True Contentment

Bible Reading: Philippians 4:10-23

Philippians 4:10-13, “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.  Not that I am speaking of being in need, for 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 strengthens me.”

Discontentment makes rich men poor, while contentment makes poor men rich.”

True contentment is a precious state of heart and mind.  A person is content when they are satisfied with their lot in life.  When that person needs nothing else to be satisfied.  When that person needs no change in status.  When that person needs no change in circumstances.  The key element in our definition is “satisfied.”  Being content does not mean that a person will not attempt to change or improve his situation, it just means that he is not agitated or grumbling or doing things apart from trusting in God and depending on His grace and being thankful to Him.  They are satisfied with God’s provision in Christ.  They are satisfied with God’s direction and providence, even when it leads to unexpected things.  As someone has said, “A contented man is one who enjoys the scenery along the detours.”  We might say that such a person is “happy in Jesus.”  Are you happy in Jesus?  Are you satisfied and content in that this very day?

We tend to think that true contentment is had in having the right set of circumstances.  But the Apostle Paul had learned to be content in whatever circumstances he was in (Philippians 4:11).  The context of the verse is a gift that the Philippians had sent to him.  He was very thankful for the gift, but he used the reception of the gift to speak to this most important matter, finding contentment in Christ.  He went on to explain how he had learned to be content, whether in humble means or in prosperity, or whether going hungry or poor.

We tend to an “if only” way of thinking about things.  We are prone to it in the flesh.  The world caters to and encourages this approach to life (1 John 2:15-16).  It is the nature of sin to be seldom satisfied and always wanting more (1 Timothy 6:9-10).  The if only way of thinking supposes that happiness (and contentment) lies in the if only provision of something or some different set of circumstances.  If only I had a new car, a bigger house, a better job, a better boss, no job, no boss, a better church, a better pastor, a new location, more freedom, less of a belly, a McDonald’s hamburger, etc.  If only I won the lottery, then I would be content.  If only didn’t have to go through this trial.  If only people would treat me with respect.  There are far too many if onlys to list.  They nag at us suggesting that we are on the verge of finding true happiness, if only.  It is not necessarily wrong to pursue or possess some of the things in this list, the problem lies in the thinking that true contentment can be found in them.  True contentment is something God wants us to experience, but it is not sourced in things or circumstances.  He refuses to allow us to experience true contentment in anything else but Him, because He created us for the purpose of knowing Him and finding joy and contentment in Him.

Paul says that he learned the secret of being content in any and all circumstances (Philippians 4:12). So, what’s the secret?  Verse 13.  And we could read the verse this way…according to the context—I can do all things…by way of being content in any and all circumstances… through Him who strengthens me.”  Note that this is something that Paul learned.  So, it is something to be learned.  Much as a child needs eventually to be weaned from mama’s milk, so that it can find the true sustenance that it will ultimately need, so we need to be weaned from the worldly ways that work against the true and lasting contentment that can be had in God alone (Psalm 131).

How did he learn?  We have one example where God worked to instruct Paul in that learning process (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).  Note verse 10…”Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, with, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”  Our circumstances are used by God in this learning process.  They are God’s way of direction is to the sole means by which we can find true and lasting contentment—and that is in Jesus.

William Cowper was a contemporary and friend of John Newton, the ex-slave-ship-captain who became a pastor, the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace.”  William was the most popular poet of his day, writing poems of nature, poems that had an anti-slavery theme, and many poems that were themed in Christ and eventually became hymns.  He wrote the hymn “There is a Fountain.”  William Cowper was also a little troubled in his life.  He had loved his cousin and wanted to marry her, but her father refused the union.  He was distraught.  In his later years, he sometimes lacked assurance with regards to his faith.  He experienced fits of depression and insanity.  Three times he tried to commit suicide.  He was institutionalized, but then cared for by John Newton and others.  He wrote a poem he entitled “Contentment”:


Fierce passions discompose the mind,
As tempests vex the sea;
But calm content and peace we find,
When, Lord, we turn to thee.

In vain by reason and by rule,
We try to bend the will;
For none, but in the Saviour’s school,
Can learn the heav’nly skill.

Since at his feet my soul has sat,
His gracious words to hear;
Contented with my present state,
I cast, on him, my care.

Art thou a sinner, soul? he said,
Then how canst thou complain?
How light thy troubles here, if weighed
With everlasting pain!

If thou of murmuring wouldst be cured,
Compare thy griefs with mine;
Think what my love for thee endured,
And thou wilt not repine.

‘Tis I appoint thy daily lot,
And I do all things well:
Thou soon shalt leave this wretched spot,
And rise with me to dwell.

In life my grace shall strength supply,
Proportioned to thy day;
At death thou still shalt find me nigh,
To wipe thy tears away.

Thus I who once my wretched days,
In vain repinings spent;
Taught in my Saviour’s school of grace,
Have learned to be content.

Author: looking2jesus13

Having served as pastor at Lewis and Clark Bible Church, in Astoria, Oregon, for almost three decades, my wife’s cancer diagnosis led to my retirement and subsequent move to Heppner to be near our two grandchildren. I divide my time between caring for Laura and working as a part time hospice chaplain and spending time with family and spoiling my chocolate lab.

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