“Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:11-13
Contentment. That’s a hard word. Are you content right now? Or is there that tiny voice in the back of your mind saying “if only this, if only that?” We live in a world where marketers feed off of that voice, encouraging lack of content to promote their products. But this only leads to an unhappy, restless society that’s dominated by consumerism and jealousy. When you look around at the world today, you see a world that is filled with discontent. And that world is not limited to those who do not know Christ.
Christians struggle with contentment, just as nonbelievers do. We all have sinful natures and selfish desires. We know that we are told to be content, and when we are not, we can feel like we are a spiritual failure. One of the hard parts is that contentment is not a process that comes quickly. It has to be learned. Paul writes from prison that he has learned to be content in all circumstances. When he became a believer, was he automatically able to be content in everything? Unlikely – he specifies in his letter to the Philippians that he had to learn how to be content, relying on God’s strength to get him through pleasant and unpleasant times. Additionally, at the time that he wrote the letter to the Philippians, he was in prison! Contentment – in prison? How does that make sense?
The thing is, true contentment does not make sense. True joy does not make sense. From an earthly perspective, there was nothing in Paul’s circumstances to be content about. He was stuck in prison. One of his friends had nearly died from sickness (Philippians 2:25-27). He had to make do with writing letters instead of going to see the churches he cared so much about. And yet he was content.
So how do you learn to be content? What is the secret that Paul talks about? The answer is found in the words, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” This is a verse that is often quoted, but Paul’s original usage of the phrase is to explain that he found contentment in even the worst of circumstances through Christ’s strength. We can find contentment in our circumstances too. Instead of focusing on what you do or don’t have, focus on the saving love of Christ and your relationship with Him. As Isaiah 26:3 says, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”