Philippians 4:11-12 “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or want.”
Few of us have experienced the highs and lows of life to the degree Paul did. He lived in the luxury of Lydia’s home while in Philippi, because she was a wealthy seller of purple, but he experienced the poverty of a prison cell in that same town. He was deeply loved by those who believed the good news, but deeply hated by both Jews and Gentiles who felt threatened by his “new” religion. As an unbeliever, he approved the stoning of Stephen. Later, he experienced stoning himself, for the same cause. But this time his bruised and bloodied body survived the ordeal. God used him as an instrument to bring healing to others, but he himself had to live with his “thorn in the flesh.”
Through it all, Paul could be content. Through all the changes, one thing in Paul’s life remained the same. Every day this former murderer and hater of the world’s Savior got up to live under Jesus’ gracious love. Every day his sins were fully forgiven. Jesus gave his life for him, too. No matter what else they took away from Paul, he still owned heaven and eternal life. Even when he died, he had everything to look forward to. His God never changed.
Such contentment is our challenge at Thanksgiving. Sometimes our lives more or less mirror the troubles Paul faced. To us they may even seem worse. Our rebellious flesh feels like blaming God instead of loving and trusting him. But often our sins of discontent are more subtle than that.
When life is going reasonably well, we may experience a quieter discontent. It comes from comparing what we have with others. Though I have more than I need, my carpet isn’t quite as new and stylish as theirs. My house isn’t quite as roomy. My job doesn’t pay as much or doesn’t offer as many opportunities. My phone has less features, my vehicle is less reliable, my appliances look dated.
When we get the brand-new vehicle, the latest phone, the 4K television that takes up an entire wall, the satisfaction lasts only a little while. Soon the spell wears off. This last thing, too, was a false hope for any kind of genuine fulfillment. Lasting contentment is never found in things.
That’s not to say we should be ungrateful for the many luxuries God has given us. This week we celebrate Thanksgiving after all. But we, too, need to be reminded that the secret to being content can only be found where the apostle Paul found it. Only Jesus truly fills the emptiness. As Paul said in the previous chapter, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ.”
The love we know in Christ’s forgiveness, the perfect righteousness he gives to us as a gift–these bring us heaven. These make us somebody. These satisfy our heart’s hunger and give us peace.
And when we have Jesus, then we can also be confident that “he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Thankful Christians have every reason to be content this Thanksgiving. In Jesus Christ they know that God gives them all they need in every situation.