St Barnabas, December 19th 2010
Readings – Philippians 4:10-25; Matthew 1:18-25
We hear so many times don’t we, I wish I had this, I wish I had that, I wish my life was different.
We live today in a world of discontentment. The world provides many tools to help us be discontent. Contentment robbers include mail-order catalogues, shopping malls, TV, magazines, and the internet. TV adverts are the most common I would think as we sit down to a relaxing evening, we are bombarded with adverts showing us how we can have better homes, better bodies, better lives!
Paul’s letter to the Philippians this week is all about being content in every situation. Well I certainly put that to the test this week. I thought I would type up all the service sheets for this next week and over Christmas and the new year so that would be another job that I could cross off my busy list and off my mind as Christmas was only the end of next week. But as I was looking at the outline I noticed that I was preaching this coming Sunday. I knew I was preaching at the end of January but hadn’t noticed this one before although I had obviously looked at the list when it was produced but obviously it didn’t register. So how did I miss that I asked myself? Perhaps it was a senior moment.
So it was a good test for me. As I began to panic thinking of all those things that had to be done before trying to give myself at least a few days next week before Christmas to wind down, I decided I would have to practice what I preach and be content in every situation. As I read the passage over again, I saw how Paul wrote, “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength!” There was Paul under house arrest, chained to a guard, not knowing what was going to happen, whether he would live or died and I know there are a great many people today, now in the same position for the sake of Christ and here was I worrying about how I was going to fit in producing a sermon in a few days with all the other things that were going on. A visual aid indeed and as I thought more and more about it and gave it over to the Lord, I felt more and more calm – well mostly!
It was very apt that last week (can you remember what we talked about) – we talked about what made us anxious and worried and how we should deal with it. It was good to hear from each other what made us anxious and I am sure we could all relate to what we heard and it was helpful to get to know how people really feel about the different fears and anxieties in their lives but more importantly what we should do about it. Giving it to the Lord in prayer and then giving Him thanks for the answer whatever it may be – were you able to put that into practice?
Now this week it’s related, it’s almost an analysis or an amplification of this peace of mind away from anxiety and worry and this joy of heart that can be ours. Paul talks about joy over and over again in Philippians.
Paul starts by expressing his thanks here to the Philippian believers for the gift they sent with Epaphroditus to him to help meet his needs. As he’ll say a little later in this passage of scripture, he is, for the moment, amply supplied – but that is not where his contentment comes from. In fact he says just the opposite – there is a secret to being content when you’re experiencing plenty just as surely as there is a secret to being content when you’re in want.
Let’s just read those verses again: “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed you have been 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 way and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength”
You notice that Paul says twice in that passage that he has learned to be content, learned the secret of being content. So contentment has to be learned. Contentment is not something that comes naturally. Naturally, we are prone to:-
Comparing ourselves with others, envying others …
There were two men in the same hospital room which had one window. One of the men, as a part of his treatment, was allowed to sit up in bed for an hour in the afternoon and his bed was next to the window. But the other man had to spend all his time flat on his back. Neither of them were able to do much, no reading, no radio, no television. So they talked for hours about their wives, their children, their homes, their jobs, their hobbies, their childhood and where they had been on vacations. And every afternoon, the man next to the window was propped up for an hour, he would pass the time by describing what he could see outside. And the other man began to live for those hours. The window apparently overlooked a park with a lake – where there were ducks and children throwing them bread and sailing little boats, and couples walking hand in hand beneath the trees and there were flowers and green grass and games of softball and sunbathers and in the distance there was a beautiful view of the city skyline.
The man on his back would listen to all this and got to the place where he could almost see what was happening outside. Then one afternoon, when there was some sort of parade, the thought struck him – “Why should the man next to the window have all the pleasure of seeing what was going on? Why shouldn’t he get the bed next to the window?” He felt ashamed and he tried not to think like that but the more he tried the worse it became and he would do anything to see out the window. In a few days he turned sour and thought he should be by the window and he brooded and couldn’t sleep and became more seriously ill.
One night, as he stared at the ceiling the other man suddenly woke up coughing and choking, his hands were were groping for the button to call the night nurse as he struggled to breathe. But the man in the other bed watched without moving and never reached for his button. Finally, the coughing stopped and the man died and he continued to stare at the ceiling.
