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The Hardest Lesson to Learn (Philippians 4:10-23) August 30, 2008

Posted by roberttalley in Contentment, Philippians, Religion, Sermons.

THE HARDEST LESSON TO LEARN (Philippians 4:10-23)

The weather is a very revealing thing. Every time the weather changes, we reveal how discontented we are. We have had a wonderful, beautiful summer with plenty of rain and we have spent most of that summer complaining about the rain, forgetting that it is God who gives us our weather. You see the weather in a small way reveals how discontented we often really are with our lot in life. It is a hard lesson to learn but it is a necessary one for the believer in Christ.

The lesson to be learned is contentment in Christ (4:10-12). Contentment is not automatic, it has to be learned. Now there was a group called the Stoics in that day who preached contentment. They taught that you should come to the point of indifference. They were like little Pierre in the children’s book who replied to everything with the phrase, “I don’t care.” That is, until he was swallowed by a lion. When they finally got him out of the lion, his first words were, “I care.” It was said of the Stoics that they made the heart a desert and called it peace. Obviously that it is not what Paul believed. He writes with thanksgiving and rejoices when the Philippians help him out in his time of need. As we go through this epistle, we see that Paul cared, he cared very much. He was an emotional man who went through high times and low times but in this roller coaster that we call life, he had learned to be content in Christ.

The classroom is life (4:11-12). Contentment is not learned during the good times but rather during the rough times, when we are not getting what we need or want. I saw a wonderful example early in the summer of learning contentment. We have a couple of suet feeders in our backyard. There were a number of different birds who nested and were feeding at our feeders. One of these was a family of starlings or blackbirds. The mother starling would fly to one of the feeders with one of her babies which was as big as the mother, the only difference being it still had its gray baby feathers. It appeared to be just a strong as its mother also. It had no more trouble holding onto the feeder and appeared to be able to fly just as fast. Yet the baby would hang onto the feeder with the food inches away from its beak and wait for its mother to peck out a seed and put it down its throat. The baby starling had it good. It received everything from its mother’s mouth to its own. There came a day, though, when Momma said “No.” You are on your own. The baby bird is not happy with the situation but he has a choice. He can bellyache and beg or he can learn to be content with eating on his own. Why? Because that is what is best for young birds.

This is the secret of life we must learn (4:12). There is no situation in which God is not doing what is best. That is why in each and every circumstance of life we are initiated into the secret of what life is all about: God is in control, I am not, and what He is doing is what is best. God does not play cruel jokes on people. What happens is that we refuse to accept that what God is doing in our life is what is best.

This is exemplified by his attitude towards the lack of giving by the Philippians (verse 10). He recognized that they had not had opportunity. It does seem strange that God had not allowed the Philippians to help Paul during the ten years since he had started the church, but God had not and Paul said with a quiet confidence, “God knows what is best.”

This is exemplified by his attitude towards their gift (verse 11). He says, I did not really need your gift. I am content in Christ, whether you give or not. I am not losing sleep over the fact that the gifts are few and far between. I just tighten up my belt and remember, “God knows what is best.”

This is also exemplified by his independence of circumstances (verse 12). He says, it just does not matter whether things are going well or rotten, “God knows what is best.

The lesson learned strengthens and empowers us (4:13). Now this verse does not say you can climb every mountain and ford every stream. It does not say dream big and you can accomplish big things. It is not a mantra to excuse foolishness or ambition. What then is the “all things” in verse 13 that we can do. The answer is in verse 12. In every circumstance of life, wherever I may be, I have the strength and the power to be content in prosperity and in poverty.

Now where does this strength and power come from? God. We ask ourselves so often, Lord where can I get faith, peace, contentment, power, love, joy, patience, all the virtues that the Bible tells me I need and that I think I want. The answer is “from God.” The power of positive thinking and the strength of a stiff upper lip will not bring virtue in our life. God, however, can and does by teaching us these things (as we talked about last week) through His people, through prayer, and through His Word.

To seek the abundance of others (4:14-18). You see contentment and seeking the abundance of others go hand in hand. You will never be content as long as you are looking out for your own abundance because self is never satisfied. When your needs are met, you will focus on your wants, and when your wants are met, you will focus on the things that others say you need, and on and on and on… Why? Because the desires of man are never satisfied. If, however, you are seeking the abundance of others, there is contentment to be found.

Over the next few weeks, we are going to talk a lot about commitment and giving. I want you to understand, when we ask you for a commitment of time or money or labor or attitude, we are not asking you to keep this work going. God does that. Our motivation must be this, that your heavenly treasure chest will overflow, that your sacrifice will be seen by God as pleasing.

Now it is important that you understand that when you give to the abundance of others, that is worship. When you give so that others might have, you have submitted yourself to God, falling on your spiritual face and said to God that what you have is His.

This involves the giving of money but it also involves the giving of time, strength, priorities, and whatever else that you may have. If you sing to your hearts content and rejoice in the singing and the music but do not give your all for the abundance of others, you have not worshiped but, rather, have simply had an emotional experience. What pleases God is those things that cost us something.

To depend on Him for our needs (4:19). Biblical contentment is more than being happy with what you have. Rather it is an active confidence that what God gives you is what you need at that moment.


“The comedy film Cool Runnings is about the first Jamaican bobsled team to go to the Winter Olympics. John Candy plays a former American gold medallist who becomes a coach for the Jamaican team. The players grow to like the American coach and affectionately dub him “Sled-god.” Late in the story the coach’s dark history comes out. In an Olympics following his gold medal performance, he broke the rules by weighting the U.S. sled, bringing disgrace on himself and his team. One of the Jamaican bobsledders could not understand why anyone who had already won a gold medal would cheat. Finally he nervously asked Candy to explain.

“I thought I had to win,” said the coach. “But I learned something. If you are not happy without a gold medal, you won’t be happy with it, either” (With thanks to Ray Pritchard

Do you want the secret of life? The choice is very easy. If you want to live for yourself, you will never know the secret of contentment. But it is there all around you, if you are willing to learn it.

Next Week:


Exodus 12:12-37 What Do We Mean By This Service?



1. Tap Kingsly - November 26, 2010

As i began preparing my Sunday School lesson from Phil 4:10-23, I was empty as to what God want of me to pass on to His people. I could not clearly point out the central idea.God being so kind; He led me to this site where I realized that each and every word from God is very important though humans beings at times may not understand the hidden power each word of God possessed, we at such times just have to meditate the more and ask Him to lead us to the understanding of His word and in Him research on His word.

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