Philippians 4:11 is our theme verse regarding Christian Contentment and it appears in the context as the first of three verses which end with Paul’s “secret” to being content. It obviously isn’t a secret because he tells us that contentment does not rest in us, but in what Christ can do in us. He assured us near the beginning of his epistle that, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)
“Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” v. 11
Verses 10-19 is a discourse of how the Philippian believers supplied Paul with a gift to further his ministry. He assures them that even though it took a long time to reach him, he received it as a love gift and not because they were obliged to him. Their gift arrived late and he assured them that he was in no way offended or deprived by that. (v. 10) He assures them (v. 11a) that what he is about to tell them is not because he is in need of or asking for more frm them. He mentions three things:
In Paul’s life of ministry he has learned something important through painful trials that apply to everyone. (See some examples in II Corinthians 11:23-28.)
The lesson applies to every circumstance or trial which Paul elaborates on in the next verse.
The result of these lessons is contentment. The Greek word for content is used only here in the New Testament and it is a word used by stoic philosophers of a man who is sufficient to himself for all things; able by the power of his own will to resist the shock of circumstance. It could be taken to mean self-reliance, but Paul explains what he means in the next sentence.
“I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” v. 12
Paul isn’t spouting some philosophical or theoretical notion. His own personal experiences of humiliation, hunger, and suffering bear out his assertion. Listen to this man who has proven what he claims in the harsh reality of life:
“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. v. 13
Paul’s contentment does not come from stoical endurance or brave independence. His secret is not self-sufficiency, but all-sufficiency in Christ; it is dependence on Christ in all circumstances. The word strengtheneth in Greek consists of the basic word for power or strength with a prefix indicating the joining of this power or enabling between “Christ” and “me.” Christ working in the believer’s life is empowering, not just to produce contentment, but in accomplishing “all things.” He bears testimony to this power when he asked God to heal him of an illness and God’s answer was another trial to glorify Christ: “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” II Corinthians 12:9
Next time – Jeremiah Burrough’s definition of Christian Contentment