Philippians 4:10–13 (NKJV)
10But 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. 11Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12I 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. 13I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
There is an ancient Roman proverb, “Who is it that has the most? Is it not he who desires the least?” The proverb reminds us that our contentment and happiness are often shaped by our expectations. We imagine that we need more, deserve more, are entitled to more and so we are not content with what we already have. We set our expectations so high that they are never met and so we are never content. And our discontent reveals itself in a lack of thankfulness to others and to God. For thankfulness is an expression of contentment—an expression that the expectations we have set have been fulfilled or even exceeded.
These expectations come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Sometimes they focus on our circumstances – if I only had more money; a nicer car; a newer phone; a bigger house; a larger budget. Sometimes they focus on our relationships – if only I were married; had more friends; had a smaller family or a larger one. We can set unreasonable expectations upon our spouses, our employers and employees, our children, our friends—and so we never thank them for the meal on the table, for the folded towels in the closet, for the daily labor at the office, for the opportunity to work, for the work performed, or for the frequent sacrifices made on our behalf. “It’s his or her job to do all those things,” we say to ourselves, and so we never express thankfulness—never look at others with a twinkle in our eye and a full heart and say, “Thank you.” Our expectations are set so high that no one could ever possibly meet them. Consequently, no circumstances however favorable could contrive to make us content.
Webster defines “contentment” as, “Rest or quietness of the mind in the present condition; satisfaction which holds the mind in peace, restraining complaint, opposition, or further desire, and often implying a moderate [fitting] degree of happiness.” We see in our text today that Paul’s sense of contentment was not dependent on his circumstances – he had “learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” (12). Rather, his contentment was grounded in the empowering grace of Christ, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (13). Therefore, in whatever state we are, whether rich or poor, whether slave or free, whether male or female, whether full or hungry, we too can learn to be content. But note that word, “learn”. Paul learned contentment – this was not something that came naturally to him but that he learned through meditation on God’s promises and walking with God throughout his life.
Paul learned that what is most important in life is not our circumstances but the God who has given these circumstances to us. Let us ask ourselves, when tempted to be discontent and unthankful, “Is God sovereign? Is God in control of every event in our lives both good and bad? Has God orchestrated our circumstances as He sees fit? Has God promised in Christ to sustain me in the midst of every circumstance?” Clearly the answers to these questions are, “Yes!” And since this is the case, and since the God we serve is the same God of love who has revealed Himself in Christ, ought we not to trust Him? To rest in His good providence and be overflowing with gratitude? True contentment comes not by having high expectations or perfect circumstances but by trusting the goodness of our Heavenly Father.
So what of you? Are you content? Are you trusting in the Providence of your Heavenly Father? Or is your contentment dependent on your circumstances? Reminded of our failure to trust the Lord in any and every circumstance and our failure to be thankful, let us kneel as we are able and confess our sins in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.