The Secret of Contentment (Philippians 4:1–23)

If the athlete wants to plaster Philippians 4:13 on their person or proclaim it during an interview, let him then speak of having learned to accept both defeat and victory with joy and peace and contentment in Christ. Let him speak of being strengthened to play in his prime with humility and also strengthened to fade from the spotlight with dignity. If he does so, then I might think that he’s actually read a few verses other than 4:13.

Philippians 4:13 unveils the “secret” of Philippians 4:12. The secret Paul speaks of is not one for “success” but contentment in the face of success or failure, a promotion or the loss of a job, life or death, sickness or health. The secret of this verse isn’t how you can achieve your goals. It is how you may accept with heavenly poise God’s holy, wise, and good providence wether it stings or is sweet. The strength Paul speaks of is grace to receive whatever comes your way as a heavenly citizen living worthy of the gospel of Christ.

The Greek word for “contentment” here,  all by itself, suggests the pagan Stoic notion of self-sufficiency and independence. But the word is not by itself. Paul flips its natural meaning upside down. Paul’s contentment is independent from states of either abundance or need, but it is not independent. It is Christ-dependent. Paul finds contentment through Christ in Christ.

Lloyd-Jones, preaching on theses verses said, “It is a statement that is characterized at one and the same time by a sense of triumph and humility. Paul sounds at first as if he is boasting, and yet, when you look at this statement again, you find that it is one of the most glorious and striking tributes that he has ever paid anywhere to his Lord and Master.” But too many, when they quote this verse, are boasting. It is all triumph with no humility. It is the same stoic notion found in Henley’s Invictus.

“Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.

No, Paul says, “Christ is the master of my life. To live is Christ and to die is gain. Christ is the captain of my soul. I am sure that He who began a good work in me will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” This is the secret of contentment: finding joy in Christ through Christ; Christ-dependence certain of Christ-sufficiency; desperately needed grace and utterly certain grace; recognizing a need as vast as the ocean and knowing there is a supply as vast as the cosmos. Forget Henley. Sing with Wesley instead.

Thou hidden source of calm repose,
Thou all sufficient love divine,
My help and refuge from my foes,
Secure I am if Thou art mine;
And lo! from sin, and grief, and shame
I hide me, Jesus, in Thy name.

Thy mighty name salvation is,
And keeps my happy soul above.
Comfort it brings, and power, and peace,
And joy, and everlasting love.
To me, with Thy great name, are given
Pardon, and holiness and heaven.

Jesus, my all in all Thou art;
My rest in toil, my ease in pain;
The healing of my broken heart,
In war my peace, in loss my gain;
My smile beneath the tyrant’s frown;
In shame my glory and my crown.

In want my plentiful supply,
In weakness my almighty power;
In bonds my perfect liberty,
My light in Satan’s darkest hour;
In grief my joy unspeakable,
My life in death, my all-in-all.

Ridiculing as Rejoicing (Philippians 3:4–11)

“[R]ejoice in the Lord…

Look out for the dogs…

For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…” (Philippians 3:1, 2, 8).

Rejoicing in the Lord corresponds to looking out for dogs in the same way that ridiculing the flesh corresponds to glorying in Christ. Steak at home makes the Slim Jim at the convenience store less appetizing. Joy in Christ not only frees you to not take false teaching seriously; it so liberates you that you can laugh at it—a gut-busting guffaw kind of laugh. If you used that emoji with the cocked head and tears in reply to false teaching, you wouldn’t be exaggerating.

Sometimes one ridicules in another what they lack in themselves. So it is that the geek mocks the jock for his lack of brain and the jock the geek for his lack of braun. The mockery is self-validating and the laughs are a thin attempt to hide jealously and insecurity. Paul, in contrast to this, holds up in himself everything they boast of and then laughs at his own refection. If these dogs are flexing in the mirror, Paul comes alongside them, demonstrates his superiority, and then laughs at how ridiculous he looks and how absurd such posing is.

Paul was no Gentile ridiculing Judaizers. Do you not see the wisdom of God in preeminently calling Paul to confessedly be “an apostle to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:11)? Yes, Matthew, Peter, and John were all Jews. Yes, they ministered to Gentiles too. But Paul was a Hebrew of Hebrews, and he was expressly an apostle to the Gentiles. Matthew was a tax collector. Peter and John were fisherman. Paul was a Pharisee. And here, he holds that up, and laughs at it. 

