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
Does God Want Us To Be Rich? Part 1
What Should Be Our Attitude Toward Money And Wealth?
Recently I read an article entitled, “Wisdom Of A Wealthy Achiever.” The subtitle was, “Smash The Myths Of Wealth.” It said that Proverbs promotes wealth as a benefit of wisdom, and that God was referring to wealth when He told Abraham, “I will bless you” (Gen. 12:2 NIV). From these references, the writer concluded that wealth is to be desired. Some religious figures say that God will bless those who pursue material wealth. But where do they get these attitudes about money and wealth? Let’s see what the Bible says.
Indeed, Abraham was blessed with wealth (Gen. 24:35), and Psalms and Proverbs say this of the man who reverences God: “Whatever he does prospers” (Ps. 1:3); “Blessings and prosperity will be yours” (Ps. 128:2); “The blessing of the Lord brings wealth” (Prov. 10:22).
In the Old Testament, riches were often a mark of God’s favor – for example, Job and Solomon were rich. But not all rich men were good – for example, Nabal and the King of Tyre. David wrote, “Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked” (Ps. 37:16). In the Old Testament God promised earthly material blessings – Abraham was promised the land of Canaan and many descendants; and obedient Jews were rewarded with long life, a large family, abundant crops and protection from their enemies (Dt. 6:2; 28:1-8).
In the New Testament, the Church is promised heavenly blessings (Eph. 1:3), such as: election, adoption, redemption, forgiveness of sins, sealing by the Holy Spirit, an inheritance (Eph. 1:4-14), grace (1 Cor. 16:23), peace (Phil. 4:7), and eternal life with God (Phil. 3:20-21; 1 Pet. 1:4). These blessings are imperishable. In the New Testament wealthy men are often seen as godless – for example, the rich farmer who planned to build more barns and enjoy life, and the rich man with Lazarus (Lk. 12:16-21; 16:19-31). Jesus said, “It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 19:23). But not all rich men were ungodly – for example, Joseph of Arimathea, Zacchaeus and Nicodemus.
Let’s look at passages written to the Church on this topic. In this series we will look at the positives of money and wealth and then we will look at the negatives. We will begin by looking at three key passages.
Commands For The Rich
God’s instruction to those who are already rich is: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Tim. 6:17-19). God is the source of enjoyment, not riches (6:17). He gives us money to use for good works and to help the needy (6:18). This wise use of money has eternal benefits (6:19).
Christianity doesn’t guarantee wealth (2 Cor. 8:1-15). The Macedonian churches experienced poverty, but still shared with believers in need (8:2). We don’t need to be rich to be generous. The order of giving is first, give yourself to God (8:5), then He will take care of your needs. “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt. 6:33). He will provide the necessities of life.
Jesus was the most generous person ever: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (8:9). He gave up heavenly riches to bring us spiritual wealth. Likewise, we should be willing to give up our money to help those in need.
Three principles are given: give willingly (8:12; 9:5); the size of the gift is irrelevant (8:12); the gift is to gain equality among Christians (8:13-15). Like the manna in the desert, those who had too much shared with those who didn’t have enough (Ex. 16:18). Manna couldn’t be hoarded; neither should money.
The Benefits Of Generosity
“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Cor. 9:6-8). Generosity brings spiritual blessings (9:6). We are to give cheerfully (9:7). God will supply us with the resources to share with others (9:8,10). Generosity also results in thanks and praise to God (9:11-14). Of course, God is the greatest giver and Jesus was the greatest gift (9:15). “God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).
Work For Your Food
Now let’s look at some New Testament principles related to money and wealth. Paul worked hard to support himself while preaching and teaching; even though he had the right to the support of other believers (1 Cor. 4:12, 9:6, 11-14). He warned believers in Thessalonica not to be idle. And he set an example by working night and day so he would not be a financial burden but a model for them to follow (2 Th. 3:8-9). He wrote, “While we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘Whoever does not work, should not eat.’ Yet we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and wasting time meddling in other people’s business. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we appeal to such people … get to work. Earn your own living” (2 Th. 3:10-12 nlt).
Paul also said, “Work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (1 Th. 4:11-12). As the world judges Christ by how we behave, we should support ourselves and not rely on others for the necessities of life.
Provide For Your Family
When Paul was discussing the care of widows he wrote, “If a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God … If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:4,8). We should provide for our family and relatives when they are in need so they do not have to rely on the church for necessities. It is only the church’s responsibility when the needy have no family.
