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Living in the Goodness of God's Peace Part 5

March 17, 2019 Speaker: Brian Wilbur Series: Philippians

Topic: Rooted in Christ Passage: Philippians 4:10–13


An Exposition of Philippians 4:10-13

By Pastor Brian Wilbur

Date:   March 17, 2019

Series: Philippians: Gospel Partnership on Mission in the World

Note:   Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard   Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



As we come now to Philippians 4:10-13, I would like to highlight once again the importance of learning from the godly example of others. The reason I point this out here is because in verses 10-13 Paul is actually modeling what he has just been teaching us in the previous verses. Whereas verses 2-9 were direct teaching, verses 10-13 recount Paul’s seasoned experience as a mature Christian. Verses 2-9 taught us what to do; verses 10-13 show us what Paul had learned to do. Verses 2-9 were instruction; verses 10-13 are illustration. And yet, it is authoritative illustration. Remember what Paul had just written: “What you have… seen in me–practice these things.” Well, as we move into verses 10-13, we will “see in [Paul]” a concrete example of living in the goodness of God’s peace. As we consider his example, let us remember the earlier instruction: “Brothers, join in imitating me….” (Philippians 3:17)


Holy Scripture says, through the apostle Paul:

“I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:10-13)


Before digging into the details of this passage, let me show you how verses 10-13 connect with verses 4-7.

First, in verse 4 Paul had instructed us to “[rejoice] in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4), and now in verse 10 he is greatly rejoicing in the Lord.

Second, in verses 6-7 Paul had instructed us to “not be anxious” but instead, through prayerful dependence on God, to enjoy the protecting power of His peace (Philippians 4:6-7). Now in verse 11 Paul shares his experience of godly contentment, even in the face of apparent need.

Third, the connection between verses 6-7 and verses 11-12 is actually stronger when you consider the comprehensiveness of the statements. In verse 6 Paul had instructed us to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving [to] let [our] requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6, italics added). Now in verses 11-12 Paul tells us that he has learned to be content “in whatever situation” and “[in] any and every circumstance.”

There are other connections as well, but these three strong and straightforward connections help us to see that in verses 10-13 Paul is embodying his own instruction, which of course is what every faithful Christian teacher must do. We who would teacher others to “practice these things” (Philippians 4:9) must “practice these things” in our own lives.


With these thoughts in mind, let’s walk through our passage and dig deep into Paul’s joy and contentment.

Paul’s Joy

Verse 10 begins with a testimony of great joy in the Lord: “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me.” As I have said before, “rejoicing in the Lord means not only to rejoice in the Lord as our highest joy, but also to rejoice in the Lord as the source of every other joy.”[1] In other words, we first rejoice in the Lord because of who He is and the wonderful salvation that He has so generously bestowed upon us. And we also rejoice in the Lord because of His manifold gifts to us – which is what Paul is doing in verse 10. Paul well understood that God is the giver of every good gift, and that the only fitting way to receive a gift from His generous hand is to rejoice in Him and be grateful to Him for the gift given. But the gift he is actually excited about may not be the gift that you think he is excited about.

It is clear in verse 10 that Paul is rejoicing in the Lord greatly on account of the Philippians: “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you [Philippians] have revived your concern for me” (italics added). The Philippian’s revival of concern has produced in Paul great joy in the Lord. As verse 10 unfolds into verses 14-18, it is evident that Paul is referring to financial support that he, as a missionary, received from the Philippian congregation. In terms of previous financial support, he says in verse 16: “Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again.” (Philippians 4:16) And in terms of the most recent support, he says in verse 18: “I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent.” (Philippians 4:18)

When we read verse 10 and hear that Paul “rejoiced in the Lord greatly” because of the Philippians’ practical and financial support for his ministry, we might conclude that the gift that Paul is excited about and the gift for which Paul gives thanks is the gift of having his own needs met – and we would be wrong! So Paul takes pains in verses 10-13 to show that the gift he is excited about is not the gift of having his needs met. There is something much deeper and much more profound about Paul’s joy in verses 10-13, and so let us be diligent to understand what it is. As we shall see, learning this lesson is important not only for the sake of joy in the Lord, but also for the sake of loving other people – although how this lesson relates to loving other people will be part of next week’s sermon.

