What if a prisoner wrote a book about being content and having true joy? Would you buy it? Would you believe it? These are actually not hypothetical questions. The apostle Paul was a prisoner, poor and with no place to go, when he wrote the book of Philippians. He was in prison in Rome, and the church of Philippi sent money to him there and several times before, during his missionary adventures. Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians to help them out with a few issues and also to thank them for caring for him, but what is striking is that he explicitly tells them he does not need the money to be content. In fact, he tells them no matter what place he is in, he is content. Philippians 4:11 – “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”
In “whatever situation.” What a statement. I feel like when the Internet goes out for five minutes, I can’t be content. Our Florida Gators just lost their first homecoming game since 1988. So many people were downright upset, but I don’t think Jesus mentioned football once before He left the earth (or at any point in His lifetime, for that matter). What’s worse is that, even when things are going great, we always want more! The shopaholic always needs more new clothes. When your favorite team wins, they need to win more — if they win a championship, they need to do it again! Seriously, though, I have a 24-inch flatscreen, and it slightly hurts when I see a 32-inch in a store for just a little bit more money. Obviously, God designed us to have wants and needs, but it’s not the ‘stuff’ that is supposed to keep us satisfied (which is why we want more and need a bigger amount to attain that feeling again). The reality is that being content & consumerism have a hard time fitting into the same category. This is easy to understand, but hard to live out. That’s why God promises to always be with us (Hebrews 13:5).
Look at what Paul says in the next couple of verses: “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” God is where true contentment comes from. He is not just some creator who is distant from us. Scripture reminds us that He is our father (Philippians 4:20), and it is only in a deep, invested relationship with Him that we will be truly content. And this is not because of how important we are, but because of who He is. So let God “supply every need of yours according to His riches”(v. 19). You may not get a new car or that dress you’ve had your eye on, but you will get eternal love from an eternal Father that eternally satisfies.
If you decide to rewind and read through Philippians, take note that the theme is joy, which is mentioned by Paul many times throughout the letter. As you read, you’ll notice that joy is crushed when all we care about is ourselves. That’s why Paul tells us to consider others better than ourselves in chapter two. What better example is there than the One who gave Himself up for us? Is Jesus not a man of joy (John 15:11)? When we stop buying into Satan’s lie that life is all about “me-me-me”, it will be easier for us to get to know our Heavenly Father better each day and see what He is doing in the world. Is there anything more joyful than that? Here are some verses:
John 15:11 – “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
Philippians 3:7-9 – “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—…”
Hebrews 13:5 – “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'”