I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
A few observations:
- Lest the Philippians misunderstand his reason for rejoicing, Paul offers a disclaimer. His joy results from finding contentment with all things, not necessarily from the gift sent. When asked who the wealthiest person was, Socrates replied, “The one who is content with the least.”
- It is significant that contentment can be ours in poverty or abundance (4:12). Contentment is a state of being, not necessarily the result of our needs being met. Those with needs learn trust and patience; those with wealth learn humility and dependence. Paul knows how to live in prosperity or poverty.
- Contentment is a safeguard against both the arrogance that often comes from having plenty and the false piety that can be attached to poverty.
- Contentment is the very thing that eludes us when we seek it from within material gain (Deut. 8:11ff; Ecc. 4:8). Yet we’re admonished to thank God when He meets our needs (“Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God,” Pr. 30:8-9).
- The greatest gain and sure path to joy is serving God in determined contentment whatever one’s material lot in life (1 Tim. 6:6-9). Indeed, a genuinely happy person is one whose contentment rests solely in a relationship with the Lord (cf., Josh. 36:11; Pr. 19:23; Heb. 13:5).
- This kind of contentment comes over time and results from a pattern of life that is focused “not on what is seen, but on what is unseen” (2 Cor. 4:18). This kind of contentment frees us from slavery to external circumstances. Paul voluntarily chose poverty and hard work (1 Cor. 4:10-14; 2 Cor. 6:10), no payment for his pastoral services (2 Cor. 11:7), and a life of abuse and suffering (2 Cor. 11:23-30). Yet in all of this, Paul learned contentment!