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Gratitude--the Key to Contentment

Philippians 4:10-19

Jim Davis

Sir John Templeton, the billionaire investor, was once asked what is the secret of wealth. He said, "Gratitude. If you're not grateful, you're not rich--no matter how much you have." The flip side of that is, "If you're grateful, you are rich--no matter how little you have."

Paul reveals a frame of mind in the following verses that will make you rich in every circumstance in life.

Philippians 4:10-19
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. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 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; 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. 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. And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. (NIV)

Too often the depth of our gratitude is determined and motivated by physical things. We are thankful for our jobs, homes, cars, bank accounts, health, etc. We may look around our modern society and be thankful that we live by a higher standard of living than anyone else on the face of the earth. If I could remove you from this situation and place you in the poorest country on earth, let's say Afghanistan, let me place you out there with the refugees who have fled with nothing but their lives, would you have anything to be grateful for?

How many of us would long for the good old days? Would we begrudge our lot in life? We just come back from a family reunion in Hawaii last week. There were fourteen of us that met in Kauai, Hawaii. I was amazed at how much baggage fourteen people could have, but the thing that amazed me is that we took too much with us. We all agreed that we could have gotten by with much less. But as we traveled I wondered how we would fare if we reduced all of our personal belongings in the world down to what we took with us on vacation. What would our attitude be if that were all we had? How grateful would we be? Yet, most of those in third world countries have much less than what each of us carried with us on vacation.

Gratefulness Despite Deprivation

Paul found reason to be thankful while in dire need. Paul learned to be content in his situation because he was grateful for God's strength that would enable him to do what ever God wanted him to do in every circumstance. God's wisdom strengthened and encouraged Paul as it allowed Paul to see the Philippians' concern from him even though they had no opportunity to show their concern.

When Paul wrote the Philippian letter, I am sure that he had much less than what any one person in our family took on vacation. He was in prison at the time he wrote this letter. Paul knew what it was to be physically in need. He wrote Timothy making a request "When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments" (2 Timothy 4:11-13). I gather from Paul's writings that this was a cloak that he needed to keep warm; it wasn't one he left behind because of the hustle and bustle of trying to get to the airport on time.

Spiritual insight allows us to see the good and bad in our lives with the realization that God blends them together for our good. As James wrote to troubled Christians, he reminded them that every good and perfect gift came from God (James 1:2-4, 17). However, I believe that their good and perfect gifts from God were spiritual rather than physical. We have seen over the past couple of months that troubles have a way of stripping away the superficial as it brings into clear view the really important things in life. We must realize how all things—good and bad--fit together to make life what God intends for it to be. It is then that we discover gratitude that leads to contentment.

There Are No Good Gifts Without God

Psalm 16
Ultimately, there can be no good without God. The trouble with measuring our blessings by our material possessions is that apart from God there is no good thing. The psalmist writes, "Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge. I said to the LORD, "You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing" (Psalms 16:1-2 NIV). I think the psalmist is saying, "I have no source of good or of any kind of happiness, hope, life, safety or salvation without God."

"We are here confronted by a pattern of the unchangeable believing confidence of a friend of God; for the writer of Psalms 16 is in danger of death, as is to be inferred from the prayer expressed in v. 1 and the expectation in v. 10. But there is no trace of anything like bitter complaint, gloomy conflict, or hard struggle: the cry for help is immediately swallowed up by an overpowering and blessed consciousness and a bright hope. There reigns in the whole Psalm, a settled calm, an inward joy, and a joyous confidence, which is certain that everything that it can desire for the present and for the future it possesses in its God." (Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament: New Updated Edition, Electronic Database. Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.)

The men and women of faith in the long ago believed that God set the boundary lines of their lives, but they believed and were thankful that the boundary lines fell in pleasant places. The psalmist writes, "LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me" (Psalms 16:5-7 NIV).

