|Vol. 13 No. 4 April 2011||
I have a Bible that was a gift from my parents on my sixteenth birthday. That Bible has been with me through many Bible studies at college, worship services, Sunday and Wednesday Bible classes, devotionals, personal studies, and even on mission trips in two different countries. As the years have passed, I have made notes in the margins or other blank spaces. Some of these notes refer to other verses that have related topics. Other notes are summaries, outlines, cultural or historical notes relating to the verses under discussion at a particular time.
One such outline and list of related verses stands out on the page at the end of Philippians. Paul wrote the Book of Philippians while a prisoner in Rome. At the end of the book, Paul takes time to address the generosity of the Philippian Christians toward him. In that discussion of generosity, Paul also addresses the subject of contentment.
Matthew 6:25-34 tells us not to worry. Verses like Matthew 6:33 and Philippians 4:6-7 tell us that worry can be taken care of by putting God first and turning to Him in prayer for all of our needs. Another tool to deal with worry is contentment. Consider for a moment Philippians 4:10-13.
But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
Verse 10 encourages Christians to have confidence in providence. Paul writes, praising the church at Philippi for their gifts to him. The text indicates that the Philippian brethren had sent money to Paul in the past by a messenger (Philippians 2:25). For a period of time they were unable to help more because their messenger was not available (Philippians 2:26-30). Paul credits God’s care and provision for their ability to send help to him once again. We, too, must have faith in God’s providence to help us when we need it.
Verse 11 promotes satisfaction with little. Paul was writing this letter from prison, yet stated that he was content. In 2 Corinthians 11:24-30, Paul lists the torments he endured for Christ. Through all these trials, he could still say that he was content. The word translated content in Philippians 4:10 appears nowhere else in the New Testament. However, another word in our New Testament carries a similar meaning. This word is translated eight times as “be content,” “be enough,” is sufficient and “it sufficeth” (Matthew 5:29; Luke 3:14; John 6:7; John 14:8; 2 Corinthians 12:9; 1 Timothy 6:8; Hebrews 13:5; 3 John 10). Whether we have many material things or few material things, we need to be satisfied. We should not spend our lives pursuing more for the sake of having more. Instead, we should surround ourselves with godliness and contentment (another form of the word found in Philippians 4:11). First Timothy 6:6 tells us that this combination will bring us gain.
Verse 12 instructs Christians to separate contentment from circumstances. Paul stated he could have much or do without, but still have enough. The material things of this world and the people around us should not determine our contentment. Hebrews 13:5 instructs us to be satisfied with what we have because God “will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” Colossians 3:1-3 tells us that when we belong to Christ, our focus should be on spiritual things. Second Corinthians 4:17-18 informs us that the difficult things of the world last for a short while and pale in comparison to the glories of eternity with God. When we depend on God instead of things of the world, we can truly say that what we have is enough.
Verse 13 ties all these thoughts together. How do we trust God’s providence in our lives? How can we be satisfied with little? How do we separate our satisfaction with what we have from the circumstances that surround us? The answer to all these questions is Jesus. Our strength and ability to say we have enough comes from Christ.
After Paul addresses this issue of contentment, he once again thanks the Philippian church for their help. He then tells the brethren, in verse 19, that God would supply “all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Notice the supplies from God are mentioned after praise for sacrificial giving and instructions on how to be content. We will be most satisfied with our lives, have happiness and peace when we lean on Christ and realize true contentment requires confidence in providence, satisfaction with little, independence from circumstances, and sacrificial giving to God.