Some scriptures tend to be more popular than others. Often these verses are memorized and are characterized by offering us hope and relief. Among these popular texts, Paul’s letter from prison to the Philippians contains a number of texts that stand tall offering comfort and inspiration.
“In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment, whether I go satisfied or hungry, have plenty or nothing. I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:12,13).
Paul’s secret can be ours. A deep satisfying contentment can be ours. Real freedom from crushing situational distress exists. They need not rule our lives nor how we evaluate our lives. However, all of this comes at a price.
For good reason, Paul’s statement about contentment falls toward the end of Philippians. Throughout this letter, he has repeatedly called for God’s people to band together in solidarity in order to live for the gospel with an ever deepening love for others. Such a lifestyle demands jettisoning all self-centered agendas and concerns.
It is our reluctance to jettison selfish ambition and vanity that can block our path to obtaining what Paul described. What would we be willing to give up in order to possess a profound contentment while passing through difficulty? Would we be willing to let go of injustices we’ve suffered in order to strive for something more important? Would we be willing to cast aside measuring our lives by earthly driven dreams and goals in order to evaluate it in the light of our service to God?
A person preoccupied with himself, his pain, or his treasures on earth can not write, “Some are preaching Christ from envy and rivalry … (they) proclaim Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, because they think they can cause me trouble in my imprisonment. But whether in pretext or with sincerity if the gospel is being preached I rejoice” (Philippians 1:15,17,18). These are the words of someone who serves God and loves others, someone who places value upon how the gospel can benefit others.
A person focused on attaining earthly security can not write, “for to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). These are the words of someone whose security is wrapped up in God and whose purpose involves serving God whether here or there.
A person dominated by situational conflict and whose horizons have been shrunk to be consumed by whatever ongoing tension exists can not write, “Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but also about the interests of others as well. You should have the same attitude toward one another that Jesus had” (Philippians 2:3-4). Rather, these are the words of someone who knows how to love others. Such thoughts come from someone who evaluates his life in terms of living out the salvation God has provided with reverence and awe.
Throughout Philippians this apostle unveiled how to obtain his secret. Throughout this letter Paul focuses us upon what we can learn from his personal example, Christ’s attitude, as well as Timothy’s and Epaphroditus’ motivation. Furthermore, he simultaneously commands his reader to love others, to serve God foremost and to rejoice always. After all, if serving God and loving others is the goal, then since these two situations are always subject to our control, rejoicing always is possible too.