Saturday, February 7, 2009
The Secret of Contentment
It's hard to find anyone in Christian history who became a great leader without earning an advanced degree at the University of Adversity. John Bunyan (1628-1688), the author of The Pilgrim's Progress, grew up in poverty and taught himself to read. As a young man, he struggled with feelings of not being forgiven by God and was tortured by visions of eternal punishment. His devout wife helped him to overcome his fear, but then, while she was still in her twenties, she died of a sudden illness. In his grief, Bunyan devoted himself to preaching. The English government, however, repeatedly imprisoned him for preaching without a license. On one occasion, Bunyan was sentenced to three months in prison, but when he told the officials he intended to go on preaching, his sentence was extended to 12 years. John Bunyan experienced God's presence in a special way while he was in prison. In fact, it was in his cell that he penned his enduring classic, The Pilgrim's Progress. It's a book that could only have been written by a soul that was refined by the fires of adversity. A. W. Tozer once wrote, "It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply." God has a mission for your life and mine. But before we can carry out that mission, we will often go through the boot camp of adversity. If this is where you find yourself today, ask God to give you His grace to walk through this time with you. He promised He would never leave or forsake us. "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. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 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. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. yet it was kind of you to share my troubles. 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. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:10-19). Paul the Apostle also suffered hardship. However like John Bunyan, Paul was not a victim of circumstances but the victor over circumstances. He said "I can accept all things" (v.11), "I can do all things" (v.13), and "I have all things" (v.18). Paul did not have to be pampered to be content; he found his contentment in the spiritual resources abundantly provided by Christ. Contentment is not escape from the battle, but rather an abiding peace and confidence in the midst of the battle (v.11). The verb "learned" means learned by experience. Spiritual contentment does not come immediately after one is saved. Content means contained. The resources are within. The Christian has sufficient resources in Christ. In the above chapter, Paul names three spiritual resources that make us adequate and give us contentment. First, the overruling providence of God (4:10). In this day of scientific achievement, we hear less and less about the providence of God. The word providence comes from two Latin words: Pro, meaning before and video, meaning to see. God's providence means that God sees to it beforehand. It is the working of God in advance to arrange circumstances and situations for His purposes. Joseph and his brothers illustrate providence. His brothers envied him, and they sold him as a slave at age 17. In Egypt God revealed 7 years of famine were coming. When the interpretation of Pharaoh's dreams were revealed. Twenty years later Joseph's brothers were reconciled to him, and then understood what the Lord had done. In Genesis 45:5 Joseph stated "God did send me before you to preserve life." God in His providence has caused the church at Philippi to become concerned about Paul's needs, and it came when Paul needed their love the most. Life is not a series of accidents; it is a series of appointments. The Lord has promised "I will guide you with My eye" (Psalm 32:8). Abraham called God Jehovah-Jireh "The Lord will see to it." When God puts forth His own sheep He goes before them (John 10:4). God's providence is a wonderful source of contentment. Second, the unfailing power of God (4:11-13). Paul explains that he is not complaining. His happiness does not depend on circumstances or things. Most believers have learned how to be abased, very few have learned how to abound. The word instructed (v.12), means to be initiated into the secret. The word was used in pagan religion. It meant the inner secrets. Through trials and testings Paul was initiated into the wonderful secret of contentment. It was the power of Christ that gave Paul spiritual contentment (v.13). Paul's motto "I can through Christ." Third, the unchanging promise of God (4:14-20). Paul thanks the church at Philippi for their generous gift. He compares their giving to three very familiar things. 1. A budding tree (v.10). The word "flourished" refers to a tree budding. We go through winter seasons spiritually. But spring always brings new life and blessing. The tree has not moved, circumstances are not changed. The difference is the new life within. 2. An investment (vv.14-17). Their missionary gift would pay them rich spiritual dividends. They gave materially, and received spiritually. The church is poor that fails to support missions. 3. A sacrifice (v.18). Spiritual sacrifices are the Praise of our lips (Hebrews 13:15), good works (Hebrews 13:16), and winning the lost (Romans 15:16). The philippian believers offered a sacrifice to the Lord in giving to Paul. Paul sees this gift as coming from heaven. They gave out of poverty, but God will supply out of His riches in glory (v.19). Hudson Taylor said "When God's work is done in God's way for God's glory, it will not lack for God's supply." Contentment comes from adequate resources. Our resources are the providence of God, the power of God, and the promises of God. These resources made Paul sufficient for every demand of life, and they can make us sufficient, too. Dr. Ken Copley is available for counseling, conferences, and local church meetings.