The British poet Frederick Langbridge (1849–1923) once wrote,
Two men look out through the same bars:
One sees the mud, and one the stars.
These words seem especially relevant as we read Paul’s letter to the saints at Philippi. No matter where life took Paul, and in spite of all he was called to endure, the apostle wrote with a heart of joy and with a spirit of optimism—“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation” (Philippians 4:12). Notice he said, “I have learned the secret of being content.” Which leads us to wonder: What is this secret of contentment, and why is it a secret?
The secret seems to relate to the fact that most people seek contentment in the wrong way. Aren’t we all inclined to believe that we would be happy and content if we could have all the material things we wanted and engage in any activity that we considered pleasurable? Countless witnesses throughout human history testify to the fallacy of such an idea. J. Paul Getty (1892–1976) was one of the wealthiest men of his time. After becoming a millionaire at age 23, Getty decided to live it up and for many years lived the life of the “rich and famous.” Yet, in the distress and discontent of his later life, he found himself looking back upon five failed marriages and poor relationships with his children. At age 75, he wrote:
A man can attend only so many parties and dances without getting bored. He can drink only so much champagne and paint the town red only so many times before he wakes up to the realization that he’s wasting a very great deal of time and energy on meaningless things.
How true! But, we didn’t need to hear from Mr. Getty to get a sense of the vanity of trying to find ultimate peace and happiness in the pleasures and pursuits of this life. Solomon wrote,
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun (Ecclesiastes 2:11–12).
Like Solomon, J. Paul Getty and many others have learned from experience that pleasure, power, fame and fortune do not ensure contentment.
Have you found yourself expressing discontent over the fact that you had been deprived of something you either wanted or felt you deserved? Truthfully, this disposition has little to do with what we actually have or may not have. Those who study human behavior refer to this as “relative deprivation.” Relative deprivation can be illustrated as follows: A peasant in a poverty-stricken country is forced to walk everywhere he goes. He sees his neighbor riding a bicycle and complains, “If only I had a bike.” In another
part of the world, a wealthy oil tycoon regrets he has only one Leer jet while one of his neighbors has two. Get the point? In both instances the men feel deprived and are discontented … yet their conditions in life are worlds apart!
Which brings us to the secret of contentment. It may be stated rather simply:
Contentment is not achieved by obtaining more, but by learning to be satisfied with less.
One must learn to discipline his desires so as “to be content” with what he has (Hebrews 13:5). It’s worthy to note that Paul said he had “learned“ to be this way. Contentment was not infused into Paul at his conversion, but became something he learned in the schoolhouse of experience. He went through manifold trials and a maze of cities while preaching the gospel, and through it all he learned to be content. He came to realize that God could be trusted; that God really did keep His promises. Therefore, Paul was able to accept all things and do all things “through Christ” (Philippians 4:13).
The apostle did not have to be pampered to be content, but found his self-sufficiency and strength in Christ! What a comfort when we finally realize that all of life’s misfortunes and disappointments are “not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
It is possible. We can be content even while living in a depraved and disillusioned world. But it begins and ends with us finding our sufficiency in Christ and in the hope of eternal life. Learning to be content … we must! Will you?
Over the last decade or so there seems to have been an explosion of talk about the liberal agenda in this country. In particular, the discussion ultimately revolves around where God fits in to the grand scheme of things. Does God belong in the classroom? Is it constitutional to have prayer in schools? Do women have more rights than their unborn child? God and His word appear to be under constant attack!
As frustrating as the current moral climate is we would be well served to realize that God has been under assault since the beginning of Creation! When we open our Bibles to Genesis 3 we see the account of man’s first encounter with Satan. In verse 1, Satan asks a question of Eve. “Has God indeed said ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” The first thing out of the Devil’s mouth is an accusation against God. It’s as though he was saying, “Is it true that God won’t let you have any of this good stuff in the garden”? Of course the answer was the exact opposite as Eve explained to Satan. “The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden, God has said you shall not eat it nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” The Devil then responds by lying to Eve, “You will not surely die.”
When we take a closer look at this conversation, we need to see what it is that our enemy is doing. In his first words to Eve, he is accusing God of creating all these wonderful things and then forbidding mankind to partake of them. He is assaulting the goodness of God! Satan then proceeds to lie to Eve about the consequences of partaking of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He is assaulting the holiness of God. In both of these instances the character of God is being called into question! Let’s break these two points down individually for a few moments.
The Goodness Of God. The Devil knows that God is perfectly good. He also knows that man is learning about God each and every day. By calling into question God’s goodness, Satan tempts us to believe something different from what the Lord has revealed about Himself (Psalm 34:8). When things are going well and we “feel” blessed, we probably don’t need to be convinced of God’s goodness. When things aren’t going so well, however, we are likely to be more vulnerable to the proposition that God isn’t always good.
This author struggles at times to remember that God’s goodness is not predicated on what happens or by mood. The Lord has demonstrated to all humanity through the gift of His Son that He is perfectly good! Yet, instead of focusing on the incalculable number of blessings God has showered on us, we sometimes let Satan convince us that what God has withheld is actually good for us.
Nothing could be further from the truth!
The Holiness Of God. The Devil knows that God is perfectly holy! Any and all sin is a violation of the holiness of God and must be punished. Therefore, Satan works very hard to deceive us into believing that our sins won’t require justice. “God might be upset with you for doing what He told you not to, but He won’t actually kill you for it.”
This is the lie that he told Eve. This is the lie that cost man his perfect fellowship with God. If we aren’t careful, this is the lie that will cost us eternity with God. As Christians, we know better than this. We know the Bible tells us that, “The wages of sin is death …” (Romans 6:23). We have seen God carry out His threats against people, nations, and even the entire earth in Noah’s flood! It isn’t a question of whether or not God is holy; it is a question of whether or not we will remember this when tempted by our enemy to believe otherwise!
Satan still comes at us the same way he did in the Garden of Eden. May the Lord help us to resist the temptation to forget His perfect goodness and unfathomable holiness!