Even so, Paul’s entire letter to the Philippians is an exercise in love. Paul loves the Philippians deeply (Philippians 1:8) and is eager to minister to them for their spiritual encouragement and growth (Philippians 1:25). Even here in Philippians 4:10, when he commends them for having “revived [their] concern for [him],” he doesn’t want them to think that he thinks that they weren’t concerned for him. So he clarifies his statement: “You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.” In other words, the Philippians’ concern for Paul was consistent and steadfast, but they didn’t always have opportunity to tangibly demonstrate it. It is possible to be full of concern and yet, at the very same time, to have limited capacities or limited occasions to express your concern. The apostle Paul was a missionary who traveled from place to place ministering the gospel, and in order for the Philippians to tangibly demonstrate their concern for Paul, they would have to receive accurate information about Paul’s whereabouts and difficulties, and then they would have to mobilize their own resources and people in order to send help Paul’s way. And remember, they didn’t have email, automobiles, or Western Union. In any case, Paul’s clarifying statement means that when Paul referred to the Philippians’ revival of concern, he really meant the revival of their expression of concern – for “[they] were indeed concerned for [Paul]” all along. It is worth pointing out, as one of the many takeaways from this passage, that a loving heart aims to communicate clearly. Love aims to not be misunderstood. Paul wants the Philippians to be graciously edified by everything he says, therefore he guards against a misunderstanding that might have the opposite effect.

Paul’s Joy and Contentment Are Not Tied to Getting His Needs Met

Paul’s clarity of communication continues in verse 11: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” Why does he say this? Why does he give further clarification to his expression of joy in verse 10? He does it because it would be natural for someone to think that Paul was rejoicing because he got a need met. And Paul wants the Philippians and us to know that getting his needs met is not the cause of his joy! Paul wants us to understand what is not going on, for understanding what is not going on is part of understanding what actually is going on.

So let’s think about what is not going on in Paul’s experience. To begin with, we need to understand that Paul is suffering for the sake of the gospel, he is imprisoned, he is facing discomfort and inconvenience, he is dealing with impoverishment and need. As a result of these low and abject circumstances in which Paul finds himself, someone might think that Paul is discouraged, downcast, discontent, and rather deficient in joy. Then a gift from the Philippians shows up, and now his outward circumstances are somewhat improved: now he has some money with which to buy a warm sweater, or better shoes, or a nice meal. And now, at least for the moment, he is much happier: the money in his wallet and the things he can buy with it have lifted his spirit, and now he praises the Lord because the gift from the Philippians have brought him material comfort. In other words, he was discontent in the face of his need, and he only became content after his need was met; he was unjoyful in poverty, and he only became joyful after some money was put into his account; he was anxious about his daily provisions, and he only experienced God’s peace after the provisions were put into his lap. And the apostle Paul, a servant of Christ and a teacher of Christ’s church and an example to the flock, wants to wave a big banner that says, ‘No, it wasn’t like this at all! I was content before the gift showed up, and I am content after the gift showed up – and for the same reason, because my contentment isn’t tied to having my needs met. And even though the Lord used your gift to meet my needs, my needs being met is not the reason I’m so overjoyed at your expression of care for me.’

So, in order to dig down deep into Paul’s joy, we have to dig down deep into Paul’s contentment. Paul’s contentment is not tied to having his needs met. Do you see this?

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.”

The word “content” can also be rendered ‘sufficient’ or ‘satisfied’[2], and the idea here is that Paul’s sense of well-being is unrelated to his outward circumstances. Paul speaks of “whatever situation” and “any and every circumstance,” and he drives this home by the use of contrasts: on the one hand, there is being brought low, facing hunger, and facing need; on the other hand, there is abounding, facing plenty, and facing abundance. Whether it is the one extreme of poverty and imprisonment, or the other extreme of wealth and personal freedom, or any situation or circumstance that falls somewhere in between these two extremes, Paul’s inward contentment and sufficiency and satisfaction is a constant. Paul’s sense of well-being is not dependent on outward prosperity. His capacity to rejoice in the Lord and abide peacefully in the anxiety-free, angst-free, anger-free shelter of God Almighty is not dependent on external circumstances. 

