The Secret of Contentment

Joy for the Journey – A Study of Philippians                        David Owens

Sermon 17: “The Secret of Contentment”

Text: Philippians 4:10-13


  1. The story is told of a wealthy Englishman who came downstairs one morning and heard his cook saying to herself, “Oh, if I only had a five-pound note, I would be so content with that!”
  2. The wealthy Englishman, quickly considered the matter, and wanting to see the woman satisfied, came in and gave her a five-pound note (which was worth about $25 at that time).
  3. The cook thanked him profusely.
  4. The wealthy man left the room, but waited outside the door to hear if the cook might express her gratitude to God.
  5. As soon as the wealthy man left the room, the cook said to herself, “Why didn’t I say ten rather than five?!”
  1. How often do we find ourselves acting just like that cook?
  2. How often do we find ourselves always wanting more, and then when we get the more we wanted, we move right on to wanting even more?
  3. Do you know what true contentment is? Would you like to develop true contentment?
  4. Someone said, “Contentment has been praised more and practiced less than any other condition in life.”
  5. Another person observed that “All the world lives in two tents – content and discontent.”
  6. So, which tent do you live in? Content or discontent?
  7. Surely, one of the greatest causes of a believer’s lack of joy in their life is a lack of contentment.
  1. Webster defines the word “content” as: “Having the desires limited to that which one has.”
  2. Here is a good quote: “Bless God for what you have, and trust God for what you want. If we cannot bring our condition to our mind, then we must bring our mind to our condition.  If a man is not content in the state he is in, then he will not be content in the state he would be in.” (Erskine Mason)
  3. Those are wise words – we must learn to be content wherever we are; whatever state we are in.
  4. The story is told of an elder in the early church who was a remarkable example of contentment.
  5. When asked for the secret to his contentment, he said, “It consists of nothing more than making a right use of my eyes. In whatever state I am, I first of all look up to heaven and remember that my principle business here is to get there.  Then I look down upon the earth, and call to mind how small a place I shall occupy in it when I die and am buried.  I then look around in the world and observe what multitudes there are who are in many respects more unhappy than myself.  Thus I learn where true happiness is placed, where all our cares must end, and what little reason I have to complain.”
  6. That spiritual man was so right – contentment is a matter of how we look at things.
  1. Would you be interested if someone told you they had discovered the secret of contentment and that they were willing to share the secret with you?
  2. As we come to the end of our study of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we notice his declaration that he had discovered the secret to being content, and that he was willing to share that secret with the Philippians and with us.
  3. What is the secret to contentment that Paul had discovered?
  4. Paul had discovered that contentment comes from a trust in our spiritual realities rather than a focus on our physical circumstances.
  5. My aim today is to encourage us to keep our focus off the wrong things and to keep our trust in the right things.
  6. Let’s notice that Paul mentions two spiritual realities in which we must place our trust, and when we place our trust in those spiritual realities the result is contentment.
  1. First of all, Contentment Comes from Putting Our Trust in the Unfailing Power of God
  2. Paul wrote: 10 I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 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. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Phil. 4:10-13)
  3. Paul deliberately chose the words “secret” and “content” which were words that were commonly used by stoics and practitioners of mystery religions.
  4. Those folks talked about mysteries and self-sufficiency, but in contrast to them, Paul spoke of a very different kind of secrecy and sufficiency.
  1. Paul’s life and ministry bear out the very things he wanted the Philippians to learn.
  2. And Paul pointed to his own experience and the things that he learned from experience.
  3. What Paul had discovered is that contentment is something that has to be learned – it is not something that comes naturally or automatically.
  4. And Paul had learned where true contentment is found.
  5. The problem that most of us have is that we keep looking for contentment in the wrong places.
  6. The devil and the world teach us that contentment comes from the people you know – if we could just hang out with the right people and could just be welcomed into the right social circles, then we would be content. Right?
  7. And we are led to believe that contentment comes from the positions you hold – if we could just have the right job or hold a high position, then we would be content. Right?
  8. And perhaps the biggest lie of all is: contentment comes from the possessions you have – if we just had enough money, or got to drive the nice cars, or live in the expensive houses, then we would be content. Right?
  9. Paul had learned something far different from that – he had learned to be content regardless of who he was with, what positions he held, or what possessions he had.
  10. Paul reported that there were times in his life and ministry when he had more than enough, and that there were other times when he was in need and went hungry.
  11. But regardless of his circumstances, good or bad, he had learned that he could do all things through Christ who gave him strength – that was his secret to contentment.
  12. Paul had discovered that there was not a single situation he was called to face where Jesus was not with him and where Jesus was not enough.
  13. And if Jesus was with him always, then the Lord gave him the strength he needed.
  14. Paul wrote about the “peace that passes understanding,” because he had experienced it.
  15. Eleven, or so, years previously, Paul had sat in a Philippian jail cell, battered and bleeding, and yet he discovered the strength to sing praises to God even in that situation.
  16. During the days of the Great Depression in the 1930s a panel of speakers were addressing a gathering of people from Chicago’s southside, most of whom were African American.
  17. One of the speakers was Clarence Darrow, a distinguished ACLU attorney and professed atheist, who defended John Scopes in the Scopes “Monkey” Trial of 1925.
  18. Darrow addressed the terrible economic conditions facing everyone – especially the black community.
  19. Darrow summed up their woes and asked, “And yet you sing? No one can sing like you do.  But what do you have to sing about?”
  20. Very quickly, a woman shouted out, “We got Jesus to sing about!” And her response was followed by many “amens” and “yeses” and “that’s rights.”
  21. Uncharacteristically, Clarence Darrow was stopped dead in his tracks and he had no response, for he was face to face with that which cannot be explained.
  22. People of faith can sing through tears and pain and struggle, because they walk with the One who gives them the strength to do everything that needs to be done.
  1. The devil wants us to believe two lies.
  2. He wants us to believe that things make a person happy.
  3. And he wants us to believe that all we need is found within ourselves.
  4. Both of those things are false, and Paul had discovered the real source of contentment.
  5. Paul had discovered that he was not self-sufficient, but that he could be Christ-sufficient.
  6. Paul learned that no matter what might be ahead, Jesus Christ was sufficient to carry him through it.
  7. The powers that be can take everything away from a person, but they cannot take away a person’s faith in the unfailing power of God.
  8. Trusting in the unfailing power of God brings contentment.
  1. Second, Contentment Comes from Putting our Trust in the Unchanging Promise of God
  2. Paul continued: 14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 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 again and again when I was in need. 17 Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. 18 I have received full payment and even more; 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. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Phil. 4:14-20)
  3. The unchanging promise of God is that He will meet all our needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
  4. It is important that we understand that God doesn’t promise to meet our “greeds,” and there is a big difference between our “greeds” which are our “wants”, and our “needs.”
  5. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us not to worry about food and clothes, because God knows that we need them. (see Mt. 6:28-32)
  6. Then Jesus concluded, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt. 6:33)
  7. How God will meet our needs is varied, but however God does it, whether through our work, or from the gifts of others, it ultimately comes through and from God.
  8. Someone has said, “God gives every bird its food, but He doesn’t throw the food in the nest.”
  9. I like the story I’ve shared with you before about the woman who lived next door to an atheistic man.
  10. Every day, when the Christian woman prayed, the atheistic man could hear her.
  11. The atheist thought to himself, “She sure is crazy, praying all the time like that. Doesn’t she know there isn’t a God?”
  12. Many times while she was praying, he would go to her house and harass her, saying “Lady, why do you pray all the time? Don’t you know there is no God?”  But she kept on praying.
  13. One day, she ran out of groceries and as usual, she prayed to the Lord explaining her situation and thanking Him for what He was going to do.
  14. As usual, the atheist heard her praying and thought to himself, “I’ll prove to her there is no God once and for all.”
  15. The atheist went to the grocery store, bought a bunch of groceries, took them to her house, dropped them off on the front porch, rang the doorbell and then hid in the bushes to see what she would do.
  16. When the Christian lady opened the door and saw the groceries, she began to praise the Lord with all her heart, thanking God for providing for her needs.
  17. Immediately, the atheist jumped out of the bushes and told her, “You silly lady, God didn’t buy you those groceries, I bought those groceries for you with my own money!”
  18. The Christian lady replied with great joy, “I knew the Lord would provide me with groceries, but I didn’t know he was going to make the devil pay for them!”


