It’s that time of year again: Christmas is coming. Depending on where you live, snow might be falling. Lights deck the houses and the trees, and Christmas music is perpetually in the air. Thanksgiving has passed, but the holiday dedicated to giving joyful thanks for the greatest gift of all is still yet to come.
“I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need…” (Philippians 4:10-11).
If you look for all mentions of joy in Philippians, you will find that all of them involve living for Christ. Here, it is no different: Paul rejoices in the Lord because the Philippian church is emulating and glorifying Christ by supporting their brother in Christ, Paul, as he suffers in Rome for his shameless declaration of Christ alone. Paul’s joy is in Christ, he is united with others in Christ, his hope is in Christ, and his very life is in Christ–that is why he is not in need.
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Philippians 4:11-12).
First, Paul places neediness and contentment on opposite sides of the spectrum. Contentment isn’t just being satisfied with what you have but also knowing and being grateful that you have enough. It is grounded in a trust that, as Paul puts it, “God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). Thus, God plays a very active role in contentment. If your goal is not Christ but rather some other object or person, you will never be truly content because that is only possible through Jesus–the Son of God who was born one night in a stable to be the Savior of the world.
Second, contentment is something that Paul has learned–one is not simply automatically content. The word “learned” is used twice: when Paul declares that he has learned that he should be content and when Paul declares that he has learned the secret of how he can be content.
So why should we be content in the first place? Earlier in his letter to the Philippians, Paul had explained this:
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him… that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:8-11).
In short, we should be content because we have the ultimate gift of salvation. The wealth and securities of this world alone are ultimately but “short-lived mocker[ies].” That is not to say that food, gifts, and friendships are worthless–they spring from the grace of God–but rather that they are shadows of what is to come. In the end, chasing after these things shows that one does not fully trust God’s infinite goodness and sovereignty and His promise to supply our every need. If Jesus is our Savior, then our hope is not in this life nor in this world but in the infinite Lord who died to grant us eternal life.
And what is the secret to contentment that Paul learned? God’s grace.
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
Everything that seems so hard to do–keeping one’s eyes and hope solely in Jesus, being content and trusting God’s provision no matter the circumstance, rejoicing always no matter the heartbreak, giving thanks always no matter the despair, standing firm, living in a way that is worthy of the gospel–all this is possible and is only possible through God, the Almighty God who humbled Himself and walked among those who plotted against Him in order to give us this grace through His Spirit because He loves us. So turn to Him. Pray, read His Word, listen, and build up those who likewise seek Christ.
Hymn Spotlight: “Blessings” ~ Laura Story, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”
~ Luke 2:29-32 ~
Photo Credits: Hannah Wong