October 22, 2014.
Are you content in Christ? Last Sunday I heard a good sermon on the peace of God that passes understanding and it really tied in to this idea of being content in Christ. We all know the verse.
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
But this verse is so often taken out of context and misapplied, often unknowingly. Let’s back up and look at the context.
“I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
You see, Paul is not giving the admonishment that we will be able to do whatever we set our mind to as long as we have Christ (though if it is the will of God, we will indeed be able to do so). He was not saying that everything in our lives is going to work out. This verse is not about prosperity, but being content. Paul said that he had learned to be content in all situations. He had learned how to abound in the good things of the world, being prosperous and how to be content when bad times befell him. It was Christ’s strength that got him through the situations, not that made him able to do anything he wanted to.
Paul was content in the Lord because the Lord was all he needed. The Lord was the constant in Paul’s life, the only constant that mattered. Whatever situation he found himself in, he had the Lord. It didn’t matter. If he was prosperous and very successful in a certain area, he still walked in the Spirit, which was the only thing that really mattered. If he was beaten, put into prison or stoned and left for dead, he still had the Lord. Again, that was the only thing that mattered. I actually see this verse as more of an encouragement to be content in the Lord when times get rough. When things aren’t going the way we want them to go, even to the point that we wonder why God isn’t moving in out lives. He’s still there. We just haven’t learned to be content in His presence. I say ‘we,’ but I guess I can only really speak for myself. I know that I have not fully learned how to be content in the Lord yet. I’m trying, but I often fail, because I want the good things in life. Don’t we all?
This is not to say that God doesn’t want us to have good things in life. Paul writes to Timothy:
“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.”
(I Timothy 6:17-19)
Being rich is not a sin. Loving riches is. But it’s not about the money, for money is neither moral or immoral. It’s a heart problem. When we lust after the things in this world, we are putting idols in front of God. Sure, we can honor him with lip service, but if the heart is not in it, it is vain. Worthless. I believe that this is an area where we can easily deceive ourselves. We can tell ourselves that we aren’t serving money, but then focus our lives on pursuing it. It’s a dangerous path, and it all stems from not being content in the Lord.
So I ask again. Are you content in the Lord? I know too often I am not. I pursue success like it is the only thing that will make me worth anything to anyone. But the truth is, success defined by the world does not make anyone worthy to God. We have all sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God (cf. Rom. 3:23). No one is worthy, and no matter how successful we are in the world’s eyes, that means next to nothing in God’s eyes. Success is defined by God as believing in His Son and obeying to produce salvation. In this, we are made worthy- washed in the blood that cleanses us from all sin. This is why Paul was content. His sins were washed away and he had the promise to look forward to in the life to come. We have that same promise if we are found in the Lord.
Even the things that Paul did have to boast about in this life, he counted as nothing.
“For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
Maybe this is a better question. If the circumstance you are in right now were to never change, but you were to continue to build a strong relationship with God, could you be content? It scares me to think that it might be hard for me to do that. I think I could, but I’m not sure I would like it (though, I guess that goes against the whole “being content” thing, doesn’t it?). Some how we need to get to the place that Paul was at. I think it comes in spurts. It is the process of lengthening those spurts that I am working on now.
So how can we learn to be content? I think the first step is understanding who we are to rejoice in. I think Isaiah puts it in beautiful language:
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”
We can be content in the situation that we are in because our rejoicing comes in the Lord. He is our hope and our stay, the rock of our salvation. We know that whatever this life may throw at us, or how unpleasant we might perceive our situation, we have a much better time prepared in which we will dwell with the Lord forever. We do not deserve this reward, for we are (were) unworthy, unholy. But God so loved the world, right? His Son came to die in our place, to reconcile us to Him. We love Him because He first loved us. And in Him we are to be content.
So yes, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. You can too. But just remember that this admonishment is not about prosperity but about being content in the Lord. We strive to walk in step with the spirit, and we need to help one another mature and grow in the faith. May we ever learn to be content in every situation, knowing the promise that lays out before us.
Suggested Daily Reading: Philippians 1-4.
Grace and peace.