Paul wrote, “…I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content...I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Phil. 4:11-13).
Our culture has a “content for me” perspective. When we think of being content, we tend to think of a perfect day or perfect situation in which we could really relax and enjoy ourselves. What’s your picture or image of the perfect setting that illustrates contentment to you?
Is it sitting in a rocking chair under a porch during a rainstorm with a close friend?
Is it sitting by a fireplace reading a great book, with great coffee on a snowy day?
Is it having enough money in the bank so you can go fishing all day, every day?
It is a 67-degree sunny day on a perfect 35-mile mountain bike ride in Utah? [had to toss that in]
The word “content” here means to be self-sufficient, independent and contented with what you have. But, this kind of contentment does not end in the self-serving “content for me” that we see in our culture.
For Paul the model of contentment was Jesus. Jesus humbly served others, he counted others more important than himself, he did not leverage or exploit his divine nature to his own ends of comfort, but pursued kingdom goals of his Father, even dying on a cross (Phil. 2:3-8).
His contentment led to serving others, sacrificing for others and blessing others.
So, what did Paul mean when he said “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content”? (Phil. 4:11-13).
Did it mean he had learned how to sit by the fire reading a good book? That he was satisfied with all his material goods? No. The focus here is not on the amount or adequacy of material provisions. This idea of contentment is not just sitting with a coffee table full of snacks watching 8 hours of football on a Saturday. It carries the idea of having enough or being self-sufficient so that you can serve others, sacrifice for others and bless others.
The result of his “contentment” was that he could “do all things” (4:13) through Christ for other people. This is not just “content for me” that results in sitting around watching TV, it’s “content for you” that results in serving others. For Paul his “contentment” or his self-sufficiency was something he learned as he worked with and for others. He had learned how to move the gospel forward with much or with little. He had learned how to be “content for others” through his partnership with Jesus.
We see a similar take on contentment in 2 Cor. 9 where Paul writes,
8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency(same root word as contentment) in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 9 As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”
Here Paul points to the abounding nature of Gods’ grace that creates “all sufficiency” (contentment) so that “you may abound in every good work.”
The result of his “contentment” was that he could “abound in every good work.”
“Contentment for me” leads to a self-serving dead end.
“Contentment for you” leads to ministry for others.
How are you content?