“Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). This is perhaps the greatest of all the lessons that Paul has been teaching us about joy. He has saved it for last. It is assumed here that to be godly, one must be born of God. Godliness is therefore the precondition for being a happy Christian. But it is an obvious fact of life that not all Christians are happy. The missing element that, if found, would allow any Christian to be truly happy, is contentment.

Contentment is the state of a Christian’s heart when gratitude has become greater than what might otherwise disturb the peace. When a Christian is giving thanks for what has already been given, salvation in Jesus Christ being the supreme gift, and that thankfulness becomes so deep and pervasive that the things missing in life seem trite and insignificant by comparison, the Christian is in a state of contentment.

Paul was content when he gave us the last of his eight lessons on happiness:

“10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. 21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” (Philippians 4:10-23)

Paul refers to contentment as “the secret.” The word “secret” is entirely appropriate, because how to be content is not common knowledge. There are a significant number of Christians who seem to be genuinely content. However, there do seem to be many other Christians who have an underlying restlessness. Just under the surface, there is a sense of entitlement, a gnawing feeling that they really deserve more than this. When we look out at the Christian world, it’s as if only some Christians are privy to a secret.

Have you ever played one of those group games that usually takes place around a campfire or in lodge during a “retreat” or something like that? You know, fun little group bonding games where there is some secret code that some people in the group have been given that enables them to decode what one person is indicating when he calls out seemingly random people or objects? For example, they might say a few names and those in the know are immediately able to indicate a secret person or object, even if the information wasn’t told directly. The key to games like these is knowing or figuring out the secret. Once you know the pattern or the tell or the trigger or whatever, it’s as easy to identify the answer as it would be if you were told directly. Some people know the secret. Some people don’t.

In those group games, those who have learned the secret can rest content while everyone else is wracking their brains. Without the secret knowledge, those who are not “in the know” feel a growing sense of frustration the longer the game goes on. How are these other people doing that? The room divides between those with a growing sense of frustration and those who have learned the secret of being content. Christians fall into these same two categories, the increasingly frustrated and the happily content. Life is like this game.

According to Paul, there is a dividing line between two kinds of Christians, one typified by Paul before he learned the secret and the other typified by Paul after he learned the secret. Paul said, “I have learned the secret,” and that is the key distinction. Great news, he lets the Philippians in on the secret, and in so doing, he also tells us what’s going on: “I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (4:12). Now, if there is anything in the world that would cause the natural man to fret, to be riddled with frustration and worry, it would be to not know where tomorrow’s meals would be coming from. Poverty so severe that it threatens starvation would make anyone anxious! Well, anyone but Paul it seems. He knew a secret that made him content, not just generally at ease, but truly contented. What’s the secret?!

Here’s his secret: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). 

There is a reason that Christians like Tim Tebow would write this verse on their cleats. There is a reason that this verse is one of the most common to be quoted in baptism services. There is a reason this verse is among the most famous verses in the Bible. This verse is incredibly powerful. It can transform the worried heart to one of utter contentment. 

If frustration has been troubling your soul, then write down this secret. Physically write the words of Philippians 4:13 in ink on the palm of your hand! Have the secret code handy when temptation to fret tries to creep up. I’m telling you right now, if you come see me for counseling this week, feeling down and lacking the joy of the Lord, I’m not going to judge you, but the first thing I’m going to ask is to see your hand. If Philippians 4:13 isn’t written on your palm, then I’m going to ask you why not. I mean it. Take Deuteronomy 6:8 literally until contentment works its way into your heart the way ink seeps into your bloodstream. The former is worth risking the latter, but you cannot risk living your life as a Christian who lacks contentment. Write Philippians 4:13 on the palm of your hand.

In Philippians 4:13, Paul does not say that he himself can do anything. That would be to deny reality. Such thinking would not lead to contentment at all, only destruction. The ostrich with his head in the sand will get eaten by the alligator no matter how “content” he is in himself. 

Rather, Paul has become content because he is completely surrendered to the will of Jesus Christ. He is convinced that even if he dies, then that must be Christ’s will. And more than that, He is content because He has gotten so much out of life already that for life to end at this time would not be a disappointment. Even if he gets nothing else, he already has Christ! So, anything that Christ leaves him here to do he will be able to do through the power Christ supplies. That’s how Paul thinks, and when you learn to think like that, you will have learned the secret of contentment. 

When Paul closes Philippians with the blessing, “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,” he is speaking over the Philippians what he himself has been experiencing. The entire letter was written to confer the joy of the Lord to the spirits of individual Philippian believers. And still today, believers who set their minds on Jesus Christ, who discipline their minds to be thankful for what Christ has already given, will be content. 

So practice contentment. Write down the things you have to be thankful for. Spend as much time as necessary giving thanks (Philippians 4:6). And preach to yourself the timeless truth, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

Godliness with contentment is great gain.

With Joy in Christ,

Pastor Jeff