I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me. Phil. 4:11-13
It seems to me, the majority of discontentment is relational. A coach doesn’t play your kid. A boss doesn’t recognize your contributions. A romance is elusive. Your marriage becomes stale. A friend takes you for granted.
Not coincidentally, Paul’s relationship with the believers in Philippi was the context for his words on contentedness.
Back it up a bit to verse 10. Paul indicates that some time had passed since the Philippians previous gifts of support and this occasion. It made him happy to know that they did, in fact, care about him. He knew they had been prevented somehow from showing it in a tangible way. His apparent relief gives you the sense, though, that he may have questioned their concern at some point.
And who could blame him? His experience hadn’t given him any reason to expect other people to meet his needs.
I wonder if Paul ever wanted to quit. He would have this awesome experience preaching and leading people to Christ, and then when he was walking down the street feeling good about that, people would start throwing rocks at his head. He’d start a church and then get word that someone had come in right behind him and taught something completely different. And the people would listen to those false teachings. He would listen to God’s call to go and preach the gospel, and then he’d get arrested, or put on trial, or put on a ship with sailors who couldn’t even land the thing without wrecking it. Why didn’t he burn out? Why didn’t he throw his hands up in the air and shout, “OK, God, I QUIT! I can’t handle these people anymore!”
How in the world did he remain content?
Here’s how: in Philippians 1:21, Paul wrote,“Living is Christ and dying is gain.” He understood that there is one thing that life is really all about, and that’s Jesus. It wasn’t about his own wants and earthly comfort or ease of life, and it didn’t depend on how other people acted.
And then he wrote, “But even if I am poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you” (Phil. 2:17) and “I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Even if there was nothing in those earthly relationships for Paul, he would rejoice and find strength in the power of Christ.
So he didn’t get discontent about his life when it wasn’t fun or when it didn’t feel good. He didn’t burn out when people tried to kill him or put him in jail. He didn’t decide it was too much when the people he had led to Christ fell back into their old ways, and acted badly, and started listening to false teachings. He just kept going. He kept pouring himself out, content to live his life doing God’s will.
We will never find contentment until we learn to stop expecting other people to give it to us. Living is not found in a coach, a boss, a date, a spouse, or a friend…living is Christ.