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Philippians 4:10-23 - Grateful and Generous Contentment

Philippians - Joy for the Journey  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  41:31
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Contentment in Christ produces gratitude and generosity in our hearts

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Introduction

As we have studied through Paul’s letter to the Philippians these past several weeks, we have come across some of the most well-known verses and passages in all the New Testament:
Philippians 1:6 ESV
6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Philippians 1:21 ESV
21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Philippians 1:6 ESV
6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Philippians 3:10–11 ESV
10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Philippians 3:14 ESV
14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
But perhaps no verse in Philippians is better known than the verse we read a few moments ago:
Philippians 4:13 ESV
13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
From T-shirts to coffee mugs to bumper stickers to phone cases and just about any other item you can imagine, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” shows up just about anywhere items are marketed to Christians. And I don’t have any proof of this, but it almost seems that the Fellowship of Christian Athletes has a requirement of its members that they have to have Philippians 4:13 tattooed prominently somewhere on their body!
But one of the most important rules of Bible study is that you never take just a single verse out of its surroundings and read it in isolation. The old saying from Bible college and seminary really is true: “A text without a context is a pretext!” In other words, in order to rightfully understand a particular verse (like Philippians 4:13, for instance) is to read it in its surroundings—the verses on either side of it, the chapter it’s in, the book the chapter came from, the purpose and occasion of the book, and so on.
And when we take the time to do that with “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me”, we find (much to the chagrin of our Christian athlete friends) that this verse has nothing to do with being able to hit a three-point shot at the buzzer or break a conference record in track. This verse isn’t telling us that Jesus will give us strength to do whatever it is we want to do.
There is a very specific context for Paul’s statement here, and if we take the time to unpack it I believe there is an immensely important truth for us to get hold of in the days we are living in. In order to get a glimpse of it, let’s start back at verse 10 and get a running head start into verse 13:
Philippians 4:10–13 ESV
10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Now, let’s remember the context of these verses in this letter. Paul is writing in part to thank the church in Philippi for their generous contribution to his legal defense fund in Caesar’s court over the charge that he had caused an insurrection in Jerusalem. Their gift enabled him to get the legal representation that he needed to avoid a summary judgment of execution—so Paul really has reason to be grateful, doesn’t he??
But look for a moment at how he characterizes his situation— “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content...” Think of that for a minute! Paul is saying, “Thank you for the gift of my legal defense fund—but I don’t want you to think I was in need—I would have been content either way! I would have been content to die here in Rome—and I am content to live as well!”
Does that strike you? It should! And lest we miss Paul’s point he goes on to elaborate in the next verse: “I know how to be brought low (even to death!), and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need...” Paul says, “Whether I’m sitting on death row or being entertained as an honored guest, whether I am full of health and vitality or feeling my life ebb away through illness, whether I’ve got fifty cents or fifty thousand dollars, I. AM. CONTENT!”
And then in verse 13 he gives away his secret to contentment: “I can do all these things through Christ who strengthens me!” “Do you want to know how I can be content in all of these circumstances? It is because I have Jesus Christ!”
When you truly grasp the treasure that you have in Jesus Christ—the forgiveness of sins He has purchased for you by his death and resurrection, His daily presence and leading, the upward call of holiness and joy in Him in this life and for eternity in the life to come—when you really grasp all that Jesus is for you, then your contentment can’t be affected by your circumstances. Rich or poor, healthy or sick, safe or in danger, Christ gives you strength for contentment!
Charles Spurgeon once said, “I have heard of some good old woman in a cottage, who had nothing but a piece of bread and a little water, and lifting up her hands, she said, as a blessing, ‘What! all this, and Christ too?’”Is that the mark of your contentment in Christ this morning? Can you look at the crust of bread and cup of water on your table and say, “All of this, and Christ too!!”?
Here in this passage Paul will go on to demonstrate how that kind of contentment in Christ works itself out in the heart of a Christian. What I hope that you will be able to see this morning from God’s Word is that
Contentment in Christ STRENGTHENS us to be GRATEFUL and GENEROUS in this world
The test of your contentment in Christ, Christian, is how well your heart reflects a godly gratitude and a godly generosity. Paul ties both of those graces to his contentment in Christ in these verses. Look again at verses 10-13—here Paul is demonstrating that

