The Secret of Christ-Magnifying Contentment as the Path to Costly Love

VMWare Christian Fellowship | San Jose


What I would like to try to do is draw you into some truths that I have seen recently in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, and in doing so, answer the question of your ultimate purpose in life, and in working here at VMWare.

The title I would give this talk is “The Secret of Christ-Magnifying Contentment as the Path to Costly Love.” You can hear three centers of concern in that title:

  1. making much of Jesus Christ as the greatest Treasure in the universe;
  2. experiencing deep contentment of soul rather than turmoil and anxiety;
  3. being a person who overflows with love to other people, no matter the cost.

I think those three concerns are written on the human heart — every human heart — so that, conscious or unconscious, you know, and everybody at VMware knows, whether they are Christians or not,

  1. that there is an Ultimate Being above creation that ought to be honored, and
  2. that there is in their soul a longing to be happy which they cannot escape or cancel or satisfy with anything in this world, and
  3. that there is a deep sense that we should overcome our native selfishness and do good to others.

I think these things are written on every human soul. So, what you need to know is not what I think about these three things, but what God thinks. And I have no other way, with any authority, of getting at what God thinks than to turn to God’s word.

Why You Are Here

So, let’s begin by asking why everything — including you and I — exists. We’ll start outside Philippians, then pick up the argument in Philippians.

[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For . . . all things were created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:15–16)

The second person of the Trinity, the eternal Son of God, shared fully in the creation of all things, in such a way that Paul says, “All things were created through him and for him.” “For him” does not mean to make up some deficiency in him. He did not make the universe as a crutch to lean on. Hebrews 1:3 says, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” He created all things not to supplement his power, but to show his power to his creatures — and his wisdom, and every other facet of the diamond of his glory.

So, I infer from this that you exist for Christ. Whether you want to or not, every human being exists for the glory of Jesus Christ — the Creator, the incarnate Redeemer, the risen and reigning Victor over Satan and sin and death and hell, and the coming Emperor over the gloriously restored universe. You were created by Christ not to supply his needs, not to help him uphold the universe, but to eat and drink and work and rest in such a way that shows his supreme greatness and value and beauty. To magnify Christ: that’s why you exist.

Make Jesus Look Good

Now, let’s pick up the argument in Philippians — that argument for how the majesty of Christ, the contentment of our souls, and the love of others fit together. We start with Philippians 1:20:

It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored [magnified, glorified, made much of — this is where we are picking up the argument] in my body, whether by life or by death.

So, Paul has now joined Christ in the ultimate aim of magnifying Christ. This was Christ’s aim in creating Paul. So, it is Paul’s aim in living. It is the height of folly — indeed suicidal — to ignore the ultimate reason you exist and try to make it up as you go along. Paul didn’t do that. He wants his life to be in sync with the ultimate reason for his existence.

Then notice that Paul considers two conditions in which he aims to magnify Christ: life and death. Verse 20: “that . . . Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” You could say: (1) having things go well so that he lives, or (2) having things go badly so that he dies. In either case, his aim is to magnify Christ. Life or death: make Christ look great; flourish or perish, Christ is magnified.

Light of Life, Darkness of Death

Now, hold that in your mind and let’s go to chapter 4 before we look at the way Paul describes how he will magnify Christ in life and in death. Let’s read Philippians 4:11–13. He has just rejoiced in the generous gift they sent to support him in ministry:

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.

The issue is not the magnifying of Christ, but rather the contentment of Paul’s own soul. Verse 11: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” And this matters for Paul because it’s his contentment that shows them he is not in it for the money. “You sent me your gift. I am glad. But this gladness in your gift is not the essence of my contentment. I would have been content even if you had not sent me your gift.”

Here’s the parallel or the similarity with Philippians 1:20. Paul emphasizes that his contentment is solid and unwavering in two kinds of situations. Philippians 4:12a: When he is brought low, and when he is abounding. Or again in 12b: When he has plenty, and when he has hunger. Or again in 12c: When he has abundance, and when he is in need.

So, notice both the dissimilarity and similarity between this passage and Philippians 1:20. What is dissimilar is that in 1:20 the issue is how to magnify Christ. And in 4:11–12, the issue is how to be content. The glory of Christ in 1:20, the joy of the human soul in 4:11–12. That is what is dissimilar.

But what is similar is that both in 1:20 and in 4:11–12, he aims to show that the magnifying of Christ and the satisfying of his soul take place in the best and worst of times. In 1:20 he says he aims to magnify Christ in life and death. In 4:11–12 he says he experiences contentment in being brought low and in abounding, in plenty and hunger, in abundance and need. So, what I am seeing is that life and death in 1:20 correspond to plenty and hunger in 4:12. In the best and worst of times, Christ will be magnified; and in the best and worst of times, my soul will be satisfied. The glory of Christ and the gladness of Paul’s soul are unshakable whether the sun is shining in life, or the night is darkening in death.

