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Sermon 2019-02-24 Ross Woodhouse

Philippians 4:10-23 


Well, we’ve reached the concluding passage of Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. Only 4 chapters but a letter packed with truth, relevance, encouragement, value and virtue.

What has…is, God the Holy Spirit speaking to us, and wanting to do in us? To the question: what does it look like to live as a Christian in this chaotic, morally declining world, where we face daily pressure to conform to worldly thinking, patterns, habits and behaviour? Notwithstanding all of Scriptural truth, this letter alone gives us much of the pathway forward…how? Imitate Jesus.  The world is different, that God is holy, isn’t, different, to then. He’s holy, today and our calling is to be like Christ.

So to today’s, concluding passage: we already know Paul’s main purpose was to express his gratitude to the church for their financial support, love and encouragement, summarised today in one or two more valuable learnings.


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.*14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. 17 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account *

18 I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.

20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

21 Greet all God’s people in Christ Jesus. The brothers and sisters who are with me send greetings. 22 All God’s people here send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household.

23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.


I think we can see there are a number of Christian virtues present in Pauls final remarks aren’t there.  Virtues I would consider fruits of the Spirit.  Because it is about a change in character to be like Jesus[1] it is different from the way of the world, and so much so this change becomes second nature to us. Ingrained.

A flight left New York city 3.26pm on Thursday, January 15th, 2009, bound for North Carolina, with Captain Chesley Sullenberger (Sully) in charge. Two minutes after take-off they ran straight into a flock of geese, damaging both engines, losing all power. The plane at this point was heading straight for the Bronx, one of the most heavily populated areas of the city. What happens next is what ancient writers refer to as Virtue. 

Virtue is “what happens when wise and courageous choices have become 2nd nature. *What did ‘Sully’ and his co-pilot call on to land the plane safely in the Hudson River saving everyone on board? His character formed by years, of dedication and training, “character formed by the specific strengths, that is virtues, of knowing how exactly to land that plane safely”[2].

*I want to mention four virtues – change in character to be like Jesus – today that includes the two most prominent[3] in this passage: Contentment and Generosity.

*The Virtue of true contentment (v.11, 12)

11…for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances….I have learned the secret of being content

Paul understood both ends of need: deep need, poverty, the bare basic necessities…and the opposite, prosperity. In all cases, he found the secret of and applied contentment. It was also important to Paul, thankful as he was, he not be viewed as money dependent and was intent on showing that his work was neither dependent on nor motivated by the support he received, because his contentment was in Christ.

What is biblical contentment? It is an inner sense of rest or peace that comes from being right with God and knowing that He is in control of all that happens to us [4]

* I want to suggest therefore that our ability to discover true Biblical contentment is relative to our surrender of all circumstances to God the Holy Spirit and his work in our lives

*…the message here is our deepest contentment comes not from what we have materially, or who we are or what we have physically.

Biblical contentment is found in the depth, width, height and breadth of our relationship with Christ.  Discovering the secret of true contentment, like Paul, means there are no compartments of our lives where the “gate is shut” to God the Holy Spirit. God sees it all.

A Jewish man living 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 stinks, it’s noisy and 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–only the nine of us.” Perspective helps, doesn’t it?[5]

Contentment is not to be confused with happiness and the futility of filling our lives with stuff and busying ourselves. Contentment is not ignorance of the reality of difficult circumstances. But is out of trusting he “works all things together for the good of those who love him”. Contentment devoid of God the Holy Spirit and outside of Christ is a futile pursuit.

Arguably, contentment in life can be the one thing, that for many, eludes us. We live with deep resentment and regret. The feeling of possibilities lost. The sense of failure – when measured against what the world says we need to have/be or do to be content. And we take the bait, don’t we?

Our ability to discover true Biblical contentment is relative to our surrender of all circumstances to God the Holy Spirit and his work in our lives.

I’ve had a few old cars parked in my driveway at times, and old cars can tend to leak a bit of oil. We know what happens if you just try with a little water to wash away oil, the oil remains, oil displaces water.

