Thursday, July 11, 2013

THE TREASURE OF BIBLICAL CONTENTMENT rest in the sovereignty of God

Phil. 4:10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity.

Philippians, is a letter of deep gratitude—marked by the continuous use of the word joy and/or rejoice. Paul is writing this letter of thanksgiving and appreciation for the kindness and generosity of the believers at Philippi expressed to him. He warns them of false teachers (3:1-4:1), to inform them of his situation in Rome (1:12-26), to encourage them in unity (2:1-2), and to commemorate his dear friend and co-worker Epaphroditus (2:25).

Paul finds himself incarcerated at Rome (1:13, 4:22), under house arrest—chained to a Roman guard (Acts 28:16) though he still was permitted to receive visitors and still havepthe opportunity to preach the gospel. He is at low ebb in his ministry and life anticipating a trial before Nero, which could result in his execution. These Philippian believers had a great love for him and they send Epaphroditus to Paul to bring to him what the apostle calls the “sweet aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God” (4:18).

In these eleven verses (Phil. 4:10-20) the Apostle Paul teaches us seven key things about contentment. Let's begin with verse 10 and the first of these truths.

Discontent can be caused by several things:

-The death of a loved one or friend.
-The loss of estate or money.
-When relationships don’t satisfy our longings.
-When friendships prove unfaithful and distrustful.
-The broken heart for a wayward or rebellious child.
-When coming under great criticism or reproach unjustly. (discontent arising from disrespect savors too much pride—the Lord will use the arrows of another to teach us to have a lower opinion of ourselves than others may have).
-Suffering for the truth. (A carnal man makes more of his sufferings and less of his sins. The one heart cries, take away the punishment; the other heart cries, take away my iniquity.)
-The prosperity of the wicked—while the righteous suffer the loss of earthly things. (Psalm 37; 73)
-The evil of the times—when every mans opinion is his bible. That kind of error is corrupting and poisonous. The devil is the father and pride is the mother of pride—self-esteem and self-regard are two of its children.
-Covetousness—inadequate view of ones spiritual gifts and part in the body of Christ. Desiring someone else’s position, prominence or proficiency. (Jealousy, envy, or coveting the unholy trinity of wrongful desire).
-Burdens for the church. “Cain put the knife to Abel’s throat and ever since the church’s veins have bled; but she is like the vine, which by bleeding grows and like the palm tree—the more weight is laid upon it the higher it rises” (Thomas Watson).
-Fear - the uncertainty of tomorrow (James 4:13-14).
-Sin (Psalm 32:2-4).
This is the stuff of real faith beloved. Are we truly content in the Lord or are those just words we conveniently say out of religious programming rather than true love for the Master? These are but a few of the things that I know in my life if left unguarded, unchecked, and unnoticed will rob me of my daily contentment in the Lord.

We can see discontent at the heart of sin: consider Adam and Eve in the Fall; Cain's murder of his brother Abel; David’s adultery; Satan’s heavenly rebellion; Nebuchednezar’s arrogance and pride; Demas’s apostasy; Judas’s betrayal; Herod’s death; and on and on it goes...

Thomas Watson once said these profound words:
“A good conscience can sleep in the mouth of a canon.”

Are we that content beloved?

What is contentment?

Here are a few verses that will help us biblically define its meaning:
1 Tim. 6:6. “But godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment.”

Heb.13:5, “Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.’” (cf Deut. 31:6, 8; Josh. 1:5)

2 Cor. 12:10, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
We could say then that contentment is knowing that God orchestrates all things for our good and for His glory according to His holy purposes. It is being completely sufficed and satisfied with who God is and with what God does.

“Blessed is he who does not get offended because of me.”
(Matthew 11:6, “the forgotten beatitude”)

The Greek word for contentment is αυταρκεσ and means to be self sufficient, to be satisfied, to have enough. To have an independence from aid or help. An independence from external circumstances supporting oneself without anyone’s aid. Paul was satisfied. But his soul-sufficiency is not derived from any resources which the soul has in itself. Paul is no vain boaster and would never say, “I am the Captain of my soul” (William Hendricksen). His contentment was only found in and through the person Jesus Christ alone.

