The key to contentment despite your circumstances

By Greg Laurie

For the apostle Paul, it was a fate worse than death. He was chained to a guard, unable to go out and preach the gospel.

Paul was a prisoner of Rome in his own hired house, and he was facing some very difficult circumstances personally. He didn’t know whether he would be acquitted or put to death. Yet in the last chapter of the book of Philippians, we find the picture of a perfectly contented apostle Paul.

In fact, one of the main themes of Philippians is joy. Again and again in his great epistle to the Christians in Philippi, Paul reminds his readers of the importance of rejoicing and says that believers can have joy in the Lord.

So what was the secret of Paul’s contentment and joy despite his circumstances? We find the answer in two words that he used often in Philippians: mind, which appears 10 times in the New King James Version, and think, which appears three times.

In other words, Paul was saying the secret of Christian joy and contentment is found in the way a believer thinks.

Paul wasn’t offering some possibility thinking concept or a shallow self-help principle. This was a man who had been in the nitty-gritty of life. And he was saying, “Here’s how I’ve learned how to have joy and contentment in a troubled world. It’s all in the way you think. It’s the way you perceive things. It’s your attitude.”

For example, we see the principle of single-mindedness throughout Philippians. In chapter 1, Paul said, “For to me, to live is Christ” (verse 21 NKJV). Then, in chapter 3, he said, “But one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (verses 13–14 NKJV).

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Paul had a single mind. He knew where he was going in life. And he understood that the main thing was to keep the main thing the main thing. He knew what really mattered in life and had his priorities in order. And first and foremost in his life was Jesus Christ.

In addition, Paul had the mind of Christ. He said in Philippians 2, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men” (verses 5–7 NKJV). That is the mind of a servant, the mind of someone who puts the needs of others above their own.

Next, Paul had the mind of spiritual growth and progression. Paul wasn’t one to rest on his laurels or think he’d reached a state of spiritual perfection. He recognized there was a long way to go. He said in chapter 3, “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me” (verse 12 NKJV).

Third, Paul had a rejoicing mind. He said in chapter 4, verse 4, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (NKJV).

Lastly, Paul revealed the secret of contentment: “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (verses 11–12 NKJV).

Remember, Paul was in prison when he made that statement. He didn’t receive his contentment from a theory in a classroom. It was from the school of life.

He’d experienced pain and pleasure, health and sickness, weakness and strength, and wealth and poverty. And he still found complete contentment.

We tend to think that contentment comes from what we have. “If I just had this, then I would be content.” It’s a never-ending pursuit of something that’s always just beyond our grasp.

Yet Paul said, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.” I find it fascinating that he used the word learned. In the original Greek, “learned” was a term the pagans used to speak of some special attainment or an initiation into some hidden truth.

Also, the term Paul used for content is important. It isn’t a word that implied he didn’t care what happened or was numb to what was going on around him. Rather, he used a word that means “self-sufficient.” And in the context of this epistle, he was speaking of sufficiency in Jesus Christ.

So Paul was effectively saying, “Check this out. I’ve found the hidden truth. I’ve found the secret of contentment. It doesn’t matter where I am. I’m content, because it’s all about my relationship with God.”

Contentment isn’t based on what we have; it’s based on whom we know. Hebrews 13:5 tells us, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you'” (NKJV).

In other words, “Don’t live that way. Be content with what you have, because God will never leave us or forsake us.” He will be with us, no matter what.

Paul’s contentment came as a result of his close fellowship with Jesus, which lifted him above his circumstances and gave him the strength to deal with whatever he faced.

In the same way, if you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, you can know that the Lord will be with you, no matter what you’re facing in life. That is a great assurance. And that is where you will find contentment.

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