“I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 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. … And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:11-12, 19 HCS
I once heard a preacher say that no true believer in Jesus Christ would ever be hungry, and he quoted the last part of this verse to prove it. “God will supply all your needs.” His statement left me puzzled, because I’ve known true believers in West Africa who went through famine with the rest of their villages.
So, I looked into the context. Check out the first part of it above. Paul – that would be the apostle Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament – had been hungry and in need. He wrote these words as part of a thank-you note to the Philippians who had sent him some money.
It wasn’t that Paul never had an unmet need. It was that he had learned to be content in Christ’s strength when his physical needs were quite real and not immediately taken care of. Contentment is a powerful choice. “I don’t have this thing I need, this thing I’ve prayed for, and yet … I choose to be okay with that, because I do have Christ, and He alone is sufficient.”
And when we suffer the lack, we can then rejoice when God provides.
It’s interesting to see how often Philippians 4:12 is quoted. In all sorts of settings and situations, we hear and/or see this verse being quoted. Not necessarily wrong, but it does set a contrast to consider the context, as Susan pointed out.
Paul was not always strong—we know for sure he suffered some sort of ailment that would not go away. He was not always well fed, or even just fed at all. He did not always know comfort, either physically or emotionally as he was imprisoned and abandoned on more than one occasion. Yet, he penned these words—that through Christ he could do what he’d been commissioned to do; through Christ his needs were always met.
I read a book once that gently rebuked those who would say, ‘I can do this because, hey, it could be worse.’ Took me by surprise, but as I continued reading, I began to understand the point. It was this: what happens when it is worse? Comparative contentment is a slippery-slope. The Christian shouldn’t rejoice because comparatively, we’ve got it pretty good. Stripped down to the bones, that kind of thinking points to a love for God because of what He can do for us—not a pure love for Him because of who He is. That’s something akin to saying I love my husband because he brings me chocolate. He does, but that’s not why I love him. This is the grinding point: I am content because He loves me. That’s all.
If I have Christ, then I lack nothing. I have all that I need.