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How God Wants us to Discover the Secret of Contentment

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In 1975, Ted Ngoy came to America seeking safety from his country’s civil war and freedom and opportunity for himself and his family. He began working at a donut shop and soon he had scrimped and saved enough money to open his own store. Ted worked hard–really hard. Ted achieved tremendous success in the donut business—eventually owning 65 donut shops. But Ted’s legacy for Cambodian refugees is even more amazing. Ted helped scores of family members flee the oppressive communist Khoumer Rouge regime in Cambodia, find their footing in America, and then start their own donut shops. Ted Ngoy not only achieved the American dream, he helped generations of American immigrants do the same thing. He was a Moses for his people, became a multi-millionaire, and even met the President. By American standards, Ted had it all—a beautiful family, extraordinary business success, health and wealth, power, and access. I want to return to Ted’s story in a moment, but first let’s look at our passage of Scripture this morning as we put a bow on our Philippians message series. In Paul’s closing to the Philippians, he stresses some hopes for them. He wants for them what He has—peace, contentment, and progression.

1. Peace Paves the Way to Contentment

In verse 9, Paul is wrapping up his letter to the Philippian Christians. He says—remember and do what you learned, received, have seen, and heard from me. He’s saying brothers and sisters—I am instructing you in the truth of the Gospel. Walk in it. “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (James 4:8). Paul is saying here the way to peace is by obeying and following the One Who Is Peace. Learn, receive, watch, and hear the Gospel. Then do it.  You want to have spiritual peace? Follow Paul’s prescription. Learn, receive, and listen to Biblical teaching. Spend time with mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers in the Lord who are walking their talk. Watch them to learn from them. At Agape we get after this command through missional communities. Put yourself and your family in a position to learn, receive, see and hear the Word of God thru corporate worship. Be faithful in doing what the Word of God says by spending time daily in prayer and personal Bible study. Obedience leads to peace.

Some of you might be thinking this sounds good—Pastor Justin. I could use some peace in my life—feeling some anxiety at work, in my marriage, my health, my kids. But investing in missional communities, being consistent to practice corporate worship, daily quiet time with God—I’ll try but I got a lot of other things happening in my life. What is more important than peace? To borrow from that great sage of our age, Yoda, there is no try. Do. Practice these things. Execute.

Remember, Paul wrote this letter under the influence of the Holy Spirit to real Christians fighting thru the storms of life just like we experience. Following Jesus leads to peace, because He is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). Once we encounter and walk with the God of peace, then we can learn to be content.

2. Gospel Generosity Cultivates Contentment   

Next we read in verse 10, Paul rejoices—he takes joy again and again in the Gospel-driven generosity of the Philippian Christians. He has had some real needs in his life—hunger, heartache, physical needs, and spiritual. He was beaten repeatedly, shipwrecked multiple times, imprisoned—but then he says something remarkable—whatever situation I am in, I have learned to be content (verse 11). Now just think about that for a moment. Are you learning to be content in every circumstance? Do things have to go your way with the career situation, with the travel plans, your educational goals, with raising the kids for you to be content? Or are you content in tough circumstances—maybe you have a wayward daughter or son, or maybe you’re separated from your closest loved ones, yet you still have peace and contentment. Is that possible? It is. See when Paul says, I have learned to be content whatever the situation. When he ways I have learned the secret of being content in good times and bad –he’s revealing that contentment is often elusive. So how do we gain contentment. We must recognize this contentment that he’s describing is divine and it flows from his peace with God. Really Paul is defining joy. Contentment no matter the circumstances—that’s joy. It’s the overarching theme of his letter, and Paul is circling back to this divine gift as he nears the end. Paul rejoices in the faithful generosity and love of the Philippians—because he is seeing how God is using their sacrificial love to grow joy and contentment in his life and in their own lives. You see generosity is a faith decision to trust God will meet your needs. When you give your time and energy and financial resources to serve others—spiritual growth occurs. You want more joy and contentment in your life, then be a disciple of Jesus who makes disciples. Invest in people spiritually. Watch God grow them—your joy will increase as you see the Spirit of God working through them.

Verse 13 is one of the most misunderstood and misapplied verses in all the Bible. “I can do all things thru Christ who strengthens me.” Paul writes this verse in the context of enduring hardship and trials from prison. It’s interesting that Paul uses this word contentment. It was common word in the Greco-Roman world. Stoics were fixated on this idea of contentment, and they preached that they way you obtained it was thru self-sufficiency. This mindset is still pervasive today in our culture—there’s some truth to the idea that we should strive to be self-sufficient. Sowing hard work and perseverance often reaps fruitful outcomes. We should work hard. Stoic philosophy is engrained in our military culture. We say things like, “Adapt and overcome.” But stoicism wrongly promotes the idea that contentment is gained thru self-sufficiency. God wants us to learn the secret of contentment. How do we do that? Well, we need peace with God first. We see that gospel generosity is an important step as well. But God shows us the key to contentment in this passage.

