The Secret to Securing Happiness & Investing for a Better Future (Philippians 4:10-23)

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

What if everything you knew about securing happiness was wrong?

Have you noticed the trend in recent years to title books and articles with, “What if everything you knew about… was wrong?”

For example, What if everything you knew about education was wrong? Or did you know that Everything you thought you knew about disease is wrong? And we’re always ready to be told Why everything we know about weight gain and dieting is wrong. There must be a better way!

And no area of life is safe – we’re ignorant about everything! There’s a whole series of TED talks under the category ‘everything you thought you knew was wrong’. You’ve even been tying your shoes wrong this whole time!

It certainly grabs your attention doesn’t it? ‘Yeah, what if everything I knew about that WAS wrong?? I better read this article!’

Well, although I’m reluctant to contribute to ‘clickbait’ trends, I think you could easily title this last section of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, “What if everything you thought you knew about securing happiness was wrong?”

I can’t see the Apostle Paul agreeing to the title himself, but I think he would agree with the sentiment.

You see, we live and work and play in the midst of a culture that seeks happiness by securing better circumstances and experiences for ourselves. And this goes hand in hand with carefully investing for the sake of securing better circumstances. We study and work and invest and make sacrifices towards a vision of a better future. We want good returns on our investments. And good returns means capital growth, more wealth, better circumstances – more freedom to determine my circumstances so that I can be comfortable and content.

And in the midst of all that, in this last part of his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes about the secret to the good life – to living well – in any and every circumstance, and he speaks of an investment that is guaranteed to return profits. But it involves a total reshaping of how people normally think about investing and securing happiness. It turns everything upside down.

What if everything you thought you knew about securing happiness was wrong?

Perhaps that really is true for you. Perhaps for some of us, what we will hear and consider in this passage is very different from how we currently think about life, wealth and happiness. Perhaps you do need to rethink everything.

Or perhaps you will find that you already think along the same lines… technically. You know in theorythat what Paul says here is right. But is that how you actually live? Or are you following the example of the majority, even while you know it’s not what you should be doing? Have you learned the secret of living well in any and every circumstance? Or have you just learnt about it.

Rejoicing in their gift

These are the questions we need to wrestle with as we reflect on what Paul writes here in Philippians 4:10-23. And as we turn to the passage to explore it more, you can see that these reflections all flow out of the context of Paul wanting to express his appreciation and joy over the fact that the Philippians have shown practical concern for him by sending him a gift, some kind of financial or material help, through Epaphroditus.

The statement that really drives this whole closing section is there in verse 10:

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me.” He’s not chastising them for finally lending a hand after a long period of not showing concern. No, he immediately points out, “Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.” Paul rejoices that once they are able (for whatever reason) to provide help, they did so.

And verses 14 and 18 reveal more fully what he means by them renewing their concern for him. They have ‘shared in his troubles’ and so he can now say, “I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent.”

If you’ve been joining us through our series in Philippians, or you’re familiar with the book, you’ll know that Paul is in prison for the sake of the gospel – almost certainly in Rome. And he writes to the Philippians from prison for a variety of reasons, one of them being to express his thanks to them for their partnership with him in the gospel. He’s sending Epaphroditus, their messenger – a mutual friend and minister of the gospel – back to them, with this letter. And as he closes, he wants to be clear how happy it has made him that they have renewed their concern for him and sent a gift to supply his needs.

But – And this is where all the important stuff comes for us! – Paul wants to explain carefully why he does and doesn’t rejoice over their gift.

1. Not because of what the gift means for me (v10-13)

First of all, from verse 11, Paul is quick to explain he’s not rejoicing in the gift because he was in such great need and now he’s not (thanks to their gift). That’s not the reason he rejoices.

11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 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, whether living in plenty or in want.

Paul doesn’t rejoice in the way the gift has changed his circumstances for the better.

I would! I do all the time. I like it when my circumstances get better. If I’m in need, and someone helps me out – supplies what’s lacking – I rejoice! It’s natural.

And I’m sure Paul appreciated the gift. I’m sure he enjoyed the way it improved his circumstances. I’m sure he was grateful to be well fed rather than hungry.

But Paul didn’t rejoice in this material benefit to himself primarily, because the truth was that he had learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

Learning to be content in any circumstance

Paul has learned to live in a way that doesn’t depend on his circumstances for his personal happiness. He’s not enslaved to seeking better circumstances. His sense of wellbeing doesn’t depend on it. His attitudes and behaviours are not determined by how healthy and wealthy he is.

