What would be your recipe for a happy life? Paul says:
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Phil.4:11b, 12)
That sounds remarkable, but notice Paul doesn’t say he is content with the circumstances, but in the circumstances. In fact, the word ‘content’ used here literally means ‘complete’. So Paul is saying that he doesn’t get his sense of completeness from the things he owns, the food he eats, the job he does, the place he lives or the friends he has.
The secret to Paul’s content is revealed in this final passage in his letter. It comes down to two things: being confident in God’s power, and confident in God’s provision.
We can be confident in God’s power
I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (v12)
The whole of Paul’s letter sings with this confidence.
He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion (1:6)
I am confident in the Lord (2:24)
If on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you (3:15)
[The Lord Jesus] will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body (3:21)
The peace of God … will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (4:7) and so on
We need to have that confidence too, if we are to be content in every situation.
We can be confident in God’s provision
In chapter 3 Paul encourages us to be discontented with our knowledge and experience of God:
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (3:12)
But he finishes his letter by saying we should be content with whatever God – in his loving wisdom – gives us.
Whether we are wealthy or lack material things; whether we are healthy or face debilitating illness; whether we are single or married; whether we live in a free country or suffer chains like Paul – we must remain confident of one thing: God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. (v19)
That is not a guarantee that God will make us healthy, wealthy and popular, but it is a guarantee that he will meet all our needs.
Paul demonstrates this in his attitude to the gifts the Philippians have sent him. While he is delighted by their self-sacrificial giving, he doesn’t depend on their gifts to make him content. What they have done is ‘a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God’ (v18), but ‘I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances’ (v11). He knows that – whatever the circumstances – God will meet all his needs.
We need that confidence too, if we’re to be content.
Paul has taught us many things in this letter:
to remember that God always finishes the work he starts
to contend for the gospel
to look to the interests of others
to show our salvation in the way we live
to remember that only Christ can make us righteous
to set our hearts on heaven
to rejoice in the Lord
to be content in all circumstances
And to do all these things for the glory of God (v20).
[from Discipleship Explored]