Contentment

In times of distress and deprivation we turn to our Apostle as an example of one who could be content in all things;

Phi 4:11  Not that I speak according to need, for I have learned to be content in whatever state I am.
Phi 4:12  I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound. In everything and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

Certainly Paul had to endure some terrible situations and we are not be surprised to read that he describes his ministry in rather appalling terms at times;

1Co 4:9  For I think that God has set forth us last, the apostles, as it were appointed to death; for we have become a spectacle to the world and to angels and to men.

1Co 4:10  We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are honorable, but we are despised.

1Co 4:11  Even until this present hour we both hunger and thirst and are naked and are buffeted and have no certain dwelling place.

1Co 4:12  And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it;

1Co 4:13  being defamed, we entreat. We are made as the filth of the world, the off scouring of all things until now.

If you would like to read of some of the hardships Paul endured turn to 2 Cor. 11:18-33 where you find he was whipped 39 times, beaten with rods three times, stoned, shipwrecked, at sea for a night and a day, and endured many “perils”  too numerous to elaborate. Here are some other passages describing Paul’s tribulations, 1 Cor. 15:30-32, 2 Cor.1:8, 4:8-12, 6:4-5, and Romans 8:36 just to site a few.

Suffering on behalf of the Lord was not anything new as a reading of Hebrews 11:32-38 will show. There we read of the unhappy lot of the Lord’s Old Testament saints who endured terrible afflictions because of their witness and words for God. Our Lord also suffered during His walk and passion as we read in the gospel accounts.

The testimony of the Word seems clear; irrespective of time or place, if we stand for God and His Word we are bound to suffer.

Certainly Paul suffered in every sphere of human experience until the last, indeed, the very administration given to him after Israel were cast aside at the end of the book of Acts was permeated with sufferings;

Col 1:24  who now rejoice in my sufferings on your behalf, and I fill up the things lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh, on behalf of His body, which is the church;

We might never suffer like Paul did, but he warns us we will experience it;

Phi 1:29  For to you it is given on behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake,

For us who have given our hearts and lives to Christ this is not a verse we like to nail on the wall or frame and stick above our bed heads. Paul says we will experience the “same conflict which you saw in me”, and hopefully, what the Philippians saw was not anywhere near as bad as those things we read about in 2 Cor. 11. Nevertheless we can expect suffering and I am writing nothing new to those of you who even now endure it.

If you are brave enough to read just how badly our fellow Christians are suffering around the world, log onto Persecution .org, but I warn you, it may not be pretty reading.

So what can we do in the face of our own suffering?

Our Apostle Paul is given to us as a pattern;

Phi 3:17  Brothers, be imitators together of me, and mark those who walk this way, for you have us for a pattern.

Now if we are to imitate Paul in suffering then we should have that attitude found in our opening verses;

Phi 4:11  Not that I speak according to need, for I have learned to be content in whatever state I am.

Phi 4:12  I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound. In everything and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

It seems that Paul had learned to be content in every situation.

Does this mean Paul was content as they stoned him to death? Was he content as he floated at sea for 18 hours? Was he content when they were beating him with rods or the whip? Are we to be content in EVERY situation of suffering we are enduring right now?

Our English word content has various meanings, but for now we describe the word thus:

Desiring no more than what one has; satisfied. (Dictionary.com).

Certainly this definition of contentment is an antidote to covetousness; however, this is not the meaning of the word Paul used.

I don’t think Paul was telling us that he was “desiring no more” than the situation he was in at the time. We can be sure Paul would have desired to be anywhere else than facing death through stoning. Neither do I believe Paul was “satisfied” in and with every situation, no indeed, more than likely Paul was very dissatisfied and I am sure that you and I are not satisfied nor content in the sufferings we are called upon to endure.

The word Paul used for “content” means to be “self-sufficient”. It is a unique word only found here in the New Testament. “The Greek (word), literally expresses “independent of others, and having sufficiency in one’s self.”.  JFB commentary.

Paul had learned that in every situation, he was self-sufficient, able to resist and endure it all. Now this would mark Paul as some sort of mental giant, capable of incredible stamina, but we know the source of Paul’s strength don’t we?

2Co 3:5  not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God;

Paul’s clearly identifies the source of  his strength which is also ours;

Phi 4:13  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Perhaps during our suffering we will be alone like Paul.  We are never alone really, for there is One who never leaves nor forsakes us (Hebs.13:5-6) and by His grace and strength, we can be “content”, that is “self-sufficient” no matter what, and through Christ’s strength we can endure all things and turn them to profit in the things of God.

2Co 9:8  And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that in everything, always having all self-sufficiency, you may abound to every good work;

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