Pastor David B. Curtis


The Secret of Contentment - Part 1

Philippians 4:10-12


In Philippians 4:10-20, we find a picture of a contented man. Paul tells us that he has learned to be content in any and every situation. The Bible has much to say about the subject of contentment. Let me give you just a few examples.

Luke 3:14 (NKJV) Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, "And what shall we do?" So he said to them, "Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages."
1 Timothy 6:6-8 (NKJV) Now godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 8 And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.

Are there any of us who lack food or clothing? If not, we all should be content. But are we?

Hebrews 13:5 (NKJV) Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."

The Bible not only identifies contentment as a virtue, but speaks of contentment as a command. To be content is one of the most strongly worded exhortations in Scripture. God thought it so important that He included a prohibition against it along with the more abhorrent sins of murder, stealing, and adultery.

Exodus 20:13-17 (NKJV) "You shall not murder. 14 "You shall not commit adultery. 15 "You shall not steal. 16 "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17 "You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's."

The opposite of coveting is contentment. If you're content with what you have, you won't covet what your neighbor has. We are commanded to be content with what we have; food, clothes, wages. We're to be content because God is with us and will never leave us. Do you comprehend that? God is with us! He dwells with us. Think about that for a while.

I think it would be safe to say that most people never experience contentment. Most Christians don't know contentment. We are a very discontent generation, and it seems the more we have the less content we are. We are commanded to be content. We are called to be satisfied, to say, "I have enough." Most of us don't experience this, and I'm afraid we don't see the seriousness of it.

Discontentment is questioning the goodness of God. The very first temptation in the history of mankind was the temptation to be discontent. God gave Adam and Eve everything a human being could imagine. They had access to everything in the garden except one tree. Satan used that tree to sow the seed of discontentment in Eve's heart. He got her to question the goodness of God. Discontentment is a serious sin that has permeated our culture. It's hard to find a truly contented person.

In our text here in Philippians 4, we see a man who is content. We can learn a lot from Paul about contentment.

Paul's primary intent of these verses is to express his gratitude to the Philippians for the financial gift they had sent him. But beneath the surface of the expression of thanksgiving we see a picture of a contented man. In Philippians 4:9, Paul is our example of spiritual stability, and here we see he is also an example of contentment. Look at what he says:

Philippians 4:11 (NKJV) Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:

Paul tells us here that he learned contentment. It wasn't something that he always had, he learned it. The word "content" is from the Greek word autarkes. It means: "to be self-sufficient, to be satisfied, to have enough." It indicates a certain independence, a lack of necessity of aid or help, to be contained. It was used in extra-biblical Greek for a person who supported himself without anyone's aid. Paul is saying, "I've learned to be independent of external circumstances. I've learned to be self-sufficient." Paul was totally independent of man because he was totally dependent upon God, as we'll see in verse 13.

Self-sufficiency had been made a virtue in Greek culture by the Stoics. Autarkeia , self-sufficiency, was the highest aim of Stoic ethics; by it the Stoics meant: "a state of mind in which man was absolutely independent of all things and of all people." They proposed to reach that state by a certain pathway of the mind. They proposed to eliminate all desire. The Stocis rightly believed that contentment did not consist in possessing much but in wanting little, "If you want to make a man happy," they said, "add not to his possessions, but take away from his desires." Socrates was once asked who was the wealthiest man. He answered, "He who is content with least, for autarkeia is nature's wealth." The Stoics believed that the only way to be content was to abolish all desire until a man had come to the stage where nothing and no one were essential to him.

They proposed to eliminate all emotion until a man had come to a stage when he did not care what happened either to himself or to anyone else. Epictetus said, "Begin with a cup or a household utensil; if it breaks, say, 'I don't care.' Go on to a horse or pet dog; if anything happens to it, say, 'I don't care.' Go on to yourself, and if you are hurt or injured in any way, say, 'I don't care.' If you go on long enough, and if you try hard enough, you will come to a stage when you can watch your nearest and dearest suffer and die, and say, 'I don't care.'" The Stoic aim was to abolish every feeling of the human heart.

This is not what Paul is talking about. When he talks about contentment, he may use the same word that the Stoics used but he means something very different. He does not mean passionlessness, carelessness, and he does not mean indifference. He was deeply compassionate, he cared greatly.

Romans 9:1-3 (NKJV) I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh,

He cared about people, but he was still content. Paul takes autarkes to a much higher level.

