“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.” (Philippians 4:12b – NIV)
How is it that Paul, the great apostle of the church, can write these words? Paul who, more than any other character in the New Testament, was ‘driven’ in service of the Gospel to plant churches, write letters, confront the authorities inside and outside the community of faith, take down heresy and so much more. This Paul, who had such conviction that the what he believed was the truth that he faced regular and multiple imprisonments, beatings, accusations, torture, natural disasters, hardship and, eventually, death.
To me, he seems to be the last person in the world who one would expect to be content under house arrest, chained between two guards, with almost no public influence. Yet he writes from this very situation to the people of the church in Philippi; “I have learnt the secret of being content in any and every situation”.
Paul was content. In all of the change and difficulty of his life Paul was able to remain content. Why? His security was not in his position or work, but in Jesus. As my friend Andy said to me the other day, “It is not about who you are, but whose you are”.
I have been tremendously challenged by this concept of ‘being content’ in the last weeks. I am not sure that I have ever been entirely content. Even when I was doing the thing to which God has called me, I was never fully content. I was constantly frustrated in a deep part of my being by opposition and a sense of not being good enough. I would strive to do things well and still feel as if it could and should have been better. It did not matter how many came to Christ or grew in faith or encouraged me, I had a sense of restless underachievement.
I realise that there is an element to these feelings that stems from my personality. I am an ENTJ who is driven, analytical, an external processor and an extrovert. Yet, there is something much deeper that has been going on. The truth is this; my security did not, in the past, reside in my relationship with God but in my work for God.
I feel no sense of fear at such a confession because I know that, really, when we are honest, the great majority of people in leadership in churches go through the same thing. We work so hard for God and the church that we lose time for relationship with the very one we serve. We are so busy that we simply cannot find the time to prioritize quality time in the presence of God. We snatch a little time whilst we prepare talks or stand in church but, if we are honest, it is not priority time so much as it is incidental time.
This is not to say that those of us who are good Christians do not know the answer. We know that the answer to getting to know God better is to pray, read and meditate on scripture, worship, and fellowship with fellow disciples; but we simply cannot find the time. We speak the words that claim that time with our Father is important to us, but we do not live a life that reflects our words.
Paul was content. Why? He wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). His security was no longer in what he was or what other people saw him to be, instead it was entirely and utterly embedded in Christ. The drive that was very evident in Paul was not focused upon achieving religious success or gaining honour from other people, it was focused with the intensity of a laser on the single task of pursuing a relationship with Christ Jesus.
“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11 – NIV)
The words of Paul in Philippians have enormous testimonial power. We see in the chronicles of his life that Paul lived these words right up until the end. His circumstances and position were entirely secondary to his discipleship and closeness to Jesus. His life was a true, consistent reflection of his words.
For any one of us who have tasted, even for a moment, what it is like to be close to Jesus through the presence of the Holy Spirit, we know that what Paul writes is the truth. We know that there is nothing as vital as the priority to nurture closeness to Jesus. We know, in the very depth of our being, that it is truth of the greatest importance that contentedness and security are found only when we draw close to Jesus. And yet… Do we live it?
I want to be content.
I want to be as close to Jesus as I can possibly be, because I have come to understand that there is no other place where I will be content. I want to be able to not just read the words of Paul, but say them with integrity. “I have learnt the secret of contentment in all situations… it is being found in Jesus.” Further, I will sacrifice and get rid of anything in my life and person that acts as a barrier to being immersed and surrendered to Jesus. Deliberately and as quickly as I am able to do so. Only then will I be able to say, “I am content”.