Paul, in Philippians 4:11-13 says, “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.”
This is the same guy who also says in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28, “Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one – I am talking like a madman – with far greater labors, for more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”
I read these two passages over and over and I kept thinking, how can we take Paul’s exhortation and command to be content in our sufferings when we, as American Christians, have such a difficult time being content in a developed country where life is pretty much good to us? Think about it: we get so impatient and upset when we’re in traffic, when our Internet is down, when our coffee order takes too long, when the weather is not just perfect, when the power goes off for an hour, or when someone doesn’t answer our text within five minutes. Do we not realize just how good we have it? Do we not realize, for the most part, our daily lives with all the pressures and stress doesn’t even compare to the struggles and suffering of the majority of the world?
Yet, we’re so discontent. How do take what Paul is saying here to heart and chew on it?
As I kept reading this passage over and over again, a lightbulb came on in my head: even those professing Christians who are always bitter, grumpy, and complaining could very well be sincere Christians. In other words, there are content Christians and there are discontent Christians. Even though…
Every Christian is called to be content in every and all situations and to give thanks in every all situations. How?
Well, first, what makes a Christian a Christian is the redeeming work of Jesus on the cross alone.
Second, we need to pay attention to the words that Paul is using in his letter to the Philippians. He uses the words ‘LEARNED’ and ‘SECRET.’ Contentment is something that is learned; not something we automatically have. It’s not something we can obtain by reading a book on contentment, or by doing yoga, or by mustering enough strength to be content. It isn’t possible.
Contentment was never given to us when we became a Christian. It’s something that takes a long time to learn. It’s something we have to work hard at. But, it isn’t something we can do alone or on our own strength. Paul tells us that he learned it. He learned what it meant to be content, but what does content mean?
To be content isn’t merely happy or joyful or bubbly. To be content means to be dependent on God alone in every and all situations. I once read somewhere that said that Paul’s goal was to be as God-sufficient as God is God-sufficient. God doesn’t need us to be God or to be filled or anything. God doesn’t need us to cure loneliness because he is never lonely. He is in unity with the Trinity. God existed before all over creation. He doesn’t really need us.
When someone is God-sufficient, it means that person is totally dependent on the promises and certainty of God and what he has offered. If one is rich, then so be it. If one is poor, so be it. If one is sick, so be it. If one is healthy, so be it. If one is tired, so be it. If one is not tired, so be it. One can always rest in confidence in who God is. No matter how life is going, the content person is the person who says that God is enough and that what God has promises is also enough. After all, our life here, whether sucky or not, is so short compared to what is to come.
So, we already found out the contentment is a learned thing. But, what’s the secret to it?
That’s what we find in verse 13. It says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” While this is a popular verse for sports and such and that’s ok to a certain extent, let’s not lose focus on the fact that Christian contentment is at the heart of this verse. The secret to Christian contentment is supernatural. It has to come from Jesus alone. It cannot come from our own strength. The same power that makes us alive again is the same power that enables us to be content in every and all situations. It’s supernatural.
So, when we meet Christians who are not content, they either haven’t tapped into the power available to them through the Holy Spirit to be content or they’ve never really surrendered their lives to Jesus to begin with. We just don’t know. What we do know is that we can remind them of Paul’s words here and we can point to them how it is possible to be content in the midst of the storms of life.
*Scripture passages taken from the ESV text.