Philippians 4:11-13Contentment does not come from our circumstances, but through an understanding of life rooted in Christ. And not only does the Bible tell us where true contentment lies, it also tells us such contentment is possible for each one of us. And it does so in no uncertain terms.
I attended high school at a small Christian school in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Near the end of each year there was an athletics banquet at which a guest was invited to address the students. At the end of my junior year our guest chose to speak about Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." The substance of the address is probably not unlike one you have heard based on this same verse: When I don't feel like I can run another stride then I remember that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. How can I have calm nerves at the end of a tight game? How can I do one more repetition? Through Christ who strengthens me.
There is no question that long distance running or converting a free throw can be difficult tasks. But unfortunately, the speaker was incorrect in employing Philippians 4:13 to make his point. Athletics can be difficult. But what is in view in this verse is far more difficult. In fact, its promise is applied to perhaps the most difficult thing any one of us may be faced with in this life: contentment.
How difficult is it to be content? You tell me ... how difficult is it? Would you characterize yourself as content? Or do you suppose that you could be content if only one or two things (or maybe three or more) were changed? How many of us are convinced that contentment would be there if only we had a bit more money, a little less stress, more of something else?
If you take care to read the entirety of Philippians 4 you will notice Paul ends this book addressing a particular personal need. Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter (1:12-14) and in such a circumstance he required the physical care of others. The Philippians had evidently responded by sending a gift to Paul through Epaphroditus (2:25-30).
This leads Paul to speak to them more directly in chapter 4:11-13, about what he had learned in general about circumstances and contentment. He tells them that they should not be misled into thinking that he rejoiced (v. 10) simply because he now had what he needed. Rather his joy and contentment were based on something else — something that always transcends whatever the circumstances of life might be. To base contentment on circumstances, Paul writes, is always deceptive.
This is precisely the point driven home in verses 11 and 12 of chapter 4. Paul emphasizes to his readers that he had known plenty of good and bad throughout his life and contentment was never found in either.
Paul knew how to be "abased", likely a reference to his financial want. It is true that Paul was often responsible for his own physical support (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:12a, 9:11-12) – a support that could hardly be characterized as luxurious. Further, he knew what it meant to be hungry and to suffer needs of various kinds (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:11, 2Corinthians 11:27). Paul's later life was not one of material prosperity. Rather every appearance is that he faced personal and financial need. And to those of every age who would believe that contentment is not possible without personal and financial success, Paul would have had every occasion to be discontented.
But, on the other hand, Paul knew good. Not only do verses 11 and 12 tell us about his lack, there also must have been times of plenty — these perhaps earlier in life. Paul writes both of having enough to get by as well as having more than enough.
It is not strange that such a range of good and bad is known to each of us. It is the universal human experience. What is foreign to the Scriptures is that anyone would believe that contentment is based on these things. The end of verse 11 is clear: "I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content."
We are taught to be content in the range of possibilities, not because of them. The Bible teaches that position, power, wealth ... these states, as sources of contentment, are fruitless. A few biblical examples are apropos. In Acts 12:21-23, we read about the awful death of King Herod. This was a man who wished to have prestige and honor above all else (v. 23). Yet there is no hint that Herod knew any contentment. Much to the contrary, the Bible portrays a family line where there was anything but peace (e.g. Mark 6).
Additionally we should consider the example of the rich young man in Matthew 19:16-30. This young man was not prepared to give up all to follow after Christ (vv. 29, 30). He rather believed that in those riches he would find peace and contentment.
Very little appears to have changed since the time of Herod and the rich young man. Many people believe that if they only have a "little more" they will be happy. So a big screen television leads to a new boat, to a new house, to a trip to Jamaica. None of these are inherently wrong, but they become so when we think that we will be content because of them. Looking for contentment in these sorts of things is like the donkey reaching for the carrot hung out before him — we think one more step, one more thing will do it, only to discover once we have it, contentment is still beyond us.
The Bible tells us very clearly that contentment comes from only one place: through our relationship with an all knowing and all controlling God. The secret Paul learned in verse 12 of Philippians 4 requires a shift in focus. We turn from looking at those parts of our lives that we would wish to change, to the loving heavenly Father who brings all into our lives for our good (Romans 8:28). Through Christ we are now children of this Father. And so through this same Savior it is possible to be content.
