Philippians 4:10-13

The Secret of Contentment

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.  Philippians 4:12

An important principle of debate and persuasive argument is to avoid the use of absolutes such as whatever, any, every, or all. This kind of all-inclusive qualifier is easily refuted because the person arguing the opposing viewpoint usually can cite an exception.

Paul ignored that debate principle in Philippians 4:10-13. He used four absolutes in those verses: “in whatever circumstances,” “in any and every circumstance,” and “all things.”

I’m confident Paul was speaking the truth, but living out that truth day by day sometimes seems impossible. Nevertheless, I’m encouraged by the fact that Paul “learned” the secret of contentment. The Greek word implies “learn by use and practice, be in the habit of, or accustomed to.”* Contentment didn’t come easily. It was forged in the refining fires of many hardships. (See 2 Corinthians 11:23-29.)

The Amplified Bible translates Philippians 4:11 this way: “I have learned to be content … satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed or uneasy.” How could Paul maintain that attitude in both prosperity and adversity? As he said earlier in the letter, he focused on one goal: “that Christ shall even now as always be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20). His commitment to God’s purpose (2:13) and his confidence in the outcome (3:20-21) generated contentment.

We can’t manufacture contentment, but the Holy Spirit can fill us with contentment. Like Paul, our job is to focus on exalting Christ. As we maintain an abiding confidence in who God is, the Spirit will give us an abiding attitude of gratitude. We’ll rejoice in what God has done in the past and what He has promised to do in the future.

Unfortunately, that isn’t my perspective every day. I allow circumstances to get in the way—work conflicts, family strife, personal failures, or unsettling world events. In those moments, I must return to the truth of Philippians 4:7—the peace of God can guard my heart and mind if I keep my eyes on Jesus.

The Christmas season is an opportunity to focus on my Savior, my blessings, and my goal of exalting Christ—the secret to contentment. And yes, through Christ we can learn to be content “in any and every circumstance.” The absolutes in this case cannot be refuted. Will our lives reflect that truth?


Read 2 Corinthians 1:1-11 and 6:3-10. What light do these passages shed on Paul’s ability to be content “in any and every situation”?

Read 1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19. What teaching about the causes of discontent does Paul give? What specific actions does he recommend that will help us be more content?

Read Hebrews 13:5-6. What do these verses suggest about the relationship between contentment and our confidence in God’s provision for us?

For more on contentment, read Contentment under Dig into Words.

 Denise K. Loock

*”Greek Lexicon :: G3129 (NIV).” Blue Letter Bible. Accessed 29 Nov, 2015. http://www.blueletterbible.org

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