You must see that this passage is dripping with sarcasm. If this passage were a dog and sarcasm were water, this dog has just had a bath and is now shaking and rubbing its body against the carpet and furniture. What Paul says they put no confidence in, he now ridicules, not because he is laughingly lacking, but because that in which they boast in is laughingly lacking. Paul says, “I’ll play your game,” he scores the most points (v. 4), and then he demonstrates that the game itself, the whole thing, is a loosing enterprise.

Boasting in the flesh before the holy God of heaven is like a doughboy hoping to win World War I by playing chess with a German commander at the Battle of the Somme in no man’s land. Boasting in the flesh before the holy God of heaven is nothing more than a good way to get killed. Thinking you could win that way is laughable and fully worthy of mockery. Paul writes off all his attempts at self-righteousness as nothing more than a steaming hot pile (v. 8). “Rubbish” pathetically fails to capture, the color, or rather the smell of the original language. What the Judaizers hold up as a trophy is that which Paul doesn’t want to step in. These dogs are like children playing with their own diaper deposits, creating a mural on the wall, thinking they’ve exceeded Michangelo. “Look Daddy!”

Three times Paul writes off as loss, loss, and crap what he previously boasted in as credit. Each time he does so, these things are reckoned such in comparison to Christ. This is why Paul’s laugh isn’t off putting like that of a bitter critic. His laugh is infectious. It is infectious because he is infatuated. And it is because he is infatuated with Christ, that he can laugh at the advertisements of the false teachers like they were some corny infomercial. When you’re curled up on the sofa with that quilt your Grandma made and reading Tolkien, you don’t even know the Snuggie infomercial is on. But if you were to divert your attention for a bit, you know what your response would be. Righteous laughter.

Rejoicing in Our King’s Rejoicing (Psalm 21)

O LORD, in your strength the king rejoices, and in your salvation how greatly he exults!

…For you make him most blessed forever; you make him glad with the joy of your presence. —Psalm 21:1, 6

In this psalm, the people of God rejoice in their king’s rejoicing. The people are rejoicing, but they are not singing about their joy, and yet it is their joy. The salvation the king exults in is their salvation. His joy is their joy. When David is saved, the kingdom is saved.

As this is fulfilled in Christ, it speaks to the joy that was set before Christ, for which He endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2). This is not simply the eternal and infinite joy that the Son has always had in the Father. This is the joy which follows the Son’s salvation, meaning the deliverance from and destruction of His enemies (Psalm 21:8–13). This the the joy that falls on the incarnate Christ, our King, who acts as our covenant head. When He is “anointed… with the oil of gladness beyond [his] companions,” that oil covers His people who are in union with Him in the Spirit. His salvation is our salvation. His joy is our joy.

In John 17:13 Jesus prays that His joy might be filled in us (cf. John 15:11). Is there any joy like this? Spurgeon comments, “The rejoicing of our risen Lord must, like his agony, be unutterable. If the mountains of his joy rise in proportion to the depth of the valleys of his grief, then his sacred bliss is high as the seventh heaven.” Here we see the highest joy, the infinite God delighting in what is infinitely delightful. But again, we are not seeing the Triune God’s joy as it has always existed, but as it is in the redemption of man. This is no self-contained joy. This is a joy we are invited into.

The August Theologian: The Fountain of All Our Happiness

For He is the fountain of our happiness, He the end of all our desires. Being attached to Him, or rather let me say, re-attached—for we had detached ourselves and lost hold of Him—being, I say, re-attached to Him, we tend towards Him by love, that we may rest in Him, and find our blessedness by attaining that end. For our good, about which philosophers have so keenly contended, is nothing else than to be united to God. —Augustine, The City of God

The Penning Pastor: Pleasing Grief and Mournful Joy

From “Looking at the Cross

With pleasing grief and mournful joy,
My spirit now is filled;
That I should such a life destroy,
Yet live by him I killed.

