Burroughs was a man who was accustomed to much sorrow. He had more than a few situations in his life where he was plagued with disunity among the body of Christ. Anyone who loves the bride of Jesus knows how trying these times can be. Burroughs also lived in a tumultuous time. In the early portion of his ministry he had to fight many battles against the Church of England concerning conformity and non-conformity. Most of these struggles were centered upon his refusal to accept King James’Book of Sports. After this was seemingly resolved, Burroughs found himself in the center of the controversy between the Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Independents (of whom Burroughs was a “member”).
So, Burroughs knows of suffering. The things written in Rare Jewel are not mere theoretical musings--they are the outgrowth of experience in his own Christian walk. You can feel Burroughs pain in his first paragraph when he speaks of the “drooping spirits of the saints in these sad and sinking times” (1). No doubt Burroughs himself was one of those who struggled with having a “drooping spirit”. Therefore, it is fitting that he should labor to faithfully exposit Philippians 4:11.
Today we will look at the introductory matters. We will ask two questions. 1) What does the apostle mean in Philippians 4:11? 2) What is the doctrinal assertion of this text?
1) What does the apostle mean in Philippians 4:11?
To place this in its proper context we must understand that Paul is in the midst of thanking the Philippians for their kind gift. This is what he meant in 4:10 when he said, “…you have revived your concern for me”. It seems as if the Philippians had been going through a deep financial struggle and where unable to support Paul monetarily. But then, as Paul is in prison, Epaphroditus shows up. Epaphroditus himself is a gift, yet he is bringin monetary support from the Philippians as well. In this Paul rejoices. But, so as not to sound desperate he qualifies his thanksgiving in verse 11. He wants them to know that his excitement is not in the monetary gift but in their support. As Burroughs says, “not that he sought ‘theirs’ but ‘them’”. And tucked away in this paragraph is Paul’s statement, “for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content”.
Burroughs helps us to see three things from this text: it is learned, it is to be constant, and it comes from the sufficiency of Christ.
“It is learned” helps us to see that having contentment in every situation is a “great art”. Burroughs notes the tense of the phrase. It is almost as if Paul is saying, “I do not have to learn it now, nor did I have [this] at first, I have attained it, though with much [struggle], and now, by the grace of God, I have become the master of this art.” It is vital that we see that contentment is a learned art. It will keep us from being frustrated, guard us from arrogance, and push us on to pursue more contentment.
“In whatever situation” helps us to see that this is to be a constant state. We must always be content. Whether as Paul says we are, “facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need”. We must learn to be content.
“To be content” actually can refer to only God. The word means “self-sufficient”. Only God can, “rests fully satisfied in and with Himself alone”. But how then can we say that Paul (and later that we) can have this self-sufficiency? As Burroughs helps us see it is because Paul, “had a right to the covenant and promise, which virtually contains everything, and an interest in Christ, the fountain and good of all, it is no marvel that he said that in whatever state he was in, he was content.”
2) What is the doctrinal assertion of this text?
Burroughs states the doctrinal consideration is brief but is thus: “That to be well skilled in the mystery of Christian contentment is the duty, glory and excellence of a Christian” (2). And it is this great doctrine that we will, with the help of Jeremiah Burroughs, expound in the month of November.
What can we learn from all of this today? I am reminded of a quote by Samuel Rutherford in counseling a young woman who was going through many trials. Rutherford says, “I would not want the sweet experience of the consolations of God for all the bitterness of affliction; nay, whether God come to his children with a rod or a crown, if he come himself with it, it is wellIn case you lost what Rutherford said in his Old English he is simply saying that so long as he has Christ it is sweet. Whether Christ comes with a rod (affliction, tough times) or with a crown (blessings, abundance, good times) it is still Christ who is there—and therefore it is sweet. To drive this point home Rutherford says,“It is better to be sick, providing Christ come to the bed-side…than to enjoy health, being lusty and strong, and never visited of God.”
The question that I see the Lord of glory asking us through the ministry of Burroughs and Rutherford and indeed even through His apostle Paul is this: Am I sufficient? Do you love me so much that in trying times and in good times you can be content—all because you have me? Let us repent of our self-sufficiency and cling to the Cross of Jesus Christ and rejoice in His all-sufficiency. He is our sufficiency!