  1. The apostle Paul understood the Lord’s provision and he trusted that God would meet his needs.
  2. When the Lord gave him much, Paul was content, and when the Lord gave him little, Paul was content as well.
  3. Paul’s attitude could be summed up in this quote: “I am always content with what happens; for I know what God chooses is better than what I choose.”
  4. I’m wondering if any of us share that attitude?  It is not an easy one, but it is the right one.
  5. Can we receive the Lord’s provision, whatever it is, and be content with the Lord and His provision?
  6. That is the secret to contentment – trusting that the Lord will give what I need, and being satisfied with what He gives.
  7. Let’s look at the advice about this matter that Paul wrote to Timothy, his son in the faith: 6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. (1 Tim. 6:6-8)
  8. How’s that for straight and simple truth?
  9. We enter life with nothing and we exit life with nothing!
  10. If our simple needs are met – food, clothing, shelter – then we must be content.
  11. That’s the opposite of more and better and faster – unless I have the nicest and the newest then I am not a happy camper.
  12. The greatest gain is not getting everything a person could imagine – no the greatest gain is godliness (a spiritual relationship with God) and contentment (being thankful and satisfied with who I am and what I have).
  13. The Hebrew writer said this about contentment: Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.  What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6)
  14. Did you notice that contentment has to do with a relationship with God where we depend on His presence and His assistance?
  1. Let me briefly share a few practical suggestions for becoming a more contented person.
  2. First, Refuse to compare yourself with others.
  3. Why is it that we tend to compare ourselves with others who have more than we have rather than less than we have?
  4. One of the surest ways to make yourself miserable and discontent is to compare yourself with those who have more than you.
  5. It’s easy to find someone who has a bigger income, bigger house, gets better grades, better promotions, is better looking, or taller or thinner or better proportioned or whatever.
  6. We must stop the comparison game or we will be the looser for sure.
  7. Second, Love people the way they are and not as you would like them to be.
  8. We must love people as they are because trying to change them will only make everyone miserable.
  9. The only way any of us are going to change and grow is if we are loved, accepted and appreciated, even in our imperfect state, because we will not be reaching a perfected state in this world.
  10. Third, Accept things as they are and not like you would like for them to be.
  11. There are many things that we can’t change and we have to learn to accept them.
  12. Wishing that something was different and refusing to be at peace with the way things are only makes us discontent.
  13. Ultimately, when we are not content with who we are, who others are, and how things are around us, then we are ultimately rejecting God and being critical of what God is doing or has done.


