“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.” (Philippians 4:11, 12)
This time of the year is great for sinking into the warmth of home and hearth, a soft seat and an excellent book. “Ahhh feels great, doesn’t it?” Now that is what we call “content”. All is right with the world – for a while at least. Eventually, we have to leave that blissful place and venture forth into a cold, hard and not so good world. That most often leads us to what we call “discontent”. The Apostle Paul says he learned how to be content whether it was warm and safe or bitter and dangerous. Sign me up for that lesson.
When commiserating with a brother-in-the-Lord concerning my toxic workplace, he challenged me with the above scripture. (I hate when that happens). Paul wrote those words from prison; he reminded me. And the prisons of that day didn’t have weight rooms, air-conditioning, and cable TV. They were, for the most part holes in the rocks with barely enough room to stand up straight. Although Paul’s imprisonment during the writing of this epistle was most likely in a locked down house (1:13), he was not happy there. He did not want to be there. But he came to the realization that Christ had him there for whatever reasons and for whatever seasons. In fact he declares, “I want you to know, brethren, that things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.” (1:12)
“Have the things that have happened to you at work been used by you for the furtherance of the gospel?” inquired my dear brother. “Have you learned how to be abased, and how to abound, how to be full or hungry, to have and have not, as a witness to your coworkers? (I need to get me a new brother) No. My answer is – no. “Then you need to learn to be content,” he said. (Grrrr)
I’m just kidding with the Grrrr’s, “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” (Proverbs 27:17) Brothers and sisters in the Lord who hold us accountable and give us correction and direction are invaluable.
Of learning contentment, the Apostle Paul tells us the key: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (4:13) In an overarching sense, our discontent in life comes from the fact that this world is not our home, and we are but pilgrims passing through. (see Hebrews 11:13-16) In the smaller daily living out of that, we face the hair-pulling, teeth-gritting, stress-causing frustrations of dysfunctional families, communities, workplaces and you name it. These things capture our attention and waylay our focus. In Christ, through Christ, we can find contentment within the big picture by knowing He has secured our future. In the smaller picture, though perhaps the most difficult to deal with, we can understand and accept that our daily life is about His agenda, not ours, not someone else’s. The surrender of our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, our circumstances and happenstances, allows His strength to calm us and refocus us – and enable us to be content.
So, let me ask you, have you learned to be content in whatever state you find yourself? No? Then you need to learn to be content. (I know, I know, Grrrr)