10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Dear Friends in Christ,
I’d like to begin my sermon this morning by taking you on a mental tour of the most populated prison in the world. It has more inmates than bunks and more people to feed than there is food to feed them. I mean, the place is not just crowded…it is over-crowded. But not only is it the most populated prison in the world, it is also the most oppressive prison in the world. Just ask the inmates and they’ll tell you. The bunks are hard, the walls are bare, the food is cold, and they never have enough. They’re never satisfied. But perhaps the worst thing about this prison is that once a person gets into it, it’s extremely difficult to get out. Do you have any idea of what prison I’m talking about? I’m talking about the prison of W-A-N-T, the prison of want.
“I don’t want much,” the inmates say. “I just want something bigger, faster, slicker, thinner. And I just want one – that’s not asking much, is it?” One new job. One new house. One new car. One new spouse. And when they have that one thing, they’ll be happy. They just know they will. And when they’re happy, they just know they’ll be out of the prison of want. They’ll finally be satisfied. And you know what? They’re right. They’re right. That is until that new car smell wears off. Or that new job has some unexpected responsibilities. Or, the new television is nice, but I just found out my neighbor’s TV is larger. Or my I-phone 6 is great, but I understand that later this year they’re coming out with the I-phone 7. And the new spouse is nice, but he or she has some of the same old hang-ups as my former spouse. And before you know it, they’re back in prison again, back in the prison of want.
Have you ever been there, my friends? Are you perhaps there right now? You are if you feel better when you have more and worse when you have less. You are if you feel your joy is one delivery away, one transfer away, one award away, one makeover away. You are in the prison of want if your happiness revolves around something you drink or drive or deposit or digest. And if you’re in that prison today, you need to face it. You need to own up to it. That’s the bad news.
The good news is you have a visitor today. Someone has come to the prison to see you and help you get out. His name? The Apostle Paul. And as you take a seat directly across from him in the visitor’s area he leans over and says, “Come here, I want to tell you a secret. I want to talk to you about the secret of being content.” And if he were to summarize that secret in just one statement, I think it would go something like this: What you have in Christ is greater than what you don’t have in life. (Repeat) Let’s chew on that a little bit this morning and see if we can learn this secret ourselves and really take it to heart in our own lives.
Now what Paul is talking about here in our text is what we have in life. So let’s start with that thought by pointing out that what we have doesn’t really matter. Think for a moment about what you have right now – the clothes you wear, the car you drive, the house you live in, your insurance policies, your bank accounts, your jewelry, and so on. All of this is what we might label as “your stuff.”
And the Bible makes 2 clear and oft-repeated statements about your stuff. First, it’s not yours. Ps. 24:1 says: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” Elsewhere in I Chron. 29:14 David acknowledges: “Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.” So what we have is not really ours. We are stewards of it – caretakers, managers – but we are not the rightful owners. And you know as well as I do that no matter how much stuff we accumulate and amass, we can’t take a single bit of it with us when we die. Like the old saying goes: “You never see a hearse pulling a U-haul.”
John D. Rockefeller was at one time one of the richest men in America. When he died his accountant was asked the question: “So how much did John D. leave?” To which the accountant gave the very frank and fitting answer: “All of it.” Like Eccles. 5:15 puts it: “Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs.”
So, all that stuff? It’s not yours. Then secondly, all that stuff is not you. Who you are has nothing to do with the clothes you wear or the car you drive or the house you live in. Jesus once said that life is not measured in what you have, even when you have a lot. You see, heaven doesn’t think of you as the lady with the nice clothes and jewelry or the fellow with the cool car or the child with the brand new PlayStation. Heaven may think of you as the person with the warm heart or the deep faith or the passionate prayers, but God doesn’t judge you by what you have. When the prophet Samuel came to Jesse’s home in Bethlehem to anoint one of his sons as the future king of Israel, God said to Samuel: “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
So what you have doesn’t really matter because what you have isn’t yours and it isn’t you. Then another principle I want you to take home with you today is that what happens to you here doesn’t really matter either, especially in the light of eternity. Look what Paul says in our text: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” That phrase “in any and every situation” is just another way of saying “no matter what happens” I have learned to be content. Those who learn this secret are able to see blessings even in the midst of difficulties.
That’s what a fellow by the name of Doug McKnight was able to do even though at the age of 32 he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis; even though within 3 weeks of that diagnosis he was in a wheelchair; even though the disease cost him his position as the chief financial officer of a multimillion dollar oil corporation. Within a matter of time he couldn’t feed himself, dress himself, or bathe himself. But even though the disease took a lot from him, it never took his joy and it never took his faith.