If you have not yet arrived at Paul’s level of contentment, you may perhaps take some comfort in Paul’s statement that he “learned… to be content.” If Paul had to learn it, then we may rightly conclude that we must learn it also – and this allows for a process of learning as we walk with Christ through the ups and downs of life. But learn it we must! After all, Philippians 4:10-13 is just one concrete example of the joy-and-peace instruction that Paul gave us in Philippians 4:4-7. We must learn to have a joy and peace in the Lord that is beyond the reach of our circumstances.[3] Indeed, there are massive lessons that we need to learn here, but before we get to those lessons, we need to unpack “the secret” of Paul’s contentment.

We might ask Paul: How can you have such joy and peace in any and all situations? How can pressing unmet needs not undermine your joy and peace? How can having your needs met not inflate your joy and peace? What secret have you learned?

Be assured that this secret does not belong to special Christians, but is meant to be learned and experienced by every Christian, which means that Paul is eager to share with us the fruit of his own learning. Paul says “I have learned” (v. 11), “I know how” (v. 12), and “I have learned the secret” (v. 12). What has Paul learned? What is the how-to that he knows? The answer, of course, is the very familiar verse 13: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Philippians 4:13 is About Contentment in All Situations

Yes, this is a very familiar verse, but we must be careful not to take this verse out of context. Philippians 4:13 doesn’t mean that you can ace the exam, win the game, run the business, get the promotion, or lead the program. Always be aware of the danger of lifting single verses out of their context and then dropping them into your own situation, for there is the real danger of misunderstanding and misapplying the verse. Philippians 4:13 isn’t about you accomplishing a task or performing at a certain level. Instead, Philippians 4:13 is actually about “[being] content” in every circumstance.

When Paul says, “I can do all things,” the “all things” relates back to the varied situations he has just mentioned: “[being] brought low” and abounding, “facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” And when Paul says “I can do all things,” the “I can do” refers to the ability to have contentment in the midst of all those varied circumstances. This is what it means to read Philippians 4:13 in its proper context.

In a short video clip about Philippians 4:13, John Piper simply substituted the various doings of verses 11-12 into verse 13 to give the intended meaning, and this is exactly the right way to think about this instruction.[4] Paul is saying: “I can [be content in whatever situation] through him who strengthens me; “[I know how to be brought low] through him who strengthens me”; “[I known how to abound] through him who strengthens me”; “I can [face plenty and abundance] through him who strengthens me”; “I can [face hunger and need] through him who strengthens me”; and, in fact, I can [face any and every circumstance] through him who strengthens me.” Do you see how verse 13 builds off of verses 11-12? Philippians 4:13 is not about you performing a task or producing an outcome. There are Scriptural passages that instruct us to perform God-given tasks and seek God-glorifying outcomes in God’s wisdom and strength, but this isn’t the point of Philippians 4:13. The point of Philippians 4:13 is that you can face and endure any and every situation in such a way that you have a Christ-centered contentment, joy, and peace in that situation, regardless of how good or bad that situation may be. You, dear Christian, can be content in everything – not through your own willpower, but “through him who strengthens [you].” 

What Paul is saying in Philippians 4:13 goes right along with his instruction on obedience in Philippians 2. In Philippians 2:12-13 Paul said that the basis of our ongoing obedience is God’s transforming work in us: “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” So here in Philippians 4: obedience includes “[rejoicing] in the Lord always” and “not [being] anxious about anything” and resting in God’s peace at all times, but how shall we pull this off? Well, we will not pull this off at all if we are left to our own resources. Thus Paul shows us in Philippians 4:10-13 that the basis of his obedient contentment in “every circumstance” is God’s strengthening work in him: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (italics added).

Although Paul doesn’t specify which person of the Trinity he has in mind when he refers to “him who strengthens me,” we know that Christ Jesus stands at the center of God’s gracious gift of strengthening His people. The Father strengthens us in and through Christ; Christ is the One in whom we are strengthened; and Christ strengthens us by means of His Spirit who indwells us. Our great triune God transforms us into deeply joyful people whose roots go down deep into His grace.  


As we move forward into the application of this passage to our everyday lives, I want to draw four very important lessons.

