A Jewish man in Hungary went to his rabbi and complained, “Life is unbearable. There are nine of us living in one room. What can I do?” The rabbi answered, “Take your goat into the room with you.” The man was incredulous, but the rabbi insisted, “Do as I say and come back in a week.” A week later, the man returned looking more distraught than before. “We can’t stand it,” he told the rabbi. “The goat is filthy.” The rabbi said, “Go home and let the goat out, and come back in a week.” A week later, the man returned, radiant, exclaiming, “Life is beautiful!!! We enjoy every minute of it now that there’s no goat in the room.” You see, our contentment is often based on our perspective of things.
So, those of you who have been checking us out for a while know kind of what we do, but I wanted to take a minute this week to talk about what our mission is, and that is making and growing authentic followers of Christ. The name ReCreate comes from 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV), which says “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come; the old has gone, the new is here!” We believe it is our calling to go and make disciples of the nations (Matthew 28:19 – 20), so welcome to ReCreate Ministry, where our mission is making and growing authentic followers of Christ. We are glad that you have chosen to check us out, whether on the website or on Facebook.
This week, we are wrapping up our series called Experiencing Joy, where we have been digging in to the book of Philippians one chapter at a time. I hope that you have gotten as much out of these messages as I have gotten from teaching them. This week, we are going to be digging into the 4th and final chapter of Philippians, and we will be talking about finding joy in contentment. Maybe it is a slight irony that I am writing this message on joy through contentment while the power is out where I live, because it means that I am limited to simply typing it up with no access to internet (good thing I take notes on a regular old notepad), but it is a reminder to me that my joy does not come from the things that I have. Max Lucado is the pastor at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, as well as a best-selling author, and he puts it this way; “Find joy in the ordinary.” Let me ask you something. How often do you stop and look at the things around you? I don’t mean slowing down to see which turn-in you need to take to get to Starbucks or Target. I mean, how often do we stop and look at the world around us? Most of you don’t know this, but I grew up in a very small town of around 100 people. We had miles of open land with nothing but trees, grass, and ponds. As a kid, I always dreamed of moving away and living in the city, but now that I am grown and do live in the city, one of my favorite things is to go back to my hometown and relax. It’s amazing the beauty that you find when you slow down long enough to enjoy it. Philippians 4:4 (NIV) says “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” My first point is this:
Here’s a question for you. How could Paul write a letter about joy from prison? How is it possible that a man in chains could be so full of joy, and encourage others to have joy as well? The only possible answer is that his joy does not come from the situation that he finds himself in, but that it comes from God. Paul’s attitude here teaches us something: Our inner attitudes do not have to reflect our outward circumstances. Paul was not full of joy because everything was going his way. He was in jail!!! He was locked up. He had been shipwrecked, beaten, arrested, and put in jail for the Lord, but he never lost his joy. How is that possible? The only answer is Jesus. Paul was full of joy because he knew that no matter what happened to him, Jesus was with him.
Richie Sambora is best known as having been the guitarist for Bon Jovi for close to 30 years. He has a song called Hard Times Come Easy, and it talks about how easy it is to find ourselves in difficult situations. Now, Richie is not known as a Christian singer, nor is he known for his Christian beliefs, but I think he has a great point in this song. It’s very easy to find ourselves in hard times. They come much easier than any of us would like for them to, but we can still find joy in dealing with hard times if our joy is not found in our circumstances, but in Christ. My friend Rick Atchley said “The truth about our discontent is that it is fed and fueled by a contract mentality that thinks ‘God owes me because…..’” The truth is that God doesn’t owe you anything. He put you here for a purpose. Paul had faced everything from false teachers to even being threatened with death, but he spends the entire book of Philippians reminding the people to be full of joy. Psalm 118:24 (NLT) says “This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.” Hard times may come easy, but we can always have joy in the Lord.
Philippians 4:6 – 7 (NIV) says “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” My second point is this:
1 Peter 5:7 (NLT) says “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” When we have attitudes of joy, combined with our awareness of Christ’s return, we can dispel any worry. It does not mean that we should not still work to provide for our needs and the needs of our families, or that we should not care for others, but we are told not to worry. In Matthew 6:25 – 27 (NCV), Jesus says “So I tell you, don’t worry about the food or drink you need to live, or about the clothes you need for your body. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothes. Look at the birds in the air. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, but your heavenly Father feeds them. And you know that you are worth much more than the birds. You cannot add any time to your life by worrying about it.” When we, as Christians, worry, we are basically telling God that we don’t trust Him to provide and that we do not believe that He can handle our situation.
The night before he died, Martin Luther King Jr. said “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has it’s place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you, but…I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man.” Paul offers prayer as an antidote to worry. Prayer combats worry because it allows us to offload our stress onto God.
The word for prayer is a general term that means worshipful conversation with God, while the word petition refers to a more desperate and specific type of prayer, one with a sense of need. Paul uses these words together quite frequently in his writings. In the book The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien said “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” Worrying does us no good at all. Thanksgiving focuses on the attitude of one’s heart when approaching God. Prayer combats worry by creating in us a thankful heart. Have you ever wondered why the holidays make people so happy? I’ve heard several different views on this. Some people say it’s because of spending time with family and loved ones. Some people like the cooler weather. For some, it’s the change of seasons, and some people are just happy to have pumpkin spice everything in their lives again (if this is you, what is the appeal? Seriously?). We’re coming up on the Thanksgiving holiday in just a couple of weeks, and it got me thinking about this. We are much more joyful when we are thinking about the things we are thankful for. Going to God with everything gives us peace, and God’s peace is much different from the peace the world offers. We cannot understand His peace because it is everlasting, and not dependent on circumstances.
