Last Sunday I delivered a lesson to the youth members of our church. It’s about Contentment based on Philippians 4:10–13.
Here’s the transcript:
Contentment is a mental or emotional state of satisfaction. Drawn from being at peace in one’s Situation, body, and mind. A disposition of having accepted one’s situation. A feeling synonymous with happiness.
The pursuit of contentment is an important topic. Discussed through many philosophical and religious schools across diverse cultures, generations, and geographies.
Buddha said, “Health is the most precious gain and contentment the greatest wealth”.
John Stuart Mill, a British philosopher, wrote, “I have learned to seek my happiness by limiting my desires, rather than in attempting to satisfy them.”
In Philippians 4:10–13, Paul also talks about the same topic. He said,
“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
A dictionary defines discontentment as longing for something better than the present situation. It is unhappiness caused by the failure of one’s hopes, desires, and expectations.
Are you discontented with your life right now? It may be a failure in the entrance exam of the university you are eyeing for. Longtime friendships that have gone cold. Material possessions that you cannot afford. We all have our fair share of discontentment.
In philosophy and other religious doctrines, contentment is the result of restricted desires. Paul’s approach is different. His definition of contentment is to find joy whatever the situation is. In lacking or plenty. In success or disappointments. It means we can pursue our desires, but whether we get it or not we’re to be content.
The word Paul used for “content” in Greek is Autarkeia. It means “to suffice, be sufficient, self-sufficient, having all they need within”. This word is also used by the Stoics of his day.
Stoicism is a philosophy of personal ethics. It educates by its system of logic and views on the natural world. It flourished throughout the Roman and Greek world until the 3rd century AD. Stoics believed the path to happiness is accepting this moment as it presents itself. Not allowing our desire for pleasure or our fear of pain to take control of our lives.
In their book, the way to achieve this is by developing a state of mind that let them feel self-sufficient. Their goal was to break the natural human tendency to depend on things and people. They actually believed that they could get to the place where nothing is essential.
One of the great stoics, Epictetus wrote:
“Begin with a cup or a household utensil;
if it breaks, say, ‘I don’t care’…
If you go on long enough and if you try hard enough,
you will come to a state when you can watch your nearest and dearest suffer and die, and say, ‘I don’t care.’”
It is certain this is not the contentment Paul is referring to. While it’s true that being content means we’re not dominated by our circumstance. It doesn’t mean that it is a result of indifference, numbness, or disconnectedness either. On contrary, Paul’s joy came from his total dependence on a Person, who is Jesus Christ.
Being dependent on God means we allow Him to forge us in any way He desires because He alone is enough. Contentment is not a gift nor an inborn ability. It is learned through experience. Paul got acquainted with contentment through the circumstances God brought his way. Eventually, he became an expert of being independent of external circumstances.
The difference between Stoicism and Christianity is the person they depend on. Stoics depended on himself to get through life. His willpower, his work, his strength. While Paul on behalf of Christianity, depended on Christ.
“I can do all this.” is the philosophy of a self-made man. But Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
People are prone to seek substitutes in their search for contentment. But substitutes will always fall short of the goal. Mankind cannot do all things through money, education, nor power — even when combined. Only through Jesus Christ could we do all things. Paul’s contentment was established in a Person, not in circumstances.
To highlight the main points:
- Contentment doesn’t mean complacency nor desiring nothing. Though in prison, Paul was not content with doing nothing and going nowhere. His desire was to travel and preach to places where the gospel has never heard before. None of that suggests complacency.
- Contentment is learned. Paul said, “I have learned,” twice in Philippians 4:10–13. The difficulties and tribulations Paul experienced had progressed him from affliction to hope. (and according to him in Romans 5:1-) It is a hope that did not disappoint.
- Contentment is all about total dependence in Christ. That’s what he means by saying, “I can do everything through Him who strengthens me.” Paul was an outstanding person, but like you and me, we all mess up. He needed God to work in his life as we do. The Holy Spirit resides in us. It’s the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead and ministered to Paul in prison.
Do this to help you find contentment in your life.
- Never Compare. It won’t make sense if a bird compares itself to a fish, and got frustrated because it cannot swim. Or this fish comparing itself to the bird, and saddened for its inability to fly. We are all created in a special way. Embrace who you are and what you have right now. You are what you are today for a divine reason. Comparing yourself to others will only steal your joy.
- Be Thankful. Be grateful for what you have today. You only not have a roof over your head, but also have an internet connection to read this post. Not only have clothes to wear but options which to wear on which occasion. Not only food to eat but have someone prepare it for you. Not only access to clean water but have a toilet where you can flush your thing. Majority of people living on this planet do not have those things.
- Be Humble. In John 15:5 the Lord said, “..apart from me you can do nothing.” Whatever you accomplish, acknowledge that it is not your own doing. With humility, you can have peace. Knowing the cares of tomorrow doesn’t rely on your own strength but through God’s.
I close with a story about Stephen Curry. He always asserts he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him. That includes winning championships as he desires. But a devastating loss in 2015–2016 NBA Finals made him discover the real meaning of his life verse. After they blew a historic 3–1 lead to the Cavaliers, he went straight to the locker room and opened his Bible. He flipped to Philippians 4:13 and read multiple verses before and after the text. He wants to make sure he understands the context correctly.
“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content,” he slowly read aloud. “Seriously? In whatever situation?”
A shocked Curry is in disbelief. “It doesn’t mean that I can do anything at all because of Jesus? I . . . I can’t believe it.”
It would be nice for Philippians 4:13 to be an iron-clad promise. That any believer can literally do anything because of Jesus. But the truth is even better. That any believer can find contentment in any situation because Jesus is enough. (Source)
BEFORE YOU GO…
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