Let me begin by asking this question. Have you learned the secret of being content in any and every situation? According to a scientist at Cardiff University, last Monday – 24 January - was the day when the people of Britain would have been the least contented. The reason? Well take a look at this: [W+(D-d)] x TQM x NA! W stands for ghastly weather, D-d for the gap between your Christmas shopping credit card debts and your next pay cheque, T for the time since you were enjoying Christmas, Q for the broken New Years Resolutions, M for the lack of motivation and NA for that nagging feeling that you need to do some thing about all this. If you’re a Newcastle United fan then you might add CB or GS depending on your point of view! (Craig Bellamy or Graeme Souness for the uninitiated.) But whatever we think of the scientist’s formula, it is true that many people do not have true contentment whether they are in need or whether they have plenty.
The world says that one of the secrets of being content lies in having more things; that things make you happy and content. The adverts tell us that we need to go to the Metro Centre for some ‘retail therapy’. But that secret is ultimately a lie. You can collect all the things you have ever wanted and still feel desperately empty. The Apostle Paul learned that the secret of being content was not things but rather a relationship with Jesus Christ, through whom we can do all things, through whom we can have the strength to be content whatever the circumstances (v13). In the previous chapter of Philippians Paul’s own testimony was that he had lost all things in order to know Christ (3:8). He considered them rubbish compared with the surpassing greatness of knowing the Lord Jesus Christ.
That's not to say that Christians should not be concerned with money matters. The Bible says that we are to be wise stewards of what God has given us. There is a need for some Christians to create wealth and jobs in a godly way and so be able to give large amounts to further gospel ministry. Who here this evening will God use in such a way? Well don’t forget what the Lord said in Deuteronomy 8:17-18:
“You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.”
Comfort is dangerous, and we should constantly be re-examining our lifestyle. The New Testament is beautifully balanced on this. Paul avoids both extremes here in Philippians and in 1 Timothy 6. Asceticism is a rejection of the good gifts of the good Creator. Its opposite is materialism—not just possessing material things, but becoming preoccupied with them. In between asceticism and materialism is simplicity, contentment, and generosity, and these three virtues should mark all of us. It's not a question of rules and regulations about our income, and how many rooms or cars we have. It's these principles of simplicity, contentment, and generosity over against covetousness, materialism, and asceticism that we have to apply to our living all the time. We need to give away what we are not using, because if we don't use it, we don't need it.
And what a contrast to the concerns, selfishness, greed, materialism and money worries of the world is this passage from Philippians 4 as it speaks of Paul's contentment in Christ, his trust in God to meet needs and the joyful generous giving of the materially poor church at Philippi. So to my two headings, under which we’ll look further at the secret of being content and then at the blessings of giving.
1) THE SECRET OF BEING CONTENT
Paul was a man of unshakeable contentment in Christ. His circumstances might vary and his earthly future might be uncertain as he writes from prison, but look at what he writes in v11&12:
“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need and what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”
What is the secret he has learned? What is the secret of being content we are to learn? Well look on to v13:
“I can do everything through him [through Christ] who gives me strength.”
He can, in other words, meet all circumstances with contentment through Christ. Who needs to hear and learn that this evening? You’re a Christian but life is not easy. Well you can do everything through Christ who gives you strength. In fact that is what God wants you to learn through the situation you are facing. Perhaps you’re not yet a believer. You know you don’t have true contentment. Well why not come to Jesus Christ this evening and begin to learn the secret of being content in him in any and every situation. Paul is testimony to the contentment Christ brings. So whatever amount the Philippian church sent him contents him. In v.17 he even says that he wasn't seeking a gift. Not that he didn't want it or that he was ungrateful but that he was just content to accept whatever circumstances the Lord had appointed for him. He was content in Christ, even in prison. Yes, union with the living Christ is the secret of being content and the source of our abiding strength.
You see another myth that the world puts out is that all you need is within yourself. In the western world self-centredness is a boom industry. In fact Paul was no stranger to such ideas. His use of the word translated ‘content’ is a deliberate choice. Some philosophers of his day used this very word to teach self-sufficiency and claimed it was the highest goal a person could reach. Through the pathway of the mind an individual could reach this inner state of contentment and self-sufficiency. But Paul is clear and we need to be clear. We are not self-sufficient but Christ sufficient. No matter what challenges lie ahead, Jesus Christ is big enough to meet them. To be content in need or in plenty, in whatever situation we face is not the product of human skill. The secret isn’t us, it is Jesus in us! The strength that Christ gives is sufficient for anything we face in life. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. Now of course, like Paul, we have to play our part in terms of obedience and trust. There is perspiration as well as inspiration as we learn the secret of being content.