Philippians 4:12 (NKJV) I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

The word "learned" is from the Greek word mueo. Mueo is a technical verb used in the initiatory rites of the pagan mystery religions. Literally it means: "I have been initiated" or "I have learned the secret." The NASB translates it this way:

Philippians 4:12 (NASB) I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.

Paul borrows this word and says, "I have learned the secret of contentment." He was a satisfied man, he had enough, he was content. He had learned the secret of contentment. In this passage, he shares with us what he has learned about being content. In the midst of thanking the Philippians for their gift, he gives us some principles of contentment.

We, twentieth century American Christians, desperately need to learn these principles. Can you say, "I'm content" no matter what circumstances you are in? Are you a satisfied person? Do you have enough? If not, then let's study this passage and see if we can learn some principles that will help us to be content in any circumstance. I think we can see five principles here that will help us learn contentment.


Let me give you a little background on verse 10. Paul had founded this church about 12 years previously. After founding the church, he left Philippi and went to Thessalonica. While he was in Thessalonica, the Philippians sent him a financial gift.

Philippians 4:16 (NKJV) For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities.

He left Macedonia for Asia and they sent him another gift. But now it had been about 10 years since they sent their last gift to him. For 10 years he had heard nothing from the Philippians. Think about that. Paul had a very close and loving relationship with these people, and he had not heard from them in 10 years. Now after 10 years, they sent him another financial gift.

Philippians 4:10 (NKJV) But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity.

"I rejoiced in the Lord greatly." The expression of their love brought him tremendous joy. "That now at the last your care for me has flourished again." The word "care" is from phroneo, which means: "your thinking concerning me." The words"flourished again," come from the Greek word, anathallo, which is a horticultural word. It denotes plants and flowers blooming again.

Was this meant to be some sort of rebuke, "Now at last?" Is he saying, "It's about time you sent me some expression of your love?" I don't think so. He says, "You surely did care." The word "care" is from phroneo, which means: "you were thinking about me, you were concerned." He says, "but you lacked opportunity." Paul is saying, "It's alright, I understand that you didn't have an opportunity. I know that you were concerned about me." Point: Paul was content, even though he hadn't heard from them for a long time, because he trusted in the providence of God. He could do without and be content because he knew God was in control of the circumstances.

Paul didn't panic and try to manipulate people, there was no turning of the screws to get things from people. He didn't send out prayer letters to the Philippians asking for support. He was sure that God, in due time, would order the circumstances so his needs would be met. He knew that the times and seasons and opportunities of life are controlled by a sovereign God. Until you learn that, you will never be content. Until you come to the place in your life that you understand that God is sovereign and is ordering everything for His own holy purposes and is working all things after the counsel of His own will, you will always be discontent, because you'll try to control everything in your life, and you'll be frustrated when you can't.

Paul is content, and it's built on the fact that if he lacked, it was because God had not given an opportunity. Paul knew that if God wanted the Philippians to send him a gift, they would. This is not fatalism, but trust in God's providence.

What is Providence? The term "providence" is not found in the Scripture, but the doctrine of providence is very scriptural. The theological term "providence" means nothing short of: "the universal sovereign rule of God." Providence is the preserving and governing of all his creatures and all their actions.

Charles Hodge said, "The external world, rational and irrational creatures, things great and small, ordinary and extraordinary, are equally and always under the control of God."

There are two ways in which God works in the world; ordinary providence - God's governing of the natural, and extraordinary providence - miracles.

The nature of miracles: A distinction is usually made between ordinary providence and extraordinary providence. In ordinary providence, God works through second causes in strict accordance with the laws of nature, though He may vary the results by different combinations. But in extraordinary providence, He works immediately or without the mediation of second causes in their ordinary operation. McPhersons says, "A miracle is something done without recourse to the ordinary means of production, a result called forth directly by the first cause without the mediation, at least in the usual way, of second causes." The distinctive thing in the miraculous deed is that it results from the exercise of the supernatural power of God. And this means, of course, that it is not brought about by secondary causes that operate according to the laws of nature. If it were, it would not be supernatural (above nature), that is, it would not be a miracle.

A miracle has no natural explanation - God works without second causes.

Luke 7:14-15 (NKJV) Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said, "Young man, I say to you, arise." 15 So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother.

This is not natural but supernatural, and so was the Virgin birth and the parting of the Red Sea.

Exodus 14:21 (NKJV) Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea into dry land, and the waters were divided.

Providence is when God takes all of the diverse elements of the natural and orchestrates them to accomplish his purpose.

