“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it” (1 Timothy 6:6-7 NIV).
Do you remember discussions in grade school about what you wanted to be when you grew up? I never knew how to respond, I usually came up with something that sounded cool just to satisfy the teacher asking. Maybe I did not have high aspirations. I was never one who knew exactly what I wanted to do from age 5 and pursued it until it was achieved.
One famous motivational statement I remember being used a lot when I was a child was, “You can be anything you want to be.” This sounded awesome at the time! You mean, I can be an astronaut, NBA player, or even the President? According to my 3rd-grade teacher, yes…
When I got older, I quickly realized this statement was a load of garbage. There are huge factors at play as to whether someone has the opportunities or skill to achieve whatever they want along with the scarcity of some jobs that only have a few openings. If EVERY kid wanted to be the President of the United States, just simple math can assure you this is impossible.
I believe this statement was used with good intentions. You don’t want to tell kids they can’t be what they want to be, but I think it could have been said in a less misleading way. It’s important to encourage kids to pursue their dreams, to take the right steps to get there, and to share success stories of people who overcame tremendous odds to achieve their goals.
One of the many verses in the Bible I feel is frequently misleading and often misused by Christians is Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (KJV). It’s easy to read this verse and think, “Wait a minute, I have accepted Jesus in my heart, which means I can do ANYTHING, indeed ALL things! This is awesome! I’m going to ____ (fill in the blank with: apply to that school, pursue that job, learn that sport, pursue a relationship, play the lottery, ignore the doctor’s advice, any other extreme response without praying).”
When reading the Bible, context is extremely important!
Let’s take a look at what Paul was saying in Philippians 4 leading up to this verse:
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for 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. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13 NIV).
The Greek word used here for contentment is autarkes (αὐτάρκεια). In the Greek ethics of the time, this contentment was regarded as the essence of all virtues. It described the cultivated attitude of the wise person, who had become independent of all things and all people, relying on himself, because of his innate resources, or on the lot given to him by the gods. This doctrine was ‘that man should be sufficient unto himself for all things, and able, by the power of his own will, to resist the force of circumstances.1
What is interesting here is that Paul, who knew the Greek language and the culture, is referring to something that was the ideal self-serving virtue of the time, in relation to his relationship with Jesus.
I can do all THIS, meaning contentment (autarkes), is what Paul was referring to as the secret of contentment!
JESUS helps us find contentment in our situation regardless of what we have.
Content is defined as “satisfied with what one is or has” (dictionary.com). This feeling is determined by our attitude, not circumstance. Being content is a choice. Contentment is not determined by money or socioeconomic status. Contentment does not mean you are always in a state of ecstasy during bad times, but you can be content knowing that God is in control.
Paul’s attitude here was predetermined. He did not wait for a bad situation to determine his contentment. He knew Jesus and that was enough.
Now I would agree that we can DO anything if Jesus gives us the strength! This is determined by His timing and direction, His calling and equipping. However, in the context of Philippians, it’s important to look at it in the light of contentment regardless of circumstance!
It takes discernment to know what God is calling you to do. If God’s hand is on it, you cannot fail! But you also cannot name it and claim success without God’s input!
We can get so caught up with what we don’t have, that we don’t value what we do have. It’s harder in America to be content because of what we are exposed to daily. We need to remember to be in control of our contentment —that does not rely on our circumstances.
I leave you a quick story:
Leaning on his fence one day, a devout Quaker was watching a new neighbor move in next door. After all kinds of modern appliances, electronic gadgets, plush furniture, and costly wall hangings had been carried in, the onlooker called over, “If you find you’re lacking anything, neighbor, let me know and I’ll show you how to live without it.” (source unknown)
Discerning Reflection: What am I not content about RIGHT NOW in my life? What am I pursuing that may not be of God? Is Jesus truly enough for me regardless of my circumstances?
Prayer: Lord, help me find strength and contentment in you, help me not pursue the glamour that the world has to offer in order for me to be content. Help me be content in every and all circumstances. I can be content in all things through God who gives me strength! Amen.
1- Peter Thomas O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), 521.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on discerning-dad.com.
Featured Image by Laura Cleffmann