LEARNING CONTENTMENT

I have heard that Nelson Rockefeller was once asked, “How much money does it take to make a person happy?” His response was, “just a little bit more.” This captures the predicament of the fallen human heart. We are tempted to think that we will be happy with just a little bit more than what we have. Of course there is nothing wrong with wanting more. What is wrong is thinking that your circumstances (having more), is what makes you happy. The Apostle Paul knew better and he instructs us to know better as well. He writes in Philippians 4:10-13:

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 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.

There are four things to learn about contentment in this passage. First, contentment is attainable. It is not true that you have to walk around this world without a contented heart. Paul says that it is attainable, but not in a passive manner. You can’t just sit around and wait for it to happen to you. Instead, you must learn contentment. This is the second thing to learn from this passage. Notice that Paul says that he has learned in whatever situation he was in to be content (v.11). The fact that he learned it meant that he wasn’t passively waiting around for it to happen to him. The third thing to learn from this passage is that contentment is not dependent upon circumstances. In verse 12, Paul says that he knows how to be content “in any and every circumstance.” Fourth, contentment is learned in dependence upon God in Jesus Christ.

In verse 13 Paul says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” This verse is often quoted out of context as if it meant that you could win a sporting event or a business deal through God who strengthens you. However, the context is speaking about the art of learning contentment. It shows us that contentment is only learned through a relationship to God in Jesus Christ. It is through the communication of the life of Christ (through the Word and sacraments) that the human soul is vivified and strengthened to contentment.