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.