While reading Jeremiah Burroughs’ 17th-century The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, I kept looking for his comments on “the contentment text.” It never came. So, for the last posting of this series, here are my comments on that text. Let’s read it.
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me.
You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned
in whatever state I am to be content.
I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.
In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret
of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.
I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:10-13).
STOIC VERSUS CHRISTIAN CONTENTMENT. Paul wrote this letter from Roman imprisonment about 30 years after the death and resurrection of Christ. Philippi was the place where Paul first planted a church in Europe (Acts16:6-40). The people then often supported him in his ministry (4:15,16), most recently sending a gift with Epaphroditus. Paul rejoiced at their concern for him (4:10); but he wanted them to know his happiness was over them not their supply of his need (4:11a). Why did Paul treat his need as insignificant? He explains . . .
. . . for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content (4:11b).
“Content” translates the Greek word autarkeia. It comes from the Stoics and means “contentment based on self-sufficiency.” The Stoics would say, “i have learned in whatever state I am to be content because I am sufficient within myself.” Stoics were confident they had what it took in themselves to ride the storm through.
Paul used the word in a worlds-apart way from the Stoics. For Paul contentment was based on Christ-sufficiency. Paul wasn’t an independent or self-dependent Stoic; Paul was a Christ-dependent Christian. He declares it in verse 13 . . .
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Paul was an “in Christ” man (3:14), a servant of Christ (1:1). He rejoiced that Christ was preached, even if insincerely(1:18). His hope was that Christ would always be honored in his body by life or death (1:20). To him, to live was Christ (1:21). He wanted to depart and be with Christ because that was far better (1:23). He gloried in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh (3:3). He suffered the loss of all things for Christ and counted them as rubbish to gain Christ and be found in Christ with Christ’s righteousness (3:9). His aim was to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and share his sufferings, becoming like Christ in his death (3:10). He believed Christ Jesus had made him his own (3:12). He pressed on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (3:14). The sufficiency that enabled Paul to be able to do all things and be content whatever the situation came from outside himself—namely, from Christ.
So Paul had learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need (4:12). The secret into which he’d been initiated? “Christ who strengthens me.” He was able to be satisfied with whatever following Christ brought him because he was “in Christ” and Christ strengthened him.
HOW THIS CAN WORK FOR ME. How can I be strengthened through Christ to be content whatever my situation? First, I have to go through situations of want and plenty. Contentment isn’t learned from books. I have to experience want, experience pain, experience suffering—and find that Christ is there with me in it teaching me to treasure him with having little besides, and making me more like himself. I have to experience plenty, experience abundance, experience having more “stuff” than I need—and find that Christ is there with me in it teaching me to treasure him more than all I have and making me more like himself by not loving this world’s things.
I can honestly say I’m generally more content now than when I started this series. And I think I’m more content now than when I was young. Then I thought I was really satisfied with Jesus; but it takes a lifetime of experiences to make that satisfaction ocean-deep.
Second, to be strengthened through Christ and be content I have to feed on his Word. My mind won’t remain empty; Satan, the world and my own sinful nature will fill it with self-centered, insatiable desires. So I have to fill my mind with God’s Word as regularly as meal-eating to have my desires shaped after Christ.
Third, I have to pray. ” . . . in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your request be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (4:6b).
Fourth, I should review this blog series. Burroughs’ exhortations are essentially wise directions as to how we can be strengthened by Christ for contentment.
Bottom line? “The contentment text” teaches me I get contentment through the strength of Christ. So what should I do? Today get Christ!