Contentment is a somewhat ironic concept in our culture today. Everyone is seeking for the one big thing that will make them content. Most people think that they are one acquisition or one life change away from contentment. The irony is that if you are seeking after something then you are not content. But we think that if we had one particular life change then we would be content. If we had a better job, a better marriage, a better family, a better home, a better car, a better entertainment plan, a greater amount of discretionary income and so on, then we would be content. Unfortunately the words of rock singer Sheryl Crow has fallen on deaf ears: “It’s not getting what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got” (Soak Up The Sun). Can we be content? What is the secret to being content in this life? This is what Paul is going to tell these Christians as he brings his letter to an end.
Think About These Things (4:8-9)
Paul begins by teaching that there is the need for proper thinking. The Greek word (logizomai) used here, translated “think about” (ESV, NIV, NRSV, NET),”dwell on” (NASB, HCSB), or “meditate” (NKJV), is a word that means more than just to keep something in mind. The Greek word is used to calculate, to count, and to ponder. These are things to take into account, to reflect upon, and let that reflection cause a change in our behavior. You see this in verse 9. Verse 8 tells Christians to think about these things and verse 9 says to practice these things that you have learned, received, heard, and seen in Paul. So Paul is not teaching us to “think positive thoughts.” This is another facet of our culture’s new spirituality. How many times the solution that is given to us from our culture is to think positive! This idea is often wrapped into supposed biblical teachings. Many of the televangelists and biblical teachers will try to convince you that you can have a good life now if you would simply think positive thoughts. But this is not at all what Paul is saying. Paul is not saying to think positive. Rather, Paul is teaching us to direct our thoughts to things that are pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise.
Paul is giving us a helpful guide to assess what we allow to fill our minds. The reason that this is important is because what we set our minds and hearts on inevitably shapes the way we speak and act. Jesus taught that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:21; Luke 12:34). If we are treasuring in our minds and hearts things that are pure, lovely, and excellent, then our hearts is going to be attracted to those things as well. We will want to live in the realm of wholesome, pure things. But when we treasure in our minds things that are not pure or lovely, then our hearts are going to be attracted to those sinful things as well. What we set our mind on affects the direction of our lives. This is why the apostle Paul taught the Corinthians:
We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. (2 Corinthians 10:5–6 ESV)
Our thoughts will either lead us to Jesus or away from Jesus. Therefore we must take every thought captive to obey Christ. We must evaluate what we are thinking about so that our hearts will treasure Christ. So Paul is calling for us to take inventory in our lives. It is time for the spring cleaning of the mind. What movies are we watching? Do those movies promote us to think about things that are pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy things? What are we reading in books? What are we listening to for music? What are we reading on the internet? What are we watching on television? What are we streaming online? What are we reading on social media? Not only can we not allow these things to drag our minds into the trashcan of sinful, evil things, but we cannot even allow those things to keep us from thinking lovely, pure, and commendable thoughts! For example, Facebook is not sinful in itself but does it cause us to envy, or complain, or be jealous, or make us discontent? Watching the news is not sinful but does it cause us to worry, complain, or lose faith in our sovereign God, or do other damage to our faith? I want us to see the calculation for our minds is not simply, “Is it sinful?” This is a very important calculation. Too many people who claim to be followers of Christ are watching, reading, and looking at too many sinful, sexual images. Such viewing must stop for the Christian. But even more, what else are we doing that is damaging our faith because it is not drawing us closer to the Lord? We are to take our thoughts captive and think about things that draw us closer to the Lord.
Learned To Be Content (4:10-20)
In verse 10 the apostle Paul expresses his appreciation for these Philippian Christians who have shown their love and concern for Paul. These Christians have been taking care of Paul financially and he thanks them for their continued help. In verse 14 Paul is grateful that these Christians were kind enough to share in his troubles. They were the only church to financially help Paul when he left Macedonia to continue preaching the gospel (4:15). They sent more to Paul while Paul was in Thessalonica (4:16). This generous giving to Paul was a credit to these Christians (4:17) and Paul is well supplied because of all the gifts they continue to send to him (4:18). What a beautiful picture of the kind, generous heart that the Christian is to have for each other, especially those who are proclaiming the gospel.
