Philippians 4:11-13 – A Brief Exposition

Philippians 4:11 is our theme verse regarding Christian Contentment and it appears in the context as the first of three verses which end with Paul’s “secret” to being content. It obviously isn’t a secret because he tells us that contentment does not rest in us, but in what Christ can do in us. He assured us near the beginning of his epistle that, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

Philippians 4:11-13

Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” v. 11

Verses 10-19 is a discourse of how the Philippian believers supplied Paul with a gift to further his ministry. He assures them that even though it took a long time to reach him, he received it as a love gift and not because they were obliged to him. Their gift arrived late and he assured them that he was in no way offended or deprived by that. (v. 10) He assures them (v. 11a) that what he is about to tell them is not because he is in need of or asking for more frm them. He mentions three things:

  1. In Paul’s life of ministry he has learned something important through painful trials that apply to everyone. (See some examples in II Corinthians 11:23-28.)

  2. The lesson applies to every circumstance or trial which Paul elaborates on in the next verse.

  3. The result of these lessons is contentment. The Greek word for content is used only here in the New Testament and it is a word used by stoic philosophers of a man who is sufficient to himself for all things; able by the power of his own will to resist the shock of circumstance. It could be taken to mean self-reliance, but Paul explains what he means in the next sentence.

 “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” v. 12

Paul isn’t spouting some philosophical or theoretical notion. His own personal experiences of humiliation, hunger, and suffering bear out his assertion. Listen to this man who has proven what he claims in the harsh reality of life:

I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. v. 13

Paul’s contentment does not come from stoical endurance or brave independence. His secret is not self-sufficiency, but all-sufficiency in Christ; it is dependence on Christ in all circumstances. The word strengtheneth in Greek consists of the basic word for power or strength with a prefix indicating the joining of this power or enabling between “Christ” and “me.” Christ working in the believer’s life is empowering, not just to produce contentment, but in accomplishing “all things.” He bears testimony to this power when he asked God to heal him of an illness and God’s answer was another trial to glorify Christ: “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” II Corinthians 12:9

Next time – Jeremiah Burrough’s definition of Christian Contentment

 

Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646)

Jeremiah Burroughs

“I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:1-3

“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.” II Timothy 4:2

The character of Jeremiah Burroughs comes out clearly in his book first published in 1646 two years after his death at age forty-seven. The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment is compiled from his sermons on the topic and lightly edited for spelling and archaic words.

His treatment of the topic of Christian Contentment is remarkably practical. Unlike many of the scholarly clergy of his day who fed their flocks lofty and lengthy dissertations on theologically abstract concepts, Borroughs sermons were so down-to-earth that his congregants loved them for their sensible applicability. His book shows us that spiritual contentment is a very practical and useful subject.

Burroughs spent his life as a warrior for the truth. He left Emmanuel College in Cambridge when he realized that the Church of England was not as committed to the truth of the Word of God as he believed it should have been. He was labeled a “nonconformist” and associated with a number of like-minded Puritan men called the Independents who later moved to New England to form Congregational churches.

During a brief period in England’s history when persecution of Puritans abated, he moved to London and was chosen to preach at two of what some termed the greatest congregations in England (Stepney and Cripplegate). He was second to the senior minister and so assigned to preach at the 7 a.m. service. Before long, he was known as “the morning-star of Stepney.” Naturally, because he preached at the other church in the evening, he became known as “the evening-star of Cripplegate.” In both churches he faithfully preached the word of God and was loved for his sermons.

All who knew him said that he had a calm, peaceable, warm spirit. He was particularly bothered by divisions among Puritans over what he considered minor differences. He noted that the causes of rigid, hot-tempered disputes was usually a wrong spirit and wrong motives. Although his attempts to smooth over disputes was not always successful, he and a few other Puritan ministers managed to keep a sense of proportion. Many of his sermons still survive and their collection in The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment is a blessing to all who desire to glorify God in their daily lives.

 Next week: What Philippians 4:11 says about being “content.”

Introduction – Spiritual Contentment

“…I have learned, in whatsoever state I am,

therewith to be content.”

Philippians 4:11b

Welcome to 2021 and the start of a new series! The next several months will be devoted to a very practical study of “Christian Contentment.”

We can easily become discontent with our circumstances and that discontent will drag us down spiritually. The past year of COVID-19 restrictions and uncertainty combined with a tumultuous social and political scene have driven some Christians to take on an attitude of discontent. Circumstances, personal trials, and conflicts give us handy excuses for being discontent. The Bible says that God “…hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:” (Ephesians 1:3b) Certainly, these blessings are heavenly, but our omnipotent God is not limited to the spiritual only. “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

Our study will lead us into what Christian contentment looks like, what it means to learn to be content, what some of the (many) obstacles to contentment can be, and finally, what we can do to become more content in our Christian lives.

In preparation for our study of Christian Contentment, I asked myself some questions:

  • What is “spiritual contentment”? Happy, comfortable, successful, well-off?

  • What brings me real contentment in life? Where do I find spiritual contentment?

  • Are there circumstances that make me the opposite of spiritually content: disgruntled, frustrated, resentful? Do I express my discontent by complaining, grumbling, griping? Do I make excuses to justify my discontent? Is it sin to be  discontent?

Besides the Bible, our guide will be a little book written by the Puritan preacher, Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646) titled, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, published in 1648. I’ve been blessed by Burroughs’ deep, devotional love for Christ and his practical insights into what causes believers to be discontent, ungrateful, vexed, and disgruntled with what happens around us. This godly preacher of the Gospel had insights into the human condition that are as applicable in the 21st century as it was in his time four hundred years ago.

 

More about Jeremiah Burroughs next time.