1) God’s Will: Contentment in Every Situation

First, God’s will for your life is that you be content in every situation that you face. The comprehensiveness of verses 11-13 (“whatever situation,” “any and every circumstance,” “all things”), on top of the comprehensiveness of verses 4-7 (“always,” “in everything”) is unmistakable. So it is on track with Paul’s purpose – and, more importantly, God’s purpose! – in verses 11-13 that we apply what he learned to literally any and all situations. God’s will for your life is that you be content in (and you can fill in the blank). We would rightly fill in the blank with big things, and yet we are foolish if we think that we will be content in the big situations if we are so regularly discontent in the little situations. So let’s start small and work our way up. Do you know how to be content – and remember this contentment of verse 11 correlates to the Christ-centered joy and peace of verses 4-7 – do you know how to be content when your burger is overdone, you get a stain on your shirt, the appliance breaks, or the tire goes flat? I know it seems almost silly to mention such things – when Paul is referencing discomfort in prison ­– but we are foolish people who lose our spiritual equilibrium over very small things. I’m not going to camp out on these small things, but you must understand that Philippians 4:13 applies to those small things. You can wake up in the morning, only to discover a leak in the ceiling and receive a last-minute cancellation from the baby-sitter and find that you’re out of eggs, and still “be content” and happy and sweet-spirited – not by snapping your fingers, but by leaning on Jesus.

But we must go on to bigger things. God’s will for your life is that you be content when you fail the exam, when you don’t get accepted into the program or college of your choice, when you don’t get chosen to be on the team, when you don’t get the job or the promotion that you were seeking, when lose your job and source of income, when your wonderful plans fall flat to the ground, when your doctor shares the sobering diagnosis, and when a loved one dies. Further, and even closer to the context of Philippians, God’s will for your life is that you be content when you suffer the difficulties of living as a Christian: Paul was imprisoned as a result of preaching the gospel (Philippians 1:7), the Philippians congregation faced opposition as they labored “side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27-28), Epaphroditus got sick as he was seeking to carry out an important short-term missionary assignment (Philippians 2:25-30), and beyond those specific situations our entire life is supposed to involve sharing in the sufferings of Christ and “becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10). God’s will for you is that in all these things is – well, instead of repeating Philippians 4 again let me temporarily borrow from 1 Thessalonians – “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

2) God’s Will: Contentment in Every Situation by Looking to and Leaning on Jesus

The second point of application expands upon the first: God’s will for your life is that you be content in every situation by looking to and leaning on Jesus. Let me begin by referring to a couple of historical examples.

Jonathan Edwards

The 18th century preacher and theologian Jonathan Edwards stands as an influential giant among Reformed evangelicals. For a number of years he pastored a church in Northampton, Massachusetts, until his church fired him – they fired him over a theological disagreement, not because of any inappropriate conduct on Edwards’ part. A man named David Hall sat on the church council that was instrumental in the firing of Edwards, and Hall observed how Edwards’ contentment was unaffected by his firing. Hall said:

“[Edwards] received the shock, unshaken. I never saw the least symptoms of displeasure in his countenance the whole week but he appeared like a man of God, whose happiness was out of the reach of his enemies and whose treasure was not only a future but a present good, overbalancing all imaginable ills of life, even to the astonishment of many who could not be at rest without his dismission.”[5]

Just as Edwards’ “happiness was out of the reach of his enemies,” so Paul’s contentment was out of the reach of his circumstances. And why? Because their “treasure was not only a future but a present good” – the ever-present Lord Jesus Christ, their supreme treasure and highest joy, strengthening them by His grace in that moment and in every moment.

Joni Eareckson Tada

Some of you may be familiar with the Christian woman Joni Eareckson Tada, who as a quadriplegic has faithfully served the Lord Jesus Christ for many decades, speaking and writing books and ministering to people with disabilities. In November 2018 she was diagnosed with cancer for a second time, and this is what she said when she received the news:

“When I received the unexpected news of cancer from my oncological surgeon, I relaxed and smiled, knowing that my sovereign God loves me dearly and holds me tightly in His hands. What good is it if we only trust the Lord when we understand His ways? That only guarantees a life filled with doubts.”[6]

