In Philippians 4:11-12, the Apostle Paul writes: “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little” (NLT). The book of Philippians is regarded as one of Paul’s prison letters, along with Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon. This is because Paul wrote these four letters while in prison, likely in Rome. How could Paul be so content while in prison? What is this secret to living?
Perhaps you have struggled with being content in your current circumstances. Perhaps you are discontent with being single, childless, with your home or paycheck. We have all faced some form of discontentment in our lives. We have heard the sayings, “The grass is always greener on the other side,” or “You always want what you don’t have.” We may be jealous and angry when someone else gets what we have hoped for. We might even question their worthiness.
Paul reveals the secret to being content with whatever he has. In 4:13, he writes, “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (NLT). Amid Paul’s imprisonments, beatings, and food insecurities, he has learned that Christ is the one who gives him strength. Paul says he has never truly been in need (Philippians 4:11); this is the heart of biblical contentment.
Can you recall when you were particularly satisfied after a really good meal? Psalm 63:5 relates being satisfied after a good meal to being satisfied in God. He writes, “You satisfy me more than the richest feast. I will praise you with songs of joy” (NLT).
God may not give us everything we want, but he promises to provide what we need. Such provision should move us to thanksgiving. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:25-34, he calls us not to worry about our lives, for God will provide for our needs. In 4:26, he says: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. you not much more valuable than they?”
God, in his grace, loves to give his children good gifts, and sometimes, he not only provides our needs, but he may give us some of our wants if they align with his purpose and plan. However, we must remember that if he says “no” to one of our wants, he may be protecting us, redirecting us, testing our faith, disciplining us, or spurring us to perseverance. God may also be calling us to wait for what he provides; this can be exceedingly challenging, especially in our age of instant gratification. But God’s timing is always right. We may think we know what is right for us and the right timing, but we should seek to pray as Jesus prayed to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of his betrayal: “not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42 NIV).
While we wait, or even if God says “no” to something we want, we should remind ourselves of the eternal blessings already provided to us in Christ. In Ephesians 1, Paul writes that we have been chosen, adopted, redeemed, and forgiven. When we believed in Jesus, we were also marked in him “with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory” (Philippians 4:13—14). This knowledge of who we are in Christ should lead us toward thanksgiving and contentment, for in Christ, we truly have all we need and more!
As we enter this season of thankfulness, let's strive to continue the journey toward contentment with the reminder to be thankful and give praise to God who provides for every need and circumstance.
1. Charles Stanley, Jesus, Our Perfect Hope (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2018), 313.