I. Contentment is your ground for GODLY GRATITUDE (Philippians 4:10-13)

In verses 10-11, Paul expresses his gratitude to the church in Philippi for their gift. But look at what he expresses his joy innot the money, but the concern that the money represented! “…at length you have revived your concern for me…” One of the signs of discontent in a person’s heart is how often they will focus on things like the money and not the giver. And when the focus is on the gift and not the giver—when the money becomes the end goal—there is always some measure of manipulation that starts showing up.
You’ve probably seen it if you’ve gotten onto the mailing lists of charitable organizations, haven’t you? “Dear Mr. and Mrs. Murphy—thank you for your generous gift last month to drill a new community well in Darkest Africa—hundreds of children now have fresh, clean water to drink… But there are hundreds of other villages that still need water...”
But because Paul’s contentment was in Christ and not in the gift the church sent him, he was able to express godly gratitude
Without MANIPULATION
Paul was grateful for their gift, but what really gave him joy in the Lord was the concern that the gift represented! He didn’t offer his gratitude in such a way as to make the Philippians feel like they should have given more, or that he wanted another gift—he was content with or without any financial help for his situation. And so his gratitude was free of any manipulation or “guilt-tripping”.
And because Paul was content in Christ, he was also free to express godly gratitude to the Philippians
Without FLATTERY
Another one of the pitfalls that can accompany gratitude comes from the temptation to “butter up” your donors—telling them how wonderful they are, how you “couldn’t do it without them”. But again, Paul’s contentment in Christ short-circuits the temptation to flattery, doesn’t it? Because his rejoicing doesn’t center on them—his rejoicing centers on Christ! “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now you have revived your concern for me...” And a few verses further down we see Paul expressing his gratitude for them in terms that sound like flattery:
Philippians 4:15–16 ESV
15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again.
It sounds like Paul is saying, “Oh, if it weren’t for you guys, nobody would have supported me! Even when I was with other churches, you still sent me funds—you guys are the best!
But what keeps this from being flattery is the next verse:
Philippians 4:17 ESV
17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.
In other words, Paul says, “What I really rejoice in is not the gift itself, but the fruitful evidence of God at work in you! Paul is grateful for their gift, of course—but he is more grateful that the church in Philippi is demonstrating godly generosity! Instead of making much of them, Paul makes much of Christ and His work through them for Paul’s sake! Instead of “thank you so much for your generous gift!”, Paul says, “I am so thankful to God that He used you in such a marvelous way in my life!” Instead of empty flattery, godly gratitude magnifies the giver by praising God for His work through them!
And when your focus is on your contentment in Christ, you are able to express gratitude
Without HESITATION
When your focus is on expressing how good God has been to you through others’ generosity, you take every opportunity to express that gratitude to them—you want them to know how God has used them in your life, you want to tell them (as Paul wanted to tell the Philippians) how you rejoice greatly in the Lord for them. Godly gratitude is quick to say “thank you”, quick to express thanks to God for the people who minister to you because it exalts the work of Christ through them!
Contentment in Christ strengthens you to be grateful in this world, and it strengthens you to be generous. Your contentment in Christ is your ground for godly gratitude, and

