walk in the word
Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. Philippians 4:11
So how’s it going with your joy? If you’re like, “Man, why is it that I see other people have it and I don’t?” ask yourself some hard questions. For several weeks on the broadcast, we’ve been looking at the whole idea of joy in “I Choose Joy.” As we get to the end of our verse by verse study of Philippians, we land on one major joy producing factor: contentment. Originally, the Greek word contentment described a country that needed no imports. They had everything they needed. It’s “having enough.”
I was in a store this week when a check-out lady asked me, “Have you got your lottery ticket yet? Thirty-three million dollars, you gotta get a ticket!” So, I said, “You know, I don’t need $33 million” and she looked at me kind of funny. So I explained, “It wouldn’t make me any happier.” And she’s like, “Oh, good answer.” And the girl beside her said, “It’d make me happier” to which I added, “Or more miserable.” Our dialogue reminded me of how many people live with all their eggs in the “more basket.” “If I could just get more . . . ” I wonder how many people are going to have to drive over the money-doesn’t-make-you-happy cliff before they figure out this truth?
Contentment is where joy resides; it’s an incredible virtue. But contentment in what exactly? Great questions—let’s break it down to specifics.
#1 Contentment in where I am. I live in Chicago. There are some phenomenal things about living in Chicago and also some pretty aggravating things. But I’ve decided that I want to pastor one church my whole life, if God would allow me and the people would give grace. To do that means I’m going to have to periodically make some contentment choices.
#2 Contentment in what I do. “I don’t like what I do.” Well, let me tell you, I don’t like some of the things I do either. But we’ve all got to do the thing God’s called us to do. In that choice, our contentment can grow.
#3 Content in what I have. At the end of the day, I’m going to be a lot happier if I just accept what I have. Psalm 62:10 says, “If riches increase do not set your heart upon them.” Happiness is not in the having. The happiness is in the contentment. “Be content with such things as you have for I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
#4 Content in who I’m with. “I wish my wife was a little more. . . .” “If my husband would just change this . . ..” Sure, you can focus on your spouse’s shortcomings and stay miserable if you want, or you can choose to concentrate on the good. “Finally my brothers and sisters, whatever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, think on these things” (Phil. 4:8). Do you see? That’s where the joy is.
I hear you say, “I can do a couple of those, James, but I don’t think I can ever be content in all these areas, all the time. I’m just not there.”
Here’s good news. You can learn to be content. Look at Philippians 4:11: “I have learned to be content.” Where do you go to sign up for that course? More good news—you’re already enrolled. The course is called, “Life.”
One of the primary lessons in this course is, as Paul describes, “I know how to be brought low.” That’s lesson one. When God is teaching contentment He brings you down low. He takes things away from you and He finds out how little you can really be satisfied with. Is God bringing you low right now? You may wonder why He’s doing that. I know why—He’s teaching you something. Something very important. Something that will bring a lot of joy into your life. Instead of fighting and resisting the hard stuff, why don’t you get low as fast as you can? The word that’s used here for “to be brought low” is the same word used in Philippians 2:8 that says that Jesus humbled Himself. Don’t you want to go where Jesus went? Don’t fight it or blame others or deny it; accelerate it. Embrace it.
Have you graduated from semester one in the school of contentment? Can God bring you low and humble you?
Here’s the second lesson in “Life” I know how to abound. The word abound there means, “excess, overflow.” Do you know that wealth has destroyed more character than poverty? More people have been ruined by having too much than by having too little. Psalm 62:10 says, “If riches increase, do not set your heart upon them.” Can God trust you with a lot? Let me just say this, most often you go into the school of being brought low before you go into the school of abundance. Both courses are absolutely essential and must be completed if you’re going to learn how to be content.
Before he closes Philippians, Paul lets us in on a huge secret. “I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need, [here’s the secret] I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Through Christ! That’s the Christian life—it’s Jesus living His life through me. You see? That’s a phenomenal thing right there. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” You should underline this great verse in your Bible.
You can be content when God brings you low; you can be content when the abundance overflows. You cannotget overly discouraged in the lack. You can not get overly inflated in the abundance. You can be steady and strong and choose joy in every circumstance.
There’s no mystery about it. The secret of being content is this: I can do those things through Christ who strengthens me.
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