Phil 4:11 [READ].
Paul says, he LEARNED to be content. The word for “learned” in the Greek has two meanings. One, you learn about contentment as you are learning right now. It’s classroom learning. Or when you open your Bible. It’s book learning. This is important. But there is a second type of learning, which is equally more important. It is learning through experience.
Paul adds, he learned the SECRET of contentment. Being content in all circumstances was a secret. It was something that was previously hidden. It was a mystery. He might have read about it, but he didn’t understand how it worked practically.
How did he learn the secret of contentment? He learned throughout his life. Over time, through life’s experiences, Paul was initiated into the mystery, the secret of contentment. He may have learned about being content from reading the Old Testament as he read about the Israelites in the desert grumbling and he thought, I shouldn’t grumble. But it was just an insight, a principle at first. It wasn’t part of his life yet.
It’s like salvation. You can be in church and learn about Jesus dying on a cross and resurrecting because of your sins year after year, but one day, you learn it experientially. Salvation comes to you personally. Your eyes are opened to the truth and relevance of the cross. You now have a personal testimony. You’ve heard others share their testimony before. Now you have your own testimony. It’s no longer a distant fact that Jesus died. Or it’s not Jesus dying for someone else, but you realize, he died for me. He loves me. This is what a testimony is. Personal, experiential learning has occurred and you can share with others your story.
Paul said, he had to learn contentment. This means, contentment is NOT natural. To be content is unnatural. As sinful, fallen human beings, it is not natural to be content. Quite the opposite, it is NATURAL to be discontent, unhappy, grumbling complainers. No one had to teach my son Elijah how to be discontent. When he asks for the 10th time in a row if he can eat a second lollipop that he got from school for Halloween and I say, No, for the 10th time in the span of a minute, no one had to teach him to grumble and complain. His older brothers didn’t have to teach him, okay, Elijah, when you don’t get what you want, I want you to pout and whine and stomp up the stairs. Discontentment comes naturally. Contentment, that’s something all of us have to learn. Step one is learning at church during a sermon. Step two is learning in the classroom of life.
What was God’s initiation process in Paul’s life so that Paul could learn the secret of contentment? How did God work in order for Paul to have a testimony like this where he could say, I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am in. I have learned the secret of being content— whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. How did God change him to the point that he could testify in this way? One word – suffering.
The phrase “being content” can be translated as “being filled.” Paul being content or being filled had nothing to do with his circumstances. Whether he was well fed or hungry, he was being filled up in his spirit.
Phil 4:13 [READ]
Paul learned contentment because he found his contentment in Christ and the strength of Christ flowed into his life so that when his stomach was empty, he was still content, still filled up by Christ. Christ’s strength got him through. On the other side of the spectrum, when his stomach was full, even then, he was filled up and content, not because his stomach was full but because Christ’s strength was flowing into him and filling up his spirit.
Why is it necessary for Christ’s strength when times are good? Recall the very first converts at the church at Philippi that we read about in Acts 16. Lydia, the Asian business woman. The demon-possessed slave girl. And the Roman jailer. Lydia must have been quite successful because she had a house in Thyatira and another house in Philippi. She was converted and upon her urging, Paul stayed with her. And Lydia’s house because the home base for the church at Philippi. If you were Paul and you were a guest at Lydia’s house, I don’t think you would’ve eaten Zankou Chicken and fast food shawarma and pita bread. I bet they ate succulent lamb chops over a bed of rice with a side of roasted tomatoes and creamy hummus, like at Café Santorini in Old Town. Maybe Lydia had a personal chef. Lydia probably had a nice guest room with a comfortable bed with a pillow top.
Paul could’ve easily thought, Man, it’s nice here at Lydia’s house. Good food. Great view. Comfy bed. Cozy fellowship at a house church where everyone knows and loves each other. Why does Paul need Christ to strengthen him in this situation when things are going well? So that he doesn’t sell out. Sell out to weath. Sell out to comfort. So that he doesn’t settle for the easy road. An incredible amount of divine strength from Jesus needed to flow into Paul’s life so that Paul could find his contentment in Christ at a time when he could have easily found contentment in his circumstances.
What about us? Okay, maybe none of us are filthy rich like Lydia, but we are certainly not on the other side of the spectrum where the poor demon-possessed slave girl in Acts 16 is from. We are somewhere in the middle and I’d say the majority of us are much more on the side of Lydia than the slave girl. I don’t own two homes, but I have enough money put a roof over my head. I have money to put gas in the tank. I have money to eat whatever I want. I can’t eat Ruth Chris every night, but once in a while on a special occasion, I can go there if I really wanted to. It takes an incredible amount of strength from Jesus not to sell out or settle and be content in Christ when our physical needs are taken care of. That’s just how it is.
Phil 4:13 [READ]
The phrase “able to do all things” can be translated “I have strength.” But it is strength not so you can look good in the mirror doing bicep curls. It is “having strength, having health, having vigor IN ORDER to engage the resistance, to enter the fray with combative, confrontational force.” It is a strength to do battle.
Paul needed the strength of Christ to help him find his contentment in Christ while he lived in relative comfort and luxury at Lydia’s house. And he certainly needed the strength of Christ to get him through the battle that awaited him.
Turn with me to Acts 16:16-24 [READ].
After helping to get the church at Philippi off the ground from Lydia’s house, Paul led a demon-possessed slave girl to Christ. Prior to being healed, this slave girl was possessed by a spirit that could predict the future. And the owners of the slave girl were so angry because they used her to make money through fortune telling. So for them, the last thing they wanted was for her to be healed because this meant they no longer had a source of income. So they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them to the authorities. The chief magistrates heard what happened and they ordered that Paul and Silas be stripped and beaten with rods. And the mob that was watching joined in the beating.
After the beating, they get thrown into prison and there they met the Roman jailer. Upon orders to make sure they wouldn’t escape, Paul and Silas were taken to the INNER prison and their feet were secured in the stocks.
How did Paul go from eating gourmet lamb chops at Lydia’s house and sleeping on a comfortable pillow top to being beaten by a mob and then being thrown into an inner cell where he was likely tortured and forced to sleep in a pool of his own blood in a dark, damp prison. How did Paul do it?
Phil 4:13 – “I am able to do ALL things through Him who strengthens me.”
It would have been so much easier for Paul to stay at Lydia’s house and play it safe and teach Bible studies in the safety and comfort of her home. To be sure, in that situation, while he was a guest at Lydia’s house, God gave him strength so that he would not sell out and find his contentment in things or in relationships, but he kept his contentment in Christ. That’s not easy. I bet many of us can attest to the fact that it’s hard for us in our given context to find our daily contentment in Christ when there are so many other things competing for our attention.
For Paul, he could have stayed at Lydia’s house where it was comfortable, but to prove that his contentment was in Christ and not his circumstances, he ventured out. He took a risk. He took his private faith and made it public. He preached in a public place and that led to his public beating and his public arrest and being thrown into a public prison. Contentment in Christ is not easy to hold onto when you are living in relative comfort in the privacy of your home or within the walls of the church. Christ had to strengthen Paul while he stayed at Lydia’s house to be sure. But contentment is really put to the test when you have to suffer. Paul’s contentment in Christ was forged in a furnace of suffering.