Calvary Road Baptist Church


Philippians 4.12


Paul is writing from a Roman prison. His first encounter with his Savior and the delight of his soul had taken place some 20 to 25 years earlier on the road to Damascus, just beyond the East end of the Mediterranean Sea. In the intervening years of selfless devotion and sacrificial service to the Lord Jesus Christ, this man who had once been the strongest human foe of Christ and His followers had become the Savior’s most devoted servant. You and I might be profoundly discouraged if we were sitting where Paul was sitting as he wrote this letter to the Philippians. And there had been times in the past when Paul had been discouraged by the trials and afflictions that had swamped him as he served Christ. However, as we read his letter we see not a trace of despondency or discouragement.

Why is that? Some of you who fight depression and the “black dog” of discouragement need to seriously consider why it was the Apostle Paul was not discouraged here.[1] Why is it that instead he exhibits at this point in his life a marvelous contentment of the soul? Why is Paul able to defeat discouragement while you are not? Why is he content in situations like this and you are not? Why is it that he could and did rejoice and exult, while you so frequently sigh and cry in such situations not half so bad? Part of the answer to these questions was addressed in our consideration of Philippians 4.11. There we learned that the secret of contentment is really quite simple. Contentment is the consequence of a right concern. You folks who get discouraged all the time, who fight depression? Your concern is primarily for and about yourselves, and not Christ or His cause. May I be so bold as to suggest that you could very well be selfish and self-centered? I know that’s my problem when I get discouraged and depressed. Self-centeredness and selfishness, pure and simple.

Paul was content because his concern was the right concern. And if you are not content, or if your tendency is to be filled with such discontent as depression or melancholy, it is crucial that your concern be reoriented. However, that’s not all. Not everything in life happens quickly, instantaneously, and immediately. Some things actually come to full fruition only over the course of time. Look at the rose buds. They don’t blossom immediately. Look at children. They don’t grow up quickly. Look at the various saintly graces that so mark the Christian’s life. Many of them might appear quite suddenly in some form, but they only mature over the course of time. And thus it is with contentment. You must have the right concern to know true contentment, but don’t think that your right concern for Christ and the cause of Christ always results in immediate contentment.

Oh, no. My friends, as we shall see in our text for today, the contentment that is the consequence of a right concern only comes with experience. To see that borne out in Paul’s life, let’s stand and read Philippians 4.12 together:


“I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”


The contentment that is the consequence of a right concern only comes with experience. Notice how this is revealed in Paul’s life.




What is an expert? An expert is not a drip under pressure. That’s the humorous definition of the word, but it’s not an accurate definition. The Webster’s Dictionary defines “expert” as someone who is skillful, someone who has training and is very knowledgeable in some field.[2] If contentment is the consequence of a right concern that only comes with experience then Paul is, indeed, an expert. He was very knowledgeable in the field of contentment, had a lot of training, and was skilled in the matter. Therefore, let’s read what Paul wrote:


“I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound.”


First, Paul declares that he is knowledgeable about abasement. What is it to “know?” This word “know,” oida, refers to having acquired knowledge in the past, and, thus, to be in full command of the subject in the present.[3] So, whatever it means to be “abased,” Paul is an expert on the subject of being abased. What does it mean to be “abased?” The word “abased” is exactly the same word that is translated “humbled” in Philippians 2.8, where Paul indicates the Lord Jesus Christ also “humbled” Himself. The word is very simple to understand. It means to lower yourself.[4] So, Paul had become an expert on the subject of being lowered, on the subject of humiliation, in all its stripes and variations. Emotional humiliation? Paul knew it. Financial humiliation? Paul was an expert. Physical humiliation? We know that he had learned that, as well. Like no one you have ever known, Paul knew how to be abased. It had happened to him so many times.

