Scripture Text – Philippians 4:10-23
I’ve heard this statement before about someone on a former church board where I was an Worship Pastor; “The trouble with him is that he’s a thermometer and not a thermostat!”
The one who said it explained it like this; “A thermometer doesn’t change anything around it—it just registers the temperature. It’s always going up and down. But a thermostat regulates the surroundings and changes them when they need to be changed. So-and-so is a thermometer—he lacks the power to change things. Instead, everything changes him!”
There are, it is true, at least two kinds of people when it comes to change. The Apostle Paul was a thermostat. Instead of having spiritual ups and downs as the situation changed, he went right on, steadily doing his work and serving Christ. His personal references at the close of this letter indicate that he was not the victim of circumstances but the victor over circumstances: “I can accept all things, I can do all things and I have all things.” Paul did not have to be pampered to be content; he found his contentment in the spiritual resources abundantly provided by Christ.
Contentment is neither complacency, nor is it a false peace based on ignorance. The complacent believer is unconcerned about others, whether personally or situationally, while the contented Christian wants to share his blessings compassionately. Contentment is not escape from a battle, but rather an abiding peace and confidence in the midst of a battle. “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.” – Philippians 4:11. Two words in that verse are vitally and especially important – “learned and content.”
The word learned is a verb that means “learned by and through experience.” Paul’s spiritual contentment was not something he had immediately received after he was saved. He had to go through many difficult experiences of life in order to learn how to be content. The word content actually means “contained.” It is a description of a person whose resources are within themselves so that they does not have to depend on substitutes externally. The Greek word means “self-sufficient” and was a favorite word of the stoic philosophers. But the Christian is not sufficient in himself; he is sufficient in Christ. Because Christ lives within us, we have all the adequacies necessary for the demands of this life.
We’re going to cover three wonderful spiritual resources that Paul names which help to make us adequate and give us contentment.
The Overruling Providence of God
But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. – Philippians 4:10.
In this day of scientific achievement and technological advancements, we hear less and less about the providence of God. We sometimes get the idea that the world is a vast natural machine and that even God Himself cannot interrupt the wheels as they are turning. But the Word of God clearly teaches the providential workings of God in nature and in the lives of His people. That word “providence” comes from two Latin words: pro, meaning “before,” and video, meaning “to see.” God’s providence simply means that God sees to what is necessary beforehand. It does not mean that God simply knows beforehand, because providence involves much more. It is the working of God in advance to arrange circumstances and situations for the fulfilling of His purposes. Remember, God is also sovereign in all things!
The familiar story of Joseph and his brothers illustrates the meaning of providence (you can read about his story in Genesis 37–50). Joseph’s brothers envied him and sold him as a slave when he was only seventeen years old. He was taken to Egypt, and there God revealed that seven years of famine were coming after seven years of plenty. It was through Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams that this fact was discovered. Because of that, Joseph was elevated to the position of second ruler in Egypt. After twenty years of separation, Joseph’s brothers were reconciled to him, and they understood what the Lord had done.
Joseph told his brothers outright:
“But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.” – Genesis 45:5.
“But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” – Genesis 50:20.
This is the providence of God: His hand ruling and overruling in the affairs of life. Paul experienced this divine providence in his life and ministry, and he was able to write one of my favorite verses in which I try to live by:
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. – Romans 8:28.
God in His providence had caused the church at Philippi to become concerned about Paul’s needs, and it came at the very time Paul needed their love most! They had been concerned, but they had lacked the opportunity to help. Sadly it is often the opposite with many Christians today who have the opportunities, but lack the concern and compassion!
Life is not a series of accidents; it is a series of appointments. “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye.” – Psalm 32:8. Abraham called God “Jehovah-Jireh,” meaning “The Lord will provide” (Genesis 22:14).
“And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them.” – John 10:4. This is the providence of God, a wonderful source of contentment once it is learned.
To Be Continued