The Secret

Philippians 4:10-20
Stewardship: Gratitude Attitude
Elizabeth M. Deibert

O Lord, your Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Spirit of God, give us grace to receive your truth in faith and love, and strengthen to follow on the path you set before us; through Jesus Christ, Amen.

Many weeks when I sit down to write a sermon, I feel like something’s missing. I begin to worry that I have nothing worth sharing. Oh sure, I’ve read a few commentaries. I’ve read other people’s sermons on this text. I’ve read books about the particular theological topic. I’ve prayerfully pondered the scripture, sometimes with help from you. Yet often I feel empty, like there’s nothing I have to give. But every week God provides something, sometimes just a morsel and sometimes a little more, and it is enough. God comes through even when I am insufficient. And the secret is believing that to be the case. The secret is knowing God will be provide enough, even when I don’t have enough.

Do you think Paul had any idea that the letters he wrote from prison would be canonized as Holy Scripture, with the same authority as the Torah he learned as a Jewish boy? Did he have any idea when he sat unjustly locked up, closed off from the world, that his most joyful letter to the Philippians would offer encouragement to people 2000 years later? How could he know that some of his words would become a mantra, a slogan on an athlete’s shoe, a piece of art in calligraphy, hanging on the wall, to give support to people feeling weak. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” The secret is knowing you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you, that you can endure all struggles, that you can make it.

Many of us feel like we don’t have enough time or enough energy or enough money or enough patience or enough strength to carry on. We are tired and worn down by life’s complexities and conflicts. But scripture tells us God will supply every need of ours, not according to a limited supply, but according to God’s riches in glory. The secret is counting on that, even in the hard times. The secret is believing that and being filled with gratitude for that.

If you know the One to whom you belong, and if you know just how good and powerful and reliable your God is, anxiety and fear will not overtake you. You will sing God’s praise even in a dark and dingy prison cell or whatever painful, difficult or limited position in which you find yourself. Hear the Apostle, a man who has learned secret of gratitude, contentment, and trust in God. He is thanking the Philippians for their support, and telling them that he’s more than okay because he knows the secret.

Philippians 4:10-20

I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me;

indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it.

11 Not that I am referring to being in need;

for I have learned to be content with whatever I have.

12 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty.

In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry,

of having plenty and of being in need.

13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

14 In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.

15 You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia,

no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone.

16 For even when I was in Thessalonica,

you sent me help for my needs more than once.

17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account.

18 I have been paid in full and have more than enough;

I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent,

a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.

19 And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours

according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

You have heard me talk about my piano teacher, who was the church organist and my mentor in high school. She taught me the secret. She lost her mother to whom she was very close to Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Then shortly thereafter she found out her husband was having an affair and their marriage ended.

Then her middle child, a son, took a trip with college buddies and came home in a serious depression. Then that same son, after stabilizing and making plans for graduate school, got hit and killed by a car while he was cycling. And in the last decade she has suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome. She is unable to play the organ or teach piano lessons anymore. She is unable to spend more than about 2-3 hours out of bed. She is concerned about her financial future as a single woman, living on social security with disability. But she is content and full of faith, one who prays and who sends letters of encouragement to people like me. She knows that God is providing everything she needs. She knows the secret of gratitude in difficult circumstances.

Paul tells the Philippians: “I rejoice, I am not in need, I am content, I know the secret of contentment in any and all circumstances, whether I am in plenty or in want, hungry or well-fed. I can manage through Christ who strengthens me. I have more than enough. I am fully satisfied.” How can a man in prison in the 1st century say that?

He goes on to tell them in his letter of thanks that it is not the gift he seeks but the blessing that comes to them when they give. And that’s what I most want to say to you today. When Peace asks you to give, when you receive in the mail or when you pick up at church, an envelope inviting you to make a pledge, a non-binding pledge, we are asking for you to offer a blessing for the church. It is no surprise to you that I would say that the church depends on your gifts to carry out our ministries. But we are not so concerned for the church as we are for the freedom and blessing that come to you when you increase your trust in God. Oh, sure the church needs your gifts (just like Paul needed help from the Philippians) but it is not the gift we seek as much as your growing faith. Because if our faith is not growing, then we do not have a church worth sustaining.

Paul calls this growing trust, this faith, profit. He says, “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account.” The Greek word translated “profit” is in other contexts translated “fruit.” The fruit of faith is the only profit, reward which really matters in the end. Having a lot of money or possessions will not guarantee happiness. A fruitful life is what we need, what will generate meaning and purpose.

Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard psychology professor and the author of Stumbling on Happiness, says “Research reveals that memory is less like a collection of photographs than it is like a collection of impressionist paintings rendered by an artist who takes considerable license with his subject.” So are your impressions that you have enough? In the painting of your life’s history, is the sky is blue or are there always dark clouds and rain in that scene? Is the cup overflowing? Or is it bone dry? Do you reinforce your contentment with Paul by expressing gratitude throughout the day, reminding yourself how little it takes to satisfy your needs or are you high maintenance, never getting all you want? Poverty isn't being short on money; real poverty is never having enough. That’s when you need a little gratitude rock in your pocket to remind you to rejoice in every little gifts God gives you each day. If we have a proper view of God's Providence, we will see the hand of God and the heart of God miraculously working good out of every single thing, out of all the experiences of our lives.

As a church we started talking about gratitude and carrying around these symbolic “gratitude rocks” a year ago. It’s all about the attitude with which we approach life. Richard and I have in the last year developed a habit of rejoicing in the little changes in the garden, paying more attention to the amazing work of God evidenced in flowers and trees. Generally speaking, we take walks together rather than eating out together, a little simplification of life.

Rather than fretting over the time it has taken for his medical licensure in Florida, we have been extremely grateful for the time we’ve enjoyed. We discipline ourselves to control spending, but not to spend too much time looking at the numbers. There are the simple pleasures of a shared bowl of oatmeal for lunch – cheap, healthy, filling, and uniting us with people around the world, who are grateful for simple meals like that.

I lapse from time to time and worry over the fact that he’s not earning money, and then I remember how wonderful it has been to have his support in serving the church’s needs. In these last several months of transition, I’m not sure how I would have fared without his steady involvement. In my own life, as I have mentioned.

In the church, we can be grateful for the unique and special people and programs we already have here. We can express gratitude for the gifts of an intimate congregation, rather than wishing we were larger. We can be grateful for the amazing ministries of this congregation and for the volunteers and staff who keep them going. Let’s invite our friends and neighbors to a plenteous congregation, rather than a needy congregation. We have plenty. We’re not perfect, but we know how to be content in any and all circumstances. The 23rd Psalm says it: The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.

Contentment, you see, is not about how much you have but how much gratitude you have for what you have. The secret is knowing enough is enough and living with a generous and expressive gratitude for the life and love you have been given in Jesus Christ, who united our humanity to God’s divinity in such a profound and mysterious way that the world will never be the same. You will always have enough when you turn to the One who loves you most, who fully satisfies every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. The real secret is that you belong to Jesus Christ who knows you and loves you deeply and that is always enough. With your overflowing gratitude for life, whisper the secret of Christ’s bountiful love to every person with whom you have contact and especially to those closest to you.