Tag Archives: -Philippians 3:1

Contentment: “Whose God Is Their Belly”

Now that it is summer, I spend my Saturdays at the Des Moines Downtown Farmers’ Market, selling baked goods for my brother-in-law with Mast Family Farm. The best part of market is interacting with customers. I hope we bless them, though I am not always sure we do.

This past Saturday a frequent customer walked up to me at the pie stand. As he approached, I noticed that his shirt was bulging out over his belt. He patted this bulge rather tenderly as he neared the stand, and immediately Paul’s words flashed through my mind: “Whose god is their belly” (Phil. 3:19 NKJV).

I know, my mind isn’t always kind. But that’s the way it sometimes works. And the way the customer patted his stomach did indeed look like he was expressing devotion to his god. More importantly, the way he bought two pies and deliberated about a third suggested that his god has grown because he as been feeding it. (If you struggle with weight gain despite valiant self-control, as many do, please know you have my sympathy, not my condemnation.)

I don’t enjoy selling pies at such moments. As I said, I hope we bless most of our customers.

“Whose god is their belly.” I thought of these words again this morning in Sunday School class, when we were talking about Paul’s example of contentment. Paul said, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Phil. 4:11).

The Sunday School quarterly suggested that the kind of contentment that Paul was writing about was the kind where we “limit our desires or actions.” I think I understand what the quarterly writer meant, but I’m not sure that definition of contentment captures the full picture of Paul’s testimony.

What enabled Paul to be content in all circumstances? How did he “learn” contentment? Did he simply learn to limit his desires? Was Paul a closet Hindu, believing that the key to escaping suffering is to escape desire? I don’t think so.

I think the real secret of Paul’s contentment is found in the fact that he was devoted to the right God. In the first chapter of Philippians Paul recounts how he is in prison, and how some envious rivals are taking advantage of his imprisonment by doing some preaching of their own, hoping in their selfish ambition to add to Paul’s misery. But Paul doesn’t mind, as long as they are preaching Christ. “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” (Phil 1:18, emphasis added).

Christ was Paul’s God, and as long as Christ was being exalted, Paul was content. As long as Christ was being exalted, Paul rejoiced.Yes, and I will rejoice,” Paul continued, “for… it is my eager expectation and hope that… now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:18-21, emphasis added).

Rejoice in the Lord,” Paul told the Philippians. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” And again: “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. (Phil. 3:1; 4:4, 10-11, emphasis added).

How did Paul learn contentment? I think one way he learned contentment was through suffering. Each time Paul suffered—and he suffered a great deal indeed—each time he suffered, he grew even closer to his Lord, the one who had born the cross for him. Suffering for his Lord drew him closer to his Lord, causing him to rejoice ever more deeply and exclusively in his Lord.

Paul was not content to remain in his current state of spiritual maturity. He was pressing on to share more fully in the cross of his Lord, in order that he might also share in the resurrection of his Lord (Phil. 3:7-16). But Paul was content with his God—content with and eagerly anticipating the appearing of his Lord Jesus Christ:

Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Phil. 3:17-21, emphasis added).

When your mind is on autopilot, do you think of earthly things or heavenly things? When your hands reach out for something to pat, what god do they serve?

If you want real contentment, don’t focus on renouncing your desires. Get a real God. Rejoice in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Some of you have learned contentment in ways I still have not. How have you learned to rejoice single-heartedly in Christ? Share your insights in the comments below.


PS: For similar thoughts on how good desires are the key to overcoming evil desires, you might enjoy reading an old essay by Thomas Chalmers entitled “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” See here.


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10 Surprises about 2014’s Most Popular Bible Verses

In 2014, more people read the Bible on electronic devices than ever before. This gives us a clearer picture than ever into Bible reading habits and preferences. But are people also gaining a clearer understanding of the Bible verses that they are reading? That is harder to measure. In this post I want to share some things you may not know about the world’s most popular Bible verses.

2014’s Most Popular Bible Verses

Last month both YouVersion and Bible Gateway released data on their readers’ most popular verses for the previous year.

