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The Pathway to Contentment (part 2)



How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty. As you know, you Philippians were the only ones who gave me financial help when I first brought you the Good News and then traveled on from Macedonia. No other church did this. Even when I was in Thessalonica you sent help more than once. I don’t say this because I want a gift from you. Rather, I want you to receive a reward for your kindness. At the moment I have all I need—and more! I am generously supplied with the gifts you sent me with Epaphroditus. They are a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God. And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. Now all glory to God our Father forever and ever! Amen. (Philippians 4:10-20, NLT)

Paul not only claimed to be content, he argued in this passage that he learned how to be content. And it would stand to reason that if he could learn it, so can we. It has been said that experience is the best teacher. Contentment isn’t learned in the lecture hall, but in the laboratory of life. Our youth director calls them, “perspective driven experiences.” So what did Paul’s experiences reveal to him?

First, his experiences taught him that contentment does not come from external circumstances. For example, Paul penned the letter to the Philippian congregation from prison. Even though he is incarcerated, he referenced joy and rejoicing some 14 times in this very epistle.

Second, Paul’s experiences taught him that contentment does not come from material things. Everyone loves a good “rags to riches” story. Paul’s experience was in the reverse. In Philippians 3 he talks about his stellar beginning in life as a Pharisee. His resume was quite impressive. He had the right pedigree, the best education, and even went so far as to claim that he never violated the Old Testament law. Then he met Christ. His experience with Christ led him through shipwrecks, beatings, privation and poverty, as well as prison. Through all of that he learned that what he possessed was not his source of contentment. If that was true, those who have the most should be the most content. And I think we can agree, that simply isn’t true.

Finally, Paul’s experiences taught him that contentment cannot be based upon human relationships. First century prison was not like our modern day prison systems, where prisoners are provided clothing, medical care, recreation, and three square meals. Prison in the first century was simply confinement. If a prisoner was to eat, someone from the outside had to provide the food. If a prisoner needed clothing, again, someone on the outside would have to deliver the clothes. The book of Philippians is a thank you note that Paul wrote to the Church for their provision for his personal needs. But he didn’t base his contentment on their gift or their reliable support. In fact, he refused to even give them credit for their gifts. He encouraged them by telling them that their support was a critical part of their Christian growth and maturity.

Like Paul, we find contentment in and through the experiences of everyday life. May we have the grace to see it as clearly as Paul did!

Categories : Contentment

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