Philippians 4:12-20 We should have a competition to see who has the most keys on their key ring. This is mine! Heavy! No wonder I walk lop-sided. Keys to church, our home, mini-van, car, motorcycle, bicycle locks, and some keys I don’t have a clue anymore what they’re for! Check out your own key-chain? How many of us I wonder have “the key to contentment?” The Apostle Paul had it. Paul talks about “contentment” in the context of “giving.” Strange! It reminds me of Jesus and the rich young ruler. The guy asked Jesus, “Master, what must I do to get eternal life?” Jesus replied, “Sell all that you have, give to the poor and come follow me.” It’s a classic case of overstatement – it’s not about selfishness, but sacrifice. The sacrifice of Christ is the key to a life of true contentment. The Joy of sharing in God’s Generosity! Notice how Paul once again sounds the key-note of joy here. “I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it.” Paul was referring to the financial support the church at Philippi sent him. The word picture Paul uses to describe their revived concern is that of a flower blooming again, after a wintry period of suffering in his life. Paul, a prisoner, relied on gifts for food. Otherwise prisoners were left on a starvation diet in a Roman dungeon. You didn’t have computer banking, the ability to send funds clear across the country in a few seconds. So the church at Philippi sent a guy named Epaphroditus on a hazardous 800 mile trek to get their love gift to Paul. The church at Philippi had the concern; they just lacked the opportunity. We have lots of opportunities to give but how many people today lack the concern? Not that Paul sent out form letters soliciting funds. No way Contentment: Paul is not like a TV preacher, a hand always out for money. Paul wrote, “I can get along without it. I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” (11) Paul’s words would have gripped the folks at Philippi because they came straight from pagan philosophy – the Stoics. The Stoics regarded “contentment” as the highest virtue. It meant handling life as it comes, keeping a stiff upper lip, completely self-sufficient – a self-made man. Paul gave it a whole new meaning: being a God-made man, God-sufficient, smiling in the face of whatever life may throw at you, being at peace because God would look after him – bottom line. Paul wrote, “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, in plenty or in want.” (12) Paul grew up in a wealthy, influential family - the pampered son of a Pharisee. After he became a Christian, his success was no longer measured in dollar-signs. It was marked by the sign of the cross. Paul was whipped with 39 lashes on 5 different occasions; 3 times he was beaten with rods. He was stoned; left for dead, shipwrecked, suffered exposure, often going without sleep or food...cold, thrown in jail. Yet the keynote of his life is joy! Doesn’t sound too inviting, Paul! What’s the profit in being a Christian? Paul writes, “The secret is this – I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (13) The word “secret” here is again a trigger-word borrowed from the false “mystery religions” of the day – like the “New Age” religion. To them the secret is you need to get in touch with the hidden “god” within you. When you are god than everything exists to serve you. Selfishness is the natural outcome. Today the shopping mall becomes your temple. Your mantra becomes, “More! More!” People buy stuff to make themselves feel better. Yet buying all that nice stuff won’t help much if you suddenly find yourself in an emotional “prison” of suffering. I’ve visited more than a few people in the Cardiac Care Unit or in ICU at the hospital who said, “All the stuff I thought was important – it means nothing now. Christ is the key! It’s Christ who comforts me! It doesn’t always have to be only if you’re suffering. It can also be when you’re feasting. I read of a 2 couple, Christine and Kyle Kramer who got married. Instead of a wedding banquet, guests were invited to help distribute food to people in need. After their vows they put on aprons marked "Bride" and "Groom" and joined in distributing food to 100 needy families. When asked about the charitable act, the happy couple simply said it was Christ who motivated them." That’s the secret of contentment – grace more abundantly! The phrase “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” is often misused. It gets taped to bathroom mirrors to motivate people to have a successful day. Yet Paul is all about furthering the gospel. So muttering, “I can do all things through Christ” before trying to improve your golf game – that doesn’t cut it. Whether you’re in a jail like Paul was, a hospital ward, at the office or in a classroom, it’s all about recognising God put you there for a reason. How can I make the name of God more honoured? Remember Moses, stuttering, “I can’t do it.” God said, “Trust me. I’ll put the words in your mouth.” So ok, you’re not Moses, but you got Christ backing you up. We should be content with that, don’t you think? Compassion: That’s key here as well. Paul writes how not one church, not even the church in Rome where he was in prison gave Paul financial aid – except the church in Philippi. From the beginning they repeatedly sent him “love gifts” on his missionary journeys. The word Paul uses is partnership. It’s what compassion means. To share the same passion, the same heart to give the grace of God to others. Do you recall – the NT mentioned a severe famine in Jerusalem. Paul set up a disaster relief fund. One church he didn’t ask to contribute was Philippi because of their extreme poverty. They begged to be allowed to contribute anyways. Paul says they did the above and beyond, “First they gave