We can be thankful that God has assigned us our portion because that makes our lot in life secure. The apostle Paul puts it this way:

Philippians 1:12-14
Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly" (NIV).

Thanksgiving Reveals God's Blessings

Thanksgiving opens the door to God's blessings. A grateful heart changes everything. Having a grateful heart enables you to recognize God's presence in your life.

Psalms 28
"Praise be to the LORD, for he has heard my cry for mercy. The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song. The LORD is the strength of his people, a fortress of salvation for his anointed one. Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them forever" (NIV).

Thanksgiving allows us to see our delightful inheritance in the Lord. The psalmist writes, "Surely, I have a delightful inheritance" (Psalms 16:6).

Psalms 30:11-12
You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. OLORD my God, I will give you thanks forever" (NIV).

Giving thanks to God in difficult times is essential because it gives us the ability to see life from an eternal perspective.

Psalms 16:7-11
"I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I have set he LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

"Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand" (NIV).

David understood that his future held greater blessings than anything he could hope to enjoy in the present. David took courage that even though his body may end up in a grave that this was not the end. God would give him eternal pleasures at his right hand.

If you are not looking forward to the future as a Christian you can't enjoy the present or be grateful for your past. Understanding the eternal perspective of life is the only thing that will allow you to see that the boundaries of your life have fallen in good places.

It is the past and the future that give us courage in the present. We can see the past with 20/20 hindsight; we can easily understand the eternal perspective of life. But it is not always easy to perceive what is going on in the present. The Old Testament writers often look to the past and the future for the courage to face the present. The psalmist knew that God would not leave his body in the grave, but he also knew what God had done for Israel in the past, gave him hope in the present.

Read Psalms 105
1 Chronicles 16:7-36
2 Chronicles 29:10-15

As you read the psalms notice how the writer is reminding himself of what God had done for Israel in the past as he developed the seed of Abraham. It was his understanding of the past that gave him a proper perspective of his future and courage for the present. Many would read through Israel's past and see only the suffering and hardship, but the psalmist sees the past from an eternal perspective, which gives him courage for the moment as he sees God’s wondrous works.

Psalms 105:1-4
"Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice. Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always" (NIV).

The pressures of the present are often staggering, but knowing that the Lord delivers us out of the stress of the moment is the greatest encouragement for the present.

Psalms 107:23-32
Others went out on the sea in ships;
they were merchants on the mighty waters.
They saw the works of the LORD,
his wonderful deeds in the deep.
For he spoke and stirred up a tempest
that lifted high the waves.
They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths;
in their peril their courage melted away.
They reeled and staggered like drunken men;
they were at their wits' end.
Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble,
and he brought them out of their distress.
He stilled the storm to a whisper;
the waves of the sea were hushed.
They were glad when it grew calm,
and he guided them to their desired haven.
Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for men.
Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people
and praise him in the council of the elders" (NIV)

Knowing God's faithfulness to his people in the past and understanding his eternal blessing to be ours in the future helps us set a course for our lives in the present.

Psalms 119:57-64
You are my portion, O LORD;
I have promised to obey your words.
I have sought your face with all my heart;
be gracious to me according to your promise.
I have considered my ways
and have turned my steps to your statutes.
I will hasten and not delay
to obey your commands.
Though the wicked bind me with ropes,
I will not forget your law.
At midnight I rise to give you thanks
for your righteous laws.
I am a friend to all who fear you,
to all who follow your precepts.
The earth is filled with your love, O LORD;
teach me your decrees. (NIV)


Understanding God's purpose in our world allows us to understand God's purpose for our individual lives, which motivates us to seek his direction for our lives.

We cannot accept God's purpose for our lives without accepting his direction for our lives. It is when we accept God's purpose and direction that we can enter into his gates with thankfulness.

Psalms 100
Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
Worship the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the LORD is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations. (NIV)

Colossians 3:15-17
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (NIV)

Colossians 4:2-6
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (NIV)

Hebrews 12:28-29
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our "God is a consuming fire." (NIV)


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