Comfort for Christians
by Arthur W. Pink, 1952
"I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content
whatever the circumstances." Philippians 4:11
Discontent! Was there ever a time when there was so much
discontent and restlessness in the world as there is today? We very much
doubt it. Despite our boasted progress, the vast increase of wealth, the
time and money expended daily in pleasure—discontent is everywhere! No class
is exempt. Everything is in a state of flux, and almost everybody is
dissatisfied. Many even among God's own people are affected with the evil
spirit of this age.
Contentment! Is such a thing realizable, or is it nothing
more than a beautiful ideal, a mere dream of the poet? Is it attainable on
earth, or is it restricted to the inhabitants of heaven? If feasible here
and now, may it be retained, or are a few brief moments or hours of
contentment the most that we may expect in this life? Such questions as
these find answer, an answer at least, in the words of the apostle Paul: "I
am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content
whatever the circumstances."
The force of the apostle's statement will be better
appreciated if his condition and circumstances at the time he made it, are
kept in mind. When the apostle wrote the words, he was not luxuriating in a
special suite in the Emperor's palace, nor was he being entertained in some
exceptional Christian household, the members of which were marked by unusual
piety. Instead, he was "in chains" (cf. Phil. 1:13, 14); "a prisoner" (Eph.
4:1), as he says in another Epistle. And yet, notwithstanding, he declared
he was content!
Now, there is a vast difference between precept and
practice, between the ideal and the realization. But in the case of the
apostle Paul contentment was an actual experience, and one that must have
been continuous, for he says, "in whatever state I am." How then did Paul
enter into this experience, and of what did the experience consist? The
reply to the first question is to be found in the word, "I have learned . .
. to be content." The apostle did not say, "I have received the baptism
of the Spirit, and therefore contentment is mine." Nor did he attribute
this blessing to his perfect "consecration." Equally plain is it that it was
not the outcome of natural disposition or temperament. It is something he
had learned in the school of Christian experience. It should be noted, too,
that this statement is found in an Epistle which the apostle wrote near the
close of his earthly career!
From what has been pointed out it should be apparent that
the contentment which Paul enjoyed was not the result of congenial and
comfortable surroundings. And this at once dissipates a vulgar conception.
Most people suppose that contentment is impossible unless one can have
gratified the desires of the carnal heart. A prison is the last place to
which they would go if they were seeking a contented man. This much, then,
is clear: contentment comes from within not without; it must be sought from
God, not in creature comforts.
But let us endeavor to go a little deeper. What is
contentment? It is the being satisfied with the sovereign dispensations of
God's providence. It is the opposite of murmuring, which is the spirit of
rebellion—the clay saying to the Potter, "Why have You made me thus?"
Instead of complaining at his lot, a contented man is thankful that his
condition and circumstances are no worse than they are. Instead of greedily
desiring something more than the supply of his present need, he rejoices
that God still cares for him. Such an one is "content" with such as he has.
"Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what
you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I
forsake you." (Heb. 13:5).
One of the fatal hindrances to contentment is
covetousness, which is a canker eating into and destroying present
satisfaction. It was not, therefore, without good reason, that our Lord gave
the solemn commandment to His followers—Take heed, and beware of
covetousness" (Luke 12:15). Few things are more insidious. Often it poses
under the fair name of thrift, or the wise safeguarding of the
future—present economy so as to lay up for a "rainy day." The Scripture
says, "covetousness is idolatry" (Col. 3:5)—the affections of the heart
being set upon material things rather than upon God. The language of a
covetous heart is that of the horseleech's daughter, "Give! Give!" The
covetous man is always desirous of more, whether he has little or much. How
vastly different the words of the apostle—"If we have food and clothing, we
will be content with these" (1 Tim. 6:8). A much needed word is that of Luke
3:14: "Be content with your wages!"
"Godliness with contentment is great gain" (I Tim. 6:6).
Negatively, it delivers from worry and fretfulness, from avarice and
selfishness. Positively, it leaves us free to enjoy what God has given us.
What a contrast is found in the word which follows, "But those who want to
be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires,
which plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a
root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from
the faith and pierced themselves with many pains." (I Tim. 6:9,10). May the
Lord in His grace deliver us from the spirit of this world, and make us to
be "content with such things as we have."
Contentment, then, is the product of a heart resting in
God. It is the soul's enjoyment of that peace which passes all
understanding. It is the outcome of my will being brought into subjection to
the Divine will. It is the blessed assurance that God does all things well,
and is, even now, making all things work together for my ultimate good. This
experience has to be "learned" by "proving what is that good, and
acceptable, and perfect, will of God" (Romans 12:2). Contentment is
possible only as we cultivate and maintain that attitude of accepting
everything which enters our lives, as coming from the hand of Him who is too
wise to err, and too loving to cause one of His children a needless tear.
Let our final word be this: real contentment is only
possible by being much in the presence of the Lord Jesus. This comes out
clearly in the verses which follow our opening text; "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" (Phil. 4:12, 13). It is only by cultivating intimacy with
that One who was never discontent, that we shall be delivered from the sin
of complaining. It is only by daily fellowship with Him who ever delighted
in the Father's will, that we shall learn the secret of contentment.
May both writer and reader so behold in the mirror of the Word, the glory of
the Lord Jesus, that we shall be "changed into the same image from glory to
glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Cor. 3:18).