Do you understand the value of contentment? If you truly understood its value, wouldn't you be doing all you could to find it? One dictionary defines contentment as: "The state of being mentally or emotionally satisfied with things as they are." Today it is rare that we find anyone who is truly content with his or her condition in life. We live in an utterly discontent culture. This came home to me so clearly when we were at Disney World. That's right, Disney World. If there is any place on the planet where kids should be happy, content, and filled with joy, it would be Disney World. But as we walked around the park, I saw so many miserable kids. They were crying, and whining, "Why can't I have this, why can't we ride that?" I was amazed at the discontentment that I saw at Disney World. We are a discontent culture. We are discontent with what we have, we are discontent with what we look like, with who we are married to, with our vocation, with our church, and with our circumstances. Is this how it's supposed to be? If not, how can we find contentment? The Bible has much to say about the subject of contentment. Let me give you just a few examples. Notice what John the Baptizer said to these soldiers:
And some soldiers were questioning him, saying, "And what about us, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages." Luke 3:14 NASB
Wow! How many people do you know that are content with their wages? Look at what Paul told Timothy:
But godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment. 7 For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. 8 And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. 1 Timothy 6:6-8 NASB
Are there any of us who lack food and shelter? If not, we all should be content. But are we? Are we content with a place to live and food to eat? Not hardly!
Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, "I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU," Hebrews 13:5 NASB
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. Yahweh thought it so important that He included a prohibition against it along with the more abhorrent sins of murder, stealing, and adultery:
"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 or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor." Exodus 20:13-17 NASB
We may be envious of another person's house, or their wife, but livestock is not a real issue with most people, and we don't own indentured servants anymore. However, the last clause, "or anything that belongs to your neighbor," probably gets us all.
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 Yahweh is with us and will never leave us. Do you comprehend that? Yahweh 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, but 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. Yahweh gave Adam and Eve everything a human being could imagine. They had access to everything in the garden except one tree. The serpent, being a watcher, used that tree to sow the seed of discontentment in Eve's heart, which caused her to question the goodness of God. Discontentment is a serious sin that has permeated our culture. It's hard to find a truly content person.
Have you ever wondered what it takes to experience contentment in life? Most people think, "If I just had enough money, I would be content." But the fact is, most wealthy people aren't content. Rockefeller, who had a net worth of about 100 million dollars, was asked how much wealth does it take to be happy. His answer was simple: "Another million dollars. "That's human nature. Money never brings contentment. I heard someone say once that a person with six kids is certainly more content than a person with six million dollars. Why? Because a person with six million dollars wants more!
Other people think, "If I just had the right relationship, I would be content...If I could just find the person of my dreams." If you are not careful, it is easy to fall into the trap of believing that contentment is based on external-possessions, or accomplishments, or relationships. However, the Bible teaches us differently.
In Philippians 4:10-19, we find a picture of a contented man. Paul tells us that he has learned to be content in any and every situation. 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. Look at what he says:
Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. Philippians 4:11 NASB
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 content. 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 Yahweh.
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:
I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, Romans 9:1-3 NASB
Paul cared about people, but he was still content. Paul takes autarkes to a much higher level:
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. Philippians 4:12 NASB
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." 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, twenty first 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 four principles here that will help us learn contentment:
1. TRUST IN THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD.
In verse 10 Paul says:
But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. Philippians 4:10 NASB
Let me give you a little background on this verse. 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:
for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs. Philippians 4:16 NASB
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:
But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. Philippians 4:10 NASB
"I rejoiced in the Lord greatly"—the expression of their love brought him tremendous joy. "That now at last you have revived your concern for me." The word "concern" is from phroneo, which means: "your thinking concerning me." The words, "You have revived," 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 Yahweh 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 Yahweh, 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 Yahweh. 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 Yahweh wanted the Philippians to send him a gift, they would. This is not fatalism, but trust in Yahweh's providence.
What is providence? The term "providence" is found only once in the NASB, where it is used by Tertullus of the governor Felix. But the doctrine of providence is very scriptural. The theological term "providence" means nothing short of: "the universal sovereign rule of Yahweh." 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— Yahweh's governing of the natural, and extraordinary providence—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—Yahweh works without second causes:
And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, "Young man, I say to you, arise!" The dead man sat up and began to speak. And Yeshua gave him back to his mother. Luke 7:14-15 NASB
This is not natural but supernatural, and so was the Virgin birth and the parting of the Red Sea. Providence is when Yahweh 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 Yahweh 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, Yahweh 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 Yahweh 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 Yahweh controlled everything, including the sinfulness of his brothers. The story of Joseph shows us God's sovereign control through the natural events:
Then Joseph said to his brothers, "Please come closer to me." And they came closer. And he said, "I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. "Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. "For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. "God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. "Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Genesis 45:4-8 NASB
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 in Acts 8?
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. Yahweh 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 Nineveh. 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.
2. WE NEED TO LEARN TO BE SATISFIED WITH THE BASICS OF LIFE.
Verse 11 is a disclaimer on verse 10:
Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. Philippians 4:11 NASB
The Greek word for "want" 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:
But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. 1 Timothy 6:6-11 NASB
Notice what he says we are to be content with: food and covering. The Greek word for "food" is diatrophe, it means: "nourishment, that which is needed to sustain life." The Greek word for "covering" 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 from want." 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 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?
But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. 1 Timothy 6:6 NASB
The words "when accompanied" here are 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 Yahweh that results in actions that are pleasing to Him. It starts in the thinking and then moves to action. We need to meditate on the words of Yeshua until we are convinced of their truthfulness:
Then He said to them, "Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions." Luke 12:15 NASB
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.
3. WE NEED TO LEARN TO HAVE AN ETERNAL, NOT A TEMPORAL PERSPECTIVE.
We need to see the BIG picture of God's eternal kingdom and its growth. This will give us an independence from circumstances:
Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 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. Philippians 4:11-12 NASB
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 get along with humble means." The words "get along with humble means" is from 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 "live in prosperity,"which is the Greek word perisseuo, it means: "to have more than enough, prosperity."
"I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need."—the word "fulled" 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:
Keep deception and lies far from me, Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is my portion, That I not be full and deny You and say, "Who is the LORD?" Or that I not be in want and steal, And profane the name of my God. Proverbs 30:8-9 NASB
Notice, carefully, the danger of riches in verse 9. Riches can lead to apostasy! Yeshua warned of this very thing in the "Parable of the Soils" in Matthew 13. 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:
For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 NASB
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. Let me give you the fourth point.
4. BE CONCERNED FOR THE WELL BEING OF OTHERS.
We see this principle in verses 14-19. I am not going to expound on these verses, but I want to draw out this principle:
Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction. You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs. Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account. But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Yeshua. Philippians 4:14-19 NASB
If you live only for yourself, you will never be content. Contentment begins to be a reality when you have more concern about how it is with others than about how it is with you.
Most of us never experience contentment because we demand our world to be exactly the way we would like it to be—that's a curse. We want to force everything into a mold that we have made. We want our partner in life, husband or wife, to be exactly the way we expect them to be in order to fulfill our expectation, our design, our agenda. We would like our children to absolutely conform to this pre-written plan which we have ordained for them to fulfill. We would like everything in our world to fall into its perfect nitch. You'll never know contentment until you get away from the idea of designing your own agenda and lose yourself in a preoccupation with the well being of others.
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, your perspective is too temporal, or you are not concerned enough for the well being of others. Think about it!