Courage and Contentment in the Call of the Gospel

Commencement Address | Bethlehem College & Seminary


Courage in the perils of gospel ministry, and contentment in the privations of gospel ministry, magnify the worth of the gospel and glorify our Savior. And the key to both is prayer in everything.

Therefore, I am summoning all of us to fearless courage in the promise of Christ (in spite of the perils) and peaceful contentment in the presence of Christ (in spite of the privations) so that our great Savior and his gospel will be seen by a resistant and perishing world as sure and satisfying. And to that end, I call you to a life of prayer in everything. Consider Philippians 4:6–7:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

God Supplies Every Need

Let’s look at these two verses in two directions, from the front and from the back. From the front: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” The alternative to anxiety about anything is prayer in everything. Do not be anxious about anything, but pray in everything.

“The alternative to anxiety about anything is prayer in everything.”

If praying about everything is supposed to take away anxiety in anything, what’s the assumption? The assumption is that God will act to meet your need, and you believe it. Will he? Twelve verses later, in Philippians 4:19, Paul says, “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Every need will be supplied. Therefore, do not be anxious about anything, but pray in everything because he promised every need will be met.

Now look at verses 6–7 from the back. “Let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” In place of anxiety comes peace. God’s peace is not based on a rational calculation about the odds for healing, or for the growth of the church, or for a good job, or the health of the baby. No, this is a peace that surpasses human understanding; it goes beyond human rational calculations. It is God’s peace. This is the peace of communion with God in Christ. He is present, and he is satisfying — no matter what. And the path to this peace is prayer in everything.

Free to Enjoy God’s Peace

So at the front end of this text, we have freedom from anxiety in everything. And at the back of the text, we have peace that passes understanding in everything. And as you can see, those are two sides of the same coin — almost. Not quite. The presence of God’s peace is more than mere absence of anxiety. We will see this when we ask the next question.

What’s the relationship between these two realities — freedom from anxiety in everything and the enjoyment of God’s peace in everything? What’s the relationship between these two and the major burden of this book? Again, let’s go to the front of the book and then to the back of the book.

Take Courage in Perils

One of the statements of Paul’s burden in this book is found in Philippians 1:27–28: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” That doesn’t mean live well enough until you deserve the gospel. This gospel will never be deserved by sinners. “Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel” means: live in such a way — as exiles and sojourners on this earth — that you show the worth of the gospel, not the worth of yourself.

So that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. (Philippians 1:27–28)

Fearless camaraderie in the service of the gospel shows the worth of the gospel. There are real opponents here — real perils for gospel ministry. Just like there are today — always have been, always will be. And what shows the worth of the gospel to the world is a group of saved sinners whose selfishness has been broken so that they love one another and fear nothing in the cause of the gospel.

Courage in the perils of gospel ministry magnifies the worth of the gospel. So the connection with Philippians 4:6–7 is that this fearlessness — this courage in Philippians 1:28 — is the freedom from anxiety in Philippians 4:6.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Don’t be anxious. Do not be frightened in anything by your opponents. Be fearless. Be courageous. And the key that unlocks this courage is prayer. Let your requests be made known to God. He has promised that everything you need in the hour of peril will be there. Just ask him, and do not be anxious. This is a sign to the world that our gospel is sure and valuable.

Find Contentment in Christ

We are still asking, What do freedom from anxiety and the enjoyment of peace by prayer have to do with the greater burdens of this book? In the last part of chapter four, Paul is thanking the Philippians for their partnership financially in his ministry. He does this twice. Verse 10: “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me.” Verse 16: “Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again.”

And what is striking is that in both cases, Paul immediately — in the same breath — tells them that he is not in this for the money. Paul is so jealous for the worth of the gospel — the integrity of the gospel — that he tries his best to show that he is not in this for the money. After rejoicing in their generosity in verse 10, he says,

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. (Philippians 4:11)

And after praising their partnership in verse 16, he says,

Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. (Philippians 4:17)

What’s going on here? Paul’s passion is to glorify Christ as the key to contentment, not money. They have been generous to him. He needs to acknowledge that. And yet, he is so concerned that he does not acknowledge it in a way that glorifies the money and makes it look like his contentment is in the comforts that money can buy. So what does he say?

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11–13)

Your money is “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable to God” (Philippians 4:18). But it is not essential to my contentment. I have learned a secret. And it is not money. It is Christ.

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:7–8)

Paul’s great burden in this letter is that Christ be magnified as a greater contentment than anything money can buy. And what does that have to do with Philippians 4:7? This contentment is the peace of God that passes all understanding. And the key that unlocks that peace is prayer in everything.

A Life of Prayer Magnifies Christ

So we end where we began. Courage — fearlessness and freedom from anxiety — in the perils of gospel ministry, and contentmentpeace — in the privations of gospel ministry magnify the worth of the gospel and glorify our Savior. And the key to both is prayer in everything.

Therefore, I am summoning all of us to fearless courage in the promise of Christ (in spite of the perils) and peaceful contentment in the presence of Christ (in spite of the privations) so that our great Savior and his gospel will be seen by a resistant and perishing world as sure and satisfying. And to that end, I call you to a life of prayer in everything.