Pay What You Owe
Paul said that the governing authorities are established by God. “This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (Rom. 13:6-7). When Jesus was asked whether it was right to pay taxes to Caesar, He said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Mt. 22:21). So, we should pay our taxes, fees, fines and loans. This means being honest and reliable in financial matters. Remember, when Zacchaeus came to faith he repaid those he had cheated as a tax collector (Lk. 19:8-10).
Support Christian Work
In the parable of the shrewd manager, Jesus said we should use our money and possessions so others will have eternal blessing: “Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Lk. 16:9). There are many instances in the New Testament of churches giving aid to needy churches (Acts 11:29-30; 24:17; Rom. 15:26-27; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8:1-5; 9:1-5). For example, the believers in Jerusalem were poor because of famine or persecution (Acts 8:1; 11:28). Also the church at Philippi supported Paul’s missionary work as a “partnership in the gospel” (Phil. 1:5; 4:14-18). Preachers, teachers and ministries need their needs met (1 Cor. 9:11-14). We should support Christian works and workers financially.
How Much Should We Give?
How much should we give? Ten percent? That was the taxation for Israelites in Old Testament times. The New Testament doesn’t say how much; just to be regular and generous in giving: “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made” (1 Cor. 16:2).
We are to give: according to need, so no one will be needy (Acts 2:44-45; Rom. 12:13); according to ability, “as much as they were able” (2 Cor. 8:3); and as planned, and not under compulsion (2 Cor. 9:7). Jesus is interested in our giving. He watched the crowd putting money in the temple treasury, and a widow gave “all she had to live on” (Mk. 12:41-44).That was sacrificial giving.
Attitudes Towards Money And Wealth
Thankfulness: Paul said God created certain things not to be denounced, but to be received with thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4:4-5). God gave money and possessions to be used thankfully. We should not denounce them as evil, but thank Him for them. We should worship Him, not our money and possessions.
Wisdom: If Christ is our Lord, we are His stewards. He provides our money and possessions, and we should use them wisely. In the parable of the talents, Jesus approved of a wise investment as a way to earn income (Mt. 25:27; Lk. 19:23). There is a link between the physical and spiritual, between money and heaven (Lk. 16:9). We are responsible to exercise wisdom in our use of money.
Contentment: Jesus told His disciples, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Lk. 6:20). That’s how the disciples were sent out – not wealthy. Otherwise, people would follow with the hope of becoming rich. Peter told a beggar, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Acts 3:6). Jesus and Paul were poor (2 Cor. 6:10; 8:9; 11:27). The kingdom belongs to those satisfied with having their needs met so that more money can go to God’s work.
The writer of Hebrews says, “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). When Paul warned about false teachers who were teaching because it paid well, he wrote, “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” (1 Tim. 6:6-8). Paul also wrote, “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” (Phil. 4:11-12). Because God will never abandon us, we should be content with the money and possessions we have, and the necessities of life – food, clothing and shelter.
Generosity: Jesus told His disciples to “sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Lk. 12:33-34). In 2 Corinthians 8-9 Paul encouraged generosity. Christians should share with God’s people in need, and practice hospitality (Rom. 12:13; Eph. 4:28). This means providing their daily necessities (Ti. 3:14). Also, the rich are to be generous (1 Tim. 6:18-19). This is investing in heaven. The Bible teaches that God will meet the needs of the generous (Phil. 4:19). We need to be generous with what we have. Our standard of giving is more important than our standard of living.
Spirituality: The early believers chose to be true to Jesus rather than keep their possessions: “You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions” (Heb. 10:34). Like Moses who forsook the treasures of Egypt, they valued spiritual possessions above material ones (Heb. 11:25-26). Also, they didn’t favor the rich: “As believers … don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (Jas. 2:1-4). There is no place in Christianity for this.
Constructive Aspects Of Money And Wealth
God does not want us to be rich or poor. He wants us to: work for our food; provide for our family; pay what we owe; support Christian work; and develop the attitudes of thankfulness, wisdom, contentment, generosity and spirituality with respect to money and possessions. Christ became poor and the apostles gave up money and possessions for the sake of the gospel. Jesus told His disciples to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him (Lk. 9:23). “You cannot serve both God and money” (Mt. 6:24).
So let’s be devoted to Jesus, and follow and serve Him in how we use our money and possessions.
Published, February 2007
See the next article in this series:
– Does God Want Us To Be Rich? Part 2