"But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content." (Philippians 4:10-19)
There is much of Paul's writing that really inspires me. His proclamation of the Gospel and condemnation of those who would pervert it have always been a blessing to me. But this verse - well, I don't know about you, but it can be a little troublesome. Just what does he mean by "therewith to be content?" It sounds a lot like rationalization to me. After all Paul gave up a good, prosperous life to go running around preaching the Gospel. For all his trouble he winds up broke, imprisoned and all but abandoned. So how about it, Mr. Saul of Tarsus, Super Apostle? Is this just false modesty and rationalization?
Let's be totally honest now. How many people would rather be poor and homeless than rich and living in a nice house? I suspect that this verse from Philippians would be a kind of rationalization for most people. Rather than admit they want what they don't have, they can claim to be "content therewith" in their need and feel real proud about it too. It's similar to when someone gives you a gift that shows a total lack of understanding of what you like. Well, it's the thought that counts! Yeah, right.
It is easy to look at the current situation and fall into a kind of fatalistic acceptance that denies the frustration and anger at our situation that most of us feel. We have desires and hopes and dreams for improvement. We see injustice and inequity and greed and hatred. We have to deal constantly with knowledge of how it ought to be compared with how it really is. It is a mistake to take this lightly and just brush it off with the attitude of just "go with it," or I am being "content therewith."
Discontent is the mental state that compares what should be with what is and finds the two are not the same. It is that discontent that ultimately leads to action. Namely, we want to change things so we do something. The alternative is for us to set out a goal, plan and implement to reach it -- and then be constantly frustrated and impatient because things don't seem to be getting anywhere. Are we to just be content that we are trying real hard? That doesn't seem like being "content therewith" either. If the goal is not reached, then I have to ask what the point is.
It is not God's way to simply accept what is as the way things have to be. God did not watch man's fall and then just shrug and say, "I guess I'll have to be content therewith." He saw fallen man and did what was necessary to reverse the condition and bring about the salvation of mankind. There is no need to simply accept things as they are.
This is a struggle that I have to go through continuously. I know there are things the Lord is doing and will do in my life. So why doesn't He just get on with it! Hey, I'm willing and ready for whatever He wants to do. Why, oh why, do I have to wait when I know where it's headed and want to get where He wants me to go? I would like Him to just zap me right there, NOW! That would make me content therewith.
I have been blessed with a small place in the country where I can go and get a little respite and relaxation. I don't get to go there as much as I like and I look forward to the day when I can move there permanently. But, for now, I have to make a three hour trip to get there. I'm always in a kind of conflict about this. I want to be there but I don't want to make the trip. The first hour isn't too bad. The second hour gets a little tiring. By the third hour I'm usually at the point of bouncing off the seat of the car impatient to be there. All I can seem to do is keep track of how much further I have to go. Three hours left, two hours left, one hour more --
Well, I finally learned something. The frustration and impatience is a result of concentrating on the destination instead of the trip. As long as I'm looking at where I want to be instead of where I am, I will always be frustrated with where I am not. Get it? So now when I make the trip I drop in a tape of "Elvis sings Gospel" and sing along. If I get tired of that, I can start singing old hymns at the top of my lungs. There is no one around to tell me I got the words wrong or am singing off-key. It's just me and Jesus rolling down the road having a good time.
When I do this, a strange thing happens. I will look down at my watch or at the odometer and notice that I've gone 100 miles and been on the road an hour and a half without even noticing the time pass. That's "content therewith." It doesn't matter how long the journey is or that I'm not at the end yet. I'm content just to be on the road knowing that eventually I'll get there.
This comes from finding the Kingdom of God within you. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, you are effectively living in that Kingdom. Separated from the world, disconnected in effect, the world just flows around you. It is being on a journey with the Lord, rejoicing just because we are with Him always.
So, I think this is what Paul is talking about:
Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)
Paul's statement to the Philippians isn't some rationalization or excuse. He just wants them to understand that his joy is not in receiving the gift but in the fact that they gave to him out of love. He is rejoicing that the Lord has so moved in them. That is the key to understanding this passage. We don't have to just grin and bear it. We can take everything to the Lord and know that He will listen and will start to work with us to resolve all things according to His will out of His love for us. When we learn to live in that constant state of rejoicing we gain that peace that passes all understanding, and then we can learn to be content therewith