By Steve Horn
I read somewhere this week that our society suffers from “inextinguishable discontent.” We are on a perpetual quest for more or better. We want a better job, a better boss, a better wage, or a better retirement plan. We want a better marriage or a better spouse. We want a better car, a better house, and a better wardrobe. Some of us just want a better golf swing. And, we live for “what’s next.” We find ourselves wishing for next weekend, or our next vacation, or our next phase of life. All the while in this quest for better and next, we miss today. We miss now. And we miss contentment. And, we learn from Paul that this is not the life worthy of the call of Christ. Consider the text.
In comparison, though, Paul addressed the Philippians that he had learned the “secret to contentment.” Just as is the case with joy, true contentment is found in Christ. Joy and contentment seem to run on parallel tracks.
Since Paul used that word, “learned,” we ask the question of the text, “What had he learned?
The Connection Between Circumstances and Contentment
Here’s the simple lesson: There really is no connection between circumstances and contentment. Look at the phrases of this text: whatever circumstances (v. 11); little/a lot (v. 12); any and all circumstances (v. 12); well fed or hungry (v. 12); abundance or need (v. 12).
In the whole of the letter Paul has already expressed this same idea in multiple ways. He has expressed his contentment even though: 1) he is in prison; 2) the Gospel is being perverted by some who preach it under false pretense; 3) he has encountered problems of fellowship in the church; 4) his past has left him empty.
There is no connection between circumstances and contentment.
A man was counseling with his pastor over what the man described as his total financial collapse. He told his pastor, “I’ve lost everything.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve lost your faith.”
“No,” the man corrected him, “I haven’t lost my faith.”
“Well, then I’m sad to hear that you’ve lost your character.”
“I didn’t say that,” he corrected. “I still have my character.”
“I’m sorry to hear that you’ve lost your salvation.”
“That’s not what I said,” the man objected. “I haven’t lost my salvation.”
“You have your faith, your character, your salvation. Seems to me,” the minister observed, “that you’ve lost none of the things that really matter.”
We haven’t either.
That’s the first lesson. Here’s the second.
The Contrast Between Self-Reliance and God-Reliance
The word that Paul used here, translated “content,” was used in the first century by the godless, pagan Stoics. They believed and taught that contentment came by becoming entirely self-sufficient. They believed that contentment came when a person became absolutely independent of all things. So, they taught their followers to eliminate all desire so that each one would say, “I don’t want.”
The contentment that Paul spoke of is nothing like that kind of contentment. Instead, Paul taught that contentment was found not in our self-reliance, but in a God-reliance. He is grateful for their gift, but not reliant on their gift. He is reliant on God. And, in this, he finds his contentment.
This is the point of verse 13. Verse 13 is not some motto to hang on the wall so that we will believe that we can do anything. Here is the reminder that we can do nothing except the things that we can do through Christ.
Corrie Ten Boom said, “If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. If you look at God you’ll be at rest.”
And that seems to me to be contentment.
Now, here is the third lesson.
The Charge Regarding Having and Giving
Paul wrote in part to thank the Philippians for their gift. Or, as one commentary put it, “Sort of.” He is genuinely thankful, but he also wants them to know that he would have been content without their gift. He recognized that the profit of their giving was to him, but also to them. The gift was a profit to Paul, a profit to them, and a place for them to learn trust in God to supply their every need.
I suspect that somebody needs to hear that today.
In our abundance or even in our need, we will always be content in giving. Giving increases contentment.
A Final Word: There is one thing that ought to leave you with feelings of discontent. If you are in sin, I pray you are discontent in that sin.
Pursue Christ! As you do, pursue the contentment that comes with a relationship to Christ.
Steve Horn is senior pastor of the First Baptist Church, Lafayette. Horn’s editorial first appeared on his blog.