When he explains in verse 12, ‘I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty’, he’s not just saying he’s experienced these extremes. He’s saying he knows how to be in need and how to have plenty. He knows the secret of living well regardless of how much or little he has. He’s learnt to be content, to be happy and have his needs met, ‘in any and every circumstance’.

Most of us don’t know how to live well in either situation, in poverty or riches. In poverty, we can be bitter and long for better circumstances. We strive and toil to get what we want. In riches, we obsess over keeping what we have or getting more, and we try endless ways of using our wealth to make us feel happy and content. We indulge. We’re not good with money or without.

Whatever our circumstances, we find we’re not content, we’re not happy, and we’re not living the life we want. And that’s because we’re trying to find it in and through our circumstances. And that’s just a recipe for endless discontent…

The Grass is always Greener…

You know the saying, ‘the grass is always greener’?

This is a photo of our chickens just yesterday morning. See that big chicken pushing its neck through the wire to drink from the little water dispenser and get a taste of the grass on the other side of the fence? Well it has the whole rest of the yard to wander around in and eat from. It has a drink dispenser 4 times the size. It has so much more than what’s on offer on the other side of the fence. And yet time and time again it wanders up and squeezes its neck through, convinced that whatever is on the other side of that fence must be better. ‘If only I could get in there I would be soooo happy…’ Of course, the little chickens spend all their time trying to get out the other way!

We’re not very different are we. Squeezing our heads through the fence, convinced things will be better if we can just get some of what they have…

In 1989, a 14 year old boy named Jason Lehman had this poem published in a local newspaper in New Haven, Connecticut, which I think sums up the tragedy of seeking contentment by chasing different circumstances…

Present Tense

It was spring, but it was summer I wanted,
The warm days, and the great outdoors.
It was summer, but it was fall I wanted,
The colorful leaves, and the cool, dry air.
It was fall, but it was winter I wanted,
The beautiful snow, and the joy of the holiday season.
It was winter, but it was spring I wanted,
The warmth and the blossoming of nature.
I was a child, but it was adulthood I wanted,
The freedom and respect.
I was 20, but it was 30 I wanted,
To be mature, and sophisticated.
I was middle-aged, but it was 20 I wanted,
The youth and the free spirit.
I was retired, but it was middle-age I wanted,
The presence of mind without limitations.
My life was over, and I never got what I wanted.

In contrast to this endless cycle of discontent – this doomed mindset of chasing fulfilment and contentment in better, different circumstances; in contrast to this, Paul testifies that he has learned the secret of being content in any and every situation – whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

Sounds good doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t want that?! To be freed from the tyranny of your circumstances, which are just never quite what they need to be…

Jesus-Sufficiency, not Self-Sufficiency

And what’s the secret?

Verse 13: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

The secret to living well in any and every circumstance is to find our contentment in Christ rather than in our circumstances.

You see, in one sense the secret is simply not to seek contentment in your circumstances. It’s to learn to somehow be content regardless of your circumstances.

But how? If it was easy, the world would look very different!

Self-Sufficiency?

One answer is to find what we need within ourselves. Many say the secret to contentment in life is self-sufficiency.

In Paul’s day this approach to life was championed by the Stoics. Stoicism was a Greco-Roman philosophy that promoted detachment from the external world and achieving happiness through strict mental and emotional discipline. You create your own happiness by determining to be so regardless of your circumstances.

The very word ‘contentment’ that Paul uses here is borrowed from this way of thinking and talking. It literally means ‘self-rule’ or ‘self-sufficiency’.

There’s no doubt that there’s great wisdom in it. Better to determine to be content rather than depend on your circumstances. You can see the way this philosophy has strongly shaped Buddhism can’t you? And I think it captures what many find attractive about Buddhism and other Eastern religions as a way of life. Seems much wiser and more fulfilling than striving to satisfy our desires and avoid discomfort at all costs.

But the fact is, denying that our desires are meaningful is dehumanising in the end. And most of us find we simply can’t do it. We are not self-sufficient. If we try to turn from our circumstances to find what we need within ourselves… we just end up turning back to our circumstances. The secret is not within us.There’s a reason why the first steps of groups like Alcoholics Anonymous are to admit you don’t have what it takes, but that there is a higher Power greater than you than can help.

Jesus Sufficiency

The secret to contentment is finding satisfaction in something better than any circumstance we might otherwise chase after; it’s finding satisfaction in someone who does in fact have all I need. Paul takes the proud, detached idea of ‘self-sufficiency’ and turns it into the humble idea of Jesus-sufficiency. That’s the secret to true, lasting, achievable contentment in any and every circumstance.