Which seems more difficult to you? (This is speaking humanly, of course, because God is omnipotent, which means: "He can do anything and He can do anything as easily as He can do anything else.") To me, providence seems much more difficult than a miracle. In providence, God takes a million different circumstances and arranges them to accomplish His will.

When you come to understand that a sovereign God is not only sovereign by supernatural intervention, but He is also sovereign by natural orchestration, you'll have confidence and contentment.

Paul knew that if God wanted the Philippians to send him a gift, they would. This is not fatalism, but trust in God's providence.

Joseph was content in the midst of his trials, because he trusted in God's providence. He knew that God controlled everything, including the sinfulness of his brothers. The story of Joseph shows us God's sovereign control through the natural events.

Genesis 45:4-8 (NKJV) And Joseph said to his brothers, "Please come near to me." So they came near. Then he said: "I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 "But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 "For these two years the famine has been in the land, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. 7 "And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 8 "So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.

How did God sent Joseph to Egypt? Did God come to Joseph and say, "Joseph, go to Egypt?" Or did he miraculously transport Joseph to Egypt, as he did Philip?

Acts 8:39 (NKJV) Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing.

No! He did it through a series of natural events (His brother's hatred, sold into slavery, Potiphar's wife attempts to seduce him, put into prison, promoted to Prime Minister of Egypt, a famine in Israel). These are all natural events, all of which were planned and controlled by God. God also controls every single event in your life and the life of ever person that ever existed. Don't think about that too long!

In the case of Jonah, God could have supernaturally transported him to Ninavah. But instead, he used a natural storm and a natural fish to accomplish his purpose. We also see God's providential control in the stories of Ruth and Ester.

Paul trusted in God's providence and was content. You'll never know contentment until you come to trust that a sovereign God is ordering every circumstance for your good and His glory. As long as you feel that things are out of control and you've got to get a hold of them and make them happen, you've got a problem. We should work as hard as we can and be content that God is in control of the results.

So, the first thing we need to learn in order to be content is to; 1. Trust in the providence of God.


Verse 11 is a disclaimer on verse 10.

Philippians 4:11 (NKJV) Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:

The Greek word for "need" is husteresis, which means: "lack." Paul is saying, "I don't lack anything." Paul was content with very little. He was a prisoner, a content one. It didn't matter that he was chained to a Roman soldier, he was content. Look at what he told Timothy about contentment:

1 Timothy 6:6-11 (NKJV) Now godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 8 And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. 11 But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.

Notice what he says we are to be content with; food and clothing. The Greek word for "food" is diatrophe, it means: "nourishment, that which is needed to sustain life." The Greek word for "clothing" is skepasma, it means: "covering, it is a broad term which may include the idea of shelter." Are you content with the basics of life? I know that none of you lack these things.

This is tough for our culture, we're not content with little or much. We are far, far beyond food and clothing. We eat for entertainment, and we possess every kind of gadget imaginable, and still we need more! We're like the Disney's Little Mermaid who sings, "I've got gadgets and gizmos a plenty, I've got who's its and what's its galore, you want thing-a-mabobs? I've got twenty, but who cares, no big deal, I want more!" We've got it all, but we want more!

We have developed a concept of life that says, the whole of life is a process of man meeting his needs. Where does that come from? Freud, humanism, which says our existence is to satisfy ourselves, there is no God. And everyone is out to meet his own deeds. The big problem is that we don't know what our needs are. It should be clear that we are way beyond food and clothing. Our culture is defining our needs.

Paul had learned to be content with little, just the basics of life. He was telling the Philippians that he didn't have any needs, "Not that I speak in regard to need." He was satisfied, content. Paul would make a lousy televangelist.

Paul says, "I have learned." The word he uses for "learned" is manthano, it means: "to learn under discipline, to learn by experience." Contentment didn't come automatically, he had to learn it through the experiences of life.

If we are going to have contentment, we must learn it, it doesn't come naturally. Our culture produces discontentment. Do you understand that the purpose of all advertisement is to produce discontentment? It is geared to create a need that you didn't know you had, so you will go out and buy what you don't need with money that you don't have. The goal of TV producers is not to put programs on to entertain you, the goal of TV producers is to make you buy something. So, the primary issue on TV is the commercials, and the programs are only to get you there so you can see the commercials. And if the program doesn't get you there to see the commercials, the program is canceled.

We must learn to distinguish between our needs and our greeds. We live in a society where our needs exceed our wants. Because of the high pressure of commercials, I am now realizing that I need things that I don't even want.

