Secrets of Contentment

Philippians 4:11-12 (English Standard Version)

JP: Good read by John MacArthur.

Secrets of Contentment

Excerpts:

In Philippians 4:11-12, Paul said, “I have learned to be content . . . I have learned the secret.” Here he used a Greek term pregnant with meaning—an allusion to the mystery religions of Greece. Initiation into those pagan cults involved becoming privy to certain religious secrets. Paul became privy to the secret of contentment, and it’s one he passed on to all who have been initiated by faith in Jesus Christ.

The point is that Paul had a patient confidence in God’s sovereign providence. He was content to do without and wait on the Lord’s timing. He didn’t resort to panic or manipulation of others. Those things are never called for. Paul was certain that in due time God would order the circumstances so that his needs would be met. We can have that same certainty today.

Until we truly learn that God is sovereign, ordering everything for His own holy purposes and the ultimate good of those who love Him, we can’t help but be discontent. That’s because in taking on the responsibility of ordering our lives, we will be frustrated in repeatedly discovering that we can’t control everything. Everything already is under control, however, by Someone far greater than you or I.

A synonym for God’s providence is divine provision, but that’s a skimpy label for a complex theological reality. Providence is how God orchestrates everything to accomplish His purposes. Let me show you what that means by contrast.

There are two ways God can act in the world: by miracle and by providence. A miracle has no natural explanation. In the flow of normal life, God suddenly stems the tide and injects a miracle. Then He sets the flow back in motion, just like parting the Red Sea until His people could walk across and closing it up again. Do you think it would be easier to do that—to say, “Hold it, I want to do this miracle” and do it—or to say, “Let’s see, I’ve got 50 billion circumstances to orchestrate to accomplish this one thing”? The latter is providence. Think, for example, of how God providentially ordered the lives of Joseph, Ruth, and Esther. Today He does the same for us.

Contentment comes from learning that God is sovereign not only by supernatural intervention, but also by natural orchestration. And what an incredible orchestra it is! Appreciate the complexity of what God is doing every moment just to keep us alive. When we look at things from that perspective, we see what folly it is to think we can control our lives. When we give up that vain pursuit, we give up a major source of anxiety.

Paul was content because he had confidence in the providence of God. That confidence, however, never led him to a fatalistic “It doesn’t matter what I do” attitude. The example of Paul’s life throughout the New Testament is this: Work as hard as you can and be content that God is in control of the results.

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