The Singular Secret to Contentment
I will be honest, when I read the stories in Acts about Christians selling all they have to provide for one another, I normally don’t think it applies to me. I interpret it as a necessity of their day, which doesn’t really apply to my context in which most people I know have their needs fully met. This excuse of mine is no longer valid, if it ever was before.
The health impact of the COVID-19 virus is devastating and scary. At the same time, the economic impact of this crisis is going to affect an even greater number of people. You may not know someone who caught the virus and is fighting to recover. You will know someone who has lost their job or a significant amount of their wages due to this. Perhaps this person is you.
As believers in Christ, we are not immune to our attitudes rising and falling with the stock market, exceptionally happy one minute and despondent the next. In a way, it is encouraging to know we are not the first to experience hardships. It’s uplifting when we can go to the Scriptures and see how believers from centuries past have responded to trials. I think of Paul and the Philippians. When he wrote the letter to the Philippians, Paul is in prison…again. At the same time, the Philippians are surrounded by enemies, their church is tearing itself apart in rivalries, and they have many false teachers attempting to deceive their people. How do they and Paul respond to the trials they are in? Philippians 4:10-20 shows us how, in the midst of unthinkable adversity, they responded with contentment and generosity.
First, let’s look at Paul. In verses 11-13, we see Paul is not tremendously swayed by his situation. Remember, he’s in a dark, cold, damp prison cell. The smell is unbearable, the illnesses are perpetual, and the sentence is indefinite, but we see he is content. How is this possible? He says he’s learned the secret. He knows how to be content in any circumstance. Whether he has nothing, like in that moment, or whether he has abundance, he has learned to be content.
We oftentimes think being content when life is abundant is easy and then difficult when facing hunger. But really, it’s always difficult. We are hardly ever content with what we have or the situation we are in. Our problem, the same one Paul has learned the antidote to, is we are trying to find our hope and joy in the things we have, when we should be finding our hope in Christ. We attempt to be self-sufficient when we should be God-sufficient.
We attempt to be self-sufficient when we should be God-sufficient
Paul says those famous words, of which we typically only look at the first half, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” It was not Paul’s high tolerance for hardship that delivered him from the bondage of bitterness, but it was his union with Christ. He was perpetually strengthened by the fact he had been shown unmerited favor from God and, because of his union with the crucified and risen Savior, he was a very rich man indeed. And the Lord was faithful to continue to provide for him in unexpected ways.
This brings us to the Philippians. We see in verses 10 and 14-18, the God has consistently used the Philippians to provide for Paul. When no other churches helped him, the Philippians faithfully gave so Paul’s needs would be met and so he could focus on the mission. Even with all of their own hardships going on in Philippi, they kept their gaze on others and the mission of God. They didn’t resort to hoarding, but were generous when times were most uncertain. Paul tells them he is grateful for their gift, but not because he wanted a present. He is pleased because he knows God is pleased with their sacrifice. He is thankful this gift is evidence the Philippians are maturing. They too are growing in their contentment because of their union with Christ Jesus.
As we navigate this season, my prayer is for all of us to see we have been eternally united with Christ. He will not leave us nor forsake us. We are His people and, as verse 19 shows us, He will provide for our needs. It may not be in the way we expected, but we can count on Him providing for us. It’s a sure thing. We can be generous in the midst of great uncertainty. God can use us to provide for those around us who need help. That store of supplies in your home is not yours, it is the Lord’s. We can share what we have. We can call a neighbor to see if they need groceries. We can even surrender a portion of our emergency fund to help a brother or sister pay bills until they secure their next job.
Let’s be a church who treasures our union with Christ more than our possessions, finding true contentment in Him. Let’s be a church that gives generously because our King Jesus has generously poured out His life for us on the cross. Our generosity towards others cannot and will not deplete God’s resources as He continues to faithfully provide for us. As we cling to that truth, we trust that God will bring about what Paul prayed for as he concluded our passage, “To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.”