Christ is All We Need
I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation...because I can do all things through Christ Jesus, who gives me strength.'
There are three things about his statement that teach us about contentment. The first is something we must learn. We are not born content. Our natural spirit is to strive to get more. The outlook from our youth is to keep looking for something new to at least temporarily titillate our senses and satisfy our desires. We are always striving for something. I think what the apostle is saying to us here is that he had learned not only to experience contentment, but that which is real contentment. The process of learning this is to learn a new definition of contentment.
I don't know how you would define contentment if you had the opportunity, but I suspect that most of us would come up with some variation of the idea that contentment is having everything you want. I don't think that is the true definition. Contentment is not having all that you want. True contentment is wanting only what you have. This is what Paul had learned. He had learned that God had created man to love people and use things. But somewhere along the course of life we have reversed that truth and learned to use people and love things. But through the years the apostle Paul had been taught by the Spirit of God that circumstances are illusive. They do not minister to the deep needs of the heart, whether having want or having abundance. The major value of life is the ability to love people and use things. This was the focus he had learned at last, to face life as it really is.
The second thing to notice is that he states clearly that poverty and wealth are equally regarded as trials. This is not the usual perspective, but again something that must be learned. We are naturally inclined to view poverty as a severe trial, but abundance as a great blessing, and are continually seeking after a state in which we have everything we want. This indicates that we really don't know how to define contentment. It is not having all you want, but wanting what you have. We are continually beset by the philosophy of the age as in the Horatio Alger story, the young man who rises from the depths of poverty and through his own efforts comes at last to an abundance, a wealthy tycoon. This is the American way. Paul says that's not the case. Both poverty and wealth are demanding extremes. Both are grievous weights to the human spirit. Both tend to twist, distort and degrade the personality. Both are trials of severe intensity and can be destructive to human life.
The third thing to notice is the secret to victory over both of these impostors:
I can do all this through him who gives me strength. This is the theme that runs through nearly every verse of this letter, a continual harking back by the apostle to that great discovery in his life when he learned that he had nothing in himself. All his background, ambition and abilities, and all that he counted as gain was really useless as far as what he could do for the cause of Christ. He learned he had nothing, was nothing, could do nothing-that it was God expressing his life that was the secret of human living. Once again he writes of a life fully adequate to meet any demand placed upon it, because in Christ it was the out-living of an indwelling life. It was practicing that confidence that whatever Jesus Christ once was in the days of his flesh, sufficient for every situation, he still is, and he is available continually to us. This is the secret the apostle sets forth here. If you are unwilling to learn the secret, you certainly will not be enjoying his contentment.
Father, what foolish attitudes I often take toward the circumstances of my life. How quickly I murmur and complain, forgetting that you are the potter and I am the clay. Teach me to rejoice, knowing that all of my circumstances were planned to be the means by which you express the adequacy of the Lord Jesus.
(a devotion by Ray Stedman)