The Lawn That You Stand On
July 23, 2017
At the end of his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul takes time to thank the Philippian church for their love and support while he was in prison. If you were put in prison back then, you had to provide for your own food and clothing and whatever else you needed to stay alive. Paul was on his own in Rome. But the Philippians sent Paul payments and supplies and help that he needed while he was in prison. And so Paul takes the time here in this letter to say thank you to the Philippian church.
But Paul was not primarily thankful or concerned about the material goods that he received from the Philippians. Instead, Paul was thankful and full of rejoicing because the Philippians had grown in the Lord. He was glad because the fruit of the Holy Spirit was coming to bear in their lives. Like a flower that opened and bloomed in its season, the Philippian church eventually revived their concern for Paul. And Paul was happy for that.
Imagine that you have children. And every year for their birthday you give them gifts. When it’s your birthday, they don’t give you gifts - for obvious reasons. But imagine the day when your child realizes it and finally surprises you with a gift for you on your birthday. Maybe they used their allowance money. Maybe your spouse helped them. Maybe all that they got you was a cute crayon drawing of the family that looked nothing like the family. But imagine your child coming up to you with a smile and, for the first time in his or her life, saying, “This is for you!” Can you imagine how you would feel?
If so, then I bet you can relate to Paul. I’m sure that Paul was happy for the all the payments and supplies. I’m sure he was happy for his physical gain. But Paul made it clear that he was more happy for the Philippians themselves. He was happy for their spiritual gain. His joy was not found in his satisfaction. His joy was found in their sanctification.
Brothers and sisters, are you aware of the wonderful thing that is happening to us all here at Highland? The Lord is sanctifying us. We are growing and changing in him. What a wonderful reason to rejoice! It is exciting to see people in Christ slowly but surely becoming more and more like him. Let us therefore be happy. Let us think like this. Let us celebrate moments of repentance and change. Let us encourage each other to continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Let us marvel at the gospel work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds as we see ourselves and all of God’s people growing and changing in the Lord. Let us be happy for this.
The Apostle Paul goes on to say that even with the payment and supplies received, he is a content man. This is quite amazing. Remember, Paul was in prison. Most people in the world would not be content about that. But Paul was. Earlier in the letter, Paul stated that his imprisonment was for Christ, and that what has happened to him has really served to advance the gospel. Paul was content.
Contentment and the lack of it is a real thing. Many people get new cell phones because they are discontent with their old ones. Many kids want the newest toys because they are discontent with their not-so-cool toys. Many people get divorced because they are discontent with their spouses. Contentment is a topic worth talking about.
And it is also a really funny thing. Single people complain and want to be married. Married people complain and joke about how they miss single life. People without a job so desperately want to work. People with a job so desperately want to do some other kind of work. It is funny how no matter what lawn you are standing on, the grass is always greener on the other side.
But believers in Christ are standing on the best and greenest lawn there is. And I tell you the truth, for the believer in Christ the grass is never greener on the other side. That is because our side, our grass, is the greenest.
Our side is the greenest because God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. God chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless in him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. Praise the Lord! The Lord is our shepherd. We shall not want. He makes us lie down in green pastures.
Paul knew this very well. He was a content man. He counted everything as loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord. He knew that his citizenship was in heaven. He believed that the Lord was at hand. He had the peace of God that guarded his heart and mind in Christ Jesus.
But it didn’t come easy, I’m sure. Notice how Paul said that he learned contentment. He learned it. He said, “…I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”
Do you know what this means? This means that contentment is not magical. This means that contentment is not something that comes naturally at first. This means that contentment takes time and practice. This means that contentment is an art and a skill. This means that contentment is largely something that happens in your mind. And this means that contentment can be had. There are some things that you just can’t learn. You can’t learn how to be seven feet tall. But you can learn contentment. That is good news!
Brothers and sisters, I command you in the name of Christ to learn contentment. If contentment can be learned, then let us not just ask for it in prayer. Let us not just wait for it as if it were a gift that were to fall out of the sky. Let us learn it. Let us go to class. Let us put in the hours of study and thought. Let us be tested to see if we have it. And if we don’t, let us do it all over again and again until we get it. Let us learn contentment, so that we may be able to say: “When peace like a river attends my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, you have taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well, with my soul.’”
Paul was content in all circumstances. Whatever the situation was, whether he was brought low or abounding, whether he faced plenty or hunger, whether he had abundance or need, Paul was always the same. He was always content.
How was he able to do this? How are we able to have contentment?
The “secret” of contentment is simple. The Lord Jesus Christ helps us. He helps us to have contentment. He strengthens us so that we can be content in any circumstance.
And Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Our cell phones will always change with newer updates and newer designs and newer technologies. But God’s salvation will always stay the same. Our clothes may fade and wear out. But God’s love and forgiveness for us will always stay the same. Our bodies will grow old and weak. But God’s promise of a new heavens and a new earth without sin or death will always stay the same. If you base your happiness and joy on your phones, your clothes, or your bodies, then you are in for a rollercoaster life of contentment and discontentment. But if you base your happiness and joy on Christ and on the things that are above in heaven, then you are in for a steady life of contentment in the Lord. In other words, Jesus strengthens us so that we can do all things with contentment. Jesus is the source of our contentment.
One important part of contentment is believing that God is in control of all things. We call this God’s providence or God’s care for us in our lives. One Puritan preacher put it like this: “Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit which freely submits to and delights in god’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition, happily submitting to all things.”
Brothers and sisters, God cares for you. God is taking care of you. He always has and he always will. There are times when it may not seem like God cares for you. But when those times come, we trust in the Lord and in his promises that he indeed takes care of us, even in ways that we cannot understand. Contentment happens when we know that God is our wise Father. Listen to God’s word from Hebrews 13:5, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” The Lord is with you. He cares for you. And if he cares for you, then you can be content in all things.
Sadly, the cancer came back for Gye-Sook Won, on of our members in the Korean-speaking part of our church. I had the chance to briefly speak with her the other Sunday. She was not scared. She did not turn away from God. She did not complain. Instead, she trusted in God’s sovereignty and providence. She looked at it all as another test and another opportunity. She found strength in Christ Jesus her Lord.
Asaph wrote these words in Psalm 73: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Paul wrote these words in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 about a problem that would not leave him: “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Joseph said these words in Genesis 50: “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good….”
Brothers and sisters, many saints of old and even many older and wiser brothers and sisters in Christ who are in our very midst have what many of us don’t have. Contentment. They learned it. They looked to Christ for it. They have it. Imitate them. Imitate Paul. We have a great cloud of witnesses up in heaven who have crossed the finish line. And we have a great crowd of witnesses here on earth who are near it. As we wait for the return of Christ and his eternal kingdom in the new heavens and new earth, may you learn contentment and find strength in Christ for all things.