Acts 16:25-34 [READ].
This scene is amazing to me. Paul and Silas had just been beaten by a mob. Then, they got sent to the inner prison and probably got tortured by this Roman jailer. And while they were beaten, bruised and bleeding, what were they doing? They were praying and singing hymns to God. I imagine the other prisoners listening. I bet a hushed silence descended upon the prison. How can these men pray and sing hymns to their God at a time like this? It doesn’t make sense. Look, your God has abandoned you! If anything, you should curse him. Instead, they are praying and singing hymns. You can’t fake this. In that moment, Christ must have been so real to them. Christ must have been so present with them. The verse, the Lord is near, must have been such a reality. The strength of Christ must have been flooding their hearts in their time of weakness.
I firmly believe that Paul and Silas would have been content dying there in the prison because living is Christ and dying is gain. Their contentment was in Christ, not in their physical deliverance. The verses living is Christ and dying is gain, the surpassing value of knowing Christ, rejoice in the Lord, the Lord is near, the peace that surpasses every thought–these verses are not merely principles Paul learned about in his private study room. These are verses that Paul learned in the classroom of suffering and he passed a major midterm exam in that prison cell. For all he knew, this was his last day on earth. And he prepared for his impending death with prayer and songs of praise.
The learning was not done. Because God was not done with Paul and Silas. Think about how Paul and Silas must have grown so much in their faith in Christ when they were miraculously delivered. An earthquake, then the chains falling off and the prison doors flinging open miraculously. And most miraculous of them all, coming face to face to their tormentor, the Roman jailer. Their eyes meet and instead of revenge or anger, there is forgiveness. And through the actions of Paul and Silas, the jailer comes to faith in Christ and is saved. Think of the rejoicing that happened that night at the jailer’s home when his entire household was saved and they share a thanksgiving meal together. Think about how this experience must have been such a faith building moment in Paul’s life.
Phil 4:12-13 [READ]
This verse is so challenging to me because it was born out of Paul’s testimony. He had to learn the secret of contentment that Christ was all he needed. Circumstances come and go, but Christ never changes. Paul found his contentment in Christ in times of plenty because Christ strengthened him. AND he found his contentment in Christ in times of suffering and lack because Christ strengthened him. Paul could testify, while I was well-fed and comfortable at Lydia’s house and while I was bloodied and in pain in a prison cell, I am able to do ALL THINGS through Him who strengthens me. What a testimony!
Is Jesus your sole source of contentment? Or does your level of contentment fluctuate depending on your circumstances?
As we wrap up this book, I want to address two groups of people–the complainers and the complacent. 2 more C’s. First to the complainer, you may think, I’m doing poorly in school, if only my grades go up, I will be content. Or you may think, I’m not content in my job, if only I can get a new job, I will be content. Or I am single and lonely, if only I can get married, I will be content. Or I am married, but I am not content in my marriage, if only I could get a new spouse, I will be content. Sorry, you’re stuck on this one. Or finances are tight, if only I could make a little more money, I’d be content. Or I am not doing well spiritually, if only I could find a better church with better sermons and better brothers and sisters in Christ, then I will be content.
To be blunt, if you are a complainer, even if you change your circumstances, you are still the same you. And you bring your grumbling, complaining attitude into whatever circumstances you are in. So if your grades improve or you switch jobs or you get married or you find a better church, give it some time and you will find another set of reasons to complain. Because your contentment is determined by your circumstances. Instead of looking to improving your circumstances, look to Jesus. Seek Jesus as your ultimate source of contentment. Reread Philippians. Meditate on the Person of Christ. Ask him to change your heart so that you can rejoice always. Ask him to make you into a joyful person anywhere he puts you because the Lord is near.
Now to the spiritually complacent. I bet if you look at your life, there are not many areas where you feel weak. You don’t feel desperate for Christ’s strength because your life is manageable. And because it’s manageable, you can do life on your own without the help of Jesus. If this is you and you are complacent spiritually, then take a risk. Let your private faith become public. Get out of your comfort zone. Remember, the goal is not evangelism, or ministry, but the goal is to know Christ. Paul knew Christ so intimately because he had testimony after testimony of how he did something for Christ and Christ showed up in an incredible way.
I am not sure what Christ is going to have me do and I am not sure what Christ will have this church do in the years to come, but whatever it is, I want to say, yes to Jesus, not because I like to suffer, but because I know that my Jesus will remain very small and our Jesus will remain very small if we are unwilling to suffer for Jesus. The goal is to know Jesus. And if you want to know Jesus the way Paul knew Jesus, I don’t think we have a choice. Suffering will be part of the journey.
10 My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings…
Jesus suffered greatly, Paul suffered greatly and if we want to know Jesus the way Paul knew Jesus, we will have to suffer for Christ. The good news is that there will be sweet fellowship for those who are willing to suffer as we enter the fellowship of His sufferings.
Our contentment in Christ needs to be forged in the furnace of suffering. If we are willing to suffer for Christ and you can be content in that suffering because Christ is strengthening you during your suffering, then you can testify along with Paul,
12 I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. 13 I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.