“For I have learned in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content.”
Some lessons are not easily learned.
Contentment is one such lesson.
That’s true for two reasons.
The subject matter itself is profound. It defies human imaginations! Its depth lies not in natural perception, but in spiritual discernment. We marvel at the child of God that has learned this lesson well. Mark Job who lost all his possessions, even his children. His contented cry was, “The Lord hath given, the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” David, the man after God’s own heart expressed a similar thought while he gazed upon his dead son, “But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” Listen to Daniel’s three friends, “If it be so, our God is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.” Here in our context, the Apostle Paul was imprisoned in Rome. The raucous shouts of reprobate Rome, being entertained with the blood of martyrs, filled his prison cell. He penned these words to his beloved church in Philippi, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
It follows from this that the learning process itself is difficult. One does not shout forth the language of our text, “I have learned in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content,” unless one is educated in the school of trial. The great Pedagogue leads His children through the depths of suffering, in order to teach them this contentment.
Even though the lesson of contentment is very difficult, we do not despair. We desire to learn it well. We know that the more we plumb the depths of this subject, the more we are able to live to the glory of our God and be happy all our days. Paul did not say, “I wish I could be content;” rather, “I have learned to be content!” Thanks be to God that the learning of this lesson is not dependent upon high intellectual acumen, but rather on an abundance of sovereign grace which our Father promises to give unto us in a sufficient measure.
Contentment involves the proper inter—action between our inmost being and the outward circumstances of our life. You recall that God made man by a twofold act: He formed him out of the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. Because of this we may properly distinguish two aspects in man’s creation.
Man from an outward point of view is earthy. Our bodies are dependent upon the earth for its sustenance. We must eat food, we must breathe air, we need protection from the elements of nature and from the hazards placed around us by our fellow man. Our bodies are subject to disease and death, for, “dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.” From this point of view we can live in human relationships. The fellowship within the home, of husband and wife, parents and children is an expression of this outward man. We have contact with each other in the church because we are able to see one another, to hear one another, and to speak together. We have our daily work to do as employer or employee. We are citizens of a certain country and are called to fulfill certain obligations.
We recognize, however, that our life consists of more than that activity which we reveal to one another. There is a certain inner life which is not subject to the scrutiny of one another, which is very personal, and which is the cause and source of all outward activity. We do much thinking, longing, and planning, some of which comes to outward expression and some does not. There is deeply within each man a spiritual core called the heart. It is within this heart that man knows that God exists and either loves Him or hates Him. From this inner dwelling, man reaches up far above his own environment and stands in relation to almighty God.
Contentment is the spiritual virtue that God gives to His children in which they are able from their inmost being to look through all their outward circumstances and gaze into the face of God in Jesus Christ, acknowledge that all things which God is pleased to send their way are good, and rejoice in that goodness of God, and therefore give Him all their thanksgiving and praise.
It must be apparent that contentment demands that we stand in a proper relationship with God.
We must not confuse contentment with carnal satisfaction. There are many unbelievers who are able to adjust to certain circumstances in life and remain satisfied. This satisfaction, however, is always superficial; and in their inmost beings they know it, and have no real peace. When things go bad for them they try to do something that will make it possible for them to continue in life. The world tries two clever ways to remain satisfied in the face of difficulties. They first of all try escapism they try to get away from the things that are unpleasant. Men and women try to drown their fears in alcohol. The world seeks the fantasy of LSD and other kinds of dope and drugs. They crave pleasures as a relief-valve for pent up tensions. The psychiatric couch is occupied day after long day with one patient after another. The second scheme they use is that of philosophically accepting troubles. Some stoically find some comfort in the fact that we all have to take our hard knocks; we can’t do anything about them anyway, so we might just as well learn to live with them. Others idealistically claim that the troubles of life, sickness, pain, wars, and the like are all birth pangs necessary to bring forth the great society and therefore must be recognized as necessary means to a great end. In that way they find some consolation in the midst of war, crime, sickness, and even death. Contrariwise, when things seem to prosper they express their satisfaction in themselves. They boast of their accomplishments and greedily seek to advance their own gain.
Yes, the world has a form of satisfaction. This is, however, rooted in their enmity against God. We must not confuse this sort of thing with the contentment of which Paul speaks here in our text. This carnal attitude has its roots in the spiritual whoredom of man in rebellion against God. It is a prostitution of the inner man before the god of this world, man himself. The natural man may be satisfied in his folly, but never can he be content.