3. Christ-Dependency is the Key to Contentment

The Gospel says we gain contentment not thru self-sufficiency but Christ-dependency. Gospel generosity, self-giving, flows from Christ-dependency.

Paul is as tough as they come. Stoics would have loved Paul—rugged, tough, persevering, abuse survivor, shipwreck survivor. But Paul’s like “Wanna know the secret. It’s not me—guys. It’s Christ in me. I can do all things through Christ who lives in me.” Paul also said, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ lives within me, and the life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” It’s Christ’s power working thru me. My willpower and strength–limited. But His power and strength–limitless. He knows my needs, He cares about my needs, and He meets my needs. The world says, “Strengthen yourself by looking inward to overcome difficult circumstances.” The Bible says, “Surrender yourself and look upward. Draw strength from God—not yourself.”

We learn to be content by daily relying on the power of the Living shaping us, confronting us about sin, transforming us, and renewing us. But we have a role to play in the process. Going back to verse 9. We are to do what we heard, received, see and learn. We know we need to be obedient to depend on Christ. How? Spiritual disciplines such as daily prayer, Bible reading, corporate worship—submitting to Biblical preaching and teaching and living side by side in community with the people of God. Obedience in following God’s commands leads to Christ-dependency.

In verse 17, Paul says, “This gospel generosity you’ve shown, this agape love you’ve given me—I am rejoicing because God is growing you spiritually. You are bearing fruit. The Philippian Christians were so dedicated and conscientious about serving Paul thru sacrificial giving—that they appointed Epaphroditus to ensure Paul received the provisions.  The Philippians are showing us what right looks like. Paul wants them to know, verse 18, that this blesses him, yes, but ultimately this is a fragrant offering and sacrifice that pleases God Almighty (verse 18).

Brothers and Sisters, hear me. When you give tithes and offerings, when you devote time to serving thru the ministry of Agape, yes, you are serving people in the Humphreys community, and you are blessing people around the world. But at the core—you are offering a sacrifice that is pleasing and acceptable to your Heavenly Father.

It is a faith decision to give your time and your money, because when you give you are saying, “God, I believe you are going to provide my daily bread. Your promises are true,” And I believe what you’ve told us in verse 19, You “will supply every need…according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. That’s Christ-dependency. When we give, we are acting in faith and giving so that God receives glory—that is Gospel Generosity—it’s giving to advance the Kingdom of God.

Paul reminds the Philippians—look God is faithful. He has met my every need—every time—every place.

What is the good life? Think about this for a moment. 2.5 kids, house, couple of cars. Ted Ngoy’s story come to mind?

We want to use God as a means to achieve the good life. We want God to give us what we want to make us happy, so we might throw some coin in the offering, volunteer here and there. If we’re really wanting something big, maybe we even volunteer to serve with Agape Kids. “God, I’m pulling out the big guns and gonna serve these little peeps, because I really need you to come thru for me.” For those of us who are in Christ, God is our Heavenly Father, and He gives us good things. It’s not wrong to want a strong marriage, to enjoy your career, to have a loving family, good health, memorable vacations, or kids that turn into well-adjusted adults and contribute to society. Those are good things—but our visions of the good life—what we think will bring contentment—often have God nowhere in them. Therein lies the problem.

By American standards, Ted Ngoy had the good life. He had a great family, health, extraordinary wealth—but it wasn’t enough. Ted didn’t learn the secret to contentment that Paul did. His net worth was valued at over 20 million, but it wasn’t satisfying. He wanted more. He became addicted to gambling. His sin ruined his marriage. His greed cost him his business, his wealth, and his family.

Hungering for anything other than the One who made you, loved you, and gave Himself for you leads to discontentment, emptiness, and death.

Paul Tripp writes, “In our fantasies of the good life, we are sovereign. We decide what is right, good, important, and valuable. We define what life is. We control the agenda and set the timetable. The menu of the good life is written by us. It has us at the center. [But] it is self-centered religiosity that bears little resemblance to the faith of the Bible…it’s so natural to shop horizontally for what you will only ever find vertically.”

How about you? Are you chasing a fantasy of the good life? Are you searching for things that aren’t satisfying thru a relationship, a career, education, possessions, vacation, promotion. Maybe you got it, but you’re still thirsty, unsatisfied. If that’s you, then I have good news for you. Jesus said, “All who drink from me will never thirst again.”

You were made by the Creator for a specific purpose. Shopping horizontally for purpose and meaning instead of vertically is a fool’s errand.