Christianity follows the world, and comes up with the, "health, wealth, prosperity gospel," and says, "We all need to be rich, we all need to be successful."

Paul knew that the chief end of man was not to meet his needs, but to glorify God. We must reject the mentality that God is some kind of "need meeting genie."

How can we as Christians, in the middle of a very materialistic society, learn to be content with the basics of life? How can we learn to be satisfied with little or much? It all starts in our thinking! We saw this in Philippians 4:8, we must learn to think right. Most Christians think that they would be happy if they only had more money. How much more? Does money buy happiness?

1 Timothy 6:6 (NKJV) Now godliness with contentment is great gain.

The word "with" here is meta, and can be translated, "godliness which leads to contentment." The only way that a child of God will can be content is if they are godly. Godliness is a heart fixed on God that results in actions that are pleasing to God. It starts in the thinking and then moves to action.

We need to meditate on the words of Jesus until we are convinced of their truthfulness.

Luke 12:15 (NKJV) And He said to them, "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses."

We must learn the truth of this if we are ever going to be content. Life does not consist in the abundance of the things we possess!

We will never be content until we have learned to trust in the providence of God, and learn to be satisfied with the basics of life.


We need to see the BIG picture of God's eternal kingdom and its growth. This will give us an independence from circumstances.

Philippians 4:11b-12 (NKJV)...I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

Paul is saying that he is independent of circumstances. He is content, no matter what happens. The number one thief of contentment is undesirable circumstances.

Paul says, "I know how to be abased." The word "abased" is the Greek word tapeinoo, it means: "humbled, to get along with humble things." He knew how to do without food, clothes, shelter, and physical comforts. He also knew how to "abound,"which is the Greek word perisseuo, it means: "to have more than enough, prosperity."

"I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need." The word "full" is chortazo, it was used of foddering animals. It means: "to have plenty to eat." The word "hungry" is peinao, it means: "to go without food."

Martin Lloyd Jones, writing on this text said:

Can I be abased without feeling a sense of grudge, or without being worried, or without being anxious? Can I suffer the need of food and clothing, can I be abased in my profession or office or work, can I somehow or another be put down and still remain in spirit exactly as I was before! What a difficult thing this is, to take a second place, to be hurt, to be insulted, to suffer physical pain - to know how to be abased, how to be hungry, how to suffer need in some respect. One of the greatest tasks in life is to discover how to suffer any or all of those things without feeling a sense of grudge, without complaint or annoyance or bitterness of spirit, to discover how not to be worried or anxious. Paul tells us that he has learned how to do that. He had experienced every kind of trial and tribulation and yet he is unaffected by them.
Then take the other side. "I know how to abound," says Paul, "I know how to be full." What a difficult thing this is. How difficult it is for the wealthy person not to feel complete independence of God. When we are rich and can arrange and manipulate everything, we tend to forget God. Most of us remember Him when we are down. When we are in need, we begin to pray, but, when we have everything we need, how easy it is to forget God. I leave it to you to decide which is the more difficult. What Paul says is that in either of these positions, he is perfectly free. Poverty does not get him down, riches do not carry him away and make him lose his hold. He says that he is not dependent upon either, that he is self-sufficient in this sense, that his life is not controlled by these things, that he is what he is apart from them.

Paul knew how to be wealthy, and he knew how to be poor - both of which have their difficulties.

Proverbs 30:8-9 (NKJV) Remove falsehood and lies far from me; Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food allotted to me; 9 Lest I be full and deny You, And say, "Who is the LORD?" Or lest I be poor and steal, And profane the name of my God.

Notice, carefully, the danger of riches in verse 9. Riches can lead to apostasy! Jesus warned of this very thing in the parable of the soils:

Matthew 13:22 (NKJV) "Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.

You might have trouble believing it, but being rich has its problems.

Paul was never a victim of his circumstances because he had an eternal perspective. He focused not on the temporal and its struggles but on the eternal and its rewards.

2 Corinthians 4:17-18 (NKJV) For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

If Paul viewed his afflictions as light (stoning, beaten with rods, whipped), what are ours? The physical is temporary, but the service we do for Christ is eternal.

Paul knew contentment because he: trusted in the providence of God, was satisfied with the basics of life, and he had an eternal perspective.

How about you? Are you content? If you are not, you must not be: trusting in the providence of God, satisfied with the basics of life, or your perspective is too temporal. Think about it!

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