Last week was tough as we looked at the idea of greed and how that can be destructive in people’s lives. This week we focus on the virtue of contentment.
 

Reading

Phil 4:10-14       I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last your normal disposition of care and concern for me has bloomed again. In fact, you have always been so disposed, but had no opportunity to show it. 11 Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances, I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 14 In any case, it was kind of you to partner with me in my distress.
 

Reflection

What does it mean to be content? What does a content life look like in the modern world?  Often there seems to be this relentless drive for more and more. More experiences, activities, adventures, work, travel, and relationships. Our lives are often characterised by a pathological kind of busyness. Some are hardly ever satisfied with what they have, or they rarely take the time to enjoy what they have. It seems FOMO [fear of missing out] can easily dominate our lives to the point where we are exhausted from trying to be and do everything. As followers of Jesus, do we need to learn again to be content? What does that look like and how do we do it?
 
Two specific elements stand out to me as I reflect on this Scripture from Philippians. Firstly, contentment was something Paul “learned”. This was not something automatic but something brought about through gaining experience and a deeper perspective on the Christian life, coupled with intentionally applying wisdom to his life. Paul’s experiences, both good and difficult, and his understanding of Christ have taught him to practice contentment in all circumstances. Secondly, amidst the various experiences of life, Paul learned that Christ was sufficient in every situation. Phil 4:13 is a statement of confidence that Jesus is enough for him.
 
In the time of Paul, to be content was to be self-sufficient. It meant you did not need anything or anyone else. In other words, you could survive on your own with what you had.  However, that is not what Paul has in mind here. Paul is not thinking in terms of self-sufficiency but rather in terms of Christ-sufficiency. The secret that Paul had learned was to rely on Christ in all these varied circumstances of his life (4:13). Neither wealth nor poverty should add to or diminish our contentment in Christ. Paul expresses gratitude for gifts and support offered by the Philippians but they are additional and not determinative of his joy and contentment with and in Christ.
 
However, we have to reflect carefully about what contentment looks like in practice. Contentment does not mean sitting back and doing nothing, being lazy and not participating in the wonderful gift of life. Nor does it mean selling our souls as we work 50+ hours a week to pay for the weekend extravaganza of partying all day and night only to return to the rat race on Monday morning. Contentment in Christ allows us to slow our pace down and enjoy all that God has given us already. We do not always have to give in to the desire for more and more, because we are grateful and enjoying what we already have.
 
Contentment is not the elimination of desire but the right ordering of our desires toward flourishing in all dimensions of life. Contentment is a virtue we can learn to practice in our consumerist society. We need to relearn that we do not need to purchase things to find joy. We can be experience joy in Christ, in community, in participating in the work of God to rescue and restore our beautiful world. We can enjoy what we already have, whether that is a little or a lot. More importantly, we can enjoy the people we have in our lives, including Christ. Sure, the things we have may add to our enjoyment, but they are not the essential ingredient.
 

Prayer

Gracious God, may we be content with all that we have in you. Allow us to learn the secret of Christ-sufficiency. May we learn to be grateful for what we have. Give us the strength to navigate our culture. Give us the wisdom to know what we need and what is unnecessary or detrimental to our flourishing and the flourishing of others. Teach us Lord, to be content in you.
 

Questions

Can you think of contemporary examples of contentment?
In what areas of life could you learn to be more content?
 

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