But Paul was also knowledgeable about abounding. Just as he had expert knowledge in abasement, so too in this area of life’s experiences Paul had the knowledge of an expert. But what is it to “abound?” Imagine a huge dam built in a canyon to back up water used for irrigation, for drinking, and for powering turbines to generate electricity. When the dam is built and its gates are closed the water backs up to form a large reservoir. When you open the gates to let water run out and the water lowers, you have a picture of our word “abased.” The water level is lowered. But when the gates are closed and left closed for a long enough period of time, what happens to the water level in the reservoir? It rises and rises and rises until it reaches the level of the dam’s spillway and then it overflows, cascading into the canyon below. “Abounding” is what is happening when the reservoir is filled to overflowing. Thus, Paul was not just an expert on doing without and suffering privation. He was also an expert on bounty and fullness, whether it be food or money or friends. And it is recognized by some that it is generally more difficult to abound and continue in spirituality than it is to be abased and continue in spirituality. So, Paul was, indeed, an expert on the two subjects of abasement and abounding.




Okay. Paul was an expert in the science of contentment. But how did he acquire this expertise? How did it come to be that Paul was so fully knowledgeable? We learned in Philippians 4.11 that it was given to Paul through the avenue of learning, and not by means of revelation. What we further see, in the last half of this verse, is that what Paul learned he learned over time. His expertise was acquired by the experiences he lived through. He writes,


“everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”


Two things in this portion of the verse help us to understand more fully the Christian’s need for experience in attaining contentment:

First, the experiences of life, in which you are abased and in which you abound, are an initiation into what I like to call the club of the contented.


Paul writes, “everywhere and in all things I am instructed. . . .”


This word “everywhere” refers to every circumstance of life. Ever wonder how a man can learn and grow and stay spiritual no matter what kind of adversity he is suffering? How the storm clouds can gather around him and adverse winds can blow, but he stays on course spiritually? That man keeps his eyes on the Savior. He pilots the ship into safe harbor during the storm by keeping his eyes fixed on the lighthouse. He looks unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of his faith.[5] And, the way it would be described it in the context of his Philippian letter, contentment has sprung from Paul’s right concern. My friend, you can be instructed, as well, during the storms of life. But you will only be instructed so long as your eyes are on the Savior. You can also learn and grow during the times of plenty and obvious blessing, but only so long as Christ is your primary concern during such times. How can this be? What makes this happen? Look at the word “instructed.” Found only here in the Bible, the word refers to being initiated, to being let in on something.[6] If we spoke Greek this would be the word we would use to describe being initiated into a college fraternity or sorority. So, the experiences of life were to Paul, and can be for any Christian, more than just experiences to be endured. They are as class rooms used by God to bring you to a place of real contentment. A chapter in your life where you have been high and you have been low, and you know by your experiences that, having had a taste of many things, you know that nothing satisfies your soul but Jesus Christ. You took it on faith when you were saved, Christian. But in time you will come to know it by the experiences of your Christian life, as Paul had.

But where do these experiences lead? They lead to appreciation:


“everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”


Look at this word “full.” It’s a word used to describe fattening up an animal, getting it ready for slaughter.[7] Paul uses the word to contrast with his times of hunger. He had had times when he had so much to eat he couldn’t eat any more. And at other times he went without food for days. There were times when Paul was warm and cozy. There were times when he had nice clothes on, and there were times when he was stripped and lashed. He had abounded with material provision and he had also suffered need and deprivation. Some had been kind to him, while others tried to kill him. To the Corinthians he wrote, “Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep.[8] Why did such experiences not whipsaw Paul like they sometimes do you, and like they do me? For one thing, perhaps your concern is not as firmly fixed on the Savior as was Paul’s concern. For another thing, there hasn’t been the passage of time for this instruction to take place in our lives like there had been in Paul’s life. What we see, instead, in Paul’s experience, and in the lives of those seasoned saints who have kept their eyes firmly fixed on the Lord Jesus Christ, their spiritual north star, is appreciation. He’d rather have Jesus than silver and gold. He’d rather have Jesus than riches untold. He appreciates his Lord and his Savior, Jesus Christ.