  1. There is one final thing that I see in this passage that leads to contentment – it is knowing that we are bringing glory to God.
  2. There is a marvelous lesson on giving that can be found toward the end of Philippians 4.
  3. It would be a shame for us to miss this powerful principle.
  4. The more content we are with what we have, the more money that can be freed up to give, which brings glory to God.
  5. Look at verse 18 again: I have received full payment and even more; 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.
  6. Here Paul expressed his appreciation to the Philippian church for their financial gifts, which Paul believed were really gifts from God and to God.
  1. Let’s notice some important truths about giving.
  2. First of all, Giving affects the Receiver
  3. Paul needed the gifts from the Philippians and he greatly appreciated the gifts.
  4. I have been a receiver of gifts and I am sure you also have been a receiver.
  5. It is a wonderful thing to receive a gift, especially when it is a greatly needed gift.
  6. Second, Giving affects the Giver
  7. In addition to being on the receiving end of things, I have also been on the giving end.
  8. It is a joy to give to others and to watch them be blessed by the gift.
  9. When we give to others and to God, then there is an important accounting that takes place.
  10. Notice the language Paul used in verses 16 and 17: for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account.
  11. Both Jesus and Paul talked about us storing up “treasures in heaven by our giving on earth (Mt. 6:19-24; 1 Tim. 6:19)
  12. When we give, our account is somehow credited by God.
  13. Third, Giving affects the Lord
  14. Paul noted that the Philippian’s gifts were a “fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.”
  15. Our giving is a pleasing aroma to God – Our giving brings Him glory and pleasure.
  16. When we give to contributions to our congregation, we are not primarily giving to this church, but we are giving an offering of worship to the Lord – and our offerings are a pleasing aroma to God.
  1. Giving can be one of the most rewarding things we can do, but if we are spending all our money trying to bring satisfaction to ourselves because we are so discontent, then we will have nothing left to give.
  1. Let’s review what we have learned today:
  2. Contentment comes from trusting in the spiritual resources of God, rather than focusing on the physical circumstances of life.
  3. Regardless of the physical circumstances we face, we have the power of God and the promises of God and they give us great contentment, joy and peace.
  4. As we focus more on the spiritual and lessen our desire for the physical, then we will be more content with what we have, and we will have more to share and to give, which will lead to even more contentment, satisfaction and joy for the journey.


The Bible Exposition Commentary, Philippians, by Warren Wiersbe, Victor Books, 1989