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She had lived ninety-four years, nearly seventy of those years as a widow who had raised two children as a single parent. As we gathered around her graveside with friends and family, the word that was repeatedly used about her was content. She didn’t complain, wonder, or waver—she was simply content.

Such contentment is remarkable. One Puritan writer called it a “rare jewel.” In fact, the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4 tells us that there is a “secret” to contentment. What is the secret? “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (v. 13).

Contentment comes as we live out of our real, vital, personal relationship with Jesus. That relationship is forged in our union with Jesus, and we live through Him as He strengthens us with “his energy that he powerfully works within” (Col 1:29).

When we live in and through Christ, we learn to be content materially. That’s the context of Philippians 4. Paul was in prison, and in those days, prisoners had to provide their own creature comforts, either from their own purses or the gifts and care of family and friends. So, the Philippians wanted to share in his trouble—they sent him money and other physical necessities via Epaphroditus to sustain him.

In response, Paul thanked them for their thoughtfulness. But he also wanted them to know that he was content with his material possessions: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (4:11). Whether he had plenty or little, Paul could be content with what he had.

How is that possible—to be content with one’s material possessions? Only through Christ who strengthens. Only because in Him are great riches, sustaining food, and priceless treasures that sustain the heart when the body goes without.

Indeed, we often have to learn material contentment through difficult situations. Paul was in a Roman prison for preaching the Gospel (1:12–13). Even worse, it appeared that some were using his situation to preach the Gospel out of envy and rivalry (1:15), running down Paul and his ministry in order to build themselves up.

If that were our situation, we would be frustrated and upset, far from content. Yet Paul expressed a basic contentment with his situation: “Whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed and in that I rejoice” (1:18). How could he be content when his situation seemed so dire? Only through Christ who strengthens.

Because of his real, vital, personal union with Jesus, Paul was content for eternity. He knew that to live is Christ and to die is gain (v. 21). So, his material possessions were not his ultimate gain and his situation was his final destiny; rather, the beginning, middle, and end were all Jesus. Since Paul had a vital union and communion with Christ, he could be content with all else. His destiny was to be with Jesus.

Here, then, is the secret: to be content, we must see that we have Jesus. And He is enough and all that we need. 

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From the October 2013 Issue
Oct 2013 Issue