10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity.11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.12 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.13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. (Philippians 4:10-13)
The apostle Paul was thrilled by the renewed care for him by the Philippians. Paul’s rejoicing however was in the Lord since it is in His providence that this concern found its root. Their provisions were gladly received by the great evangelist as a sign of their concern for him. In v.11, Paul begins with an emphatically negative statement in order to clarify that his interest was not in their provisions but in their concern for him. The term “for” gives the reason why he’s not thinking about the provisions. He is content in whatever circumstance that has been placed in front of him. Whether he was rich or poor, filled or hungry, having plenty or suffering need, Paul was a man who was content. Paul was not looking at what he could get but was happy with whatever he had. He knew that all that would be provided to him in both having his needs met or being without came from God. Paul learned that it would be God who would get him through every circumstance. Notice in the text that Paul mentions nothing about depending on himself or on the Philippians but it was God’s power to strenghten him to learn to live in whatever circumstance that would be his boast. The apostle was content with very little. He writes to Timothy If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. (1 Timothy 6:8). This was also Paul’s thinking with the question how we should view persecution. Paul writes Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10) The great apostle understood that in our tribulations Christ is at His most glorious to us since this is the time we cling on to Him more and seek Him.
The great Puritan author, Jeremiah Burroughs, in his classic work The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment expands upon the teaching in Paul’s text in Philippians by giving some great thought to what Christian Contentment is and what it isn’t. He summarizes it as followed:
Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition… when affliction comes, whatever it is, you do not murmur, though you feel it, though you make your cry to God, though you desire to be delivered, and seek it by all good means, yet you do not murmur or repine, you do not fret or vex yourself, there is not a tumultuousness of spirit in you , not an instability, there are not distracting fears in your hearts, no sinking discouragement, no unworthy shift, no rising in rebellion against God in any way.
The art of contentment is to find peace with whatever you have. It is finding a quiet satisfaction even in your best and worst circumstances. It’s believing that in God’s providence that all that is happening is part of the plan and something good will manifest itself through the situation. It is, in a nutshell, persevering joyfully and peacefully in whatever you have but always pursuing our joy in God.
Now, let’s use what we have just analysed and let’s make an ecclesiastical application shall we. I have had the experience of being discontent in the past with my adventurous pursuit of finding a church to call home. I’m not alone in this dissatisfaction since there are a number of other Christians who, much like me, can’t make up their minds. We call these folks “church hoppers” or sometimes they go by the phrase “church shoppers”. These are people who go from church to church searching for something but can’t seem to get comfortable with the surroundings.
There are several different reasons for church hopping/church shopping but the most common being that people church hop simply because they have no earthly idea what they are looking for or what the church is supposed to look like . They are looking for a church that will supply their needs and tickle their fancy. They are looking for programs, feel good messages and entertainment. Yes, there are churches out there who will supply this needs but will this bring ecclesiastical contentment? Spurgeon spoke long ago of this situation:
“A time will come when instead of shepherds feeding the sheep, the church will have clowns entertaining the goats.”
Christians are the sheep and they require sheep food not goat food hence there is no true contentment from these seeker-sensitive churches.
Ultimately church hoppers have one thing in common and that is a lack of contentment. This is why week after week Christians church hop like the energizer bunny. Christians have a difficulty being satisfied with their findings. What this looks like is worth examining. Why is it that there is such a lack of contentment? Why are they continuously being dissatisfied with the churches they visit? When searching for ecclesiastical contentment, one of the primary examinations we must conduct is not so much what hymns we sing or what programs are available but it must begin with ourselves. What is it that we are looking for and is what we are looking for the right thing? What we must truly come to grips with prior to even setting out to find ecclesiastical contentment is whether our search for a church is theocentric (centered on God) or is it anthropologically centered (centered on man) and hence around our own desires? There will never be any ecclesiastical contentment if you are looking for a church that is just there to please you. The search must be centered upon God and what is pleasing to Him. Once we have accepted that our search is theocentric, the next step is to find a church that is theocentric. We must find a church where the singing, the preaching, the prayers, the fellowship and the leadership is surrounded by God. In order to persevere and serve joyfully in a church, our motives must be centered on the worship of God to the praise of His glory in everything we do (1 Corinthians 10:31). What you will quickly realize however is that there is no such church. There is no church that has reached this theocentric module perfectly. There is always a little man-centeredness blended in! The problem is not about having attained it but whether or not the church is pursuing it and in a proper fashion. You will scarcely find a Christian leader who would say that their church seeks to be man-centered even all the while their messages seem to make God the servant of man. We must conclude with the Word of God as our guide whether they are seeking a theocentric church in a biblical way. So our initial understanding is that obtaining ecclesiastical contentment must be based upon a theocentric outlook and the understanding that no church has completely achieve this but there are those who are in hot pursuit. The key to all this is examining what the Word of God tells us about this theocentric worship looks like and in what spirit it must be pursued.
I will be spending some time over the next few weeks trying to articulate what that looks like. I hope to work through some portions of the Word of God in order to help unpack this whole subject and perhaps help a few souls find this ecclesiastical contentment.