We have now completed the Fall Series in Philippians this past Sunday, which coincides with Stewardship Sunday and brings us to Thanksgiving Weekend. We had a wonderful service jam packed with songs of praise (Hillsong’s You Crown the Year is a good one to meditate on this Thanksgiving weekend) and a missions moment from Kevin Rideout talking about sharing the Gospel with translations of the bible on SD cards in West Africa. You can join us in praying that the Gospel would flourish in Niger here. Joanne Bleuer led our time of prayer and helped us remember to pray for Pastor Tom as he leads our church. Our choir sang Brahms’s “Geistliches Lied”, a serene exhortation to all of us not to be anxious about anything. God is in control (see the text and translation here). At the end of the service we welcomed Adam and Annie Combs, and their children Jesse, Grayson, and Noah as members of TCC. As the beginning of our Stewardship season, there are so many things to be grateful for and we are excited of the good things God is doing in our community.
Listen to the Sermon
Pastor’s Note: The Secret of Contentment
The Right Mindset – Koinonia
Paul remains consistent through the Epistle that we need to gain the right mindset,* which is the mindset of Jesus: “have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5): self-emptying, humbling oneself and self sacrifice (Phil 2:6). Tied to this mindset is authentic fellowship with one another: koinonia in the Greek pops up regularly in this letter and is conveyed by the words partnership, partaking, participation and sharing together. What is it that we are sharing? The “gospel,” the “grace” of God, community and, and not surprisingly considering Paul is in prison, the partnership is also forged through suffering, self-sacrifice, and trouble/tribulation (Phil 4:14). It is a fact that our community of faith has experienced each and every one of these elements of koinonia at some point or another, but with some deep sufferings this past year with the loss of so many loved ones, TCC is truly living out the deep sense of partnership together.
Koinonia in practice – giving and contentment
As he draws his message to a close in chapter 4, Paul has left the practical dimension of this partnership in the Gospel for last: supplying for the operational needs of the ministry. In these well known verses “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” and “my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” Paul makes some pretty strong statements of assurance. He reveals his secret to financial giving and receiving God’s way. It all boils down to contentment (a word that comes from Stoic philosophy: self-sufficiency, 4:11). In fact, even as he receives monetary gifts with gratitude (sacrifices “pleasing to God” 4:18; See Romans 12:1), he actually says that he doesn’t really need their money! He is content regardless, which leads to the main point: you can’t really be that “cheerful giver” Paul talks about elsewhere (2 Cor 9) unless you have learned the secret of contentment in your own life. In fact you will give out of guilt (and this goes nowhere), compulsion (same dead end because you will end up not giving at all), or you can give out of heart filled with contentment and then God is truly able to manifest His power. At the end of the day, financial giving in God’s Kingdom is a supernatural thing in the same way God provided food in the wilderness and Jesus multiplied the baskets when he fed the multitudes.
The secret way of contentment
This contentment is not something that comes naturally. Paul had to “learn” this “secret” the old fashioned way. This state of contentment has come to him by experiencing (“I know”) two polar opposite realities: “I know how to be brought low” and “I know how to abound” (4:12a). The language of being brought low is the precise language applied to Jesus on the cross: “He humbled himself by becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross ” Phil 2:8. But this state of complete abasing is also matched by the other experience of abounding. Here the language matches the extraordinary overflow of 7 and even 12 baskets of bread when Jesus fed the crowds! Paul can live in both world but he had to learn how to do this just as Jesus had to “learn obedience” through His suffering (Heb 5:8).
When he says “I have learned the secret” of contentment, he’s not keeping it secret and lets us in on it. In verse 12b he breaks it down real slow for us:
‘I have learned to have extra helpings buffet style (Mark 8:8 “They ate and were satisfied”)’
‘But I have also experienced real hunger (Jesus was “hungry after not eating for 40 days”)’
Then he repeats himself (just so we really get it; like the idea of rejoicing, Phil 3:1; Phil 4:4; Phil 4:10):
I have learned to “abound” (with a large surplus) but I have also experienced want at times.
This last one about being in need/want is very tough because it’s the same language used in Psalm 23, “I shall not want.” But here lies the secret: Paul has come to a place of acceptance that sometimes God’s promise of provision doesn’t look like provision at all! Sometimes God allows us to go with times of want/need (and who has NOT experienced those times?!!) and He is teaching us to accept them and to come to that place of saying in our hearts, “I’m ok with that.” Remember, Paul is actually in prison at the time of writing this. He’s totally practicing what he’s preaching. If we’re honest with ourselves, our own reaction to times of want is that we quickly go into misery and despair. But Paul rejoices in the Lord!!!
Digging deeper into Paul’s secret, he’s actually already told us how he runs his life in Phil 3:8. Put in a different way, Paul considers all that he has accumulated in terms of life’s accomplishment is actually pure garbage in contrast to the surpassing value of knowing Jesus. It’s all about Jesus! Fellowship with Him, intimacy with Him, and being in His presence! It’s about surrendering it all to Jesus. This is why he does something seemingly so counter intuitive as a fundraiser: ‘I don’t really need your money; I have everything I need.”
Wait! There’s ‘one more thing’…
But he is not done schooling us on financial giving….
Because even as he says, I don’t need your check and your contribution, he also says to the Philippians, you still need to give, but not for me, for yourselves! Verse 17 holds the key to financial giving God’s way, but you can’t get there until you have come to this place of contentment he’s been talking about: “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.” In other words, by depleting your account, you actually end up filling it. Another really strange to approach fundraising since the math is clear: if you taking 1000 dollars from your account, the balance will show a deficit that reflects this reality. Your balance will be shy of one Grand (or 10 dollars, or 10,000 or whatever number).
However, the lesson in contentment is now that giving and depleting your account will turn out to your profit. You will financially profit from it. How is that possible?! Because the power of God is now injected into Paul’s equation of contentment: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” And because the power of God becomes part of the actual transaction, He will see to it that our needs (material needs in this context) are taken care of: “my God will provide all your needs” is in the inevitable conclusion. This is why Paul sees the giving and receiving of their partnership as a total win-win proposition. The receiver wins because he/she receives what is materially needed and the giver wins because they also receive what they need. It’s in the contentment in whatever circumstances and in the communion/koinonia of both giving and receiving that the power of God is unleashed.
Reflections for the Week
This masterful lesson from Paul on money is pushing us to ask some serious questions…
- Why are we not giving if giving is so awesome?
- Are we content? Whether the faucet is turned on like a fire hose or it’s more ‘drip-drip,’ do these circumstances affect our giving? According to Paul, they shouldn’t because God provides even in our times of want/need.
In the end, we remember the Gospel. It’s not what we do for God but it’s what he has done for us. We rest in him. Some of us are on a vertical learning curve when it comes to faith and finances. So hear the promise: “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil 2:14).
*a total of 10 times in the original Greek text of Philippians and variously translated in our English bibles: 1:7; 2:2 (twice); 3:15 (twice); 3:19; 4:2; 4:10 (twice). This all points to a mindset that is ‘heavenly’ focused on the mindset Jesus adopted when He died for us on a Roman Cross: A mindset of self-sacrificial giving of our lives to God.