As many times as I have read that verse it has only been recently that I noticed something about it. Some people seem content whereas others are never satisfied, always ambitious, trying to fly higher, live higher, and be higher than they are at any given moment. It’s just a basic personality difference, right? No, Paul says that contentment is something you learn.
Paul was certainly on the fast track that day as he walked toward Damascus. He had had a prestigious education and was highly esteemed by the Jewish leadership even as a young man. He almost certainly would have wound up on the Sanhedrin and lived life in at least the upper middle classes if not the aristocratic upper class. And he gave it all up. 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, Phil 3:7-9.
So how did he learn to be content with less money, less comfort, less esteem, less of just about everything than he had planned and expected out of life? He tells us himself.
Paul rejoiced, not in fame and fortune, but in the Lord (3:7; 4:4). He found happiness in his relationship with God and Christ, and with the knowledge of his salvation. That is also why he considered dying to be “gain” (1:21). Is there anything that should cause us more joy than knowing we will live with our God for eternity? And being happy is perhaps the greatest key to contentment.
He used the avenue of prayer (4:6,7). That prayer gave him peace of mind because he was no longer anxious. He had turned everything over to God and trusted him to provide. It is easier to be content when you know someone else is in control.
He was careful what he thought about (4:8). I learned a long time ago to avoid looking at house plans and stop walking through model homes. I never window shop for things I cannot afford anyway. I never indulge in “What if I won a million dollars?” daydreams. Those things don’t bother some people, but they are exactly the kinds of things that make me discontent. As long as I avoid doing those things I am perfectly happy with my life. What kinds of things do you need to avoid thinking about? Fill your mind instead with Paul’s list: whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Paul learned the lessons that life had to teach him (4:12). Too many times we go through situations and events, completely missing the abundance of wisdom we could be learning and stowing away for the future. We may be going through a particular trial for exactly that reason—God wants us to learn something. Maybe it’s learning the relative importance of things. Maybe it’s how to handle a problem so we can help others later on who have the same trial. Pay attention to what’s happening and use it to grow, not to fail the test of faith. When you know there’s a reason, even if you cannot figure out exactly what it is, it is much easier to be content.
Paul also took advantage of the help he was given, not just any help, but Divine help. I can do all things through him who strengthens me, (4:13). With that kind of help you can learn to handle anything, or don’t you believe Christ is more powerful than the devil? It’s one or the other.
Paul tells us that we can learn the same contentment he had. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me--practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you, (4:9). He says you can do it. He says I can do it. We can all learn to be content no matter what life throws at us, and in that learning, gain the peace that only the God of peace can give.
Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content, 1 Tim 6:6-8.