The Stoics had made the word contentment into a virtue in the Greek culture. They used it as a term of total indifference to mean “to be unmoved by joy or grief.” The phrase “I don’t care” would sum it up. No matter what occurred, blessing or tragedy, health or sickness, life or death, plenty or privation they would simply reply, “I don’t care.” The Apostle Paul was no Stoic and could rest not in fatalism, but in the sovereignty of God.

This is where Paul continues to instruct us in Philippians 4 on learning the treasure of biblical contentment; and he points to the foundation of contentment in Christ—the sovereignty of God.

1. Rest in God’s Sovereignty (v.10) - Trust
v.10 - “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity."

Sovereignty means that God is in control of every area of your life. We like to pray, “Thy will be done…” but then get frustrated when He does it! (cp, Acts 16:19, 25ff; Psalm 37:3-7, 34; Is.45; Job 38-40; Phil. 2:13f). A great example of God’s sovereignty in contentment is to read through the life of Joseph in Genesis 37-50. It culminates in 50:20 with these familiar and powerful words when Joseph is confronting his brothers who sold him into slavery by saying, “what you meant for evil, God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result.”

That’s biblical sovereignty in contentment in the most concise terms. Joseph was resigned to God’s purposes being accomplished even through the tragic events of his life done so by the hands of his own brothers—his own family.

But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly (χαιρω - rejoice) a timeless aor. meaning “I did rejoice, I do rejoice, I am always rejoicing!” This was Paul’s continuous state of personality and this rejoicing was great. Paul’s mega-rejoicing was motivated by the highest possible considerations as being in the closest union with the Lord, but also with the full implication of this gift.

That now at last you have revived your concern for me…
“Revived is a word properly applicable to plants or flowers, meaning to grow green again; to flourish again; to spring up again. Here the meaning is, that they had been again prospered in their care of him, and to Paul it seemed as if their care had sprung up anew” (Barnes).
Just as in the winter a tree or shrub or flower seems to be dead and lifeless, but in the springtime blossoms again with the beauty and life that it demonstrated in the past, so with the Philippians. Their love for Paul though in the past was great and for a season seemed to be lifeless and silent. But now was blooming again for it had found a way for that expression of love to unfold. “You caused your thought of me to sprout afresh after a long winter.”

Though you surely did care…
They never stopped caring for Paul though a long time had passed between their gifts. Dr. MacArthur has catalogued Paul's journey in contentment this way:
  • Ten years have passed since Paul had received the last gift from the Philippians.
  • Ten years since he arrived in Philippi
  • Ten years since he preached the gospel there
  • Ten years since Lydia and her household were won for Christ
  • Ten years since he was throne in jail
  • Ten years since the earthquake freed all the prisoners
  • Ten years since the conversion of the Philippian jailer and his whole household
  • Ten years since he went Thessalonica and to Berea
  • Ten years since he left Macedonia for the cities of Athens and Corinth
  • Ten years since Paul preached repentance and “the resurrection of the dead” at the Areopagus
  • Ten years since he discipled Aquila and Priscilla
  • Ten years since Crispus the leader of synagogue was converted with his whole household and the result many Corinthians believed the gospel.
  • Ten years since the Philippians’ last expression of love for him.
But you lacked opportunity. Within the season of God’s providence they could not respond to Paul’s needs “at that time.” (v.15-16; 2 Cor. 11:8-9)

But this didn’t bother Paul, for he was content to wait on the Lord. God is in control. He is sovereign in that He is ordering everything for His own holy purpose. Sovereignty is not fatalism—the end is all we see and the means are not significant. Nor is it what I call “botchulism”—man excusing his own sinful ways by saying, “God permitted it, therefore, He must have condoned it.” Nor is it “androidianism’—man living in some sort of paralyzed robotic state as a benign bystander being tugged along like a marionette on a string.

Sovereignty is the confidence and assurance that the Lord is not only omniscient, that He know all things—but that He is also omnipotent, able to bring that which He wills and knows into existence and integrate into perfect conformity with His person and plan for all men.

Beloved, there are no coincidences in the Christian’s life. There are no accidents or cosmic surprises that disrupt the plans of God. He IS orchestrating all things for our good and His glory according to His divine purposes! Amen?