themselves to the Lord, and then their shekels to the disaster relief fund.” (2 Cor 8) Compassion! Do you know which province has the highest per-person charitable giving? Newfoundland! It’s also the poorest area in Canada. Statistics show that: “In the CRC lower income households give a higher percentage of their income to the mission of the church then do the richer ones.” Why? Could it be they live much more dependently on God everyday, then those have bigger barns, investments store-housed away for an “eat-drink and be comfy” retirement? Can it be they have more compassion for the poor, because they know what it is to struggle to make ends meet? Check the books in our own church – about 1/3rd of the congregation does most of the giving. Why is that, and what does it have to say about our compassion, our passion for Christ? I read of a mom who gave her child a dollar and also 25 cents. Mom said, "Sweetheart, you can put either one in the offering plate. It's up to you.” As they drove home, mom asked what she did. "Well, first I was going to give a dollar," said the little gal. "But the man behind the pulpit said God loves a cheerful giver, so I felt like I would be much more cheerful if I gave the quarter instead.” Seriously, maybe you are like the widow in the NT who was only able to give 2 cents. It was all she had. She gave out of her poverty while the Pharisees gave out of their prosperity - just dashed off a check and didn’t even feel it. Christ honored the widow because she really gave herself. When you give your time, talents to the ministry of the church, you are giving yourself. Why? Compassion! Paul writes, “Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account…” (17) He sounds like a bank manager – credit and debt. What’s with that? It’s all about gratitude. Shakespeare said, “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.” Nothing hurts a parent worse than a child who selfishly tramples all over your love. Gratitude! Paul puts it this way: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, though he was rich, for your sakes he became poor, so you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor 8) Every pearl-drop of his blood, his priceless sacrifice on the cross was credited to our account. So what’s it worth to you? The dividend is measured in gratitude! How do you show gratitude? Compassion – giving back to God. Consecration: It’s an old word that means “worship.” Paul switches here from the language of banking to that of temple worship. Our giving of ourselves, like that of the folks back in Philippi, Paul writes is a form of worship: “a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.” (19) Have 3 you ever smelled the aroma of a roast dinner filling the house: uhm-uhmmn! It pictures a spiritual reality: God delights in our love-gifts in his name. Why? We are never more like Jesus when we give. The exact same words are used to describe Jesus bittersweet gift of himself on the cross: “as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Eph 5) We sing, “Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to Thee”, but Jesus sang it first – in a way that filled the universe with soul-satisfying grace! Are you afraid to give faithfully, regularly, with a generous spirit? Are you afraid that too much of Christ in your life will cost you? Paul writes, “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (19) Notice Paul didn’t say, “all your greeds!” How quick the latest luxury becomes a necessity in our minds: “I just got to have that!” How often don’t we buy something to try and fill an emotional or spiritual need? It’s contagious, like the flu…“affluenza!” Did you notice how Paul referred to God as “my God?” When our first child was born, I bonded with her with joy – my child! But I also felt a deep sense of responsibility as a dad – I would do anything to protect and provide for her. God the Father did the same for us – in Jesus name! All your needs! Maybe you question that. Why did God take away your health or fail to give you the financial success in life you craved? Perhaps you can find an answer in what happened, not just to Paul, but to a more recent great missionary explorer, David Livingstone in Africa. He came to a large territory ruled by a tribal chief. Livingstone could go forward only after a special tradition was followed. The chief would choose any item from Livingstone's property and keep it, while giving the missionary something in return. Livingstone didn’t have much: his clothes, books, his watch, even the goat that provided him with milk – since Livingston suffered from chronic stomach problems. To his dismay, the chief took this goat. In return, the chief gave him a carved stick, shaped like a walking stick. Livingstone began to gripe to God over what he saw as just a stupid walking cane. What could it do for him compared to the goat that kept him healthy? The natives explained, "That's not a walking cane. It's the king's own scepter, and with it you will find entrance to every village in our land. God opened Africa to Livingstone. As later evangelists followed wave after wave of conversions occurred! Sometimes, in our disappointment over what we don't have, we fail to appreciate the significance of what God has given us. It’s not about the keys to a Cadillac home and all the toys this world has to offer. God gives us the Keys to the Kingdom so that the gospel, his great gift of grace in Christ, may be furthered. Paul concludes, “To our God and Father be glory forever and ever.” It’s the same as saying to God, “Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to Thee.” Can you be content with that? It’s the key to unlocking the Joy of the Lord in your life! Amen!
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