I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content. (Philippians 4:11)
The 17th century Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs penned this profound phrase that relates to this important lesson learned by the apostle Paul: “the rare jewel of Christian contentment.” I think you would agree that it is a rare jewel indeed!
There are really only two options for the Christian when it comes to living life: it can either be lived in a state of contentment . . . or in a state of complaining. The people of God chose the latter after they had been miraculously delivered from their cruel bondage in Egypt. If you read through Chapters 16 and 17 of the book of Exodus, you will discover more than a dozen occasions when the Israelites lived their newly-found life of freedom in a state of complaining, not contentment. To be sure, “the rare jewel” was extremely rare among those people!
You may be wondering, “Should we always be contented, regardless of the situation we are currently facing?” The answer, of course, is YES! But it is also important to understand what Paul was not saying in today’s verse. When he said he had learned to be content in whatever set of circumstances he was facing, he was not saying he was complacent. Contentment does not mean complacency. By every means necessary, we are to strive to better everything and everyone in our lives. Yet we are to be content throughout the process.
Look at it this way; Paul was content in whatever state he was in. But do you think he was ever satisfied with the relationship he had with Jesus? Of course not! Paul said that he was “straining” toward the goal of godliness (Philippians 3:13) and that it would be “better by far” to die and be with Jesus (Philippians 1:23). Paul continually desired a deeper, more devoted experience and expression of his relationship with his Lord. He did not complain about the relationship he had with the Lord, but make no mistake, he was always and in every way doing everything within his power to get more and more of it. And so should we!
One final point: Paul teaches us that contentment is gained in the school of life and must be learned. It is indeed a hard lesson to learn! Our sinful nature leads us to live a life of complaining, rather than contentment. But as God conforms us to the image and likeness of His beloved Son, the Spirit leads us to live a life of contentment.
To be content is to acknowledge God’s right to grant to us abundance or scarcity, health or sickness, sorrow or joy, all the days of our lives. When we grant this right to God—as Job did, saying, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10)—we will rise above a life of complaining and find ourselves in possession of that rare jewel of contentment.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!