So, now we know two things about genuine heart contentment. What we have learned is that contentment is not always a sudden thing. It’s not like instant pudding. Contentment comes to full fruition over time. God uses the experiences of life to initiate you. You sort of join the club and have a real appreciation of the sufficiency of Christ, an appreciation that blossoms over time. But that only comes when, as we learned last time, your concern is correct. Contentment is the consequence of a proper concern. I challenge you, then, to make Jesus Christ your chief concern of life, and to keep Him your chief concern, through thick and through thin, when times are good and when times are bad. Thus, you will not wonder “How goes it for me?” but “How goes it for the cause of Christ?” Do this and not only will you no longer be the selfish whiner your spouse has gotten so used to being married to, or your parents have become so used to having to deal with, but you will actually experience the feeling of real contentment in your Christian life. All because you’d rather have Jesus than anything.




For the last two times in Philippians we have examined passages dealing with the concept of contentment, the contentment of the believer’s soul. And I’ve alleged and maintained that true contentment, real contentment, is impossible unless you are genuinely saved. However, you may be here, a lost man or a lost woman, perhaps an unsaved little boy or little girl, and there is a different kind of contentment that you have. Don’t get me wrong. You have no real contentment in your heart. Jesus Christ has not satisfied your soul. You do, however, have something akin to contentment.

You see, you are content to be lost. You are content to be without Jesus Christ. You are content to dwell estranged from God. You are quite content to dwell in your sins. You are content to live a life in service to yourself instead of God. You are content to wake up in the morning, eat breakfast, go to work, come home in the evening, eat supper, watch television, and then go to bed so you can start over again the next day. Why is that? Why is it that you don’t care if your kids grow up, destroy their lives when they are still relatively young, and then eventually die and go to Hell? Why is it that your interest is only in the immediate and not the eternal, only in the visible and not the invisible, only in the sensual and not in the spiritual?

In other words, why is it that you are quite content to be lost and undone? Humanly speaking, I have some suggestions as to why you are content in this way:




You know, the slothful man will excuse every one of his shortcomings with sound reasoning. There is always a reason why he doesn’t do what he needs to do. Proverbs 24 speaks of the man void of understanding, who is more concerned with his ease than he is with his welfare.

Perhaps these were the people the Lord Jesus Christ was speaking of in Luke 13.24. Not physically lazy people, but those who are spiritually lethargic and slothful. Jesus said,


“Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.”


So many people “seek” to enter in, which is to say, “want” to enter in, desire to enter in. However, they are quite unwilling to strive, as the Lord Jesus commanded.

Why are you unwilling to strive as the Savior directed? Why is it that you will not allow someone to guide you to Christ? It could be that you are just too lazy to wrestle with spiritual issues. If so, you may go to Hell lazy.




Some people are just foolish when it comes to spiritual matters, sin, and salvation. Psalm 14.1 says, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” You see nothing wrong with continuing in your sins because you are a fool, who doesn’t realize that God will someday seek vengeance against you for sinning against Him.[9]

You are just like the foolish woman of Proverbs 14.1, who plucks down her own house with her folly. Imagine a woman so foolish as to bring harm to her own home. But you do that. As Proverbs 14.16 declares, you rage and are confident in your folly. And as Proverbs 15.2 and 32 tells us, when you open your mouth about spiritual things foolishness comes out, and you so despise your own soul that you despise instruction. You are not teachable.

Is that why it’s been so long since you’ve sought spiritual counsel and direction after listening to a sermon? Is that why you refuse to interact with an experienced gospel minister about your soul? Are you so foolish that you are despising your own soul? Could be.




Avarice is just another word for greed. Paul told young Timothy that the love of money is the root of all evil.[10] You are content to be where you are, in fact lost in your sins, because you know that saved people go to church faithfully and saved people come to be generous in their giving. But you want to get money, not give God’s due to the cause of Christ.

Think this is unusual? There has been many a sinner become angry and refuse to come back to church because the preacher said something about money. And there is many a lost man who sits at home and rails against preachers: “All they ever talk about is money.” But the point is, you are willing to allow your consideration of money, you are willing to allow your preoccupation with money, you are willing to allow your love of money, to interfere with the salvation of your soul. As my Lord Jesus said, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Mark 8.36.

