The Apostle Paul learned an important lesson, while on his journey as a Christian. It is a lesson somewhat foreign to us, today. “I have learned to be content,” was his declaration to the church at Philippi (4:11).

Paul had received a financial gift from the impoverished churches of Macedonia, while abiding in prison at Rome. After years of laboring, as a missionary evangelist and church planter, Paul recounted a truth that had clearly shaped his life. The musings of a man of God are well-seasoned, by the end of his life and ministry. In the same way that Solomon could only give us Ecclesiastes, at the end of his days, so we glean wisdom from Paul’s sentiment.

Contentment is peculiar because men do not typically register this as a bucket list item. In other words, people are not inclined to see contentment, as a life achievement. When men make their plans, they include advancement in certain, quantifiable categories. The pursuit of happiness is natural to man. He wants a life with as much liberty as possible, to accomplish what he can, in his few years.

Success in the world is commonly registered by educational degrees, material assets accumulated, and money in the bank. Ambitious people labor relentlessly in pursuit of a very elusive illusion, and if they give up the proverbial rat race, they still demand quality entertainment to pacify them, until God’s judgment day. Some altruistic alternatives may be included, but the point is that contentment is not one of them.

Sin causes a man to be restless. He is acutely aware of the achievements of other people. He applauds them and even occasionally idolizes a person of great accomplishment. Sin tempts a man to work harder, by any means, to gain more for himself.

Achan stole the booty. David stole Uriah’s wife. King Ahab had to have Naboth’s vineyard. Greed and covetousness are indicative of man’s insatiable appetite. Greed always wants more. Covetousness wants what somebody else possesses. Ironically, when a man attains the object of his desire, he is not content. Agur captured sin’s insatiable appetite, “The leech has two daughters, ‘Give, Give.’ There are three things that will not be satisfied, four that will not say, ‘Enough’ (Prov 30:15).”

Angst rises when a man is faced with an obstruction. Circumstances are designed by God, and they are executed in His providence. God’s people are always beneficiaries of providence, which is the working of God, in fulfillment of His eternal decree.

It is written for our benefit, “For Thou didst form my inward parts; Thou didst weave me in my mother’s womb (Ps 139:13).” God’s intimate interest in the life of His child begins even before the womb, “Thine eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Thy book they were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them (Ps 139:16).” With confidence, God’s child exclaims, “The Lord will accomplish what concerns me (Ps 138:8a).”

Providence is perfect because of God’s omnipotent sovereignty, “Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps (Ps 135:6).” Sovereignty deems that nothing happens outside of providence, and nothing can thwart providence, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen (Rom 11:36).” Even evil and its wicked characters operate under God’s sovereignty (Prov 16:4). No providence, light or dark, can visit a man apart from God’s will. God is in the heavens, and He does as He pleases (Ps 115:3). People are humbled or hardened by learning this reality.

Often men are destroyed by extreme experiences of abounding or being abased. The lottery winner is a notorious loser, for failure to cope with her windfall. The participant in suicide is hopeless in circumstances. Only God’s grace saves a man from these extremes. When Paul confesses that he has learned to be content, he is no doubt mulling some of the hard lessons. God’s grace was sufficient for Paul; and so he learned how to live by faith, by the Spirit, and in a manner worthy of his calling.

Circumstances vary, and they are often thrust upon us. Man wants to be master of his own destiny, to be the captain of his own soul. Man wants to control the circumstances he encounters. Many people, even Christians, live in such fear that they stunt their own lives. They will not risk life as they know it, for the uncertainty of life, as God would have it. They resist the leading of the Holy Spirit by practical atheism.

One must lay down his own life, in order to receive life by God’s design. The contrast of these two lives is significant. Safe or divine adventure present themselves as options. Often, anxiety prevails, resulting in the path well-traveled. Paul, however, was not one of the frozen chosen.

Luke’s account of Paul’s missionary journeys is devoid of Paul’s dull moments. Paul was a man of God, on a mission from God, and he is depicted, as one fully given to the task providence intended for him. The will of Paul was submitted to the will of God for Paul. God’s version of Paul’s Christian life is exhilarating, even a bit scary at times, and it serves as a standard of inspiration for what providence may have for us. All things are possible with God, and high adventure with Jesus is a life worth living. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith (2 Tim 4:7),” was Paul’s reflection at the end of his life. Read those words, again. They ooze contentment.

A wasted life is the common refrain and lament, of those who lived without practical faith. Even hearers of God’s Word, who never got off the couch to become doers of the Word, will groan as their works burn in the fiery furnace of judgment. Solomon was not a couch potato, but the type-A personality also risks unfulfillment, by chasing the wind. Vanity is just as empty as sloth. In the hall of faith (Heb 11), and throughout church history, biographies of men and women of faith offer an alternative lifestyle. Those who walk with God, find life in Christ anything but dull.

