Once upon a time, Philippians 4:13 was my football locker verse. There, in the midst of my stinking shoulder pads and disgusting workout clothes, I taped in my locker a notecard that bore the words, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
At that time, what I intended by putting that verse in my locker was to remind myself that I could run one more 40 yard dash through Christ who strengthens me. I could do one more drill through Christ who strengthens me. I could knock one more guy over through Christ who strengthens me. But then one faithful Friday night, my high school football team lined up across from another team – the Dumas Demons. And after the game, I saw a group of those Demons kneeling in prayer on the 50 yard line. And though it hadn’t struck me before, I suddenly came to the realization that there were probably actual Christians who played for the other team. In fact, there might even have been one Christian with Philippians 4:13 taped in their locker. So as I was trying to knock someone over with the power of Christ, so also might someone have been trying to knock me over with the same power.
It was a crisis of faith, born under the lights of Friday night Texas football.
Which of course made me wonder if Philippians 4:13 was possibly not about my ability to block the right person in a football game. As I discovered by reading just a few of the verses around it, Paul didn’t intend this verse to be applied as some kind of energy steroid for athletics. This verse was about contentment:
“I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).
Far from locker room fodder, these verses teach us at least three things about the nature of contentment. And if ever there was a time for us to reflect a bit on the nature of contentment, surely it’s now, in the midst of this weird, strange season of life:
1. Contentment is learned.
I’m not sure what kind of day you’re having right now, but the reality is your circumstances will change. This might be one of the “good ones” even though you’re looking at the same four walls you have been for the last several weeks. Or it might be one of the “bad ones” in which you think your isolation, or your family, is going to drive you crazy. But rest assured – whatever kind of day you’re having, it’s going to change.
We will not be at home forever. Then again, we might be back home again. Regardless, we will experience points of loss and need and sadness in this life. The encouraging part of this verse isn’t that we aren’t going to feel the pain of those things. No – the encouraging part of this verse is that Paul learned the secret of being content.
In other words, contentment isn’t our natural state, but it can be learned. We can develop a certain aptitude for contentment. And the school in which we learn contentment is the school of loss. When we feel the sense of despair and when we feel the temptation of accumulation, we can remember that we are sitting in the classroom of life. And through these lessons, we will learn how to trust in Jesus for our self-worth, our joy, and our comfort. And slowly but surely, we will find ourselves progressing in this school.
2. Contentment is not settling.
We have the misperception that contentment is akin to settling for less. It means learning to settle for having only 2 shirts in your closet. To live on only 10% of your income. To eat only bread and bologne. You learn contentment, then, by intentional deprivation.
That’s not all wrong, but there is a missing component in that philosophy. The missing component is the truth that we are not, in reality of the gospel, settling for anything. Rather, we are rich with every spiritual blessing in Christ. The reason we can do with two shirts instead of seven and give away our money and eat the groceries in the pantry is because the true fuel of contentment is not settling for less; it’s recognizing that regardless of how much we have or don’t have materially, we are rich in Christ. This is why contentment is done through Him who strengthens me, not through me whose will to deprive myself is strong.
3. Contentment is by faith.
Finally, we see that contentment is by faith. Why might that be?
It is because of our ever-changing circumstances. We will have the same experience as Paul in these verses – we too will be well fed sometimes and hungry sometimes. We will know what it means to have a little and have a lot. And in either one of those extremes, whether living in plenty or in meagerness, we will need faith that pushes our sight beyond those circumstances. We will need the faith when we have little to believe that God is still for us and our good, and we will need the faith when we have much to remember that the greatest blessing in the universe is Christ. Without this enduring kind of faith, our focus will always drift from Jesus onto ourselves, whether we are feeling sorry for ourselves or whether we are taking much comfort in our circumstances.
In a world that is constantly seeking after the ever elusive “else”, stand apart, Christian. Be different. Learn this characteristic that is confident in the riches of glory and sees with the eyes of faith whereby in any circumstance, we can constantly repeat the refrain, “Christ is enough.”