“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”
Philippians 4:11 (NIV)
The author of the words in our verse for today had a most interesting life. That is putting it politely. Paul was frequently in prison, five times flogged by the Jews, beaten with rods three times, shipwrecked three times, stoned once, in prison several times, gone without sleep, knew hunger and thirst, worked himself until he was ready to drop, and other sorrows also came his way.
After reading about such a horrific life you would be inclined to say it was good he learned to be content. However it was late in his life that he said he had learned to be content. So it took some of these trials listed above to get Paul to the place where he could be at rest concerning his situation. This is not the usual view people have of the great apostle. Somehow we place him on some pedestal and think he always had everything together in his personal life.
Have you looked at others and thought to yourself that you wished you could be like them? They seem to have their act together and you don’t. You seem to be fumbling in some areas of life and paying a price for your mistakes or adverse circumstances that have come your way. Other people seem to have it so easy by comparison to you.
Well, some of life’s greatest lessons can only be learned by adversity. Paul was indeed a towering figure in the early church but he grew through the opposition he felt as he went about his business of preaching and writing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Whatever Paul was in his Christian walk he was persistent. He determined to continue in the way of Jesus regardless of the cost to him personally. Paul had a lot going for him before he started to follow Jesus. But all the things he prized before becoming a Christian he counted as rubbish in order to have the Lord directing his life. (See Philippians 3:1-11)
For Paul, as for every Christian, Jesus is the great prize to seek in this life. Not money, fame, power, or whatever else the world offers. The all consuming passion of the apostle was to know and walk with the Saviour of sinners. This is sometimes the place where we can get tripped up in our journey through life. We look at what the world has to offer and value it as the most important things to acquire in life. Then when we miss the mark, perhaps do not get the university degree, the promotion at work, the big house or indexed pension, we feel discontent.
Or, on the other hand, we may find adversity sets in and robs us of the common things in life like children, health, stability economically or whatever. Then we are discontent because we cannot even have the ordinary things others around us enjoy.
Through his various trials in life Paul gradually learned that whatever he had or did not have in life, or whatever difficulties he encountered along the way, if he had the known presence of Jesus he was content.
How do you view the trials of your life? Can you see them as teachers of contentment? Are you progressing in contentment or are you still dissatisfied with your lot in life? Read the following small poem and ponder the lesson it teaches.
I Walked a Mile with Pleasure
I walked a mile with Pleasure;
She chatted all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.
I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And ne’er a word said she;
But, oh! The things I learned from her,
When sorrow walked with me.
If you are in long term suffering of some sort do all you can to learn about Jesus and you will discover that contentment is learned through having Jesus, not in resolving all your problems in life. In many ways we all suffer for shorter or longer periods of time. Only those who love and serve Jesus will endure and find abiding contentment. Seek Jesus and find in Him all you need in this life.