And that is precisely the possibility opened by verse 13. It is not the possibility of running farther, faster, it is the far greater possibility of contented living.
Are you content? The question is not whether there are circumstances about your life that you would like to change. There are certainly at least some.
The question is rather whether or not we can be content in them. Is that possible?
God says it is. Contentment is possible because of Jesus Christ: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
The Bible records a powerful statement Jesus made to His doubtful disciple, Thomas, after His resurrection: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
I believe this principle is true to anyone: We are blessed as we live by faith in God. Among the many blessings, peace (John 16:33) and satisfaction (Proverbs 19:23) are promised to those who trust in Him.
Humanly, believing something we do not see is a risky, unnatural job that takes us out of our comfort zones, but, here, Jesus teaches us a spiritual truth that brings us to a supernatural way of living.
Trusting in Jesus is not blind faith. Paul says, “Faith comes by hearing the word of God” (Romans 10:17). Jesus Christ is the eternal Word of God (John 1:1) — we trust in Him as we hear the gospel of Christ, which is the power of God to save everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). On this solid rock, we stand and shall not be moved (Psalm 62:6-7).
The foundation of our faith in Jesus is built upon the gospel’s proclamation on the deity of Christ as well as His death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 10:9). Jesus Christ is the only way, the truth, and the life through whom humans can come to God and have a personal relationship with Him (John 14:6).
So, what does it mean to trust in Jesus? There are at least three aspects we can learn from the Bible.
1. Commit Our Ways to Him (His will) Trusting in Jesus means surrendering our lives to Him. It means to trust in Him wholeheartedly even when we cannot understand and always rely upon His guidance (Proverbs 3:5-6).
Just as Jesus prays not for His will, but God’s will to be done (Luke 22:42), we are also to have this same attitude of letting sovereign God take control of our lives.
As we trust in Jesus, we become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) with a new desire to live in submission to God, no longer to gratify our fleshly desires, but to satisfy God’s will [which only Christ can accomplish through His work of redemption (Galatians 2:20)].
2. Find Rest in Him (His love) Jesus declares, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38). It is the work of regeneration by the Holy Spirit in us, producing the fruit of righteousness and transforming us into Christlikeness (Titus 3:5-7). Therefore, we can welcome the Lord’s invitation to find rest in Him, casting our burdens and cares on Him (Matthew 11:28).
The Spirit also helps in our inability to see Jesus with our physical eyes and enables us to walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7) and to live with an eternal perspective (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). Our restless pursuits of worldly things are over and now focused on God’s kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33).
Having Christ as our Good Shepherd is sufficient, we lack nothing good (Psalm 23). Trusting in Jesus means putting Him first at the center of life, which brings about a peaceful rest in our minds and souls.
3. Take Delight in Him (His promise) Through the work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, all who believe become the children of God. Trusting in Jesus means having a personal and profound relationship with the heavenly Father.
Having been set free from the bondage of sin and the punishment of death, we can truly take delight in the Lord and enjoy our relationship with Him (Psalm 37:4). We can also be sure of God’s eternal love: nothing can separate us from His love in Christ our Savior (Romans 8:38-39).
Faith in Jesus means eternal life (John 3:16) and secure salvation (Acts 16:31). Paul reminds us to put our hope in Christ not only for this life (such as for healing, wisdom, peace, joy, and earthly blessings), but also for the afterlife because of His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:19-20). This is a wonderful promise which gives hope to the dying world.
Now, even though we have not seen nor touched Jesus, we have this promise in our hearts. The reliability of a promise is not determined by what is being promised, but rather by who has promised it.
Suppose you receive a promise of blessing from the government, would you believe in the blessing or in the government? Of course, in the government who has authority to fulfill the promise.
This is the good news: Jesus Christ, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, has given us the promise of salvation. How can we not rejoice and take delight in Him?
No wonder Peter says that we can be filled with unspeakable and glorious joy as we are receiving the end result of our faith, the salvation of our souls (1 Peter 1:8-9).
Why Does This Matter? Trusting in Jesus and entrusting our lives to Him is the best decision we can make in life. Salvation is not of human efforts, but of the Spirit.
By God’s grace, we are saved through faith in Christ’s work of redemption and the Spirit’s work of regeneration. Praise be to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.