Paul had learned the secret of being content in every situation. The secret is in knowing the difference between what we want and what we truly need.
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Glasses are a pain. I’ve never had to wear glasses before this year, but I find myself using them more often when I read. You can’t find them when you need them. The lenses pop out. They break. They get smudged. You have to take them off and on and off and on. They are a pain.
But I do like what glasses do for me. They bring clarity to what I’m reading. I don’t have to spend a lot of time squinting and trying to figure out what’s there. I guess I will keep my reading glasses.
Some of us need glasses to help us see, but all of us need help to see spiritually. If our spiritual vision is good, it will touch our whole life for good, not just the parts we tend to think of as spiritual. Take for instance our spiritual life passage today. The apostle Paul, because of his personal growth in the Lord, helps us to see the difference between our wants and our needs. If we can get that, if we can learn to live with a Mindset of Contenment, it will make a huge difference in our lives. So let’s take a deeper look in our final message of our series Mindset Reset.
10 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. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 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. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Paul was a man in constant need. He moved around without means, fully dependent on the Lord to provide for him. He met with violent opposition every place he went. In his travels he was often shipwrecked, hungry, tired, in fear for his life. In every human analysis he was a man in need.
Yet, incredibly Paul says that he wasn’t in need. Instead he says that he has learned to be content. Contentment. That’s when we realize that what we have is enough. We are satisfied and are not looking for something more. Content people are what put advertisers out of business. Discontent people never can sit still because they constantly search for what will satisfy.
I would imagine that if we had been in Paul’s shoes at the moment that he wrote this letter, we would have been hard pressed to say that we were content. The man was in prison and completely dependent on outside help to provide for his daily needs. We can see that Paul was happy that his brothers and sisters in the Lord from Philippi had remembered him in prison and sent him a gift to help with his needs. Instead, strangely enough, he only thinks of them and not his own needs.
He’s like a father to them, and like a good father he is concerned first and foremost for his children. So he rejoices because he sees that they are concerned about him. At first they were they only church who helped him in partnering with the gospel ministry. He is glad to see that what God had begun in them was continuing to hold true as evidenced by their giving.
But Paul isn’t done teaching them. He’s glad to see that this Jesus thing is sticking with them. They are growing. They are becoming more like Jesus. But there’s more to knowing the Lord than doing good things for other people. Paul calls it a secret, but it’s really not a secret in the way we know a secret to be. It’s a secret because only those who continue to pursue a close, personal relationship with Jesus Christ ever come to really know it. He had learned to be content in every situation because the Lord always provided what he needed.
Need is such an interesting word because it means so many different things to people. The most interesting thing about need is that you don’t know exactly what you truly need until all that you don’t need is taken away from you. This is how Paul learned to be content. When those things which he previously thought he needed were taken away as he followed after the Lord, he began to realize in a very real, practical way that he could be content. The secret was to do everything through Christ.
Glasses clarify and magnify so that when things are fuzzy we can see better. We look through glasses to see things as they really are. The same thing is true of the Lord. When we look at our potential needs through the Lord, all the fuzziness of what we need becomes clear. The problem with doing everything without the Lord is that since we can’t see clearly we imagine all kinds of problems and pitfalls. The reality of a close, personal relationship with Jesus is that we are given his strength to face the Hi’s and Low’s of the day. In every situation, whether we have much or little, whether we are brought low or are lifted high, we can be content. We can do whatever is needed through the Lord.
So what Paul’s secret boils down to is that he had learned that his greatest need was to know Jesus. Through this relationship he then could face anything. Sometimes the Lord wanted him to have very little. Sometimes the Lord wanted him to have a lot. Whichever was the case, he learned to rely on the strength that the Lord gave to him to be content.
I think that we focus a little too much on the times when we lack food or finances or friends or free time, whatever. But what about the times when we have more than what we need and we know we have more than what we need? Those times can be really difficult for us because we tend to not rely on the strength of the Lord. If you learn anything from Philippians today you should learn that Paul learned to rely on the strength of the Lord in both the times of plenty and the times of scarcity.