And Paul’s shown us what this looks like time and time again through this letter hasn’t he? He can sit in prison and rejoice when people cause trouble for him, because he can see how it’s helping the cause of the gospel go forward. And he lives for the gospel. He can look at the possibility of execution and see only gain, because he’s captured by a vision of being with his Lord and Saviour. He can contemplate pouring his life out like a drink offering if can see how it helps others stand firm and grow in Christ, because he finds his joy in Christ and his mission. He gladly trades in all his earthly achievements and religious status for knowing Christ and being found in him – sharing in his resurrection from the dead. He goes about his days with his heart fixed on his true home in heaven, satisfied in the hope he is waiting for from heaven. In whatever circumstances he finds himself in, he rejoices in the hope that belongs to him in Christ. He finds strength to carry on in the fact that his Lord is always near. He finds peace and comfort as he brings his concerns before God and rests in the promises of the gospel.

Have you learned to turn to Jesus and the hope you have in him for satisfaction and contentment regardless of your circumstances? Do you find strength in him? Or are you still trapped in chasing better circumstances?

As we consider that question, one clear indication will be how we are investing what we have. What we do with our wealth, our time and our energy reveals what we believe will bring us satisfaction and contentment.

And that’s why generous and sacrificial giving, both to help those in need and to further the cause of the gospel, is like an investment towards our contentment in Christ. It expresses our contentment in him, and it feeds into our contentment in him.

2. Because of what the gift means for you (14-19)

You see, after clarifying that he’s not rejoicing because of what the gift means for him, Paul explains, he’s rejoicing because of what it means for them. He doesn’t desire the gift for his own happiness, he desires the blessing that comes to them as the giver of the gift. That’s why he’s rejoicing now that they have renewed their concern for him.

Real Partnership: Faith in Action

So in verses 14-19 Paul reassures the Philippians that it really is good and valuable for them to have helped him in this way. He might have learned to be content either way, ‘yet’, he explains in verse 14, ‘it was good of you to share in my troubles’.

And he goes on to express his appreciation for the way the Philippians have partnered with him practically and financially in gospel ministry again and again over the years.

15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need.

From the beginning of their journey of following Jesus, the Philippians grasped onto the fact that it involved what they do with their money and resources. Following Jesus wasn’t just a Sunday club to join or a way to ‘think’ about life. It wasn’t just a set of rituals to tick off to secure some spiritual benefit. It was a whole way of life with Jesus and his mission at the centre. It meant finding contentment and hope in Jesus and seeing their life and resources as an opportunity to live that out and see others find hope in Jesus.

We can easily think too much of money. That’s what we’re reminded about in the first section. Find contentment in Christ, not wealth and material circumstances. Money might make the world go round, but it doesn’t need to make your world go round.

But we can also make too little of money can’t we? We can make the mistake of thinking that our faith in Jesus is a spiritual, personal matter, but money is just a dirty part of this fallen world. It’s true, money might be part of this world that is passing away, and our citizenship might be in heaven. But we are here now and our faith in Jesus is lived out in these bodies, in our homes and neighbourhoods and workplaces. What we do with our money is just as important to following Jesus as whether we are faithful to our spouse or whether we tell the truth at work or how we react when our neighbour plays loud music at 3am in the morning.

The faithful, consistent partnership between the Philippians and Paul, which involved the nitty gritty of sending money and whatever was needed, was the faith of the Philippian church in action. It’s no good saying you ‘feel generous’, or that you ‘like the idea’ of supporting gospel workers. Feelings and ideas don’t feed people. Faith in the gospel leads to real, practical gospel partnership.

Paul rejoices to see such faith in action.

The Blessing of Giving

And it works the other way around too.

Real, practical gospel partnership feeds faith in the gospel and it blesses the giver as much as the one receiving the gift. When we give generously and sacrificially out of faith in Christ to the needs of others and the cause of the gospel, it fuels our faith and leads us deeper into contentment in Christ.

As Jesus taught, it really is better to give than to receive.

This is the real cause for Paul’s joy in the gift he received from them.

After expressing his appreciation for their partnership over the years, he explains from verse 17, Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. 18 I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.”

Paul can’t help making the point again – it’s not about him wanting gifts. He appreciates it – but he’s got more than enough now. He’s amply supplied…

No, what he desires, what he rejoices in, is the spiritual blessing that accompanies such giving. And Paul uses two different metaphors to describe this blessing – one from the world of business and one from the realm of temple sacrifices.

Investment with Real Returns

So first he explains in verse 17 that what he desires is that more be credited to their account. It’s like by giving out of gospel convictions they are making a deposit in their heavenly bank account.

This is a smart investment. This is an investment that can’t go wrong – one that’s not susceptible to stock market crashes and property market bubbles bursting.

Do you think of yourself as a smart investor? As you look back over 2020 and 2019, and you happy with your returns?