Because He is God
Because He is God, He must be reckoned with. Because He is God, He must not be trifled with. Because He is God, we must love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength—and love our neighbor as ourselves. Because He is God, we ought to worship Him in spirit and truth. Because He is God, we esteem Him with an undivided heart as First Love. Because He is God, we must approach Him clothed in contrition and we tremble at His Word. Because He is God, we give Him the preeminence in all things. Because He is God, he has given us His grace instead of His wrath; His love instead of His enmity; His mercy instead of His justice; joy unspeakable in glory instead of torment in hell for perpetuity.

Because He is God, I have no right to myself. Because He is God, I must walk in love, and love others, as Christ loved me and gave Himself for me. Because He is God, I must be willing to forgive as God in Christ has forgiven me. Because He is God, we love the brethren. Because He is God, I cannot harbor anger, wrath, clamor, bitterness, and malice in my heart toward another. Because He is God, I must turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and give someone my cloak if they want my coat too. Because He is God, I must be willing to suffer the loss of all things, to gain everything. Because He is God, I can rest in the surety that He is orchestrating all things for our good and His glory. Because He is God, I cannot repay evil for evil, wrong for wrong, hurt for hurt. Because He is God, we may rejoice when our hearts are breaking and our world has been shaken. Because He is God, our trials are blessings—invited guests and not strangers.

Because He is God, we keep our vows to our spouse even when he or she seems unlovable, unapproachable, unteachable, or uncaring. Because He is God, we train our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Because He is God, we cannot take another to court and sue for reparations. Because He is God, we have the right to be wronged. Because He is God, we love His Word more than daily food. Because He is God, pastors should preach the Word of God instead of being clever asinine raconteurs. Because He is God, the church must discipline sin and not wink at it. Because He is God, I cannot cherish my sin, but must daily repent of it. Because He is God, I’ve made a covenant with my eyes. Because He is God, I must guard my heart. Because He is God, I must not be motivated by mans applause, but by His “well done.” Because He is God, we cannot become unequally yoked with an unbeliever in any spiritual ministry or enterprise. Because He is God, all our possessions are for the Master’s use—they are not ours; they belong to Him. Because He is God, we must deny ourselves, daily take up our cross and follow Him.

To do all to His glory, according to His divine purpose, under the authority of His Word, to seek His will more than earthly reward, to embrace the fellowship of His sufferings rather than the pleasures of this world even for a season, to live self-sacrificially in unreciprocated love and service to others—to do all this for no other reason than… because He is God!

God alone is the source, sustenance, and sustaining treasure of the Christians contentment. Anything else will be fleeting; anything else can become an idol; anything else will ultimately leave us empty, unsatisfied, and restless.


David B. Hewitt said...

Excellent, brother Steve, especially given my current circumstances.

Thank you for so wonderfully bringing out the truth of the Word of God and its application.


littlegal_66 said...

"Beloved, there are no coincidences in the Christian’s life. There are no accidents or cosmic surprises that disrupt the plans of God beloved. God IS orchestrating all things for our good and His glory according to His divine purposes! Amen?"

I can't believe I missed this paragraph on my initial perusal of this post. (Thanks for the reality check). Yes.....definitely "Amen!"

Captured! said...

I meet so many people, Christian and non-believers who are not content. My life has been a sort of statement about contentment in itself. I live alone and have for many years and must totally rely on the Lord for my needs. And He does provide. It might surprise some, that sometimes it is the most basic needs in which I find myself in want: food, gas for my car, a steady income, and the practical things of life. I depend upon the Lord for my health and well-being, for companionship, and peace. I would not have chosen this path of solitude for myself, but nonetheless, it comes from the hand of the Lord. Its about submission to His will. And so be it. It keeps me thankful, and my friends say I am easy to please. The smallest generousity holds great meaning and imparts such joy to me. The praise goes to the Lord. If you had told me 15 years ago, this would be my lot in life, I would have been in shock. Alas, I have learned to be content in whatever state...

Alan E. Kurschner said...


This post is needed. We are inundated by our society of reasons to want more and be discontent with what we have, compounded by our sinful nature.

The cure for discontentment is daily surrender to our sufficient Lord - and I am preaching to myself as well.

Thanks for the post.


Anonymous said...

Brother Steve,
The Lord used you to help me see Him in His sovereign glory in the midst of some trying circumstances.

Thanks for the post.

Ken F.