How can you relax and smile when you face exceedingly difficult circumstances? By “knowing,” not an ‘I-can-tell-you-the-right-Sunday-School-answer-way-of-knowing’ but the knowing that happens in the depth of the heart, by “knowing that my sovereign God loves me dearly and holds me tightly in His hands.” This is way deeper than just saying ‘God must have a purpose’. Of course, God must and does have a purpose because He works all things according to the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11) and works all things for the good of His people (Romans 8:28). But Paul’s secret and Edwards’ secret and Joni’s secret is way more than the mere assertion that ‘God must have a purpose’. Their secret is: my God is my Treasure and He “loves me dearly” and He “holds me tightly” and He is present with me and He is my portion now and forevermore! We don’t just want to hold onto an unknown purpose, but to a known Person![7] Knowing that ‘God must have a purpose’ is good and important, but it is no substitute for knowing that your heavenly Father cares for you and that through Christ He draws near to you to strengthen you at this very moment!

A Brief Survey of Scripture

Even more important than these historical examples, consider these passages from other parts of Scripture. While these passages are not identical to Philippians 4:11-13, they get us thinking in a God-centered way about facing difficult circumstances.

Do you know how to face injustice? Joseph was sold into slavery, falsely accused, and consigned to prison. “But the LORD was with Joseph” (Genesis 39:21; see also Genesis 39:2, 23).

Do you know how to face the loss of loved ones? “For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in.” (Psalm 27:10)

Do you know how to face catastrophic loss of life and property? After losing his ten children and almost all of his servants and virtually all his wealth, “Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” (Job 1:20-22) What we should want to do in the face of great difficulties and tragedies is to “not sin,” in other words, to think and speak and act righteously, which includes the contentment, joy, and peace of Philippians 4.

Do you know how to face poverty? The prophet Habakkuk did: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, [though] the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, [though] the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength” (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

Do you know how to face the dark valley? “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)

Do you know how to face abandonment by friends? Paul said, “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.” (2 Timothy 4:16-17)

Do you know how to suffer for the sake of the gospel? During his initial ministry in Philippi, Paul and his colleague Silas were thrown into jail. Do you remember what they did in jail? “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God….” (Acts 16:25)

What all of these examples have in common is that the believer endures great difficulty by being mindful of the Lord and leaning on the Lord in the midst of that difficulty. The key to true spiritual contentment in the Lord at all times is the nearness of “him who strengthens me.”

The writer of Hebrews put it this way:

“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.” So we can confidently say,

“The Lord is my helper;

I will not fear;

what can man do to me?”” (Hebrews 13:5-6)

What can man do to you? Well, man can treat you harshly, sell you into slavery, slander you, mock you for your faith in Jesus, malign you for adhering to what they call ‘traditional and outdated morality’; man can steal your possessions, fire you from your job, pass laws that make it illegal to practice your faith (that’s why Daniel ended up in a lion’s den); man can put you on trial, throw you into prison, and kill you. Even your genuine friends and loved ones will let you down and fail to show up in times of need. But what of it, if the Lord is your helper and He has promised to be with you now and forevermore? Nothing that man can do to you, and no disagreeable circumstance, can “separate [you] from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39) Philippians 4:11-13 calls us to a deep spiritual joy and contentment that is beyond the reach of our circumstances, beyond the reach of our enemies, and beyond the reach of our friends.

3) God’s Will: Contentment in Every Good Situation by Looking to and Leaning on Jesus

Now at this point I must hasten to add a third point of application: God’s will for your life that you always be content by leaning on Jesus in every situation includes every good situation. This point is easily overlooked, but if we overlook it we will miss a vitally important lesson. In my previous point all the things that I mentioned – the things that we are called to endure with a deep spiritual contentment – all the things that I mentioned were the difficult things. This is often the way we approach the struggle for contentment. But the truth of the matter is that Paul tells us that the key to contentment is as important in the good times as it is in the difficult times.

When Paul says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” he doesn’t just mean that he is able to "be content" while “[being] brought low” and experiencing “hunger” and “need.” He also means that he is able to "be content" while abounding and experiencing “plenty” and “abundance.” “I can do [poverty and prison] through him who strengthens me” and “I can do [wealth and personal freedom] through him who strengthens me.” “I can do [cancer] through him who strengthens me” and I can do [remission] through him who strengthens me.” I can do [a bank account that has a zero balance and have bills pending] through him who strengthens me” and “I can do [a bank account that has a $20,000 balance and no liabilities] through him who strengthens me.” We must let the truth of Philippians 4:13 cut both ways, because this is how Paul set it up in verses 11-12.

