The Secret of Contentment (Philippians 4:1–23)

If the athlete wants to plaster Philippians 4:13 on their person or proclaim it during an interview, let him then speak of having learned to accept both defeat and victory with joy and peace and contentment in Christ. Let him speak of being strengthened to play in his prime with humility and also strengthened to fade from the spotlight with dignity. If he does so, then I might think that he’s actually read a few verses other than 4:13.

Philippians 4:13 unveils the “secret” of Philippians 4:12. The secret Paul speaks of is not one for “success” but contentment in the face of success or failure, a promotion or the loss of a job, life or death, sickness or health. The secret of this verse isn’t how you can achieve your goals. It is how you may accept with heavenly poise God’s holy, wise, and good providence wether it stings or is sweet. The strength Paul speaks of is grace to receive whatever comes your way as a heavenly citizen living worthy of the gospel of Christ.

The Greek word for “contentment” here,  all by itself, suggests the pagan Stoic notion of self-sufficiency and independence. But the word is not by itself. Paul flips its natural meaning upside down. Paul’s contentment is independent from states of either abundance or need, but it is not independent. It is Christ-dependent. Paul finds contentment through Christ in Christ.

Lloyd-Jones, preaching on theses verses said, “It is a statement that is characterized at one and the same time by a sense of triumph and humility. Paul sounds at first as if he is boasting, and yet, when you look at this statement again, you find that it is one of the most glorious and striking tributes that he has ever paid anywhere to his Lord and Master.” But too many, when they quote this verse, are boasting. It is all triumph with no humility. It is the same stoic notion found in Henley’s Invictus.

“Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.

No, Paul says, “Christ is the master of my life. To live is Christ and to die is gain. Christ is the captain of my soul. I am sure that He who began a good work in me will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” This is the secret of contentment: finding joy in Christ through Christ; Christ-dependence certain of Christ-sufficiency; desperately needed grace and utterly certain grace; recognizing a need as vast as the ocean and knowing there is a supply as vast as the cosmos. Forget Henley. Sing with Wesley instead.

Thou hidden source of calm repose,
Thou all sufficient love divine,
My help and refuge from my foes,
Secure I am if Thou art mine;
And lo! from sin, and grief, and shame
I hide me, Jesus, in Thy name.

Thy mighty name salvation is,
And keeps my happy soul above.
Comfort it brings, and power, and peace,
And joy, and everlasting love.
To me, with Thy great name, are given
Pardon, and holiness and heaven.

Jesus, my all in all Thou art;
My rest in toil, my ease in pain;
The healing of my broken heart,
In war my peace, in loss my gain;
My smile beneath the tyrant’s frown;
In shame my glory and my crown.

In want my plentiful supply,
In weakness my almighty power;
In bonds my perfect liberty,
My light in Satan’s darkest hour;
In grief my joy unspeakable,
My life in death, my all-in-all.

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