YouVersion has been downloaded nearly 165 million times and its readers have logged nearly 122 billion minutes reading. This almost certainly makes it the world’s most popular Bible app. Among YouVersion readers, these were the five most popular verses in 2014:

  1. Romans 12:2 – “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
  2. Philippians 4:8 – “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
  3. 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.
  4. Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
  5. Matthew 6:33 – “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

(For lots more data on YouVersion readers in 2014, see here.)

Bible Gateway logged over 1.5 billion pageviews and over 150 million unique visitors from December 2013 through November 2014. These were the  five most popular verses for Bible Gateway readers during this time period:

  1. John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
  2. Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
  3. Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
  4. Romans 8:28 – “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
  5. Psalm 23:4 – “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
         I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
         your rod and your staff,
         they comfort me.

(For lots more data on Bible Gateway readers in 2014, see here.)

One more thing: I should perhaps quote these verses in either the KJV or NIV translations, since these remain the most popular translations at least among American English readers. But I’ve stuck with the ESV here based on my own preference.

10 Surprises about These Bible Verses

Here are some surprises, big and small, about the verses listed above–one introductory surprise and 9 more based on the verses themselves.

  1. Bible reading is growing fastest in unlikely places. This first surprise isn’t specifically about the 10 verses listed above. But it is a happy surprise that will introduce these verses to many more readers. Quoting from The Huffington Post:

    Interest in using the [YouVersion] Bible App surged over the past year in several surprising places. The highest amount of growth in activity — in terms of reading, sharing, bookmarking, etc. — was found in Israel, according to YouVersion founder Bobby Gruenewald. After that came South Sudan, then the Republic of Suriname in South America, Iraq and Macedonia.

    “What’s interesting to me is that several of those countries are definitely not majority Christian,” Gruenewald told HuffPost. “And in some cases, the Bible isn’t that accessible or isn’t considered to be acceptable culturally.”

  2. “World” in Romans 12:2 might better be translated “age” and refers more directly to a Christ-less mindset or way of viewing reality than to a fashionable or immoral way of appearing or acting. When Paul wrote τῷ αἰῶνι (“this world” in ESV), he  wasn’t thinking of planet Earth, or even just of the unsaved people who surround us on this planet. The word αἰῶνι is often translated elsewhere as “age.” According to NT writers, the history of the world could be described as a series of ages. Paul speaks of a time “before the ages began” (2 Tim. 1:9), “the present evil age” (Gal. 1:4), “the end of the ages” (1 Cor. 10:11), and “the coming ages” (Eph. 2:7). The difference between “the present evil age” and “the coming ages” is the difference triggered by Christ’s first coming–his death, resurrection, and ascension to reign at God’s right hand. In Romans 12 Paul is urging us to stop living as if Christ had never come! Being “conformed to this age” can have many different expressions, from sensual living (Rom. 13:13-14) to haughty self-sufficiency (Rom. 12:3) to even legalistic righteousness as with the Jewish leaders who were among the “rulers of this age… [who] crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:6-8). Since we live between Christ’s first and second comings, we live in “the end of the ages”–a time when the old age (pre-Christ) and the coming age (after Christ’s final coming) overlap. We must continually renew our mind with the reality of Christ’s comings and then live accordingly, for this present age is about to die!
  3. “Finally” in Philippians 4:8 doesn’t necessarily indicate Paul plans to quit soon. Okay, this one is no surprise to anyone who’s ever heard a sermon. But here’s biblical data support your experience: Paul used the same word “finally” back at the start of chapter 3! (He did the same thing in 1 Thessalonians 4:1, also two chapters before the end.) In Galatians 6:17 this same word λοιπόν is translated “from now on,” and the BAGD (Bauer-Arndt-Danker-Gingrich Greek Lexicon of the New Testament) lists multiple definitions, including these which it suggests are mostly likely for its usage in Philippians: “as far as the rest is concerned, beyond that, in addition, finally” (480). So maybe Paul was just showing that he was transitioning to a new topic. Or maybe Paul really did initially plan to quit writing after Philippians 3:1, but then changed his mind. Commentators are divided on this question; we simply don’t know for sure. But we do know that we’re glad he didn’t stop the first time he wrote (or dictated) λοιπόν!

Finally… Surprise! I think I’ll end this post now and save the last seven surprises for another post! 🙂

Do you find anything else surprising about the verses that were most popular in 2014? Tell us in the comments below!


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