The Psalmist writes, “He satisfies you with good things; your youth is renewed like the eagle.” Psalm 103:5

God wants us to comprehend—He is not a means to the good life. He is the Good life. Jesus is the one satisfies us whether we are on the mountain or in the valley—whether things are going well and or we’re walking thru the shadows. Christ delivers contentment—Jesus gives us the good things we need—eternal life, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control.

Some of you listening are thinking, Pastor Justin I’m with you, but I just easily forget this truth or set it aside in my mind. Let me tell you—I get it. I understand and relate. Prone to wander—Lord—I feel it. There’s something within me, you—our sinful nature—that leads us astray. That’s why it’s crucial that we walk with the Good Shepherd daily—moment by moment. We practice Christ-dependency by walking with the people of God—at Agape we do that thru missional communities. We have burdens we need help shouldering. We worship God by daily spending time with him reading the Bible, praying, silence and solitude, corporate worship, and we worship Him by serving others with our time and money as a sacrificial offering. Gospel generosity is an act of worship.

Now some of you heard me rattle off these spiritual disciplines and you might be thinking. Okay terrific—more things I gotta do. But spending time with God is something you get to do. It’s what you and I were created to do. In the fourth century, Gregory of Nyssa, argued mankind has an insatiable yearning for God’s beauty and splendor. Gregory said, when we think about God, it’s like a person looking at a spring bubbling up from the ground.

“As you came near the spring you would marvel, seeing that the water was endless, as it constantly gushed up and poured forth. Yet you could never say that you had seen all the water. How could you see what was still hidden in the bosom of the earth…It is the same with one who fixes his gaze on the infinite beauty of God. It is constantly being discovered anew …as God continues to reveal himself, man…never exhausts his desire to see more, since what he is waiting for is always more magnificent, more divine, than all that he has already seen.”

When we rightly rethink the good life as knowing God and enjoying Him—then guess what happens—we began knowing God and enjoying Him! Here’s an example—you read something in Scripture. You come back a year, two, several—except you read it again—and you’re like whoa. I didn’t see that before. What is God doing? He’s revealing Himself—He’s fulfilling you. He’s giving you living water by giving Himself.

Last sentence of his letter, Paul writes, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” It’s the reality that distinguishes Christianity from every other faith–Islam, Hinduism, atheism, Buddhism, you name it—you’ve got to do good works, meditate, do x,y,z to earn eternal life or earn your salvation. The good news of the Gospel says—you’ll never earn it. But Jesus earned it for you. Paul opens and closes Philippians with grace and peace—divine gifts flowing from our King.

When we wander, when we fail—ask for forgiveness and receive the grace that God freely offers us thru the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross and thru His resurrection. But grace isn’t just something we receive from God. His grace empowers us to give grace, give forgiveness to others and grow in our faith and walk with God. Grace makes peace and contentment possible.

4. Contentment is Contagious.

Look back at verse 22—it’s easy to gloss over this verse, but read verse 22, “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.” Here’s the extraordinary background of this verse. Paul is writing this letter from prison in Rome. He’s being guarded by the imperial guard. These are the special forces of Rome’s military and Caesar’s personal security detail. Paul interacts with these guys, and he’s like, “Hey lemme tell you why I’m here and you’re here. Let me tell you about Jesus.” And some of these battle-hardened bodyguards respond to the Gospel and say, “I’m in.” I want what you have Paul. I want contentment, I want peace and joy in my life. And they put their faith and trust in King Jesus, the Caesar of Caesars and become Christians. They become saints.

Because of their faithful obedience to care for Paul, the Philippian Christians have a hand in these elite Roman Soldiers coming to Christ and spreading the news of Christ.

JT English is a Christian theologian and pastor. He came to faith eating a Big Mac while a Christian nervously read him a gospel tract in a boring monotone voice. Why did JT come to faith? Because contentment is contagious. Look you and I don’t save anybody. God saves. Salvation, healing, is a work of God. You and I just need to be obedient. You might be thinking, Pastor Justin, I don’t know how to proclaim the Gospel—no worries. We got you. Agape 101—great place to learn. Just shoot me or one of the other pastors a message on email, Facebook—we’ll give you an easy, peasy way to share good news in minutes. Here are some closing questions:

What step of obedience will you this week to learn the secret of contentment? Step number one is being at peace with God and depending on the finished work of Jesus Christ for your salvation. Here are steps you might need to take: spiritual disciplines, plugging into a missional community and committing to corporate worship.

How will Gospel generosity flow through you this week? Embracing our identity as instruments of graceit’s how we practice Christ-dependency. Investing in others, serving others, proclaiming the Gospel to others is how we cultivate Gospel generosity.

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