By Kendall Lowe
When I was living in the Dominican Republic, I taught Bible to a class of high school juniors at the Christian school. These kids come from a mixture of homes and houses, but all of them would have been considered “poor” to any of us. In that class I got to a point in the letters of Paul where the topic for the day was contentment. Uh oh. This was clearly not going to be an easy topic between myself and the students. Imagine Bill Gates or the like coming to your home and saying, “The Bible tells you to be content.” The nerve of someone like that! Well, that’s exactly how I felt going into this discussion with these teenagers.
I started out by getting a feel for their ideas about themselves and me. I asked if they considered themselves rich and, of course, they said no. Then I asked if they considered themselves to be poor and many them said no as well. Finally, I asked them if it surprised them to hear that I, and probably all of the other American missionaries in the school there, did not consider ourselves to be rich. This, of course, surprised them. I did not come out and ask them if they thought we were rich people, but their response to that statement said enough.
However, that didn’t surprise me at all. So, I continued by diving into the idea of being content. First, I asked them what that word meant to them. The word for them was contentamiento, and most of them thought of it the same way we would: being happy with where you are at. Google would define it as “a state of happiness and satisfaction”. However, if we understand being content in this way, we do not understand it the way Paul did.
In Philippians 4, where I was with the junior class on that day, Paul is talking about the Philippian church’s concern for his situation (prison). He tells them, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” We may read this and think, “That sounds the same as how you just defined it.” But let’s not miss what Paul says here. He doesn’t say, “I have learned to be content in my given situation.” He says, “whatever the circumstances.” The following verse he says again, “being content in any and every situation.”
This is the truth of contentment: not being content in the situation you are in, but being content in whatever situation you may be in. We do not know what life is going to throw our way. Tomorrow you might wake up with no job, no income, or no house. Or tomorrow you may wake up to find a winning lottery ticket on your front steps! If you have learned to be content with where you are right now, a sudden change may drastically alter your attitude or even your faith. However, if like Paul, we can learn the secret to being content in “any and every situation”, whatever life gives or takes away, we can be unchanging in our faith toward God and our generosity towards others. So, what is the secret? How about the next verse in Philippians 4: “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.”