Background Passage: Philippians 4:4-13
We live in a world of simmering discontent fueled by politicians and talk show hosts and fanned by the extremist opinions expressed in an all-too pervasive social media. Many among us look at our life circumstances… longing for a past veiled in a mist of greatness that never was as great as we remember. Angry about a present that seems stuck in a downward spiral. Jaded about a future we anticipate with overwhelming pessimism.
We pursue what we think will bring happiness only to discover emptiness. We buy more things…incur more debt…only to suffering the anxiety of paying for it all. We move from place to place…seeking a better house, better neighborhood, better schools…rarely staying in one place long enough to develop cherished friendships. When we let circumstances define us, when life unfolds as a series of unfulfilled dreams based on unrealistic expectations, contentment remains elusive.
Such a world view is distinctly anti-Christian. That’s not to say there aren’t some real problems we must address. It is saying, however, that as Christians, our world view needs to reflect a different attitude.
Contentment, as the world defines it, finds its root in a Greek word meaning “self-sufficient” or “independence.” It is derived from an ancient Stoic philosophy that calls one to detach oneself from ones emotions, to become indifferent to the ups and downs of life.
Contentment is not complacency. We should work to better ourselves and our circumstances as God grants us the opportunity to do so. God praises hard work that is not driven by greed and selfishness. We can prepare ourselves through education and training and work to better our circumstances as long as we are submissive to God’s will. Contentment is not settling for less. It is submitting your circumstances to God and trusting in his sufficiency.
The preacher languished in a foreign prison on trumped up charges. Punished and persecuted for sharing his faith that ran counter to the government-sanctioned philosophy and religion. Far from home. Isolated from most of his friends. Facing an almost certain death sentence.
The missionary could have shaken his fist at God, angry at the situation in which he found himself, wallowing in discontent and feeling abandoned by God and friends. Yet, the preacher continued to share the gospel of Christ to the prison guards, fellow prisoners and those he could reach by letter. In the darkness of his imprisonment, he received an unexpected gift from church friends trying to relieve the burden of his circumstances.
While he certainly appreciated the support during a difficult time, the Apostle Paul used the gift as an opportunity to teach the church at Philippi about his victory over discontent.
Paul took the definition of contentment in a different direction. For the apostle, contentment was the peace one finds when living within the will and strength of God. He said, “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.”
Reading the letter today you can imagine the people holding their breath waiting for Paul to reveal the answer. The secret of contentment, Paul said, is knowing…“that I can do all things through him that gives me strength.”
That seems to me to be the key. Our ability to do anything, to overcome everything life throws our way, is predicated on our understanding that God is sufficient in all things; that within his strength, all things are possible. Contentment is that inner sense of peace that stems from our personal relationship with the Father and dependent upon our willingness to embrace his lordship. To yield control of our lives to him.
Easy words to write, but difficult to do…unless we live a focused and purposeful life. Look at Philippians 4:8-9.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
It’s a simple formula and I’m content with that.