For some people with difficult lives, contentment is not easy. But isn't it sad that some super-rich people aren't content, even though they seem to have it all? Why is that? In this passage, by looking at Paul's life, I believe we see several qualities we can develop to become more content people.
(v9-10) First, to be more content, we should look for ways to help others. Thankfully, the Philippians not only learned good doctrine in their heads, but also received it in their hearts. It's a good idea to try to find someone more godly than you and hear and see what they do and consider if perhaps you should change anything in your life to be more like Jesus. Others should never hear us playing bad music or see us watching bad movies. And when we live right, the God of peace (before, it was the "peace of God") shall be with us.
(v10) We can rejoice in the Lord greatly when seeing others consistently living for God. Have you become exhausted in doing the right thing? Maybe it's time to flourish again, having a "second wind," so to speak, and pick back up where we left off. This church was careful to help Paul even when they lacked opportunity; in other words, the wheels of their mind were constantly turning, trying to figure out how to help Paul, even when they just couldn't do it. They were a sharing, generous church at heart.
(v11-12) Second, to be content, we should realize that circumstances are temporary. Being content is unnatural; we must learn it from God, and some people have much more difficult situations to work with than others. And Paul didn't speak in respect of want; he was the opposite of many TV evangelists who get extremely rich off of the donations of viewers. We'll see a little later Paul's motive in wanting the church to help him out, and it wasn't selfishness.
(v12) Paul was abased and shamed at times and knew how to handle it, and other times he abounded, perhaps a celebrity in some circles; he probably was full with great meals of his favorite foods during some of his travels, and other times was hungry with no meal at all, or maybe a meal that made him quickly lose his appetite! And he knew what it was like to abound with plenty of money and to suffer need and have virtually nothing. But why does he include good times in this list--isn't contentment inevitable when things are going well? Not necessarily; many ultra-wealthy and healthy people are not content.
But life for Paul was a roller coaster. If we're in a time of overall peace and prosperity, let's appreciate it more, since it won't last forever. And in the dark times, we can look forward to heaven; in short, we can be more far-sighted.
(v13) Third, to be content, we must rely on the strength of Jesus Christ. Through Christ, we should have a "can do" attitude, because all things are possible with God (Matthew 19:26). This includes the positive, such as winning a baseball game, making lots of money, or getting over a sickness, when those things are in God's will. But "all things" also includes the negatives Paul just mentioned (suffering need, being hungry, being abased). Through Christ, we can gracefully lose a baseball game yet maintain a good Christian testimony; we can live with little money; we can get through a sickness. No matter what comes our way, we have a Friend going through it with us; and not just a Friend, but strength that He gives us right when we need it.
(v14) Fourth, to be content, we shouldn't use God's providence as an excuse not to help. We shouldn't think, "Just let God take care of them"; or worse, "If we don't help, they'll surely learn valuable lessons about contentment!" (cf. James 2:16) That's an insincere attitude. Notwithstanding God's providence, we should look for opportunities to communicate with the affliction of other Christians with our actions, not just our words. Paul's statement is similar to someone saying, "Even if you hadn't bought me that double whopper with cheese, God would have still taken care of me another way; but I'm sure glad you did!"
(v15-17) Fifth, to be content, we should look more at the spiritual and less at the physical. Paul is remembering the early days in the beginning of the gospel; back when the risks were higher, and perhaps when some weren't all too sure about this "Paul" fellow, this church stood behind him. When we give and help a Christian in need, often we are actually the ones receiving the blessing (Acts 20:35, cf. Proverbs 19:17). I think other churches may have communicated to Paul with words, but only the Philippians did it with actions. Why did no other church help? Maybe they all expected someone else to do it. Or maybe they didn't really support him. That may sound odd, but do we as a church really support Christians in the heat of the spiritual battles of our day?
(v16) Paul must have been struggling, in necessity. This church helped at least twice (once and again)! That must have been so refreshing. Paul never forgets that. I think perhaps in heaven, before the party really starts and we're mingling with all the other Christians, maybe we'll just take some time to remember. "Remember when I was lonely and you made me feel welcome?" "Remember when the ministry was just starting out and you were such a help?" "Remember when I was sick, and you stopped by?" "Remember when I needed a meal and you gave me one?"
(v17) The heart of their gift cheered Paul perhaps more than anything else. Similarly, God doesn't want us to give because He desires a gift (Psalm 50:12), but because He wants our hearts and also desires fruit that may abound to our account. Interestingly, sometimes good people can do something which could be misconstrued as being selfish, even when it isn't. In fact, Paul isn't even thinking about his ministry reputation; he only wants their spiritual best. Could we say our motives are pure to that extent, as Paul's were?
(v18) Sixth, to be content, we should be thankful people. Paul writes a "thank-you" note to this church. If he were living in modern times, I could imagine him and Epaphroditus in Paul's prison quarters having pizza ordered in with soda pop and cinnamon sticks, having the time of their lives with a great feast. This was something Paul perhaps hadn't enjoyed for a while, and Paul is full; what a great meal! He had all; maybe he could finally get that much-needed coat for cold weather, or new sandals. The smell of their gift was sweet; they had the right heart behind it, not trying to bribe Paul or earn "brownie points"; it was acceptable (cf. Genesis 4:3-7). Their gift was a sacrifice (Mark 12:41-44), which is wellpleasing to God. I think God smiles when a little child sacrifices the money that could have been used to buy ice cream; when the widow sacrifices the money that would have been used to buy a better meal; when that college student goes to church on Sunday with time that could have been spent studying; in short, whenever we really sacrifice something.
(v19) Seventh, to be content, we should realize that God takes care of His saints. I think Paul encourages them in this verse because he knows that perhaps they jeopardized their own finances to help him; but God will take care of them. "My God shall supply all your need" (not necessarily all our wants), even if that means calling us home to heaven. Reading of "his riches in glory", it's difficult to imagine; but I believe we must remember that God's riches are every bit as real as the physical bars of gold in the United States Treasury's vaults; and in fact, God can pull a few "coins" from these riches and sprinkle it on everyday sitautions, helping you pay that rent, to survive that sickness, or to have the right words to say. Can you imagine if Christ Jesus had not come into the world and died for us? All the riches in heaven would have been completely inaccessible to us forever.
In conclusion, to be more content, we should strive to be more (1) Sharing, looking for opportunities to help others; (2) Far-sighted, realizing that the circumstances on earth are temporary; (3) Reliant on the strength of Jesus Christ to be content; (4) Sincere, not using God's providence as an excuse not to help others; (5) Spiritual, looking less at the physical and more at the heart; (6) Thankful, appreciating the kindness of others and the gifts of God; and (7) Trusting, realizing that if we are saved, God is looking out for us and will never forsake us.