In the morning the day nurse came in with water for their baths and found the other man dead. They took away his body quietly. As soon as it seemed decent the man ask if he could be moved to the bed next to the window. And they moved him, tucked him in and made him comfortable. The minute they had gone, he propped himself up on one elbow and looked out the window and discovered that it faced a blank wall.
Which man do you identify with? Do you lie on your bed and envy others who seem to have a better view. Or are you more like the man who can find reasons to rejoice even if you are looking at a blank wall?
We are also prone:-
To always wanting more than we have (remember Adam and Eve?)
To interpret someone else’s good fortune as coming at our expense
To complain – we are so prone to complaining aren’t we – about the weather, about our neighbours, about our situations, in fact a lot of things!
You don’t have to teach us any of these things, they come naturally to us.
Contentment doesn’t come naturally. It must be learned. We find contentment when we trust God’s will for our lives in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in.
In our Gospel reading today Joseph learned very quickly about God’s will in his life. We know the story of Joseph and the visit of the angel of the Lord very well and despite the confusion in his mind about Mary and the child she was expecting, he obeyed and trusted God for their future and took her as his wife. Mary too trusted God when the angel told her she had the most important job in the world by giving birth to God’s Son Jesus. What was her response? “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said”. Despite the uncertainty of the future, they must have known what it was to be content because they were obeying God and He would be there for them in all circumstances.
Contentment comes from living a life where you understand your priorities – and everything in your life pales in comparison to knowing Christ Jesus. When this becomes true in your life – all of a sudden having the best material things, and needing to receive everything you desire in life become so much less important.
If you will live your life relying upon the power that God provides – you will find that your daily circumstances will have less and less control over your state of mind – and contentment will begin to be the norm of your life.
I have really enjoyed studying Paul’s letter to the Philippians this Advent time, it was a good choice. I just want to go back over these chapters which hopefully challenged us so much. What can we remember? What have we learnt?
In Ch 1, firstly Paul prayed for the Philippians with joy. “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”. That joy that he prayed with was a sense of inner peace and confidence that comes from Christ no matter what is happening on the outside.
He goes on later in the chapter about his prayer for them “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.”
This is a challenge to us in every situation we face to see where our focus lies. Does your focus lie on you or on Jesus? Do you pray with a sense of inner peace and confidence that comes from Christ whatever we face. It also challenges us on our fellowship with one another and the church as a whole. How is our Church doing with regard to fellowship and depth of love?
In Ch 2, Paul goes on to encourage about unity in the church and to be like minded, doing nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but in humility consider others better than yourselves. “Your attitude should be that of Christ Jesus” he said How united are we as a Church and how humble are we? What is your attitude like and how do we appear to others outside of the faith?
In Ch 3, what value do we put on our relationship with Jesus? Paul who was previously Saul of Tarsus knew what it was to be wealthy. We know from historical records that when you were a Pharisee of that kind it brought great monetary rewards to you. Affluence was the station of his life, yet when we come to Philippians chapter 3 and verses 7 and 8, what did he say? “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ.”
That is the testimony of a satisfied man, that is the witness of a man who is contented.
In Ch 4, Paul says “Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again Rejoice. Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, 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 your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Again that inner peace which transcends all understanding is ours for the asking.
As we come to the last week before Christmas, perhaps we might spare the time at home to re-read the four chapters again and savour what we have learnt from them and put it into practice.
Remember Paul had experienced trials that make our worst days seem easy. Beatings, stonings, jailings, shipwrecks, hunger, desertion, misunderstanding – you name it. But he says, with the confidence that only hard experience can provide, “I have learnt the secret of contentment. “I can do everything through Him who strengthens me.”In other words, as long as I’m connected to the power and the strength that Jesus Christ gives – I will be content with whatever circumstances come upon me.”
As we think about our own lives today, the uncertainty of the future, perhaps you are concerned about job cuts, heating bills, inflation. Perhaps you are concerned about your health or the health of those in your family or friends. Perhaps you are grieving over a loved one or know someone who is, whatever your situation, we need to, like Paul, learn the secret of being content and remember the words … “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength”. Deepen your relationship with the Lord Jesus, keep connected to Him and receive the power and strength and the confidence that you need to gain contentment only in Him.