Contentment through Christ
10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 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. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:10-13)
From verses 10 to 13, Paul explains how he has been able to be joyful and content even through difficult circumstances. Starting with verse 10, Paul first expresses his joy for the gifts provided by the church at Philippi via Epaphroditus (see Phil. 2:25). Paul historically refused any payment for his ministerial work, not wanting to be a burden to the churches. We see an example of this in 2 Thessalonians 3:7-8, “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you.” Instead of explicitly saying “thank you” for the gift, Paul focused on the character of the Philippians behind the gift, “you were concerned.” He saw that they renewed their expression of care for him; although there were some unknown circumstances that delayed this opportunity, nevertheless, Paul rejoiced greatly that this relationship was continuing.
In verse 11, Paul states clearly that the previous verse was not some hint to continue sending gifts, for he has “learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Anders explains the historical context of what it meant to be content during this time, “[Contentment] is a term apparently taken over from Stoic philosophers describing an inner spirit of freedom and discipline, the ability to conquer circumstances and situations rather than be conquered by them.” To the Stoics, to be content was through sheer will of the individual.
However, as we see in verses 12 to 13, Paul’s source of contentment was not of his own strength of will. Paul suffered many trials and tribulations, being shipwrecked, beaten, placed in prisons multiple times, and eventually was executed in Rome. However, we see his joy and contentment came solely from relying on Christ Jesus, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” Through all the difficulties that Paul experienced, Paul was able to overcome them all through the strength that the Lord provided him. The Lord was always faithful to Paul, and he realized this in every circumstance, leading to his contentment and joy.
We face many trials in our lives, especially as followers of Christ. We are called to carry a cross daily and are told by Jesus that believers will experience persecution in this life as He was persecuted. To rely on one’s own strength in this life will lead to exhaustion, anxiety and failure. Yet, if we trust in the Lord and follow His leading and will, He will provide the strength and whatever we need to overcome these trials. In the words of my favorite verse, Psalm 73:26, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, my portion forever.”
Isaac De Guzman