Is that why you won’t let me show you how to be saved? You are tightfisted? Do you value your pocketbook more than you value your soul? If you do, you are by no means the first person to go to Hell for loving money.




Second Corinthians 4.2-4:


2      But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.

3      But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost:

4      In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.


Look, I’m not pulling any punches here. I am speaking as honestly and as forthrightly as I know how. But some of you just do not respond. You sit there and sit there and sit there. I ask myself “Why?” And it may be that Paul answers my question in this passage.

Too often people discount the activity of Satan in the lives of lost people. But he is the god of this world.[11] He is the prince of the power of the air.[12] And he does work to prevent lost people from seeing the simplicity of the gospel. Jesus Christ offers life instead of death. Jesus Christ offers forgiveness instead of guilt. Jesus Christ offers freedom instead of bondage. Jesus Christ offers cleansing instead of defilement. But Satan blinds your eyes, causing you to think you are better off lost than you would be if you were saved.

Second Corinthians 10.4-5:


4      (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)

5      Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.


Satan’s blindness results in you erecting these notions and ideas in your mind that you think discredits the gospel, that you think makes you somehow different or unique, that you think makes you immune to God’s penalty. But they are all imaginations, my friend. It’s not real. Sin, on the other hand, is real. Hell is real. Jesus Christ is real.

Are you just blinded by Satan? Could it be that the reason you don’t see the simplicity of the gospel is because forces stronger than you are influencing your thought life and keeping you spiritually blind? Depending on the sins you commit, the likelihood of this being the reason you are content to remain lost is real.




Psalm 1:


1      Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

2      But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

3      And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

4      The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.

5      Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.

6      For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.


Maybe you have been ignorant until now that the ungodly shall perish.

Psalm 2.1-9:


1      Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?

2      The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying,

3      Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.

4      He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.

5      Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.

6      Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.

7      I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.

8      Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.

9      Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.


Maybe you have simply not known that you can’t fight God and win, that He will laugh at the attempts of even the most powerful who vainly oppose Him. And it will not be the laugh of humor, as though God thinks it’s funny. It will be the laugh of the Infinite in the face of the infinitesimal. It will be the laugh of the All-Powerful in the face of the powerless.

Maybe you don’t know that our God is a consuming fire, Hebrews 10.29. Perhaps you’ve not acquainted yourself with the prophetical portions of the Bible that speak specifically to you and others in your position, Revelation 6.15-17:


15    And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains;

16    And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb:

17    For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?


Or, even more ominously, maybe you’ve given no attention to your eternal destiny, and you are ignorant of what fate awaits you. Matthew 25.41, 46:


41    Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:


46    And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.


Well, you’re not ignorant anymore. At least, you are no longer ignorant of the fact that you need to be saved or you will perish in the lake of fire. But you do not know, yet, how to be saved. Oh, you probably think you know how to be saved. But in all likelihood you only think you know. In all likelihood you really do not know how to be saved.


My friend, there just has to be some logical reason why you are content to be dead in trespasses and sins. There just has to be some explanation for why an eternity in the lake of fire is of no concern to you, or the defilement of your soul by your sins doesn’t alarm you. Could it be one of these reasons I have mentioned? It could be. There has to be some reason, because on the face of it no rational person, no reasonable person, would resist the gospel and would turn away from Jesus Christ.

So, why are you content to be lost? And don’t just say “because.” That’s a child’s answer when he has no answer.

I have a suggestion. After we have dismissed the service, I recommend that you go outside and then make your way back inside into the auditorium and have a seat. In turn, in my office we can talk about your soul’s salvation.

[1] The “black dog” was the term Winston Churchill used in reference to his bouts of depression, Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life, Volume I, (London: The Folio Society edition, 2004), page 260.

[2] Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996), page 645.

[3] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), pages 693-694.

[4] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 562.

[5] Hebrews 12.2

[6] Bauer, page 660.

[7] Rienecker, page 562.

[8] 2 Corinthians 11.25

[9] Romans 12.19

[10] 1 Timothy 6.10

[11] 2 Corinthians 4.4

[12] Ephesians 2.2

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