Probably not if you invested heavily with Flight Centre.

On the other hand, if you invested in Zoom a year ago, you’re probably feeling VERY smug.

But the secret to real returns on your investments is not to play the market for your own gain. It’s to give it away for the sake of the gospel and good of others. No one can take your returns away from you then.

As the old riddle from Pilgrim’s Progress goes, ‘A man there was, though some did count him mad; the more he gave away, the more he had.’

Of course, we don’t want to press the metaphor too far. It’s not that we actually have a heavenly bank account. We don’t earn a place in heaven, or a better place in heaven, by giving away money. As soon as you actually think it’s all just a business transaction, you’ve lost the point. If you try to buy blessings from God, you’re going to be disappointed.

But Paul borrows this language to help us see that real wealth, real happiness, comes from giving, not grasping. As we learn to give, we learn the secret of contentment in Christ, regardless of our circumstances. And that’s the secret to really living well. That’s a peace and happiness that can’t be taken away from you.

A Pleasing Sacrifice

The second metaphor is from the world of temple sacrifices and offerings. Paul describes the gift the Philippians have sent through Epaphroditus as a ‘fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.’

Paul pictures the gifts the Philippians have sent him – the money or the supplies or whatever it was – he pictures them like a sacrifice on the altar of the temple, with the aroma wafting up to heaven, pleasing to God. It’s a pleasing sacrifice, because it is a sacrifice. It’s an act of faith and love that hurts – that costs something. It requires sacrificing something of ourselves, of what we have and what we would otherwise enjoy for ourselves.

Again, it’s a mistake to think they are paying for their sin or buying approval from God through this sacrificial gift. That’s not how it works. In a number of places in the New Testament we see that the whole of our lives as Christians are now to be lived as living sacrifices. Our acts of love and service are offerings to God given in worship to him. Not to earn approval or deal with sin, but given in gratitude because we have approval in Christ – because our sin has been dealt with in Christ.

But they are still pleasing to God. Just because God already loves us and accepts us in Christ, doesn’t mean we can’t please him with our actions as we learn to follow Christ. It’s like a parent being pleased with some stumbling, imperfect act of kindness or service from their child. The child isn’t earning their place in the family or earning their parents love. But their actions provoke love, delight and affection (sometimes!).

And think this is a simple, but wonderful reality. Some of us have given up on the idea of God being pleased with you. We rightly emphasise our sinfulness and inability to earn approval with God by our good deeds. But then we get carried away with this and think that nothing we do matters.

Your actions are not meaningless. You can please God as one of his children. It pleases him when he sees you giving out of contentment in Christ to meet the needs of others and for the sake of his Kingdom. God loves to see his children make sacrifices for the sake of others and the gospel. And knowing that you’re living in a way that is pleasing to your God who has given so much for you is a reward no amount of money could buy.

Freed to be generous through God’s generosity

There’s one final thing we need to hear as we reconsider what it means to be happy and live well – to invest well and use our money well.

Paul wraps up this part of the letter by reassuring the Philippians that God can and will provide all that they need. Having testified to his own contentment in Christ and encouraged them for their ongoing generosity, he declares, “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

Giving can be scary and difficult can’t it? We battle the constant messaging from the world that you need to put yourself first. We battle our own selfish impulses. We battle fear of not having what we need if we give to others. In the end, it’s the knowledge that we can never out give God that empowers us to be generous ourselves.

The foundation for our generosity is grasping the profound kindness and grace that God has already shown to us in Christ – through his sacrificial death and life-giving resurrection. We learn to love and give because we realise how much God has loved and given to us.

But it’s not just gratitude. It’s faith that God will continue to provide. We follow in the footsteps of Christ confident that God will meet every need and more in the end.

This declaration stands in parallel to what Paul has said in verse 13. Just as he can be content and serve faithfully through Christ who strengthens him, so we can continue to serve and give with contentment, knowing that God is the one who will provide all we need.

We will not miss out. We will not regret giving and sacrificing and putting others first. We can’t out-give God. His grace and provision to us past, present and future fills us up and frees us to show grace to others. It’s God’s abundant grace to us in Jesus that overflows and enables us to find what he need in him, so that we can give what we don’t to others. We don’t give because we’re better than others; we give because we don’t need to hold onto it.

The secret to happiness in any and every circumstance is finding our contentment in Christ rather than seeking it in our circumstances. And the secret to investing for a better future is giving generously out of our contentment in Christ and faith in God’s provision.

Is that how you’ve been thinking about contentment and wealth? Or do you need to rethink everything? More importantly, is that how you’re living? That’s what we all need to reflect on…