I don’t buy newspapers, like an ever growing number of people these days I get my news via the internet and its various news feeds and websites. One of things I’ve noticed recently is the way adverts are more and more interwoven and packaged as articles on these news feeds or placed as links to similar stories at the bottom of news articles. They are usually headlines that say something like “this celebrity or that well known person shares their secrets to beauty” , “This person shares his secrets of how men can have a firm, muscular and sexy body after 40” obviously targeted at my demographic or “this is a secret that the rich don’t want you to know of how they are able to accumulate wealth and so can you.” Adverts that offer secrets of how we can get or maintain the western dream of being wealthy, healthy and attractive.
In the reading we had today Paul, in prison and facing an uncertain future, also offers us a secret he has discovered for life. Not a secret hidden as a link to another web address, or added on as a teaser at the end but freely and openly shared in the body of his letter. A Secret which has been hijacked in some quarters to reflect and fit in with our western worldview, but which goes totally against the grain. As he thanks the church at Philippi for their generous gift to him he tells them the secret he has that enables him to face, keep faithful and have joy in the face of times of plenty or in want, when he is well feed or hungry. It is the secret to being content in all situations.
Over the winter months we have been working our way through Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. A letter written to thank that church for its support for Paul while he is in prison. A letter written to encourage the Church at Philippi to stand firm in the gospel, in the face of persecution from outside and trouble within. A letter written to exhort the church to Live worthy of the gospel, being unified, having the mind of Christ where they put each other’s needs above their own, where they guard against teaching that would try and add human endeavour to the cross of Jesus Christ for salvation. A letter where Paul assures them that the God of peace will guard their hearts and minds if they keep focused on him. A letter in which Paul encourages the church to know joy, a joy that transcends situations, that is not tied to emotion or circumstance, but is founded in being known by and knowing Jesus Christ. A letter that speaks that same profound truth to the church here and now as it did to the church then and there.
Today we are going to finish this series by looking at Paul’s final words of thanks to the church(v10-19), a doxology or giving glory of God, his final greetings (21-22) and his benediction or blessing (23). They all have something to say to us of significance. It does seem that the letter formally finishes with the doxology in verse 20, and it may be that Paul had dictated the letter to someone and then he writes the last greetings and blessing in his own hand writing. Like with Paul’s letter we will focus most of our time on what he has to say as he gives thanks to the Church for their gracious gift and deal with the other two in passing.
Part of Paul's secret to contentment is his attitude towards money.
Paul thanks the church at Philippi for their concern for him and the gracious gift which was sent by the church with Epaphroditus. It was a gift of support which we assume was money. So he thankful for the gift but is also concerned that there is no misunderstanding about the gift as well.
Firstly, no misunderstanding about nature of Paul’s ministry. In the first century, there were travelling philosophers and teachers who would make their living from their teaching. They would establish a group of followers and there was the expectation that that group would then support them and their work. A second century satirist Lucian speaks of them going house to house to receive a payment, or as they call it ‘sharing the sheep’ and people would give money out of respect for these travelling teachers or out of fear of their harsh words if they didn’t.
In Paul’s mission journey, he had supplemented his travel and preaching in long stays like in Athens by plying his trade as a tentmaker. A term that is used in by missions today for people who go to countries for the sake of the gospel but work in those countries, usually they are countries that do not allow people to come as missionaries. But as they are there to work in their particular field they can witness to people around them and encourage the local church. Paul had been very careful when collecting for the poor in Jerusalem as well, making sure that representatives from the donating churches went with him and the appeal money to Jerusalem. Sadly today money is one of the things that can damage or lead Christian ministries of the rails. Paul wants to distance himself from that.
Secondly. Paul wants the church to know that while he is filled with joy at the Churches show of concern for him that their gift is not the source of his joy and peace in his present suffering and uncertain future. He tells them it’s not because of the money in his account that makes him happy but rather it is on account of what it says about the church at Philippi. There generosity is a sign that they are growing and mature in their Christian love and desire to see the gospel shared and spread. That is full payment says Paul, that is credit to your account, then turning from economic language to the language of the old testament he likens it to a sacrifice given to God, which is pleasing, fragrant and acceptable.
In scripture wealth is not seen in the same way as it is often seen in our society, or even the church. It is seen as a blessing but also coming with a danger, that wealth itself can assume divine status in a person’s life. Its pursuit can consume us, push out other important parts of life: to keep the standard of living we desperately seek in the west today actually demands a couple to work furiously, and to be exhausted at the end of ever longer and pressured work weeks with little time left for family and less for worship and witness and mission. The status and lifestyle that it provides can push aside Christian discipleship, and it can lead us to not depending on God. Proverbs 30:8 and 9 is not often quoted as a promise from scripture, but it forms the basis of a prayer we say each week here in church a prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray, and it sums up the situation very well “Give me neither poverty or wealth but give me rather my daily bread. Otherwise I may have too much and disown you and say ‘who is the LORD?’ But it also acknowledges the depravations and temptations of poverty as well “Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonour the name of my God.”
