then, as he was just about to give up, his dad said, “Son, are you using all your strength?”  “Sure am”, he answered.  “No, you aren’t”, the father responded.  “I’ve been standing here all the time and you haven’t asked me for help!”  How often have we tried to do things without relying on God’s strength?  We use up all our energies, and then, because the task seems impossible, we’re tempted to throw up our hands and give up.  Remember, we are not using all our strength unless we are drawing upon the power of the Lord Jesus Christ in us.

II.  PAUL’S GRATITUDE (verses 14-18)

In verses 10-13, Paul expresses his gratitude to the church at Philippi for their many gifts, especially for their most recent gift.  In verse 15, Paul says “No church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone.”  They showed their devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ, and their love for the apostle Paul, by giving sacrificially to Paul.  Let me share with you another example of sacrificial giving.  In about 1490, two friends, Albrecht Durer and Franz Knigstein were struggling to become artists.  They were very poor and a lot of training was involved.  So they decided that one would work and support both while the other pursued art classes.  They cast lots and Durer won.  Before leaving, he assured Franz that he would return and help him so that he could develop his talent.  He did come back to keep his promise, but to his surprise, he discovered the enormous price his friend paid.  Hard labor had caused his slender, sensitive fingers to become stiff and twisted.  They would never be able to perform the delicate brush strokes necessary in fine painting.  On one occasion Durer found Franz kneeling, his gnarled hands folded as he prayed for his companion.  Quickly the great artist sketched that scene, and from it he produced his masterpiece, “The Praying Hands”.  The world is richer because of Albrecht Durer, but much credit must also go to his faithful friend.

In verse 18, the apostle Paul thanks the Philippian church for their most recent gift.  He calls it “a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.”  Thank you notes give us the opportunity to make permanent our feelings of gratitude for our friends or loved ones.  Paul sent a thank you note to the Christians at Philippi.  They were the only church that had supported him financially on his missionary journey, and Paul did more than just say thanks.  He told them specifically what good they had done by helping him.  Thank you notes work both ways.  They help the sender to express appreciation, and they help the receiver to know what he had done to assist.  Does someone you know deserve a note of thanks?

III.  PRAISE TO GOD (verses 19-20)

In verses 19 and 20, Paul gives praise and glory to God, and says, “You met my need, and God is going to meet your every need.”  A needy widow in Chicago lived by the motto:  “The Lord will provide.”  Even when severely tested, Mrs. Hokanson never lost her smile and her deep faith.  Casting all her cares on God, she found that He always took the burden and supplied the needs.

Mrs. Hokanson was the sole support for her mentally retarded son.  Eventually, chronic arthritis confined her to bed.  When a church  youth group went over to Mrs. Hokanson’s house to cheer her up,, they were amazed to discover that she was not depressed.  When she was asked, “What will you and Arthur do?” She gave her usual quiet, confident response, “The Lord will provide.”  When Mrs. Hokanson died, many people wondered what would happen to her son.  But when friends and neighbors went home with Arthur after the funeral, he proudly showed them his collection of stamps.  Instead of tearing the stamps off the envelopes, he had taken and kept over a hundred letters intended for his mother and left them unopened.  Many contained substantial gifts – enough to care for the boy for the rest of his life.

When we cast all our cares on the Lord, we’ll be amazed at the wondrous way He provides! Our needs can never exhaust God’s supply.

God’s promise to provide for our needs covers the little things as well as the big ones.  The same God who helped Elisha retrieve the borrowed axe head in II Kings 6, and who supplied flour and oil for a faithful widow in I Kings 17, will meet all our needs as well, not only the physical needs, but also the emotional, social, and spiritual needs.  We worship a God who is greater than any of our problems.

Have you learned the secret of contentment in your life?  If you are still searching and want answers, please go to my ABOUT PAGE, especially to the section entitled QUESTION.  If you have more questions or want to know more about a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, please leave a comment and I’ll respond to you.  Thank you for your attention, and may God give you the joy and contentment you desire as you respond to Him.