I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:11–13)

The apostle Paul wrote these words from . . . wait for it . . . LOCKDOWN! Sound relevant?

He had hoped to be in Spain, but instead ends up in prison in Rome. Shattered dreams, crushed aspirations . . . call it what you will, Paul didn’t get what he’d planned. Furthermore, he was innocent. But still, the Roman emperor locked him up (down!).

And yet he writes, from lockdown remember, Philippians 2:14, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing.” Paul knows how counter-cultural this is. That’s why he says that the absence of grumbling or arguing will lead to shining among people “like stars in the sky” (2:15). People who don’t grumble or argue shine. Could it be that the church is being presented with the greatest evangelistic opportunity it has ever had this century, and yet many are missing it?

Paul knew his lockdown had “actually served to advance the gospel” (1:12). Furthermore, he knew wherever he was, Jesus was with him. Jesus’ presence meant so much to him that he would prefer to die. That would be “gain” for Paul (1:21). Why? Because “to depart and be with Christ . . . is better by far” (1:23). No wonder he had “learned the secret of being content in any and every situation” (4:12). Christ was everything to Paul.

It’s Paul’s love for Christ that leads him to write: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (4:13). Now, Paul is not saying what we often think he’s saying. He means that our strength is not in the things we typically think our strength is in—a healthy bank account the ability to travel, health, etc. Our strength is in Christ. Conversely, our lack of strength is not in the lack of these things. Our strength is in Christ.

This is something Paul “learned” remember. So, if you are struggling to be content, here’s what I suggest. Don’t beat yourself up. Rather receive God’s grace! If we are ever to learn contentment, we must first learn to be content with our discontentment. You may have to read that again—and again, and again!

God is content with you, even when you are not content with yourself. That’s grace!

Alan Stanley