“And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.” Acts 2:40
The Palmer Road church of Christ, Westland, Mi. November 23, 2014
Jump Start # 1210
Philippians 4:11-12 "Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need."
Last week in our Jump Start we talked about money. Those thoughts lead us to this passage today. Twice Paul says, "I have learned." I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am and I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry. There is a secret and Paul learned that.
This passage tugs on our hearts because we know it's true and we also know that for most of us, we couldn't say what Paul said. The being filled and the abundance parts sure seem sweet to us. We believe we could handle that. Most couldn't. Most would lose their focus, spend like there is no tomorrow and become gluttons of materialism. The world of abundance quickly turns to a feeding frenzy of greed when we lose sight of who we are and the big picture of the kingdom. Abundance brings the responsibility and the opportunity of doing more to help others and spreading the kingdom. Look at the rich man in Luke 16. He dressed nice. He ate well. He lived in a gated home. None of those things are right nor wrong. However, he was given the opportunity of helping others, one other, Lazarus, and he didn't. He was in the position to possibly save that poor man's life. And he didn't. Be careful with thinking I can do well with abundance. Many don't. It ruins them, changes them and causes them to lose their focus.
The other end of the spectrum, most admit up front, is difficult. It's difficult to go hungry and to live in humble means. I don't think I've ever experienced real hunger. Sure my belly has growled, but it's hard to pray "give us this day our daily bread," when the pantry is full and the frig has plenty in it. Real hunger. Real needs. Real humble means. There are those in this country like that. There are those in our congregations like that. But they are few. Most do pretty well.
There was a secret that Paul learned. That secret was about contentment. This is something that just doesn't come naturally. We must learn it. It's hard to learn this from an over weight preacher who is wearing an expensive suit. Listening to that guy tell us something about being hungry when he obviously hasn't missed a meal in a long while doesn't sit well for most of us. I don't think Paul learned this from someone else. I think he learned this on his own, through faith and through his commitment to Christ. Paul was on the road for a long time. He was in prisons. He was with brethren and with strangers. God took care of him. Through God, brethren supported and financed his trips. Through God, he was kept alive. Through God he learned that God is not impressed with the size of your house, but rather the size of your heart. Through God, Paul did all that he could any where he was. When in prison, he's praising God and influencing prisoners. When he couldn't stand before a congregation, he taught Caesar's household. God had been with him. Paul knew. Paul learned.
This part of Paul's life is hard for me to connect with, I must admit. He was single, he didn't have roots. He didn't need a home. He didn't have a family. He didn't concern himself with leaving an inheritance for his children's children, as we talked about yesterday. Just some food and clothing and Paul was good to go. My world is not like that. I have a house. I have family. I have roots. I don't want to go hungry because it means those that count on me go hungry. I have life insurance, investments and budget my money because I want to take care of others. I don't want them to be hungry-not now, not ever. Part of this passage does bother me.
However, I do believe that we can learn this same secret-contentment. It's not what you have, but what has you. It's not about finding joy in stuff, but in Christ. It's never forgetting how generous God has been with you and continuing that on to others, especially outside my family. It's remembering my future lies with Christ, not in investments, insurance policies or worrying about what the market is doing. It's remembering how blessed I am and how those poor, simple early Christians trusted in their God. It's realizing that because I am blessed with abundance, I am not to misuse that. Abundance should not change me. It should not make me think that I am better than others. It should not make me look down upon others. Abundance means God is expecting more out of me. I am in the position to do more. This is not just the Sunday collection plate we're talking about, it's doing what the rich man didn't do. It's being that good Samaritan. It's helping that young college kid. It's helping the senior citizen with a limited income. It's not just helping those in the congregation, but in the neighborhood. It's opening your heart and then your wallet. It's more than simply handing a few dollars to someone, it's changing their future. It's buying books for the young preacher. It's helping the poor college kid with his tuition. It's stepping up in your giving so the congregation can afford new song books. It's sending some money to a family overseas in a third world country. It's helping a young couple afford an adoption. It's helping with medical costs or funeral expenses. Life changing events. You have not just brightened a person's day, you have taken away a burden that they felt overwhelmed with. Through you, God is touching and answering their prayers. That's what this secret is about. It's about not being so attached to stuff but being very attached to God. It's about working and cooperating with God to help others.
It's hard to imagine how a huge portion of this world lives. I have been to some villages in India. It looked just like National Geographic images. Huge palm branches tied up with string was one guy's house. He slept on a dirt floor. He existed. Barefoot kids kicking a piece of trash because they couldn't afford a soccer ball. They were smiling, laughing and having a great time. They didn't know anything else. They didn't have hundred dollar Nike soccer cleats, shin guards, matching uniforms, state of the art goals or a marked field to play on. They were playing in a vacant lot. With sticks they had marked the boundaries in the dirt. No drink bottles. No soccer moms watching and texting. No one with Iphones taking pictures of the game. No. Just a bunch of poor, dirty kids, playing in a dirt lot, but having the time of their life. I don't think many American kids would have done well in that setting. It burned this passage deep into my heart. They learned the secret. They were content. They were happy. Playing a game of soccer with a piece of trash that wouldn't even roll very well. How I wish I could have handed them a real soccer ball. There was none. No stores in that village sold any. I asked. But maybe that would have messed things up.
The lack of contentment leads us to complaining. We complain about the weather, the temperature, the traffic, prices and this and that. Content folks count their blessings. Content folks realize that each day is a gift. Content folks make sunshine out of any situation.
I wonder about those kids in India. It's been a while now. I wonder what happened to them and what became of them? I had kids about the same age. My kids got to go to college. They live in homes and drive cars and have jobs and are married. Those poor Indian kids didn't have those opportunities. Yet, I hope my kids learn to be as happy, content as those Indian kids were.
I hope I learn to be the same myself. It's a secret Paul said. He learned it. The rest of us must work at it. It's about God, not stuff. It's about trust, not things. It's about who we are in Jesus.