II. Contentment is your fuel for GODLY GENEROSITY (Philippians 4:14-23)

We saw a bit ago that Paul expressed his joy not just for the gift the Philippians sent him, but even more for the evidence of the fruit of godly generosity growing in them—they were demonstrating their contentment in Christ that freed them to let go of their earthly treasure for the greater worth of their treasure in Christ. And Paul indicates that they were willing to part with their earthly treasure so that other people could gain the heavenly treasure! Look again at verse 15:
Philippians 4:15 ESV
15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only.
Paul makes it clear here that giving generously is
An act of PARTNERSHIP (Philippians 4:15)
in Gospel ministry. Now, it’s worth considering this for a moment, because there are times when a church can be accused of just “throwing money at a problem”—if you really cared about the lost in Africa, you wouldn’t just write a check; you’d go there!
But this isn’t the way Paul talked about the gift the church sent, is it? The word for partnership here is the verb form of the Greek word koinoneia— “fellowship”. It doesn’t just mean some kind of arm’s-length business transaction—it is a partnership where your hearts are intertwined with each other for the sake of the ministry, that your commitment and involvement is essential to the work of the ministry!
Next week, Lord willing, we will be hosting Caleb and Mary Ellen Curry, who are being led by God to go to Togo West Africa as missionaries. Please take every opportunity to come meet them next weekend, hear their hearts for the people they are going to. Because if we as a church commit to financially supporting them, we will enter into a partnership with them for the Gospel—a partnership as vital and as important as if we were getting on the plane with them! This is one of the ways godly generosity is manifested in a heart that is content in Christ—that you are willing to give generously of your earthly treasure so that others will hear and believe the Gospel so that they will gain the same heavenly treasure you have in Christ!
Godly generosity is an opportunity for partnership, and Paul goes on to say that giving generously is
An act of WORSHIP (Philippians 4:18)
as well. In verse 18 Paul says
Philippians 4:18 ESV
18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.
As he expresses his gratitude to the Philippian church for sending the money for his legal defense, he makes it a point to demonstrate to them that when they gave those funds they were doing far more than just “making a donation”. The phrase “fragrant offering” and “sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” are taken directly from the Old Testament descriptions of sacrifices made in worship in Leviticus and Numbers. If you’ve been reading through the Bible on the Five Day Bible Reading Plan, you have probably been struck by how burdensome and exacting the sacrifices were that God required of His people. Qualification after qualification—what kind of animal, the specific steps for slaughtering, bleeding, cutting, arranging and burning it, what to do with the ashes, who was allowed to do what part of the process. The requirements for an acceptable sacrifice that pleased Him were extraordinarily difficult to achieve.
And the first thing this does is drive us to gratitude for Christ’s sacrifice, isn’t it!?
Hebrews 10:11–12 ESV
11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,
In Ephesians 5:2, Paul uses the same description for Jesus’ sacrifice that he does for the Philippians’ offering in verse 19:
Ephesians 5:2 ESV
2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Again—our contentment in Christ’s sacrifice is our fuel for our offerings as an act of worship! Because Jesus offered a once-for-all sufficient and pleasing sacrifice to God, Christian, you can offer a fragrant offering that pleases Him every week! That check that you write, that envelope you drop in the plate is not just a tax-deductible contribution for your taxes—it is a vital partnership in the work of Gospel ministry, and it is a delightful fragrance before God, who delights in it because He delights in the sacrifice of Christ!
You don’t give because you are trying to get on God’s good side, or because you want to “buy His affections”—everything you have was given to you by Him, after all! Like the Dodo in Alice In Wonderland who presented Alice with her own thimble as a prize—you can’t give God anything that He doesn’t already have! God says in Psalm 50:12
Psalm 50:12 ESV
12 “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine.
No—the only way your offering can please God is if you give it after you have already given yourself to Christ!
And this helps us to see one more connection with our contentment in Christ as the fuel for godly generosity—when you are content in Christ, when He is your treasure, then giving generously is
An act of FAITH (Philippians 4:19-20)
Paul goes on to say
Philippians 4:19 ESV
19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
Here is one more connection between our contentment in Christ and generous giving. One of the reasons people tend to be tight-fisted with money is because, deep down, we are afraid of what will happen to us if we give it away. That by giving our money away we are giving away our security, our protection, our provision.
But when our contentment is in Christ—when we are confident in Him to supply every need of ours—then we do not fret over the thought of being generous. We can gladly and freely give generously because we know that God is faithful to supply our needs! Giving generously is one of the surest ways to break the neck of greed and stinginess in your life, because every time you give, you are fighting back against the lies of greed and selfishness that say that you have to keep some for yourself— “You deserve to hang on to some of this money, too! How else will you get the things that you want if you give it all away??”
The godly answer to that is, “But, I already have Christ!! What else could I want that could possibly come even close to being as good a treasure as He is to me?? Even if I zero out my bank account, I still have Him, and He will take care of every need I have!” How many of you have experienced that very thing in your lives? You have been drawn to godly generosity, even at the expense of your own needs—and then God has perfectly met those needs for you!
