This statement by one of his deacons aroused the pastor’s curiosity. They were discussing possible board members and Jim’s name had come up.
“Pastor, it’s like this,” the deacon explained. “A thermometer doesn’t change anything around it—it just registers the temperature. It’s always going up and down. But a thermostat regulates the surroundings and changes them when they need to be changed. Jim is a thermometer—he lacks the power to change things. Instead, they change him!”
The Apostle Paul was a thermostat. Instead of having spiritual ups and downs as the situation changed, he went right on, steadily doing his work and serving Christ. His personal references at the close of this letter indicate he was not the victim of circumstances, but the victor over circumstances: “I can accept all things” (4:11); “I can do all things” (4:13); “I have all things” (4:18). Paul did not have to be pampered to be content; he found his contentment in the spiritual resources abundantly provided by Christ.
Contentment is not complacency, nor is it a false peace based on ignorance. The complacent believer is unconcerned about others, while the contented Christian wants to share his or her blessings. Contentment is not escape from the battle, but rather an abiding peace and confidence in the midst of the battle.
“I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am” (4:11). Two words in that verse are vitally important—“learned” and “content.” The verb “learned” means “learned by experience.” Paul’s spiritual contentment was not something he had immediately after he was saved. He had to go through many difficult experiences of life in order to learn how to be content.
The word “content” actually means “contained.” It is a description of the man whose resources are within him, so he does not have to depend on substitutes outside. The Greek word means “self-sufficient” and was a favorite word of the stoic philosophers. But the Christian is not sufficient in himself; he is sufficient in Christ. Because Christ lives within us, we are adequate for the demands of life.
In these verses, Paul names three wonderful spiritual resources that make us adequate and give us contentment:
The Overruling Providence of God (4:10)
But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity.
In this day of scientific achievement, we hear less and less about the providence of God. We sometimes get the idea that the world is a vast natural machine and even God Himself cannot interrupt the wheels as they are turning. But the Word of God clearly teaches the providential workings of God in nature and in the lives of His people. The word “providence” comes from two Latin words: pro meaning “before” and video meaning “to see.” God’s providence means God sees to it beforehand. It does not mean God simply knows beforehand because providence involves much more. It is the working of God in advance to arrange circumstances and situations for the fulfilling of His purposes. We must constantly remind ourselves of the Lord’s providence, especially when things do not turn out as we expected.
The familiar story of Joseph and his brothers illustrates the meaning of providence (Gen. 37–50). Joseph’s brothers envied him and sold him as a slave when he was only seventeen years old. He was taken to Egypt and there God revealed seven years of famine were coming after seven years of plenty. It was through Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams that this fact was discovered. Because of that, Joseph was elevated to the position of second ruler in Egypt. After twenty years of separation, Joseph’s brothers were reconciled to him and they understood what the Lord had done.
“God sent me before you to preserve life,” said Joseph (Gen. 45:5). “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). This is the providence of God: His hand ruling and overruling in the affairs of life. Paul experienced this divine providence in his life and ministry, and was able to write, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). God, in His providence, had caused the church at Philippi to become concerned about Paul’s needs and it came at the very time Paul needed their love most! They had been concerned, but they had lacked the opportunity to help. Many Christians today have the opportunities, but they lack the concern!
Life is not a series of accidents; it is a series of appointments. “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye upon you” (Ps. 32:8). Abraham called God “Jehovah-Jireh” meaning “the Lord will provide” (Gen. 22:14). This is the providence of God, a wonderful source of contentment.
In Part 2, we will look at two more wonderful spiritual resources that make us adequate and give us contentment.