Originally posted on the Bibles for America Blog.
We all go through high and low points in our lives. It’s easy to be content when things are going well. But when faced with the lows—the difficult, puzzling situations—how do we react? Do we simply grit our teeth and try to get through them, or do we spend time wishing things were different?
In Philippians 4:11-12, the apostle Paul made a remarkable statement:
“I have learned, in whatever circumstances I am, to be content. I know also how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in everything and in all things I have learned the secret both to be filled and to hunger, both to abound and to lack.”
Paul said he had learned to be content not only when things were going well and all his needs were met, but also when he was hungry and lacked even basic necessities. How was he able to be content in all circumstances, whether good and bad? With the help of notes from the New Testament Recovery Version, we’ll take a closer look at these two verses to find out what the Bible says about how we can be content.
Paul’s circumstances when he wrote Philippians
It’s easy to see how Paul could be content while abounding—that is, while he had everything he needed. But when Paul wrote this epistle to the Philippian believers, he was far from being in a pleasant, trouble-free environment. He was a prisoner in Rome, abased and in want.
Let’s recall who Paul was and how he came to be a prisoner.
Born to Hebrew parents and educated under Gamaliel, an honored teacher of Judaism, Saul of Tarsus was zealous for the Old Testament law. He even hunted down and persecuted believers in Jesus. But God had chosen him.
While he was still a young man, the resurrected Jesus appeared to him directly, and Saul’s life was forever changed. He repented, completely forsook his previous life, and believed in Christ. He was regenerated, and Christ came to live in him. Eventually, he changed his name from Saul to Paul.
God then sent Paul to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the Roman Empire. While many people were saved through his preaching, others opposed and persecuted him. Eventually, he was arrested because of his faith and was brought to Rome as a prisoner. We can only imagine how Paul suffered in such a situation.
Yet it was as a prisoner in Rome that Paul wrote to the Philippians that he had learned the secret of being content in whatever circumstances he was. What was the secret Paul learned?
If we consider the entire book of Philippians, one thing stands out: the experience and enjoyment of Christ. This was Paul’s secret to being content.
Now let’s take a look at some verses in Philippians that reveal this to us.
To live is Christ
In Philippians 1:21 Paul said, “For to me to live is Christ.” Note 1 on live in the New Testament Recovery Version explains:
“Paul’s life was to live Christ. To him to live was Christ, not the law or circumcision. He would not live the law but would live Christ, not be found in the law but be found in Christ (3:9). Christ was not only his life but also his living. He lived Christ because Christ lived in him (Gal. 2:20). He was one with Christ in both life and living. He and Christ had one life and one living. They lived together as one person. Christ lived within Paul as Paul’s life, and Paul lived Christ without as Christ’s living. The normal experience of Christ is to live Him, and to live Him is to magnify Him always, regardless of the circumstances.”
Even while imprisoned in Rome, Paul experienced Christ as his life, and he lived Christ and magnified Him to those around him. Despite his circumstances, Paul experienced the indwelling Christ meeting his every need.
Counting all things loss to gain Christ
Then in Philippians 3:8, Paul testified:
“But moreover I also count all things to be loss on account of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, on account of whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as refuse that I may gain Christ.”
Paul was captivated by the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus. This is why he counted the religious, cultural, and philosophical things of his past as refuse, or worthless garbage. To Paul, nothing could compare with the experience and enjoyment of the wonderful Christ he knew and loved.
Paul focused on knowing and experiencing Christ, who was his life. His life’s aim was to gain Christ in every situation.
Able to do all things in Christ
Then in Philippians 4:13, Paul said:
“I am able to do all things in Him who empowers me.”
Paul’s testimony was that he was able to do all things by being in Christ, no matter what situation he was in. He didn’t try to muster up courage or maintain a positive attitude to handle his troubles apart from the Lord. Instead, he remained in Christ, even under very difficult circumstances.
Note 1 on in Him in the Recovery Version explains:
“Paul was a person in Christ (2 Cor. 12:2), and he desired to be found in Christ by others. Now he declared that he was able to do all things in Him, the very Christ who empowered him. This is an all-inclusive and concluding word on his experience of Christ. It is the converse of the Lord’s word in John 15:5 concerning our organic relationship with Him, ‘Apart from Me you can do nothing.’”
Paul experienced Christ as the secret of being content in any situation by being in Christ. And by being in Christ, Paul was empowered by Christ.
Living Christ, gaining Christ, and being in Christ were all part of the secret Paul learned of being content no matter what his situation. So as the note points out, Paul’s testimony that he could do all things in Christ who empowered him is the all-inclusive and concluding word on his entire experience of Christ.
What does it mean to be empowered?
Note 2 on empowers in Philippians 4:13 explains:
“The Greek word means makes dynamic inwardly. Christ dwells in us (Col. 1:27). He empowers us, makes us dynamic from within, not from without. By such inward empowering, Paul was able to do all things in Christ.”
Paul’s empowerment didn’t come from a positive change in his outward environment. By being in Christ, he was empowered from within and made dynamic inwardly. This is how he was able to do all things, including being content, no matter what was happening around him.
We can experience what Paul experienced
So how can we, like Paul, experience Christ as our secret of being content in all our circumstances?
First, we have to realize where Christ is today. For us believers, He’s not far away. When we believed in Christ, He, as the life-giving Spirit, came to live in our spirit. So to be in Him, we must simply be in our spirit, where He is.
But throughout the day, we often drift away from the Lord in our spirit to our anxious thoughts or depressed feelings. We may even find ourselves complaining about our circumstances. We’re certainly not content when we’re not in Him.
When we realize this, we simply need to turn back to our spirit where the Lord is. We can do this by calling on the name of the Lord, praying, singing, or praying with the Word of God. We’ll be brought back to Christ in our spirit and be empowered by Him.
The more we remain in our spirit, the more we enjoy Christ. Outwardly, our situation may not change, and the problems may not go away. But we change. Instead of complaining or worrying, we’re satisfied, contented, and even joyful through Christ’s empowering. As we experience being empowered by Christ, we’re able to do the seemingly impossible—be content in the middle of our circumstances.
The subject of Philippians is the experience of Christ, and the Recovery Version is full of insightful commentary that leads us into this experience. If you live in Australia, we encourage you to order a free copy of the New Testament Recovery Version here. You can read the verses we’ve mentioned in this post and all of their notes to learn more about how we can be content in any environment.
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