“Peace is not the absence of trouble. It’s not the circumstantial bliss of ‘life without a hitch.’ Rather, peace is in the presence of Christ in our lives.”
“The worth and excellency of a soul, is measured by the object and intensity of its love.”
This great letter is unfortunately coming to a close, but Paul once again uses his mastery of language, theology and heartfelt tact to weave the message of the gospel and joy that has been the focus of this great book
While we can enjoy the things of this world, our Joy comes from being in Christ and the subsequent contentment that being in Christ brings us.
Why do we struggle with contentment? Why does it appear that there is a greater struggle with contentment here in America, one of the most opulent countries in the world? Today we are going to take a look at The Distinguishing Feature of Joy and the Results of Joy on a person’s heart and life.
From the Head…
The Distinguishing Feature of Joy (Philippians 4:10-13)
The clear “Distinguishing Feature” of joy according to our verses is contentment. Paul starts this passage as a continuation of his thought in verse 1 and his admonition to “Stand Firm in the Lord!” As we saw, standing firm implies a longer fight, and endurance race (See 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Hebrews 12:1-2). Paul rejoices in their gift, yet makes sure they realize that his joy is not in the gift, but in the Lord. Why does he do that? Some scholars say that this is here because Paul wasn’t really thanking the Philippians, but wiggling around the fact that they gave him a gift, in spite of the fact that he liked his self-reliance. The idea is posed that Paul didn’t want to take money from those he ministered to so he can be free from accusations of greed, manipulation, etc. (See 1 Corinthians 4:8-13; 8:1-18; 2 Corinthians 9; 11:7-10; 1 Thessalonians 2:5-12; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12).
While it is true that Paul didn’t take what was rightfully within his rights to do (See 1 Corinthians 9:1-18), he did so in contexts that were hostile, and could possibly make the gospel look bad (Thus his “All things to all men” idea). I don’t think this is really the case. Paul was in prison and needed help and our context allows for Paul’s gratitude for the help he dearly needed, and yet he never stopped instructing the Philippians out of needs that he perceived (By the Holy Spirit) were needed.
There are two clear reasons Paul writes these words at this time; First, He is removing any guilt they may have felt because they previously were not able to help him, and Secondly, Paul is always ready to teach what it looks like to be “In Christ.” What does it mean for “Him to live is Christ, to die is gain?” Paul has been teaching them, and continues to teach them that their joy needs to ultimately come from Jesus, and not from circumstances. Paul can enjoy their gift, but he is reminding them that his sustenance comes from Christ. It is also quite possible (Since our context allows; see Philippians 4:6-7) that their anxiety had grown, and they were worrying about their own financial position? Paul’s statement in verses 11-13 buoys this idea. He clearly explains that his “Contentment is “In the Lord” and not in his present circumstance. Maybe they were not being as thankful for their circumstances, and feared for the potential loss of the things of the world? As one theologian wrote, “Peace is not the absence of trouble. It’s not the circumstantial bliss of ‘life without a hitch.’ Rather, peace is in the presence of Christ in our lives.” In other words, we find in Christ the peace of God, as well as the God of peace as the prize we are striving for.
The word Paul uses for contentment (αὐτάρκης – autarkes) is an interesting one. The particular word is only used here, and has the idea taken from Stoic philosophy as “Self Reliance.” As a matter of fact Paul uses two very pagan terms to express his truth in these verses. He also uses another pagan word for “Secret” (mueo) in verse 12, which was used with reference to rituals of initiation into the mystery religions. Why does Paul do this? First, it shows us that the uses of words are culturally and contextually relevant. Almost every word has a contextual/cultural relevancy. We see the use of cultural/pagan terms all through scripture.
Secondly, as for the word “Secret” Paul may be reaching for a connection to the context, and then subversively flipping the switch as to the meaning and/or emphasis. Contentment, according to our context is a “Learned” practice (See vv. 11-12). Contentment is not natural to us. Until we are in a sense, “Initiated” in Christ, we will never fully understand contentment. But the huge difference between the “Mystery” religions and Paul’s message is that the entry point is not a mystery at all anymore (See Ephesians 3:9). We find our contentment in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our contentment is in Christ, and Christ alone
Then Paul ironically uses the idea of autarkes flipping it on its head. The Stoic philosophers of the day saw contentment in a sort of aloof stance toward life as a way to gain contentment. In other words, “Since I don’t care, it doesn’t bother me.” I see this a lot in our cynical world today! Like the world today, peace and tranquility are circumstantial and technique driven. Paul, however is fully engaged, and says that we ought to enjoy our lives, because our contentment actually comes from Christ-Reliance, and not self-reliance. What Paul is emphasizing is that he is good within himself, because of Christ, not because of technique and proper Feng-Shui. Therefore, Paul may be using the word ironically to emphasize the “In the Lord” part.
