I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)
This matter of contentment demands not only a confidence in God’s sovereign providence, a satisfaction with little, and an independence of circumstance, but it also requires sustaining by divine power.
Paul had learned that no matter how difficult it was in the material world, there was a spiritual undergirding. Our sufficiency comes from being attached to the sufficient one. We are not really self-sufficient, we are Christ-sufficient. It is because we are linked to His life and power in us that we have sufficiency. Look at what Paul says elsewhere:
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Galatians 2:20)
Because it is Christ who is living in us, we have supernatural strength for every situation.
Now, Paul does not mean that he can go forever without eating. He does not mean that he can go forever without drinking or sleeping, or that he can be battered with 5,000 stripes and still survive. Paul knows that if he doesn’t have food or drink, he will eventually die. If he is continually pummeled, he will die. There is a limit to the physical extremities which he can endure.
What Paul is saying is this: “I am strong enough to go through anything because of Him who infuses His strength into me.” In those extremities, where he has no more human resources, he is infused with the strength of Christ.
Perhaps the clearest illustration of this is located in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10:
Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!
Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
Paul found his contentment in the manifest strength of Christ that comes to the believer when he has exhausted his human resources.
Now, this means that contentment is a byproduct of distress. Contentment comes when you experience the sustaining power of Christ in those times when you have no human strength. As Isaiah puts it:
He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power. (Isaiah 40:29)
It’s possible that some believers have never experienced this contentment, because they have never seen this sort of distress. You know, we should be praying for enough difficulty in our lives to cast us on Christ and give us the opportunity to see His power and be content in it.
Throughout my life, I have seen God do things that only He could do. When I see the power of God manifest in times of extremity, when I have no other choice than to cast myself on His strength and say, “Lord, I am dependent on You,” I see the power of God. And therein lies my contentment that He is at hand and that He is involved in my life.
And so, Paul says with confidence, “I have the strength to do all things through His strength.”
What does Paul mean by “all things”? From the context, we see that he is talking about external circumstances. He is talking about being filled or hungry, having abundance or need. Paul says, “I have the ability to deal with any kind of material circumstance because of my spiritual strength. I can go without comfort, without warmth, without freedom, and without care. I can endure pain, danger, persecution, suffering, and threat. I can endure all of that on the outside because I am so strengthened on the inside.”
Look at what Paul says in Ephesians:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21)
This is one of the great prayers of the apostle Paul. In it, Paul prays that the Ephesians would experience what he has experienced: that inner strength that makes us sufficient and content in any situation.
Paul is saying, “I’m praying that you’ll be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that you will be able to do abundantly more than all you can ask or think according to that power.”
As a believer, you have the life of God within you. This is a power source that can sustain you in unimaginable ways.
Have you ever known someone with a pacemaker? It only kicks in when their heart doesn’t work right. As long as the heart functions properly, they don’t need the pacemaker. If it doesn’t function properly, the pacemaker takes over. Similarly, there’s a sense in which we have this reservoir of spiritual power that moves into action when we have come to the end of our own resources.
Contentment comes when you’re in the valley of the shadow of death — when you’re totally incapable of fixing your marriage, healing your disease, or resolving the other problems in your life. When you turn to God in these moments, you find the strength to endure. And this is how you find contentment.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 1989, titled “The Secret of Contentment, Part 2.”
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