When you get what you need you move on to what you want. Then human nature tries to tell us that our wants are really our needs. Then we just need more, and more. How much money does a person need? Our human nature says, “Just a little bit more.” But the Contentment Mindset says, “I am content with what I have. The Lord provides for me.”
14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 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. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
As Paul learned during his travels in the gospel ministry, the Lord provides in lots of different ways. Sometimes their church planting team got jobs to support themselves. Paul was a tentmaker by trade, so when he planted a church in the city of Corinth, Greece, he found some employment with another tentmaker. At other times various churches provided for their support, as was the case with the Philippians. But Paul takes pains to let them know that he doesn’t have any expectation of compensation for his ministry to them. He is grateful for their support, but he says it in such a way that lets them know their gift is not required. He calls is a fragrant offering, a sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God. He does not want money from them but instead what he truly wants is to see the evidence of their spiritual growth. He calls it the “fruit that increases to your credit.”
The Bible compares spiritual growth to the harvest of fruit. In Galatians we learn about the fruit of the Spirit. The Lord compared the gospel to a seed that is planted and grows in the parable of the sower. The spiritual fruit Paul talks about here is evident because they are a generous people in supporting the ministry of the gospel financially. The fact that they responded to the gospel message by not just receiving but also giving shows that the Word of God made an impact. The Spirit of the Lord has worked in them so that they acted just as the Lord said, that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
This act of giving is pleasing to the Lord. It is sacrificial in nature. They certainly could have used their overflow to address their wants, but instead they chose to give to Paul. Paul wants them to know that their gift has been received and is being used to supply his “needs”. We must understand that Paul was not a person to deny reality here. It’s simply that he had learned to live on less and to depend on the Lord in those times. The gift from his brothers and sisters in the Lord would be put to good use. When Paul says he didn’t need it, that doesn’t mean that he couldn’t use it.
But notice that Paul is so far away from putting a guilt trip on them so that they could give to him to help him out when he had little to live on. Prison was not a place back then where they gave you three square meals a day. You were dependent on outside help. Yet he in no way wanted to connect the gospel with having to do things. This is why Paul says that he offered the gospel “free of charge.” (1 Corinthians 9:18) As one who had seen a thing or two, Paul understood that some people use the gospel ministry for financial and personal gain. It’s not wrong to receive compensation for doing the work of ministry as Paul himself argues to the Corinthian church. Yet, it is easy to allow the desire for things, our “wants”, to crowd out the pure message of Christ.
This happened during Paul’s life and it happens today. The irony of the this passage is that the verse that Paul ends his discussion with, “my God will supply all your needs”, is the very passage that many Christians today are taught to speak so that they can get their wants. Rather than understand the context of what Paul is talking about, it is used as a mantra. Paul has just gotten down saying that he doesn’t have any needs because he has learned to be content with just a little. Yet all too often when Christians come to this verse they don’t ever think about learning to be content with what they have. Instead they assume they already know what they need and don’t need. But that misses the point that Paul begins with – that he had to learn to be content in all circumstances.
This is a truth that we all need to learn but nobody wants to learn. We need to learn to be content, whether we are in prison, in need of food, shelter, medicine, money to pay bills, whatever that may be. But in order to learn to be content, we first have to learn to trust. We have to trust that the Lord will provide for our needs. Then one step further, we have to learn that the Lord knows the difference between our needs and our wants and that we should trust him to work out the difference.
Yes God does supply all of our needs. That is a truth that we need to internalize. He loves us and He provides for us. Do you believe that? Ask yourself if you are content in your present circumstance. If you are not content then is it because you have not yet learned the difference between what you need and what you want? A mindset of contentment is what we need. It will take some time to learn to be content, yes, but if we allow the Lord to teach us then the end result is that we will know him more. We will learn the secret – that our greatest need in this life is to know Jesus Christ.
My hope is that you’ve gotten greater clarity as we have studied this book of Philippians over the last two months. May our minds be reset so that our thoughts and therefore our lives are more like the Lord Jesus.