In this series, we have been examining the components of Christian contentment as demonstrated by Paul in Philippians 4:10-19. And now we have come to the fifth and final component: being preoccupied with the wellbeing of others.
I’ll promise you this: If you live for yourself, you will never be content. Contentment begins to be a reality when you have less concern about how it is with you and more about how it is with others.
Most of us never experience contentment because we demand that our world be exactly the way we would like it to be. That is a curse. We want to force everything into the mold that we have made. We want our spouse to fulfill our expectations and agendas. We want our children to perfectly conform to the plan we have ordained for them. We want everything in our world to fit into its perfect niche.
You’ll never know contentment until you give up on designing your own agenda and lose yourself in a preoccupation with the wellbeing of others. Paul prayed this for the Philippians:
And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment. (Philippians 1:9)
And later he gives this instruction:
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)
Paul wants the Philippians to live for others rather than for themselves. We see this again in chapter 4:
Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction.
You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs.
Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account.
But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:14-19)
Paul says, “In spite of the fact that I’m content, you have done well to share with me in my affliction.”
If Paul would have been content even without the Philippians’ gift, why is he so happy about receiving it? It wasn’t the material benefit that made Paul happy; it was the spiritual benefit that the Philippians received through their generosity.
This is how Paul lived. He was preoccupied with the wellbeing of others. He’s not saying, “You did well to give me all that you gave me, because it makes me comfortable and satisfied.” He’s saying, “I’m so glad you gave it, not because I want the gift, but because I want to see it go on your spiritual account.”
You see, this is what he had been praying for. Paul prayed that the Philippians would abound in love and would look to the interests of others, and this gift is a manifestation of the very thing Paul desires in them. In giving to Paul, the Philippians were laying up treasure in heaven. And Paul was deeply concerned with the spiritual blessings that came to others.
Do you rejoice more in the blessing that comes to others than that which comes to you? Are you content to be without, as long as someone else is blessed? This is the heart of Paul. He is interested not in accruing benefits in his own life, but in accruing eternal dividends for the people he loved. Paul’s joy in this is that the Philippians will benefit from being generous to him.
You may ask, “How will the Philippians benefit from giving to Paul?” Let me give you a brief look at a spiritual principle that is found throughout Scripture:
The generous man will be prosperous,
And he who waters will himself be watered. (Proverbs 11:25)
One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord,
And He will repay him for his good deed. (Proverbs 19:17)
Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return. (Luke 6:38)
Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. (2 Corinthians 9:6)
The principle throughout Scripture is this: What you sacrificially give becomes treasure in heaven. God responds to generosity with generosity. By giving, we accrue spiritual dividends to our own accounts.
So we see that, even in his contentment, Paul is still glad for the Philippians’ gift. But his joy came because the Philippians had given something that honored God and would accrue to their spiritual benefit. This is a man who is preoccupied with the wellbeing of others.
So, where does contentment come from? It comes from trusting in the providence of a sovereign God. It comes from being satisfied with little. It comes from being independent of circumstances. It comes from being sustained by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. And it comes from a preoccupation with the wellbeing and spiritual blessing of others. You could sum it up in five words: faith, humility, submission, dependence, and unselfishness.
That makes a contented person. And Paul was that kind of person. May the Lord help us remember these aspects of contentment and make us the sort of people who live not to satisfy ourselves, but to bless others.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 1989, titled “The Secret of Contentment, Part 3.”