"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. I can do everything through him who gives me strength." - Philippians 4:12-13
How unspeakably precious would it be to all of us to learn the secret of consistent contentment that Paul mentions in this passage! What would it be worth to you to be able to make it through a single day completely content in any and every situation? Have you ever had a day like that? Perfectly content? Especially one which held numerous challenges and reversals? Paul said he had learned the secret to maintaining that kind of contentment.
What is Christian contentment? I would define it as a settled condition of peacefulness and happiness in whatever God has willed to be our portion. It is an act of faith, of trust in the sovereignty of God and in His essential goodness for us. It is a cheerful resignation to God’s superior wisdom, His higher plans and purposes. It rests entirely on God’s character and promises. And the secret to this abiding contentment is the very thing Paul claims to have learned.
The claim to learn such a secret implies a few things about abiding contentment. First, it implies that it is possible to be a Christian, even a fruitful and growing Christian, without having learned this secret. Paul was a passionate Christian, fruitful from the very first moment of his conversion on the Damascus Road. Because of the explosive significance of Paul’s conversion, he was bitterly opposed from the very beginning of his preaching ministry. He had to be let over the Damascus wall in a basket to escape his enemies. When he came to Jerusalem, he was again opposed with grim resolution by his former cohorts, the Jewish authorities. They sought to kill him, and the church had to ship him out immediately to save his life. Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace (Acts 9:31). But what about Paul? As he learned and grew in Cilicia, he became more and more aware of the power of the Holy Spirit to produce the “fruit of the Spirit” in his heart, including peace. But he still had to learn “the secret.” This secret of abiding contentment came only through the tough lessons learned in one circumstance after another. Paul had to learn it by living it. So, secondly, the implication of Paul’s claim to learn the secret of abiding contentment is that it comes by experience… by seeing God’s faithfulness over time and in a variety of circumstances.
And what is the secret? “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” The “Him” must be Christ, as Paul said in another place, “The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength so that through me the gospel might be fully proclaimed, and all the Gentiles might hear it” (2 Tim. 4:17). So, the secret to abiding contentment is strength… a limitless supply of it, flowing from Christ to the Christian. Now it may not seem like a logical connection: strength for contentment. When we think of strength, we may think of Samson lifting the city gate with its posts and bars and carrying it up a hill. Or we may think of David’s mighty warrior, Josheb-Basshebeth, who killed eight hundred men with a spear. These are feats of immense strength. But what is the connection between strength and contentment?
"That is the strength the Lord gives us for contentment… a strength to stand firm in the truth that Christ is enough for us, that His will and provision are the best for us."
My understanding is that a Christian’s peaceful confidence in God’s provision is like a citadel of immense strategic importance, and Satan wants to besiege it with all his craft and power. The last thing Satan wants is for us to feel content, peacefully trusting in the wisdom and plans of God. So he will come after that state of mind with all his might. He will sling at us immense trials of all kinds—financial, interpersonal, spiritual, physical, emotional—all in the hopes of moving us from our citadel of security in Christ. This onslaught is so powerful that only the strength that Christ gives can enable us to stand firm under it. I am reminded of a Civil War movie I saw called “Gettysburg.” One of the key moments in that battle occurred on the second day in which the 20th Maine regiment withstood multiple assaults from Confederate soldiers. The position was utterly crucial, because the 20th Maine was defending the absolute left of the Union line. If they caved in and ran for their lives, the entire Union line could be rolled up like a carpet. So in the movie, their commanding officer, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, said to his troops, “Men, we must be stubborn today.” That is the strength the Lord gives us for contentment… a strength to stand firm in the truth that Christ is enough for us, that His will and provision are the best for us. We must be stubborn in that, fighting for contentment with the strength Christ alone can give.