Scripture Text – Philippians 4:10-23
Contentment is neither complacency, nor is it a false peace based on ignorance. The complacent believer is unconcerned about others, whether personally or situationally, while the contented Christian wants to share his blessings compassionately. Contentment is not escape from a battle, but rather an abiding peace and confidence in the midst of a battle. “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.” – Philippians 4:11. Two words in that verse are vitally and especially important – “learned and content.”
The word learned is a verb that means “learned by and through experience.” Paul’s spiritual contentment was not something he had immediately received after he was saved. He had to go through many difficult experiences of life in order to learn how to be content. The word content actually means “contained.” It is a description of a person whose resources are within themselves so that they does not have to depend on substitutes externally. The Greek word means “self-sufficient” and was a favorite word of the stoic philosophers. But the Christian is not sufficient in himself; he is sufficient in Christ. Because Christ lives within us, we have all the adequacies necessary for the demands of this life.
We’re going to continue to cover the rest of the three wonderful spiritual resources that Paul names which help to make us adequate and give us contentment.
The Unfailing Power of God
Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:11-13.
Paul is quick to let his friends know that he is not complaining! It’s not a matter of happiness with the Apostle, rather his joy does not depend on circumstances or things; his joy comes from something deeper, something apart from either poverty or prosperity. Most of us have learned how to “be abased,” because when difficulties come we immediately run to the Lord! But not many have learned how “to abound.” Prosperity has done more damage to believers than has adversity. “I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing.” – Revelation 3:17.
The word “learned” in verse 12 is not the same as “learned” in verse 11. Learned in verse twelve is translated in the King James Version as “instructed” and in the original means “initiated into the secret.” This word was used by the pagan religions with reference to their “inner secrets.” So in essence through trial and testing, Paul was “initiated” into the wonderful secret of contentment in spite of poverty or prosperity. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” in verse 13 is Paul’s way of saying it was the power of Christ within him that gave him spiritual contentment.
All of nature depends on hidden resources. The great trees send their roots down into the earth to draw up water and minerals. Rivers have their sources in the snow-capped mountains. The most important part of a tree is the part you cannot see, the root system, and the most important part of the Christian’s life is the part that only God sees. Unless we draw on the deep resources of God by faith, we fail against the pressures of life. Paul depended on the power of Christ at work in his life (see Philippians 1:6, 21; 2:12–13; 3:10). “I can—through Christ!” was Paul’s motto, and it can be our motto too.
“I am ready for anything through the strength of the One who lives within me,” is the way J.B. Phillips translates verse 13. The Living Bible (Paraphrased) puts it this way: “I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power.” No matter which translation you prefer, they all say the same thing: the Christian has all the power within that he needs to be adequate for the demands of life. We need only release this power by faith.
For many years, Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China, worked hard and felt that he was trusting Christ to meet his needs, but somehow he had no joy or liberty in his ministry. Then a letter from a friend opened his eyes to the adequacy of Christ:
“It is not by trusting my own faithfulness, but by looking away to the Faithful One!” his friend wrote.
This was a turning point in his life. Moment by moment, he drew on the power of Christ for every responsibility of the day, and Christ’s power carried him through.
Jesus teaches this same lesson in the sermon concerning the vine and branches in John 15. He is the Vine; we are the branches. A branch is good only for bearing fruit; otherwise you may as well burn it. The branch does not bear fruit through its own self-effort, but by drawing on the life of the Vine. “Without Me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5. As the believer maintains his communion with Christ, the power of God is there to see him through. “I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency.” – Philippians 4:13 (AMP).
The overruling providence of God and the unfailing power of God are two spiritual resources on which we can draw that we might be adequate for the tasks of life. But there is a third resource.
To Be Continued