“I rejoice greatly in the Lord that you have renewed your concern for me… 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 in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4v10-13
This passage was read at a funeral I attended last week. The preceding verses and perhaps most popular part of the whole letter – about rejoicing and prayer and peace and thinking on noble things (v4-9) – was read at the wedding I went to the next day. I wonder if Paul was listening to that interesting juxtaposition. The deceased friend had been reading these verses just before she became unconscious – her last Bible reading: I wonder if she was content in her circumstance…
Paul is specifically referring to provision of money and food to eat, but he goes on to use the all-embracing word ‘everything’, so the sentiments must apply, to quote the marriage service, to ‘sickness and health, better or worse, richer or poorer’ as well. And as for ‘life or death’, he talks about that in chapter 1 of the same letter: ‘…what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.'(v22-24). Challenging stuff!
Content either way. Content whatever happens. How? ‘Through Him who strengthens me’. All the resources are found in Jesus: there is plenty of grace there when times are lean and always a reason to rejoice in Him. There is nothing to fear: that is our gospel!
Yet, I have also been thinking about the story of Joseph interpreting the dreams of the baker and cupbearer when he was in prison. According to their dreams, one was going to die and the other live… and that is how it happened (Genesis 40). But why?! I would have been pretty offended if I was the baker!
My point is that we do get offended by what happens to us, especially when we compare ourselves to others. Offence produces the opposite reaction to contentment – it stirs up anger and resentment in us, cuts our pride and causes a sense of injustice: ‘it’s not fair!’ No – it isn’t. Who are we offended with – God? We certainly know we can get offended quite easily by other people. When we were travelling to cities with prayer teams we had to have the constant reminder not to allow ourselves ‘the luxury of offence’ at someone else’s style or approach. We haven’t got time for that kind of argument: unity requires acceptance of one another, a refusal to judge. There is a job to get done so we had better not put up ‘fences and separate ourselves from those we are called to work with in the Body! It requires self-control and patience, the fruits of maturity – it demands love!
But when it is God who is allowing circumstances to happen to us, can we get offended with Him? Oh yes! Job had some choice things to say in complaint. Peter was speaking out of offence when he said, ‘No Lord! That will never happen to You!’ So often we think we know how God should behave! But perhaps our Father says to Himself, ‘What will you do if I don’t do it that way?!’ Will we get offended when He tests our hearts? Or will we be part of ‘the company of the unoffended’, as Karen Lowe called it at the Carriers of the Fire conference in Llanelli two weeks ago?
Paul drew on the strength of Christ to help him in his times of need. He had learned the secret of acceptance, the secret of weakness and dependence (as in my last post). He had a key that we need – yes it is drawing on Christ’s strength, but it is more than that. It is submitting to His decisions about what is going on in our lives. It is giving up our so-called ‘rights’ and saying, “Your will not mine be done, and if that means I will learn more of Your grace and display more of Your glory through being in need, being poor, being sick or dying… then I am content to do it Your way. Amen, Lord!”
“Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in His steps. He committed no sin and no deceit was found in His mouth. When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate: when He suffered He made no threats. Instead He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.” 1 Peter 2v21-23 (who was there at the time)
Wow – serious stuff this following Jesus! Join the company of the unoffended and find joy and strength!