Contentment can rest only in a heart that is in harmony with God. As children of God we know God as God. To us He is not simply a Supreme Being; He is our Father. He is the Father of creation. By His omnipotent Word He called all things into being, and by that same Word He upholds all things and continues to give them their being. He rides the clouds as His chariots, the wind is His breath. He can be seen in the fragile texture of the most delicate flower, or in the fatal blast of the desert wind. He is, however, much more. He is our Father in Jesus Christ. He has redeemed us unto Himself as His precious children. He laid upon Jesus, His Only Begotten Son, the curse due to prodigal sons. By that work of atonement God has prepared the way for us to enter into the joy of family life with Him. He calls His children by name; we hear that call and come unto Him for rest. He draws us unto the cross and directs our troubled and weary souls to the covering of the blood of Jesus and tells us that though we deserve hell, He has transferred that judgment to One. Who could bear it, and did bear it, and therefore has removed from us once for all the burden of sin. He assures us that we need not try to walk the weary course of life alone; He shall walk beside us by His Spirit to comfort us, and therefore He shall be our Guide even unto death.
Being engrafted into Christ by such a living faith, we perceive two truths which are fundamental to contentment.
The first is that Almighty God in His sovereign direction of our lives, gives us only good things. Nothing comes to pass by mere chance, but all things according to His direction. His direction is based upon perfect wisdom and love, whereby He knows what is good for us in this life in order to bring us unto Himself in glory. Therefore, we conclude, that no matter what may be our portion here, it is good for us. It is not a question of what we may happen to like, it is rather what does Father in sovereign wisdom, which is far greater than ours, consider to be good.
The second is that the strength to endure unto the end does not rest in human power, but in divine provision. Our Father does not deal out a certain measure of His counsel and expect us to make the best of it. Always we must remember even as God revealed to Paul in the context, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” To this we respond with the Apostle, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
When we learn these truths, we are able to speak the bold language of Paul, “I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” In the immediate context it is apparent there are principally two states, that of abounding and being abased, that of being full or empty. It is our privilege to be content in either one.
There, are many troublous times. Life is full of disappointments. We’re fearful of losing our job or encounter financial hardships for no reason of our own. The power of nature consumes our crops and hours of work are reduced to nothing. We struggle with the fruits of sin in the church while we long for perfection. We bear persecution from those who hate our Lord Jesus Christ. Our eyes become faint through a long road of suffering. Loneliness may mark our life. Probably you are experiencing such today. To be content means we may say, “My portion is of God; it is good, for by it I am drawn by His all-sufficient grace nearer to Him. I rejoice even now, not in the affliction itself, but in the God Who sends it. I am thankful to Him for His dealings because afflictions are for my profit.” Then the inner man is able to be quiet and in peace, no matter how turbulent it may be on the outside.
The same is true for prosperous times. It’s even harder to be content then. Don’t be surprised at this. When we are able to work every day, and the work of our hands produces an abundance of earthly gain, pride so easily overrules and we boast and become selfish. If you today are well and healthy and can rejoice in fellowship within the home, the church, and among neighbors and friends, you also by grace may speak contented language. Then we say that we deserve none of these things, but God has given them to us to be redeemed unto Himself. We confess that God is good in giving them, and we rejoice that we may with all that we have serve Him and use it to His honor and glory.
We must needs learn this profound lesson. Contentment has its source in God alone. It is the fruit of sovereign grace.
Have you learned it?
We learn it in especially two ways. First, by searching the Word of God and in prayer. This is true on Sunday, but no less on every day of the week. When we have problems and are confronted by sorrows, we must not run away from them, nor run first of all to our fellow man; we must run to our Father. Too often we gulp down an aspirin and seek relief in medicine or psychiatry while we should be on our knees searching the Bible and pouring out our heart in prayer. Secondly, we learn it through the trials of life themselves. Paul wanted to get rid of the “thorn in his flesh,” it bothered him. But God answered, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” With each sorrow, each pain, each disappointment we turn to our Father in prayer; and He supplies us with a renewed measure of grace; and by that grace we learn to be content.
Contentment is a foretaste of heaven.
With trembling lips and feeble voices we now express our contentment; presently we shall declare the goodness of our God in the strength of a soul set free.