Rejoice in the Lord
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
O, give thanks unto the Lord – for He is good, and His mercy endures forever!
Even as we have come together to give to God our thanks and praise, and rightly so, we do so being reminded that anytime we gather for worship, we come first and foremost to receive from Him.
We can’t out-give God, and once again He has something special to give to us – a treasure most people don’t have. On this Thanksgiving God comes to us through the power of His Word to give us the gift of the secret of contentment.
To receive this gift, join me as Thanksgiving pilgrims, so to speak, on a trip to the ancient city of Philippi. “What’s so special about Philippi?” you wonder. For our information, Philppi has produced an abundant number of contented people.
People like Lydia, Paul’s first European convert. We first learn about Lydia in Acts 16, when Paul first came to the city of Philippi to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. She was apparently very wealthy, since she sold very expensive purple clothing, but don’t think her wealth was the reason for her contentment. It wasn’t, as we will see.
When Lydia and her household heard Paul’s Gospel message, they believed in Jesus and were baptized. Then immediately, Lydia wanted to help. She invited Paul and his companions to come and stay at her house and to work out of her home while they ministered in and around Philippi, and, according to Luke, she wouldn’t take no for an answer. Lydia seemed to be a very contented woman.
Or how about a man named Epaphroditus? We meet and learn about Epaphroditus in the letter that Paul later wrote to the Philippians. He also appeared to be a very contented man. He couldn’t do enough to help Paul in his work, and nearly died in the process of providing that help. You must be very content to be willing to do that.
How about the Philippian congregation as a whole? No other letter from Paul rings with such joy as Paul’s letter to the Philippians. He calls them his partners in the Gospel. Of all the places Paul traveled, of all the congregations he served, he accepted support only from—you guessed it—the congregation at Philippi.
And when the Jerusalem Christians were suffering severe poverty because of drought and persecution – what Paul calls “a severe test of affliction” – the abundance of joy on the part of the Philippian Christians overflowed in a wealth of generosity.
Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians that even in their own difficult times “they gave beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints” – and like Lydia, they just wouldn’t take no for an answer. They must have been very contented people to give so much to others when they were barely scraping by themselves.
The generosity that Lydia, Epaphroditus, and the Philippians displayed can come only from contented hearts. If you aren’t content, you can’t be generous with anything. Rather, you guard what you have with your life, like a dog protecting his last bone.
There’s one more contented person you must meet, although his time in Philippi was actually very short. I’m speaking, of course, of Paul himself. Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians from a prison cell in Rome where he was in chains for the Gospel. This was nothing new for him, as the Philippians could attest. They had seen how Paul and Silas were arrested, brutally flogged, and thrown in prison right there in their own city, and you can read about that in Acts 16 also.
It’s amazing that Paul and Silas were willing to suffer that kind of treatment, but what is more amazing still is that while they were in prison they filled their cell with hymns of praise to God! And when an earthquake broke open the prison doors, rather than escaping and letting the prison guard who had fallen asleep on duty, pay for their escape with his life, they displayed complete contentment with their situation and stayed put – a witness to the Gospel that God would use to save not just that guard’s earthly life but his eternal life and the eternal lives of his whole household as well.
And now, back in prison – this time in Rome – and this time facing the very real possibility of never getting out – but rather being executed for the sake of the Gospel – Paul writes to these Philippians about as contented a letter as one could imagine. At least eighteen times in this rather short letter he says something about joy or rejoicing. In Philippians 4:4 he even repeats it for emphasis: “Rejoice in the Lord always! I will say it again: Rejoice!” Paul says. That sounds pretty contented to me.
What an astounding list of contented people! So, what is it that you have found, Lydia and Epaphroditus, that you so gladly throw yourself, your money, and even life itself, into the service of the Gospel?
What do you know, you members of the Philippian congregation, that makes you beg Paul to take your offering, promising even more – when you’re experiencing tough and difficult circumstances yourselves?
What’s your secret, Paul and Silas, that you sing from your prison cell when your backs are bloodied and your feet are shackled? How is it, Paul, that you, are able to write a letter that exudes such contentment, even while you are facing death? Where do you find, and how do you get that kind of contentment?
Where, indeed! In these United States, we are the wealthiest nation history has ever seen. We revel in freedoms many have never even dreamed of. We have more and greater comforts than ever. We have traveled to more places and done more exciting things than past generations would have imagined possible. We have indoor plumbing and outdoor carpeting, water softeners and air conditioners, central heating and accent lighting, cars with digital sound and cruise control. We throw away in a day what would feed some families for a week. Our pets have more to eat than many people do.
But are we content? It sure doesn’t seem so. Marriages and families are disintegrating. Drug abuse continues to spiral out of control, and with it, the crime rate. Our courts are backlogged with litigation and criminal trials. Is that what a contented people looks like? I don’t think so.
Paul, as you sit in a cold damp prison cell, we hear you say, “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.”
So tell us, Paul – – – and Silas, and Lydia and Epaphroditus, and people of Philippi – what is it that you have learned – that makes you so content? What is the secret of contentment? Tell us, please. We want to know.
As we observe a national day of Thanksgiving – as we anticipate filling – and over-filling ourselves with all of the trimmings of a Thanksgiving feast tomorrow – and as we look forward, somewhat anxiously, into an unknown future in our country and in our own personal lives, let’s really take the time and make the effort to hear – to really hear and absorb what that secret of contentment was for each of those individuals.
It is found in verse 13 of our text from Philippians, where Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
When you finally get down to it, Thanksgiving is not just about wealth and abundance, or at least it shouldn’t be. Neither is contentment. It’s true that God has provided – even flooded us with many blessings. He has blessed us with so much stuff that we don’t know what to do with it all.
But you won’t find contentment buried in that pile of stuff. Paul had no such pile, nor did the Philippians, but they did have the God who gives all that stuff, or, should we say, He had them! He purchased them back from sin and death by the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. If that doesn’t give you contentment – if He doesn’t make you content – nothing will!
“Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I will say, Rejoice!”
Rejoice in who? Rejoice in the Lord. The secret of contentment for Paul and Silas and Lydia and Epaphroditus and the Christians in the church in Philippi is that they are in the Lord – and He is in them!
From his prison cell in Rome, facing death, Paul writes, “For to me – to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” In other words Paul is saying, “When I have Christ and He has me, whether I live or I die, it’s a win-win situation.”
Contentment? You can’t and you won’t find it in earthly things, and if you try, you’re asking that stuff to be your god, something it can only pretend to be. But when you have faith in a God who loves you – one who loves to give because He loves to forgive in Christ — you will have contentment.
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” And in Romans 8:32 he says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things.”
Will His gifts always come in the form of material blessings? Of course not! That wouldn’t be good for us! Besides, that would be way too small. All the material things in the world haven’t made us content.
The secret to contentment? Simply put, it is Christ! Through him, the Father is eternally for us; and as Paul also says in Romans 8, “if God is for us, who can be against us?” In Him, we come to know what Lydia and Epaphroditus, the Philippians, Silas, and Paul had learned so well: “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. O give thanks unto the Lord – for He is good. To Him be all glory forever and ever. Amen.”
This message from Pastor Kurt Adams is brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas. For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected]. A Pass it On Project you can read more at: St. Paul Lutheran Church http://stpaulcoldwater.com/