When he was concerned that he might lose his voice, he wrote out his Christian testimony and anyone who came to see him was given a copy of it. At least 5 of his caregivers became Christians after reading that testimony. Imagine that! They’d come to bathe him or feed him or change him, and wouldn’t you know it, they were the ones who left changed. He even gave his testimony to the Pizza Hut delivery boy. You see, Doug McKnight learned something about the secret of being content, that what happens to us here really doesn’t matter in the light of eternity.
A lady in the country of Tobago learned the same thing. A missionary by the name of Jack Hinton met her on a short-term mission trip to a leper colony where she was a resident. On the last day of this trip, he was leading the singing in the worship service and he asked, “Does anyone here have a favorite song?” All of a sudden he heard this woman speak up and say, “I do.” When he turned to see who said that, he says he beheld the most hideous human face he had ever seen. No lips, no nose, no ears. But she raised a fingerless hand in the air and said, “Could we please sing ‘Count Your Many Blessings’?” Later on someone said to Jack Hinton, “I’ll bet you were never able to sing that song again.” He said, “Oh no, I can sing it. I just can’t sing it the same way.”
That woman had definitely learned the secret of being content. She’d learned that what we have in Christ is greater than anything we may not have in life. And that’s really the last point I want to deal with today.
May I get personal with you for just a moment? What is the one thing separating you from true joy right now? What is the one thing that when it happens, you feel you’ll finally be happy? How would you complete this sentence: “I will be happy when…” I graduate? Get married? Have kids? Get a promotion? The kids leave the house? I retire? What’s that one thing that you feel would bring you true contentment? Maybe it’s something as basic as when I’m healed, when I have a job, when I have more time for myself.
Now let me ask you another question. I’m sorry to have to ask it, but I must. What if that one thing never happens? What if your ship never comes in? What if the healing never occurs? What if you never get that job or that promotion or that pay raise? Could it even be that God has delayed answering your prayers to help you understand that true happiness does not depend upon the happenings in our lives? That what you have doesn’t matter and that what happens to you doesn’t matter? But that what you have in Christ does matter for eternity. And what you have in Christ is enough.
Look at Paul in prison once again. He doesn’t have much, does he? I don’t think he owns much. I don’t think he has much of a future to look forward to. Some of the churches he started are struggling. Some of the people he led to Christ have turned against him. He had a dream of going all over the world with the Gospel, but here he is stuck in prison. And yet manacled to a Roman guard he manages to write a letter to the Philippians that has affectionately come to be known as his epistle of joy. It’s almost as if Paul is saying in this epistle, “You can take everything from me. You can take my health, my friends, my success, my money. You can even take my life, but listen, you can’t take my joy because you can’t take my Jesus.”
What you have in Christ is greater than anything you may not have in life. Paul would have loved the prayer offered by the poverty-stricken Puritan preacher who sat down at his table to a glass of water and a crusty, dry old piece of bread and he lifted his head and said, “What? All this and Jesus too!” Ah, what you have in Christ is far greater than what you don’t have in life.
And what exactly do you have in Christ? Listen, if you have Christ, if you know him as your personal Savior from sin and as the Lord of your life then you have heaven above you, you have the Holy Spirit inside of you, you have eternal life in front of you, and you have the blood of Christ covering you. That’s why Paul was so content. That’s why he was so consumed with Christ. In 104 verses in Philippians, he mentions Jesus 51 times. He’s kind of like the substitute Sunday School teacher one little boy had one day. When his mom asked him after class, “How was your teacher?” he replied, “She must be Jesus’ grandmother because he’s all she could talk about.”
You could say the same for Paul. It seemed that Jesus was all he could talk about because he knew that in Jesus he had everything he really needed. Now the old devil comes along and tries to convince us differently, doesn’t he? He’s the master of sowing seeds of dissatisfaction and discontent. So what it all boils down to is this: To whom are you going to listen? The one who will do everything he can to drive a wedge between you and your Lord so that you can spend eternity with him in hell someday, or the One who loved you enough to die on a cross for you and whose final words were “It is finished,” meaning, “I’ve done all that was necessary for your salvation.”
So my friends, it’s time for a prison break, don’t you think? It’s time to escape from the prison of want. Don’t get me wrong. It’s ok to try to achieve and be successful in life and make the most of the talents God has given you. Just don’t let material things dictate and control whether you are happy or not. Instead find your contentment in the secret that Paul has shared with us today, namely, that what you have in Christ is greater, it’s better, it’s more than anything you don’t have in life.