“10 How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. 11 Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” — Philippians 4:10-13
As we conclude this book in our Prison Letters series, I find it fitting that the last topic of discussion to the church in Philippi is focused on contentment. Here is a man, imprisoned and isolated, teaching on how to have contentment in the midst of a crisis.
Our culture would define Contentment as a feeling of happiness or satisfaction; a satisfaction rooted in having our “needs” adequately met. In our minds that may mean a roof over our heads, food in our bellies, clothes on our backs, or decent transportation. The list, however, becomes exhaustive dependent upon what it takes to “satisfy” a person.
However, Paul makes an interesting observation about contentment. He said he learned to be content with “whatever he had”-with much or with nothing and he learned to be content in every situation-good or bad.
What Paul is teaching us is contentment has nothing to do with your material possessions or the circumstances that surround you, contentment is knowing Christ. Paul was declaring: I am content with little as long as I have Jesus. I am content with much as long as I have Jesus. I am content in good times as long as I have Jesus and I am content in difficulty as long as I have Jesus.
The common denominator in learning contentment begins with knowing God and trusting in His provision. Author William Barcley wrote that contentment comes from knowing God and delighting in His sovereign goodness and fatherly care.
The key is vs. 13: “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”
Paul states that he knew how to live on almost nothing and with everything. Each of these states requires a certain amount of grace and discipline. Knowing how to live under both conditions requires us to trust in God for strength, wisdom, and grace in different ways. It would be easy having little to drift into self-dependency or with much to trust in our resources.
We tend to think that contentment means having more. I read an article recently that stated that 70% of lottery winners end up bankrupt in just a few years after receiving a large financial windfall. Why? More doesn’t always satisfy us. Perfect conditions don’t always satisfy us.
Basically, what Paul is saying that he learned to be content by filtering whatever he had or whatever circumstances he was facing through His relationship with Christ. I can do everything (live in poverty, live in abundance, live in freedom, live in captivity) through Christ. He will give me the strength to do it.