In Christ Paul also had discipline of self to be content with what he had and a deep trust in God to provide what he did really need. Notice that Paul says he had learned to be content. Christian contentment is not something we have overnight. He had learned the secret test by test, circumstance by circumstance. It is the mark of a mature Christian who wants to grow in Jesus Christ, who had nowhere to lay his head. Contentment does not come easily. It takes discipline. For example, we must decide not to covet - like Paul in vv. 11 and 17 who didn't covet the Philippians' gifts. Covetousness had been a problem for Paul but in Christ his heart was weaned away from 'things' and became wholly and solely God's. In fact the opposite of contentment is covetousness. But the person who possesses Christ possesses all.
Paul had also learned to be content because he had learned to trust. He was contented because God is trustworthy. "I can do all things in him who strengthens me". In Christ we too can meet all circumstances with contentment. "My God", says Paul, "will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus". He will meet our need to the full. And his supply will not be limited to the size of our need but according to his riches in Christ. Indeed one of the factors which makes for Christian contentment is the generosity of others as the Lord uses the resources of one to meet the needs of another. But Christian contentment also leads to generosity. All of which brings us to my second heading:
2) THE BLESSINGS OF GIVING v10, 14-20
We may never have thought about it in this way before but Christian giving brings blessing to others, to the givers and it blesses God.
First have a look at v10, 14-16 & 18. Those verses clearly tell us that the Lord uses generous Christians to help to meet the needs of others and of his work. Christian giving is a blessing to others. In v10 we see that the Lord uses the Philippians to help to meet Paul's need and therefore also the ministry of the gospel. Look at v.10. Paul recognises this when he writes:
“I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.”
Paul rejoices greatly in the Lord for the concern shown to him by the Philippians - for the gifts they had sent him with Epaphroditus (v.18). For, as the first chapter of James says, 'every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above' (Jas 1:17 RSV). How are Christians to give and receive? We are to give generously and joyfully to God's work here and overseas and receive gratefully, giving thanks to the Lord for his provision. The Lord uses us to meet the needs of his church here and those who have gone out from here to serve God elsewhere. Jesmond Parish Church has no outside financial help and no monetary reserves. As David and the churchwardens put it in their letter that was sent out with the giving literature this week: ‘our resources and reserves are in our pockets’. Are you willing to be used by the Lord to meet needs and so be a blessing to others? Am I? God has given us so much - chiefly his indescribable gift - his Son Jesus Christ. How can we not be generous? And not just in terms of money but also with our time and gifts. It leads to needs being met, the preaching of the gospel and to rejoicing in the Lord.
This passage also tells us that we are to keep on giving generously, that we are to go on being a blessing to others. The late Sir John Laing who founded the Laing construction company was throughout his life a careful and generous steward of the resources God gave to him. So much so that when he died the size of his estate was just £371. After his death it was said of him that the man who had handled millions had given them all away. The Philippians generosity to Paul was ongoing too. Their gift to Paul was not a one off. Look again at verses 10 and 14-16. Paul says that they kept on being concerned for him, for his needs and for his work, right from their first acquaintance with him preaching the gospel, when they first believed. Indeed only the Philippians had shared with Paul in the matter of giving and receiving when he'd set out from Macedonia. And when he was in Thessalonica they sent aid again and again when he was in need. How concerned are we for our missionaries and how ongoing is it? How concerned are we for the future growth of this church, for the vision we believe God has given us over the next twenty years? Namely, to reach thousands of people with the good news of Jesus Christ on Tyneside and make disciples of all nations. It will be costly. It will take sacrificial giving. It will take ongoing generous, cheerful and sacrificial giving. We praise God for the generous and sacrificial giving over the last two years. We thank God for 3 Osborne Rd. We thank God that the projected deficit of £90,000 was in the end £55. We look to the future with faith in a great God, for whom nothing is impossible. And we are to play our part in prayer, in serving and in ongoing generous giving.
