Philippians 4:12b 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.
It is often difficult for me to listen to professional athletes complain about their contracts. They negotiate and sign a contract, but then a teammate signs a higher contract a year later and suddenly the excitement fades. They suddenly feel cheated at $10 million per year. Although some athletes came from near poverty, suddenly $10 million a year is insufficient. They are no longer content with what they receive.
In fairness, however, if we are honest with ourselves, we each have tendencies to lose contentment. If your goal was to get an athletic scholarship or a new job, how long did the excitement last? Do you continue to focus on the many benefits you have, or is your focus suddenly on what you don’t have?
Have you met grateful, content people? If you spend some time chatting with them, do they have things easier? Have they gone through less struggles? The irony is that it will generally be very difficult to uncover the struggles of grateful, content people, because they choose not to focus on those things. You see, the biggest difference between content people and discontented people, is not circumstances but attitude.
Today’s scripture from Philippians 4 is powerful. In fact, I’d suggest you read all four chapters (Philippians 1-4) at some time. Together they form the letter that Paul sent to the church in Philippi. In this one letter you will find the word “joy” in its various forms 16 times. If you had to pick a few themes of this letter they would be joy, gratitude, and contentment.
10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4: 10-13)
Paul says he “learned the secret of being content”. What was it? Was it his circumstances? Well he is writing this letter from jail, where he was locked up for preaching about the resurrection of Jesus. But maybe this is just a setback for him and things were much better before. Fortunately, Paul describes his experiences in 2 Corinthians 11: 24-28. Five times he received lashes with a whip; he was beaten with a rod three times, pelted with stones once, and shipwrecked three times. He was in danger from rivers, bandits, fellow Jews and Gentiles. He often went without food and without sleep and was left cold and naked. And aside from that, he says he faced “daily the pressure of [his] concern for all the churches”.
No one in their right mind would suggest that Paul was content and filled with joy because of his circumstances. No the secret of Paul’s contentment is found in Philippians 4:13. “I can do all this through him who gives me strength”. You can read many self help books which can help you focus more on positives and this can change your perspective, but as a Christian, to see real radical change in your life, you need to draw on the strength of him who lives in you (1 John 4: 14-16). Fall in love with Jesus for the first time or once again, and allow his voice to scream louder than the noise that surrounds you today. Choose today to be thankful for Jesus, no matter the circumstances that you are in. Repent where you have sinned and ask God to bring a new joy into your life. Learn to be content in any and all situations.