Contentment doesn’t mean you must stay in the same circumstance forever

Contentment doesn’t mean you must stay in the same circumstance forever

Christians are urged to be content in any circumstances, most famously in the great passage in Philippians 4:

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.

                                                                                                                                    (Phil. 4:11-13 ESV)

Paul wrote this from prison, yet he knew that he could be content there. His satisfaction with what he had was not due to his present circumstances, but it was due to God who strengthened him.

This raises a logical question for us: does this mean it is wrong for Christians to try to change their circumstances? Is it wrong to be ambitious and to make major life changes? After all, if we are to content with what we have, surely what we have should be sufficient!

As with so many practical questions we face, the answer to this is “yes and no”. Let me explain. It is wrong to think that a change in our circumstances is what will actually bring us contentment. But it is fine to look to a change in circumstances, knowing that our satisfaction comes from God instead of our new situation.

This is best shown with examples, one of which Paul himself gives us in 1 Corinthians. While he does comfort slaves (also translated bondservants) that their condition in life is not the biggest issue for them, he does say that it is fine for them to seek freedom:

20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21 Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.)

                                                                                                                             (1 Cor. 7:20-21 ESV)

This means that Christian slaves were to find their identity and satisfaction in belonging to God. It was possible for them to go about their work, satisfied in God’s grace even though life was often oppressive. Yet, should they have an opportunity to be free, it was fine to take it. They could also be satisfied working as a free person.

This has great applications for us, but let me just give two possible examples:

  1. If you are a single Christian who wishes to be married one day, it is possible to be content and serve God right now in your singleness. You are highly valued by God, your sins are forgiven, and you have certain hope. Yet if an opportunity comes to be married, you are free to take it. You can also be satisfied in God while married, for all of your security in Jesus remains true.

The problem becomes if you are dissatisfied in your singleness and start to think that getting married is what will bring contentment. Life doesn’t work that way. Married life has its own different set of problems. We need to seek contentment in our God, not our circumstances, else we will always be chasing the next thing to make us happy.

  1. If you are a Christian who works in a job, you can be satisfied because you are working ultimately for God and not only your boss. So even if your workplace has many problems, you can be satisfied in what Jesus has done for you. Yet if a new job is advertised, it is fine to apply for that job. You will also be able to be content and serve God in the new job.

As before, the problem becomes if you think that the new job will bring the contentment you didn’t have in the old job. After a while, the novelty of the new job will wear off, and you will see the problems and issues. True satisfaction is only found in Jesus, not in career progression.

So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31).