And as part of our ongoing generosity it’s important to review what we do give both monetarily and otherwise and ask "can I now give more?" Those of you who are new to JPC will have noticed that we don't pass the collection plate round every Sunday. That's because we want you to give regularly, generously, prayerfully and in a planned ongoing biblical way, whether you're in CYFA, a student or older. In a larger church everybody is vital. We all have a part to play and a contribution to make. We are all to be concerned for the future ministry of this church. Now the Philippians had been concerned for Paul all the time but, v.10, had had no opportunity to show it for a while. Perhaps some of you who are relatively new are still waiting for the collection plate to come round, still waiting for that opportunity to show your concern financially. I know I waited for the plate for at least a term when I came here as a student until I realised at a newcomers evening what the church's policy was! Well don't keep on waiting for that collection plate! Here at this giving review is your opportunity to show your concern. To fill in the response form that came with your service papers this evening, to fill in the gift aid form if you're a taxpayer, for we don’t want the government to keep what could otherwise go to gospel ministry and to fill in the standing order form. If you're a student and have an uncertain income then start small and build up. When the opportunity opened up for the Philippians to send Paul gifts they were swift to grasp it. Will we be? They had a spirit of generosity. Do we? The Philippians shared in Paul's troubles (v.14). His need was not a remote thing to them. They felt it themselves. It touched them and they responded. Their generosity then was a means of Christian fellowship and it was literally beautiful of them, writes Paul in v14, to share in such a way. Our generosity can be a means of Christian fellowship in helping to meet the needs of others both here and overseas and the costs of ministering to people inside and outside the church. I know that the Navajeevana Health Care Centre in Sri Lanka have rejoiced greatly in the Lord because of our partnership in the gospel with them and the gifts they’ve received to minister to those affected by the tsunami. Let’s continue to give generously and be a blessing to others.
Secondly Christian giving also brings blessing to those who give. Now of course we can’t earn our salvation, that comes only through faith in Jesus Christ. Everything received is a gift of God’s grace. But this consistently generous and sacrificial giving lays up treasure in heaven. Generous giving is not all about meeting the needs of others and of JPC but also about the spiritual growth of the givers and the spiritual interest that will be credited to their account. Look at what Paul writes in v.17:
“Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account.”
Paul needed the help the Philippians had sent but because of his sensitivity in receiving monetary help from the churches he'd planted and his contentment in any situation he was more concerned with how their gift would affect them spiritually. Using the language of accounting Paul sees their gift as an investment that would pay them rich spiritual dividends. It’s a deposit in the bank of heaven that will multiply at compound interest to their advantage. The Lord keeps the books and will never fail to pay one spiritual dividend. A church that fails to share materially with others is spiritually poor. The systematic faithful giving of the Philippians was an indicator of their spiritual health. So how is our spiritual health? Are you laying up treasure in heaven? Yes, it really is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).
Thirdly generous Christian giving is a gift to God as well. It blesses God. It is a work acceptable to God: a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. Look at v18. Paul abandons the language of accounting and takes up the language of worship. The Philippians gifts are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. In the Bible the fragrant offering or burnt offering expresses obedient consecration to God, and God delights in his people dedicated to himself. So Paul teaches here that when Christians take note of Christian needs and generously sacrifice to meet them, it is, for God, the burnt offering all over again, and he delights to accept it.
And finally, v.19, what the Philippians have given to God will be amply repaid by him from the limitless resource of his riches in Christ Jesus. Look at v.19:
“And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”
Paul says you met my need and God is going to meet your needs. You met the one need that I have but God will meet all your needs according to his riches in Christ. Through the Philippians Paul's need had been met by God. And now Paul says that God will meet all their needs. Notice that Paul does not say that God will meet all their wants. God will meet all their needs, not their ‘greeds’. And look very carefully - God will meet them according to, or as befits his glorious riches in Christ Jesus, not merely out of his riches. Do you see the difference? A millionaire may donate £1000 to charity out of his riches, but compared to his total wealth it is small. Last Monday Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft and one of the world’s richest men, with an estimated fortune of $48 billion, gave $750 million out of his riches to help to ensure that children in developing countries have access to life saving vaccines. That is one sixty-fourth or 1.3% of his wealth. But if he gave according to his riches it would be larger. Now Bill Gates says he intends to give away 90% of his wealth over a period of time. But his resources are not infinite and neither are they certain. God's giving is in proportion to his infinite resources, it is according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. We need not be in any way afraid of giving generously and proportionately to God’s work here at JPC and to world mission, whatever our income. We can trust God. We can’t out give God. He is no man’s debtor. God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. Glory be to our God and Father forever and ever. Amen.