Miracle of Divine Strength

Now the question is: What is the secret of magnifying Christ in life and death — in decades of work in Silicon Valley, or dying before you turn forty? And what is the secret of being content in plenty and hunger? Content in decades of work in Silicon Valley, or dying before you turn forty? And might it be that the secret is the same for both — for magnifying Christ in life and death, and being content in life and death?

Let’s ask about the secret in Philippians 4:12b: “I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” What’s the secret of being content in the best of times and the worst of times? The key to the answer is to ponder the question: Why would you even need to learn a secret to be content in plenty and abundance? That’s the most natural thing in the world — being content when all is well. But Paul says, “No, you have to learn how to be content when all is well.”

Why? Because the contentment Paul has in mind is not contentment based on pleasant circumstances. How do we know that? What is it based on? Philippians 4:10: “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly” when you gave me your gift. Not in the gift. Or Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always [every situation!]; again I will say, rejoice.” Or Philippians 3:1: “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord.”

When Paul speaks of the mysterious, secret “contentment” or gladness or rejoicing, he is not speaking of the perfectly natural, unmysterious human pleasure that is based on pleasant circumstances. He is speaking of contentment based on Christ. Gladness grounded in Christ. Joy resting on Christ. And that is why contentment in plenty and abundance have to be learned. It is not natural. It is supernatural.

That’s why Philippians 4:13 is crucial: “I can do all things [abound or hunger, have plenty or need] through him who strengthens me.” You can’t have this contentment on your own. It takes a miracle of divine strength. I can be content in plenty only because of him who strengthens me! It is a miracle. Unbelievers know nothing of this experience — namely, seeing Christ and savoring Christ as so beautiful, and so valuable, and so great, that he becomes all-satisfying, an unshakable contentment in and above all plenty and abundance.

All Things in Christ

I would argue that the clearest statement of the secret of this supernatural contentment is Philippians 3:7–8:

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.

Pile up all the abundance and plenty possible — both physical and religious — and give it to Paul for his contentment. What would he say? He would say, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” This is the secret of Philippians 4:12 — contentment in both plenty and hunger, because the contentment, the joy, is in Christ, not conveniences; Christ, not health; Christ, not riches; Christ, not fame; Christ, not life.

Which brings us back to Philippians 1:20. Is the secret of contentment in life and death, the same as the secret of magnifying Christ in life and death? Listen to the flow of thought in Philippians 1:20–21:

It is my eager expectation and hope that . . . Christ will be honored [magnified] in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

You see that “by life or by death” in verse 20 corresponds to “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” in verse 21. Or to make the pairing really striking, just use the death pair:

Christ will be magnified in my body by death, for to me to die is gain.

How is Christ magnified in Paul’s death? When he experiences death as gain. And why would he do that? Philippians 1:23 gives the answer:

I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

Death is gain because he gets more of Christ — a more direct and close fellowship than he has here. No sinfulness obscuring Christ or disinclining the heart.

So, what is the secret of magnifying Christ in death? To know and treasure Christ above everything that death takes away. Or, to know and treasure Christ above all that staying alive will give.

In other words, Philippians 3:8 is the secret for both the contentment of 4:11–12 and the glorification of Christ in 1:20.“I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (3:8). Experiencing Christ as more valuable and more satisfying than anything in this world is the secret of contentment in plenty and hunger, and the secret of magnifying Christ in life and death.

Contentment Overflows in Costly Love

Which leaves just one last step in the argument. Remember that my title is “The Secret of Christ-Magnifying Contentment as the Path to Costly Love.” What is the secret of costly love toward other people, even people you don’t like? Paul says in Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” In other words, have the mind of Christ, who left heaven to die and save his enemies.

How is such love possible? By nature, we are selfish. We crave praise and health and riches and safety and comfort. Nobody, by nature, counts others more significant than himself, and embraces the costs of love. How is our addiction to the cravings of praise and health and riches and safety and comfort broken?

What’s the secret of such contentment in Christ that we are freed from self-exaltation and made glad to embrace the costs of love? The answer is obvious: seeing and savoring and treasuring Christ as more satisfying than selfish cravings that hinder love.

So, what is your ultimate purpose in life? In working at VMWare? In all your leisure? Your relationships? Your solitude? The answer is that your ultimate purpose is to make much of Christ — his beauty, his value, his greatness. And you do that by treasuring him above everything in the world. Which, as it turns out, is also the secret of unshakable contentment, and costly love.