Content (Philippians 4)
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)
St. Paul ends his epistle to the church in Philippi, one of the great jewels in his crown of glory on the Last Day, with a simple summary statement:
We can be content. Despite that our church budget isn't being met by the members' donations. Despite that we, as a state, cannot elect a single person clearly to a major political office without a recount. Despite that we, as a country, suffer from a fourteen-figure debt. Paul tells us we can still be content.
How? What is this contentment that Paul talks about? The Oxford dictionary defines "content" as being "satisfied; adequately happy". God believes contentment is so important He gives us two commandments about it. "You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor" (Exodus 20:17). Luther explains that being content involves helping and being of service to our neighbors in keeping their possessions and income. Being content involves urging those who work for our neighbors "to stay and do their duty" (SC I, 17-20).
Being content means being happy with what we have. That's the basis of the last two commandments. We shall be so happy with what we have that we won't look and covet after what our neighbor has. We won't look solely at our needs and our neighbor's success and wish harm upon him. We learn to be happy in every circumstance, just as St. Paul writes about himself (v11). No matter what befell him, he clung to the promises of His Lord knowing that
We can be content because of Christ. In the midst of all the uncertainties in life, we have one constant: our Lord Jesus Christ. This cross upon this wall reminds us every time we come into this sanctuary that there is a constant Rock in the midst of the storms of life. He is the firm foundation upon which we base everything in our lives.
Everything in life revolves around Jesus. We're coming close to the end of the year 2010 AD. Anno Domini. In the year of our Lord. Even today's date has a bearing and focus on Christ. He is the one constant in everyday life. His birth, which we'll celebrate thirty days from today. His death, which we proclaim every time we celebrate the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 10:26). His resurrection, which we celebrate every time we step through the doors of this sanctuary (1 Corinthians 15:12-14). As the people of God sealed in Christ's blood, He is the center of our lives. The Psalms go on and on about the refuge we have in God as our Rock, our Fortress, our Deliverer.
This is the sound basis for everything we have for life in this world and faith in the world to come. We are members of the Church of Jesus Christ. This cross plants us throughout the storms of our lives. This cross reminds us of our redemption but also our glorification on the Last Day. Just as Jesus died for our sins, He rose again to reveal that your debt of sin is gone. Just as He rose from the dead, He ascended into Heaven. He opens the heavenly gates to allow all who believe to join Him in everlasting life and glory. Because Jesus died and rose again,
In the last line of our text, Paul reminds us, "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (v13). The only way we can be content through Christ is by being strengthened through Him. This strengthening comes through the Sacraments. As we end the Church Year and prepare to begin a new one on Sunday, we find ourselves face-to-face with the Sacraments once again. Christ first strengthens us as we walked away or were carried away from the font, having received the washing of rebirth in Holy Baptism. At this moment, we receive the Holy Spirit as He takes residence in our heart and soul. We become able to believe what Jesus has done for us in this Sacrament. As we grow and are instructed in the faith, we come to Confirmation, where we renew our Baptismal vows. We examine ourselves and take the faith as it has been taught to be our own. Owning this faith in Christ as our own, we come to the Lord's Table and receive Christ's body and blood for the strengthening of our faith to life everlasting. Furthermore, we come often to our Lord's Table, having examined ourselves, confessing our sins and receiving forgiveness. We receive the great benefits of Christ and are thereby content with our lives in Christ. Jesus strengthens us through His Holy Spirit so that we may continue to be content, as Paul, "in any and every circumstance" (v12).
This statement is the reason behind a national day of Thanksgiving. The only reason we have the freedom to assemble here and worship our God is because He has given us that freedom. He has called us to worship Him. He has strengthened us so that we might be content with what we have. We approach the Thanksgiving feast tomorrow with reflective minds, knowing that everything we have is by God's grace. We give thanks for what we have. We give thanks for what we don't have. We give thanks for all our needs being met by Jesus' love and mercy.
Today is truly a day to be thankful. Not just today but every day. Thankful that we have a God who loves us so much that He gave everything necessary to make our lives complete. Thankful that He loves us so much that He continues to be with us day after day. Thankful that we can be content with our lives "in any and every circumstance" (v12). Amen.