A genuine biblical faith is one that knows how to climb mountains, and how to not get lost in the valleys. In the flesh we know how to get used to what happens to us all the time. But it takes a true spirit of Christian character to deal with the fluctuations. Fluctuations are a test of faith and contentment.
“Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:11–13).
Summary of the Text
The apostle Paul has come to the point in the letter where he thanks the Philippians for their financial support. He really is grateful, but he wants them to know that he had learned the secret of being contented either way. He did not bring up his thanks because he was falling short in any way (v. 11). He knows how to be abased, and how to abound (v. 12), how to be full and how to be hungry, how to overflow and how to fall short. The “all things” of v. 13 refers to his contentment in all things.
Drive to Contentment
The Advent season also happens to be the season of shopping and sales, and so it is the time when a great deal of material stuff is paraded in front of us. This means that it is the season when a lot of people start lamenting how commercial the whole thing has gotten, what a racket it all is, and so forth.
Now whenever someone is abased, hungry, and suffering need, the carnal response is to drive toward abundance. If only I had more, if only I could get out of this place, if only . . .
But by the same token, when someone is abounding, is full, and has both hands full, there is a strong temptation (and it is a temptation) to drive toward some kind of minimalism. If only we could simplify. If only we could off-load some of these responsibilities . . .
The directive given to us in this passage is that we are not to try to fix our discontents with stuff, whether by accumulating more of it, or unloading all of it. You can’t fix the problem by getting more money, and you can’t fix the problem by getting less of it either. We are charged to drive toward contentment, which is not determined by how much money is in the bank. Rather, it is a matter of how much trust is in the heart. Contentment is a function of relationship, and not a function of wealth. Or, put another way, it is a function of spiritual wealth.
How Faith Handles This World
Faith knows how to play it as it lays. There are those who tell us that the true Christians are the ones who scarcely have a dime to their name, while others tell us that the health and wealth message means that God wants you to have loads of stuff. The Scriptures are not so simplistic. That is not what the Bible says.
“And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again [remarkable tone shift here]: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”
Heb. 11:32–38 (KJV)
The Bible teaches us that when the godly win, they win by faith. The Scriptures teach us that when the godly lose, they lose by faith, thereby winning something much greater. The real winners are not those who have millions. Nor are the winners those who have a measly mite. Some of God’s favorites have won great battles, and others have lost them. God’s champions are those who have true contentment.
What Our Temptations Are Likely to Be
C.S. Lewis once said that when confronted with a flood, we tend to break out the fire extinguishers. We tend to spend a lot of energy resisting the temptations we were least likely to succumb to anyhow. For this congregation, what are our temptations likely to be over the coming generation? We do not know this sort of thing for certain, but my strong suspicion is that we are going to face the temptations that come with being a hard-working and wealthy community. And the Scriptures have a great deal to say about that.
And as Christmas is the time of year when a lot of stuff passes through a lot of hands, we should use this annual boot camp time as a live fire exercise. We are handling the goods. We give a lot away, and we receive a lot. Learn how to do it. This is like a catechism class. These are your exercises. Embrace them.
Remember that we noted earlier that we are to drive toward contentment, and we are to do it with what we currently have. We must not think that my contentment would magically arrive if only. Banish those words if only.
“Moreover all these curses shall come upon thee, and shall pursue thee, and overtake thee, till thou be destroyed; because thou hearkenedst not unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which he commanded thee: And they shall be upon thee for a sign and for a wonder, and upon thy seed for ever. Because thou servedst not the LORD thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things; Therefore shalt thou serve thine enemies which the LORD shall send against thee, in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in want of all things: and he shall put a yoke of iron upon thy neck, until he have destroyed thee.”
Dt. 28:45-48 (KJV)
There are two stages here, two things to do. Hearken to the voice of the Lord your God. Obey His commandments. Put away the porn. Stop complaining. Work hard. Love your family. Husband your resources. That is the first thing. And the second is this. Rejoice. Celebrate. Set the table. Why did severe judgment fall upon Israel? Because they did not worship the LORD their God with joy, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of everything.
Christmas is coming. Throw yourself into it.