How to be contented
In September 2016 severe storms sparked a state-wide blackout in South Australia leaving 1.67 million residents without electrical power. Supply was lost to the entire South Australian region of the National Electricity Market. As a result of the blackout the zinc smelter was shut down for several weeks. We all know about the importance of electrical power, but what about the power to be contented?
In this blogpost we look at what Paul says about being contented in Philippians 4:11-13, which finishes with the well-known verse, “I can do all this (things ESV) through Him who gives me strength” (4:13NIV). This passage shows us how to be contented in both prosperity and adversity.
Paul wrote this letter while he was under house arrest in Rome (Phil. 1:13; 4:22). It was written to the first church established in Europe in Macedonia (now Greece). The Philippians had heard that he was in prison, so they sent him a gift of money. Epaphroditus took the gift to Paul and stayed to help him. While there, he became very ill. When he was ready to go back to the church in Philippi, Paul sent this letter with him to thank the Philippians for their gift, to encourage them in the Christian faith, and to warn them about false teachers. Paul said that because of his imprisonment, the good news about Jesus was being preached more. And he wanted them to be united, humble, committed to living for Jesus Christ, and not to grumble.
Towards the end of the letter Paul says “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength” (4:11-13).
Before the passage, Paul “rejoiced greatly in the Lord” after he received the gift of money from them (4:10). He thanked God as the ultimate source of the gift. God had motivated the Philippians to give. The principle is that everything we possess is ultimately from God. God provides our financial support. God provides our employment. He repeats this thought after the passage, “my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus”. So, let’s base our joy and contentment on God and not our circumstances.
Paul was content whatever his circumstances. This means in all financial situations. He gives three examples of the extremes:
– “in need”, versus “to have plenty”,
– “well fed”, versus “hungry”, and
– “living in plenty”, versus living in “want”.
He says that he had experienced these extremes of being needy and being well off.
And then Paul says, “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength”. What is “all this”? It’s being content in all the circumstances of life. He had learned to be content no matter what his circumstances were. Paul was writing from prison. So, he’s saying that he was content in prison! The Roman jail did not provide food, money, clothes or blankets. How many prisoners are content in prison? Are we content when we are needy? Or when we are hungry?
The principle is that circumstances do not need to determine our state of mind. We can be content knowing that our situation is God’s will for us. He is in control of all that happens to us. Our security is in God’s plan for us, not in money. In fact, prosperity can be a source of discontent because the more we have, the more we want. In times of plenty we can forget about God and trust in our own resources. For example, the Rolling Stones sang a song called, “I can get no satisfaction”. So, wealth doesn’t bring contentment.
Contentment doesn’t come automatically or naturally. Paul says, “I have learned to be content” and “I have learned the secret of being content”. As he was well educated, he probably grew up in luxury, but he probably wasn’t contented then. Now he was needy, but contented. Through the tough times, Paul learnt to be content. Paul learnt this lesson from God. He leant it through Scripture and his experiences in life.
Contentment is an attitude that is free from anxiety. It’s putting things in proper priority. Paul said, “godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Tim. 6:6-8).
Contentment is the opposite of greed. “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” ‘(Heb. 13:5).
Then Paul says how he can do this, “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength” (4:13NIV).
“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (ESV, HCSB).
“I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me” (NET).
He has an extra source of power to strengthen him.
Does this mean that there was nothing that Paul couldn’t do? The Greek word translated “all things” (pas Strongs #3956) occurs twice in the previous verse – “in any and every situation (circumstance)”. That’s why the NIV translates it as “I can do all this” instead of “I can do all things”. Verse 13 explains the power behind his contentment. The “all things” means being content in both prosperity and adversity. So it doesn’t mean that a Christian can do anything.
We know that the Holy Spirit helps believers because Paul said, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness” (Rom. 8:26) and he prayed that God “may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being” (Eph. 3:16). And the reason for such divine power is “so that you may have great endurance and patience” (Col. 1:11). And Peter was “filled with the Holy Spirit” when he addressed the religious leaders after they had arrested him for preaching (Acts 4:8). And Jesus said that the Holy Spirit lives within every believer. So my translation of verse 13 is “I can do all this through the Holy Spirit who gives me strength”. God’s power through the Holy Spirit is essential for Christian living and Christian ministry.
And Paul also said that he dealt with physical problems and difficult situations with the divine power of God the Father and Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 12:9-10; 13:4). So, a Christian has power from all members of the trinity.
Lessons for us
Paul said that he was content when he had plenty. So should we. Paul also said that he was content when he was hungry and cold (like in jail). So he was also content in hardships. So should we.
Real contentment comes from God and not from our circumstances such as material possessions or physical comfort. Our circumstances will vary but God does not vary. With Christ at the center of our lives and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can be calm and confident in difficult circumstances.
Are we happy when things are good and miserable when things are bad? Don’t be a slave of your circumstances. Let’s learn how to be contented in prosperity and adversity, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Textus Receptus for Philippians 4:13 says “… through Christ who strengthens me” (NKJV). Although this appears in many New Testament manuscripts, textural scholars believe that this is a modification of the original text.
Written, May 2017