Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Oct 3 2013 - Philippians 4:2-23 – Learning to be content

Paul’s exhortation to “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4) is not the naïve optimism of one who has known little trouble. Paul is in prison, not knowing whether he will be executed or whether he will be released. Prisoners would normally have to find their own food – friends or family would need to supply it. There were times when he was hungry, times surely when he was cold. Yet Paul says that he has "learned to be content whatever the circumstances" (4:11). And just in case we missed the point, he repeats it, "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" (4:12).

What’s more, Paul is writing to the church at Philippi, a city in which he had been imprisoned and where his jailor had been wonderfully converted. The church would have known how Paul and Silas, having been beaten and thrown into the dark heart of the prison, sang hymns of praise to God while sitting in the dirt and in chains. Paul encourages the Christians at Philippi to have the same outlook – to rejoice in God’s goodness and care in all situations.

This is something Paul has learned. It did not necessarily come naturally; it was not an aspect of his natural temperament. In speaking of it as a "secret", Paul may be suggesting that it is something that few discover, but he wants it to be an open secret among Christians. And the secret is this, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (4:13). Paul has discovered the sufficiency of Christ. Having Christ he is content to suffer the loss of all other things.

Paul encourages the Christians in Philippi to discover a similar contentment; he wants them to learn the lessons he has learned (4:9). He writes, "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" (4:6-7). God knows what you need, says Paul. Take it all to him in prayer – with an outpouring of thanksgiving for all he has given you in Christ. Then, rest in his care for you. Christ is yours and with him you have all that you need: the peace of God will surround you like an impregnable wall around a castle. You do not need to be anxious about anything – in life or in death. Learn this secret of Christian contentment. Here is Paul’s challenge to us.

And in this spirit, says Paul, encourage and help one another. Help Euodia and Syntyche, two gospel workers at Philippi who seem to have fallen out with each other. Help them to see that they have a common treasure in Christ which is their shared source of joy and contentment. Don’t just stand by and allow their differences to fester into a breach of fellowship – perhaps Paul is remembering with sadness the division between himself and Barnabas that occurred shortly before his first visit to Philippi. Let the peace of God in Christ surround them both and bind them to each other.

Philippians 4:2-3 surely address many of the situations that trouble our churches, damage our witness and place stumbling blocks in the path of young Christians. We are not to stand by when Christians fall out, nor are we to fuel the dispute by taking sides. We are to do all we can to help those who have fallen out to be reconciled to each other as they have been reconciled to Christ.

Father God, may your Spirit teach us to be content in all situations, knowing that in Christ we possess all things. Help us to live well with our brothers and sisters in Christ – even when we may disagree. May the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Peter Misselbrook