One of the most important and yet difficult lessons we have to learn in life is the lesson of contentment. Living in a materialistically driven world where we are bombarded on a daily basis by ads telling us that we need certain products or to drive the right car in order to be happy it’s easy to be discontent. No generation of people have been more bombarded with advertisements telling us that we need to use their products in order to be content. Today we’ll consider Paul the apostle’s unique perspective on this particular issue. Paul writes to the Philippians regarding a recent gift that he had received from them and its application to the area of contentment. He writes, “I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through him who gives me strength,” (4:10-13 NIV). The last verse of this passage is one of my life verses. I have found that the Lord Jesus Christ is able to do rather remarkable things when our lives are surrendered to Him. But in the context of Paul’s writing he is not talking about overcoming insurmountable obstacles or comfort during suffering, he’s talking about being content in whatever state we find ourselves. Paul states that he had to “learn” how to be content. “Learn” means to learn through experience. Paul’s spiritual contentment was not something that he had immediately obtained after he became a child of God. In fact Paul went through many difficult experiences in his life to learn how to be content. At the point that Paul is writing this little letter to the Philippians he is an old grey haired man in Nero’s dungeon in Rome. It had cost Paul great pains to arrive at the mystery of contentment in any circumstances.
There are several things that we must learn in order to reach the understanding that Paul had as he writes from the Roman prison. First, it is very significant that we understand that God is in control of our circumstances. Paul said that he was “content whatever the circumstances”. Again Paul is not bombarded at every turn by TV ads, computer ads or billboard ads about what he needed to have in his life in order to be content. All these ads are intended to create within us a spirit of coveting and discontentment with the stuff that we already have. But Paul had learned that whatever happens we should not meet our circumstances with human self-reliance and dependence but rather we should recognize that our circumstances have been divinely bestowed in order for us to learn how to rely on the Lord God of the universe. Contentment is not an escape from the battle but it is rather experiencing abiding peace and confidence in the midst of the battle. Secondly, it’s important for us to understand that there is safety in contentment. I have never desired nor has it ever appealed to me to climb Mount Everest. Many who have had that desire and ambition have in fact lost their life pursuing what they considered to be the ultimate life adventure. There is a certain level of safety that is found in accepting the things that God is given to us and being content with those things. The third thing that I would point out from this text is that contentment enhances our enjoyment and diminishes our miseries. Paul states again in verse 12, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want,” (NIV). Paul is referring to his ability to adjust to suffering through times of great hardship and enjoying times a great affluence. How easy it is for us to worry about things that are happening next week and yet Jesus repeatedly warned us against worrying about future events. Paul is addressing here two dangers that we face living the Christian life in our world today. Those two dangers are poverty and wealth. One of the things that we see it in our world where there is so much materialism is that so many times what people own actually ends up owning them. So I think there’s a greater danger for Christians in this day living with prosperity than with adversity. But Paul had experienced both of these things and he’d learn the secret of contentment from God. I love what Warren Wiersbe writes about this passage in the Bible Exposition commentary (pages 96-97). He writes, “Paul was a thermostat. Instead of having spiritual ups and downs as the situation changed, he went right on, steadily doing his work and serving Christ. His personal references at the close of this letter indicate that he was not the victim of circumstances but the victor over circumstances: “I can accept all things” (Phil.4:11)”. Paul learned many things through the difficulties that he experienced in all his trials and tribulations. One of the greatest lessons was the lesson of contentment. Next week, Lord willing, I’d like to explore further Paul’s secret to contentment that is found in this passage. One of the things that I must say is that many Christians today have everything and yet are still discontent. What a tragedy. Paul’s ability to adapt to any circumstances should be a source of encouraging us to rejoice in the abundant blessings that God has given to each of us. We have so much and yet so many people are unhappy, discontent and many are even depressed. I think that has to do with the core of our value systems in our world where for many God (the giver of all good gifts) has been left out of the equation. Let me close with a few questions and then we’ll explore some answers next week. Are you content with any circumstances that you face? Do you have great needs, or are you discontent because you don’t have what you want? Know that it is God who is the author of all that we currently have and when we keep Him in the proper place we will find a deep contentment and joy in what God is given to us. Paul was content because he saw life from God’s point of view. Paul focused his energy and time on what he was supposed to do, not on what he thought he should have. That’s one of the big issues in our world today- everybody wants to fight for their rights. But as children of God we’re instructed to surrender our rights so that Jesus Christ will be glorified and honored in and through us.
Pastor Rich Sivo