Contentment, because it trusts Christ, who can be absolutely trusted…displaces any concern, or worry about any need we may have

Listen, the common line is “it’s not quite as easy as that…you don’t understand what I’ve been through, or going through”. Many of you here today are in a difficult place. Contentment is the last thing you are concerned about, it seems close to impossible.  But you want to be free, healed; you want to know God in your circumstances.

Contentment is the starting place! After the service today, I’d especially like to pray with you. His strength is made perfect in our weakness.

Hebrews 4:14-16. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Contentment found in God the Holy Spirit’s comfort and strength doesn’t mean we are magically relieved of need, not at least as we perceive it; biblical contentment drives us toward trusting Christ irrespective of (but not in ignorance of) our circumstances.

It is only through Christ we find the fortitude – “I can do…” –  to cope and get through all circumstances. Notice in the text Paul had learned to be content, not an immediate thing, but a process. A process, or a habit we can begin to implement today.

Key to this process is understanding that everything, major and minor, is under God’s sovereignty. Every circumstance we encounter is an opportunity for applying true contentment[6].

Our ability to discover true Biblical contentment is relative to our surrender of all circumstances to God the Holy Spirit and his work in our lives.

What is the secret Paul learnt for contentment?…verse 13: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength”. I call this…

*The Virtue of confidence in God’s power (v.13)

He’s saying the only place I can find true contentment, the only pathway there is to contentment is in and through Christ. Any other avenue is futile.

Last week prior to coming to Cafe Connect, I’d started early that day to get at least a couple hours preparation on this message…and driving here, just had a moment, all the responsibilities for that week flashed through my brain within 4-5 seconds. Kind of caught me off guard. But the Lord clearly said to me, you’re talking about this, put it to practice now. ‘I can’t do these things in my own strength Lord, only in yours’. Only to get here and Sheila Horner tells me in the first conversation I have, she is in a place of contentment. ‘OK Lord, I hear you’!

I can do all this (everything) through him who gives me strength.”

One of two familiar, bumper sticker, bookmark, postcard quotes…in this passage

Not, I can do anything I want, have everything I need and God will grant my requests every time, for the strength I need for the things I want.

Rather, when looked at in context, I live my Christian life, knowing that despite what my needs are, lacking or plenty, I know, irrespective of my situation I can have confidence in his power for my circumstances.

If we perceive God is lacking in meeting our needs – ‘where is he, what’s he doing?’ – If I feel that I’m unable to find that place of contentment, if I’m not able for whatever reason to draw from or find his strength for my circumstances….this is not a sign of the absence of God, or his inability to meet need….It’s not God. It will be me!

Have you noted that the severity of Paul’s circumstances didn’t alter his faith or dictate whether God was with him or not? God was! The secret of/for contentment and confidence in his power is connected with faith. We cannot find true contentment or apply “I can do all things…” in the absence of faith. Faith says I can do this, because of his strength.

So much of the Christians disappointment, let alone contentment with God comes from a misunderstanding of how God works. “Where was he when I needed him?”, “I asked and asked for this thing and he didn’t hear me”. (P) He was there, he heard. Much of answered prayer I believe is God saying ‘I’ve given you the resources, I’ve sent the Holy Spirit, I’ve done my part, you do your part’!

Faith says he’s there. Faith is being contented and confident in him. He gives strength, he meets our needs (note v.19) “…according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus”.


*The Virtue of Generosity and Investment in others’ needs (v.14-20)

14 …I am amply supplied…the gifts you sent… are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.

These verses reveal a lot about the heart of the church at Philippi and one of the central values of any church: Generosity and kingdom investment. Paul is saying here in verses 14-20 ‘you guys were so generous when other churches were not, you’ve given more than enough, ample, the attitude behind your generosity is like a sacrifice, an offering to God himself’.

“The Philippians…by their very act of giving had refused to let their wealth control them and had instead taken control of it”[7]

Paul was grateful for the generosity of the church, but also believe highlighting generosity as a necessary virtue in the church

The Bible speaks very clearly about matters of generosity and money. Jesus talked about money often didn’t he: “16 of His 38 parables deal with how to handle money and possessions”[8]

Let me make 3 other quick points about Generosity:

Generosity is a priority in our Christian Walk (v.14-17)

I want to suggest one of the great obstacles we face (some of us, all of us?) with the idea of giving, or giving money more specifically, is the mindset I’m giving something of my own, that’s mine away, I’m losing something, I’m missing, or will miss out, rather than I’m giving something back from what has already being provided by God anyway, I’m giving back really what belongs to God (Psalm 24 “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it”)…I’m investing in the kingdom of God.

