What's the Secret to Contentment?

I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…” Philippians 4:12b

Dear Friends,

It’s that holiday week where we’re never quite sure what day it is - somewhere between Christmas and New Year’s - where we’re either on vacation, or working like we’re on vacation. And in the midst of this, we’re looking at the penultimate verses of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, 10-20 of the final chapter. Next week, to kick off the New Year, we’ll take a look at the last three.

In verse 10, Paul gives thanks to the Philippians for their gifts to him - remember, he’s writing from prison and has just received gifts, delivered by his friend Epaphroditus, who nearly died in order to share with him those gifts. In a tangible way, Paul recognizes that they “renewed [their] concern for me” - which is a beautiful way of putting it. They were concerned for his well-being, and had the ability to do something about it, and so they sent gifts.

Paul then clarifies that he was not “in need” - which is where we should pause. Because I think Paul is saying something different than we understand at first glance. Paul is not living in the lap of luxury, eating “three square meals” a day, sleeping on a pillow-top mattress in an air-conditioned room - and not just because none of these things were invented yet in First Century Rome! Whatever lack he had though, is never brought up. Paul focuses instead on the fact that they were concerned for him and they reached out because of it and they are the ones to be commended… regardless of his situation. Because…

“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…” He has been in need and had plenty - just like us, although most of us have not been “in need” to the degree that Paul was (beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked…) or that many of our brothers and sisters are today. Paul explains that he has found they way to contentment, regardless of the outward situation and circumstances he finds himself in. And that secret?

“I can do all THIS through him who gives me strength.” Note, Paul does NOT say all things as if he could fly to the moon, or defeat a legion singlehandedly, or any number of incredible feats. No, Paul is specifically talking about living in a state of peace and contentment regardless of what he does or does not have. He can do THIS because of the strength of Jesus Christ.

And then he pivots back to the Philippians… because this is a bit of a strange Thank You letter, isn’t it? It’s not very nice to be told that your gift was unnecessary, because the recipient didn’t need it, or is content with what they have. No, Paul thanks them for “shar[ing] in my troubles” going back to their first days, when no other church was doing so. He reminisces on the multiple times they gave him gifts, and he wants that to be “credited to your account” - he wants their generosity to be noted by God and believes their acts of kindness will meet blessings in response.

The language then moves from accounting (credit… account) to sacramental (fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice) that is “pleasing to God” - what a beautiful metaphor for their gifts. These are gifts that Paul has received with gratitude, despite the fact that he is well-supplied and not destitute, sustained by God’s grace no matter his circumstances.

And then he appends a promise and a word of blessing.

my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever.”

May you and I be sustained by both of these as we march into the New Year!

And before signing off… let me echo Paul’s words, to each of you who have been faithful in your giving and support of Canonsburg UP Church this past year, and also to all those who have sent cards and gifts at Christmas to me and our family personally. You are all such a gift to us. A day before year-end, as we are in the midst of tallying up year-end giving, we are very optimistic that we will meet our financial goals for the year. Praise God for his provision and for your faithful support!

If you’d like to get in on this, you can still make an end-of-year gift to Canonsburg UP Church to support the ministry and mission online through our website here

Welcoming You to Grow in Jesus,

Pastor Don

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