But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. (Philippians 4:10)
The first strand of Paul’s contentment is this: He has complete confidence in God’s providence.
Let me give you a little background. Ten years have passed since the last Philippian gift was sent to him. It has been 10 years since he arrived in Philippi, preached the gospel there, and was thrown in jail. It has been 10 years since the earthquake released all the prisoners and the Philippian jailer was converted to Christ. The Philippian church had sent him some gifts of support soon after he left, but for the past 10 years there had been no more support.
And Paul was alright with that. He understood that the lack of support wasn’t because the Philippians weren’t concerned about him, but because they didn’t have any opportunity to help him. We don’t know why they lacked opportunity — perhaps it was their poverty, or because it was hard for them to track Paul down. Regardless, Paul understood.
But when, after 10 years, Epaphroditus came with a gift from the Philippians, that was a happy moment. Paul says, “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me.”
That’s a beautiful word, that word “revived;” it’s a horticultural term that means to bloom again. “Your love has bloomed again,” Paul says. The love had always been there, but it hadn’t had an opportunity to bloom until now.
You say, “What’s the point?” The point is this: The apostle Paul had a patient confidence in God’s sovereign providence. You see that all through his life. He could do without and, waiting on the Lord, be content. He knew it was all in God’s hands, and if God gave a proper season, then those things that should be expressed would be expressed.
There was no panic in Paul’s heart; there was no need to manipulate people. There was no turning of the screws, as it were, to get what he thought he wanted or needed out of someone. He was certain that God, in due time, would order the circumstances so that his needs would be met. He just waited patiently until the Lord made it happen.
The reason this man was content was because he knew that the times and seasons and opportunities of life are controlled by a sovereign God. Until we learn that, we will never be content. We must come to the place in our lives where we understand that God is ordering everything for His own holy purposes, is working all things after the counsel of His own will, and is making all things work together for good. Until we understand that, we will always be discontent. We will take on the responsibility of organizing our own lives.
Discontent comes when we want to control everything. That is usually a direct result of a failure to understand that everything is already under control, and somebody better than us is running it. See, Paul was fully confident that God was in charge and would order events to meet his needs. This is what we call “providence.”
Providence is a term to indicate that God provides. But it also means more: It means that He orchestrates everything to accomplish His purpose.
There are two ways that God can act in the world: by miracle and by providence. A miracle is something that has no natural explanation. It has nothing to do with what is normal. Raising someone from the dead is a miracle. Dividing the Red Sea so the Israelites can walk across is a miracle. A miracle invades the natural with the supernatural.
Providence, on the other hand, is when God takes all of the diverse elements of normalcy and orchestrates them to accomplish His own purpose.
Personally, I believe that providence is a bigger miracle than a miracle. It must be easy for God to just say, “Hold it, I want to do this,” and do it. That is much easier than saying, “I’ve got 50 billion circumstances that I’ve got to orchestrate to accomplish this one thing.” That’s providence.
When you come to understand that a sovereign God is not only sovereign by supernatural intervention, but by natural orchestration, you have confidence and contentment.
Paul was not frustrated. He was fully confident that God was in charge. And as long as God was in charge, everything was going to be fine. So, he was content.
This is where contentment starts. You will never know a contented heart until you believe that a sovereign God is ordering everything for your good and His glory. As long as you feel that things are out of control and you’ve got to get a hold of them and make them happen, you’ve got a problem.
Every time I see a discontent person, my first reaction is to give them a lesson on the sovereignty of God. I don’t try to patch up their discontent with some kind of counsel, but rather I talk about the God in whom they evidently do not trust, or do not know, who is ordering everything according to His own plan.
This is why all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose — because God is in control.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 1989, titled “The Secret of Contentment, Part 1.”
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