Have you ever read a passage in the Bible a hundred times and realize you missed half the point? This happened to me, again, this morning. I’ve read and quoted Philippians 4:11-13 hundreds of times in my life. Here’s the passage if you’re not immediately familiar with it:
“…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 gives me strength.”
I’ve always focused on two things in this passage. First, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Second, we should be content when we’re in need—particularly since Paul wrote this passage from prison.
And that was it. Basically I thought that poor people should learn to be content. If I were to lose my job, I should be content. If I were to end up in jail, I should be content. All because Christ would give me the strength to be content.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may know I have struggled a bit with the blessings (or prosperity) I see in my own life. I’ve so often equated spirituality with poverty—or spirituality with having wealth and sacrificing it to become poor. And I intellectually know that’s not the case, that God calls us all to be generous and only some to give all they have, but the struggle has remained in my heart.
But this morning, God showed me in this passage that contentment doesn’t relate to possessions. Contentment relates to a heart attitude in spite of possessions, or in spite of a lack of possessions. Pastor Mike said it this way: “Contentment is the desire for nothing [more].” It’s holding something, or nothing, in an open hand, and being satisfied with that.
Paul says something important for me, and maybe for you as well. He says he has learned to be content—in any situation. So if you’re wealthy, and we basically all are in the US, then we must learn to be content. And if we find ourselves without, we must learn to be content.
I know God is the one who helps us learn. And I know that we should strive for contentment, just as we work our salvation, all the while knowing it is God who is at work in us. And I know that contentment, at its core, is a heart attitude relating to our ability to be satisfied with our circumstances. But above all, being content is about what Christ does for us, and in us.
I can abound because Christ gives me strength. I can do without because Christ gives me strength. Either way, it is my weakness, in both blessing and loss, that needs the strength of Christ.
Question: In what areas do you find it hard to be content?