Paul is pleased for the gift but what pleases him more is that the church at Philippi have not fallen into the trap of worshipping wealth. Jacques Ellul, a noted Christian anarchist, refelects ““There is one act par excellence which profanes money by going directly against the law of money, an act for which money is not made. This act is giving.” So Paul can rejoice in that.
Paul is not a conman or consumed by money he is content. So what is Pauls secret of being content in all situations, in plenty or with naught, a full stomach or amidst the growling pangs of hunger. It is says Paul… Christ. The word content come from stoic philosophy and it means self-sufficiency , not dependant on the things of the world around you for pleasure or joy and Paul borrows it here to say that he is able to face all these different situations through Christ who strengthens him.
Paul' secret to contentment comes from what he builds his life around.
On one level it is that Paul sees and focuses in his life on a higher good, that allows him to put what is going on around him in to perspective. Our focus can be on what we do or do not have but Paul has learned to find his joy and his peace and his wellbeing in knowing and serving Christ. There are times when God provides in the midst of his life, the gift from Philippi is one of those times. Just as God was able to provide for Paul as he plied his trade as a tentmaker. But he’s also aware that to follow Christ is the road of the cross, that pain and suffering are not signs of the absence of God’s presence, or blessing but the reality of Christ like love and sacrifice.
On another level it is that Paul knows God has provided for far more than simply his physical needs. The greater need of humanity salvation, forgiveness of sin and relationship with God are met in Jesus Christ. meaning and purpose in life in following Jesus Christ.
Being content does not mean you can’t work to change your circumstances, when people come to Christ there is often what is called a redemptive lift. That as peoples priorities change and their lives become more straightened out their finances benefit from that.
Paul's secret to contentment is able to be passed on to us.
Pauls secret is then able to handed on to the church at Philippi and to us. That just as Paul can do all things in Christ who strengthens him so he says ‘God is able to meet all our needs according to his riches in glory.’ We too can find contentment in knowing our God is for us and able to meet our needs, our spiritual needs and grant us our daily bread as well. So Paul finishes his exhortation to the church at Philippi the way he started it by assuring them that God is able to bring to completion the work that he had begun in them by assuring them that God is able to meet all their needs. The same assurance that we have regardless of our situation or circumstance.
Paul then moves to bring greeting to the church at Philippi. He had started his letter by greeting the saints at Philippi and now he expands that to be all God’s people. The unity they have the joy they have the assurance that God has is not just for them but for all God’s people. That includes us as well as God’s timeless word speaks into our world as much as it did to the church at Philippi. Paul reinforces the idea of the universal family of God. In the video we started our service with we caught a glimpse of some of the places that takes us to island villages and even the urban homes of reggae loving Christians. From all tribes and all tongues we are one people in Christ.
It's interesting that while the church at Philippi was suffering for the gospel in a roman colony that Paul should also take the opportunity to encourage them by sharing greetings from believers within Caesar’s household. The gospel was having an impact at the very heart of the powers that were opposing them. It speaks to us of the world wide family of God being a source of comfort and help and support for those struggling under persecution and pressure. That in the west where we find ourselves feeling like the world is becoming more and more post Christian and resilient to the gospel that we can be encouraged by hearing and seeing that the Spirit of God is at work all over the world. I found myself in tears this week as I watched a video of the 25th anniversary of the Harvest evangelism crusade by Greg Laurie (whom I’d never heard of before) in Southern California. I was amazed at the cost and the technology and effort that went into this event, but the thing that got to me was the testimonies of so many people who had had their lives transformed by meeting Jesus Christ, from alcoholism, dysfunctional families, drug addiction, abusive situations, despair and depression, atheism and nomalism to a saving new life in Jesus Christ, we don’t always see it in our little corner but the gospel is unchained and Christ is alive and moving in people’s lives by the holy spirit. Recently I’ve found myself in tears as I hear the stories of aid workers in refugee camps who at the risk of their lives share their faith and see lives changed. Even in the face of tragedy the willingness to forgive of a small Coptic village in Egypt whose fourteen men were beheaded by IsIs fighters. The power of the gospel in the face of hatred and persecution.
Finally, Paul’s blessing on his readers is that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ might be with your Spirit. Here is the thing that is the centre of Paul’s Joy, here is the foundation of Paul’s hope, the strength of his assurance that he who has started a good work in you will bring it to completion in Christ Jesus. Here is the secret of his contentment, that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Here is the reason for Christian unity and the means to preserve it, that we have the mind of Christ. Here is the greatest Blessing. That we might know the grace of Jesus Christ in our lives. In the end it’s no secret, it is the person, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, present in our lives by the Holy Spirit.