I’d venture a guess that most Christians are aware of the verse in Philippians 4:13 that says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me“. And why not? It is one of the most memorized and most significant verses in all of scripture. As a matter of fact, Biblegateway.com lists it as the number 4 most read verses in all the bible. The Gospel Coalition’s records show the same thing. What a great verse to know. How empowering, how peace-giving, how awesome in its truth. While this verse is a very rare, stand-alone doctrine builder, it is not without context. What the context is for this verse is something that i want to explore today.
The book pf Philippians is a book of thanks and rejoicing. Paul, wiring from prison, had recently been delivered a ‘care package’ by Epaphroditus. This package was a token of thanks and love from the Philippian congregation, of which Epaphroditus belonged. Word had traveled to them that Paul was imprisoned and had needs, and the congregation wanted to help meet them. Paul was the “father” of this church, having established it during his second missionary journey. You can read about this in Acts chapter 16. After having received this gift Paul writes the Epistle (letter) to the Philippian church that becomes the book of Philippians. In the closing paragraphs of that letter, Paul writes:
10 “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 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. 13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. 14 Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress. 15 Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. 16 For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. 18 Indeed I 7have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God. 19 And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. 20 Now to our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. “
In these words we see Paul thanking the church body in Philippi for sending their provisions, and at the same time, teaching them (and all of us) a valuable lesson. That lesson is this: If you have faith that God is in control, and that God has you best interest in mind – then you need to be content in the circumstances you are on. This is contentment.
We learn several things about contentment here.
- First of all, contentment is not a ‘thing’ it is a state of spirit. It is an attitude.
- Another thing we learn is that contentment is a CHOICE!
- Thirdly, contentment is something to be gained. It is something that you, by bringing yourself through understanding, prayer, and submission t God, that you can have at any stage of circumstance of your life.
- Lastly, contentment is a learned state.
Paul had stages where in his life when things were very bad. In 2 Corinthians 11:22-29, Paul tell us about some of these circumstances – three times shipwrecked, stoned, beaten, snake-bitten, thrown in jail multiple times, you name it – it happened to Paul. Yet in all those circumstances, he was able to find contentment. But remember, and praise god for it, Paul was just a man just like you and me. Paul had flesh and blood, Paul felt pain, and Paul had emotions. Do you think that when the first stone thrown at Paul struck him on the head that he immediately thought, “Wow, this is so awesome – I’m totally content!” I venture to think not.
As a matter of fact Paul showed emotions frequently, even after his conversion, and seemed to be quite animated when dealing with some of the believers in Judea in Acts 15, where it says Paul “had no small dissension and dispute with them”. In Paul’s life, what we see through his contentment is that contentment had to be gain by choice and experience. When contentment was not there, Paul had to make a choice to find contentment, and then bring himself to accept God’s provision for him in those circumstances. Sometimes for Paul, contentment did not come easy. It was something he learned he needed to do, and then had to learn how to do it.
The implications of contentment are vast and deep. Complete contentment means letting the peace of God that surpasses all understanding rule your life. It means that bigger complications in life become smaller ones. It means totally being able to give up all your circumstances to God, and simply being satisfied that He is in charge and has you back. Remembering that everything God allows us to go through will not be a bed of roses, Paul is teaching us that contentment means loving God enough to let go be faith, and allow God to sanctify every situation, even if we do not understand – ESPECIALLY when we do not understand.
If you notice, Paul starts nearly all his letters by wishing ‘grace and peace’ on his readers. The word use for ‘peace’ in those cases, means “of the Messiah’s peace – tranquil.” I think that when you understand contentment, you can understand why contentment is so often paired with God’s Grace. Without Grace, there’s be no peace or contentment.