That’s what Paul had taught the church of Philippi right from the start and was affirming in this letter; the importance of faithful generosity to mission and ministry.

Paul had not long left Philippi, the church had only just been planted, they were not a wealthy church at all, poverty-stricken (see 2 Corinthians 8:1–2), persecuted, but despite that “amply” supplied Paul’s need and were already established in the virtue of faithful giving…that doesn’t make any logical sense?

(2 Corinthians 9:6) “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”

Generosity is not governed by our excesses or surpluses  – “if I’ve got something left I’ll give or do this” – but by the belief it all belongs to God and therefore how does he want me to steward it[9]?

Paul’s teaching compliments the principle we find in Luke 16:10-13. Jesus said, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much.” The “little thing” is our stewardship of money. When we are faithful in our stewardship of financial resources “to advance His kingdom, the Lord will then entrust “true riches” to us (16:11)”[10] It’s that same passage in Luke where Jesus goes on to say “we cannot serve both God and money” (see 16:13)

Because of their spirit of generosity, and having the right perspective and attitude about generosity, trusting God, Paul said to the church, v.19 “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus…” 

Generosity and kingdom investment trusts in God’s provision

Hudson Taylor’s famous dictum, “When God’s work is done in God’s way for God’s glory, it will not lack for God’s supply.”

Trusting in the provision of the Lord ultimately is the applied principle that determines our generosity.

When we believe that what we have and own is in God’s mission account, we trust not in what we have but in the unlimited resources of the Lord, who can meet all our needs, “according to the riches of his glory”.

Unlimited yes, but his way, his will. This is the perspective we need to adopt when it comes to our generosity. We look not at what we don’t have, or what we can’t do, but what is the right thing in the Lord…

What this is not saying is the more we give and do for God the more God gives us. I’m referring particularly to verses 13 and 19 (context). This is not God promising to give us lots of material things.  The bible is replete with the promises of God toward us, and what he has done and will do for us, his provision for needs, for strength…but God owes us nothing…

Romans 11:35–36: Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever!

…he’s already done everything we need in the person of Jesus.

Thirdly, Generosity is worship and is a sacrifice (v.18-20)

In this letter, Paul appreciates the gifts of the church but he wants them to see at the same time that the end value is not in what they provide for him, it’s in where their contentment is, their heart attitude, their offering before the Lord.

Paul calls their gift “a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God”. Paul casting his mind back to Old Testament sacrifices (see Leviticus, Exodus 29:18; Ezekiel 20:41).

…the churches gifts were sacrificial – in terms of the personal cost associated. They (Church) laid something significant on the ‘altar of God’, this was their act of worship, and it pleased the Lord…

This was a poverty-stricken church, that gave generously and sacrificially in faith because of the benefit their gift would be to the kingdom of God. They weren’t building something for themselves; they were part of building something bigger than themselves.

Many of you have done and are doing that today.

All I’ve said today, all that has been shared in the letter, starts with grace (1:2) and ends with grace…His Grace (v. 21-23)

For humility, unity, to press on, for the reconciliation of relationships…we need the grace of God.  To develop the virtues of contentment and generosity, where they are second nature, we need the grace of God. Paul’s concluding words are: as you look to be the church Christ wants you to be, may his grace be with you


Find the secret of True Contentment

Find Confidence in God’s Power

Be Generous and Invest in God’s Kingdom

Know His Grace


[1] Also: Conduct reflecting Gods moral standard. Character that is radically different to the ways of the world.

[2] Virtue Reborn, T Wright

[3] Arguably


[5] Reader’s Digest[12/81].

[6] And the faithfulness of God

[7] Thielman, Frank. “Contemporary Significance” In NIV Application Commentary, New Testament: Philippians. By Frank Thielman, 245. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, © 1995.


[9] What belongs to him