The Struggle For Contentment

Philippians 4: 10 – 13.

Contentment is a highly elusive trait, as our acquisitive propensity in a consumer society militates against it, time and again. It is no different in the days of the Apostle Paul, as his own experience alluded to it in the midst of his diverse missionary journeys when he was imprisoned, tortured, and his life endangered (2Cor 11:23-33): he professed that he had learned the secret of contentment, “of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need” (Phil 4:11-12). Paul’s rationale for identifying it as ‘a secret’ is due largely to the fact that contentment’s roots are intangible, having to do with the inward man, and therefore, if one is not intentionally pursuing it, it will not present itself consciously. Suffice to acknowledge that it is a learnt attitude that impacts our thoughts and behaviour as we seek to be a follower of Jesus Christ (Phil 4:13)

Paul ‘s test for contentment was his ability to both abound in having abundance as well as suffering need. We may inevitably conclude that perhaps balancing this contending duality form the basis for his serenity, but that is not what it is about. Neither is it a question of being able to dispassionately accommodate the satisfaction of our ‘wants’ being met, nor persevering through the deprivation of our needs. Contentment posits a neutral stance towards plenty and misery; it is the acceptance of either circumstance and being able to enjoy God despite any variable contexts and not beguiled by the delusion of either position. He was grateful for the experiences that both offered, yet thankful to God who had caused him to walk in the ways He had prepared beforehand (Eph 2:10). Contentment is obviously not focused on the tangibles around us, which would explain the dissatisfaction and disappointment we often face over time after covetously securing our dreams and earthly possessions. For quantifiable elements will never truly fill our inner void. After all, contentment’s warp and woof concern the meaning of life, and for believers, it invariably includes our capacity for God and depth of relationship with Him (c.f., Col 1:22-23).

Paul then informed his Philippian readers that contentment is a learning process. There is an inherent requirement to discover the depravity of our covetousness before we are able to learn how to be content. In the Laws that were given to Moses on Mount Sinai, it is crystal clear that whatever that is acquired to promote the Israelite’s identity and self-worth in the eyes of others become an idol before God, establishing a barrier between His people and Himself (c.f., Ex 20:3, 17). It becomes repulsive to God because we have deified the idol instead of trusting God. Like Paul, we need to cultivate a disciplined attitude where a healthy detachment to materialistic predispositions govern our everyday life and learning to seek God continually (Ps 84). And, to possess a clear conscience before God and man, our obedience to Him is imperative. When he is found in Christ doing His will, the Apostle Paul claims that he “can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). To be content in this life remains an ongoing challenge for most of us.