Here is a hugely important lesson that we must learn: as a sinner, you are prone to mishandle poverty and you are equally prone to mishandle abundance; you are prone to mishandle lack and you are equally prone to mishandle plenty; you are prone to mishandle suffering and you are equally prone to mishandle success; you are prone to mishandle unexpected losses and you are equally prone to mishandle unexpected gains. And Paul’s instruction in verses 11-13 applies just as much to the one as to the other.

Consider this: if you are content in the midst of a season of outwardly favorable circumstances (as in good health for you and your loved ones, more than enough to make ends meet, strength and opportunity to do things that you enjoy, some measure of success in your work or in your ministry, a number of good friends whose company you often enjoy), you are not living in the goodness of God’s peace if those outwardly favorable circumstances are the basis of your contentment. If God started taking the good things away, one at a time, and a slow angst and emptiness and bitterness started to grow steadily in your heart until you became an old bitter person, then you have shown yourself to be an idolater whose treasure was on earth. It is actually a blessing when God takes things away, so that the condition of our heart can be revealed to us – and if our heart is in a good condition, very well; but if not, then we have an opportunity to repent and grow.

Brothers and sisters, take this lesson to heart: you need the Lord to rescue you from discontentment on account of difficult circumstances, and you need the Lord to rescue you from pseudo-contentment on account of good circumstances – and both discontentment and pseudo-contentment constitute disobedience to Philippians 4:4-13. Christianity is not about Jesus putting health, wealth, and prosperity into your lap, such that the health, wealth, and prosperity that He gives you is the treasure that makes you happy and content. That is not Christianity, that is not the gospel. The message of the gospel is that Christ is our Treasure: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Philippians 3:8) And one of the implications of this truth is that we need Christ’s strength to handle good earthly things properly, lest those good earthly things choke out our enjoyment of the better things that we have in Christ. I would love to talk about this at length, but let me just point you in a fourfold direction. To endure good things “through him who strengthens me” means that He strengthens me:

1) to receive the good things as a stewardship from Him;

2) to keep my eyes on the Giver and not become enamored with the good things;

3) to recognize that I am called to use the good things to serve others (Acts 20:34-35 and Ephesians 4:29 and 1 Timothy 6:17-19 all teach us to use the riches that God provides in order to share with others, especially those who weak); and

4) to hold loosely to all good things and bless the Lord if He takes them away.

All sane Christians know that you must cling to Jesus when you face affliction; but Philippians 4:11-13 teaches you that you must also cling to Jesus when you face abundance. In so doing, we make it clear that Jesus is our joy, and not our stuff.

4) Rejoice in the Lord for the Best Things

Finally, we must bring things back around to verse 10 – that’s where the whole discussion started, and that’s where we will end, because verses 11-13 were written in order to explain and clarify verse 10. Here is the fourth point of application: Leaning on Jesus at all times produces a deep spiritual contentment that enables you to rejoice in the Lord for the best things, even the true and praiseworthy things of Philippians 4:8. Remember what I said earlier: Paul’s great rejoicing in the Lord, in verse 10, on account of the Philippian’s expression of care for him, was not about him getting his needs met. Instead, there was something else on Paul’s mind – and it had nothing to do with Paul, and everything to do with the gospel.

Philippians has taught us that the wonderful gospel is about Christ’s self-giving love for His people. When we truly receive this good news about Christ’s obedient and sacrificial service for us, that through His atoning death we might be reconciled to God, then we begin to live a “manner of life [that is] worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27). This gospel-shaped worthy of live means honoring and serving other people (Philippians 2:3-4). Paul called the Philippians to it (Philippians 2:3-4); Paul commended Timothy and Epaphroditus for serving others for Jesus’ sake (Philippians 2:19-21, 25-30); and Paul himself modeled it – “I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith” (Philippians 1:25). So the reason that Paul is so joyful in the Lord that the Philippians sent him another gift, isn’t because he got his needs met, but because they are once again demonstrating how the gospel has transformed them into people who give generously to others.

