“Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content”
“to be content”
The word “content” is a Stoic term. Stoic thought was a philosophy of self-sufficiency. To Stoics, every resource for coping with life was found within the human being himself. The word means “sufficient in oneself.” The Stoic was competent above all else. His state of mind was independent of all people and all things. He needed nothing and no one. The Stoic sought to eliminate all emotion and all desire. This was done by a doctrine of divine determination. The Stoic must steel himself into acceptance of the inevitable, unrelenting circumstances of life. Emotions such as love and compassion got in the way of a Stoic’s contentment, eliminating the person and calling it peace. This philosophy was inhuman. Elements of this philosophy still remain today.
Paul used “content” in a different way. “Content” comes from two Greek words: self and sufficient. A content person is a self-sufficient person! Does this mean that Paul was self-sufficient? His sufficiency was not self-sufficiency but Christ-sufficiency: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (v. 13). He was independent of circumstance because he was dependent upon Christ. The Stoic was self-sufficient but Paul was Christ-sufficient.
We can illustrate the word “content” by picturing a country that does not need to import. Canada is a nation of great natural resources. She could exist without any help from another country. She is self-contained. She has any agricultural or mineral product she needs to sustain herself.
Paul found greater contentment in hunger in the ministry of Christ than he did in the abundant banquet table of a wealthy man. He was a satisfied man as he sat destitute in jail.
Biblical contentment is not fatalism. Paul was not content “with” his circumstance but “in” his circumstance. However, this is not an acquiescence that blunts any ambition. No, it is freedom from anxiety. It puts in proportion the things that are important. It can put priority on the things of greatest value:
“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Cor 4:17-18)
The noun of the word “content” occurs in 2 Co 9:8:
“And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.”
It also is seen in 1 Tim 6:6:
“Now godliness with contentment is great gain.”
Contentment comes from accepting Christ as our sufficiency.
Contentment does not derive from fatalism, indifference, hopelessness, or resignation. Circumstances need not enslave us. We break the bondage of enslavement to circumstance by contentment.
Contentment is the opposite of covetousness or greed. Money never satisfies us because we never get enough to gratify our desires. Life becomes a perpetual resetting of monetary goals, higher and higher. This is covetousness:
“Covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5).
The day a Christian comes to believe that contentment comes from God is the day of liberty from the circumstances of life:
“Let you 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’” (Heb. 13:5).