—John Newton, Works

The Penning Pastor: If His Yoke Isn’t a Joy, It’s not His Yoke

Concerning Matthew 11:30:

This verse alone, if seriously attended to, might convince multitudes, that though they bear the name of Christians, and are found among the Lord’s worshipping people, they are as yet entire strangers to the religion of the Gospel. Can it be supposed, that our Lord would give a false character of his yoke? If not, how can can any dream they are his followers, while they account a life of communion with God, and entire devotedness to his service, to be dull and burdensome? Those, however, who have made the happy trial, find it to be such a burden as wings to a bird. Far from complaining of it, they are convinced that there is no real pleasure attainable in any other way. —John Newton, Works

On Fasting at the Feast (Isaiah 25)

TLS MainThe Lord’s Supper is a feast. Too many come to the table as if to a wake instead of a wedding; a funeral instead of a festival. In this age we do fast, but the Lord’s Supper is a breaking in of the future, and thus, a feast (cf. Matthew 9:14–17).

This is why I don’t consider the issue of wine non-consequential to optimally partaking of the Supper. There’s no getting around it, the wine of the kingdom is wine (Isaiah 25:6). Drunkenness is certainly a sin, but wine is a blessing. Can we abuse wine? Of course. But as Luther quipped, we can abuse women; shall we abolish women?  The best abuse prevention is a holy joy in the gift as a blessing from God. Isaac blessed Jacob saying, “May God give you of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth and plenty of grain and wine.” Israel’s covenant obedience meant vat’s bursting with wine (Deuteronomy 7:13, Proverbs 3:9–10).

Wine was not only a symbol of blessedness, but of man’s joy in that blessedness. “You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart (Psalm 104:14–15).” God gave wine, and He gave it to gladden man’s heart. “Bread is made for laughter, and wine gladdens life (Ecclesiastes 10:19).” Oh that that verse would infect and ferment our coming to the Lord’s Table. If ever there were a bread made for holy laughter, tis the Bread of life. If ever there were a wine to gladden life, tis the blood of the new covenant.

The inverse of all this is seen in Isaiah 24:11, “There is an outcry in the streets for lack of wine; all joy has grown dark; the gladness of the earth is banished.” The curse means no wine, no joy, no gladness.  At the Lord’s table, blessedness has swallowed up the curse. Wine and bread abound again. Wine isn’t inconsequential because it testifies that the Lord’s Supper is a feast and that our joy should be full. As we come to the table, let us sing like victors, eat like the married, and raise the glass in honor of the King.

The Dogmatician: Salvation Is No Mindless Nirvana

Knowledge, therefore, is not an accidental and externally added component of salvation but integral to it. Salvation that is not known and enjoyed is no salvation. Of what benefit would the forgiveness of sins, regeneration, and complete renewal by the Holy Spirit, the glories of heaven, be to us if we did not know about them? They could not exist. They presuppose and require consciousness, knowledge, enjoyment, and in these confer salvation. God saves by causing himself to be known and enjoyed in Christ. But since on earth the benefits of the covenant of grace are only granted to us in part; since communion with God, regeneration, and sanctification are still incomplete; and since our knowledge is imperfect, has invisible things for its object, and is bound to Scripture, our knowledge of God on earth is ‘a knowledge of faith.’ Faith is the only way it can be appropriated, the only form in which it can take shape. Indeed, all benefits (forgiveness, regeneration, sanctification, perseverance, the blessedness ofheaven) exist for us only by faith. We enjoy them only by faith. We are saved only through hope (cf. Rom. 8:24). —Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics

God’s Joy is All Over the Bible the Way Blue is All Over the Sky (1 Timothy 6:15–16)

Our God is the blessed God. The only other instance in Scripture when God is described in precisely these terms is 1 Timothy 1:11. How many times does Scripture have to say something for it to be true? Once. But God’s blessedness isn’t the neglected attribute of God, sparingly mentioned, uncritical to the plot line. These may be the only instances in which God is described in precisely these terms, but His blessedness is all over the Bible the way blue is all over the sky. Once we know what blessedness means then we can look for other words and phrases that express the same truth.

What does blessed mean? Happy. Happy in the deepest of senses. We see a person with an attractive spouse, nice house, new car, fulfilling job, good health, well-rounded children, talent, and good looks and we call them blessed. In a limited sense this is true. But is this how Jesus defines blessedness?