God’s servants take up their Cross, daily, and join with the sufferings of Christ. Christ is hated in the world, and those who follow and profess Him endure the world’s hostility. This usually incurs high costs for a disciple, in the realm of life in this world. His family does not understand him. He is too peculiar for most employers to embrace. If he refuses to cater and compromise to the world’s standards, he operates as an undesirable alien. Depending on how much of the world has infiltrated his local church, he may be persecuted by the nominal Christians who placate the world. These and other scenarios of abasement are common to true disciples. Jesus said, “In the world you will have trouble (Jn 16:33).”

When God crafts His chosen man or woman into conformity with Christ, He sanctifies them by His Spirit and His Word. Following his conversion, Paul spent the next three years in Arabia. Many believe he was re-learning the Scriptures and re-doing his theology. Like so many before and after him, Paul was laid aside for an additional fourteen years, back in his hometown of Tarsus. When God had readied the great apostle to the Gentiles, to turn the Roman world upside down, then, Paul received his ordination, as a missionary from the church at Antioch.

Here was another lesson in waiting on the Lord and learning to be content. Joseph was laid aside for years, in slavery and then prison. Moses was laid aside for forty years in Midian. David was laid aside for at least ten years, from the time of his anointing by Samuel. Learning to be content takes time, especially in the crucible of perceived abandonment.

Paul was imprisoned several times during his ministry. His appeal to Caesar, when the Jews attempted to destroy him, seemingly cost him two years of his life and ministry. Yet, Paul himself accounts for how the Lord used him mightily, while under house-arrest at Rome. The household of Caesar heard the Gospel, and some were saved. There is a lesson learned in obscurity. An unknown Jesus grew in stature before God and man, for thirty years. There is another lesson learned, in being sidelined at the height of one’s prowess. It is God who exalts and brings down rulers (Lk 1:52), apostles…you and me.

Paul valued the knowledge of Christ above all else (Phil 3:8). He had a calling to steward the mysteries of the Gospel of God. He grieved when he was hindered from his purpose (1 Cor 9:16). His resume was second to none in serving Christ (2 Cor 11:16–33). He was learning Christ along the way, and Christ was more than just his magnificent obsession. Christ was Paul’s contentment. Nothing could replace the peace of Christ. No distraction competed with the joy of walking by the Spirit of Christ. Fixing his eyes on Jesus was the solution. Performance was incalculable and all but irrelevant because every decision is from the Lord, who directs the steps of those who trust in Him. It is Christ at work.

Why be content? We have touched on a few reasons. First, God is sovereign over all. Second, Christ is the author and perfecter of our faith, working His purpose in and through us. Third, all of our days are known to God, who sits on the throne, and who is enthroned in the Christian’s heart. Fourth, we are not radical particles; but rather, a course has been designed for each believer in Jesus. Fifth, God has made promises to us, in Christ, and He will work all things together for our good, as He wills and does His good pleasure. Sixth, God’s Word exposes ample examples of sovereign providence, in the lives of God’s elect that carry assurance from beginning to end (Rom 8:30). Seventh, we have a future and a hope (2 Tim 4:8). Eighth, we have the Spirit of God indwelling our hearts, manifesting grace upon grace.

Friend, are you content? Is your contentment objectified in something other than the Lord Jesus Christ? Will you be honest with yourself? Has God given you peace that passes understanding? Would you remain as you are, today, if your circumstances improved or degraded significantly?

Contentment is impossible for the unbeliever. Temporary satisfaction is occasionally experienced, but restlessness returns, sometimes with a vengeance. The believer in Jesus has what every person wants and needs. Circumstances certainly test a Christian’s contentment. If contentment is lost, the believer is quick to confess a loss of focus on Christ. Therefore, a loss of contentment for a Christian is temporary. Contentment grows under the painful tutelage of empty lies and false satisfactions, offered by the enemy of our souls. Lust abounds, but satisfaction is only a lie, in this world of dumb idols. Failed satisfaction in the world drives the Christian to Christ.

Hell is the epitome of discontent. The unbeliever has his best life now, in this world. The reason is that he has the mercy of temporary satisfaction. No such mercies exist in the eternal lake of fire. The Christian has a wavering, yet ever-stronger contentment in her life, in Christ. Perfect contentment carries the name, “heaven,” in the Bible. No want or need plagues the saint, in his everlasting rest (Rev 21–22). The long school season of learning to be content will end in the eternal summer of satisfaction.

Satan demands you be discontent, and he disturbs you in every place of possible peace. Therefore, today, rest in Christ, and He will again teach you that He Himself is the saint’s Sabbath rest. Paul learned that circumstances were simply waves that rock the boat. Noah’s boat would one day rest. Jonah’s boat came to rest, when he began the road of repentance. The disciples boat was still at the command of Jesus. Are you ready to be content? Come to Christ for peace with God, the giver of every good and every perfect gift, including contentment. Come to Jesus, return to Jesus, and learn to be content.

David E. Norczyk

Spokane Valley, Washington

November 29, 2020

Some random theologian out West somewhere, Christian writer, preacher