This is not some health-and-wealth Gospel shell game where you give a thousand dollars to God and He promises to give you two thousand back! You give of your treasure to God for the sake of Gospel partnership with others, you give generously as an act of worship pleasing to Him, you give even when you don’t know for sure what’s coming tomorrow, because He promises to give you more of Himself!!! Who in the world can be faced with the great treasure of the presence and delight of God Himself, and turn around and say, “No thanks—can I just have the cash equivalent??”
Christian, your contentment in Jesus strengthens you to live with godly gratitude and godly generosity in a world that runs on ingratitude and grasping selfishness. Don’t hesitate to express godly gratitude for the way God has used people in your life—nothing will stand out in the darkness of our current times like a heart that is grateful to God for its treasure in Christ! Like Paul himself, you can be content (and grateful to God!) no matter what your external circumstances look like! Whether you are brought low or you abound, whether you are hungry or full, whether you are safe or in danger, you are content in Christ and can live with gratitude in this world!
And not only that, but look for opportunities to demonstrate godly generosity this week. One of the most beautiful things that God has done in our church family is to see how He is bringing about the fruit of generosity in our congregation. During our Leadership Council meeting a couple of weeks ago we were discussing sending a memorial gift for Gloria Buhite, and as we discussed the amount to give, the question around the table was, “What would be considered a generous gift”? That is a question to make the heart of a pastor rejoice! Not because of the gift, but because it is a sign that God is at work in this congregation!
Look for opportunities to give generously in partnership for the Gospel—pray about our meeting next week with the Currys, pray that God will continue to give us opportunity to become partners with other brothers and sisters in Christ for the sake of the Gospel here and around the world. Look for opportunities to give generously as a pleasing sacrifice to God—Jesus Christ has offered the once and for all pleasing sacrifice to God by His death, burial and resurrection, and His offering of Himself means that your offering—whether big or small—pleases your Heavenly Father!
And if you are here this morning and you think that by putting some money in the offering plate, by giving up your one day to sleep in on Sunday morning, by sacrificing your time to be here, that you are somehow “scoring points” with God, that He will in some way be better disposed to hear you or do good to you—let me tell you a story from the Old Testament to help you understand the danger that you are in, without even knowing it. The Book of Leviticus sets out in excruciating detail exactly how offerings were to be prepared and presented before the LORD in the tabernacle. In Chapter 10, two priests named Nadab and Abihu—two men who belonged to the priestly family, who were authorized to offer sacrifices before the LORD—prepared their censers (their firebowls) for offerings in a way that God did not command:
Leviticus 10:1–3 ESV
1 Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. 2 And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. 3 Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ ” And Aaron held his peace.
Friend, what I want you to know is that even though that story took place in the Old Testament—God has not changed. He is still utterly and immensely demanding about how offerings to Him are to be made. He is still completely inflexible, still sets out non-negotiable terms for what offerings He will accept. And you can no more decide on your own terms what to offer Him than Nadab and Abihu could.
Because the Day will come when everyone who believed they could come on their own terms to God, that they could give Him what they thought was good enough, what they believed would please Him—just like Nadab and Abihu, their homemade offerings will blow up in their faces, and will become the reason they are cast into eternal fire under the damnation of God.
The only way that you can present a pleasing offering to God is if you have already offered yourself to Jesus Christ by faith. His is the only sacrifice that is pleasing to God, and the only way that any offering you try to bring God will be accepted! So stop trying to please Him with your own made-up, patched together homebrew offerings—they are a ticking time bomb that will blow up in your face. The only remedy is to throw them away and throw yourself on the mercy of the Only Acceptable Sacrifice Himself. Come down and talk to us after the service, let us show you from the Scriptures what it means to trust in Jesus’ sacrifice alone for your salvation, let us pray with you so that you will know that you belong to Him and can be content in your Savior, Jesus Christ!
BENEDICTION
Hebrews 13:20–21 ESV
20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION

Read Philippians 4:11-13 again. How does reading these verses in their original context help you understand Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me”? How does your contentment in Christ strengthen you to be grateful for what you have?
Think of a time when someone expressed gratitude to you for something you had done for them. How would it encourage you in your faith if someone told you that they were grateful to God for how He had used you in their life? How does this kind of godly gratitude protect us from the temptation to flatter or manipulate others?
Paul says that the church in Philippi were his “partners” because of the financial gift they had sent him (Philippians 4:16). How does this verse inform the way you think about the financial support our church sends to our missionaries? What are some ways you can make that “fellowship in the Gospel” a more deliberate part of your life?
Who has God used in your life to bless and strengthen and support you? How can you express godly gratitude to them this week?
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