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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Fouts

I Have Learned To Be CONTENT: Philippians 4 & Beyond

During one of the more recent rounds of Twitter debates, I found myself constantly going back & quoting a set of very specific chapters of Scripture: The Beatitudes out of Matthew 5 & Luke 6, The Sadducee’s debate & The Good Samaritan out of Luke 18, the renewal of our minds in Romans 12, all sorts of things out of Galatians, & then lately a few concepts out of Philippians 3 & 4. These passages were all used for different areas of discussion & can in many ways seem to be completely unrelated topically. But the more I looked at them, back to back to back, the more I began to see how these passages when taken as a package, help us finally understand one of the most misunderstood passages of Paul’s writings related to both our mental health & our personal prosperity, Philippians 4.


Recently, we put out a question on Social Media asking for a non-dictionary definition of the word CONTENTMENT. We wanted to see personal experiences with this concept, & we received quite a few responses. Most of them had very similar sentiments & highlighted some keywords: happy, comfort, satisfaction, peace, provision, state, factors, & craving.



We also saw some more unique answers as well, including one from Karen Terrazas highlighting why approaching this word correctly as a Church is so important.


Now it's important to note that none of these words, or definitions we received are wrong. After all, dictionary.com defines Contentment as the state of being contented; satisfaction; ease of mind. This is the basic idea of contentment when asked about it in everyday life, but what Paul addresses here in Philippians 4, is so much more than what we have previously imagined.


8 Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things. 9 Do what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. 10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that once again you renewed your care for me. You were, in fact, concerned about me but lacked the opportunity to show it. 11 I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. 13 I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me. 14 Still, you did well by sharing with me in my hardship.


Philippians 4 has a number of overly quoted & severely misused verses in a small easy-to-read package. These verses are used regularly in the Evangelical Wars on Mental Health, Poverty, Tithings, Illness, & a wide variety of other issues including the Buzzer Beater Speeches out of movies. CONTENTMENT is one of these buzzwords, and largely because of the way our Western Consumerist & Capitalist Cultured minds have viewed this concept & this passage. But if we look at the context of Paul's other writings, we can begin to recover the Theology of Contentment & how this also helps us understand these other misunderstood buzzwords from Paul & even Jesus’ commands for us as well.


The majority of our thoughts on what contentment looks like revolve around it being a reactionary feeling, or even an emotional reaction, to current supplies & demands on life around us, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual. Even our dictionary definition frames it in that manner. But that is not how we see Paul frame it here in Philippians. For Paul, Contentment is much more complex & wonderfully gospel-centered.


  1. Contentment is a learned mystery.

One aspect of Chapter 4 as a whole that is overlooked by many, is the fact that Paul clearly indicates that his outlook on contentment & even anxiety (more on this later) is something relatively new to him, & previously unknowable. In verse 11, Paul says that he has μεμύημαι (memyēmai) which means to “learn the secret mystery.” Contentment is not something that you can just decide to have, it's not something that comes as a natural byproduct of faith. It is something that must be learned. Specifically, it is a “hidden mystery” that must be learned, which leads us to the second point.


  1. Contentment is a Spiritual Response.

The root word Paul uses for learning this mystery is μυέω (mueó) which in its most basic understanding is to literally “shut off your eyes & mouth.” This is the ultimate sign of submission & discipleship. We are learning by faith & submissive listening for the smallest of whispers. This is what we see in I Kings 19, as Elijah covered His eyes to respond to the still small voice of God, in order to be refreshed enough to move forward in his ministry. This leads us into the next understanding of what contentment is:


  1. Contentment is a fruit of the Spirit

Contentment is a learned mystery of God that comes only from submission to the Spirit. This is the same process Paul highlights for us in Romans 12. The submission of our sight & our speech is what allows the Spirit to renew our minds. It's how we are able to not conform but rather be transformed to understand God’s will. The Spirit is the one that brings about this transformation, & as such it is a fruit of the work It is doing.


  1. Contentment is Christocentric

This renewing of the mind is highlighted back in Philippians 4 in verses 4-9.


4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things. 9 Do what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

We have talked about this often, but this is not an overnight process, but one of lifelong discipleship & commitment to Christocentric living. But once we are open to this process, we are able to see ourselves rejoice rather than worry, in situations that we never would have thought possible. Our hearts & minds become more guarded & focused fully on Christ, we begin to experience a peace that is beyond understanding (a mystery of God). All of this is accessible because the contentment that Paul has discovered is a contentment that in its very essence is Christocentric, & not anything we accomplish on our own, but through the work of the Spirit.

Just like we see in Galatians 5 with the other fruits of the flesh listed before the fruits of the Spirit, Paul in Philippians 3 gives us a glimpse of the opposite of someone living in contentment.

18 For I have often told you, and now say again with tears, that many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction; their god is their stomach; their glory is in their shame. They are focused on earthly things, 20 but our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

The image Paul gives us is someone that is hopelessly looking for the definitions of contentment we most often look for. It is about current comfort, fullness, & satisfaction that is easily attainable & sustained. But at the end of that goal is destruction & shame. Contentment is not about a physical state of being, but a Christocentric understanding of the world around us.


Contentment is a worldview. It is how we view the situation around us. Much like other fruits of the spirit, like joy & peace explicitly, it doesn’t always look the same or feel the same, but it does not leave us, because Jesus told us that the Spirit is the one that is doing the guarding of our hearts itself. Out of all the responses we received, @HevyMetlMystic on Twitter had the best response.



Contentment is a Spiritual gift of the Spirit that produces Christocentric fruit within us. This is why Paul is able to address anxiety here by telling people to just not live a life defined by anxiety. Because a renewed mind of Christocentric Contentment allows us to find our identity back at the source rather than in the circumstances around us. It allows us to understand how Paul is able to tell slaves to serve their masters, not because he is endorsing slavery, but because he has found the secret to living in a world that allows for oppression & denies the Imago Dei. It allows us to see how Jesus can tell the poor in wealth & in spirit that they are blessed beyond their physical conditions. It allows us to understand how Jesus can command us to love those that consider us enemies, and how Jesus can expect for us to be willing & ready to sell everything to give to others. It allows us to understand why discipleship costs so much because a renewed mind allows us to understand the secret of contentment, a Christocentric understanding of the world around us.

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