”Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.’’ Philippians 4:11
Additional reading: 1Tim. 6:6 – 10; Heb. 13:5
This is something I must talk about. I must talk about it because it is a subject we no longer hear in the Church. Ministers have refrained from preaching it because it may add very little to their internally generated revenue. Interestingly, it is a spiritually issue, which touches God’s heart so much. And because it has been neglected over the years, Christians have increasingly become dissatisfied with what they have. We have over the years developed an insatiable hunger for riches and wealth under the guise of prosperity and many have made a shipwreck of their relationships with God.
To under God’s mindset on this subject, we must look at it from God’s perspective using the Bible as our standard and guide. Paul writing to the Philippians Church wrote: Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.’’ At this point, Apostle Paul was held up in prison in Rome. On hearing about this, the Philippians Church, which he raised, sent some provisions to him in prison through the hands of Epaphroditus, one of the pastors in the local Church. Not that Paul was not appreciative of the provisions given to him by members of the Church, rather he expressed that his satisfaction and joy was in Jesus Christ and not in material wealth.
See what he said: Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content [autarkes … self complacent, that is, contented].’’ We see Paul in verse 10 express his gratitude towards the Philippians Church for the provisions made available to him. But in the very next verse, which is verse 11, Paul made an instructive statement. Let us take a cue from verse 10: ‘‘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.’’ NLT. This statement no doubt expresses the heart of thankfulness—thank you for all your provisions—but— ‘‘For I have always learned to be content with whatever I have.’’
Was Paul not in need? He never said he was not in need. He only said he had learned contentment in want and in abundance. ‘‘I know how to live in poverty or prosperity. No matter the situation, I‘ve learned the secret of how to live when I’m full or when I’m hungry, when I have too much or when I have too little.’’(Verse 12 GW.) To have a clearer understanding of this verse, we must first of all know what it means to be content. To be content means to be self complacent. And self complacent itself means to be satisfied. Paul said that in every situation, whether in poverty or prosperity, full or when hungry, he found satisfaction. This satisfaction was not so much in his strength or ability, but more in trust or confidence in God to provide for him and, of course, do all things. Little wonder, he affirmed: ‘‘For I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength.’’ (Verse 13 NLT).
This very statement of Paul has been misapplied over the years. When Paul said: ‘‘For I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength,’’ he never said this with regards to achievements as we have been taught over the ages. Paul said this with reference to his total dependence on Jesus Christ to strengthen or enable him go through difficulties of life; be it in scarcity or supply, poverty or prosperity, sickness or in health—I can do all things—I can face all challenges of life depending on Jesus Christ.
Contentment is not a subject taught these days in the Church of Jesus Christ. I just cannot remember the last time I heard a preacher preach on this subject in the house of God. What is common in God’s house is prosperity reason being that majority of worshipers will identify with a prosperity message no matter how weak than one on contentment no matter how concise. More so, contentment has become synonymous with poverty and poverty itself has become synonymous with sin while prosperity has practically taken the place of holiness and righteousness. In fact, anyone who is seemingly doing well financially is believed to be doing well in his Christian life. On the other hand, anyone that is not handy may not be doing well in his Christian life. Against this backdrop, there is a rat race for prosperity in God’s house—no one wants to be left behind—all want to be seen to be doing well. Yet we ignore the basic essentials of the faith; holiness, righteousness, contentment, etc.
May I say this again that when Paul said he was content, he actually expressed his willingness to allow the sustaining ability of Jesus Christ rule over his life—a total dependence on Jesus to keep him no matter his status or situation. This was not an expression of one who had given up hope or that of a poor man who had come to terms with his poverty ridden state. Paul was simply saying that he would not allow what he had or did not have to determine his relationship with God. He was also saying that what he had or did not have will not be allowed to be a bench mark of excellence or failure in ministry or his Christian faith.
Do you know why Paul was content yet the Church and contentment today are strange bedfellows? This is the simple reason: ‘‘Not only those things; I reckon everything as complete loss for the sake of what is so much more valuable, the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have thrown away everything; I consisder it all as mere garbage, so that I may gain Christ.’’ (Philippians 3:8 GNB.) Paul said that for the sake of Jesus Christ, he considered everything as complete loss, for the sake of Jesus Christ he threw away everything considering them as mere garbage—waste—that he may gain Jesus Christ, whom he described as being more valuable. I do not know how many people in our time can measure up with Paul’s status then as seen in Philippians 3:3 – 6. However, those very things Paul counted as garbage—discarded waste—worthless, are the things the Church today considers as of great value while we make Jesus, whom Paul described as one of value worthless.
I have written much in this study, but I must not fail to point out Paul’s admonition to young pastor Timothy: ’’Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great value. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.’’ (1Timothy 6:6 – 11 NLT.)
This also is my admonition to you—do not join the rat race for money—earnestly believe Him for everything. Whatever He provides, appreciate with a grateful heart—learn to be content—avoid the temptation of the get rich quick syndrome, which is prevalent in today Church, then you will find wealth, life and honour (Proverbs 21:21).
Meditation: What I have or lack is not a bench mark of excellence in my Christian life. What matters most is my relationship with Jesus Christ who is of greater value than worldly possessions.
Prayer: May the knowledge of You be of greater value to me than the possessions of life. May I count all things that matter to me a complete loss for the joy of knowing You.
Questions: (1) What is contentment and what does it mean to be content? (2) What is of greater value to you in your Christian faith?