Contentment is the true sign that our joy is coming from something other than our own circumstances, mitigating the power the world has on us. The more we try to find our contentment in things and circumstances, the more we ill manipulate people to gain those things. This goes back to Paul’s statement, that “For him to live is Christ, to die is gain.” It also supports John Piper’s Christian Hedonism concept that “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied (Content) in Him.” Being thankful and content is a true Distinguishing Feature of a real joy within us!
The Result of Joy (Philippians 4:14-20)
The result of joy is twofold, first we see a rejoicing heart, because of the blessing others are receiving, and secondly, we see a clear teaching that joyful giving results in a great joy, which is a rich blessing! When Paul wanted to discuss giving (Or their lack of) with the Corinthians, Paul used the Philippian church as his example (See 2 Corinthians 8). Paul begins our text by reminding them that they alone shared with him. That word for “Shared” (κοινωνέω, koinoneo) is the same word he used back in Philippians 1:5. Once again we are confronted with the biblical idea of “Koinania” or fellowship. Paul is talking about “partnership in the Gospel!” What does that mean? It means that furthering the gospel in this world is not a one man show, but a community of people (The Church) pulling together with one mind and spirit to do the will of our father here on earth. It’s a bout relationships, doing life together, caring for one another and loving for one another in a way that allows us to lovingly speak truth into one another’s lives, and to demonstrate to the world that the kingdom of God is near. This is why he is frustrated with broken relationships between Syntyche and Euodia, because it destroys the gospel. Back-biting, slander, ripping the leadership, etc. does not help accomplish the goal of demonstrating the gospel to a dying world.
Paul is excited, not so much for the gift, but for the blessing that giving brings on the people that give. While the teaching of the prosperity gospel teaches a partial truth, that giving begets blessing, they place the blessing on the horizontal, and miss the joy and the blessing that giving actually presents in Christ! The blessing is far bigger than the material wealth you hope to gain. Giving in this way is an act of true thanksgiving and worship, because it is removed of the idols that so often fill our desires. If we can give sacrificially and joyfully, because we know Christ is all we need, it is truly an act of worship.
Paul presents us with an incredible imagery in the latter verses when he says that the gifts they sent are a “Fragrant offering, and acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.” Here Paul uses an Old Testament image of the sacrificial system, that would have been given as a thanksgiving offering for the great things God has provided, which in that context, and our own, is the ultimate sacrifice that Christ paid, which also pleased God on our behalf (See Isaiah 53:10). Their gift is pleasing, because it was given with a joyful heart and the desire to see the gospel go forward.
When your joy is in Christ, and you are content and satisfied with Him as your prize, then you will find your “Needs” not felt needs, will be richly supplied in Christ Jesus, and that God will get all the glory, because he is the one you treasure.
…to the Heart
What are you worshipping? Are you still giving to God, or to the church to get something? Or is your giving the result of the joy you have in Christ, and the subsequent contentment that gives to you? Until Christ is all you have, you may never know that He is all you need. When we realize what Christ did for us, it makes it that much more easy to trust Him during difficult days in our lives.
Further Questions to Ponder
- How does joy relate to the contentment of our passage?
- How does contentment relate to giving?
- How does giving relate to worship?
- Why do think that Paul emphasized his “Self Reliance” and not the gift?
- In what ways do you struggle with contentment and giving?
For Further Reading
Philippians: The NIV Application Commentary, Frank Theilman
Commentary on Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians, John Calvin
Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (New International Commentary on the NT), Gordon Fee
Philippians (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the NT), Moises Silva
Paul For Everyone: The Prison Letters, Tom Wright
The Letter to the Philippians (Pillar NT Commentary), G. Walter Hansen
Life Lessons Study Guide: Philippians, Max Lucado
Philippians (Reformed Expository Commentary), Dennis Johnson
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