But Paul does not want them to misunderstand his own situation and what these Christians were doing for him. Listen to verse 11.
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. (Philippians 4:11 ESV)
Paul tells them that he is not in need because he has learned to be content in whatever situation he is in. Paul says that he can be fine in any circumstance. Stop and think about this for a minute. Could we say the same thing? Paul’s joy did not depend on the alleviation of his physical discomfort. His joy was not in his paycheck. His joy was not in how much money he made. It did not matter if he had nice things. It did not matter if he did not have a nice donkey to drive. Paul was content. Paul had God-sufficiency, not self-sufficiency. Contentment is being satisfied in Christ. But I want you to notice something in what Paul says. Contentment is not natural. Contentment is learned. Paul says that he learned to be content in whatever situation he was in. It was not natural. He learned it. Contentment is being satisfied in Christ because we have learned that nothing else satisfies. This is what the message of the book of Ecclesiastes is about. Nothing in life will satisfy you. Only God can satisfy. Contentment must be learned and what we are learning is that only Christ is satisfying. We are only sufficient and whole in Christ.
The result is what we read in verse 12. Paul now knows how to be brought low and how to abound. It does not matter what circumstance he finds himself in, Paul is content. Paul has learned the secret of face plenty and hunger, abundance and need. He can handle hardships and handle financial gain. The secret to contentment is full dependence on Christ (4:13).
Oh, how verse 13 is ripped out of its context. Verse 13 is not saying that God strengthens me and therefore I can be a success or I can play football or some other idea. This is not about a selfish life pursuit. Rather, we are finding Christ to be supremely valuable and satisfying so that we are content in any circumstance. God sustains me. God gets me through. I am content because I have Christ.
Contentment cannot be learned if we are not setting our minds on the lovely, pure, commendable, and praiseworthy things of Christ. If I am looking at everything else in this world, then I lose contentment. When my eyes are on possessions, then I need new possessions. Now I need new cars, new houses, new clothes, new computers, and the like. But when my eyes are on Christ and I am thinking about him, then I am satisfied. When my eyes are on my reputation and success then I am looking at job, my career choices, my relationships, and the like and I am discontent. But when my eyes are on Christ, then my job is just a job that does not define me. I can enjoy my relationships and not attempt to be the focus of those relationships. I can live a humble, self-denying, self-sacrificing life because my mind is centered on lovely, pure things of Christ. This is the strength God supplies through Christ to be content in all situations. I have Christ and therefore I am content.
Then we have full confidence that God will care for us and give us what we need for life (4:19). Again, verse 19 is another verse that is ripped out of its context. Does this paragraph sound like the apostle Paul is proclaiming some kind of health and wealth message to these Christians? Paul just said that he has been brought low in his life, facing hunger and need. The message is not that the more you give to God financially, the more God will give to you financially. Even in hunger and need Paul was content. We must consider what our greatest need is. Our greatest need is not a bunch of money and possessions. God has given us what we need for salvation and life in him.
His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:3 NRSV)
Contentment is seeing our joy in Christ. God will give us what we need. We have enough to be content. The problem is our hearts and our way of thinking. We think we need so much more but we must learn contentment. Contentment is found in Christ. Whether in plenty or hunger, Paul was sufficient because of his relationship with Christ. He’s not looking at his checkbook. He’s looking at Christ! But Paul shows that God took care of him. The Philippians have come through on his behalf, caring for his needs. Because he was not concerned about his finances but was content in every situation, he saw his needs being provided for by God.
Our resolve for transformation begins by calculating what our minds are focused upon. Our minds must be set on the glory of Christ if we are going to learn contentment. We are not going to be content if we set our minds on worldly things, on sinful things, or material things. Satisfaction will only be found in Christ. Stop pursuing joy and contentment in the things of this world. You will not find lasting joy and satisfaction in more money, a new man or woman, a new job, a new car, or anything else that is material or earthly. We know this because we have tried it all. We have taken new jobs only to find that it also has problems. We see people divorce and remarry and have affairs online to find that they are still unhappy. We see people move far and near only to still not be satisfied. We see people get financial raises and promotions, but nothing is better in their lives. God made life this way so that we would see that joy and satisfaction are in Christ alone and begin to seek him for that joy.