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. —Matthew 5:2–10 (ESV)

Is there a uniting core to the blessedness Jesus speaks of? Yes. The kingdom is the saving reign of God in Christ. Those comforted are comforted by God. The earth inherited is a redeemed earth illumined by and declaring the glory of God. The righteousness hungered for is a hunger to be like God. The mercy received is mercy from God. The peacemakers are called the sons of God. The pure in heart see God. What is the common denominator? God. What is blessedness? God. We didn’t get very far did we?

God is blessed.

What is blessedness?

God.

But actually we’ve learned much. You cannot define blessedness outside of God. Jonathan Edwards captured this well, “[God’s] happiness consists in enjoying and rejoicing in Himself; so also does the creature’s happiness.”

When you know this you can see how God’s blessedness is all over the Bible the way blue is all over the sky. When you see men hungry to know God above all else, you’re seeing the blessedness of God. “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11, ESV).” The clearest places in Scripture we see God’s blessedness is at the baptism and transfiguration of our Lord. The heavens are rent, the Spirit descends, the Father declares, “this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” This is how the Trinity has eternally related; infinitely delighting in that which is infinitely perfect. God’s joy is fathomless. If your joy is in ice cream, your joy will be as big as your bucket is deep. God’s bucket is never empty. But the most astounding thing is that in His baptism, Jesus was acting as our representative. When God declares He is well pleased with Jesus, He is well pleased with those Jesus represents. God’s joy in us is God’s joy in God.

I once was at an ordination council where a pastor probed the one seeking ordination, “What is the overarching mood of the Bible?” Cue puzzled silence, by all. He admitted it was an awkward question and then proceeded to answer. “The overarching mood of the Bible is grief. God’s grief over man’s sin.” I didn’t consider myself to be part of this ordination council. I came to endorse and support the one seeking ordination. I kept silent thinking that this wasn’t my shindig and that I was there to encourage my friend, not fight others, but I wish I had spoken up because I couldn’t disagree more strongly. The overarching mood of the Bible is joy! God is so happy in God, that He gave His Son so that we might know that happiness. This is precisely what Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:11; our gospel, the good news we declare, is the gospel of the glory of the blessed God. We trumpet the good news of just how happy our God is—boundlessly.

Salvation is a river of joy that we get swept up in. The fountain of this river is God’s joy in God. The ocean this river empties into is God’s joy in God. The fountain is the ocean. God is the Alpha and Omega, and the beginning and end is God’s joy in God. Is God angry at sin? Yes. Is He grieved at His children’s sin? Yes. But in Jesus, God has dealt with sin. God is eternally, indestructibly, infinitely happy in His Son.

Just like wet is all over the ocean, joy is all over the Bible. It’s the very gospel itself.

Matthew 13:44-46 & Happy Hobos

If these two parables were Americanized they would end with the “man”, perhaps a tenant farmer, being vindicated as he now lives in a plush mansion with tricked-out camels, and the merchant being famous, having sold the pearl for many times what he bought it. But neither the man, nor the merchant sell their treasure to buy other things, rather, they sell all other things to buy the treasure. The merchant doesn’t buy the pearl to sell it; he sells all to buy the pearl. The kingdom of heaven is not a means to an end, it is the end.

Some today buy stunning pieces of art and rare artifacts, not to profit from them, but to simply enjoy them. Still its unheard of for a lavishly wealthy person to go for broke to own a single piece of art.

Merchants were extremely wealthy and powerful, and this merchant was certainly so, searching only for fine pearls (likely the most valued jewel of the time by Romans). Imagine hearing that a Bill Gates joyfully liquidated every asset to own one piece of art. There is video of footage of the former business magnate now gone hobo standing on the street corner with a grin on his face staring at his piece of art.

I think you would conclude either one of two things must be true. Your first impulse is that he must be nuts. But then you grow curious. You haven’t seen the work of art. What if glory and beauty exist that are really worth that price tag? Wouldn’t it be wonderful?

There is a glory this stunning. It is a glorious mystery revealed to some (13:11). They see the hidden treasure others don’t. To others their actions look absurd, but if you have seen the value of the kingdom, you know it’s worth sacrificing everything for. That’s the way we ought to live, as hobos with a smile on our face enjoying a treasure others can’t see, making them think, “What if a glory like that really exists? I don’t know that it does, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if it did?”