In other words, the gift that Paul is excited about isn’t the financial support he received, but God’s transforming work in the Philippians which is evident through their loving support of Paul and his ministry. Paul sees the Philippians living an “honorable” and “commendable” life (Philippians 4:8), and that is what makes him so deeply happy. With respect to his own need, he could have gone another day, or another week, or another month, without their financial gift. But to see them “[practicing] these things,” to see them practicing generosity that befits the true and praiseworthy gospel that they have learned, to see them retaining true excellence in their mindset and putting it into practice, fills him with an other-worldly joy. Paul had the same outlook as the apostle John: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (3 John 4)

The reason I know that this is what had Paul so stoked is because he says tells us so in Philippians 4:17-18. Paul writes, “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.” (Philippians 4:17-18) In other words, their gift to Paul was an expression of their wholehearted devotion to God, and it was their wholehearted devotion to God that made Paul want to stand up and sing. Paul didn’t rejoice greatly because he got his needs met; he rejoiced greatly because the Philippians were living a manner worthy of the gospel! And this wouldn’t have happened if Paul had been stuck in discontent over his unmet needs and had received their gift in a self-centered way. Circumstance-centered people are blind to God’s work, but contentment in the Lord frees you to see and celebrate the good work that God is doing in and through His people.

Brothers and sisters, nothing is more important than staying close to Jesus and leaning upon Him at all times and experiencing strength and contentment and peace and joy in Him!


I wonder if there are some people here this morning who are a stranger to this transforming and strengthening work of God in the hearts of those who believe. You might have heard this message and now you’re thinking, ‘Oh no! Here is yet another thing I have to put on my to-do list! I’ve got to make contentment happen!’ But you can’t do it! Listen friend: Christianity is not a moral program, is not do-good religiosity, is not intellectual affirmation of abstract doctrines, and is not something that you attempt to do in your own strength. Christianity is about knowing and delighting in God, and depending on His grace, and being changed and renewed inwardly by His great power. And it all begins at the cross, where sinners can lay down the burden of their sin, receive God’s forgiveness, and begin to be transformed by God’s powerful grace. Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) Come to Jesus! And cast yourself on His mercy and grace! 

Let us pray.



[1] This is from my sermon entitled “Rejoice in the Lord! An Exposition of Philippians 3:1a,” the September 9, 2018 sermon at South Paris Baptist Church.

[2] See Strong’s Concordance via online Bible Hub for entry “842. autarkés.” Available online:

[3] This statement “beyond the reach of your circumstances” is adapted from a comment that David Hall made about the abiding contentment of Jonathan Edwards. See footnote 5 below.

[4] See John Piper’s short three-minute video about Philippians 4:13 at the top of the following online article: David Mathis, “The Secret in Every Circumstance.” Published by Desiring God, June 17, 2014, and available online:

[5] This quotation by David Hall, with a brief description of the historical context, is found in: Jason Meyer, “How Jonathan Edwards Helped Save My Ministry.” Published by The Gospel Coalition, March 7, 2019, and available online:

[6] This quotation by Joni Eareckson Tada, with a description of the circumstances, is found in: “Joni Eareckson Tada Receives New Cancer Diagnosis.” Published by Joni & Friends, November 19, 2018, and available online:

[7] This statement – “We don’t just want to hold onto an unknown purpose, but to a known Person!” – isn’t meant to imply that God’s purposes are unknown to us. In fact, God has revealed His ultimate purposes to us in His Word (e.g., Romans 8:28-30, Ephesians 1:9-10), and we ought to understand and rest in them. My statement is addressing the particular situation when people say something like ‘God must have a purpose’ – and when they say this, they aren’t thinking about God’s known, ultimate and eternal purposes, but instead they are thinking about God’s unknown, specific, and temporal purposes. Another way of approaching this is to say that while we know God’s ultimate purposes, we don’t know all the ins and outs of how these ultimate purposes advance through the course of history. This is the context of my statement that it is not enough for us “to hold onto an unknown purpose,” but beyond the promise of unknown purposes and, frankly, even beyond the promise of known ultimate purposes, we must hold onto Him.

More in Philippians

May 12, 2019

Abiding in the Benediction

May 5, 2019

Greeting Every Saint

April 28, 2019

To Our Great God Belongs Eternal Glory