Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.
– Philippians 4:13 ESV
Contentment – the most basic definition tells us that contentment is about being happy (satisfied) with one’s situation in life. Paul is saying in this verse that regardless of his situation or circumstance he has learned to be content, or, in any other terms, he has learned to be satisfied with his situation in life. The word here carries the idea of beings at ease with life as opposed to being in turmoil, conflict and stress. There is a certain serenity or peace that become the guardians of our heart against envy, anxiousness, exhaustion and turmoil.
There is however, a tension with such a claim because some will say that being content leads to indifference and apathy. Those who are very content lose their ambition and drive to achieve goals, being intentional and engaging in life and striving to do our best. After all if I have learned to be satisfied and content with where my life is at why change anything. But true contentment, at least biblical contentment is the very opposite – notice what Paul says in these verses:
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for 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 him who strengthens me – Philippians 4:11-13 ESV
Paul was certainly not apathetic nor was he indifferent to others or to God’s calling on his life. But learning to be content is connected with at least three key qualities according to the larger context of these verses:
1. Living with contentment is about passionately pursuing Christ (Phil. 3:8).
Notice the passion of verse 8 – “more than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I might gain Christ.” Contentment never means indifference or apathy. Believers who heave truly learned contentment are absolutely passionate in their pursuit of Christ not the stuff of this world.
2. Living with contentment is about experiencing God’s peace in the midst of anxious situations (Phil. 4:6-9).
In Philippians 4:1-4 Paul was stepping into a situation that angels fear to tread; an intense conflict between two believers. Paul was not willing to ignore this but challenged those around to help (not condemn or criticize) these two ladies find reconciliation and unity rather than allow this division to create any more collateral damage with the Body of Christ. Life is filled with stress, conflict and challenges that will either rob you of your peace and contentment or you will discover God in the midst of it. People who live with contentment do not need to hide from life but help other in the midst of it.
3. Living with contentment is about valuing people NOT my comfort and convenience (4:10, 14-16).
This may not seem like a big deal but I will tell you it is significant – people will give you a thousand reasons to complain, grumble, whine, criticize and condemn them for everything from apathy and indifference to incompetence and ignorance. We can easily blame people for our discontentment in life and ministry. They take time, energy, effort, intentionality and our resources. Satan will tempt us to see people as the problem rather than one of the greatest resources God has provided for life and ministry. People who care about us and who care about the same eternal things we do – the surpassing value of Christ, helping other find peace in the midst of real life and spreading the gospel (4:15) is an amazing journey… with others.