Philippians 4:8 – 9 (NIV) says “Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” That brings me to my third point, which is:
Paul is telling us the things we should think about if we are to have the peace that comes from Christ. It’s almost like in Galations 5, when he lists off the fruits of the spirit. This time, he is telling us what thoughts will produce in us the most everlasting peace. I could give you a lesson in Greek here, but we will just go through them quickly. Things that are true include facts and statements that are in accordance with reality, things that are sincere, loyal, faithful, proper, reliable, and genuine. Truth is a characteristic of God. Things that are noble are things that are noble are worthy of respect, dignified, and exalted in character or excellence. Things that are right include thoughts and plans that meet God’s standard of rightness. These are things that God sees as righteous. Things that are pure means they are free from contamination or blemish. These are thoughts that are wholesome. Things that are lovely are things of great moral and spiritual beauty, and not things of evil. Things that are admirable are things that speak well of someone, things that recommend, give confidence in, afford approval of, or reveal positive thinking about someone. Things that are excellent just means nothing of substandard quality, and things that are worth of praise refers to anything that God deems praiseworthy. Ephesians 4:23 – 24 (NLT) says “Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God – truly righteous and holy.”
Paul says these things because he is a living example of the advice he is giving to the believers in Philippi, and to us. He is so focused on Christ that nothing else matters to him, and as a result, nothing can steal his joy. Look again at v. 7 (NCV). It says “And God’s peace, which is so great we cannot understand it, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Many of us try to find peace apart from God, but the truth is, this is impossible. God is the author of peace, and we will never experience true peace without Him.
Philippians 4:10 – 13 (NIV) says “I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at least you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” My last point is this:
Ten years had passed since Paul’s ministry in Philippi had resulted in the founding of the church there. The believers there had supported Paul when he left to minister to other cities. As the years passed, despite being concerned for Paul, they had had no way to support him until Epaphroditus arrived in Rome with a very generous gift from the Philippians. Paul rejoiced in Christ greatly for this, not because his needs were not being met, but because it was evidence of their love for him. Paul uses the Greek word arkeo, which can also be translated as satisfactory. He is telling the believers that he appreciates their gifts, but that he is not in need of anything, because he had learned to be content with whatever he had. Contentment is not a natural human response, especially in today’s society. We are constantly bombarded with advertisements for the newest, greatest, and best everything. Now, please don’t misunderstand me. There is nothing wrong with having nice things, but Paul tells us that we can be content in every circumstance when our focus is on Jesus.
J.R.R. Tolkien said “It’s no bad thing to celebrate a simple life.” When we are following Christ, our joy is simple, not because we don’t face hard times, but because we never have to face them alone. We have joy because no situation is too big for God. 1 Timothy 6:6 – 8 (NET) says “Now godliness combined with contentment brings great profit. For we have brought nothing into this world and so we cannot take a single thing out either. But if we have food and shelter, we will be satisfied with that.” In his book The Hobbit, Tolkien said “If more of us valued food and cheer over hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
There was a man who was talking to a friend of his, and asked his friend how he was doing. The friend replied “I’m doing okay, under the circumstances.” The man replied to his friend and said “I’m sorry to hear that you’re under the circumstances.” You see, we should not let our circumstances dictate our joy. In v. 12, Paul tells us a little bit of his testimony, explaining that he has known hunger and want, and that he has been well fed and well off, and he has found contentment in both. 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV) says “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest in me.”
When Paul says “I can do all things through him who strengthens me”, the term “strengthens me” literally means “to put strength in.” Paul is telling us that he gets his strength from God. The NCV translation says it this way; “I can do all things through Christ, because he gives me strength.” It’s not the strength to win a sports championship, or to get a raise or promotion at work. You’re not going to find yourself suddenly capable of bench pressing more than you ever have simply because you prayed for it. What Paul is saying here is that he can endure all things, be content in all things, and have joy in all things because he understands that, no matter what, his strength and joy come from God.
Some of you may have heard of Joni Eareckson Tada. She became a quadriplegic after misjudging the depth of the water she was diving into in the Chesapeake Bay in 1967.
Philippians 4:19 (NIV) says “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” You see, the Philippians had met Paul’s needs, and he wanted them to know that God would meet theirs. There is no need we have that God cannot meet. Often, God will send help in the form of someone who has the specific ability to fill the specific need that we have. Let’s thank him for that.
We are so grateful that You meet our needs, that you send help in our most desperate situations, and that You provide joy in our darkest places. Lord, we thank You this morning for giving us a smile when we just don’t have one to give, and for being our strength when we have none. I pray today that we would all find contentment in the joy of knowing You, Lord. Most of all, we thank You for Jesus, and it’s in His Name we pray,
Next week, we will be starting a new series called The Lost Son where we will be going through the story of the Prodigal Son. If you need prayer this week, want to talk to someone about what it means to be a Christ follower, or maybe just need someone to talk to about something, you can always reach out to us. My friend Rick Atchley said “It is my conviction that followers of Jesus should be known as the most joyful people on the planet.” Let’s go live like we are!!!!! Have a blessed week!!!!!