What does it mean for a Christian to be “content?” The Apostle Paul explained it this way;
“Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)
“Content” in verse one is defined in Strong’s Lexicon as:
1) sufficient for one’s self, strong enough or possessing enough to need no aid or support
2) independent of external circumstances
3) contented with one’s lot, with one’s means, though the slenderest
Paul suffered much for the Lord, and he also had times of jubilation, but in all cases, he was content.
To clarify the above passage even more, let us read it in another translation.
“Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11-13 NLT)
Most Christians, if not all, would probably prefer to live on the mountain tops of life, but that cannot always be the case. The valleys must be traveled also for optimum spiritual growth.
I’ve heard ministers promote “getting high on God” in their feel good sermons, attempting to induce congregations into a state of artificial happiness. I recall reading that the Apostle Paul said,
“Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” (Romans 12:15)
King Solomon said,
“To EVERY thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4)
So we see that there will be mountain top experiences, but there will also be times of sorrow. Most of the remainder of the time however will be spent in between, just living. Based on the introductory passage above, we can be content at all times, regardless of our circumstances.
I have found over the years that most Christians must lean on someone else or an “experience” to be content, but not Paul. What made him any different than the rest of us? He was a saved sinner, like every other Christian. There is no secret to his contentedness. He leaned on Jesus. That is where we need to be.
Immature Christians will equate being contented with everything always going perfectly, but life is not perfect. Better yet, they will think that if they are not happy, then they are not contended. Paul said he was always contended. That means that even when he was being beaten, he was contended. Why? His strength came from Christ, and not himself. If Jesus wanted him in any particular situation or experiencing any particular need or enjoyment, he was content to be there, and that brought him happiness, even in the most unpleasant of circumstances. He was happy to serve his Lord. Whether the sun was shining in his life, or the rain was falling, he was happy because he was content in the Lord’s presence. We as Christians are always in the Lord’s presence because His Spirit lives within us. So should we not always be content, or “happy” if you prefer?
Some Christians get confused when they’re in church services, song services, evangelistic services, etc. and wonder why they can’t be at the top of the Ferris wheel of happiness like everyone else. But is that really the case? Is everyone else always happy … really? Some circumstances will usually induce happiness, just as funerals will induce sorrow. We are not going to walk around with a smile from ear to ear all the time though, any more than we will walk through life always with a tear.
Let us not gauge our state of being, as a Christian, on an occasion, or by other people. True Christian living is gauged on the level of our relationship with Jesus Christ. Anything else is either self-induced or mob induced. It is not real.
Contrary to pseudo religious thinking, contentedness is produced from a peace that only comes from God. It is not self-induced expressions of outward glee, nor self-induced expressions of sorrow. So can a Christian always be contended in Christ? Yes, when we realize that contentedness comes not from outward verbalizations or expressions, other people, or events, but a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ in our hearts.
I have seen so many occasions of Christians putting on a show of happiness or sorrow especially when they are around other Christians. (I know I’m beating this horse to death, but bear with me.) I notice in particular how people sometimes make a mockery of being happy, or sad, while in church services. They put on their “church face”, their “church voice” and even “hand and body expressions.” That isn’t living for Jesus! That is mere play acting! It is nothing but being phony!
Many Christians today are not content, because they are looking in all the wrong places. They can’t handle a crisis without falling apart. They can’t even handle success. Jesus said,
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” (Matthew 11:29)
This is what Paul did. This is what we should do. This is where we find true contentment, real happiness.
I see three groups of Christians pertaining to this subject matter. They are
(1) those who have discovered Matthew 11:29 and are content, as was Paul, (2) those who have not discovered Matthew 11:29, but want everyone to think they have, and lastly,
(3) those who have not discovered Matthew 11:29 but are impressed by those who think they have, and try to emulate them.
Groups two and three are shocked by anything outside the walls of the church building. Within the walls, they put on a great show. Those people on the outside though … well … they’re just … “those people.” Allow me to clarify.
They prefer not to be around “those people” who are not up to the standards of their dignified high-class, spiritual living, but these are the very ones that Jesus was often seen with, as was Paul.
“But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Matthew 9:13)
What is Jesus saying here? He is saying that He did not come to call those who think they are already righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent. Those who think they are righteous are not and therefore not content in Jesus Christ. Those who know they are sinners are not content, but are open for the contentedness that can be only be found in Jesus Christ.
The scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day were group number two above. They haven’t changed any today. They still “put on airs.” They are so “holy,” they would have you believe their children were delivered by the stork, they never go to the bathroom, and they would never ever pass gas. They are “content” in themselves, but are they “content” as Paul said in the leading passage? The obvious answer is a resounding “No.” If their “boat is rocked,” they will have nothing to lean on but their own self-righteousness. Paul gloried in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
What about group number three? Pity comes to mind with these folks. They are so immature in their relationship with Jesus they never seem to grow up. They go through life as Christian babes (not darlings, but babies), stagnant in any spiritual growth and following the wrong crowd; i.e. group number two.
Groups two and three definitely must lean on an experience or other people to survive. They have not discovered they are leaning on the wrong light pole. Jesus is our light, and it is His light we should follow.
“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” (Psalms 119:105)
So how did group one ever find the contentedness that Paul had? Again, they listened to Matthew 11:29.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”
If you, as a Christian, really want to be content in your life, the bottom line can be narrowed down to just three words that Jesus said; i.e. “Learn of Me.” To know Christ is to be content. We don’t need to pretend, or put on a show to others. We don’t need to lean on everyone else or some high-powered emotional event. All we really need is an open relationship with Jesus.
How is that accomplished you ask? It can only be had through daily prayer and Bible study. Why prayer? We talk to Him via prayer. Why Bible study? He talks to us via His Word, the Bible. As we are fed, on a daily basis, we grow stronger spiritually, just has our bodies are strengthened by being fed earthly food. As we grow in Him, we become content in Him with the exclusion of anything and everything else. We do not need frail props such as other people, events, things, etc. Only Jesus can satisfy and fulfill the craving of our soul. Then we can say with Paul, “I have learned how to be content.”